The only reason we booked this cruise was for the fantastic and unusual itinerary. Departing from Copenhagen we were in for a 12-day treat that featured Norway, the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Sweden.
A little about us. This was our 24th cruise, all with Norwegian, and our second cruise aboard the Star. We obviously enjoy Freestyle cruising and Norwegian, or we would not continue to sail with them.
It has been our experience on the vast majority of our cruises that the crews on NCL’s ships are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, the ships are clean from staterooms to public areas, and the food ranges from good to very good.
This cruise aboard the Star was no different. The buffet offered a large variety of food that should appeal to every palate. The specialty restaurants were what we’ve come to expect with Cagney’s being outstanding (since they introduced their new menu this year), Le Bistro being consistently very good on every ship, Teppanyaki also very good. La Cucina continues to be a "miss” despite the amazing new warm bread introduced this year (crusty, warm and yummy!). Our meal at La Cucina, as usual, took far too long and everything was served cold. DH and I agree we won’t eat there again until we read of improvements in both food and service. Otherwise we felt the food in general was very good.
Our cabin, a B1 aft balcony, showed minimal wear and our room steward Mo did a good job keeping it clean and always had a friendly word for us. When I asked for a different pillow, Mo was back in seconds with a memory foam pillow that was wonderful to sleep on.
We didn’t go to any shows, so I can’t comment there, but we spent many a pleasant hour listening to Kenny the Human Jukebox sing at the Red Lion pub.
Every staff member we encountered greeted us with at least a smile and everyone we spoke with was very friendly. It truly does feel like we’re coming home every time we board a Norwegian ship.
Now on to the ports.
Bergen Norway is a wonderful harbor town. The city center is a short walk from the harbor and offers plenty to keep you entertained. As you walk you’ll come to the old harbor area, Bryggen, with its many brightly colored (and expensive!) shops. Continuing around the Harbor you come to the Fish Market, which we enjoyed walking around if for no other reason than to check out items that we don’t see at home. A ride up the Funicular, takes you to the top of Mt. Floyen for a spectacular view of the harbor. Aside from the prices giving us a heart attack (the fridge magnet I bought was about $14), which I expected, we thoroughly enjoyed just walking around this lovely town.
Alesund Norway was not as appealing to me. In all fairness, we arrived on a Sunday and nearly all retail stores were closed. But even before I realized that, I just didn’t find a lot that called to me. It seemed like what Alesund had to offer was Mt. Aksla, the Art Nouveau area, and the aquarium. Of course you could book a tour, but many were 7-8 hours in length, which DH and I find unappealing. We ended up walking up Mt. Aksla (418 steps!) taking pictures of the lovely fjord, buying our magnet and heading back down.
The Shetland Islands we toured on our own, booking a van with friends. The weather did not cooperate (chilly, foggy, drizzly most of the day) but we still enjoyed driving around, seeing tons of sheep and Shetland ponies (naturally). We had a fun moment when we suddenly came to a gate down across the road and a red light flashing. It turns out that the road goes across the airport’s runway and they pay two men to sit on either end of the road to move the gate up and down as appropriate. It was pretty cool driving across the runway.
In an unusual twist, the Shetlands, being part of the United Kingdom, was our "cheap” stop. So once back in town, we headed to a pub simply called "The Lounge” for a pint. We had "White Wife”, which is a decent Shetland Ale…can’t get much more local than that.
You’ll find The Lounge a short walk across the street from the harbor. There are also several shops and a fish and chip shop, which also sold fried Haggis.
We very much enjoyed the Shetlands…just wish we’d had better weather. One thing to note about the Shetlands; this is a tender port and you have to clear immigration. So plan your tours (if you’re heading off on your own) and time accordingly!!!
The Faroe Islands were a mystery when trying to figure out what to do. We ended up booking a private tour with Tora Tourist Traffic. The tour guide showed up at the ship as promised (not down at the tourist information center as some people thought). The snag was that he apparently didn’t understand the meaning of the word "private” tour. He was expecting 13 people in addition to our party! Good for us, they didn’t show up and we ended up with the tour that we booked! Also, although I asked if he took credit cards and he said "yes”. He does not. He took us to a bank to hit an ATM machine. These two moments did not ruin the tour, but I want to issue a word of warning if anyone else reads this and books with them. Otherwise, the tour was wonderful!
