Norwegian Star Cruise Seattle to Alaska June 19-26
Disclaimer- Any omissions, errors or outright lies are probably due to alcohol consumed while on this cruise. Please feel free to flame, as I am representing a group collective opinion and will blame someone else for any offending material. Likewise, please excuse the likely multiple typos, cause I can't type for dibbly-squap.
Group- 12: 9 adults and 3 kids ages 5 to 65
Flights- Delta for most of us. Arrived on Saturday (long trip from Virginia) and stayed at he Embassy Suites near the airport. Mangers reception with free drinks, and full breakfast in the morning- got us in the mood for some pampering. Took a van and a car which runs about 10 dollars per person or about 30 for a cab.
Embarkation- Arrived at 11:20 (thanks CC hints!) and had a very smooth entrance. NCL does this right with number assignments. Porters at the dock are eager and helpful- especially this early. We had one traveller with a green card- and NCL made this smooth- they actually got processed before the rest of us. We were on the boat at a bit afternoon, and in the Versailles before 12:30 for our lunch. More on the food later. No problems with bags- they were waiting for us when we got back from lunch, and a quick jaunt or two about the ship.
The Stateroom: We had four rooms on Deck 10- all inside cabins. this was for multiple reasons. 1. we could get cabins near each other with multiple beds (more than 2 per room). 2. We would not have insomnia from too much daylight and 3. We're cheap. The room was plenty large enough for our four (2 adults +2 kids). Shower door is a nice touch. Bring a power strip. Shampoo and liquid soap are in the shower. Liquid soap at the sink. Hair dryer outside in the cabin. Beds were comfortable for most of the gang. A bit hard was the only note I heard. Hint, ask your steward to connect the beds together for a single large bed- or if you are 2 in a room, you can pull out the trundle and make a giant bed (if it's available).
The Ship (general): The Star was very clean, and the staff did a fine job in keeping it so. Stains, odd smells, were a rarity, and dust, dirt, or grime were not seen by any. The design of the ship was very user friendly once I learned that the port doors were painted red. Navigation signs are near most elevators. The elevators have info boards on them and on the screen telling you which floor is on the next stop with appropriate info, etc. The stairwells are nicely decorated and the art work there is worth the exercise- which I needed aplenty due to the carb loading. Then again, to burn off that much- I would have had to swim back from Juneau. The public area of the boat were also well kept, with varying and appropriate themes in each area. Not exactly Feng Shui, but nice and effective.
The Ship- Public Spaces: Reception area Deck 7- Place to get most info, menus, Dailies and make reservations: Staff were very friendly, and service was usually quick- not too many lines here, as the desk is usually very well staffed. Right near by was the shore excursion desk/room. Again had very pleasant staff, and even info on shopping and non-NCL sponsored tours and attractions. Internet Cafe- Deck 9- Open around the clock, and expensive- various deals were throughout the cruise to bundle minutes. SIL used this and didn't feel that the connection was that fast, but it was a good connection. I thought it would be hard to put a T3 line on a ship, and told her not to have her hopes too high. The room itself was nice, with plenty of computers available. Pools- Did not use the main pools or slides due to temps, but some teens were braving the weather. The kids used the children's pools near the kids club. This is very nice- They have their own slides. and even a small slide for the wee ones, and their own pool about 3 feet deep. Also had a kiddie hot tub. (To relieve the stress of second grade, I suppose)
Barong Spa: A favorite place of mine: Deck 11: No charge for the usage of the hot tub, indoor pool, dressing rooms, showers, sauna, hydrotherapy spa, steam room, or hot and cold plunge (the plunge is only on the men's side) The sauna was so nice, that I expected to see a couple of old Norwegian men there hitting themselves with a tree branch and then running into the snow. No better way to get rid of the daily toxins (see bars, restaurants, below) than with a half hour well spent there. Some reclining, pillowed chairs are in the pool/hot tub area which overlooks the back of the boat. Nice place to get lost for a while- and no kids! The spa services were nice, SIL, DW and MIL had facials, pedicures, manicures, scalp treatments. FIL got a deep tissue massage (and yes, I asked, and no, no happy ending!) Pricey, but many specials throughout the week from 40 to 150 dollars for combined therapies.
