I cannot say enough good things about the crew and the service on the Norwegian Star.
My wife and I just returned from one of the best vacations of our lives. We booked the 12 night Norway, Iceland, and North Sea Islands cruise aboard the Norwegian Star, sailing from 9/19/13 to 10/1/13. My wife and I are both over 50, have only had one prior cruise, and were drawn to this one mostly by the exceptional destination ports: Copenhagen, the Norwegian Fjords, Shetland islands, Faroe Islands, Iceland, and even stops in Oslo and Helsingborg, Sweden. Especially true of the Shetlands and Faroes, these are unique destinations not readily available by any means of travel. And although of course we would have liked to have had more time in each place, the ports did not disappoint in any manner and the time we had was good if not great.
But this is not meant to be a cruise review, rather it is a ship review, so I wont spend a lot of time writing about the ports except as they relate to the ship. With that in mind:
We arrived in Copenhagen a couple of days before embarkation and stayed at the Crown Plaza Towers booked through NCL. This is a great hotel in all respects except that it is a bit of travel to get to the beautiful center of Copenhagen. Transfer to the pier in Copenhagen was very disorganized and was my first issue with NCL - they gave out bus assignments that ultimately were ignored and no one really seemed to understand what to do other than stack your luggage and get on a bus when you could. Actual check-in and embarkation onto the ship, however, was very well organized and took surprisingly little time, and I say that as a person who truly hates standing in line.
Crew members was there to greet us as we entered and our first impression of the Star was good. Despite being a little worn the Star's Atrium is still an impressive center to the ship. We then scoped about a little before heading to our room to drop off the carry-on baggage.
We had booked a balcony room on the 11th deck. Most of the 11th deck is made up of suites and mini-suites. We actually got upgraded to this room from a balcony on deck 10. While the "upgrade" did not provide us with a better room, it did mean a bigger balcony (same size as for the suites) and a great location right by the elevators. Although the room was also just under the entrance to the buffet and the pool area, we never had any problem with noise. But it was a smallish room and some of the furnishings showed wear and tear. The bathroom was better in terms of size and layout. And there was plenty of storage space. Although merely "cosy" for a couple, I think this room would be really small for the 3 persons NCL says it can accommodate. But for 2 people it is fine, and with the bigger balcony this is definitely a room to score if you do not want to pay the price difference for a mini-suite or better.
After we checked out the room we went to explore more of the ship and get a nice bon-voyage drink. The Star is pretty easy to get around, with only a small number of complications where you cannot walk the full length of a deck but must go up and then down to continue on. All of the ship was very clean and very well organized.
As we started to do some planning and things like buying a wine package and internet time, we first noticed the one thing that absolutely stand out about the Star: its crew. Again, I cannot say enough nice things about all the crew on the Star. They were all so good, friendly, and helpful that there is really no one who stands out; the A+ rating for the crew and service was well deserved.
I read a lot of negative things about NCL food prior to taking this cruise, I am glad I did not let it get to me. My wife and I dined primarily at the buffet for breakfast and always found that to be about as good as a breakfast buffet can get. We rarely ate a formal lunch on the ship given all the port time. We ate at both of the main dining rooms for dinner except for 2 nights when we did specialty restaurants. The service in all places was excellent. The decor in Versailles is great. The food in the main dining rooms was quite good. Given the lowered expectations created by other reviews, I was very happily surprised. Although I would not rate the food with Michelin stars, I enjoyed all the dishes. It is not meant to be truly gourmet (serving 2,000 people at a time) but it is as good as you will get under those circumstances. Our previous cruise was on Holland America and while we agreed HAL tried a little harder in its main dining room choices and presentation, we would not rate HAL dining that much better. Oh, and we only had to wait any significant time to be seated once - and that wait was very short and was on the day in Bergen when everyone came back to the ship at 7:30PM.
Both specialty dining rooms were also worth it. We first went to Moderno Churrascara, a very diverse salad bar and a wide and well prepared variety of meat. Be a meat lover and bring an appetite and you will enjoy this place. The other place we went was Le Bistro and there had the best meal of the trip, very much worth the extra $20 per person.
Entertainment on the Star was everywhere, all of it good, some of it exceptionally good - but of course what you will like will depend on your tastes. The nice thing on the Star was that you could always find something that you liked to listen to or participate in. The main entertainment venue does show its age and can fill up completely. The shows were good, however, and each had 2 performances a night. I will mention the act "Classical Graffiti" as they put on an amazing performance, not to be missed no matter what your musical taste may be.
The variety to places to relax and drink was also quite good, and again, the service everywhere was excellent. This does lead however to my 2 complaints about the Star. The first is the Spinnaker Lounge. I have read that it was moved to its present location to make room for upper deck suites and think this was a bad mistake (though maybe not for the corporate bottom line). The Spinnaker now is windowless and pillars obscure the view from almost every seat. As a lot of the ship's entertainment activities take place there, it is unfortunate that the venue itself is lacking. If there was no entertainment going on the place was always empty.
My other complaint about the Star is that simple relaxation items like a steam room and a sauna were placed in the Spa area and you had to have a spa pass to access them. And, of course, you could only pay a spa pass fro either every day of the cruise or for a day when the ship was in port. I did not use the spa as a result, though my wife did have one treatment there and said it was very nice.
The only real complaint I had with this cruise had to do with shore excursions. We actually only booked three, and while one was quite good, another was only adequate and the third quite bad. We knew to make our own arrangements in most ports, or (as with the one good excursion) to book a short excursion that left plenty of free time. But even with that in mind it was very frustrating to find that the excursions were never really explained in detail. While the actual getting of people to and from the excursions (and back on the ship) was done quite well by the exemplary crew, we and many other folks were disappointed in what was left out or not as described or just confusing. A small example: our adequate excursion was "Bathing at the Blue Lagoon" in Iceland. Not until we were on the bus was it confirmed that our excursion price covered entry into the Lagoon, but did not cover things like towels, robes, and other similar things. Still, the Blue Lagoon was an awesome experience.
Getting on and off the ship on port days was very easy and usually quick. Once in a while a line would develop as a large tour or tours dropped off a bunch of folks at the same time. If this was the case, however, you could find a little store to wait out the line. Even the two ports (Lerwick and Helsingborg) where we had to tender were handled well and efficiently. And the crew always had a nice hot drink waiting as you boarded.
One final thing to mention is the value of being on cruise critic. A roll call for this cruise resulted in a meet and greet being set up at which all the senior ship officers came and introduced themselves. Each gave a direct number to call if there were issues (we never had any). And best of all, the Captain invited everyone at the meet and greet to a bridge tour later in the cruise. I enjoyed the bridge tour and would not have had it but for Cruise Critic.
Disembarkation in Copenhagen after this 12 day cruise was quick and easy. My wife and I simply carried our bags off the ship and left at our convenience after a nice breakfast.
So, to sum up: Crew was exceptional in every regard, A+ ; Ship needs a little fixing up and has a couple of issues, but nothing to worry about, B+ ; Dining was very good though not spectacular (except for Le Bistro), B+ ; Entertainment was plentiful and good with an occasional knockout, B+ ; Getting on, off, and around the ship was easy, A- ; but NCL really does need to work on the shore excursion area, C.
I would definitely advise anyone considering a cruise aboard the Norwegian Star to do so.