This is my family's 3rd cruise and the 1st cruise for the friends who traveled with us. Our previous cruises where in the Bahamas on the Disney Dream and the Western Caribbean on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas. Let me preface by saying that our first priority when choosing a cruise is it needs to have a youth program (we have a 5 yr old daughter who is a social butterfly and loves being able to go to her own "club"), second is price and third is ports of call. Disney was very nice and we loved it, but that was a gift from a relative and since then has been WAY out of our price range. The Allure was an amazing ship, and we also loved that voyage. The deciding factor for this cruise was that it left from a west coast port (close to our home in Seattle) and it was going someplace warm with beaches.
Embarkation - We arrived at the port at 11:45, and we were checked in by 12:00. We were informed that there was an unexpected inspection/drill that would delay our embarkation, so we didn't get on the boat until 2:30ish. There was juice and water available during the wait, and vending machines were stocked. No complaints from us.
The Ship - She may be showing her age a bit, but the crew work very hard to keep things ship shape. We didn't notice any major need for attention. It kind of feels like an old school Vegas resort...not garish, still comfortable but ready for an update.
Cabin - we decided to try something new and decided on an inside stateroom this time, instead of one with a balcony. We wanted to know if we would feel the loss...and I am happy to report that we didn't. The cabin was actually larger than we had imagined. The bathroom was bigger than the one on the Allure so that was a plus, and storage was more than ample for a family of 3. It didn't feel like I was in a cave and the room steward was very attentive. The money we saved paid for the 2 excursions we took. This cabin was directly under the casino. I did not notice noise, but there were a couple of times when I noticed a slight smoke smell. It could of been my imagination, but after mentioning it to Anoop, I noticed that he did use a room freshener at turn down. On our next cruise I think I will choose a higher deck.
Activities - The number of and variety of activities offered throughout the day was AMAZING! The cruise director Archie and his staff did an amazing job of making sure there was something for everyone. Our particular favorites were "the Perfect Couple" game show, and the "Battle of the Pans" cooking competition between the exec chef and the food and beverage director. After attending the cruise critic a meet and mingle (which unfortunately was poorly attended by the members on the roll call) Archie knew us by name and always had a smile and suggestion when we were out and about on the ship. We were in the cabin with our daughter, so I can't comment on the late night life. The shows were all very good. All about an hour long and engaging enough to keep the attention of our 5 yr old, and my hubby. The acrobatic show, magic show and the Parisian carbaret on the last night were our favorites, but the musicals held their own and the cast were all very talented. Second City was also very entertaining.
Dining - The food was good in the main dining room with several dishes being really good! We never had super long waits for seating in the MDRs, but lunch and dinner tended to be 60-90 minutes long. Which was fine for our group as we enjoy sitting and chatting about our day etc. We did overhear several people complaining about the wait for service between ordering and actual food delivery. I for one believe in choosing my battles, and service time was not one I was going to choose. We did eat at 2 specialty restaurants. Teppanyaki - which was good and on par with those we have in our area. I enjoyed the intimate atmosphere and the ability to get to know the others dining with us. My daughter was disappointed that they didn't make an onion volcano. Our other choice was Moderno. It was a favorite of our group, waitstaff was amazing, food was very good, and surprisingly, the variety of offerings on the salad bar was also a hit. Our food highlight? The chocolate buffet and the performance by the singing chef Bernardo was a treat. Do not miss that evening!
Kids Clubs - Our daughter adored the splash academy. There were a good variety of activities, and she always was able to tell us of at least one new song, game or story every time we picked her up. The staff was very friendly and seemed to really enjoy their positions and the children they worked with. There were 2 counselors in particular that won our daughters heart, Lemmon and Starburst. In fact, our daughter wants to write them a thank you, and has informed us that our next cruise has to include the presence of those 2 young ladies.
Debarkation - Smooth as silk! We travel pretty light, so we were able to keep our luggage, have a nice leisurely breakfast, and leave the ship when we were ready. I would say that it took maybe 20 mintes to clear customs. A very low stress way to end a wonderful vacation.
Will we cruise NCL again...definitely! The Star...YES. It's my personal belief that your cruise vacation is what YOU make it. Head in with a good attitude and a smile, and it will be returned to you 10 fold. Have a negative attitude or overinflated sense of entitlement, and you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.