Norwegian Star Cruise Review by Ken Coppedge: Norwegian Star - Alaska
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Norwegian Star - Alaska
May 15-22, 2005 ALASKA: Inside Passage
I want to begin this review by thanking, all the people who have taken the time to compose, and post their reviews. Special thanks to those who have posted in-depth reviews. This represents a generous investment of time. Thank You! My wife and I are in our late 40s and this was our very first cruise. It was my wife's idea to go, but I did all the planning (I had the time). My marching orders were, a cruise to Alaska, and we had to see Moose. I didn't know whether or not the moose thing was achievable, but I started the planning with high hopes.
First stop, Amazon dot com for a book. The one I chose was Frommer's "Alaska Cruises & Ports of Call". I highly recommend that you buy a book. If not this one, then something similar. I didn't know a thing about Alaskan cruises and this book had a wealth of knowledge. The first decision that I learned I would have to make was whether to take an "Inside Passage" cruise, or a "Gulf of More Alaska" cruise. After deciding on The Inside Passage I moved on to the myriad of other decisions. Next choice, Big ship, or medium to small ship. I chose a big ship for several reasons. Mainly because my Wife gets motion sickness, and the Big ships are less affected by the movement of the sea (this is also why I chose the Inside Passage-calmer waters); but also because of the much greater number of amenities on board; and greater anonymity (we wanted to relax, not mingle). However, there is plenty of opportunity to mingle if you want. Next, which cruise line, and which ship? I read the info. in the book about all the big cruise lines, and was attracted to the less formal "Freestyle Cruising" of Norwegian Cruise Line. We do not like dressing up, and with NCL you don't have to. The dress code is 'resort casual', which, bottom line, means casual slacks, collared shirt, and no tennis shoes in the restaurants at dinner. There is one optional 'formal night', but we had dinner in our room that evening (explanation later) so I'm not sure just how that works.
Once I had decided on NCL, the choice of ships was easy. The book talked about what a beautiful ship the NCL Star was, and this was repeated many times over in the reviews that I read online. Also, I figured that a ship built in 2001 would be in very good condition. Fortunately, the Star was sailing the itinerary that I wanted, when I wanted.
So, now comes the time to check the pricing. And the pricing was great compared to the other big cruise lines, with one very small caveat. The food. In the book, and in many of the reviews I read online, the food got panned. But, let me explain. Out of the approximately one dozen restaurants on this ship, four require an extra fee. This is above the price you have already paid for your cruise. The extra fee is from 15-20 dollars per person. And some people just cannot stomach paying extra for meals that they feel should be included in the price of their cruise. And I didn't think it sounded right either. So, I did a cost analysis. I budgeted in $ 40 extra dollars a day for the two of us to eat at the 'extra pay' restaurants. Oh, wait, did I say that the book, and all the reviews that I read (I read them ALL), raved about the extra-pay restaurants. After adding the $40 extra dollars a day to the price of the cruise, NCL still was a better apparent value than the other cruise lines (so far as I can deduce, this is our first cruise).
We ended up eating four dinners at the pay restaurants. The rest of our meals we ate at the included restaurants. After a couple of days we decided that the included restaurants were very good. We almost canceled the rest of our reservations at the pay restaurants, but decided to keep them so that we could experience a variety. However, if your budget is not as free as ours, please hear me now, the non-pay (included food) is fine to very good. This is coming not from a gourmet, but a very picky eater. The only complaint I had about the food the entire trip, and this is minor, was the selection of deli meats at lunchtime. Having said all this, if you think you want to eat in the extra-pay restaurants, you need to make your reservations early. Check it out as soon as you get on the ship.
Onward to the big enchilada, how much to spend on your cruise. The pricing for NCL shown in the book sounded pretty good, but I wanted a better deal. I had time on my hands, so I kept checking different web-sites for several weeks. I finally found a fare on the NCL weekly specials page that was very good. I could have gotten a little bit better price on another web-site, but it was worth paying a little more to have the security of dealing directly with the cruise line. Too many scammers out there! I made a reservation for an outside cabin with balcony. If you've never cruised before, you need to know that in general, unless you pay significantly more, your room will basically be a bed-in-a-box. This room was about 150 sq. ft., with a balcony of about 35 sq. ft. I highly recommend the balcony on an ALASKAN cruise. There is just too much beauty that can pass you by if you're not out there looking. You can pay less for a room. Which would give you either an inside room (no view), or an outside cabin with window (no comparison to a balcony). But as fate would have it, we did not end up in the outside cabin with balcony. About a month after I had booked the outside cabin with balcony I got a voice-mail from NCL reservations. They were offering an upgrade to an 'Owners Suite'. Let me illustrate. When you upgrade from the outside cabin with balcony, there are a few categories of 'Suites' available. Upgrade in square footage, quality of dEcor, amenities, and price. They are mostly about twice the square footage of the outside cabins (300 sq. ft.), some are less. With two exceptions. The Garden Villas, of which there are two available at a whopping 6,000 sq. ft. and a whopping fee to go along. And the 'Owners Suites', of which there are four available on this ship, at approx. 800 sq. ft. each.