Exercise center Deck 12 upstairs from spa: I actually used this frequently (really!) as I had been dieting, and needed to do something to reduce my guilt level. Nice equipment here- multiple bikes, treadmills, stairmasters all with monitors/TV's Multiple weight machines and freeweights and mat area. Barong Juice bar is here- has milkshakes (that's just evil, by the way!) and, of course, juice- for a fee. The gym is free. Hint: go in the early AM, and you'll likely run into many of the staff- especially performers. Also, on the outside of the juice bar (near the kids pool) is the place for ice cream (scooped, with cones, no toppings here). No charge on the ice cream.
Library Deck 12: Nice book selection, easy check out, and right across from the ample Reading Room. Chairs, Desks, and a Quiet View- nice place to sit during the Glacier Bay, or any time. Dad used this one as vacation to him is sitting and reading and sightseeing. (If only room service would have delivered to him) Game Room, next to the Reading room- Double game room area, with card tables, and many games and cards in the cabinets (no sign is there to notify you of this, to my knowledge). Also nice viewing area.
Spinnaker's Lounge Next to Game area: Large area at the front of the Ship with a stage and many "comfy chairs" (Anyone notice that this ship looks like it was furnished by IKEA? Even with the names on the furniture and faucets like Smooj or Fjorgnork, or something like that.) . The Ironics played there nightly- and are a very nice band for dancing. Talent Show, Bingo ,Swing Music, Ballroom Dancing/Tango Lessons and The Liars Club were a few other highlights Stardust Theater: Movies there every day on the big screen: Seats were nice, good recent run films. (Interesting note: "Titanic" was being shown on the TV as we went into Glacier Bay) Star Bar: Piano music of a softer tone in the evenings. Carousel Nightclub Deck 7: Karaoke in the evening - followed by Stan Sykes- R+B and some oldies- nice fellow, met him at the Exercise room one AM. Gave lots of neat info about the ship, and towns in AK. Very talented musician. Java Cafe- Pricey coffee- not so bad for Coffee with Alcohol of choice, and Cookies (best place to snag a free cookie) Across from the reception desk area.
Casino: Several of our party visited and made deposits here: Slots are "certified" 95 per cent payers. Video Poker is nice at the bar. Blackjack started at 5 dollars each, Nickel slots available. Texas hold'em available with a sign up- minimum of four, and they take you to a back room, and call you when a spot opens. 3/6 dollar and 5/10 dollar games. BIL played for an hour and won 12 bucks! woo hoo! I hit well on the video poker, and gave the winning to DW, who spent in Ketchikan. (It's gonna go one way or another, folks) Heavy smoke during certain times- especially after 10 p.m. But not too crowded, and varying hours. Casino closed Saturday 3 p.m. before arrival in Seattle on Sunday- WA state laws. Multiple Blackjack an slots tournaments, as well as a free spin machine are there.
Red Lion Pub: Bar area with English Decor. Good UK Beers in Bottles- Boddingtons, Guinness, Newcastle to name a few. Trivia there Daily (I must brag that our team did fairly well in Team Trivia- winning 4/5 times that we played) Fish & Chips are a nice snack to go with the beer- they get it from upstairs at the Blue Lagoon.
Medical Center Deck 4 (Hey, we had 12 people, of course someone would have to go!) Nice, clean (duh!) area, German Doctor, good medical equipment, and available meds (we had a Doc, a Nurse, a Pharmacist, and 2 EMT's in the group) Dear Sister (DS) had a nasty cough, and needed some prescription strength decongestant and antibiotic. Herr Doktor also recommended some time in the steam room, as the rooms are quite dry. (Zehr Gut!) Photo Gallery- A bunch of pictures for sale.
Planet Kids: This is arranged by groups with 2-5, 6-9, 10-12, and teens. This was unfortunate, as it caused our 5 (and one-half) year old not to be in with his cousin and brother ages 6 and 8. The 6 and 8 year olds enjoyed the programs immensely, and requested to go back frequently. T-shirt making, learning sessions, meeting the CD, and the park ranger for glacier bay nat'l park, among the few highlights. The 5 year old was less happy with this, as the room for the 2-5 year olds (the nursery) was small with minimal age-appropriate activities. Barney videos with 2-3 year olds just don't cut it for school age kids. Begging to have him bumped up a class was sadly to no avail- but hey, this is Freestyle, so he opted out of the program and hung out with us most of the time, allowing some good father (and some mom, aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc.) one to one bonding time. I mentioned this to the CD, who noted this to be a common concern every cruise. I heard also that the 10-12's enjoyed their classes, and that the teens gave mixed reviews- Teens, by the way were able to check themselves in and out, and could frequently be found in the Video Game Room, near the kids area. (Hint: look on day one for a free couple of hours of video game play)
Ship Shopping: Nothing particularly special here, Duty Free on Deck Seven with a kiosk across from the reception area and a larger shopping area aft. Usual knickknacks and duty free items. One of the smaller shopping areas that I have noted onboard. (Which was just fine by my wallet!)
