Good Day fellow readers, for the past 6 months I have idled away the hours reading the reviews on the Star as I was working, and have come to the conclusion that all the complaints are of those who have expectations that could not possibly be met or took way too long of a cruise.
I am a 40 year old male married for 10 years to my lovely wife with one 7 year old son. My wife and I have been on multiple cruises on other lines including Carnival and Royal Caribbean. This was the first 7 day trip we have had time to sail on and the first of any type of cruise for my son. We live in Northern Nevada and chose to drive down to LA as it was more convenient for us. I did not prepay for anything or reserve tours or restaurants as I like to be flexible on vacations.
We arrived the day before and spent the night in Santa Clarita as it was only 30 minute drive from San Pedro and the port. The money we saved by not staying at a hotel in San Pedro paid for the parking at the pier so we did not have to take a shuttle to the ship. It was nice not standing in line with those looking for hotel shuttles and walking straight to the car when we got off the ship.
Embarkation was delayed an hour due to a Coast Guard annual check. We arrived at 10:30 walked in and had no line for security or check in. We used birth certificates for all three of us and only had to present them at check in and with customs at the end of the trip. There was water and juice in the terminal and plenty of chairs to wait. A number of folks complained about the wait to board including my wife. I told her that it says that boarding doesn't start until 12 according to the paperwork. If you get on early that is great, but don't complain if they tell you on your paperwork the boarding time is 12 and then let you on at 12.
Once on board you can drop your bags at the cabin even if they are not ready. We did this and then went to lunch at the main dining room where there was no wait and not a lot of people. The buffet may be a little quicker if you are in a hurry to eat but the crowds and trouble finding a seat offset this. After eating lunch I placed a cash deposit down on my sign and sail card at the main desk instead of filing a credit card or debit card. They had no requirement for $300 per person per the NCL website. I placed enough to cover my service charges which are charged daily and what I figured I would spend on drinks and other expenses.
We had a family balcony cabin on Deck 9 port side aft (9686). I never heard any neighbors from any side of my cabin. The balcony had 2 chairs and a table, and was very private. I could look over the side and see all the way down to water and up to the navigator bridge on the side of the ship. Port side was facing the arch in Cabo, Stone Island in Mazatlan, and the dock in Puerto Vallarta. The bathroom had plastic doors for the toilet and shower. The toilet was a bit cramped if you had the door closed. Plenty of storage space for suitcases and clothes. The connecting door was locked and never caused an issue. Last the TV was a flat screen with a great variety of sitcoms and new movies. There were some repeats but I never failed to find something new to watch. Also ESPN world, Fox News, and MSNBC were on in addition to the information channels and bridge cam. You could feel the ship move in this cabin but not as bad in the back of the ship or front. I heard complaints of creaking and there was some that you could hear, but catch a clue - you are on a ship expect some noises.
Public Areas / Ship
The ship is easy to get around and you do find new areas every day. The Red Lion pub is fun for Karaoke and has free popcorn and hot-dogs all day. The Spinnaker is at the back of the boat and has some poor sight lines with columns, for shows get there a half-hour early otherwise you might stand. The Stardust at the front was not as uncomfortable as most say. We would often show up late for a show and could always get a seat. The balcony couches were especially comfortable and offered good views. The pool deck had plenty of tables and chairs. We never had a problem finding a seat. Couches and big chairs are available in front of the Bier garden at the front of the ship if you want a more private or comfy place to sit. If you are looking for a good quiet place to go the Star Bar outside Cagney’s was always empty and quiet. We had drinks there a couple of time and had the place to ourselves.
The high school cafeteria buffet as others have called it is not as bad as you might think. The food is repetitive as the same food was out every day with a change in the carving station at night. However the biggest issue is that people logjam at the front of the buffet and don't realize that both sides of the buffet have the same items. There are at least 3 lines at breakfast with the same items and yet people would get in the longest line. At lunch and dinner the main items would be served in two lines with two other stations with pasta/pizza/Asian and deserts. Water and juice stations were placed in every section with ease to get water or lemonade at any time of day without having to walk far. As far as food quality its basic all-you-can-eat fare some good some bad nothing outstanding this included deserts. Outside the pool was the grill that served hot dogs and hamburgers. The french fries were very good as well as the burgers. Often the chefs had big charcoal grills and did specialty items such as Jambalaya and BBQ chicken and ribs. Late night there is a snack bar buffet with chicken wings, pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches and my son’s favorite which were fresh cookies. For kids the buffet was great as pizza was always available for dinner and just beneath the kids clubs. At the end of the night milk and cookies were expected after we picked my son up from the kids program.
Versai and Aqua Restaurants
Breakfast was great at Versai as it gave a greater variety of food than the buffet with Waffles, Pancakes, and eggs any style. It took a little longer but all was fresh and hot. Lunch also was very fast and never really crowded as most went to the buffet. We only ate dinner once as the food quality was very poor and the restaurant was very crowded. We never had to wait to use any of the two main dining rooms but every night people would line up at 5pm to be the first in. The wait time for dinner was always excessive till 7:30 every night and then would thin out.
We ate here the first night and it took at least 4 days for most people to realize it was there. Grilled Chicken Sandwiches, Buffalo Wings, Grilled Cheese, Hamburgers and other diner food available 24 hours a day. If we didn't like the restaurant or buffet we would end up here. Always cooked to order and hot. We never had a wait for a table.