Back to fate. NCL was offering us an upgrade to a magnificent 'Owners Suite' at about 55% more than we paid for the balcony cabin. I thought this was too good to be true. Then I thought, why do we need to pay that much more for our vacation. So, I asked my wife if she thought the extra room was worth the expense. She said,"absolutely" (she's smarter than me). So, I called NCL reservations back to accept their offer; only to be told that there was a mistake, and that the room could not be allowed to sell for the price offered. They said that since I had secured such a low price on my original room, they couldn't let me have the 'Owners Suite' for the offered extra price. So I waited a week and called them back to see if maybe I could get the deal. No dice. So I waited another week and called back again. This time they said that the original price would be accepted. I am so happy we paid the extra money for the upgrade. However, I wouldn't consider paying the regular rate for this room. But having got such a great deal, this room really made the trip for us. It was just beautiful (see pictures at http://community.webshots.com/album/170283490dIuVvp). It is located at the front of the ship and has a very large balcony at the front, and a smaller (80 sq. ft.) one on the side. You have butler, and concierge service, though we didn't use them much. You can have all of your meals served in your room if you like. The butler takes care of this, and the more you use his services, the more you should tip him at the end of the trip. General tipping for the crew members is not required, or expected (their tips come from a daily fee of $10 per person that is above and beyond your cruise fare). However, the butler and concierge do not participate in this. They need to be tipped separately. The in room meals option is only available in the Suites, not the less expensive rooms. Another perk of being in a Suite is that the concierge can take care of scheduling your shore excursions and dinner reservations. Everyone else has to line up at a central scheduling counter. The Suite also includes virtually unlimited bottled water and sodas at no charge. This is a real money saver. These two items can really add up if you are in a non-suite. Also included with the Owners Suite was three bottles of liquor (1 liter) no charge. I believe that if you were in a lower classified room you would be charged about $40 for each bottle of liquor. And you are not allowed to bring your own on board the ship, so be aware of that. Every day the butler brings hors d'oeuvres in the late afternoon, and gourmet sweets after dinner. One more handy item was a sort of shipboard cell phone that you could take with you when you left the room. You could use it to call your room, or the butler, or the concierge, or any other extension on the ship; very handy.
On a seven day Alaska cruise, you are in port for only a portion of three days. If you opt for a basic room (about 150 sq. ft.) you will be in very tight quarters with your cruise mate for a lot of hours. Unless you want to spend a lot of time in the public areas. This Owners Suite was just awesome, almost like having your own ship. Having the two balconies meant a 270 degree view instead of just being able to what's on your side of the ship in a regular room.
The entire ship was very clean and very well maintained. The biggest disappointment of the cruise was prior to getting on board. Norwegian Cruise Lines does a horrible job of providing information. My experiences dealing with the shore staff were not good. It was like they didn't care. Once on board though, it was great. Almost all of the shipboard employees were pleasant and happy to help.
We didn't see any of the shows, so I can't comment on that. Of the pay restaurants, our least favorite was Cagney's, and it has the highest added charge ($20). I had filet mignon, and it wasn't memorable at all. Should have been for this much EXTRA money.
Our absolute favorite shore excursion was the 'Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Jet-Boat Tour'. We even saw our Moose. Several!
We used the Spa; steam room, Jacuzzi, swimming pool, etc. which was free and very nice. Didn't book any massages. They seemed overpriced.
When you're booking your room make sure to check the ships deck layouts to make sure that you don't end up in an undesirable location (e.g. right above the disco). You might consider booking early or late in the season. The rates are cheaper, and there aren't many kids onboard. We definitely got great value from Norwegian Cruise Lines on this trip. Happy Cruising! Less
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