We booked the Visit Vagar tour (same price as the ship tour, but we had the control) and it was fantastic! The tour included several stops at fjords (both from above and at eye-level), tiny towns with grass-roofed homes, and a stop for a marvelously scenic view at some cliffs. The Faroes are just gorgeous and even though it was a chilly day, the sun kept trying to come out, so I feel we lucked out with the weather.
The Faroe Islands were one of the stops that really made this cruise worthwhile!
Most of us had been to Iceland before, so we booked a whale watch. 80,000 ISK per person included transportation to and from the pier. The tour was fine…saw several dolphins, porpoises, and, briefly, one whale. In retrospect I would rather have taken the shuttle (I believe it was €8 round trip) to the center of town and walked around. Reykjavik is a very nice and walkable city (unfortunately we were docked about 3 miles from the city center). If you haven’t been to Iceland before, the Golden Circle tour is the way to go. It’s one of the best 8-hour tours you’ll ever experience. In this instance, I’d probably book through the cruise line because of the tight timetable.
After a blissful two sea days we arrive at the Oslo Fjord. In doing my research, trying to decide if we needed to subject ourselves to an 8-hour bus tour to see some fjords, I realized between touring the Faroe Islands and sailing up the Oslo Fjord on our way to Oslo, our fjord needs should be met. I looked at the Olso Fjord on the map and thought it looked like it should be pretty good. Well, it was spectacular. Both DH and I were reminded of sailing Gatun Lake between the locks of the Panama Canal. It was some of the best time we’ve spent on a ship…right up there with the Panama Canal, Glacier Bay in Alaska and the Na’Pali Coast sail-by in Hawaii. I feel badly for next year’s cruisers who won’t get to have this marvelous experience.
Once in Oslo, we jumped on the Hop On Hop Off bus (we’d booked this in advance). Another chilly day (thankfully sunny while we sailed up the fjord and cloudy while in town) made the top of our bus a bit cold, but it was a great to take pictures without picking up window smudges! We went around nearly the entire way and disembarked at the City Hall to walk over to the Hard Rock Café. This was quicker than staying on the bus and waiting for it to circle back to the Hard Rock. I wanted to go to the Hard Rock mostly because I thought a Hard Rock Oslo fridge magnet would be a pretty cool thing to have. We sprung for $15 beers (or only local beer purchase besides the Shetlands) and all agreed it was a good stop.
If anyone reading this ends up in Oslo (maybe NCL will add it back in 2015??) the Hard Rock has free Wi-Fi. All you had to do was see all of the crew huddled up against the outside of the building to figure this out!
The next stop was Heslingborg, Sweden (another port not on the itinerary next year). For this one we did NCL’s Scenic Coastal Drive tour. It was about 4 hours long and we agree that it was fine. There was the obligatory church stop, a stop for tea and cookies, and a stop at a lighthouse. DH and I agree that just going to the lighthouse would have been fine for us! The view from there was truly wonderful. I didn’t recall the tea and cookie stop in the tour description and it didn’t do much for us (although in all fairness, others on our tour bus seemed to love it), especially as we were there for nearly an hour.
Back in Copenhagen, Denmark, we had some time to kill waiting for our flights (but not enough time to book NCL’s city tour) so I booked a private tour through Tours By Locals. Our 3 ½ hour tour was $390 (extra $40 for the airport drop-off) for up to 8 people. Ivan our tour guide showed up right on time at the pier and took us all over Copenhagen. It was really a great tour, one that I would highly recommend if you find yourself with some time to kill. I was doubly glad that we’d booked it as our flight to Copenhagen was delayed over 6 hours, eliminating any chance we had to explore before the cruise. Thank goodness we flew in the day before the cruise!
The Norwegian Star is a lovely ship with a wonderful, friendly crew. I would sail her again in a minute.
This cruise has a wonderful itinerary. It really is too bad that NCL is dropping Oslo as that and the Faroe Islands really made the cruise for us.