Norwegian Star Cruise Review by world1a: Great Cruise, public transport described
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Great Cruise, public transport described
First time cruising with NCL. The Baltic capitals were sensational and the Norwegian Star far exceeded my expectations - we very much enjoyed this cruise on the Star.
I was under the impression that NCL was a lower-tier cruise line. So, my expectation for this cruise was not much more than to have a reliable ferry on a great Baltic Sea itinerary. I enjoyed previous cruises with Holland (Alaska, balcony) and also Disney (Eastern Caribbean, balcony), but, overall, I think I enjoyed this cruise on the Star more - the weather was perfect, Freestyle Dining is so convenient, the food quality was adequate and the ports were fantastic.
Suggested improvements: 1. An additional day in Stockholm, Sweden; 2. Add a port-stop in Oslo, Norway; 3. A more exciting main dining room menu; and, 4. Baltic cultural and history enrichment lectures.
We only ate in the included restaurants and the food and service were fine, but a notch below the dining rooms on More both Holland and Disney. We loved having no set dining time (Freestyle). We ate dinner, on a two-place-table in the ornate Versailles (dress casual) unless we were too exhausted, then we had dinner in the even-more casual Aqua also at a table by ourselves. Both restaurants use the same kitchen and have the same menu which changes nightly. Service was better in Aqua (I think rookie waiters begin their training on the 2 & 4 top-tables in Versailles). We bought the four bottle wine package - This saves about the cost of ½ bottle purchased on the ship. Any unused wine would be re-corked and stored for the next night’s dining. Every meal was served hot on a warm plate (except spaghetti carbonara, really just Alfredo with bacon - I should have sent it back to the kitchen). All medium-rare meat was served medium-plus (being served on a warm, covered plate probably continued cooking the meat - I’ll try ordering “rare” next time). The wait staff had no problem with the number of appetizers, mains or deserts ordered. I had a main for an appetizer one night.
If you want to feel younger, skip the Spa, and head over to the buffet, you’ll feel just like you did years ago - eating in your junior high school cafeteria. The buffet food is much better than the Disney buffet, but not as tasty as that in the buffet on Holland America.
I didn’t eat so much for breakfast or lunch - saving those calories for dinner. I’d pick up something from the buffet (chaos) and take it out by the pool (pleasant) or up to the Beer Garden (at breakfast) overlooking the pool. The buffet would offer a different themed-menu each night for dinner - sometimes a menu with dishes from the country being visited. We didn’t eat dinner until late in the evening, so just before 5 pm, I’d prepare a plate, from the buffet, with a small sample of each special offering - there was no line or commotion that early.
On the first sea-day (Warnemunde to Tallinn), the buffet has a seafood themed menu and one dish is a New Orleans seafood casserole with chopped lobster tails on-top. I’m not a big fan of lobster, but with the casserole sauce they were delicious - I ate several (ask for more to be brought out if someone ahead in line takes all the lobster).
The buffet has five serving lines: the two lines on the port side and one of the lines on the starboard side serve the featured dinner dishes. A second line on the starboard side serves pizza, pasta, Indian, vegetarian & Chinese dishes. The third line on the starboard side serves only yummy desserts.
There are islands in the buffet where you can get drinks: milk, coffee, water, hot or iced tea, flavored water & orange juice.
The Grill, located next to the pool has breakfast items and for lunch/dinner offers hamburgers, hot dogs & good fries.
The small, but inviting, Blue Lagoon is always open, has a limited menu, and overlooks the atrium. I didn’t eat there but some passengers liked it for breakfast.
Hot dogs and hamburgers are BBQ’d by the pool when leaving Copenhagen and for lunch on the final day-at-sea (with great baby back ribs).
We had an inside cabin, near the front of the ship, on deck nine, which was functional, well appointed and just big enough for us two. The queen bed set-up could be reconfigured into two twins to provide additional space. I reckoned that the Baltic would be chilly and limit any use of a balcony and our primary purpose for this trip was the itinerary - not lounging in the room, so an inside cabin would be fine. Turned out we had great weather - never chilly outside, even late at night (except when leaving and returning to Copenhagen).
My spouse purchased a weekly pass for the adult-only spa (a limited number of passes sold) which allowed unlimited access to an indoor heated lap-pool, whirlpool, jacuzzi and an indoor lounge area with a great view - so we really didn’t need a balcony.
Returning to the ship each evening after shore excursions, it wasn’t uncommon to find a maintenance crew noisily, grinding and sanding the outside balconies. This seemed like a job that should be done in the shipyard. One fellow passenger told me her balcony furniture and floor were covered with the sanded-paint-dust. With all that paint dust lying around, I’m glad we didn’t have a balcony.
