Background: I am a single female early thirties who is an American but currently living and doing a job assignment in Australia. I met up with my friend who is also in her early thirties and single. She lives in South Carolina. This was my very first cruise and this was her second (previous cruise was a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas when she was in high school so we both considered this our first real experience with cruising). We are friends from when I lived in South Carolina as well and we both were looking for a break after long months at work and picked the Mexican Riviera cruise because it was out of LA (which is a good middle distance between SC and Australia) and because it always looked like nice ports to stop from the Love Boat. We went with Norwegian because we liked the itinerary including Acapulco and an extra day for less money than some of the other cruises. I was even happier with the decision when I learned about the freestyle dining as I am a very picky eater and I liked the idea of eating when you wanted and the many options. We did the Mexican Riviera cruise on the Norwegian Star departing on Friday Oct. 13 (I knew there would have to be issues when departing on a Friday the 13th).
Documents: My only complaint on this is that it was 9 days prior to departure before we got our documents with cabin assignment and my friend got her flight schedule, which she had purchased through the cruise line. To me this is just a little too close and I think NCL could have done a better job getting our info sooner especially with the air flights. Also, I did the pre-register once I got the info and read that it was mandatory to pre-register 14 days prior to departure. That is kind of hard to do when you don't have your booking number until 9 days ahead.
Embarkation: I had already prepared for a long day since I was flying out of Australia on Friday the 13th (Australia time) at 10:30 AM, which had me arriving in LAX at 7:30 AM California time so I knew I would have some waiting around time before boarding the ship. Australia is 17 hours ahead of California at that time of year. I arrived extra early at the Melbourne airport, which was actually 2:30 PM on the Thursday LA time. We were late leaving Melbourne so I didn't arrive into LAX until 9 AM and then had to go through immigration and customs, which took another 45 minutes. I had discussed with my friend earlier that I would wait at the airport and meet up with her when her flight arrived shortly after 11 AM and then we would take the ships transfer, which we had already purchased to the ship. I was not expecting anyone from NCL to be at the international arrivals area when I got there and expected to meet up with them at baggage claim where my friend arrived. However, to my pleasant surprise they were right there when I walked out of customs. I checked in with them about 10 AM and was told that the first departing bus to the ship would be 2 PM that day and to be back at 1:30 and that there was no earlier buses leaving. They said they had sent an email but since I had been travelling for the last 15 hours, I of course did not get that. So, I went over to the Delta terminal and waited for my friend to arrive. Her flight was slightly late arriving at 11:30. I met her and we got her luggage (luckily I was able to find a smart carte sitting around as it is so much easier to haul your luggage around). I found this out as I was waiting I went looking for a currency exchange because I needed to get some US dollars. I do not like the way the LAX airport is designed. There are no places to eat or any services outside security except in the International terminal and there is only 1 currency exchange on the lower level. It took me about 30 minutes of walking around to find this and hauling a 50 lb bag around even on wheels gets heavy. Once I collected my friend we went over to the International terminal to have some lunch as we had 2 hours to kill. We headed back to the area where I was told to be around 1 PM. There were others waiting there as well and I think it was 4 PM before we actually got on a bus and left. As you have read from some of the reviews from the cruise departing 10/5, they were delayed getting in due to someone jumping overboard. We were left standing at the airport instead of going to the ship, which really upset a lot of people and the hostesses at the airport did not have any information on when the buses would be there or why there was a delay. Some people called the NCL office direct who had no idea what the delay was and directed people that they could get their own taxi and keep the receipt and they would be reimbursed for that money. We decided to stay and wait at the airport due to at least NCL knew we were there and would not leave without us. While it was frustrating standing around the airport when all you wanted to do was get on the boat, to me as long as we got on the boat and got going I was OK. I travel a lot and I always run into issues with delays, cancellations, rerouting, etc. so I just accept it as a part of travelling. Like I said earlier, I don't have any other cruise experience to compare to. I heard many people complaining they had to wait at the airport