Cruised the Norwegian Star from New York to Bermuda from September 9 - September 16. Overall, I would rate the experience average to slightly above average. The Star has some great attributes, but also a few flaws that need remedy.
As background information, my boyfriend and I, both 30 years old, have cruised NCL 5 times, including this cruise. NCL is the only line we have cruised with, we continue to chose them because they offer the best variety of destinations and ships from New York City (we have sailed five different NCL ships in seven years), which is easily accessible from our New Jersey home. We also enjoy the freestyle cruising aspect. Also, prices for NCL sailings from the NYC area are more often than not cheaper than other lines. All of these factors make NCL our line of choice.
Embarkation - very simple this time around as we sprung for the aft facing penthouse which gave us priority embarkation. This was our first experience with the priority embarkation and it was a definite benefit. We were checked in within 10 minutes of entering the terminal and waiting in the VIP lounge with snacks and coffee. After just a few minutes in there we were escorted onto the boat with fellow suite guests. All in all, the process took about 20 minutes from arrival at the terminal to stepping onto the boat. Thumbs up to NCL for this process for the suite guests!
Ship - first impressions of the ship were good. We had sailed on the Dawn to Bermuda two years ago and that was our favorite NCL ship. Since the Star is Dawn's sister we were looking forward to a similar ship and experience. And yes, the Star is a near replica of the Dawn. Keep in mind this ship is a bit older, probably about 10 years old, so it is not as large or flashy as the newer ships. However, it is cozy and classy, and despite showing her age in some spots, was well maintained and clean throughout the trip. Even though the ship itself was clean, we were surprised at how lax the staff was at keeping the passengers clean. On prior sailings, we were accustomed to NCL staff ensuring everyone used disinfectant on their hands when coming on the boat and entering all restaurants or buffets. On the Star, not so much. We got on the boat, no sanitation. We went to numerous restaurants, no sanitation. Not sure why they do not stress this on the Star.
Stateroom - we had an aft facing penthouse on the 10th deck. It was worth the extra cost, the room was a bit larger than a traditional balcony stateroom but the best part was the additional space on the balcony, enough for two full loungers and tables. As with the ship as a whole, the room was kept clean but showed age in some spots, such as finishing coming off light switches. The bed also seemed more comfortable than other rooms we've had, not sure if the suite beds have extra padding or if it's the upgraded sheets. These rooms also come with a tub instead of stand up shower, espresso machine, flat screen TV, butler and concierge service. Best of all, suite guests get breakfast and lunch in Cagney's free of charge, which we used daily.
Although you get numerous benefits being in the suite (free meals mentioned above, cocktail parties with the officers and captain, priority embarkation and disembarkation), it seemed the littlest requests could not be filled. Example, we called at 10pm top ask for a DVD to be brought to our room. We were told no one could bring it past 9pm. Another night we called room service to ask for a piece of toast or English muffin. They made a huge stink and said that was a breakfast item. We argued with them until they brought it, an hour later, cold with no butter. We paid extra for a suite and can't get a piece of toast? We weren't trying to be difficult and didn't think a toasted piece of bread was an outlandish request. It's not like we asked for a fresh lobster tail at midnight.
Which brings me to dining on the Star and NCL in general. In my experience, here's the bottom line about the food on NCL ships - yes the food in the main dining areas is often not the greatest. There can be a few good items, but for the most part it is on par with what you would find in an Olive Garden or other chain restaurant - just average. Yes, it does seem NCL tries to steer guests to the pay restaurants and yes the food in those restaurants is markedly better. We accept this and spend most of our trip eating in the specialty pay restaurants. Our thinking is this - the price for our NCL trip is much less than what we would pay for another line that may have delicious free food. So, even if we pay for dinner every night, we are still paying a cheaper price. Therefore, on this trip we ate at the following - Cagney's steakhouse, La Cucina Italian, Le Bistro French restaurant, Teppanyaki (twice!) and Moderno. The steaks at Cagney's were great. Le Bistro was a pleasant surprise, the pork plate was delicious and desserts were some of the best on the ship. Teppanyaki, we love on every ship. The chefs put on a good show and the meats and fried rice are so good, worth the $25 fee. La Cucina, I'd call it average. For the $10 cover charge it's probably worth it, but I wouldn't pay anymore for it. Moderno is NCL's new Brazilian restaurant and our first time trying it. Although it gets rave reviews I would say it is slightly above average. I was unimpressed with the salad bar but the meats and sides were good to very good. Be prepared to leave full, there are so many meats that come out and you will want to sample them all.