The cabin had a small flat screen TV which had several good channels - including the World Cup soccer final (we were in Germany the day they won the cup) and the British Open later that week. The date-and-time channel was useful as you change time zones four-times on this cruise (don’t show up an hour late/early for your shore excursion - some people did). A GPS channel mapped the Star’s location and gave the weather.
Three or four days into the cruise a laundry special is offered. a pillowcase sized bag can be filled with dirty clothes and laundered for $29. This special was repeated a few days later. Synthetic socks, underwear and shirts can be washed (using a little shampoo) in the sink, wrung dry and hung on the line in the shower overnight. There is a hairdryer in the room also.
The Ship -
The Star is in great shape for her age (12 years old) and has a functional and intuitive deck plan and an attractive decor. The swimming pool is small but has four hot tubs and two spiral slides. Another hot tub is on the stern in the toddler pool area. Another large hot tub is located up front, on deck 13, in the quiet area (with many chaise lounges). There are seven, stadium-like tiers at the swimming pool and tier each holds twenty chaise lounges. I was told the swimming pool water was chilly. I didn’t get in any pools, and if there were bad weather, none could be covered and therefore would have limited utility.
Great! The ship’s band and singers were excellent. Other nightly acts included four excellent tenors; a very good, beatles tribute band; and, an American soprano (Jennifer Fair - wish she would have done some Dusty Springfield). The final night was a fabulous night of song, dance and amazing acrobatics. It is in this show that you realize what an amazing theater the Star has. I skipped two of the nightly acts (the juggler and an acrobat) due to shore-excursion “exhaustion”.
There were also six other musicians/singers performing in six separate, smaller venues on the Star: two pianists, two guitar players and two bands. If the Star’s band wasn’t needed for the theater show, it might play in the Stardust dance lounge.
I didn’t see any comedians performing. This may be because english was a second language for two-thirds of the passengers (there were 800 Spaniards among the 2300+ passengers). Although I think the cruise director did a comedy act.
Enrichment Activities -
The six Baltic countries visited have a rich cultural and historical context - there were no cultural or history lectures on the Star. The second day of the cruise is an at-sea day, with lots of time for lectures, and there was a cooking demo which I did not attend. I did go to an art history lecture later in the week, that was interesting, but the primary purpose was to sell art of dubious pedigree.
We took bus #26 from our Copenhagen hotel to the passenger terminal (Nordhavn Oceankaj) using our Copenhagen Card (otherwise the cost is 36 DKK (about $6.50) for three-zones and is good for one hour of transfers). Enter the bus with luggage from the middle/rear door and place your bags in the handicap area. Insert your ticket into the date/time stamper for validation.
Bus #26 only occasionally goes all the way to the Nordhavn Oceankaj cruise terminals (UNICEF Faergehavn Nord stop). It usually turns around at Osterport St. (Slojfen). But, when there is a cruise ship in port, a second Shuttle #26, runs between Osterport St. (Slojfen) and the cruise ship Terminals at Nordhavn Oceankaj (your original ticket is valid on this shuttle). Google “moviatrafik english” for more info.
Once on the pier, if you have an assigned cabin number and have already printed out your luggage tags, the Norwegian representative will attach the tags to your bags and you can proceed inside to the check-in counter. If you have a “guaranteed room” (no assigned cabin number), you must wait in line outside at the baggage drop, they will look up your cabin assignment, hand-print luggage tags and then take your bags. You can now go inside to check-in.
Check-in was quick. We went directly to the ornate Versailles restaurant, on deck 7, at the rear of the ship, for a pleasant, sit-down lunch (no crowd). Another option might be to go to the Blue Lagoon, mid-ship, above the Atrium for a quiet, sit-down, lunch overlooking all the action below. There always seemed to be a three-man band playing in the Atrium.
The Nordhavn Oceankaj pier, besides being a good distance from Copenhagen (and a hassle to travel to), is in an uncharming, industrial area. From the top of the ship, you have a view south to the towers of Copenhagen - where you will see cruise ships (eg: Royal Caribbean, Mein Schiff 2, Europa) docked downtown near Amalienborg Palace. Nordhavn Oceankaj is part of Copenhagen’s recent expansion from seven cruise-ship-docks to eleven.
