This was my first cruise ever going with a friend and his wife. It was above all expectations but found myself a little bothered by some of the hidden charges and minor annoyances I felt NCL could easily look after.
I am usually a pretty frugal traveler but am not concerned with spending money to get excellent service. Norwegian Star did look after us very well and made us feel like part of their family with a desire to return (in fact I often look at the deck cam and follow their progress at sea).
The embarkation could easily be improved with minor changes, but was kind of exciting (for the first 15 minutes) being in the herd. It would have been made easier if they had a little information posted in strategic areas of the line up that directed you where to go once on board. Also maybe info about the crew, happenings on board and other interesting tidbits.
Once on the ship it didn't take us long to figure out where the room was and how to get to where the food started. The ship was well marked and color coded so we quickly learned how to find our way about. We ate while the final touches were being done on the rooms and did the exploratory walk taking note of some of the areas of the ship we wanted to explore more at a later date. The cabins were very clean and although small but bigger than I expected. We had a mid-ship balcony on the 9th deck starboard (note the sailor talk we were not charged extra to learn that but one of the few things we were not charged extra for).
We quickly got our ship orientation including safety briefing and muster station review. There was also safety information on the in cabin TV although an over view pamphlet / or welcome aboard brochure on the bed probably would have been nice. We sat down with our friends and planned some of our ship exploration and activities soon after getting settled and determined the evening show (7:00 and 9:00) would be a great place to start. While we were in this discussion on the pool deck they had a sort of welcome aboard song and dance that was fun and we are glad we didn't miss it (again one of those things that could have easily been on a sign or communicated before it happened.
Once we went to the first evening show we found that some of the key note activities were communicated by the Cruise director (kind of a fun guy named Archie) and supported by a good group of staff. We were disappointed by their instant win tickets and cruise draw given the later in the cruise the cheaper tickets became and being the novice travellers we kind of thought there were a limited amount of tickets (which I guess there are as they would be limited to how much money you can spend on them). Again an area of disappointment (not because we spent the money but because we felt a little tricked I think). In fact we meet a lot of people on this cruise that commented how much they enjoyed the Norwegian Cruise Line but almost with out exception they also commented on how they felt somewhat fleeced. I must mention however fleeced I felt I totally believe we got excellent value on the ship (except on liquor and the instant win tickets) and would recommend Norwegian and this trip to anyone that seemed interested (but with the addendums we are discussing here).
I found the many choices of dining very exciting but here is another place that with very little effort the food review could go from excellent to exceptional +. My recommendations would be to find a little more balance in spices as some of the main dishes lacked the real flavor of a five star restaurant (which I believe the main dining areas were comparable to). I also believe that around the pool some traditional BBQ would have been just so excellent and easy to do as well. My one disappointment that is my redo when I go back (yes I will travel NCL Star again) will be to try the specialty dining. I would have liked to see a little better variety in the 24 hour eater as well. But over-all the food was good but not exceptional + which I believe they could accomplish with very little effort. The staff in all the locations were top notch wonderful people that were quick to serve us (but heard those with drink packages were somewhat wanting for service). After reading the reviews again on our return I would agree that I would pick a wait person and ask to be seated in their area so our main meal of the day could be consistent and we could count on some minor special treatments.
As far as the port of calls go, I personally went for the cruise and not the port of calls, although we did a couple of excursions. I would think that NCL would have a dedicated portion of their library set up specifically with information regarding ports of call. They did have "Specialists" discuss some shopping tips but really found those kind of hard to listen to. The discussion by(I believe it was an excursion crew member) was interesting and think more could be obtained in those chats as well as through their onboard tv system. Port of call information is an area that could easily add another star to the good side of the record with very little extra effort.
For the most part I found the entertainment on board the ship was good variety (although some not to my taste). I would have appreciated a more comprehensive list of where all the entertainment was with a little more notice to plan. I was with a person that really wanted to plan in advance and could feel his frustration in spontaneity. I was good with that but he wasn't and did hear some comments from others that some of the best entertainment was hidden in corners of the ship.
This was a cruise that had some challenges performing the total Freestyle given some health issues after the first stop. However I felt the crew worked very hard to make sure we "their passengers and guests" were very well taken care of. I think they probably all worked longer hours and in harder conditions to make our vacation special. I really do thank all those on the STAR for that special treatment. I am reminded of Washy washy and happy happy whenever I good to a good dining facility at home now.
I would like to strongly recommend that if we are going to be ahead of schedule coming into port that passengers are notified. To me this was a high-lite of the trip and we almost missed coming into Miami.
I am appreciative that one of the crew took time to talk with us about the benefits of walking your own luggage off the ship. That was the most simple thing we could have done and am sure it saved us tons of time. I quickly got woke up to the fact we were off the ship when we waited for the shuttle to take us to the rental car at the airport. The service outside the ship in Miami was terrible and not fun given the wonderful trip we just got off.
In summary, I can only say how pleased and awestruck at the wonderful people aboard the Norwegian Star for opening my eyes to such a wonderful experience. My comments and suggests I am sure are being shared to assist you in improving what is already a wonderful experience. Thank you and good luck, we will see you soon (with other friends).