Last month my wife and I did a 16 day transatlantic cruise on Norwegian Star from New Orleans to Copenhagen. We are a couple in our mid seventies and have done four previous transatlantic cruises, all with RCCL. We were anxious to see how NCL would compare.
The price was certainly right. After taking advantage of all the discounts and special offers that we could find we ended up paying $105 a night for an outside midships cabin for the two of us on deck five. Mind you, we had to add $24 a night for the obligatory service fee. A 23% tip? That is more than I usually tip, but the service was excellent.
We were especially interested in how the concept of free style dining would work out for us. The answer was not terribly well. We missed the opportunity of getting to know our waiter and having him or her get to know our likes and dislikes. If you wanted a seat in the main dining room, the Versailles Room, between 6:30 and 8:00 P.M. you had to join a lengthy queue and then be given a buzzer so that you could be buzzed when a table eventually became available. The answer was to make a reservation several hours in advance, but that sort of destroyed the “freestyle” concept. It took us two or three nights to even learn that this was possible. We were always given the choice of eating at a table for two or dining with others, and it was nice to be given this choice, depending on our mood. The specialty restaurants, for which you paid a hefty surcharge, always had space available. Loads and loads of space. They seemed to be 80% empty, and took up space on the ship which could have been used for other amenities. We were pleasantly surprised by the food throughout the ship, which we thought was not outstanding, but better than some of the cruise critic reviews had suggested. The food in the Market Garden café, the café restaurant on Deck 12, deserves special mention. Great Danish pastries (we were headed for Denmark after all) and pizza. Unfortunately, this café had all the ambiance of a high school cafeteria.
I think the Star has a major problem with boat design. The ambient noise level in the Versailles Room, with a glass ceiling, was incredibly high. The second free dining room was better, but still noisy. The ship itself was very noisy. The seas were slightly rough for a couple of days, and the loud crash as the bow hit the waves was a bit disconcerting. This seemed much more noticeable on the upper decks towards the bow of the ship, and was aggravated there by loud creaking noises as the ship rolled from side to side. My wife and I would have liked to see some of the space which was used for specialty restaurants used for attractive lounges. The small cocktail lounges all seemed to be somewhat dismal and focused away from the sea. The casino was small, smoky and unappealing. The single swimming pool was tiny and dominated by a large unused water slide.
We found the entertainment somewhat disappointing. The usual mix of singing groups, acrobats, magicians and comedians, some of which were quite good, and some of which were awful, but our fellow passengers often did not agree on which was which, so there you are.
On a sixteen day cruise, we thought that NCL could have done more to organize interesting lectures. There was a great series of art history lectures given by Rebecca Fay from the art department, but they were given in a tiny cocktail lounge. If you wanted a seat you had to arrive half an hour early. NCL refused to address this problem. Interesting sessions on the use of a sextant to take sun sightings, and good impromptu lectures from a retired nuclear disaster specialist seemed to be last minute additions to the days activities. It was hard to tell.
Perhaps this review has been overly critical. You don’t stay at a Motel 6 and criticize it because it isn’t the Hilton. Would we travel again on NCL? If the price were right, you bet. We had a clean comfortable room, good, if not outstanding, food, top notch service, a smooth crossing and interesting days on shore, but next time we will look carefully at other cruise line options.
P.S. Two weeks in Denmark after the cruise were wonderful.