We attended the Sail-Away BBQ at the pool. There is a conga-line dance - which is kind-of-awkward on a Baltic cruise (it would fit-in better on a Caribbean cruise). If you dance in the conga-line you will be given a raffle ticket for a free Caribbean cruise. If you strike up a conversation with one of the dancing Norwegian employees handing out raffle tickets you will make a friend and may be given several more tickets. The raffle is held on the last day of the cruise (at-sea-day) during the second (4:30pm) Bingo session - and you must be present to win. Bingo cards purchased and played at the earlier Bingo session that last day come with lots of extra raffle tickets - so that is the time to play bingo. Good luck!
Find your embarkation photo on deck 7, aft, and get a free aerial photo of the Star. No purchase necessary.
About an hour after leaving Copenhagen, you’ll sail by Helsingor, Denmark at a very narrow section of water. If you look to the west (port/left) you’ll see Kronborg, or Castle Elsinore in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
We purchased a three-zone public transportation ticket. The ticket (36 DKK) is sold at the pier in the Tourist Info booth (accepts credit cards), on the north corner of Oceanvej & Oceankaj (across from the UNICEF building and Terminal #1). The earlier buses headed into town will not be crowded. Bus #26 picking up at the TI may take you all the way to the Central Train Station/Kobenhavn H or it may just shuttle you to the Osterport St. (Slojfen) stop where you can wait for a Bus 26 on the regular route to pick you up. I don’t know how to tell the difference between Bus #26 on it’s route and the special (cruise terminal) Shuttle #26 - they look the same. Enter the bus at the middle door and place your luggage in the handicap (open) area. Stamp your ticket to validate it.
If you are going to the Airport via the train, exit Bus 26 at the Radhuspladsen stop (just after turning the corner at City Hall, on the northwest side of Tivoli, in front of Burger King/McDonalds. Then walk a block south to the train station. Look for a train going to the Lufthavn (airport) - but ask to be sure as you don’t want to end up in Malmo, Sweden.
A local told me the quickest way to the airport from Oceankaj would be, Bus #26 to the Kongens Nytorv stop (the first stop south of after the Nyhavn Canal tourist area), then take the Metro to the airport. I can’t vouch for this as I didn’t ride the Metro at all.
Our plane didn’t leave until 5:30 pm the day the Star returned to Copenhagen. I had planned to walk-off the ship at 7 am, take Bus 26 & the train to the airport and pick up a reserved Budget rental car ($50/day). Then drive back to the ship, pick up my spouse, at 9am, with the luggage, and drive to visit Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod and/or Land of Legends (outdoor Beowulf recreation in Lejre) and then make it back to the airport by 2:30 pm. But, by the end of this cruise, we were castled-out, so we slept in, had a leisurely breakfast and left the ship about 9:30am and made our way to the airport using bus 26 & the train.
Shore Excursions -
The website “Cruise port wiki” will have maps locating all cruise-ship terminals for each port/city. This site also explains transport from the cruise terminal into the city. They also have a link to the port administration website for each city which lists the specific terminal, for each ship - so you can determine exactly where your ship will be docking in each port on a specific date.
Copenhagen, Denmark -
We flew into Copenhagen (on Norwegian Air direct from JFK). The train (to Central Station/Kobenhavn H) or the Metro (subway) will get you to the city center from the airport. Bus 26 will take you by most attractions and will take you to the (far away) Nordhavn Oceankaj cruise terminal #1 (Unicef Faergehavn Nord bus stop. Note, the bus will continue down the long Oceankaj Dock to Terminals #2,3 & 4 also).
Pick up the free Official City Map of Copenhagen at the airport tourist info counter - this map has all streets, attractions and all public transport routes and stops. Public transport tickets/passes can be bought from the manned Movia counter directly across from the TI.
We had two days in Copenhagen prior to sailing. We bought the Copenhagen Card (48 hours) upon landing at the airport and used it for transportation, from the airport, all around town and finally to the cruise terminal. The card also included a canal boat tour and admission to a concert at Tivoli Gardens one evening. The weather was wonderful so we didn’t go into any museums. The Card also includes admission and transportation to the castles on north Zealand and also Land of Legends. The Copenhagen Jazz festival was in progress and there were free jazz concerts at different outdoor venues. We took the free, two-hour walking tour of the city (yellow umbrella) and the weekend-afternoon, free walking tour of Christianshavn (including a stroll through Christiana).
