November 2006 Destination:
Mexican Riviera Embarkation:
We were on the Norwegian Star during the November 20th-December 8th cruise. This is a fairly long and detailed review of our cruise. I'll start with our background and give a quick summary for those that don't want all the details.
Background: In my family are my wife (34), myself (33) and my two children - girl age 9 and boy age 5 (he will be 6 in two weeks). This was our third cruise. Our first cruise was a four day cruise on Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas, and our second cruise was a 7 night Western CaribbeanMore
Verdana"> cruise on the Grand Princess. We had two other families who we were traveling with. One family was a couple in their mid forties who have cruised many times before, and another family in their early thirties who brought along their 3 children - age 2, 4, and 6. This was their first cruise. All together there were 11 of us in our group - 5 of them being children.
Overall Summary: We had a very good and fun vacation! I am not the sort of person who lets a few bad things here and there ruin an otherwise good time. I had some pre-conceived notions about the Star, but I was pleasantly surprised by this ship. She is a beautiful ship!
My kids thought the kids pool area was the best thing ever. I have to agree it was a fun place for them to be, and I even enjoyed the small pool and Jacuzzi with them on many occasions. They also loved the ice cream shop next to the pool area.
The cabin was the best we had ever had on a cruise. The entertainment was fun and good in our opinion (I fell in love with Jana Seale's voice and guitar). Blue Lagoon was a neat food venue with a fantastic variety of comfort foods. The buffet was MUCH better than I had thought it would be, but the food in the main dinning rooms was a little worse than I thought it would be.
While the crew seemed friendly enough, the worst part of the cruise was the service in the restaurants and in our cabin. There were many frustrating experiences with extremely slow and poor service, but it didn't ruin our cruise experience.
We didn't take any shore excursions, but did get off the ship at each port. I thought Zihantaneho and Cabo were fantastic stops and would go back there any time. I would have rather stayed on the ship in Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta.
Cabin: We had interior cabins on our past cruises, and opted for a port hole cabin on deck four (the lowest passenger deck). The port hole cabin was just slightly more expensive than an interior cabin. Our cabin was only the fourth cabin from the very front of the ship. We were located on the curve of the bow which made all the difference for us. Because of the curve, the cabin we picked was actually stretched a few feet longer than the standard cabin. The other people in our party had interior cabins and they were pretty small. Our stretched version was simply great! The wood trim all over the ship, including the cabins, was beautiful. There was a ton of storage space in the closet and on the shelves and desk area. By the port hole, there was this sort of window seat area that our children enjoyed sitting on. They were practically always up there by the window while we were in the cabin. This meant that they were rarely under foot and gave my wife and me even more space. I didn't care for the carpet patterns or the bed spread patterns, but it really didn't detract from the cabin.
The bathroom was the best. Showers are important to my wife and I, and these showers were great. No curtain, a real door! The shower head was a hand held that you could position at any height. The shower was even large enough for two! Always plenty of hot water and water pressure.
There were just a couple of things I didn't like about the cabin, so I'll mention them. First, the bed situation. They only have one over head pull down bunk. When there are four to a cabin, they pull out the fourth bed from underneath one of the lower beds. This third bed fits between the two lower beds making one big bed. So, one child was always sleeping between my wife and I, which we didn't like. The kids didn't like it either, as the single bunk was what they both wanted. In addition, the bunk bed and the fourth middle bed were much harder than the two regular lower beds. I really wish NCL would have done the quad cabins with two fold up bunks.
The other draw back to our particular cabin is there were noises specifically water constantly trickling down the wall next to my bed. I think there was some sort of drain above our cabin and there was always trickling water. Plus, you are so close to the waves, that you hear the ocean waves against the hull from time to time. In port days, you hear the bow thrusters and anchor very clearly in your room as well. I would recommend ear plugs.
