I had the pleasure of taking a cruise recently (March 24) on board the Norwegian Star to the Caribbean out of New Orleans. This cruise was part of a casino promotion for my wife and I and there were a lot of people on board with similar promotions. It was a wonderful cruise and I will tell you about the positives and a couple of negatives below.
Embarkation: We took a cab from a local Marriott that was about 1 mile away. Getting on board was a breeze. My wife and I arrived at about 12:45 and there was a security line that was about 15 minutes long. After that we got our IDs and went right on to the ship. It took a while however, to get our luggage. The first piece arrived at about 4:00 and, after a phone call from me, the second arrived at about 8:00. The steward said he found it all the way down the hall where it didn't belong.
Stateroom: Our cabin was clean and we felt very comfortable there during the entire week. The balcony was certainly big enough for the two of us. The thermostat worked perfectly as it got a little warm at times and the air conditioning kicked right on. The bedding and the pillows were very comfortable as well. Of course, the water never got cold enough for brushing teeth but that's the way it is on every cruise I've been on.
Dining: The ship has five or six specialty restaurants for a fee, but we only ate in one of them. We tried Ginza (Japanese) on the last night and we were not disappointed. The fee was 15.00 but my wife had only sushi, so they waived the cover charge for her. Of course we had to pay for the sushi but the prices were not bad at all. The entire bill for us with the tip and cover charge was only 32.00. We had dinner in the main dining room (Versailles) the first night but I was told that I could not wear short pants in there from that night on. So we ate dinner every other night in the other dining room (Aqua) where there was no dress code. The menus are the same in both restaurants. The food was OK, nothing special. The first night was the surf n' turf night and I had steak with two lobster tails. I had a rib-eye one night but it was thin and a little too well done. Half the menu is the same each night and the other half changed from night to night. We also had breakfast in there once or twice. The waiter service, overall, was good. Freestyle dining on Norwegian allows you to eat whenever you want between 5 PM-- 9:30. It also allows you to sit by yourself, if you want that sort of thing. You also end up waiting for a table. Personally, I don't think it's that bad to sit with strangers each meal and to get to know them and the same waiter and busboys. But you would have to eat at certain times, either 6:00 or 8:30. Both ways have their pros and cons.
We had breakfast in the buffet 4 or 5 times, and lunch there whenever we were on board for lunchtime. The food was regular buffet food, They did have somebody cooking omelettes in the mornings which was a big upgrade over the regular scrambled eggs. The variety for breakfast was plentiful. Toasted bagels were surprisingly good and the orange juice, in particular, was excellent. For lunch, they had the usual salads and cold cuts and hot foods. They also had slices of pizza but oddly, the slices weren't cut all the way through. All week long I, and other people, reached forward to separate the slices with our fingers only to be told not to touch the pizza. Outside, by the pool they had burgers and hot dogs and fries each day. A couple of days, they had a big barbecue at the pool, with ribs, corn on the cob, and other goodies. They had scoops of different flavor ice cream served at the pool each day and an ice cream machine inside for just vanilla and chocolate.
My wife ordered room service the first two mornings. Both times they delivered similar but different items than she had ordered. She gave up after that.
Overall, I would say the food was above average.
Port and Shore Excursions: As per previous reviews, we decided to plan our excursions using the internet instead of buying shore excursions from Norwegian. As expected we saved mucho dollars doing it that way. It just takes a little internet searching. On the first stop, Costa Maya, as per previous review, we contacted the Tropicante Restaurant with it's owner Steve and his great staff. Steve answered my e-mail right away and although his loungers for the beach were booked, he said that he would do the best he could for me, even getting loungers from next door. He told me exactly where to go from the pier to escape the over-zealous vendors and pier transportation and to grab a local taxi outside the gate. The ride cost $4.00 for the two of us. We were there in five minutes. The Mahahual Beach in Costa Maya is a cement boardwalk which is about a half-mile long lined with small restaurants and small hotels and gift shops. Each establishment has it's own little section of the beach with lounge chairs, small tables for eating and plenty of massage tables, which I learned has been added recently. They charge $25.00 for a one hour massage. Incredible. Steve has three or four people working the beach for him, with Jorge being, kind of, the concierge. He takes care of the reservations for the loungers, as well as the scheduling of the massages. The entire crew is fabulous and even though it was a cloudy day with hardly any sun, they made it worthwhile. Steve was very personable and spent the entire day on the beach talking to his customers. The menu is simple with burgers, tacos, burritos, etc. and is reasonably priced. I recommend this place to anyone visiting Costa Maya. The whole day, with food, drinks and massages and tips cost about 90.00. Just e-mail Steve at the Tropicante. Do show a few weeks in advance if you want a lounge chair for the beach.