For convenience, we booked a hotel near the central train station (Kobenhavn H). Many of these hotels are in well maintained older buildings but without any air conditioning - and you don’t need A/C in Copenhagen. Wrong! A couple of days each year it gets hot in Copenhagen - and we were there those two days. Our hotel room faced southwest, heated-up, and stayed hot all night long. Our room also faced Istedgade (a Street) which is Party-Avenue all-night-long (on a weeknight!) - I can’t blame Copenhageners for enjoying their short summer. Between the heat and the noise, this was the most miserable night I have ever spent in a hotel. We moved the next morning to a quiet hotel near Nyhavn Canal that had air conditioning (really just a cooler/heat pump thing).
We enjoyed Copenhagen and would like to have had another day there to explore. Copenhagen, like all the Baltic cities, is a very expensive city.
Warnemunde, Germany -
We did the Friends of Dave, Mega Mecklenburg Tour of Wismar and Schwerin Castle. Transportation is by chauffeured van. The 22 participants are given wireless receivers and earpieces (or bring your own earbuds). We ate lunch at the Brauhaus am Lohgurg zu Wismar founded in 1452 with a tasty Mumme (“Mumm-eh”) beer - the most widely distributed type of beer in North Germany for two centuries. Great weather, a fine tour and a fun guide.
There is a car rental (Hertz, Europecar, Sixt) lot located directly across the street from the Warnemunde Cruise Center (P berths). Warenmunde’s train station is only a five-minute walk from this cruise ship terminal.
Tallinn, Estonia -
Uphill, 20-minute walk to the Old Town from the ship. You may want to take a cab (from the ship) or a bicycle-rickshaw (from the gate at the end of the pier) to conserve your energy. The Tourist Info/CityBike booths on the pier will have a useful, free, Tallinn City Map.
We walked to town, did the 11am Free Walking Tour (2 hours) and had lunch afterward at Olde Hansa Restaurant (expensive food - but try their cinnamon beer). And walked back down to the ship (should have caught a ride, up the hill, into the Old Town that morning - we were tired, when we got back to the ship, and we had a very long tour in St. Petersburg ahead of us the next day).
Our Estonian tour guide (college student) told us Estonian food is meat and potatoes. An inexpensive pancake from the Kompressor restaurant is what she recommended. She also warned us that Estonia has no amber - Russian mined amber is sold in all Tallinn’s shops. Souvenirs made of linen or wood are more likely to be genuine Estonian products.
There is also a bicycle tour of Tallinn offered by City Bike for 16 euros. They had a booth set up on the pier for bike rentals (6 euros/day). The tour leaves at 10 am from their bike shop on Uus, just outside the city wall, south of the main city Pikka (north) gate.
St. Petersburg -
We did a two-day tour with ALLA - very professional. Print you tour ticket at home as this is your 72-hour visa for Russia each day. This is the only country you need your passport and a visa to enter on the cruise (but always carry your passport when going ashore, if you miss the ship it will come in handy).
We saw six-days of attractions in our two port days thanks to Polina G., our delightful, young, Russian guide, who loves St. Petersburg and made each sight exciting and interesting. The tour van would drop us at one point and, after walking through an attraction, would magically appear to pick us up - saving lots of walking and time. No Russian rubles were needed.
The St. Petersburg New Sea Passenger Port (Marine Facade) is a very large “U” shaped pier built on a desolate and unattractive landfill. It is a 20 minute drive to the Hermitage/Winter Palace. Smaller cruise ships dock up the Neva River - just blocks to the Hermitage.
Every attraction was crowded - I don’t think the St. Petersburg attractions can handle any more tourists unless they open 24 hours.
The Star docked at Hernesaari Terminal in an unattractive industrial area outside town.
We made up our own tour using a Public Transport Day-Pass (“Paivalippu” - in Finnish - write this down and show it to the bus driver), for 8 euros (cash), purchased from from the bus driver. A one-hour bus ticket costs 3 euros. The Tourist Info booth (TI) on the pier will have free Helsinki bus/trolly/ferry route maps with bus stops marked (The map is difficult to read and has no attractions marked so pick up a free GREEN Hop-On/Off tourist bus map to locate attractions. The HOHO tourist bus cost 25 euros and does not go to the Seurasaari Museum).
Bus 14 will take you from the cruise terminal to the downtown Kamppi station and it continues on, one or two stops, to a block west of the Rock Church. From this Rock Church bus stop, walk two blocks west and catch Bus 24, one or two stops, to the Sibelius Monument. From the Sibelius Monument, Bus 24 continues another 15-minutes north to the Seurasaari Open Air Museum.
It was so nice to look at simple log cabins among pine trees at the Seurasaari Open Air Museum after all the glitter of St Petersburg. Bus 24 turns around here and will take you back to town (every 20 mins.). Returning to town, we got off at the central train station (some nice buildings) and walked south a block to Stockmans Dept. store and then east to the (white) Lutheran Church (wedding in progress - no entry) and continued walking east to the harbor and the Russian Church.
