Since the Star changes home ports and itineraries periodically, I will begin by mentioning that we sailed out of New Orleans for seven days and visited Costa Maya, Belize, Roatan, and Cozumel. We sailed with our good friends down the street, as we often do, when we can make our schedules match up. They have sailed Norwegian before, so we rode their coat tails through the embarkation process, as this was our first encounter with Norwegian. We arrived at the terminal early, since it was Super Bowl Sunday in NOLA and we had no idea what traffic complications that might present. The impact was negligible and added no more than 10 minutes to the last mile between the Superdome and the port. The security and embarkation process were painless, and before long they called for group "One" and we boarded. For those unfamiliar with Norwegian, they issue priority LETTERS (A,B,C, etc) to those who have booked high end suites and those in the higher tiers of their loyalty program (Latitudes). Those of lesser status and/or accommodations are issued NUMBERS (1,2,3, etc), so, the call the letters before they start in on the numbers. No doubt the time passed quickly in part because we were with friends and were happy with the thought of leaving the shore, the worries of work, and the cold weather behind in favor of the warm, blue waters of the Caribbean. At any rate we were on board and checking out the buffet lunch offerings by 11:15 AM. I should mention, as we boarded the ship, we were alerted to the option of checking our carry on luggage in a secure room near the lobby. That was an attractive option, since the staterooms are typically not available until one or one thirty in the afternoon. Checking you carry ons was a complementary service (get used to that term -- complementary. It is used to differentiate between things that are free and things that are not.)
Now, about the cruise and the ship. Let me begin by saying the service workers were excellent. Their attitude was excellent, and that alone can make or break the cruise experience. I had a couple of significant issues with the cruise line and hotel management, but the great attitude of the cabin stewards, wait staff, shop clerks and others made it easy to shrug off problems.
This was our 15th cruise, so as seasoned cruisers, we are well aware that there is no such thing as the perfect cruise. Every ship has something not to like, so you either spend a lot of energy gritting your teeth and griping, or you go with the flow and make the best of things.
With that said, on more than a few occasions, I found myself wondering if Norwegian ever bothers buying a ticket and seeing what the competition is doing.
So, let's talk about the buffet: Plentiful, with a good selection of beef, pork, chicken, chicken,and vegetable offerings at every meal, along with the usual salad bar offerings and often Panini sandwiches. No selection on the sandwiches, but rather a sandwich of the day. There were multiple buffet lines, so there was seldom any real wait to get through the line and get yourself a meal. What was lacking was dessert offerings, and this problem applied to the main dining room menus as well. I am not big on dessert, but I couldn't help but notice the choices were limited and uninspiring. No one in our group is anywhere near being a food snob, but I saw a lot of desserts pushed aside after the first bite. What we all decidedly did not like was the seating. There was row after row of tables for eight, perpendicular to the buffet lines, and the separation between rows was so narrow that it was difficult get in and out of the inner seats without everyone standing up to let you out. You end up eating in close proximity with strangers, both seated and those passing through the buffet line, some of whom may not be big on covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze.
The Star has two main dining rooms, the Aqua and the Versailles. The Aqua is midship, and has no (or few windows -- I don't remember seeing any) and low ceilings. We found the room to be consistently noisy, to the point of conversation being challenging. With that said, the best meal (and dining room service) we had all week was in the Aqua for supper on the day of departure. Our table was right next to our waitress's (Glenda's) work station and she was a blur. Starters and entrees came quickly and drink refills were frequent. Departure night is typically when they serve Surf and Turf. The tenderloin was nothing special, but the lobster tail was cooked perfectly and I polished off mine quickly. I was quite surprised when Glenda asked if I'd like more lobster and was down right shocked when a plate with TWO large tails appeared almost instantly. At any rate, towards the end of the week we realized that we would have done well to make dinner reservations for the rest of the week right then and there. Some nights we ended up waiting over 20 minutes at both dining rooms waiting to be seated.
We had dinner (and a few lunches) in the Versailles dining room in the back of the ship several times. The Versailles is a beautiful room with lots of windows and high ceilings. Unfortunately the service was slow and steaks where never cooked as requested. One medium rare sirloin arrived well done and a medium well rib eye came out rare. Service was so slow that we dared not send food back as that would put making the show in the Stardust lounge a bridge too far. On two nights, despite being seated over an hour before show time, we had to forgo dessert in order to make the show. As a past guest of Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Holland America, I can say without hesitation, in comparison, the "complementary" dining experience in the main dining rooms on the Star was a disappointment, in terms of selection, food quality, presentation, preparation, and service. Obviously, I am accustomed to the evening meals on my cruises being one of the high points for the cruising experience, and they usually are. The experience didn't ruin my day, but, had we been traveling alone, we probably would have forgone the main dining rooms after the second night.
