This was my first trip to Alaska and my second cruise with NCL. In 2004 I cruised on the Pride of Aloha. This Star cruise was my 8th cruise overall.
Alaska was amazing, that being said the ship did not live up to the same description. I kept a journal while onboard and will go through it now and type up my highlights and lowlights from the NCL Star experience.
* Embarkation: Easy as pie. We got a ride to the pier in Seattle and were on the ship within 15 minutes to meet us with our travel buddies. We were on board with a plate of food in front of us by 1pm and our luggage arrived at our cabins promptly. I think all 4 of my bags showed up before the muster drill.
* Freestyle Dining: This is something I have found disappointing on both of the NCL trips I have been on but this ship it was really bad news.
The first night the 4 of us ate at LeBistro. The meal was just so-so and it took over 2 hours to get through it even though the restaurant was nearly empty. My "cream of mushroom soup" was more of a pate'. After about 40 minutes my husband noticed that they had one song on a endless loop. We mentioned it to the waitress who just smiled and walked away obviously not understanding the issue. We listened to the same song, over and over for 2 hours in Le Bistro.
For the second night we made a reservation for Ginza for the Teppanyaki meal. We got there for our appointed time to find out there was no reservation for us. *sigh* They did have seats for us in the regular seating and we had sushi which was pretty good. Careful with the sake ordering, we had no idea it was almost $10 per little bottle till we got the bill.
We tried all week to make reservations for the no-fee restaurants, "Endless Summer" and "La Trattoria". We were never able to get in ad got different stories from different members of staff on how to make a reservation each time we tried. It was very frustrating. We noticed that La Trattoria is just a part of the buffet that was blocked off each night with a curtain.
The main dining room was ok (Versailles). Best meal I had there was breakfast. The staff there seemed to be off on their own planet though and were not very responsive.
Buffet was pretty boring and the food quality was not good. Most things were bland and not many choices. I tried to avoid it whenever possible but ended up eating there 4-5 times during the week.
We did room service breakfast 4 days in a row and found that they were always early. One day they were 40 minutes early, most days they were at least 20 minutes early. They showed up before my wake up call twice. 2 out of the 4 times they did not bring a third of the food we ordered.
You could always get a cocktail anywhere you were. People pretty much constantly trying to sell you one but if you had paid for the soda card it was hard to get any assistance. The soda card was like $70 per person and you really had to work to get a refill. I guess since those do not produce tips they are not as attentive. The water, ice and tea machines in the buffet were broken or empty 70% of the time. I actually drank a lot of tap water on this trip and tap water from the cabin is pretty nasty. Coffee was always available.
* Cabin: We had a balcony cabin and it was well appointed. Was nice to have a coffee machine in the room which I have never had on a cruise ship before. Our steward kept the fridge stocked with real creamer for us. Bed was comfortable, towels were soft, everything was clean. Lots of storage under the bed and sofa for luggage and a decent size closet with hangars and shelves. A couple drawers as well. TV was old and had some issues but it worked ok.
Bathroom was a interesting lay out. You walk in and the shower was on your left, sink in front of you and toilet on the right. It looked nice but would be difficult for a larger person to get around in. The shower and the toilet area each had a pocket door. Small space, 3 areas, 3 doors.
* On Board: our first day at sea I decided to check out the bingo game. I had played a lot of bingo on my recent Carnival cruise and enjoyed it. On this ship they had a electronic bingo handset that was about $80 to play or you could play on one paper sheet for $29. The difference in odds was staggering and I only could afford the paper sheet. (Paid $20 on Carnival and actually won $100!). I only played once.
Almost every activity on this ship was a money maker of some sort for NCL. It was like being on a floating infomercial. From teeth whitening and acupuncture lectures, they were trying to make more money. It got to me a running joke and I just did not go to any of the activities.
The casino was pretty standard for a cruise ship and was open every day when we were out of port. I played the slots a little bit but they had tables as well.
Went to the movie theater one night. Same movies played in the cabin at the same time but it was nice to sit in a theater and watch one on the big screen.
I did not make it to the gym (my excursions kept me physically active and darn sore). One of our travel buddies did though and he said it was quite nice. Lots of machines and not very busy. 2 of our travel buddies also went to the spa and were happy with the services there. Spa deals were pretty good when the ship was in port. One day there was a 2 hour special for $89 for ladies.
The pool was nice and kept at 78 degrees all week. The slides do not have enough water flowing to actually get a adult all the way to the bottom. Jacuzzis were also nice and usually were not full.
Public restrooms on the ship were not in great shape. I found many broken stall doors that did not shut properly and automated soap or sinks that just did not work at all. Hand sanitizers were everywhere on the ship and about a third of them did not work either.
We only saw portions of two shows. The night they did Andrew Lloyd Webber music we caught the last 15 minutes. It was very good. We went to the show that was supposed to be the Chinese Acrobats (which were awesome) but it was mostly interpretive dance and strangeness. Afterwards there was this big crew cheering sing along on stage that I would have avoided if I was not in the front row. It was very cheesy.
The live music in the bars were always very good. Jana Seele was great every night and I hope to buy one of her cd's online.
* Ports and Excursions: Now this was the highlight of the trip. While the ship itself was very basic and more of a floating hotel than a resort, Alaska made up for all of it's shortcomings.
Ketchikan - Right off the pier there was plenty to see and walk around. Lots of shops and the Lumberjack Show was just a few blocks away. We went on a bike ride with a guided group and had a fabulous time. All the guides were awesome and the scenery was hard to beat. The ship tendered here while 3 other ships were pulled right up to the pier.
Juneau - Here we could tell that NCL pays the least amount on port fees. We are always situated furthest from town! It is a bit of a hike to Juneau but they had shuttles that would take you to town. We went on a river raft trip down the Mendenhall River past the glacier. Amazing! More great guides and people to meet.
Between Juneau and Skagway we went into a fjord and got up close and personal to Dawes glacier. For me this was a highlight of the trip. Sitting on the top deck watching the glacier calve, hearing it calve, was amazing. I got some great photos here.
Skagway - My favorite port of the entire cruise. We did not get to see town because our excursion was 9 hours long but I would love to get back and see more of Skagway. Our excursion was a combination of a trip on the White Pass Train and a hike to Laughton Glacier. I believe this was the highlight of the cruise. Not a easy hike by any means but well worth the end result of sitting at a glacier eating lunch. More fabulous guides and great people on the tours.
Price Rupert - I know this stop is just mandatory because of the foreign ship law but I do wish the Star would stay there for more than 5 hours. We did not arrive till 5pm! I would have really enjoyed seeing more of the island. We went on a fabulous whale watch trip and enjoyed the company of many humpback whales. By the time we got back it was time to board the ship and head out to sea. Very short visit to British Columbia!
* Disembarkation: Another quick and easy getaway. We booked a Seattle tour through the ship and that was a great option. We got a few hours of touring Seattle and then we were dropped off right at our airline! Was only a little more than cab fare and well worth it since the tour was well done. Lots of information.
We had a wonderful trip and I can't wait till I can get back to Alaska. I will not be planning the next cruise there with NCl however. I would like to give another cruise line a chance to make a Alaska trip even better. I feel NCL cuts too many corners and they have dropped their standards since I cruised with them 3 years ago.