We booked the December 16th sailing of the Norweigen Star to celebrate my graduation from nursing school. We talked one of my friends from school and his girlfriend into joining the celebration. And I was pretty active in our roll call and became close with another couple so there were really 6 in our group for this sailing.
We arrived in New Orleans the day before the cruise and stayed at the Hampton Inn Convention Center. My husband and I stay in Hamptons regularly and this is truly the most beautiful one we have ever stayed in. Half the hotel is in the converted Folders warehouse and this is where our room was. We had beautiful two story windows, a giant four poster bed, exposed brick walls, and a full kitchen. It was really stunning; I'd definitely recommend this hotel to anyone. The staff was very friendly, free hot breakfast is included and they offer a free shuttle to the cruise port.
We arrived at the port (Julia St terminal) right around 10am and dropped our luggage off with a porter who instructed us to enter the terminal through door number one. We headed indoors and a woman directed us to wait in the middle of a circle of chairs. Check-in had not begun yet, and this area was a mess of people embarking for their cruise as well as passengers disembarking from the previous cruise. It was slightly chaotic and unorganized. We waited here for about 20 minutes until they were ready for us to begin the check-in process. We were at the front of the line and breezed through security. We were then given a white number 1 card and told to sit and wait for check-in. We probably waited about 10-15 minutes until they called letter A. We were a bit confused by the letters and numbers but finally figured out that the letters were past guests and the numbers were new to NCL. They called A and then B to check-in, and then finally called number 1. We proceeded directly to the counter and were checked-in within 5 minutes. Then it was back to sitting and waiting for boarding to start. They began assisted boarding around 11:30am and quickly it was our turn.
NCL employees greeted us with dancing and singing as we made our way down the gangway and on to the ship. We entered into the atrium which was decorated for Christmas and absolutely beautiful! We had already decided to head immediately to Versailles for lunch and since we were among the first on the ship it was practically empty. The menu looked delicious and we had a hard time deciding what to have. After lunch we headed out to explore the ship. We wander around and saw almost everything there was to see. There were very dark cloud forming over the skyline but we wanted to be on deck for sail-away so we headed up and scored seats in the Bier Garten which is covered. We got there just in time because it started down-pouring! We camped out here for a while and watched the Carnival ship in front of us sail away. We stayed just long enough to watch our own sail-away and then we headed to check out our staterooms. My husband and I had originally booked an obstructed oceanview but thanks to several price drops we before moved to a balcony guarantee about 3 weeks sailing. We were assigned a stateroom almost immediately, we got 10516. It was really far forward and I was very nervous because I have a tendency for seasickness but I knew that was a risk when I booked the guarantee. Our room was beautiful and we really enjoyed the balcony. Iwayan, our steward, greeted us by name immediately and was so incredibly friendly. We only had one chair on our balcony and we called guest services twice to ask for a second chair. Guest services were less than helpful, but we mentioned it to Iwayan the next morning and he had us a chair within the hour.
We had agreed to meet our friends in the spa for the raffle and I actually won a 'shave of all shaves'. My husband was the obvious choice to benefit from this prize and he really enjoyed his first hot shave. He said they didn't really push any products or other sales on him either which we've both experienced in spas in the past. Several hours have now past since our last meal so we decided to head to dinner and check out Aqua. It was a little tricky to find, although it's kind of hard to explain why. Both Aqua and Versailles are on like a 'half' deck so there's only one way to get there, you have to be in exactly the right spot to go down the stairs to find the dining room entrance. I felt, as a whole, that the Star was awkwardly laid out. There were several places where you couldn't walk through on both sides of the ship so you'd have to cross over to continue. Even after a week on board, we still stumbled once and a while getting around. Anyway, back to dinner. Our group of 6 was seated almost immediately at a round table which was great because it was easier to talk to everyone. Our server, Danny, greeted us after a few minutes with a difficult to understand explanation of the daily special. We definitely felt like the language barrier created a challenge with the wait staff in both MDRs on this cruise. We had to ask to order bar drinks, which proved to be a continuing theme on this cruise. It was almost a challenge to get drink service, both at meals and just around the ship in general. I've never experienced that on a ship before. I ordered requested no mushrooms with my meal but asked for an extra side of mashed potatoes. This proved to be difficult to communicate with our server and it came out wrong, with mushrooms right on my plate. The service was a big disappointment for our whole group throughout this cruise.