Dining alternatives: The Grill next to the pool was often an option for something fast, and although the menu was limited the Blue Lagoon has quick seating and fast service. Other than the steak house, the specialty restaurants seemed to be mostly empty most of the time, so I guess we weren't the only cheapskates on the ship.
Breakfast was one area where the buffet shined. In addition to the indoor buffet lines, the poolside grill also served breakfast (including cooked to order eggs and omelets) and one of the buffet lines inside was set up with multiple (five or six) omelet stations. As soon as more than three or four guests accumulated at a station, they would open another station. Unlike the competition, there was NEVER a wait for a cooked to order omelet or eggs. Best of all, it was only a short walk to find an outdoor table out on deck.
Entertainment on board: Shows in the Stardust were fairly good. Nothing awesome, mind you, but nothing to walk out on either. The singers harmonized well, but were often overwhelmed by the volume of the band. The guy running the sound board did a poor job of balancing sound inputs.
On the plus side, the Stardust Lounge had a lot of unobstructed stadium seating. Many ships have large columns in the lounge that support the upper decks, resulting in a lot of seats that can't see the stage for the columns. Not so in the Stardust. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion I sat down, only to discover that the seat I had chosen was bent forward from an overweight guest to the point that you felt like you might slide off into the floor.
Problems: Our economy, inside cabin had NO COLD water! Plenty of HOT water, but no cold. I called the problem in to reception a couple of times, mentioned it to the cabin steward repeatedly, and eventually called the hotel director. Granted it was a complex problem. Feeling the inlet pipe under the sink revealed that the water coming into the cabin through the cold supply was hot. Not warm, HOT. Holding a meat thermometer under the tap at the sink and in the shower indicated water temps of 108 degrees on the cold setting and 104 on the hot setting. Unfortunately the maintenance man could not get his head around the fact that the problem was external to the cabin. He eventually adjusted both faucets to the point that on the rare occasion that the cold supply was actually supplying cold water, the best you could manage was a lukewarm shower or shave. No doubt, had I made getting the problem fixed my main mission and been more persistent in my complaints, I could have prevailed, but I go on vacation to get away from such aggravations, so I didn't put much energy into it. None the less, I was disappointed on the lack of follow up and concern from management, and was left with the feeling that "Freestyle" must be code for "Like it or Lump it".
Second problem: I discovered late in the day before returning to New Orleans that my $75 on board credit was not only nonrefundable, but could not be used to offset gratuities. (Upon return, I checked the "Terms and Conditions" of onboard credit on the Norwegian website and the fine print supported this finding). By then, it was a little late in the cruise to drink $75 worth of drinks and I had absolutely NO use for $75 worth of tee shirts from the on board shops, especially those emblazoned with the Norwegian logo. Ultimately I bought $74.97 worth of overpriced liquor in the ship's "Duty free". I think the best entertainment I got on the whole cruise was when they used 4 worth of ink and paper on my final bill to inform me that I had forfeited 3 worth of onboard credit.
Minor distractions: Our modest interior stateroom had a small (13 inch) CRT television. To their credit, the ship offered complementary late run movies on one of the channels, but picture quality suffered on the small TV's. There were NO network channels available, only news and weather channels and a bow camera channel. Many ships on other lines have interactive TV systems that allow you to order shore excursions, make spa and dinner appointments, check your onboard account balance and order pay per
view movies. Not the Star.
The pluses of the cruise: The weather was great! The seas were calm! We made it to the beach for hours of swimming in three out of four ports of call. We ran into members of our Cruise Critic Roll call group time after time during the week. It's always fun to talk with someone you have met on line in the weeks before the cruise. Norwegian hosted a nice meet and greet for our Cruise Critic group and we even got a tour of the bridge later in the week.
Let me close by saying there are no bad cruises, some are just better than others. Granted the "complementary" food didn't have the "Wow" factor I am accustomed to, and the plumbing problem was a minor aggravation (a matter of principle as much as anything, although I might feel differently if I'd had a grandchild along and they had gotten burned in the shower). The positive attitude of the crew can make or break a cruise experience and the crew of the Star was excellent. I will cruise with Norwegian again when the price is right, but I will lower my expectations. I'd rate Norwegian as "basic transportation", but even basic transportation makes for a great vacation compared to staying home!