Dates: December 10-18, 2007 Ports: Los Angeles, Acapulco, Zihuatenejo, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo
THE DEPARTURE: Living in Southern California (Ventura) this was a vacation we couldn't refuse. It was nearby and VERY inexpensive at $480/person + tax (you can't stay in a nice hotel for that price). However we couldn't figure a better or cheaper way to get to the port other than driving and paying $12/day for parking so that's what we did. We arrived at Port of LA at noon and were on the ship eating lunch in the beautiful Versailles dining room by 1:30. Luckily it was a "Chamber of Commerce" day in LA on 12/10 as we waited in line outside for most of the pre-boarding time for the baggage handlers to take our luggage before entering the building to check in. The people and the process once inside was friendly and quick. Once on the ship we located our cabin which was clean and ready for us. We were hungry and headed to the dining room for the most delicious tilapia I have ever had. No I had it again for dinner on another night and it was just as good but prepared differently.
THE SHIP: In my opinion, The Star was "just OK". The things I liked about it were the following: The cabin size was ok with a refrigerator, coffee maker and hair dryer but few outlets (bring a strip for your chargers etc). The bathroom was set up better than others I have experienced. It was divided into thirds. The left third was a large shower with a moveable shower head for tall or short people and a sliding door instead of a curtain which was very nice. The center third was the sink with ample room for toilet articles. The right third was the toilet with plenty of room and a grab bar and a matching sliding door. I was impressed by the bathroom as you probably guessed. We signed up for the couples massage lesson on the second sea day which was very nice. We like the freestyle as my husband prefers casual though he consented to wearing dockers instead of jeans and actually dressed in tie and jacket for dinner on "optional formal night" because I begged. There were two main dining rooms the Versailles which was(you guessed it) Louis XIV decor, big and fancy. Because it was the Christmas season, they hung beautiful wreaths over the stern windows which looked lovely. Much of the ship had pretty holiday decorations. The second dining room, The Aqua, was modern decor; smaller and where we received outstanding service. When we dined in the Versailles it was a 90 minute experience which is usually fine, however if you need to make a show in one hour use the Aqua dining room and you won't have to skip dessert. As a couple there were fewer "tables for two" in Versailles and we often opted to share a large table which was interesting and fun meeting other passengers. We never waited more than 15 minutes to be seated. However the line to the dining room goes up the stairs and creates massive gridlock at the top where the elevators unload.
We signed up for the free "mystery dinner". This is where about 100 passengers are assigned to groups of 8 people. Each at the table is given a "character and role to play." By asking questions of the other characters you are supposed to discern who killed the captain. Perhaps because the booklets were messed up for one critical character or as likely because we aren't very good at this, we didn't know who did it until we called "uncle" and opened the envelope. This took place over dinner in both dining room and it was an "ok" not a "don't miss" activity. It caused us to miss sailaway from Puerto Vallarta unfortunately as the meeting time was sailaway time.
The casino was lively and seemed to pay better in the beginning than later (can they control that or maybe my imagination?) The library was well stocked and comfortable; perhaps too comfortable as some passengers were caught snoring in both the library and the reading room! The cabin stewards were very friendly and the wait staff was average. The parts of the Star that bothered me were on the front outside deck there were annoying angled glass shields that limited viewing and picture taking near the bow. You had to go to the side rail to take pics. They are either there to keep passengers from jumping or as a wind break. I hated them. The pool with the plastic slides and the Carousel Lounge looked cheesy to me. I'd prefer either simple or elegant not cartoon-y. We ate light most shore days in the buffet called The Market Cafe which was laid out horribly. It was crowded with pedestrians as the only way to get from the bow to the stern on this deck is to walk through the buffet area. There was an island for drinks which the staff never kept up—ran out of cups, ran out of coffee and sometimes the cream was in a pitcher and sometimes in the milk dispenser. The large cafeteria-like tables were too close together and there was a velour red table runner that got sticky and yucky on the tables (Christmas decor?) It seemed, though staff picked up your plate the second you placed the final bite in your mouth; there was less cleaning of the tables until the table was clear of all diners. Didn't seem very clean to me. The shows were very good and Jana Seale a singer in Gatsby's lounge was excellent. We liked "The Band on the Run" better than "The Music of the Night" of the Jean Ryan company. The Cirque Pacific was good, Second City was all right and the comedian awful.
THE PORTS: In Acapulco we opted to go with an outside vendor "Rosie" who had two vans of us NCL-ers. She took us EVERYWHERE for nearly 8 hours and charged very little. We started about 12:30 in the afternoon and ended back at the ship at 8 pm. We were grateful we weren't driving in this city and she showed it in the best light. It was also nice that we were the only ship in port that day. We visited vistas, neighborhoods, hotels, local eating establishments and saw the cliff divers at night. I think we ran into other excursions going to the same spots. This was punctuated with lively narration about her town. What a value. We understand NCL will be dropping this port next year but hope for her sake other cruise lines will continue it on their itinerary. In Zihuatenejo (our favorite port) we took the "Rustic & Folkloric Countryside" excursion to see and learn about coconut plantations and tile making. Had an excellent tour guide and a fascinating time. In Puerto Vallarta we took the "City and Mexican Fiesta" excursion. The city part was shorter than I would have liked with narrow cobblestone streets that the bus driver maneuvered amazingly well. Then on to the Hacienda Dona Engracia and tequila factory. The tequila tasting was very nice. We learned a lot and after several shots, purchased a few bottles. We hadn't intended to buy and except for the flavored tequila could have gotten the same price for Patron in duty-free on the ship. The lunch was fine and the young folkloric dancers were very sweet. In Cabo we took the Todos Santos excursion to Hotel California where we had a yummy lunch and walked around this charming town. The ride out there was verrrry long but luckily Jesus (a local high school teacher who moonlights on the weekends for the tour company) was our guide who entertained and educated us and is very enthusiastic about the area.
There are three sea days on this cruise two in the beginning and one at the end. Disembarkation was a breeze. We selected to disembark on our own (Express) so didn't have to put out luggage the night before. At 7:15 we went to Customs and Immigration in Spinnaker Lounge and quickly were back in our room to finish packing; then went to the Versailles for breakfast. We were at our car before 9 am. Express disembarkation means you don't have to hunt for luggage and they give you until 9:30 to get off the ship. Unless you have kids or several big pieces of luggage I'd recommend using this method if available. SUMMARY: In all we had a great time and are glad we went. It was an excellent value for our cheap vacation of 2007. I'm not sure we would do it again.