Entertainment - NCL puts on some good shows nightly in the Stardust Theater. Some of them (such as Band on the Run) we have seen before on NCL ships. Wish NCL would change the shows out more often. The comedic act of Shark Bait was crazy but will keep you entertained. Deal or No Deal is decent; however there is a cost of $20 to play. NCL also provides parties and late night activities in the Spinnaker Lounge. The Newlywed Not So Newlywed and Quest game shows are always funny. The band in the lounge was pretty good and Kyle the cruise director always seemed to want to get up there and sing with them. He was very involved with the entertainment on the ship.
Bermuda - we were coming in to Bermuda on the tail of Hurricane Leslie, therefore we had some wind and choppy seas while in port. We did two shore excursions, the glass bottom boat and the famous homes cruise. Glass bottom boat was ok, didn't see anything too special. Famous homes cruise was great. The tour guide was entertaining and very knowledgeable on the island. We choose to take our excursions in the morning and spend our afternoons exploring on our own. Since the Star stays in port for a full three days, it gives ample time for exploration and Bermuda is very tourist friendly. When getting off the ship in Dockyard, you can go straight into the visitor's center and purchase a bus/ferry pass. We purchased a two day pass, which must be used on consecutive days. This gave us unlimited access to ferries and buses for Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday we ferried to St. George, ate lunch at Wahoo's, explored the shopping area (we were sure to say hi to Flea, the island cat at the Island Shop!), and went to the unfinished church. We chose to take a bus back to Dockyard. Although the ride is quite long, it provides the opportunity to really see the island. Thursday we ferried to Hamilton, ate lunch at Barracuda Grill (delicious and highly recommended), and did some shopping and sightseeing. Friday we chose to stay at the Dockyard area. We went to the Bermuda Martime Museum, interesting and scenic, worth the $10 entry fee. Lunch was at Freeport Seafood, a small local place which is good for fresh island seafood. After lunch, a stop at the Dockyard Glassworks and Bermuda Rum Cake to pick up some handmade glass souvenirs and of course, Bermuda rum cake (they are kind enough to let you sample all the flavors).
When we returned to the boat we learned that during a storm that blew through while we were eating lunch, the mooring lines of the boat had broke and the boat came free from the dock. The aft of the boat swung out, bumping Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, which was docked behind us. The captain made the decision to cut all the lines and let the boat go into the harbor to wait out the storm. This happened while the gangways were out and people were waiting to get on and off the boat. Luckily there were no injuries to people, but the Star had a dent in her aft from her kiss with Explorer of the Seas. It took a few hours to bring the boat back in, retie it to the dock and get the gangways down safely for boarding. The storm had passed and the sun was shining brightly at this point and beating down on all of us waiting to board. NCL did eventually bring out water and let elderly and people with kids board as soon as possible. Once on board we were given free rum punch and hot chocolate until the boat was able to depart, which was a couple of hours late due to the inspection of the damage to be sure we were safe to sail. Overall, NCL handled the situation well.
Back on board for the final day and a half of the cruise, we spent a good amount of the remaining time in the spa relaxation area. On many NCL ships you can purchase a spa pass which gives you access to the relaxation area. It includes hot tubs, loungers and on the Star and Dawn, a heated lap pool. We have purchased this pass on other ships, including the Dawn, and LOVED it. Soft soothing music, floor to ceiling windows looking out from the aft of the boat, hot tea and juice, the perfect place to read, take a nap and relax...except on the Star. There are no kids allowed in this area to keep it peaceful. Unfortunately on the Star the adults using this area acted like children. Every time we went to this area there were adults either speaking at full volume or yelling in the hot tub. They treated this as the indoor hot tub area instead of what it is intended and marketed as -- a relaxing oasis. To make matters worse, often times it was filthy. Passengers left wet dirty towels everywhere and staff rarely came around to pick them up. For the passengers that put the towels in the proper receptacle, the bin was overflowing with dirty towels, not being emptied nearly enough. One time in the hot tub a dirty rag was floating in there. I brought these concerns to the spa staff, specifically the noise volume, and was told they would be addressed immediately. They even took my name and cabin number. Went back the next day and no changes. No changes for the rest of the cruise. No follow up from staff. We were very dissatisfied and it was a big waste of $199 for a weekly pass. It is a shame because the Dawn spa, a replica of this one, was perfection. Star spa staff really needs to take some lessons on how to properly maintain this area. By far the biggest disappointment of the cruise; NCL please fix the spa on the Star!
We arrived back in NYC on time despite our late departure from Bermuda. Disembarkation was just as simple as embarkation because we again had a priority escort off the ship. We were off the ship in about 20 minutes.
All in all, this may have not been our favorite NCL cruise, but it was still average to above average. Most staff was excellent particularly our stateroom steward Santos, Jolene in the photo gallery and the officers who constantly made themselves visible and available to help. NCL does a good job of making suite guests and repeat guests (Latitudes members) feel special with special benefits. These things help to make up for the shortcomings of an older ship and flaws such as the spa and some of the food.