To get back to the ship, we caught a trolley heading west to Kamppi station to catch Bus #14. You may want to catch the Bus #14 one stop north of Kamppi to insure you get a seat as all the cruise passengers will be heading back at the same time and many will probably catch Bus 14 from the convenient Kamppi station.
The Helsinki Daily Transit Pass also is good for the ferry to the Fortress Island (11am walking tour, fee). Helsinki was fogged in around the harbor the entire day we were there - so any harbor/boat activity would not have had much of a view a view.
There are two bus stops at the Hernesaari cruise-ship terminal for going into town: 1) From the terminal gate (TI), walk straight down the street (southeast) two blocks, to the end at Hernesaarenranta St., turn left (north) and walk about 80 meters - you’ll see the #14 bus stop sign. All cruise ship passengers will be directed to this stop. Or, for a less crowded stop, 2) From the terminal gate (TI), walk straight down the street (southeast) one-block to the first cross-street, turn right (southwest) and walk a block to the next cross street and then straight another half-block to the #14 bus stop. Both stops are the same walking distance.
Consider getting up early to view the 37 mile-long Stockholm Archipelago as the ship approaches the harbor. The harbormaster will board the ship upon reaching some of the first islands about 3.5 hours before docking. The Star’s forecastle on deck 8 opens for viewing two hours prior to docking. You’ll pass these same islands on the way out of Stockholm later that afternoon - but the morning is very peaceful and the lighting makes for some good pictures.
The Star docked at the Stadsgarden Terminal (next to and east of the Viking Line) in Stockholm. Probably a 30 minute walk north to the Old Town (Gamla Stan). Follow the blue line painted on the sidewalk, northwest, past the Viking Terminal.
A small, two-window, manned, Tourist Info booth is on the pier and they sell all-day public transit passes (they accept credit cards) for 115 SKK (note: Bus drivers do not sell tickets). This all day pass also includes the passenger ferry from Old Town (Slussen) to Djurgarden (Tivoli/ABBA/Vassa) - every 15 mins. I was told it also included the #80 passenger ferry from Nybroplan (Berzelii Park) to Saltsjoqvarn (just east of the Stadsgarden cruise-ship Terminal). Be sure to pick up a Stockholm transit map at the TI.
The closest bus station to the Stadsgarden terminal is Londonviadukten (eight minutes walking). To get there follow the blue line (100 meters) until you get to the big parking lot just before the Viking Line ferry terminal. Look to your left (southwest) and go up the stairs, on the hillside, to the street. There are a couple of bus stops there. To get to the Slussen station take any bus that begins with 400. The Old Town is a ten minute walk north from Slussen station. From Slussen station you can catch another bus or take the subway to another part of town. To get to the Old Town directly from Londonviadukten bus stop, take Bus #53 (with three stops in Old Town).
Hop On/Off boats serve the Stadsgarden terminal. These operate just like the hop on/off busses. These boats only travel between Stadsgarden and the Vassa Museum until 10 am, when they start a clockwise-route around the harbor - stopping at six attractions.
I did the, two-hour, Free Walking Tour of the new section of Stockholm and used an all day public transit pass for transportation. The tour was entertaining and included an interesting Swedish history lesson. We saw the PUB clothing store where Gretta Garbo was discovered, the bank where the Stockholm Syndrome originated (now an Acne clothing store), the gym where the current Swedish princess met and then married her personal trainer and, the very crowded, changing of the guard in the outer courtyard (southwest side) of the Royal Palace in Gamla Stan. The band and soldiers march in front of the Parliament House on tiny Helgeandsholmen Island (just north of the the Royal Palace) on their way to the courtyard - this is a much less crowded place to see the guards.
I walked through the Old Town. Cute, but, lots and lots of tourists and many ice cream shops, restaurants & T-shirt shops - not a fun place to roam. I found the SoFo district (south of Slussen transit station) more interesting. If you walk up the hill in SoFo (Soderledstunneln Street), you can find your way (one block east) to the Katarinahissen viewing platform (which is currently closed for construction, but is free to walk out on and take in the view). I took the steep stairs to get down the hillside, and found myself at a #53 bus stop. Tell the bus driver to let you off at Londonviadukten/ Viking Line Terminal (about four stops).
We were in Stockholm on a Saturday, maybe there would be less tourists in Old Town on a weekday (the Star was the only cruise ship in port). Stockholm really deserves two days. Less
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