This was our fifth cruise and second with Norwegian cruise line. We were attracted by the itinerary and particularly the crossing of the Panama Canal.
The embarkation process in Miami went well with the exception of the fact the final embarkation on the ship was delayed a couple of hours in order to allow the crew to fully disinfect the ship. As a result, the embarkation room in Miami became very crowded with not enough room for seating all passengers and very limited beverage offering.
Our cabin was a inside stateroom which was very comparable to what you will get with most cruise line. Our cabin was showing some sing of wear but was clean, comfortable and functional with a good size washroom and enough storage space.
As noted in many other critics, the ship is probably due for a facelift but it is still kept in good condition. However, the ship present some important weakness that need to be taken in consideration before booking your cruise. Here are some comments on public areas.
• The ship was renovated in 2010 to add some 54 cabins and suites as well as an enhanced Star's spaces for kids. Unfortunately, this was done at the expense of former well popular public rooms. Just an example, you can forget about the forward bar on deck 12 with panoramic view on the ocean; this area has been converted into suites.
• Please note that the decks plans on the cruise critics website are the plans before the ship renovations in 2010.
• With the added suites and the numerous specialty restaurants, there is a definitive lack of public rooms where you can sit, read a book or just enjoy the view with a drink. This is more evident on sea days where the weather is windy and colder.
• The promenade deck is very nice and appreciated by the passengers. Please put signs indicating the direction to walk on the forward or AFT portion of the promenade as some passengers will probably never get it. Also, there was not enough seating place on the deck portion.
• The stardust theater is OK but the seats are very uncomfortable. They are not wide enough and do not provide enough room for the legs. The view from the sides or the balcony is often partially obstructed.
• The Spinnaker lounge is ugly. Dark, low ceilings and seating organized in a row fashion in order to pack the room.
• The Gatsby bar is a fairly nice area but relatively small with limited seating.
• The Lion pub is great but no food is served there and it is also a passageway.
• The Atrium and Java cafe is very nice but again, the seating is limited.
• The Aqua restaurant is not very attractive mainly because of its low ceiling
• The Versailles dining room is very nice.
• The buffet area looks just like an ordinary high school cafeteria.
• The blue lagoon restaurant was quite nice with a view on the ocean or the Atrium.
• The pool area is design mostly for kids with the waterslides. That was not very useful on a Panama cruise consisting mainly of retired passengers. However, the seating around the pool was very good.
Food and dining including the table service is certainly an important feature of a cruise. On this cruise, everything was impacted by the extraordinary measures taken to prevent the occurrence of a virus outbreak. You could not serve yourself at the buffet, not even a glass of water. No salt or pepper on the table, no bread baskets with butter. Even ketchup was put in your plate by a server. The crew of the ship have done a great job to adapt to these measures. However, it did slow down a lot the service resulting in many passengers complaining.
The food at the dining room was quite adequate but not much than a 3 star. The buffet was a 2 star at best. The grill was just OK. The Blue Lagoon restaurant had a very limited menu and the only time we tried it early in the morning for breakfast (5 am) we were told the galley would open only at 6:00 am.
The freestyle dining feature of NCL is a great idea for some but often bring people doing unexpected things. I will probably never understand why people are lining up at 4:00 PM to enter the dining room that open at 4:30 PM when you are in a freestyle dining feature and there is virtually unlimited food available.
Myself, I enjoy more the conventional fix seating approach. We just sowed-up at the Versailles dining room at 5:15 PM every day with almost no line up. We were able to sit in the same station and be served by the same people every night which improved our experience.
We certainly enjoyed the entertainment at the theater keeping in mind it is design to meet the requirements of a relatively old crowd.
The music around the ship is almost inexistent during the day. However, at night you have few very interesting groups performing in various places including the Gatsby and the Atrium.
The daily activities are quite limited if you don't like Bingo or art craft. However the speaker on the Panama Canal was much appreciated. There was also a scheduled speaker presentation on Cartagena but unfortunately the room was not large enough to accommodate all the passengers that wanted to attend.
In general, we enjoy our cruise, crossing the Panama Canal and Cartagena. We will likely cruise again with NCL providing the itinerary meet our requirements and the price good. However, I doubt we will cruise again on the Norwegian Star.