This was the second cruise for my husband and I; the first being 8 years ago on the first being 8 years ago when we celebrated our 30th anniversary by cruising to Alaska aboard the 700 passenger Universe Explorer. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary, although with some reservations about the size of the ship.
We booked our own flights and arrived in Seattle the day before our cruise, staying at the Sixth Avenue Inn, which was in a great location. The room was plain, but clean, comfortable and quiet. We had a great lunch at the hotel restaurant and spent the rest of the day touring Seattle.
Embarkation was fantastic. We arrived at the dock about 11:15 and were in our rooms within a half hour. I had packed some wine in my carry-on for consumption in the room, and was prepared to pay the corkage fee but it was not questioned. My husband had ordered a bar set-up through the ship coordinator and was pleased with the great service.
Our aft inside cabin on Deck 5 was small, but exactly as pictured on NCL's website - no surprises. There was ample closet and storage space for the two of us and our luggage, both in the closet and bathroom. We did find we had more room to move around with the beds separated; not our preference, but after 38 years of marriage, we could deal with it. If it's your honeymoon you might want to choose a larger cabin. We'd brought along an alarm clock that projected the time on the ceiling, so despite the darkness, we were aware when it was morning. The power strip we brought came in very handy, as there was only one outlet in the room and one in the bathroom. We also brought along a night light for the bathroom and found that very helpful.
Let me preface this by saying that we are bothered more than most people, by night time noises. That said, our neighbors liked to come in during the early hours of the morning and we were awakened on two nights by obscenities, crying and fighting. The ship was full and I realize that there wasn't much NCL could do about the situation, but we made several calls to Guest Services seeking assistance - at 2:30 a.m., 4:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. that all went unanswered after a minimum of 10 minutes on hold. Fearing a belligerent neighbor, we were hesitant to bang on the walls, but that is what we finally had to resort to. I don't think it's unreasonable to feel that NCL Guest Services should have been available to have an NCL staff member handle the situation. I like to think we had a rare, bad experience; but for us, even with good neighbors, the lack of soundproofing between cabins will keep us from booking NCL again, as we could easily hear even normal conversation through the walls. If we could hear them, they could hear us, and we felt the lack of privacy. There was a service area on the other side of our cabin, but the only sounds we ever heard was a low rumble that sounded like carts being moved; nothing that bothered us.
The towel animals on the beds were cute, but our cabin stewards didn't replace all the towels and glasses on several occasions; Guest Services quickly had the missing items replaced. The stewards had a lot of cabins to cover and on the whole, did a great job. The staff was very helpful and friendly.
I called NCL a week before our cruise to ask if it was true that they were charging for the indoor pool. I was told Not to worry, you can't believe everything you read on-line. The indoor lap pool on the Star is free. On board I was told the charges have been in effect since April on the Star; $15/day; $60/cruise. This was a minor issue that wouldn't have soured me on NCL.
We enjoyed the view from The Spinnaker Lounge but did wish there was a quiet bar / lounge up front, where you could sit and enjoy the view without bingo and line dancing going on around you. Small point, but then we had no view from our inside cabin - our choice, so not to be taken as a complaint.
The Atrium was lovely, and had a bazaar atmosphere from the sale of the day booths. We're not shoppers, and would have preferred a quieter space, but when my husband's watch broke, we did patronize the bazaar.
There was some wear on the chair upholstery in several of the lounges, but overall the ship was beautiful and very well kept.
We both loved the freestyle dining and it was wonderful not to have to dress up at dinner. We made reservations for the alternative restaurants when we boarded and were very glad we did, as reservations were hard to come by later. We dined and Cagney's and Soho and felt the additional fee was money well spent. La Trattoria was a total disappointment, but my husband is ½ Italian and, growing up surrounded by Italians we found the food to be OK, but not our idea of Italian. Endless Summer was a beautiful room, the food was acceptable, but it was a bit too noisy for our tastes. There's the old noise bug-a-boo again! The Market Cafe was fine for a quick meal and we sometimes went there at off-hours on sea days to enjoy the view from the large windows. We never ate at the Blue Lagoon; but occasionally grabbed a cookie and heard another passenger refer to it as the cookie restaurant. The menu in Versailles was unimaginative, but the food was good, the room was beautiful and the service was fine.
We heard great things from other passengers about the shows in the Stardust Theater, but we only went there to attend a day-time lecture on whales. We found the Theater to be beautiful. The lecturer's background was not in whales, or any other Alaskan topic. It was obvious that he had done some homework to prepare the lectures, but they left a lot to be desired. We really enjoyed the musical entertainment in the smaller lounges; Stan Sykes in the Carousel, Jana Searle in the Star Bar and, our particular favorite, Monty Banks in Gatsby's. We also spent some time by the pool to listen to the band Freedom.
We booked 3 shore excursions through NCL as soon as they were available on-line and were very pleased with the process. We opted, just before the cruise, to cancel our excursion in Juneau in favor of Captain Larry's whale watching (fantastic trip). The cancellation process on-board was easy. Be aware that any trips involving an airplane or helicopter can't be cancelled. In Skagway I enjoyed the free walking tour with the National Park Service Ranger and we both enjoyed the Yukon and White Pass Railroad. It didn't matter which side of the train you sat on, as everyone switched sides for the trip down, giving everyone on board the view from the edge. In Price Rupert we took the Ksee Yaen Back Country Adventure, which took us 50 miles inland to the Skeena River. We enjoyed the trip, but felt too much time was spent waiting for everyone to have their turn in the two 6-passenger jet boats. The tour guides were very knowledgeable and it was great to have the opportunity to talk with the First Nation guide and find out a little about her culture. Prince Rupert is a new port, not visited by too many ships. This was the Star's first stop in Prince Rupert and we were surprised by how many people came to the near-by park to watch us pull out, even though we were 1-1/2 hours late leaving the port. It was my husband's first visit to Victoria. We took a cab to the Inner Harbor, enjoyed a cocktail on the Veranda of The Empress, and hired a Kabuki Bike Cab for a tour of Beacon Hill Park on our way back to the ship. The Kabuki driver was knowledgeable and gave us a great tour, tailored to our time constraints and interests.
Disembarkation was a breeze! During our cruise, the newest terror plot was uncovered and suddenly; toothpaste, sun block and most make-up had to go into checked luggage. NCL did a good job of keeping us informed about what to expect at the end of the cruise. We were able to take advantage of the new Bags program and checked out bags through with American Airlines right from the ship. Our boarding passes were left in our room the last evening and we were able to enjoy a final breakfast in Versailles and walk off the ship, with our small carry-on at our leisure.
Overall we had a great time, just felt that another ship would have been a better fit for us. This was only our second cruise experience, so it was a learning experience, as well as a great vacation.