In today's competitive cruise industry, there is no room for mediocrity. While other cruise lines have raised the bar on luxury, food and entertainment, Norwegian Cruise Lines seems to have gone downhill.
In a recent 21 day back to back cruise, my significant other and I booked a balcony cabin on the NCL Norwegian Star. We hoped that the ship would be as incredible as the itinerary (Copenhagen; Berlin; Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki; Stockholm; Bergen and Alesund Norway; Shetland Islands; Faroe Islands; Reykjavik, Iceland; Oslo; and Helsingborg, Sweden). Were we wrong!
The only "Star" of this trip was the itinerary and the shore excursions that we booked outside of the cruise line with a company called "Red October" in both Berlin, Germany and St. Petersburg, Russia. Our St. Petersburg guide, Catherine Karalesina (Kate), was delightful, friendly and extremely informative as she took us through all of the attractions that St. Petersburg has to offer for two full days. The cost was less than the ship charges and with a much smaller group. She was wonderful and this was a memorable experience.
As for the ship, for starters the Cruise Director is an important part of the cruising experience. They are the Entertainment Director for the ship. Every Cruise Director I've ever come into contact with in nearly 50 years of cruising had a talent---singer, dancer, comic. This is not the case with Candi Finkelstein, Norwegian Star's Cruise Director. All she did was make the PA system announcements and on-stage talent introductions. When I asked her how she got this job, she told me she's had it for 6 years and before that she was a fitness instructor. That was the funniest joke she told on the whole cruise considering she's at least 20 pounds overweight.
Speaking of the talent, out of 14 shows, there were only 4 good ones (Brenda Cochrane, Duo Bolshakov, Tenors of Rock and Graffiti Classics). The rest will remain nameless because they were either forgettable or terrible and NCL should be ashamed to stage such rubbish. You can't make a bad show good by pumping so much phony smoke from both sides of the stage for effect that it chokes the entire front half of the audience, half of whom are sitting on broken theater seats that go down more than 90 degrees and you have to hold on to the armrests to stop from sliding down to the floor.
Other maintenance issues abound as well--Elevator direction lights are burned out and don't tell you if you are going up or down when the elevator doors open and sometimes, even though you push the button for the deck you want, the elevators sail right past it. Balcony carpets are terribly stained and balcony edges are rusted. Does this sound like a luxury cruise so far? Wait. It gets worse!
Our cabin constantly smelled from tobacco smoke even though we don't smoke. The Hotel Director, Yannis, said that it must be coming through the bathroom vent and there is nothing they could really do.
My partner was enticed by a spa special for a neck and shoulder massage for $89. When she got there, they wanted to perform this service in the main part of the beauty shop where there is no privacy. When she objected, they told her that if she wanted privacy, she'd have to pay full price for the service. Sound like luxury yet?
I purchased a 280 minute internet package for $100. After the first day of use, I had a balance of 260 minutes remaining. But their system failed to disconnect properly and took away all of my remaining 260 minutes. The Internet Manager acknowledged that this was a common technical glitch but would only credit me 200 minutes, refusing to give me the 260 minutes that I was due because of their malfunction. Does this sound like luxury yet?
As for the food on the Norwegian Star, the main dining room quality was mediocre at best and extremely salty, but the specialty restaurants were considerably better. Of course, you have to pay extra for that. And the buffet was a zoo with people climbing over each other to get to the food and not enough tables once you were lucky enough to get it. Nothing luxurious here either!
I could go on and on but I think you get my "drift". The bottom line here is this:
If you're looking for a quality, luxury vacation, don't go on the NCL Norwegian Star. There are better, newer ships out there for a lot less money. Try to match the itinerary with a cruise line that cares!