We are a retired couple from Canada, and this is our 25th cruise, having cruised with NCL about 12 times. This was an absolutely amazing fall vacation. We were initially a bit concerned about travelling in October in the Caribbean, and were very fortunate not to have encountered Hurricane Sandy as we were ahead of her when she hit New York. Great warm weather on this cruise, with only rain on one day, and a couple of windy days.
We travelled from Toronto to New York by Greyhound Bus during the night, an 11 hour trip, arriving in New York early in the morning. We stayed at the Westin New York Grand Central, formerly the New York Helmsley, at an extremely reasonable price through Hotwire. A large cc group had booked rooms a year in advance. Extremely large room with a view of Empire State Building. Three days spent in New York City was definitely not enough, but we were able to scratch the surface and plan to go back again to enjoy some of the museums and a play. The HOHO bus 2 day pass worked extremely well for us. The highlight was Times Square, followed by Grand Central Station, trip up to the top of the Rock and an evening ride to Brooklin to enjoy the scenery at nighttime of Manhattan.
One of our cruise critic buddies had reserved a couple of vans to take us to the port on embarkation day, which worked extremely well, especially since there was a bike race going on that day. Our van driver was extremely pleasant and seemed to get us there in no time at all. Our group was well organized by our great leader, Catherine. Everything went smoothly, porters took our luggage, advance tips that were collected were given to him, and luggage miraculously disappeared. Check in was extremely fast, a very short line, and we gathered in a lounge to wait to board our ship, which we did in less than an hour, having been met by the concierge and a few other familiar faces.
As a group we were escorted to Cagney's for lunch. Since our cabins were ready we eagerly went to see our home for 14 days. What a surprise! We were upgraded from a minisuite to an enormous family suite with four large sets of floor to ceiling windows, large bathroom with double sinks and bathtub, dining table with 4 chairs, large sofa and two extra comfy chairs. A very nice surprise. This was our first time in a suite and we totally enjoyed being pampered and spoiled by our room steward, Benjamin, who kept our room immaculate & spotless, and had a talent for making a different towel animal every night, and our butler, Made, who set the dining table with such flair when we ordered room service. We felt we were eating in a fine restaurant. Made was always dapperly dressed, very respectful, and gentlemanly, showed us how to use the Lavazzo coffee machine, bringing in a fresh basket of fruit, which he refilled during the week, delivered hors deuves and cookies every afternoon, dvd's, chilled wine & water, etc.etc. The ice bucket was always full. Excellent service by these gentlemen. A+
NCL STAR, appropriately named The Happy Ship, is a great ship with a fantastic crew, who work extremely well together in an attempt to ensure that everyone feels special and has a great vacation. Nothing is too much for them. The officers are visible throughout the ship, and seem to find time in their busy, hectic schedules to exchange pleasantries with some of the passengers. I haven't noticed this on any other cruise line that we've been on. They are so upbeat, and are always smiling as if they do enjoy their jobs. This comes down from the very top and filters all the way down. They selflessly cater to our every needs, and we are so grateful to be lucky enough to be able to cruise on NCL ships. Super service, far superior to any other cruiseline. Granted there are times when the odd meal is not the best, but the majority of the time it's extremely good and great value for our money.
Our cruise critic group was fortunate enough to be invited to 2 sailaway parties in the garden villas. What a spectacular way to leave New York City, passing by some famous landmarks, the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, Staten Island, with an air and sea escort, and barely making it under the Verrazano bridge (or so it seemed). An awesome start to a great vacation.
On our first night we requested the concierge, Monica, who, by the way is one of the best, to make reservations for a group of 16 in the MDR Versailles at 6:30. She achieved this without a hitch, and some of us enjoyed the lobster dinner with the accompanying beverage. Ordering 2 was not a problem. There was an extensive menu to choose from. A great start to an amazing cruise getting to know our fellow cruise mates in such a beautiful room with glitzy chandeleirs, ambient lighting, and superb service.
We enjoyed the majority of our dinners in the MDR, or Aqua, which is usually less crowded, and also tried 4 of the specialty restaurants. The meals in LeBistro, Cagneys, Moderno and LaCuchina were most enjoyable and certainly worth the upcharge IMHO. The salad bar at Moderno is one of the best; the only complaint I have is the music from the atrium, which sometimes makes it difficult to hear one another. A secluded quieter area would have been better IMHO.
The entertainment on the Star was great. We enjoyed Elements the best, followed by Band on the Run and the Crew Show (Nih Liu and Flarita, you are so talented). There was also the usual juggler, comedian, trapeze acts, and hypnotist. The cruise director, Kyle, was extremely good, having been in the business for 22+ years, and his talent showed through.
THE MARKET CAFE: Although it tends to get extremely crowded in the mornings, it's a great place at night when the singing chef is entertaining. The dance floor gets quite crowded as people congregate in this venue to enjoy his singing and antics, and dance the night away. Honourable mention should be made of the Washy Washy guys who greet you profusely before entering the room. They are so upbeat. Clean hands sure help to stop the spread of germs.
I understand on a surprise inspection at one of the ports NCL got a 99 percent rating.
The cruise critic group spent countless hours organizing a myriad of events, the top one IMHO being a horse race, which was the most exciting and enthusiastic group activity we had ever done on a ship. There were 5 horses and each represented an island; our Canadian Horse, Aruba, who started out very slowly, eagerly galloped to win the second race.
The CC group also organized a Mardi Gras Parade, Halloween Party in the Gardenvilla, complements of Denise & others, Octoberfest luncheon, complements of John & others, Bridge Tour, LRC games, mahjong, Slot Pull, Cabin Crawl, and Indian meal. There was so much going on, no time to get bored, and all cc members were welcome to join in. These events were very well attended and a good time was had by a majority of people.
A great big THANK YOU to all the organizers.
PORTS: Since we had been to all the ports before, we did not book many organized excursions but did our own thing. In the past I've found that it's also easy getting off the ship in most Caribbean ports and doing an island tour with either a group or by private taxi, after negotiating an itinerary, length of tour, and price. Know what you're getting and paying for.
A review of each port is done separately and follows this review.
NEW ORLEANS: What a delightful enjoyable place. Since we were in transit, after a relaxing breakfast, we got off the ship around 9:15, went through customs very easily (however other people with luggage had an extremely difficult time due to a few problems with the first cruiseship entering the port for the year).
We went to Harrah's to meet some friends who were joining us on the following cruise, and then took the trolley to Cafe Du Monde. Since there was an extremely heavy downpour, this curtailed our visit this time. We returned to Riverwalk where we spent a couple of hours browsing around the stores, had lunch, and then returned to board the ship. We were fortunate to get on the ship within half hour as we were in transit, but there were numerous angry people waiting in line to board as there was a delay.
We loved this cruise, and give exceptionally high marks to the crew and especially to Yannis, the food and beverage director, who we felt did an amazing job despite all the problems he encountered. He kept his cool, and bottom line, did a great job working under pressure, standing out in the heavy rain, without a complaint; just doing his job despite the bad weather.
Our hats also go off to all the crew members who had to pitch in and do so many extra hours to unload the ship in a timely manner.
Thank you NCL. We will definitley be cruising with you in the future and can't wait until we board again. You treat us royally. THANK YOU.
I have not attached photos as other cc members have done a great job with their videos.