We had booked this transatlantic cruise far in advance and joined the roll call early on. NCL’s freestyle dining allowed us to meet more interesting people than we have ever met before. I think the people onboard were the highlight of our experience!
Pre Cruise: We flew into Fort Lauderdale and had booked QLS (Quality Limousine Service) which turned out to be quite a disappointment. We waited for over 30 minutes and then called to find out where they were and they called back with an excuse that another customer had skipped out of the car without paying…blah, blah… We had to pay ahead of time, so I didn’t quite buy the excuse.
We usually stay in Fort Lauderdale precruise but found a great deal at the Quality Suites Miami Airport North. The room was VERY nice and quiet and the staff was very helpful and friendly. The beds were heavenly with firm and soft pillows for each guest. We made our reservation for the free shuttle when we checked in. There isn’t a huge selection of restaurants nearby so we chose IHOP for dinner which was just fine.
Breakfast was a good, typical selection. The free shuttle service was in fact a large bus filled with excited cruisers and it was a great way to get to the pier. I would highly recommend this hotel.
Luggage handlers greeted us at the Port of Miami making a big effort to hustle everyone for a tip. We didn’t wait long for check-in and were on board and allowed to go to our room immediately. We looked around the ship just a bit and went to the Versailles for lunch.
We met a large group of folks from the Cruise Critic roll call at sail away at the Bier Garden. We also had a very well attended Meet and Greet , a Slot Pull (we doubled our money!!!) and a Cabin Crawl which is a great way to see other types of cabins. Lots of very nice people.
We had selected an obstructed view stateroom from the deck plan map hoping that the placement of the lifeboats was accurate. It did end up being so, which provided a pretty good view of the ocean from one of the two vertical windows. The major problem with the obstructed view is that we saw workers walking along the platform in front of the windows quite often, perhaps about 10 times. Only one worker was “actively looking” inside our room and was embarrassed when we caught him. That taught us to keep our curtains closed when we were dressing!
While our room steward was very pleasant and efficient and the room was comfortable, the room itself had a few problems. Our refrigerator didn’t work properly and it was finally declared not working. We didn’t get a new one for 10 days. The worst problem was the toilet that occasionally didn’t flush. You could hear a whooshing sound which was the vacuum attempting to work somewhere faraway in the system (a plumber came to try to solve the problem and said that it would flush eventually but the problem was “elsewhere”). So, would it flush in 10 seconds or 15 minutes? Obviously, not a good situation.
Another problem was the ship’s water system. The entire ship had an emergency repair announced which meant no water available between midnight and 3 AM on one day. No problem, we thought. Wrong! In the morning, our faucet spurted dirty water with lots of air in it. We called the plumber who spent about 15 minutes in our room working on the problem and then he replaced the filter.
The stateroom was just fine with enough storage and closet space. The bathroom was a good design with a big enough shower and doors for the toilet area. It was convenient to The Blue Lagoon restaurant and I went there or the coffee station early each morning to get my coffee.
The NCL Star is a bit of a puzzlement and has positive and negative features. The staff was all outstanding, friendly and hard working. A pleasant greeting was given whenever we passed. The ship is well maintained for one that is just on the older side. They are in process of doing some work before the drydock in Feb, 2015. New carpeting was being put down in many areas of the ship during the TA and it looks very nice.
The one big problem with the Star was one that was caused by a corporate decision. Several public areas, including the forward lounge on the 13th deck were converted into penthouses and even an officer said it was a mistake during a Q & A session. The result is there are few public places to enjoy quiet times. It did seem like a shopping mall at Christmas time when the weather was a bit cold or during the middle of the day. People looking for a quiet space were many times found in the Spinnaker or like places while an activity was also taking place.
The stores were also disappointing. The t-shirt selection and sales were very sad and few people bought any as they were poorly designed with yucky colors and graphics.
Another issue that has been reported many times in other reviews is all the broken seats in the theater. The captain said they had received the parts/springs for repairs but that must be in the future.
This sailing had the least amount of “nickel and diming” I have ever experienced. While the bingo announcement was made daily, the number of times we were asked to purchase things was kept to a minimum.
Dining: We found the food to be just fine but with nothing standing out as really excellent in the main dining room or buffet area. We were always pleased with the choices in the evening in the main dining rooms. The Aqua Dining Room had faster, more efficient service. On the first “dress up or not” night, we went to the Versailles and of course there was a long line. We were given pagers and asked to wait in the lounge. Our actual dining time was well over two hours and we hadn’t even ordered desserts. We would have missed the 9:00 show if we had dessert.
The one huge issue I had was that the lunch time menu in the Versailles stays the same except for one item that changes daily. The problem is that you don’t know what that item is until your waiter tells you. This is the first time in cruising that I have ever experienced the same menu in the MDR day after day for 14 days. I decided to write “Hugo” as the captain had asked the Cruise Critics to let them know if there were any issues. So, I wrote a nicely worded letter stating my disappointment.
