I am a 39 year old self-labeled "foodie" without children. Thread-count, quality of cutlery, cleanliness of stemware, and variety/novelty of food are of the utmost importance to me. My husband and I travel for fun, we aren't partiers nor do we attend shows. Our idea of a good time is a white sand beach, an umbrella, and the most recent Michael Connelly novel.
Hoping to avoid same-day-arrival-chaos, we flew into NOLA the night before and stayed at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel. A cab from MSY to our hotel was just $33- cheaper than the downtown hotel shuttle at $20/head. While the hotel was old-ish and the elevator creaky, the furnishings were new and the bed linens were crisp and luxurious. Free wi-fi and in-room coffee were also available. This is the most convenient hotel to the Julia Street Terminal, we were only a block away and easily rolled our luggage the following day (1 pm).
This is a cramped terminal, from the get-go we were made to wait in a security queue which took ages to get through (about an hour). The room became uncomfortably hot, but people were generally in good spirits and kept peeling off layers of clothing to keep from overheating. From there we were taken aside and led to a SUITE ONLY check-in line, we were the only ones in line. We were checked in promptly and taken to a VIP lounge where we were met by our concierge who issued our room keys. From that point, a butler escorted us onboard and since our room wasn't ready yet, to Cagney's for lunch. Total time from arrival at terminal to lunch at Cagney's: 1 hr 15 minutes. Not shabby at all.
Our stateroom was handsome, modern, and roomy. The wall of floor to ceiling windows gave a real WOW factor. The room sported a dining room table with four chairs, a sofa, 2 upholstered guest chairs, a coffee table, and queen sized bed. The asian motif was sleek and stylish, the bed linens were of high hotel quality thread count. There were more pillows than I could ever imagine putting to good use! The pod style coffee/tea maker (FREE) was a nice bonus, especially since cruise ships typically have bad coffee (not sure why). We were please to find a filled fruit bowl, a bottle of champagne, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of Aquafina all complimentary. I'm not entirely sure if we received these goodies because of our past-cruise history or because they come standard in a suite (first time).
The bathroom was especially swanky: heavy glass shower (separate from tub), deep albeit narrow soaking tub, high-end hansgrohe fixtures, twin sinks, tile floor, shaving mirror, scale (unused but a nice touch regardless). While maybe not as spacious as my bathroom at home, a rather respectable size indeed.
A real bonus: storage galore. There's a walk-thru closet (on the way to the bathroom) with 4 armoires for hanging-up clothes, drawers along the vanity in the suite, drawers in the bathroom, drawers in the night stands (with some of the cleverest reading lamps I have ever seen!), and more drawers at the foot of the bed.
Our room came with a butler (Bagus) who we likely underutilized but was quite helpful. He brought us an extension cord for my husband's CPAP, daily in-room "treats" (sometimes plates of chocolate covered strawberries, sometimes canapes), he kept the coffee/tea stocked, called for an iron/ironing board (which was promptly delivered) and brought us orange sherbet on the night we were both feeling too pooped to leave the room. He will also bring DVDs on-request (the room has a DVD player), fetch all of your food (even from the open specialty restaurants WITHOUT and upcharge), but you MUST tip your butler since neither the butler NOR concierge receive tips from the auto daily gratuity (a trip to guest services clarified this).
Our concierge (David) was also helpful. He arranged our dining reservations in Aqua and Versailles for the nights we didn't eat in the specialty restaurants. As a suite passenger, one is entitled to priority debarkation at all ports-o-call, which was handy, but as another suite passenger commented upon arriving at the Star Bar waiting for priority debarkation like the rest of us "suddenly, I don't feel so special anymore!"
Dining at Cagney's for breakfast and lunch was one of the major highlights of this cruise. Cagney's is a small dining venue that is for suite passengers only for breakfast and lunch, at dinnertime it becomes a surf-n-turf specialty restaurant. The continental style breakfast had everything I wanted and more: croissants, fresh berries, whipped cream, muesli, melon, bananas, lox, and sooo much more. If that's not enough, one can order off the menu too! The service in Cagney's was excellent. Norwegian tends to have more southeast asians as service staff (as apposed to eastern europeans) which I like, they are quite friendly and not snooty at all.