for 6 hours. My friend and I calculated that I had spent 27 hours either in an airport or on a plane and I wasn't complaining. I do have a small criticism for the hostesses at the airport. They started getting snappy with people and while they didn't have any information, they should probably understand that people are wanting to get to the boat and get going and remember to remain calm. There were some rumours starting to circulate about someone jumping overboard while we were standing around the airport. When we finally arrived at the ship we sat on the bus for about another hour and then they hurried us off the bus into the terminal, through security, to only stand around some more until our group number was called (or non-group number in our case). This bothered me a little as I know they were trying to speed things up to get everyone on so we could get going but we stood around waiting all day due to them and then they acted like hurry up like we were holding them up. Once through security, they did bring out sandwiches and drinks for people while we waited. They finally called our non-group number and we went up to wait in a long line to get on the boat. I think we finally stepped foot on the boat at about 7:15 PM. The check in and setting up the on board account went fairly smoothly. Simon our cruise director was there to greet everyone and my friend actually noticed he had an Aussie accent. I said I couldn't tell if it was an Aussie accent or an English because I heard a bit of an English accent as well. Turns out Simon is from Melbourne Australia (where I live now) but was originally from England the reason for the mixed accent. By the way for people who have been on one of Simon's cruises smashing is an English term, not Australian. But ripsnorter is a very Aussie saying. We found out we were in room 4509. We had gone with an inside room to save money as we did not plan to spend much time in the room. We got to our room and after having a giggle about how small our room was, decided to go look for some food and check out the boat. As we opened our door, our luggage was already there (about 8 PM) so we were pretty impressed with that. So, we got our luggage and changed our clothes (which I really needed) and unpacked somewhat. Then headed off. My only complaint is that the BBQ for the sail away party wrapped up about 8 and we barely got any food from there. I think they should have (maybe it was but still not long enough in my opinion) left the BBQ and other activities going longer since people were delayed getting on so they could enjoy it. I think we set sail a little before 8:30 PM with no big fanfare, which I was expecting (I guess I watched the Love Boat a little too much).
Cabin and Ship: We had an inside cabin, which is small. I think it is adequate for 2 adults and maybe the third being a child but I would definitely not have 3 or 4 adults in an inside cabin I would upgrade to a mini-suite or penthouse, etc. But for the 2 of us, it was just fine. I thought the set up was fairly good in that they have mirrors all over the cabin so there are plenty of areas to get around. The 2 of us had a pretty good system once we figured it out. There was only room to lay 1 suitcase down. My friend unpacked her things into the drawers and closet and put her suitcase in a corner. I lived primarily out of the suitcase taking the only area to lay out my suitcase. When we got there our room was set up with the twin beds converted as a double bed. We giggled again about getting to know each other well. Quickly after we arrived, Jesus our cabin steward dropped by to see if everything was all right in our cabin for that night. We said yes but asked if he could change the beds into 2 twin beds the next day, which he did with no issue. In my opinion this did help with space in the room as I think it opened it up a little more. I had heard that further down on the boat you are the less you feel the boat move. I do not agree with this as our room was the worst place I thought on the ship for feeling the boat move (we were also very far forward on the boat). However, it was fine for sleeping and another reason we didn't spend much time there. The ship is very nice. The Spinnaker lounge I thought was set up very nicely as a lounge for dancing and drinking and also to watch the entertainment they put on there. I thought the Stardust theatre was also nice and didn't see the issue with the seats that others have reported on this website except they were really low to the ground. I think they set the ship up with the Spinnaker being designed for more mature couples with big band music, Frank Sinatra, that type and what I call couples dancing (ballroom). The Carousel lounge is set up more for younger people with more top 40's type music and Karaoke. I think I must be getting old as I think we spent more time in the Spinnaker than in the Carousel. Everything is well decorated and there is a lot of diversity in the design throughout the ship. The pool area is all right. The pool was much smaller than I expected but it seemed adequate. The slides are definitely for kids or I would tell adults to make sure you get a strong push at the top and lay down fully or you will not make it down.