The next evening, we were sitting at a table with two couples from Denmark (strangers) who were charming. The Versailles manager came up to my chair and put her arm on my shoulder saying my name (a little creepy) and then returned about 10 minutes later saying my name again “Miss ____” and that she would like to speak with me later. A lot creepy. She then returned soon after and asked me about my letter to Hugo right in front of the others at the table. I found this embarrassing as I hadn’t mentioned any complaints or negative issues to these new friends. I stated my concern as nicely as I could and then she came back later and asked for my cabin number and that she was “going to send something to my cabin”. I thought it might be a bottle or wine or something similar. Nothing ever came. That event irritated me but I decided to let it go for the rest of the cruise.
BTW, the Star will start with the new NCL menu on May 22nd, so I can’t comment on what is currently happening. They were evasive about the lunchtime sameness changing, so I will assume it won’t.
Activities: I enjoyed using the fitness center, movies in the Stardust, and the chef’s demonstrations. One of the best experiences was something that was accommodated but not run by the ship. There was a missionary pastor who offered his services for two interdenominational services and then Bible studies on sea days. The group that gathered was quite large and I met many wonderful and very interesting people that way.
Service: The service all around the ship was excellent. The crew gets an A+ in my book. One young man who was a server in the Blue Lagoon was especially charming. I am an early bird and he would talk to me as there were no other customers during the early hours. He carried a photo of his home town in his pocket especially to share with me. I must have been a mother figure…
Entertainment: Ian, the cruise director and his team were delightful and another major highlight. He was personally charming and came over to meet us as my husband was wearing a Star Trek shirt one day. The Trekies bonded.
The entertainers were, in general, excellent. The NCL singers and dancers were some of the best I have ever seen and true professionals. I met some of them personally and they were eager to talk and share their interests. The hypnotist (who I did not see, so this is hearsay- we don’t like this genre of entertainment) reportedly was not very effective and her abilities did not shine through. Enough said.
Port & Shore Excursions: We are independent sorts (can you tell?) and so ventured out with specific plans for each port.
Azores: a drizzly day- we walked around town to visit the highlights which are not exceptional in comparison to other islands like the Canary Islands. Many others who took the ship tours reported they enjoyed them, but no details to report. The weather is so unpredictable in the Azores.
Dover, England- we had a group of ten Cruise Critics that took two taxis to Dover Priory and we took the train to Canterbury (paid about $10 per couple, round trip). Easy- they leave every 30 minutes- a 16-28 minute ride. Canterbury is easy to navigate and the Cathedral was marvelous. We took a group tour which was very worthwhile. We then walked to St. Augustine Abbey, which are ruins from the earliest days of Christianity in England. The entire walk is just a one and a half mile loop. The train was easy to take back and we lucked out with an express .
Helsingborg, Sweden- we had to tender at this port which was not a problem. Guests were greeted by a lovely folk musical group. We took a taxi to Fredriksdal which is an ethnographic museum of a village from the 1700-1800’s. Lovely and a nice insight for those of us who have Swedish heritage. I met up with a Swedish cousin I had only recently discovered and she had prepared a book filled with photos and genealogy. What a great day!
Copenhagen, Denmark- We just walked off with our luggage close to 9AM. Things were still quite busy but the disembarkation was efficient. We took a taxi to the Nyhavn Canal. The Oceankaj is a new terminal just opened in early May, 2014, so we didn’t really know what to expect. Everything is quite expensive in Scandinavia and that includes the taxi. It was about 190 DK to Nyhavn as it is the farthest terminal. We were allowed to check-in at 9 AM at Hotel Bethel and went for a canal tour (Netto is the least expensive), saw the changing of the guard at noon at Amalienborg Palace and had a tour, and then walked to Rosenborg Castle. It was a gloriously sunny day and the Danes were really enjoying the gardens and park. Both very important places to visit in Copenhagen. We then strolled on the entire Stroget which is a pedestrian street with lots of shopping and restaurants.
Post cruise: We stayed at the Hotel Bethel right on the Nyhavn Canal. The staff was outstanding- friendly and helpful. The rooms are basic but comfortable and very clean with free Wi-Fi and an excellent breakfast. It is a great central location but needs to be booked far in advance because it is a very reasonable hotel considering how expensive things can be in Copenhagen. I agree with others who comment about the Little Mermaid statue. It is quite unremarkable when one considers the other amazing possibilities in Europe.
In summary, the cruise was made wonderful by the excellent and hardworking crew and the wonderful passengers who presented themselves as positive and very experienced cruisers. Since this was a transatlantic cruise, the passengers included many Australians, Europeans and all around interesting people that were a joy to meet. I encourage others to ask to share a table if they feel their language skills allow.
I realize that some of my comments were not positive, but they reflect our experiences and sentiments. Would I sail on the NCL Star again? Probably not, because of the inherent deficiencies of the ship that are the result of corporate decisions. Did I have a good time? Most definitely!