After dinner, we ventured over to the Red Lion Pub, which serves popcorn almost all day. I knew this going in but I didn't mention it to my husband because I knew how much he'd love the surprise. We were not only regulars in the Red Lion during our cruise, but we somehow seemed to detour through there every chance we got so he could snag a bag or two to go. It was perhaps the highlight of the cruise for my husband! Haha.
The next day was a sea day which we usually spend lounging around the pool, but the temperature was a little chilly for us so we had to find other entertainment. We started our day with breakfast in Versailles which was yummy. We had noticed in the freestyle daily a little blurb about the Ultimate Beverage Package so we stopped by the restaurant reservations desk to ask about it. We discussed it a bit and decided it was a good deal for us. Not that we'd necessarily drink $49/person each day, but that we liked the idea of knowing exactly what our total bar bill would be at the end of the cruise. And it gave us a little more freedom to order things we might normally not splurge on. We asked to sign up there and the girl working the desk knew almost nothing about it. She called the bar manager to come over and bring the stickers for it and explain it to us. The bar manager explained the details and said that we had to have it each day, including the previous day. No problem, except they didn't want to comp our drinks from the day before. I said that we would have purchased it the day before if it was advertised. The guy claimed it was at the beverage table but I had stopped at the table in the port waiting to board and it was definitely not mentioned. They finally agreed to take care of our single drinks from the day before but not the 2 buckets we'd ordered (which seems silly cause the individual beers would have been covered but oh well at this point). The bar manager showed us the list of alcohols that are included (which I photographed) and explained that it covered mixed drinks and wines less than $10, and drink of days were included without the specialty glass. They gave us a receipt to sign for the $349/person for the cruise. We struggled with the drink package the entire cruise however. They still bring you a drink receipt to sign for every single drink purchased, so inconvenient! We tried to order some martini's in the Spinaker only to be told that all martinis are excluded. We went to the desk to ask for a copy of our bill around day 5 and found out they charged us a 15% gratuity plus tax on top of the $349/person that we signed for. Turns out it was in the fine print, but it should have been on the receipt that we signed.
Our meet and greet was up next and we had a pretty good turn-out. We had somewhere around 88 people signed up and probably 50ish showed up. All the officers were there and they had provided coffee, tea, and cookies. The officers all spoke briefly after they were introduced and they handed out a card with everyone's phone number on it. They also announced that we would be receiving invites in our stateroom to take a private tour of the bridge. YAY! We were hoping that might happen. Immediately after the officers left, 90% of the attendees also left. I was really disappointed because I was looking forward to meeting some other people from our roll call. There was a little talk about doing a slot pull which I had really been looking forward to but I never got the details and people just scattered. We decided to head to Blue Lagoon and get some lunch next. From the descriptions I'd read online, I expected a very casual place with a walk up counter. I was surprised to find a sign asking that we wait to be seated. The service here was very slow and we definitely felt the language barrier again. We are used to cruise food portions being on the small side which is nice because you can try out different things, but the blue lagoon serves some really small portions. We ordered several appetizers thinking we could share them but they really aren't big enough to share at all. We did eat here several more times during the cruise, it's a great option for a snack. Some things were great (cheese sticks, potato skins, wings, veggie lasagna) and some things were really disappointing (spinach dip, meatloaf). Also the drink service here was worse during the day than anywhere else. They had to go down to the atrium bar apparently and it took ages for them to return.
