My two grandnieces and I (ages 7, 13, and 59) sailed on the Norwegian Star round-trip out of Seattle to Alaska in August 2008. Since I was going to have to entertain both a child and a teen, I looked carefully at what all the cruise ships had to offer before booking with the Norwegian Star. I am quite glad I made the choice I did for several reasons.
Sailing out of Pier 66 in Seattle made travel easy. The girls could fly in and out of SeaTac and I was a two-hour drive away. We stayed at the Quality Inn & Suites at Seattle Center the night before. They are a 3- block walk to the Space Needle and all the attractions at Seattle Center; plus they have an indoor pool and provide a free breakfast. Shuttle transport to the pier was $6 per person (a return taxi was only $9 so that's a cheaper alternative). For $10 a day I could leave my car in their secure garage while we were on the cruise. The pier parking garage is $16 per day. Pier 66 is very nice with a large seating area and ramp access to the ship. We arrived about 11 am and had the fastest check-in I've ever had on any cruise; we were allowed to board at 11:30. The only glitch was in finding a place to leave carry-on bags while we waited for our cabins to be readied. A sign said such a service was available, but no crew member could tell me where and another said there was no one there to watch over the bags.
Our inside cabin (#10601) was ready by 1 pm. I was worried that trying to accommodate 3 people in an inside cabin would be awful, but I was pleasantly surprised about how well laid out the cabin was. The storage was just enough: we each got one drawer, one sizeable shelf, and six hangers. The fold-down bed was workable as long as the person underneath is quite short (or remembers not to bump their head). Our only struggle unpacking was to discover a roll-out 4th bed under one of the lower twins which meant all our bags had to fit under the other one twin bed.
Nighttime, however, brought a nasty surprise. Even though the ship's diagram shows this cabin under a single Deck 11 cabin, there was terrible noise all night long: banging, scrapping, whirring, etc. I spoke with the front desk the following morning and they said they would speak to the cabin occupants. I told them I doubted the noise came from them unless they had planned to remodel their cabin themselves but hoped for the best. The next night was even worse. One overhead crash was so loud my late-night teen came running out of the shower to ask if we were all right. That night I called three times and was given various explanations/excuses (why do cruise lines do that?) and an offer at 3 am to have security come sit in our cabin to hear for themselves (I declined). The next morning I returned to the front desk to request an appointment with the Hotel Director for later in the day.
That afternoon I met with the Front Office Manager, a very efficient, knowledgeable, and courteous woman named Irma Reyes, who explained the real reasons for the noises: the pool maintenance work area and other mechanical areas were overhead and just next to the cabin above us. The construction of the ship allowed the noise to travel down to us. In consultation with Hotel Director Les Riley, she proposed some alternative cabins that were available as a few passengers had failed to arrive for the cruise. She allowed us to chose and took the time to show us the best cabin and also honestly explained any possible noise we might encounter there. We then found ourselves happily moved into a balcony cabin (#11580), which although directly under the pool deck was blissfully peaceful during the night. Irma offered assistance with the move, but we chose to do it ourselves. I was very pleased with the gracious manner in which the senior staff assisted with this issue.
The Deck 11 balcony cabins (called mini-suites) offer a nice sized bathroom with a soaking tub, which my 7-year-old really enjoyed after a cold, wet day ashore, and a separate toilet area. We had a bit more storage space than was offered in the inside cabin, a larger refrigerator, larger bedside tables, and a table with two chairs which made using room service convenient. The balcony had two chairs and a small table. Walk around space is tight, though, when the beds are put in twin configuration. To save on some space we had them leave the sofa as is, with just the addition to two duvets,, rather than pulled out. The seven-year-old is small and she did quite well here; she got the best view in exchange.