The other couple in our party (without kids) was initially across the hall from us in an inside cabin. They didn't mind the cabin, but since only half of deck four is for passengers, they had a crew area on the other side of the wall in their cabin. They stayed in this cabin the first three days of the cruise, but there was a constant banging noise coming from the crew area. The reception deck attendant moved them to an ocean view cabin on deck 5 for the remainder of the cruise after they gave up trying to find out where the banging was coming from. I thought that was a nice gesture from the staff.
One last draw back to our cabin was not the cabin, but rather the cabin stewards. On many days they wouldn't show up until mid afternoon to take down the beds from the night before. On other occasions, my kids would be waiting until after for the evening turn down service. I could have pull out the beds and turned down the cabin myself, but it just was not even close to the service we received on Royal Caribbean or Princess. It wasn't until the last day when I actually met our room stewards. On the other cruise lines, they were always around. Again, this didn't ruin our cruise, just frustrating. I also don't want to generalize with this complaint. I saw other room stewards in other parts of the ship working very hard and they were very visible all the time. Our stewards just weren't around much and we rarely saw them.
Entertainment and Activities: There were plenty of things going on during the cruise. We did a few activities the first couple days at sea, and pretty much relaxed during the rest of the cruise. We went to almost all the main shows and had a great time. Unfortunately, I missed the last show (the comedy juggling). I really enjoy this sort of show, but I went to the martini tasting prior to dinner along with another person in our party. We don't drink much at all, so I don't know much about alcohol or martinis. They gave us four martinis each, and they seemed almost like full size martinis. I drank all four of my martinis, but my friend found out they didn't really care for martinis all that much. So, she only had a sip or two from each martini, and I drank the rest. All in all, I had almost 8 martinis (never had one before in my life). A half hour later, I was out like a light in my cabin for the rest of the night! Whew!
I thought Simon, the cruise director, was very good. He has so much patience and is very positive. I saw him all over the ship and he would always say hi and chat for a minute if he could.
I found Jena Seale the second night of the cruise. She sings and plays the guitar. She is in the Star Bar each night, later on in the evening. I really thought she was good and I tried to get to the Star Bar each night to hear her sing. I didn't get a change to hear many of the other lounge entertainers unfortunately. The other couple in our group who didn't bring their kids are very much into dancing. It seemed like they were going until or later almost every evening. They had a good time.
Dinning: Here is the biggest draw back of the cruise for me. I'll start by saying that freestyle dining isn't for me. However, I can see how it can appeal to others and has some potential. Unfortunately for us, the service was terribly slow almost every day. We ate in Versailles for breakfast and lunch on many occasions and for a few dinners. The dining room was very beautiful. But service was just plain poor (for us at least). Sometimes all 11 of us were dining, but most of the time there were only 9 or less of us. We pretty much ate at or every night. And we were constantly walking in late to the show. After the second night of really slow service, one person in our group complained to the maitre d. They said that if we were in a hurry, then we needed to tell our server before hand and they would be quicker. Well, it's not that we were in a hurry; it's just that the earliest we could make dinner reservations was . The shows always started at . We just wanted to get a decent seat for the show and not walk in late. After that, we always told the servers that we were trying to make the show, but it just didn't matter. They usually wouldn't even bring desert out until after . We would watch other people come in after we had already been seated for awhile, get their food and finish their meal before we even ordered dessert. Maybe we were just unfortunate each night, but it didn't ever really improve. The food in Versailles, Aqua and La Trattoria was good, but not outstanding (very subjective thing though).
My wife and I ate at Cagney's one evening, and while I do not like the concept of fee restaurants on a cruise, it was a very nice place to eat. And of course the food was superb. One complain I do have is that they offer a half price ($10 instead of $20) if you make reservations for . It was no problem for us to eat early, so that is when we went. However, they claim that if you order the porterhouse steak, there is an extra charge of $5. Well, I went ahead and ordered the porterhouse, but instead of charging me $15, they charged me $25. I asked about this, and they said the lobster and porterhouse were charged the FULL price, plus the extra $5. Had I known this, I would have been very happy just ordering the filet. They really should have mentioned that it was $15 extra for the early eaters. Oh well. By the way, in Cagney's, we were done with our meal in an hour, while the rest of our party was waiting and waiting in Versailles.