We tried to score spots in the hot tub after this but they were all incredibly crowded. And the front deck was way too windy to even sit without our things blowing away. So instead we opted to enjoy some drinks on our balcony and perhaps take a little nap too. We made plans to meet up with our friends in Aqua again for dinner. Dinner tonight was about the same experience each night. We had Danny as our server for the first 3 nights in Aqua and each night we felt the service was lacking. Special requests were not understood, drink service was painfully slow. I should note that the food was good though. Some things were certainly better than others but overall we were very happy with the food quality. And the desserts got an A+ in our books! I thought the cheesecake was some of the best I've ever had and the bread pudding was also pretty yummy.
After dinner, we went to the Spinaker to see the Perfect Couple Game Show. I think we all expected a newlywed type game show with questions and such but that was not at all what this was. It was however extremely entertaining, with 3 couples completely embarrassing physical tasks. Next we headed to see the production show Band on the Run. The show was well put together and the Stardust Theater is beautiful! But the balcony of the theater is incredibly poorly designed. We were sneaking in just before the show began so we were trying to find seats quickly. We grabbed the first open seats we saw which were in the second row of the balcony and we quickly realized why they were empty. There are approximately 1 foot tall pieces of glass extending up from the balcony dividers and the second row is barely elevated from the front row. It was impossible to see the stage. So we got up and moved closer to the stage and into the front row of the balcony. But the way the seats sort of curved around made it challenging to see all of the stage, we were limited to only seeing the center and left of the stage. Very disappointing but lesson learned: arrive early and get some seats in the main theater!
The next 4 days were all basically the same for us while on board the ship since we were in port during the day. Our first port was Costa Maya. We had breakfast in Versailles before heading off the ship. We passed hoards of people crowding the stairs waiting to be allowed off the ship just before 8am but by 845am or so after we finished breakfast, we were able to walk right off the ship. We ate dinner in Aqua after returning to the ship and had the same disappointing experience with Danny. We saw the Battle of The Sexes Challenge in the Spinaker which was so hectic and crazy we were thankful we sat in the back and could slip out early. Then we saw the Second City Comedy in the Stardust. It was funny but nothing really special. We sat down front in the 3rd row and my poor husband who is 6'4" was so squished. Those rows are definitely designed to cram in as many people as possible.
Next port is Belize which is a tender port. We were told they would start handing out tender tickets in the Spinaker at 7:30am and that tendering would begin shortly after 8am. We decided to grab our tender tickets and then head to the buffet to grab a quick bite. We showed up to the Spinaker around 7:25am and they were already handing out tickets. We managed to get Tender #2 tickets for our group and we headed off to the buffet. The offerings on the buffet looked pretty sad (limp bacon, eggs Benedict with almost no hollandaise) but we grabbed a little bit to hold us over. I will say the sticky buns were pretty yummy though. They called tender #1 about 7:55am and called #2 very shortly after. We all headed down together and got in line headed towards the tenders. They were filling up the current tender and asked for a group of 6. Perfect, we volunteered and we headed up the walkway to the tender. There was someone counting and they cut us off with 4 of us on the tender and my husband and I still on the ship. We explained we were one group and the guy counting very rudely told us too bad. Not a big deal, but still frustrating. This guy was incredibly rude. Tendering back from the island was much easier. We chose Aqua for dinner again and for the first time we had to wait for a table. We were given a different server who recognized 2 of our group from a sailing on a different ship. She was much friendly than Danny although the bar drink service was still painful. The food was still yummy! We had planned to see the Acrobatique show this evening but everyone was exhausted from our day in Belize and I was bug bitten and cranky about it so we grabbed some drinks and headed to bed early.