WORTH THE MONEY!!!! Don't be a cheapskate. I know the restaurants are free but the service, food quality, and attention you got made it the best money I spent. We ate at Cagney’s and had an experience similar to Flemings or Ruth's Chris steakhouse. La Cucina we ate at twice and the Ginza once. At each one we had a window table in an area to ourselves, with 2 waiters doting on us. We ordered multiple entrees and appetizers apiece so we never had a course we didn't like and were able to sample a great deal of new foods. If you say I was suckered into doing this because of food quality and selection in the main restaurants you may be right. However I do not feel I got ripped off. I'll gladly pay for outstanding personalized service and fresh cooked to order food. Carlos Bakery was also added effective my cruise. The pastries are available at the coffee bar in the main lobby. We tried the cannoli’s and lobster tails. They very good and only were about $3.50 a piece. The cupcakes from them were just alright. Perfect for an afternoon snack though.
Ports Of Call
Read the internet and cruise critic port information for the best ideas. I did not book the excursions from the ship and made out better by booking with the local vendors.
Cabo - Took a glass bottom water taxi boat ride around the harbor and to the different beaches. It cost $10 apiece and my family had the boat to ourselves for an hour and a half and saw lots of fish and Seals. Walked around the harbor and had happy hour snacks and beverages at CaboWabo.
Mazatlán - Walked down to the stone island shuttle about 5 minutes aways and went to the beach for the morning. Cost $3 a piece for the ride and the chairs at CoCo's cost me $15 including 3 bottles of water, chips and salsa, and 2 beers. Beach was practically empty since the tours did not get there till the early afternoon. We left early to go back to the ship to have lunch and change. We then took a private open air taxi located at the port for a 2 hour tour around the city and only paid $60 including tip.
Puerto Vallarta - Took a taxi to Macedon for $15 and walked to the central market. When done it cost us $10 to go back to the ship and Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had a number of quality souvenirs and we were able to stock up on drinks. The biggest thing we were not hassled in Wal-Mart and the store was clean and organized.
We never feared for our safety in any port. All the locals were very friendly and accepted US Dollars. All change was given in Peso’s. Before the trip I budgeted for each port and brought exclusively $1 and $5 bills so that I would not have to worry about breaking large bills. Ended up with a few Mexican coins which I gave to my son as something he could take to school.
One thing that surprised me was that before returning to the ship there was a tent and steward offering cold water and washcloths as we came back from all of the ports. At Puerta Vallarta they even had cold skewers of fruit to snack on. This was something that I did not expect, but was greatly appreciated at the end of a long day.
My son went to the kids club every night at 7pm. The evening session runs from 7 to 10:30pm every night with the exception of the first night which starts at 8pm. He had a blast and always wanted to go. They do have afternoon sessions and morning sessions, but he was having too much fun going down the slides at the pool. (BTW they are not made for adults – I got stuck once and that was enough.) If you want to stay out late they charge $6 an hour for late night sessions after 10:30pm. Our only gripe was that the first show and the club both started at 7pm. There was no early check in so you had to sign your kid in and run down to the show if you wanted to see the early set.
Shows / Entertainment
Dancers and singers were very good. We liked Band on the Run and anything with the production cast. The magic show and acrobats we tried to watch but got bored. The Second City cast was outstanding and we caught every show. The two shows in Spinakers should have been moved to the Stardust as people were standing in the back of the room.
Got up at 7 and had breakfast in main dining room. When back to cabin and got bags as we had to be out of the cabin at 9. Our color was Aqua and to be called at 10:15 am. In your daily the night before you get a breakdown of the times and what color tags would be called. Red came before ours. Custom clearance is done at the Ginza restaurant and you enter from the port side promenade deck. After red was called we waited for 15 min and saw the line was empty. As soon as we walked down to the doors they called our color. This was at 9:30am. They separated US citizens from everyone else. We used our Birth Certificates and showed them to the customs officer and walked out the doors. Luggage was separated by color in a warehouse. We found our bags and walked across the street to our car and left.
The staff and organization of the NCL crew was outstanding. There was always something to do and the staff was outgoing and friendly. We made several friends with the staff and always talked to them every day. They were constantly cleaning and making sure the ship everything was clean and up to date. On the last day they were even varnishing the rails.
Passengers were mainly spring break families. No crazy or loud college kids as my wife and I found out mainly stuck to the Carnival ship doing a similar itinerary. There were a few people with wheel chairs but the elderly and geezer set seemed to miss this trip. The hot tubs and pools were mainly filled with kids and teens. For the most part the parents kept them rained in and I only heard a few running through the halls at night. It was a nice departure from the rednecks and crazies that typically populate Carnival.
I will mention one funny thing that reminds me of the some of the reviews for this ship. There was a lady who came into the main restaurant during lunch on the first day, and demanded an early sitting for dinner. The girl at the desk explained that it was first come first served and that she could not take a reservation. The lady stormed out livid saying that she and her party of 6 must eat at 6pm on the dot. Later that night she went to the Blue Lagoon and sat down and requested steak and lobster which was being served at the main restaurant. The Blue Lagoon is fast comfort food and does not serve what is in the main dining room. She again stormed out mad at the world. I am impressed someone could have booked an NCl cruise without looking up the definition of Freestyle Cruising. There is always at least a few idiots on the boat. I am sure she will write a review saying that her trip was ruined because of poor service and dining. Hey also what is up with the lanyards. I found at least 10 of them lying around on the deck after falling off people. Try pockets people.
The ship is older but maintained very well for a vehicle in salt everyday. It took us a day and half to find our way around but the ship is very walkable once you know where everything is. We never had to wait too long for an elevator or to get in a restaurant. The food was a little bland, but the specialty restaurants made up for the main ones. We were never pressured to buy anything including the drinks. When we did order cocktails they came quickly and were often very strong . The ports were just ok. Cabo and Puerta Vallarta are very Americanized ciites with a few old Mexico touches. Matzalan is laid back and pure traditional Mexico. The crew was very friendly and tried hard to please. Overall my family had a very good time and might cruise with them in the future.