We are fairly new to cruising and sailed on the Star in 2012 to Bermuda as well. The Star is a much smaller ship, and after reading some of the reviews, I was a little apprehensive about a ship of 4,000+ passengers. I’ve traveled for work and have vacationed with the family around the world, and I’ve been in both budget accommodations as well as some 5-star resorts (those are the business ones).
There were 17 of us traveling as a family in multiple staterooms in The Haven. While we spent some of our time there, we spent a good amount of our time outside The Haven in the many of the other areas like the Atrium (Germany world cup game was awesome! Clearly more Germany fans than Brazilians that day). We ate at many of the restaurants, and saw four shows (Cirque, Burn the Floor, Rock and Ages, and Second City). We made reservations for all, and found the shows awesome. Howling at the Moon dueling pianos was fun, and the other entertainers scattered throughout were all excellent.
Dining in the specialty restaurants was very good, main dining room was okay. But to be realistic, the Manhattan room seats 600+ people and turns tables around a few times a night, so if you dine there, you need to keep it in perspective. The music and dance floor is a nice touch, but any venue that serves that many meals will not be gourmet quality, ship or 5-star resort. Savor was a little more intimate, and found the service a little better (same food), but it came out quicker – that could be because the kitchen is attached to the restaurant and the wait staff doesn’t have to use the escalators to the shared kitchen on deck 6. The specialty restaurants were very good; not gourmet, but on-par with many NYC restaurants. LeBistro was our favorite and quality was the same as when we ate there on the Star. If you want gourmet, don’t miss the Chef’s tasting. That was truly outstanding and had a great wine pairing as well.
Even though there were 4,000 people on the ship, it didn’t feel any more crowded that a Disney resort hotel or other large hotel in a vacation destination. The executive chef (as part of our dinner/tour) explained that the entertainment group works with the dining staff to schedule events during meal times to ensure 4,000 people don’t descend on dining options that only seat about 1,200 at a time. And to be honest, it worked very well. We never had a problem getting a seat at the Sushi bar (very good and cheap compared to NYC prices), Noodle bar, or any of the clubs. Our crew took a liking to Maltings, and Brett the bartender was awesome. While busy, we were always able to find a seat for a bunch of the crew that wanted to sit. The Ice Bar was a fun thing to do and we found no problems getting a reservation for a party of 12 in the middle of the cruise.
On sea days, the pool areas were crowded, but we found that to be the same on the Star and our family that has cruised on Disney said they found the same. I’m not a pool person, and the music was a little loud (“energetic” as my kids called it), so it didn’t really matter to me, but we did see room around the pool if you wanted to sit on the edge or cool off in the deeper parts. Hot tubs are nice, but I’m not interested in sharing one with who knows how many people that get there before me. Reality would dictate that it would be close to impossible to have a pool large enough accommodate a few hundred people on the top level of a ship… think “indoor hotel pool” on a rainy day at a resort. Small and crowded.
The Freefall waterslide was awesome and on our last day at port close to departing (around 3pm), I expected long lines, but there was none! My 17-year old daughter and I were able to take the plunge twice with almost no wait.
My 17 and 25 year old daughters that took dance classes since they were both 5 or so got to attend classes with two Rockettes (first sailing of every month) and they really enjoyed that. The dance session was pretty intense and they came back a little tired in a good way.
The staff was always very friendly, outgoing, and available. The senior officers were always visible, especially Julie the cruise director. She has amazing energy dancing at the end of each show, and always out on decks 6, 7, or 8 all the time (or at least it seemed that way).
Overall, we had a great time, and I’m tired in a good way. If you left the ship not happy or thought there wasn’t anything to do, then you didn’t tell the right person. Any issue we had with a meal, public area, or at the end, issues with photos were dealt with promptly. Yes, some language issues, but that’s industry-wide as most Americans won’t work the hours these folks do. I’m big on perspective; the crew works 7 days a week for the most part, away from home for 8 months with a 6-8 week break. They have to be always on. There are signs throughout the crew areas (we did a back scenes tour) about customer service being number one. Not sure how many of us would sign up for that lifestyle.
The Haven is pure heaven. Not much to say about that area except that for us, this was a once-in-a-lifetime cruise experience so we were able to splurge a little, but the service there was phenomenal in every way. If you want a small-ship experience with all the benefits of a larger ship (shows, variety of options for food, etc.), this is the only way to go.
It will be very difficult on our next cruise when we find ourselves back in a normal stateroom again, but the Breakaway was awesome and can’t wait to sail again to do some of the things we didn’t have time to do!
Thank you NCL – the entire crew was awesome!