- My wife and I have cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean in the past. This was our first NCL cruise.
- We generally travel on a budget as we're both still paying off student loans from graduate school
- We enjoy outdoor recreation including tent camping, hiking, and swimming
- My wife and I have a daughter who is 21 months old who did not travel with us
We traveled with my wife's sister and her husband as we have a few times previously. This NCL cruise was chosen because it included Western Caribbean destinations (Belize City, Belize and Roatan, Honduras) none of us had ever experienced. Our thought was that NCL would be a step up from our previous cruises. We chose a lower deck midship inside cabin with the understanding it would be less likely to provide the pitch and roll that has bothered our non-seafaring stomachs in the past.
About the Cruise
After a weekend roaming about the French Quarter, drinking the obligatory Hurricanes, and eating some great and not so great food, we headed to the cruise terminal. Embarkation was about what can be expected for booking a steerage cabin. We waited about 45 minutes and the lines were fairly swift. After boarding our rooms were ready in a couple hours, which seems normal.
The cruise ship decks were mostly made of a rubbery composite material and there was very little teak. Where this would be great if I had fallen down, it does not serve to make a very attractive vessel. Also, it seems like there were fewer places on deck that were accessible to passengers than on even Carnival's Fantasy Class ships.
When we got to our cabin, there were stains on the comforter, the drawers in the dresser were in significant disrepair such that they could not be used, and we had none of the normal publications/literature that orients folks to the ship. Our steward wasn't around, so we talked to the guest services desk and the problems were fixed quickly. A carpenter had to be consulted regarding the drawers but they were repaired by the next morning. The bed was just fine but the bedding was of poor quality and the pillows may have once been soft but were now hard and lumpy. Carnival has much better bedding and pillows. Even though things were not quite right, the staff made sure that what could be fixed was corrected quickly. We received a phone call from a staff member who called just to ensure everything had been fixed and apologized for the problems.
The television had very poor reception of all channels and was blurry. Our family had the same problem with their television. Otherwise, the cabin was what could be expected and was generally comfortable.
Our dining room experience on the Star was very poor. We ate in the Versailles dining room every night except for one. The service was so poor the first two nights that we completed a comment card explaining our displeasure. The food and beverage officer personally apologized, gave us a bottle of wine, and when we returned, we were seated in a section with an exceptional server. We requested her every subsequent night and our service after that was perfect. The food however never really improved.
What was supposed to be hot food was lukewarm to cold and what was to be cold food was tepid to warm. Flavors were muted (being very generous here), ingredient quality was substandard, and it seemed that no kitchen worker had made an effort to taste their cooking as if they had, many dishes would have been abandoned. There was one very good night in the Versailles where all of our selections seemed to be of sufficient quality and at least a proper temperature. Saying this, we have some indication of the effort that it takes to cook for 3000 passengers and 1200 or so crew. But, both Carnival and Royal Caribbean have better food.
We all agreed that many of the problems are related to the flawed "Freestyle" concept whereby no one has the same wait staff day to day (unless you insist upon it). I think the service would be much better and it is possible the food would be better if one had the same server day to day and there was less emphasis on upselling passengers to the specialty restaurants.
Regarding the specialty restaurants, we did eat at Le Bistro one night and it was the best meal of the cruise. Everything was an appropriate temperature, the ingredient quality was sufficient, the service was good, and the flavors were what one could expect for a French restaurant attempting to serve an American palate. The food was good and I enjoyed the meal.
The cruise director was pleasant and made many valid attempts at humor. I think we're just about three to four decades younger than his target audience. We did not enjoy the dancers and singing in the Stardust Theater; after the first performance we avoided them. However, we enjoyed Second City -- even the family centered show in the Spinnaker Lounge. There was also a pianist/vocalist, Mr. Motown, who played a small venue who was pretty good. The acrobats were good, too. We also enjoyed playing trivia everyday with the cruise director's staff.