Up next was Roatan. We reverted back to Versailles for breakfast and were not disappointed. Walking off the ship was painless, no crowds of people this time. We had decided to check out Versailles for dinner but the ship was really rocking and rolling and I was feeling questionable so we decided Aqua was the better choice for its center ship location. We were given a different server, Francisco, who was amazing. He was everything we had been missing! He delivered 5 star worthy service and we really wished we'd had him earlier in the cruise because we certainly would have requested him again. This night we saw the comedian, David Naster. He was funny but not very original. We were enjoying the show however until he started to promote his own stuff. He was selling pocket 'fart-machines' and copies of his book after the show and kept discussing them. Also, he was having some seminar on the last sea day that he kept promoting. It really turned us off to the whole show. After this was the white hot party. We weren't dressed in white but headed to the Spinaker anyway. We grabbed some seats and waited for things to start. We enjoyed watching the flair bartender at the special bar set up in the center and then we liked watching the 'white-hot' dancers. But after the dancers were done, the dance floor really cleaned out. I was really still feeling the movement of the ship so I decided to call it a night.
Cozumel was our next stop and the weather was incredibly windy all day. We had our usual breakfast in Versaille. We came back really early from our day in port and claimed some spots in one of the hot-tubs near the pool. It was incredibly hot though, much hotter than any of the other hot-tubs. We didn't stay too long. We had made reservations for Cagneys for dinner which was a great choice! The service was spot-on and our food was absolutely incredible. Worth every penny! I really wish we'd had more than one meal here. Don't miss the oysters Rockefeller and the truffle fries! We had big plans to see several shows this night but the ship was really rocking back and forth and everyone on board was a little green, ourselves included, so we called it a night after dinner and went to bed with our very happy full bellies.
Our last full day on the ship was another sea day. It was also our day to take a private tour of the bridge!! We decided to sleep in and skip breakfast. Our bridge tour was scheduled for 10:15am. We met up according to our invitation and were escorted into the bridge where we were offered champagne and trays of hand passed hors d' oeuvres. The captain was incredibly gracious and spent a considerable amount of time explaining equipment and procedures to us. He gave us time to ask all our questions and offered to pose for pictures with everyone as well. It was truly an awesome experience. I'm so grateful that we were offered this opportunity. After the tour, we headed to lunch in Versailles which was yummy. We decided to get a head start on packing a little and had a late afternoon snack in Blue Lagoon. We camped out in Red Lion Pub for a while before dinner to watch the Saturday night football game. Dinner tonight was in Versailles and was uneventful. We saw the Elements production which was excellent, very well put together and the cast is very talented. After the show, the whole crew of the ship came out on stage which was really neat to see. There were servers, chefs, housekeeping, entertainment... it was really neat to see everyone together. After this we went to the Quest Mania Game Show in the Spinaker. My husband and I had been to Quest on Royal Caribbean before and really enjoyed it. I will say that this was nearly the exact same thing. Our group of 6 was paired with another group of 4 (who I'd guess were all around 21) who were really into it. Our group actually came in first place and we were awarded 'NCL Sports at Sea' t-shirts as our prize. A few more drinks and it's time for bed.
We chose to self assist debark and opted to have one last breakfast in Versailles before we had to leave the ship. We left our bags in our cabin and went to breakfast at 8am. It was great to sit down one last time with our group before the cruise was really over. After breakfast, we grabbed our things and headed off the ship. They had already called the self assist group about 30 mins before and had actually called the first 2 colored tags before we left. But walking off was very easy, we encountered almost no traffic trying to get out. We had made a reservation with Advanced Check-In (aka Rush-It) to take our bags to the airport so that we could spend the morning/afternoon in New Orleans before we had to head to the airport. We walked through the Riverwalk Mall which wasn't open yet so it was pretty dull. So we headed over to the Aquarium. It's a really large aquarium and we really enjoyed exploring it. It's definitely worth checking out if you have some time in New Orleans. We grabbed some lunch at one of our favorite local joints, Huck Finns, and then headed to our favorite bar, LaFitte's Blacksmith Shop, before we had to grab a cab to the airport. What a great trip!!!