Food and Dining: I have never done a normal cruise so I have no idea what the traditional dining is like but I loved the freestyle way on NCL. I have heard people complain that you can't eat when you want because you have to make reservations. I would say yes, it does take some organizing and thinking a little ahead but no big deal to me. We generally made our reservations the day before or that morning and didn't really have any issues getting the times we wanted or around the times. Once that was set, then we would organize our day around that. We typically set our dining time around 6 or 6:30 so we could catch the 7:30 show and then do the other activities offered during the night. If you do make reservations for dinner at the specialty restaurants where you have an extra charge for 6 PM or earlier, it is 50% off. I would allow an hour for eating in the main dinning rooms and an hour and half in the specialty restaurants to be safe. I know some people complained about the longer wait in the specialty restaurants, which I think is very American of us. In Australia it drives me crazy because dinner in a restaurant will take 3-4 hours it is just more laid back and not rushed like in the US where they want to turn tables over quicker. I am one that likes to sit down, order, have each course come one right after the other and have the check when we are completed so I can get up and go but I am becoming more use to the slower pace. The portion sizes are small but I personally loved that. It means you can sample more things and try new things because if you don't like it, you can get something else with no extra charge. Again, I have gotten use to the smaller portions living in Australia, which I like you don't need those huge sizes. I thought the overall food was good probably not the greatest food I have ever had, but good. Our favourite was Cagney's, the steakhouse. Although, my funny story there is I ordered some onion rings as I love onion rings and told my friend they don't have them in Australia other than at Burger King, which to me are not real onion rings. The onion rings that came on my plate looked exactly like the onion rings at Burger King so I think those could be better. The Italian place was very good but I just had Spaghetti Bolognese, which is kind of hard to mess up. We ate at the Endless Summer and thought that was very good too. I don't really like oriental or Asian food so we didn't try those. We ate twice in the Versailles and once in the Aqua, which I thought the food was good but most meals in there I had to order the steak that was always offered (see why I am a little nervous of the traditional dining I can get sick of steak every night). We ate at the buffet for breakfast a couple times and thought that was fine and we ate at Versailles a couple times for breakfast and I think it was the same food as from the buffet. For lunch we always grab burgers, hot dogs, and fries from the Grill by the pool or the BBQ they had. We did go to the buffet one lunch, which did have fancier foods but I found I just wanted a burger anyway.
Activities and Shows: We went to all the shows at night. My favourites were the comedy act on the first night (the improv later in the week was not quite as good Not as good as Whose Line is it Anyway) and the juggling act Sharkbait they had on the last evening. My friend liked Sharkbait the best. The Music of the Night show was very good but you would have to be into musicals and stuff to like that show and That's Fame. Probably my least favourite was the Circus Pacific but it was all right too. The magician wasn't that great and his last act shouldn't probably be done on a cruise ship as he raised the person up in the air you could see them swaying with the ship, which showed it had some cables. We had a lot of fun on the boat and I really enjoyed the games in the Spinnaker each night. My favourite was the Newlywed and Not so Newlywed Game, which I think was made great by Simon. Others just didn't have the humour that he had. The theme parties in the Spinnaker each night were fun and the contests were hilarious. We did try a dance lesson one afternoon, which here is a criticism of the cruise. They definitely do not cater to single people at all. There are no organized activities for single mixers and when we showed up for the dance class it was bring your own partner. If you had no partner you had to dance with another girl. My friend and I became partners and did it a little but soon left and never went back to another one because we really don't enjoy dancing with other girls. There is no sense learning the man's part, as you won't use it. I think they could have gotten extra staff members to show up and partner with the people without partners. They don't need to be dancers as we are all there to learn. The pool parties were also funny and I think there are plenty of places to dance on the ship if you want to do that. Shuffleboard is a favourite of mine and I was happy to see they had that on board. I was surprised at how many others enjoyed it as well as it was hard to find a time when no one was playing and you could play. We tried to do the murder mystery night but were late signing up and it was already full. We wanted to play some of the trivia games but were eating breakfast during the morning games and getting ready for dinner during the night games. Oh well, you have to decide what is important to you and what you prefer doing and then organize your day that way.