Restaurants: This is where multiple opinions can be found on all cruises, but generally the opinion was to this consensus. The food was pretty good in the main dining areas, and fair on the buffet. The service was fair to poor in the main dining areas per the group. Much debate was held as to the theory on this. All agreed that the table servers and staff were very nice, and some did a very capable job. It was interesting to note that in areas which seemed to have a savvy head waiter, the service was very sharp and outstanding. However, there seemed to be considerable disorganization in the main dining rooms. Mistakes seemed to be the rule, rather than the exception- incorrect dishes, food brought in the wrong order (Kids once got dessert first, main dishes before appetizers). Simple niceties, like drink refills, usually had to be requested multiple times. None of us allowed this to ruin our cruise, or even the meals, but this was noticeable compared to other cruises. Staff were friendly, and would make corrections if requested to do so, usually we would just switch our own plates, drinks, or make due. One theory was that this was perhaps due to poor training amongst the staff- I think some had a difficulty with grazing the language- even when pointing to the menu and stating the item clearly, some seemed to have trouble. Again, this is in comparison to other cruises of similar quality (Carnival, RCI, etc.) which also have many multinationals working aboard. Some of the group felt that the freestyle concept may have the flaw of the waitstaff not having the direct feedback of tipping and thus not having an onus for great service. I thought that both of these may be true, but also that with freestyle, your waitstaff doesn't get to "know" you and your preferences, so "mistakes" made on the first night may be repeated by other staff.
That being stated a brief overview of the main dining areas were: Versailles: Beautiful Decorum, Lines were only heavy about 6:30 to 7:30 on some nights, most waits were less than five minutes if at all. One formal night (optional- though most went semi-, or formal) was on Monday. Breakfast was standard with one or two rotating specialties- Good Salmon with Bagel, Fruit plate was always good, eggs were cooked to order. Lunch varied, with three to four main dishes, and a few sandwich type dishes. Salad and a few other entrees were always available lunch or dinner (e.g Hamburger, Baked Potato, hot dog, etc.). Dinner was usually of fairly good quality. Multiple entrees, healthy choice entree, vegetarian entree, soups, salads, appetizers. Desserts were four specialty choices, Ice Cream and Sherbet, Sometimes Cheese plate and Petit fours. Kid's menu was the same throughout. Multiple usuals- Pizza, Hot Dog, Hamburger, Mac and Cheese, PB&J, Veggies, Chicken and Fish sticks. Hint- Very nice Vegetarian Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni is available on the Kid's menu. Special food requests (e.g alternative ethnic or vegetarian dishes) not on the menu were not granted in the evening, per the maitre d', even with advanced notice.
Aqua: pretty much the same menu with a few changes from Versailles, a more modern ambience, and same dining format. Often less crowded than Versailles on the formal night. Market Cafe: There was a great deal of variation of opinion regarding the quality of the buffet. I felt it to be hit or miss. Again, service seemed to be a bit disorganized, with replacing empty platters of food. Four buffet lines are here Breakfast Lunch and Dinner. At lunch a vegetarian buffet with some international foods were available, the chick peas curry (channa dal) and papadum were well done according to the Indian Contingent of the group. Juice is available in the a.m., Coffee and Iced Tea available all times. The kids buffet was cute, hot dogs, hamburgers. and pint sized seats. Blue Lagoon/Room Service: available 24 hours: Noodles, Pizza both favorite items of the group, The Grill Deck 12 near the pool- grill favorites, good burger bar.
Not to be missed: BBQ after the muster drill and again on Saturday: very nicely done ribs! and Chocolate Buffet: Friday Night- get in line early, although the line moves fast.