During our cruise our dinners were varied: Le Bistro, La Cucina, Cagney's, Aqua, and Versailles. Le Bistro is a cute french bistro, I was not feeling particularly well the night we ate here, so I honestly can't comment on the food since I had no appetite. In fact, because we ate so little our upcharge was refunded to our account. Very classy! La Cucina however was a bit of a disappointment, everything seemed "off," but it could've been an aberration, maybe the chef was sick and the dishwasher was cooking? That aside, it was still a lovely restaurant with dim lighting and nice accoutrements. At Cagney's our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, we went "hog-wild" and ordered way too much food. The portions were ginormous, lamb, salmon, steak! All was prepared beautifully. I especially liked the truffle-oil french fries! Seriously good eats. Aqua is modern/trendy with low ceilings and snazzy lighting. Even though it's not a specialty restaurant, the servers are still quite adept and the dishes are quite good! Versailles has more of a bustle than Aqua, I like the vastness and the Louis-the-XIV-decor, the plate glass windows aft are stunning! Here the food is excellent also (the NY Strip steak was one of the best I've ever had: umami central).
Now to Norwegian Star's achilles heel: the BUFFET. This is the saddest, most hospital-cafeteria-romper-room-like buffet I have seen on a cruise ship! AVOID AT ALL COST!!!
Cruise ship shows are too "amateurish" for my taste, so I skip them. I've seen a couple on this ship, they are a major YAWN. Additionally, the Stardust Theatre's seats are so close, one could easily get claustrophobic if seated anywhere but an aisle. We did see the comedian "Noodles." Not so funny. Pretty G rated stuff.
Our ports were Costa Maya, Belize City, Roatan, Cozumel. In Costa Maya we went on an excursion to Maya Chan. The ride was long and bumpy but scenic. The resort was idyllic: palm trees, palapas, soft sand, clean, small, and intimate, excellent service! Not a good place to swim though, the rocky/silty sand has a peanut butter-like consistency and feels really icky especially when you start sinking.
Belize City (English speaking port)- If you want a "proper" beach you will need to take a boat ride to one of the nearby Cays. Belize City is a tender port, so you will need to calculate about 25 minutes ship-to-shore. I hired a taxi to take me to Cucumber Beach, which really isn't a proper sandy beach, but rocky instead. They have a man-made lagoon (which doesn't connect to the ocean) for swimming, a restaurant, and palapas. Entrance was $10/head. I collected shells at the beach (big ones too!), had lunch at the restaurant (excellent rice and beans), and read a Roslund Hellstom novel. I took a taxi tour thru town and landed back at the port shopping district which is brimming with designer knock-offs (LV, Coach, Burberry, you name it). Total cost $40 taxi (including tip), beach $10, lunch $9.
Roatan- An excursion to Parrot Tree Plantation. The port area is very clean/quaint albeit small. The locals speak English since it is taught in schools, so getting around is quite easy. Our excursion to Parrot Tree Plantation started in a crammed like sardines bus ride (seats made for emaciated Ethopians not fat Americans) and took about 45 minutes. Parrot Tree Plantation was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. It's a little "contrived" with the lagoon, but here are the warm turquoise waters at long last! The included meal was pretty good, buffet style: pasta salad, chicken, veggies, rice n beans, etc...
Cozumel- The comedian on the Norwegian Star's funniest joke is this: Cozumel in Mayan means T-shirt. That pretty much sums up this port. We went to Playa Mia which was a little "theme park" like, very clean, but for the cost ($80 head) they don't explain much. You have to "learn" what's included and what's not. First of all, mixed drinks are free, you will need to go to the umbrella hut to get an umbrella (FREE) but tip the dude who installs it, and lunch is a open time free-for-all. The lunch was surprisingly tasty with dozens of choices, fish, chicken, rice, tacos, salads, etc... The swimming area here was the best on the trip thus far, deep blue warm water, however there are some big rocks, so I recommend swim shoes. This is more resort-style with all of the chaise lounges stacked arm-to-arm.
Overall, the ship is well maintained. The loungers on deck need to be replaced as many are fraying and sagging, but besides that and the aforementioned pathetic buffet, the Norwegian Star is ship shape. Sure, the atrium is starting to look a little "dated" but everything is shiny and clean.
Since we didn't fly out of MSY until 3pm, we did the city tour which drops us at the airport. What a great way to debark! We met in the Stardust lounge, and once we were cleared, our tour was off the boat, luggage grabbed, thru customs, and on the bus in less than 30 minutes! The tour itself was quick but nice, a good intro to NOLA.
Overall, a FANTASTIC cruise on the Norwegian Star!