On the last day, my wife and I had lunch in Ginza. This is an extra charge restaurant too. My personal opinion was that it wasn't worth it. It was alright, but even slower service than Versailles and the food was just average, unlike Cagney's.
We had one meal a La Trattoria, and two meals at Endless Summer. The overall consensus was that Endless Summer had the best food AND the best desserts. While Endless Summer was probably the best for the free food, there was some very strange service. For example, I was told I could not order beef fajitas - only shrimp or chicken. Yet, they offer an appetizer salad that HAS beef fajita strips of meat!?! They also had Quesadillas as an appetizer, but they came with chicken and peppers and other things in them. I asked if I could just have one with cheese and they told me no. Then, one person in our party ordered the Il Popo, which is recommended for two people due to the amount of food they give you. The server told him he couldn't order it by himself. Someone else would have to order it and help him eat it. Weird!!! I have never had a server on a cruise restrict food like this they always seem to get you what you want, even if it is not on the menu. There were other times in Versailles or other restaurants on the Star that we asked for variations or things not on the menu, and they accommodated. So, it must be something about Endless Summer or that particular waitress.
Other than generally slow service, it was also very difficult to just get coffee and water refilled, or other simple requests. I am not sure if this is due to the fact that everyone shares in the tips or if it is something else. Often, we ate an early breakfast or lunch in Versailles, when there were very few people there. Even then, service seemed consistently poor. We did have one server for lunch one day who was very good. Her evening job was working in Cagney's so maybe the best people work in the higher end restaurants. We ate in Aqua one night just to see if service was any quicker in there, but it was the same as the other free restaurants.
In the end, we still ate very well, had our food served to us and cooked for us, so how can you complain much about that? I really enjoyed having the same servers each night and getting to know the same wait staff on our previous cruises and will probably stick with traditional dining on future cruises.
Oh, the Buffet - I was a bit worried about the buffet, but this was actually one of the bright spots for food (as was Blue Lagoon). While the buffet was frequently busy, had a strange odor to it, and seating was hard to come by, the food quality and choices were great in my opinion. The buffets on our previous cruises were slightly more elegant in their dEcor, but the buffet on the Star was really good I thought. As a parent, the kids buffet idea is simply superb. The kids loved it, and it was nice having them sit and get their food in one place. I have yet to see a cruise ship buffet that is set up perfectly, but I was impressed with the Star's buffet quality.
Ports: We didn't do any excursions, and just wanted to relax mostly on the beach. Acapulco was not very pretty. We just walked off the ship, and walked about 4 blocks to the closest beach. The kids had a good time in the water, but the water didn't look very nice and we were constantly hounded by people the minute we stepped off the ship for taxis, or trinkets, or other things. We could have probably got a taxi and have him take us to a nicer beach, but we just wanted something free, convenient, and quick.
Zihantaneho was great. We got off on the first tender, easily got a taxi, and I asked him to take us to a nice beach. There is one main stretch of beach (ropa I think it's called) that he took us to. The water was clear, the sand was beautiful and there were plenty of things to do on the beach if you wanted to do activities. We spent the day there, but had to leave fairly early in the afternoon. The town seemed like a quaint little town. I would have like to spend a little time in town, but the beach took precedence and we just didn't have the time due to the ships early departure. The taxi ride was only $5 each way to the beach, and the taxi driver showed up exactly when he said he would to pick us up.
Puerto Vallarta was not very good in my opinion. Granted, I didn't see much of it, so don't take my word for it. It was really hot that day, and there weren't nice beaches easily accessible from the tender dock. We shopped by the dock for about a half an hour then went back to the ship. Also, our itinerary showed PV as Docked not tendered, but of course there was another ship already docked so we ended up tendering. I wish NCL would clear this up and either tell you that it will be a tender port or get there first to dock. We left Zihantaneho early enough, we should have had plenty of time to be the first ship there.