The Specialty Restaurants seemed to fare better (ha, ha) than the main dining areas: Endless Summer had Tex-Mex, and was given a thumbs up by the group Appetizers included a fried onion (a-la Outback) in junior portion, and mozzarella sticks (tuna favorite Mexicana, no?) Entrees were plentiful and tasty. Le Bistro (half the Market Cafe at night) has made to order pastas with multiple types and sauces, and pizzas (seriously good pizza). with multiple entrees. The sushi bar has all you can eat (10 dollars) or a la carte sushi all you can eat included miso soup and green tea ice cream. Sushi included Nigiri, rolls, no sashimi. Rolls were varied and small portioned (on the all you can eat carousel) so you can try many types. Hint: Chat up the sushi chef, and take your time eating the sushi- watching him make it right in front of you is part of the fun. He asked for requests after a while, and made a wonderful large spicy tuna hand roll for me, which I have not yet recovered from with exercise. There were many veggie-friendly rolls available. As to the other specialty restaurants, we were eating usually in large groups and even if we could agree on which one to go to (half vegetarian- made steak less likely), as I said, we're cheap! I heard from other cruisers not to miss the steak at Cagney's if that's your thing, and the desserts at Le Bistro were fabu.
Norwegian Star Cruise Seattle to Alaska June 19-26 Part 2
CD Simon led a very chipper crew. He was darn near everywhere. He is a pleasant Aussie (mostly Aussie), and just witty enough to perform as a host. The Captain made a few appearances and several difficult to hear announcements over the PA system. This was usually due to being preceded by the louder Simon, who is comparatively more prepared for public speaking.
Our captain kept the ship fairly smooth- the stabilizers seemed to be doing their job- we were tested by one stormy night if heavy yawing. Our Assistant CD was from South Africa, and she was also very cheerful and lively. Crew in all parts of the ship were generally pleasant, and willing to give assistance whenever asked to do so.
Our Cabin Steward "Ben" immediately learned our group last name, and was checking up on us frequently. Room management was fine, all requests were handled quickly. Of note- the room has a little sign on the outside which can be toggled to Do Not Disturb, Make up Cabin, Welcome, Turn Down Cabin, etc. Using this makes the work of the steward more effective. No "towel-agami" (animals made from towels) were spotted- and I believe that is the norm with NCL. Chocolates on the pillows are there, (as if that is really needed, especially after the chocolate buffet). Hint: always, always, always take a minute to chat up your cabin steward at the beginning of your cruise-make sure they know you: food is easy to find on a cruise ship- but an extra blanket, towel, or other needed item can make a cruise difference. Also, I always feel that the stewards are an "underappreciated" group.
On a freestyle cruise, I don't find the Maitre D' to be as prominent, especially if no specific requests are given. For large groups trying to coordinate a time in Aqua or Versailles- I recommend a chat with them- and they were useful in this area. You have probably read on CC to get your reservations in early for specialty restaurants- this is especially so if you have any group larger than 4.
Entertainment: The Jean Ayn Ryan players had three different shows: All were attended by some members of our group and reviews were favorable: "Music of the Night "(Andrew Lloyd Webber music), "Fame" -Broadway song and dance routines and "Cirque Pacific"- Interpretive dance with Chinese Acrobats- my personal favorite. A comedian, Bud Anderson- appropriate for slightly older kids and adults- was a favorite of those who attended. The Liars club and Talent show were worth attending. Music was abundant all over the ship: I certainly recommend the Ironics, for those who are fond of dancing- and unlike some cruise bands, you can just sit and listen and enjoy their music. Alaska: On to the Star of the show!
This was a first visit to Alaska for the entire group, so we were awestruck. This is a majestic place- nature abounds, and even where human interface is present, it appears to be fairly basic, and trapped in it's own time/space dimension. The exchange rate for currency is favorable in Alaska. (Hee, hee) But it is expensive there. That being said, make the time and spend the money doing as much as possible in this amazing part of the world. (In my opinion, of course) these are not little mexicali villas or island tourist traps which give us a good excuse to stay on board and use the spa "in port" specials. Weather: Um, guess what- It Rains!, Sure we were told by our fishing boat captain that it had just been 89 degrees the Saturday before, but it was 62 and rain that day. However- the rain is usually transient and absolutely unpredictable. You will see forecasts on your dailies and at the reservation station, and on the weather channel, and on the internet, and wherever you choose- but they are usually wrong. Here's the Alaska Inside Passage Weather forecast: "Good morning! Today it will rain, most likely somewhere, for some amount of time. June is the driest month, so we might see some sunshine. If the sun comes out for more than two hours, it will probably get hot, near 80, almost never 90. And when no sun is out, it should be between 60 and 70. In the early AM or evening this can dip into the 50's. Also you can expect this when around or on a glacier, as ice, believe it or not, is cold. So wear layers, and take an umbrella. Those of you from Seattle will shrug this off, and any of you from LA who choose to complain about this will be subject to being thrown to any Orcas that we may see in Glacier Bay." We were very fortunate to have mostly overcast, very little rain while in port, and also very little sunshine- a trade-off that I was more than happy to accept.