We decided not to get off the boat in Belize. We weren't impressed initially with the reviews of Belize, and the whole tendering process with a half-hour tender ride is, frankly, a pain in the a-s. So we stayed on the ship and had any chair we wanted by the pool on a nice sunny day. The hot tubs were empty for the first time and it was nice and peaceful on board. We don't think we missed anything in Belize because we had a zip-line excursion booked for the next day in Honduras.
Honduras was a definite step up from Costa Maya and Belize. The port and the area around the port was newer and built up. I had reserved a zip-line adventure with Pirates of the Caribbean tours and, through e-mail, I was able to leave a deposit and find out where to get the transportation. The ride there was in an air-conditioned van and was about 15 minutes. The zip-lining was a blast. First time for us. Our guides, Charlie and Iran were excellent and understanding for the beginners. My wife and I were alone with them because the other guides were with a bigger group. We did the 65.00 package which includes eight lines from 1100 ft. down to 200 ft. And the heights were high in the beginning to lower at the end. The guides helped somebody like me who didn't make it across all the way once or twice. But there is no anxiety at all .....except on the first jump when you have to get a running start off the edge. But I felt completely safe during the whole 45 minute adventure. We ordered pictures that they take, which cost about 50.00 for 35 pictures. Not too expensive for a great time and we were back on the ship by 11:00AM.
In Cozumel, there was another ship at the dock with us, Norwegian Dawn. We had tried to reserve the Playa Maya Beach Club privately, but they wouldn't take reservations unless you did it through the ship. I knew that they would take walk ups so I did the excursion that way. Cozumel is a big city in Mexico and there were seven (7) cruise ships in port that day. We took a cab (16 dollars) to Playa Maya. There are many beach clubs in the area to choose from (some are private) but I knew Playa Maya from the cruise ship choices. Playa Maya is a tremendous beach club with a couple of hundred lounge chairs, umbrellas (charge), a massage area (55.00/hr.), an area with about 15 hammocks (of course there was a kid on each one), a kiddie area with water slides, a large pool, a large buffet area, bars, and a few stores. On the beach they have big water trampolines and slides, kayaks, sailboats, paddle boats, and other water activities. Also ping pong and volleyball. The prices are 75.00/pp for everything including food and alcoholic drinks. 55.00/pp for no food and some alcoholic drinks, and 39.00/pp for no food and no drinks. We managed to get two chairs with a free umbrella and the sun was in and out but that was fine. It's a nice place and it was a nice day. Unfortunately, the price that I paid was almost the same as the excursion off the ship, which would have been including food, so buying the excursion on the ship would have been better in that instance. Strange but the 16.00 taxi ride going there was 17.00 coming back. Oh well. One of my favorite memories from the cruise came when we returned to the pier from our beach excursion in Cozumel. The Norwegian Pearl had replaced the Norwegian Dawn at the pier right next to us (I'll bet the folks on Norwegian Dawn didn't like finding out that they had to tender back to their ship). Anyway, on the pier were about 25 crew members from each ship and they were lined up on either side to form a path to walk through and they were all dancing to music played by a DJ who had set up out there. The music was lively (top 40 stuff)(dance music) and all the crewmembers were dancing (usually line dancing) with smiles on their faces and getting people to dance with them as passengers strolled back to the ships. The Cruise Director from the Star (Kyle Dodson) was out there with a mike welcoming everyone back to the pier. They were also handing out jello shots and it was a lot of fun. The party atmosphere went on for three hours until the Star left. The music was still going on at the pier for the Pearl as the Star pulled away. A real great idea. I filmed some of it and will try to post.
