While we're not new to cruising, this was our first sailing on Norwegian. The majority of our past 12 cruises have been on HAL, a few on Princess and a few on Carnival. So it's only logical that we would compare the NCL experience to our previous cruising experiences.
Embarkation -- we selected the NCL Star as it sailed out of New Orleans, a city we had not visited before (and thoroughly enjoyed). We were able to walk from our hotel to the cruise port and dropped our bags off around 1:30 pm, then went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We returned to the cruise port around 3 and the boarding process was orderly, well organized and it took only 30 minutes from port arrival to stateroom, I think a record in comparison to Fort Lauderdale and San Diego ports.
Stateroom -- deck 11, forward, mini suite with balcony, 283 sq ft. The emphasis for this stateroom is "mini", being much smaller in square footage than similar class of staterooms on other cruise lines. Though smaller in size, there was adequate storage space and the bathroom was well laid out and included a full size tub. Bedding and linens were comfortable. However, the closet is positioned next to the side of the bed which does make it difficult for hanging and retrieving clothes, and we didn't realize until we started packing up that there's a light in the back of the closet! Since this stateroom was narrow, it also means a narrower veranda. The veranda included two lounge chairs and a small table, which basically took up the majority of the space. Sometimes it's the "little" things that count that make a difference between a wonderful stateroom experience, and just a room on a cruise ship. And there were some "little" things amiss in our room. Our cabin steward did not seem happy or friendly. While our rooms were made up daily, he would leave towel animals on our bed without "eyes" and brought us an extra blanket that was very scratchy and had what looked like iron holes burned in the blanket. Upon checking into our stateroom, I noticed that some of the surfaces had not been dusted. Also, amenities normally provided in this class of stateroom on other cruise lines were not available, like hair conditioner, body lotion and robes. We requested these items at the main desk and they were sent to our room. We also noticed that there were no information books in our room to provide us with the overall deck plans, ship officer bios, dining options, etc. We did obtain a small deck plan brochure from the main desk; however, first time cruisers on NCL would appreciate some information in their rooms of the ship's services and staff. There was also no recycling bin to deposit the daily flyers sent to our room, nor any room service ordering door hangars which we also obtained from the main desk. These are both standard in other cruise line staterooms. Other items of note are the hair dryers which seem to weigh 20 pounds, way too heavy to hold when drying longer hair. The mirror in the bathroom has a magnifying mirror installed; however the positioning is way too low for people of average height and taller.
Ship Deck Plan Layout -- this ship starts what is normally the promenade deck 3 much higher, it's deck 7. There is only 1 outdoor pool and a number of hot tubs. We particularly liked the adult quiet zone on the upper decks aft. The NCL Sun has taken some of the former public passage corridors and blocked them off for specialty restaurants. In these areas, you have to go up or down a deck to continue traversing from forward to aft on the ship. In general, we thought the ship was well laid out, did not feel crowded, the decor was fairly tasteful, and provided a nice balance of entertainment and leisure areas.
Shore Excursions -- Our first port of call was Costa Maya. After docking, the announcement advised those wishing to go ashore should line up on deck 7. There was soon hundreds (maybe thousands) of passengers all waiting on deck 7 to take the "single" stairway down to the deck 4 debarkation area. After waiting in line 45 minutes to reach the stairs, the crew finally decided to open up a second stairway. This was a poor example of crowd control and we lost nearly an hour of our short time.
We only booked 1 shore excursion through the ship, a snorkel/beach day in Cozumel. In addition to the NCL Star, there were 5 additional cruise ships in port that day. We were instructed to go ashore and meet at the end of the pier to obtain our excursion "bracelet". Upon getting off the ship, it was a mass of people all trying to make their way to their respective excursion meeting spot. We finally reached our "spot" only to be told to change lines 3 times; it took over an hour to obtain our bracelets and to make our way back to the snorkel boat. While this isn't the fault of NCL, due to the volume of people, our excursion left an hour late and the snorkel experience was less than satisfactory. We mentioned this to the Star's excursion office and they did refund a portion of our money.
Dining -- We ordered room service for each morning and we really liked that they called us on the phone before delivery and they were always on time (kudos). We selected free style dining and on some evenings, we had up to a 45 minute wait for a table in the main dining room (Versailles), however, they do provide "beepers" that work ship wide to notify you when your table is available. We found the service in the main dining room (Versailles) to be a bit slow, and the food to be so-so. There was not a lot of variety on the nightly menu and the menu choices did not have the "wow" dining factor, in fact, some entrees like Jerk Pork Chop and Bean Stew just didn't sound appetizing. The buffet was quite good; plenty of variety and we really enjoyed the made to order desert crepes in the evenings. We also dined one evening in the specialty French restaurant, Le Bristro, and both services and food were excellent.
Entertainment -- this is definitely where the NCL Star excels. It's obvious that this cruise line spends a lot of money and resources to provide the best entertainment we have ever seen on a cruise. Stan Sykes provided Motown tunes on the piano nightly, Chicago's Second City troupe did 3 shows, the ships in-house singers/dancers were very professional, the Russian husband/wife team performed amazing acrobatics, and David Naster's comedy show and documentary presentations inspired. But what really blew us away was the new show, Elements" presented on our final cruise night. The scenery, illusions, acrobatics, music and costuming was every bit equal to a Circ du Soleil performance in Vegas! It was the most incredible show we've ever seen on a cruise ship and we're amazed that they were able to do something like this in such a limited space. We also enjoyed the various musicians playing guitar around the dining rooms, the seemingly sporadic musical shows in the main atrium (especially the singing chef), and of course, the daily Washy-Washy greeters at the buffet!
Disembarkation -- since we had a flight at Noon, we opted to carry our own baggage off the ship. Once the Captain announced we were free to disembark, we grabbed our bags and basically walked right off the ship! No lines, no waiting for colored tag announcements, it was so easy and fast.
Overall Impression -- we chose this cruise based on cruise port and itinerary (4 ports we had never visited before). Even though we had 20' seas on our final sea day, we found the NCL Star to be fairly smooth sailing. We feel that it was a good value for cost and in all cases when things were not right, we spoke to the main desk, and they tried to make it right. Additionally, we frequently ran into officer's around the ship who solicited our feedback. We believe that NCL cares about passenger experience and strives to make things right. Not everything was perfect, but overall, we enjoyed our experience and have already booked a second NCL cruise.