Cabo was probably my favorite. We were on the first tender, and we got a water taxi out to the Arch and lover's beach. The water taxi guy had a glass bottom boat, so we stopped at one point where there was a bunch of fish, and he threw some bread out. The fish were everywhere and it was great. He then took us too see the Arch, and the seals across the way. Then, dropped us off at lover's beach and asked what time he should return. He came back later in the day and picked us up right on time. The sand and the water in Cabo were just fantastic. Since we arrive there pretty early, there was hardly anyone on the beach with us initially. It was simply beautiful. As the day went on, people were all over the beach, but it was still a lovely beach. My friend and I snorkeled over to the arch and sat on the little beach there for awhile. I really enjoyed the snorkeling and wish I had rented some scuba gear. Next time.
General comments about the cruise: Getting on the ship during embarkation was a breeze. We got to the terminal around and were on the ship before . Our cabin wasn't ready though until later. Our luggage arrived quickly though.
My daughter didn't really enjoy the kids club, as she is 9 years old, and there were mostly younger boys in there. But, the Star is great for families. I can't tell you how much fun the kids had in the kid's pool area. NCL did a great job with this. They had good quality ping pong tables next to the kid's area and it was a nice place to hang out with family and friends. They had a nice free ice cream shop and the flavors varied each day. One odd thing though, is that the water slides are open during the hours the kids club is open. For example, kids club is closed between and . So, when the kids were not in kids club, they wanted to go to the pool area. But that is when the slides were closed. Kids club would then be open from 9-12 and 2-5, but that is when they would re-open the slides. They had the waterslides actually turned on and running pretty much all day and night, but they only unlocked the gates during the open times. I couldn't figure out why they bothered to close them when they leave them running the whole time anyway. I wish they had just been open all the time or at least when the kids were NOT in the kids club, but that is just a minor complaint.
The spa fee didn't turn out to be a big deal as I was able to use it for a few minutes before and after my massage. If you get a spa service, they only allow you to use the facilities for a half hour before and after your spa service. That was kind of a bummer, but I probably wouldn't have used it much anyway.
The water seemed really smooth the whole time, and the ship seemed very stable. No problem for anyone being sea sick what so ever.
Freestyle disembarkation was not good well, it was good for us because we took the time to figure out how it worked, but there was so much mass confusion. It was strange, but they do customs on the ship. This was awkward, because the line for customs wrapped around the pool into the buffet/main elevator area. This caused mass congestion. My friend and I went to a special lecture about how to disembark, and there were so many confused people and so many questions. We did the express disembarkation which means you can leave on your own at any time you just have to carry your own luggage. It was very nice not to have to leave our luggage out the night before, and not worry about packing the night before. I guess my advice to NCL would be to keep the express disembarkation, but they have to make the process easier for the masses to understand. People were so frustrated, but I guess if they would have taken the time to figure it out, they wouldn't have been so confused. I am not faulting NCL for this, but with more options comes more confusion. I am sure most people blame NCL for the mass confusion, but people just have a hard time figuring things out sometimes. I kept hearing people asking other passengers things like: is this the line for immigration?, is this the line for customs, do we need to bring our luggage with us? etc. etc.
In general, I didn't like the freestyle dining concept. It just means more work to try and figure out when and where to eat. My past cruises were so much easier. I think if it would have just been my wife and I, we probably would have enjoyed freestyle much better. But when you have a large group, it tends to complicate things. I also blame the poor service on the freestyle thing. In the end I am glad there are choices out there. I can see how some people would really enjoy the variety of restaurants and dinner times. Freestyle isn't wrong, just different. We had a great cruise, but I'll be looking forward to traditional dining on my next cruise.
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