Seattle: The boat is not too far from the Space Needle and downtown highlights, so if you are staying in town or at the port area, tours should be easy. Sadly, we did not have the time to hit any Seattle highlights (unless you count Starbucks) on this trip.
Juneau: The ship tendered in for the first few hours (around 1:30 PM) and the docked. We had a three guy fishing trip planned with Juneau Sportfishing and Sightseeing (Independently booked- although it was the same company that the ship used, unbeknownst to me). We were on the Popeye with Captain Nick and his assistant. Very nice Salmon fishing trip into Auke Bay. Beautiful day, and we only caught a few baby cod, which were not much bigger than bait, but that's "good fishing," no? Some of the group took the whale watching/Mendenhall Glacier excursion from the boat. This was a hit with that group, and some beautiful breaching humpback pics were caught by Dear Sister and DW. Kids loved this- Inside Catamaran with big glass windows- comfortable, small enough, and weatherproof. Others of the group went on their own to the glacier and also up to the Tram. Hint: do the tram first, as it gives an all day pass, and then you can go back up later in the day if you like, likewise, many seem to blitz to the glacier first, so it lets the crowd die down a bit.
Skagway: Arrived in the Early AM: Walked the town (Did Disney produce this place?) and then all 12 of us caught the White Pass Railway. This was a really fun excursion- and was the only thing I had planned for the whole group on this trip- A truly enjoyable trip for all ages. Our youngest (5) caught a nap on the way back, as did one of our oldest, no problemo. The family is still chatting about this part of the trip. The train picks you up at the ship if you get your ticket through the cruise line. I certainly recommend a trip over to the train station, a few blocks into town. Ketchikan: Not enough time in here or Victoria was given on our itinerary (about 7 hours each- AM to early PM here, PM only in Victoria), as these are two towns which one can see and do quite a bit. Totem Village, and Rainforest Park was the destination for some in our group- Shopping was it for the rest. If you are going to get your shopping fix in Alaska- this is the place to do it- ample bargains and choices abound. My boys (8 and 5) added to their rock collection and got some gold flakes, many came back with jewelry and jackets/sweaters.
Victoria: Way too short a visit here, arriving in the afternoon, and leaving in the night. Victoria is a beautiful little town, a cab ride in from the pier, or a double decker bus awaits as you disembark to get into town. The Tall Ships were in port for their last day, and were outstanding. Some of the group took in a tour to Butchart Gardens- a lot of walking, but a beautiful time of year to go. Many sightseeing tours are arrangable at the pier- or you can catch a ride to the harbor and there are many available there as well.
Glacier Bay- not a port. The ship took on a park ranger around 8:30, for an ongoing sightseeing lecture as the ship went slowly around the bay, it will turn to allow both sides of the ship to see the sights- so no need to shift constantly. Deck 7 allowed for very nice outdoor viewing and picture taking of the glaciers- some calving was seen and heard (do try to be outside to hear this). The reading room, game room and Spinnakers made for some other good viewing areas, Grandpa had a book and enjoyed the view. DW, myself and the boys played cards with intermittent "look at that's and a few bolts outside. The park rangers gave a lecture in the theater, and also to the kids in planet kids, at the end of the tour.
Overall, Alaska is one amazing place to see. My initial concerns about trying to take such a diverse group- especially kids, were quickly assuaged and general reviews were all positive to every member of the group. The Star is a beautiful ship, and it's crew indeed very pleasant and professional. Freestyle cruising was not preferable to all in the group- but not so aversive as to cause any major problems, and even those who did not prefer it acknowledged the advantages. In short, we have been spoiled for a week and enjoyed quality family time in an amazing part of our world. What more can one want?