Ports and Excursions: My friend and I decide to do excursions offered by NCL as we are 2 single women and were not familiar with the ports at all. We waited until we were on board to plan our excursions but did plan them all at once during the first day at sea. My opinion of the excursion desk is that they have lots of choices and there is something of everything to probably fit everyone. You do probably pay a little more for the middleman as everything is organized from the ship with local tourist groups. You are also insured of getting there and back to the ship without the boat leaving without you. However, I wasn't very impressed with how the excursion desk tried to assist passengers or fight for the passengers. Tours are cancelled on a moments notice and all the desk will say is sorry, but nothing we can do. So, my advice to people is to organize your own with the local groups but make sure you have guarantees if the boat is late arriving and to ensure you are back to the ship or at least have back up plans in case your excursion is cancelled, you have done the research and can proceed with plan B. The first port was Acapulco. About midafternoon on the second day at sea we ran into rain. It wasn't that big of deal to us on the second day at sea as we had already done the pool and were heading inside for activities but the rain continued into Acapulco. We were 3 hours late arriving due to the late departure but since we were there until midnight and the weather was so poor, I don't think anyone really minded. We did the Highlights, Cliff divers, and Shopping tour. Since we were late there were no issues as they just started the tour when we got there. I thought the tour was really good and took us to all the areas I would want to see in Acapulco. To me Acapulco (other than the cliff divers) is not that great I don't think it is what it used to be. Very dirty and run down. We did buy ponchos for the weather off the ship. They had them for $2 each. They did work pretty well to keep us dry but were hot. We were able to see the cliff divers and it wasn't raining at that time, which was nice. The seas were really rough so the timing took sometime for each diver to make sure it was safe. It was hard to take pictures as you could stand there for 5 minutes with your finger on the trigger and then miss the dive. They sell pictures there 1 or 2 for $1 so my advice is to enjoy the divers with the naked eye and then buy a picture or a postcard. We got back to the ship from the tour a little after 7 and were talking about going back over to the cliff divers for the night show as we heard that was really great. We decided to skip it due to weather and we were ready to take a shower and get something to eat. When we went to Versailles for dinner we sat near a window and looked out to see the rain falling again and happy we made the decision we did. I heard a couple days later at the excursion desk someone complaining that all 3 tours in Acapulco were cancelled including the night cliff divers and they had heard others had seen the cliff divers. NCL cancelled all night cliff diver tours due to weather but the cliff divers did perform so if you made your own way there, you would have gotten to see them (this is what I mean with a back up plan). When we got back on board we saw a notice that our tour in Zihuantenjo, which was the snorkel and jungle tour was cancelled due to weather. By the time we got the notice the excursion desk was closed for the night and we didn't have time to organize another tour unless we wanted to use the kiosk but we wanted to ask questions about the weather, as we had no idea what to do. We decided since Zihuantenjo was small and there was a public beach near the pier we would just do this one on our own. You do get your money refunded if your tour is cancelled. We were expecting another miserable weather day but it was beautiful and sunny shining it was this way the rest of the cruise thank goodness. We slept in a bit and went to Versailles for breakfast to find out it was closed already. We just kind of went Oh and the lady snapped that didn't we read our Daily Freestyle as it had the times listed. I just said I guess we missed that one and we shrugged our shoulders and headed up to the buffet. We weren't upset so I wasn't quite sure why we had the snappy comment back. We did some shopping and laid on the beach a little. There is a nice boardwalk along the shoreline that is a nice walk. Very nice area especially compared to Acapulco. If I had to do it again, I would have taken a water taxi or to Las Gatas beach area on our own (since our tour was cancelled) and hang out on the beach over there as I think it is a nicer area (from what I heard) than the public beach near the pier. We sailed at 2 PM that day and we had a get together with the roll call group off the cruise critic website. I recommend people use this as you can exchange information and meet some people that you will be cruising with. We enjoyed meeting people we had talked to over the Internet and enjoyed saying hi every time we ran into them. Thanks Steve for organizing everything. Originally, we were going to meet at the Bier Garten after the lifeboat drill the first day but since our lifeboat drill was delayed until the second day we missed that. We went to the excursion talk after the lifeboat drill and could not make it up there. I did run into a couple people from the roll call board on the bus on the way to the ship so had already met a couple. Steve organized us over in his cabin (a penthouse) for drinks and cheese yum. I will say the penthouse cabins are really neat. We then headed for the spa for their at port special. It was a shoulder, neck, and back message and mini-facial for $89. I was expecting a half-hearted massage and facial with the discounted price but it was excellent. The service took over an hour and a half so it is a very thorough message and facial and great with the ocean view. You can use the indoor pool area for 30 minutes before and after your spa service, which we took advantage of. The next port was Puerto