The Norwegian Star offers a variety of eating venues on the ship. We did most of our dining in the ship's Market Cafe on Deck 12. This is the buffet area which is divided into several sections: a kid's buffet with special "little people" seating area, four main entree sections (only two at night), and a dessert section. The four main entree sections had some special stations such as pasta, pizza, caesar salad, etc. so once you learned where your favorites were this allowed you to maneuver more efficiently. The free drinks (water, milk, coffee, etc) stations were separate and they had a cart for ordering bar drinks & sodas. The location of the Market Cafe, forward/mid-ship) meant it was also a major thoroughfare for people walking from the pool area to the forward elevators and childrens' centers which added to the traffic flow which could be a hassle at peak times. The food offered at the buffet was varied, but almost too much so with one or two items a various ethnic cuisines at each meal. Quality varied from quite good to not very. The meat at the two carvery stations was not always very hot which was a concern. I especially enjoyed the chocolate fountain from which you could request spoonfuls of chocolate on any of the desserts as well as free ice cream of differing flavors. At night part of the Market Cafe is converted into the specialty Italian dining room.
Our other favorite dining venue was the Blue Lagoon which advertises itself as the home of "comfort food." The southern-fried chicken strips with biscuit were to-die for. The hamburgers and fish-and-chips also seemed popular with folks. It's a small space and suffers at times from smoke over-flow from the casino below. However, the hard-working service staff was more than willing to prepare orders to go. To complete the comfort food experience, I just wish they offered milk shakes as well.
The main dining rooms, the Versailles and the Aqua, were very difficult to get into with long lines each evening at opening. We only ate at the Versailles once. It's beautifully appointed and the menu offered a nice variety of choices. They only take reservations for groups of 10 or more so it was wait in line or eat elsewhere. Much of the ship's dining venues are speciality restaurants with an extra cover charge which really do not work well when you are travelling with children. This lack of opportunity to have a nice sit-down dining experience was a disappointment.
There were several bar areas in the ship, but we only frequented the Red Lion Pub which offered free small bags of popcorn. The Java Cafe in the Atrium seemed to be quite popular with the older passengers in the evenings when music was offered.
Our daily newsletter was not the best. It seems to be printed at the beginning of the season and used every week, thus things like the cinema schedule, special meetings, etc. are not included. It was a real bother to try and locate the cinema schedule which was posted on a small board between the cinema and library. Special meetings, such as our Cruise Critic Meet-and-Greet, were ignored. It would have been nice to have a written schedule of our glacier viewing so we could arrange our schedules to maximize our viewing.
The Kid's Center was well populated for this cruise and my 7-year-old grandniece really enjoyed the variety of activities offered. Her only complaint was that sometimes she was not given enough time to finish an art or craft project before they moved on to something else. I did feel they ran a bit late in the evenings with some events. For instance, her age group (6-9) were taken to the 9 pm shows on some nights, which meant I could not pick her up until 10:30 pm. When you have an early morning shore excursion the next morning this can present challenges. When in port and after 10:30 pm at night, the Center charges a babysitting fee. Outside the Kid's Center is a small pool with slide and some playground equipment aimed at pre-school age children. Most of the school-age kids used the main pool area with it's two water slides and hot tubs.
The Teen Center was much less organized, but given their clientele one can imagine their struggle. The teens, mine included, seemed to wander aimlessly the first two days sizing each other up, etc. After that point they formed their cliques and then found their own diversions only sometimes using the Teen Center activities as a base. They also used the main pool/hot tub areas and, in the evenings, visited the various lounges to enjoy karaoke and dancing. The basketball court was also popular with this set. I felt fairly comfortable letting my teen set her own hours knowing the public areas were patrolled by security and staff. I did hear, though, that some teens discovered unlocked meeting rooms one evening and used them. That is something the ship's security should be aware of.
As for adult activities, I felt there was far too much emphasis on sales (art auction, bingo, port jewelry shopping) and silliness (you know those awful newlywed games, etc.). There were few activities for someone interested in really learning about our destinations. Although since I was running around after the two kids, I actually would have had little time to enjoy lectures. But still the port handouts and talks really were obscenely focused on jewelry; they should include more actual port information (history, sights, etc.).
