I'll begin this review by owning up to two personal errors. First we decided that, as this was a sightseeing cruise, we wouldn't book a balcony but would try an inside cabin. Second, we disregarded the fact that we would be cruising during the school holidays. We're retired and cruise as it suits us with itinerary and price being the key factors in choosing a cruise. Once on board we gain pleasure from meeting and chatting with fellow cruisers and have no interest in entertainment available. Our demands of a cruise are quite basic: good food, good destinations and good sleep. Norwegian Star was only able to deliver one of these, good destinations.
Embarkation at Copenhagen should have been an indicator of things to come. It was a scrum. People were pushing their way through lines without apology, and the cruise staff seemed happy to reward their boorishness. Once at the head of the queue things moved smoothly and we made our way to our cabin.
We were struck by how small a space we had and how restricted movement would be. The double bed virtually filled the cabin and left little space at either side. On the one side this was further restricted by a fold down bunk for additional passengers. To the other side, a coffee table cut across the corner of the bed meaning that you had to climb across to get to the bed side. A big problem for passengers with a need for midnight bathroom visits. We overcame this by asking the cabin steward to remove it. However, we were to face far greater cabin problems.
On the first four nights of the cruise we were awoken from our sleep by loud dragging noises from above. I have never considered myself a light sleeper and rarely find myself awoken by noise. On the first three nights we put it down to bad luck that we'd got underneath some passengers who were partying /gambling hard and didn't have any consideration for anyone else. However, the fourth night preceded our first day in St Petersburg, our reason for joining this cruise. We had already been kept awake till after 1 am by noisy neighbours, and the sudden "thunderstorm" above our heads was the last straw. I got up, dressed and went upstairs to check which cabin was responsible to discover that we were right underneath "Le Bistro" and the night staff were carrying out their clean up at 3 am! It was clear my remonstrations were getting me nowhere so I went to Customer Services to report the matter. The young man on night duty was very understanding and arranged for security to be called to put a stop to it. Which duly happened... until 4 am when they started up again. This time I rang front desk, they were stopped again and there was no repeat.
Before retiring after my first complaint, I filled in a "Dear Yannis" slip to be forwarded to the hotel manager, together with a request that we be transferred if possible. In the morning I confirmed our second interruption. At no point in the cruise did I get a reply. On return from our sightseeing trip I went to Customer Service to resolve the situation, only to be met with indifference. Nobody seemed to recognise that I had a valid concern, and it was only once I got the superviser out that attitudes began to change. I was told that the ship was fully booked, but that sometimes passengers joined or left the ship mid cruise and as yet they weren't aware of any spare rooms arising. On return from our meal we noticed a phone message and discovered that there was a potential solution. Unfortunately, a cabin had become available because the occupants had had to vacate their cabin to return home. Their misfortune had provided our solution From that point our sleep issue was resolved. Whether the cleaning schedule for "Le Bistro" has changed, who knows, but I would caution future inside cabin passengers to look carefully before confirming a booking.
Turning to the matter of food and restaurants, again we had poor experiences. The Market Place was a chaotic, unruly mess. Although there were always members of staff at the doors merrily chirping out "Washy washy!" to encourage passengers to disinfect their hands prior to entering the restaurant, there was no procedure for stopping those that refused that request. Consequently, all passengers had their health placed at risk by the ignorant few.
Children charged around the area oblivious to other passengers, while their parents abrogated their responsibilities. People cut into line from any angle, and the whole experience was quite unpleasant.
In the evening "Versailles" was quite incapable of living up to the ship's "Freestyle" philosophy as they were never able to deliver a table without a wait of at least 20 minutes. They did offer a voucher for free bubbly in a nearby bar, but this was little compensation for the delay. Once we got into the restaurant it was usually at least another20 minutes before we received our starter. As a consequence, a 7:30 pm arrival soon became an 8:15 pm start and meant that meals were rarely finished before 9:30 pm, assuming everything ran smoothly. As I hinted earlier, this didn't matter to us, but it did mean that people wanting to watch the late show were likely to miss the start. As you might guess, things didn't always run smoothly. In three nights our meals ran to well over 90 minutes. On one evening, we noticed a tray of meals carried out and placed on the server's desk where they remained for about 20 minutes. To our horror we were to discover that they included our meals which were served freezing cold, and duly sent back!
The atmosphere of the dining rooms was not pleasant either. It seems that in all dining spaces the ship insists on entertaining with live music heavily amplified. As a result conversation became louder and the result was that the rooms were often in a state of uproar. This problem extended to most parts of the ship. There seem to be hardly any seats in an area which is anything like quiet, apart from maybe a dozen chairs in the library. OK we're not in a monastery, but sometimes, you do want to get away from it all. Isn't that what "freestyle" is supposed to be about? Oh and the solution shouldn't be "go back to your cabin".
I should mention that we did find salvation to our dining problems in the form of Ivy Joy and Masami in station 1 of Versailles. Their service and attention was very good and easily up to the standard that we have been used to on Princess cruises. Otherwise the staff were unimpressive. Excursion staff knew nothing about destinations; they were there simply to sell the ship's own cruises. The ship's resident Faberge expert couldn't even read the cards describing the Faberge Egg Display. As has been mentioned in other reviews, there is often a sense that staff are there to sell things rather than give simple help. The worst issue we came across arose at disembarkation for St Petersburg, where disabled passengers on deck 4 were ordered by an over officious crew member to go up to deck 7 so that they could disembark at deck 4. The lifts were out of access below deck 7 to ease congestion on lower floors, which is understandable. However it was grossly insensitive to order three passengers with clear mobility issues to climb stairs to fit in with company policy. To their credit, none of them did what they were told! Incidentally, at St Petersburg the cruise director announced that passengers holding tickets for NCL tours would be allowed off first. There's no reason for this and security don't enforce it. The crew seem to follow the Hotel Manager's lead to a tee - who cares? Not the best way to attract return cruisers.