Vallarta (one of my favourites). We did the Town, Country and Tequila tour. That was another good tour. I don't drink so I didn't have any tequila but enjoyed the tour of the factory just the same. For those who do sample, it is about 10 shots you do. I would have probably liked to spend more time in the shopping area but were running out of time so decided just to go back to the ship. There are flea markets at the pier and we did some shopping there before getting back on the boat. I think Puerto Vallarta has the best deals on things. Next, it was Cabo San Lucas (probably my absolute favourite very Americanized). We did the Cabo Beach Break there. Very nice area they took us to and clear waters. We signed up for this one because the Niki Beach Break was not offered and because it said lounge chairs and umbrellas available. When we got to the area, there wasn't a lot of umbrellas or shade area. I burn easily so I like the shade. Someone asked about guaranteeing an umbrella the guy said we could move back up closer to the hotel for shade if needed, which isn't on the beach. So, everyone practically tackled each other to get the shaded areas. We were lucky to get one. But I noticed the hotel bringing out additional umbrellas for guests so I think if you asked for one, they would set you up however, our tour leader didn't tell us that. You do get 2 free drinks of water, soft drinks, or domestic beer, and also free chips and salsa. The chips and salsa aren't there so you have to ask for them. They do a good job of keeping the vendors out of the area unless you ask for one to come into the area to see their merchandise. For those people that don't like to be asked for a bunch of things, will enjoy this. My final excursion was supposed to be in LA as my flight was not until 11:30 PM that Saturday night. I signed up for the Universal Studios tour as I had wanted to go there and I thought I could knock this out during this trip. I stopped by the last day at sea to check about my luggage tags and was told they would be delivered to my room and there was no problem. We happen to go back to our room about noon to find a note stating my tour had been cancelled and to come back to the desk between 4 and 6 to organize another tour if I wanted. As it was a couple minutes before noon and the desk was open from 10 - 12 I raced up there to try and catch someone. I got there one minute after 12 and there was no one in sight. So, I went back at 4 only to find out that all tours were closed off at noon and there was nothing they could do. They said when I stopped by earlier they didn't know it was going to cancel and they didn't know tours would be cut off at noon by the LA tour groups sorry nothing they could do. Again, I wish I would have had a back up plan to organize something on my own (but luggage was the issue with what to do with it). So, I spent 12 hours in the airport before my 15-hour flight home and as stated earlier there isn't much at LAX. They really need some seats with padding instead of wood over in the International terminal. The excursion desk is lucky I filled out my survey prior to this incident.
One note - it is Mexico and it is the culture to barter over sales and to walk around constantly asking you to buy their merchandise. This really bothered some people but you just have to say no thank you. I also have found if you want them to leave you alone offer a really low price and it will offend them and they will walk away. Some agreed to my low price and then got upset with me when they gave me the merchandise. I said you didn't have to settle so don't get mad at me. We always found ourselves negotiating a price that was like $1, $5, $10, $15 - can you we were trying to avoid change as it is generally in pesos not dollars.
Summary Overall, we had a few bumps along the way but I still had a great time and enjoyed myself. I thought overall NCL was a good cruise line and I do like the choices they offer. I do think they are very disorganized and I heard that stated by many people who cruise with other lines. I think a lot of the chaos does come from having a lot of choices the passengers can make so I am willing to give up some organization to have flexibility and choices. For the most part we found the crew very friendly and helpful and always said hi in the halls. However, I found the excursion desk people completely unhelpful and not willing to go to bat with the tour groups for the passenger. I think they should have better relationships and willing to help passengers with these tour groups in getting people on tours and guarantee things instead of just saying sorry, out of my hands. I also found the front desk people not very helpful and not very knowledgeable. I really enjoyed Simon but lost some respect for him at the end as he was telling people to fill out the surveys and if they enjoyed something, they were to fill in excellent for everything. The options are excellent, very good, good, and poor. To me very good is just that very good. Excellent is outstanding and the best you have had or seen. So, I filled mine out the way I wanted and didn't agree that if you found it enjoyable you had to fill in excellent. He also said porters will expect $4 a bag when the NCL brochures says $1 a bag. I would definitely sail with NCL again - maybe Europe next time. I would like to try another cruise line for comparison but a little nervous about the dining situation as I like the freestyle experience. I think NCL targets older couples but it would be nice to have some more single's activities on board too. We always found things to do and were plenty entertained but it would have been nice for activities for us as well. Another thing to mention for people is that I am use to if you have an issue at a restaurant or at a hotel, etc., you usually get some compensation either a discount or a free extra. With cruising, I found you got nothing but a sorry. From what I read about other cruise lines, I think this is the same but I have nothing to compare to. I'll just say that NCL will only say sorry and do nothing further.