Entertainment: There was entertainment going on during the entire cruise, more than I remember on other cruises. You could walk around from venue to venue and find somebody playing jazz in the atrium and have a drink or a cappucino from the bar at the same time, or you could find folks doing karaoke in front of a packed house in the Irish Pub, or you could go the casino and lose (I mean win) some money there, or you could listen to someone just playing the piano. These things went on each and every night so you could do something different each night or enjoy the same things over again. They had a show in the theatre every night at 7:30 and 9:30 depending on when you ate dinner. The shows were surprisingly good for a cruise. The singers and dancers from the ship were good, in fact, five of the girls did a show one night by themselves called "Shout! The Mod Musical" singing songs from the sixties (Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, and so on) and the show was fabulous. The girls were really great. The had a comedy show called "Sharkbait" which is basically two jugglers but they were very entertaining involving the audience in their show. They had a real hard time completing their tricks with the way the ship was rocking, but they got through it. The two jugglers did a Q and A one afternoon for an hour and they answered any and all questions about their lives in Ringling Bros. circus for eight years, their lives in Clown College which is a whole lot more than learning how to be a clown, and their 8 years entertaining on cruise ships. They told us about their salaries, their sleeping arrangements, all the injuries that they've had on stage, and about their personal lives. Fascinating stuff. "The Second City" also did a comedy show in the theatre. It was funny but not great. They did an adult show one night in another room but I did not attend. One night they had a show with a husband and wife ballet team doing some acrobatics with hoops and curtains and sheets. They were talented but it wasn't really my kind of entertainment. On the last night, there was a show called "Elements" which featured the same ballet team, a magician who we had seen on an earlier evening, and some of the dancers from the ship. The show could have been a lot better compared to the way they were hyping it all week. Overall, I would say the shows were above average and a couple of them were memorable.
One night we happened to be walking through the atrium and we came across an impromptu little show that the staff was putting on. Some of the chefs and crew members from other departments did some solos (singing) and were extremely entertaining. One little guy did "Old Time Rock n' Roll" (Bob Seger) and he had everybody singing and dancing with him. One of the girls from Guest Services was up on top of the counter dancing. The cruise director (Kyle) was there cheering everyone on. (I also have a video of this and will try and upload) It was a really good show for 20 minutes. But this is just an example of the different types of entertainment that were going on around the ship. They had the usual Newlywed Game one night but it wasn't as funny as it could have been. They also had a Dancing contest one night with crew members pairing up with passengers and the Second City folks were the judges. That was pretty entertaining. There was dancing every night either with a live band or with a DJ. Crew members who were off-duty would join in with the dancing and it felt like everybody could have a good time one way or another if you wanted to.
Activities: There were Bingo games each day and you could join in for between 39.00 and 69.00 each day. There were bowling tournaments and ping-pong tournaments. In the casino, there were two Texas Hold-Em tournaments during the week with some good payouts, and there were slot tournaments and blackjack tournaments as well. There was also a Lotto drawing each night in the casino. There were exercise classes if you wanted to take part in that. Of course, they also had the usual Art shows and Jewelry shows going on during the week. They had a party for 18-25 year olds every night. They had counselors playing games with the little kids all day and night. There were plenty of other things going on around the ship that I haven't even mentioned here. I've been on other cruise ships before but this was the best for things to do and see.
Service: The service was impeccable throughout the ship. The crew had smiles on their faces all the time and were always friendly with a "good morning" or "hello". Everyone did their job as they were supposed to and you can't ask for more than that. The spa, on the other hand, was a disaster. My wife had a facial on the first day and whatever they used on her face caused a reaction. She face swelled up and she was scratching so much that she eventually had to go to the doctor to get some medicine. When I arrived for my massage, I was not offered the choice of going into the locker room and changing into a robe. Very strange. It's the first massage I've ever had where I wasn't offered that. In addition to that, my masseuse showed up late (5 minutes). I was beginning to think they had forgotten about me. This initial treatment by the staff put a sour taste in my mouth and the massage itself didn't change that. It was average, at best.
Disembarkation: I decided to take my luggage off the ship myself as I have done before and I had no problems. I didn't have to depend on someone else to move my luggage and I went through customs easily and swiftly.
Summary: Before I close, I'd just like to say that the cruise director (Kyle Dodson) did an exceptional job. He was entertaining and enthusiastic but above all, he was visible. I saw him at least twice each day taking part in different events. A cruise director that's out there with the public is somebody who's doing a good job. One thing about Norwegian...they have this promotion where you can deposit 250.00 (up to four times) toward a future cruise (the money just stays in your Norwegian account) and they will immediately give you 100.00 to spend on your current cruise. They expect you to spend it on photographs or in the gift shop, but they also offer to give you 125.00 if you want to spend it in the casino on slot machines. But for someone like me, who doesn't play slot machines, the promotion doesn't work because they won't give you cash to play at the tables in the casino. So beware if you think they're going to give you cash. They will not. I complained about this part of the promotion vehemently. Why would they give you money to spend on the slot machines, but not at the tables? Nonetheless, as you can probably tell, I thought this one of our best cruise experiences. There were a lot of choices as to what to do on the ship and the crew went above and beyond to make it a joyous time.