There was an adult paradise on this ship: the Barong Spa, an adult-only area which required the purchase of a $70 spa pass for the week. Worth every penny! The spa included beautifully appointed changing rooms, a small lap pool, two hydro-therapy pools, a lounge area in front of a bank of tall windows looking aft, and some refreshments. Having this option is very important since the main pool on this cruise was dominated by the kids all day long and in inclement weather it was nice, warm and dry.
The pool deck included a small lap pool, another smaller pool, and four hot tubs. There are two water slides that are only open limited hours. As I mentioned before because it was summer season, this area was dominated by the children. Although the ship asks parents to supervise, this seemed not to always be the case. The water slides are supervised but there is no lifeguard or other staff member overseeing the area. The pool deck was quite wet and very slippery. I saw some adults fall even though they were walking slowly; wearing flip-flops seemed to trigger most of the falls. Be ware NCL has instituted a new pool towel policy that drove me crazy. You must sign out a towel with a $25 deposit! If you fail to return the towel by the end of the cruise you will not get your deposit back. I have never run into this before. You can exchange your towel for a new one at anytime. I asked what would happen if someone walked off with my towel while I was in the pool and the staff person said that was my responsibility. I wish they would note this policy in their brochures as I would have brought my own towels had I known.
Deck 13 had a narrow jogging track, two large-scale chess boards, a golf driving cage, and ping-pong tables. Above this was a basketball court.
The main theatre was quite comfortable and we attended two of the main shows. The singing/dancing troupe they employed had some very talented performers, but the choreography was too over the top. Apparently the director felt that we would not be entertained if we only had one thing to look at at a time. For example, on the night of the Chinese acrobats, we had to try to watch a wonderful contortionist while behind her dancers with giant butterfly wings hovered. The singers are all miked and the volume was set far too loud at least from where we were seated towards the back of the auditorium. Trust me, I spent 35 years working in the theatre; more is not always better.
The shore excursion offerings were quite broad, but very expensive. I took this cruise with NCL in 2004 and do not remember paying anything like what I paid this trip. I'm sure that fuel costs have had some impact but surely not that much. The Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest in Juneau was spectacular. I've never had such good sightings ever. The Dog Musher's Camp in Skagway was a delight for the girls.
There is a nice promenade deck (7) with lounge chairs and shuffle board, which allows a full walking loop of the ship. Since it rained quite a bit on our cruise this covered area was welcomed.
The ship's library was quite good and included two shelves of children's books which my 7-year-old really enjoyed. It uses the honor system for check-out so you were not bound by staff hours--quite a nice feature. One of the library staff members was particularly knowledgeable about the children's books and could offer nice suggestions.
There is a large internet area on sort of a mezzanine on Deck 9. Computers offer the usual cruise ship slowness at 75 cents per minute with packages available. My only real complaint is that the area opened onto the Atrium below and so was quite noisy especially in the evenings.
The Galleria shop includes all those items you often find in separate shops on other ships. I quite enjoyed the ability to browse a variety of items in one place.
Norwegian's Star is an excellent ship if you are trying to balance the wants and needs of family members of various ages with it's Kid's Center for 12 and under, it's Teen Center for 13-17, and it's oasis Spa for adults. I would not choose this cruise and ship if it were just myself and my husband as we would want a quieter, smaller ship with more educational experiences.
Cabins are well designed. I would just avoid those inside mid-ship Deck 10 cabins if nighttime noise would be a problem for you. Also be aware that where the mid-ship elevators are located on decks 8-11, there is an opening down to the Atrium music area and the sound travels upward.
Norwegian's staff are, for the most part, quite attentive and knowledgeable. Our cabin stewards on Deck 11 were fantastic with the girls. They learned the youngest's name right away and always greeted her whenever they saw her, even when they paraded into the stage the last night for the crew's farewell. It was her first cruise and I think she will remember them always.
So overall a pleasant (at least after cabin noise problem solved) and enjoyable cruise that satisfied the needs of three diverse individuals. Thank you Norwegian.