Embarkation - This was my first time EVER using the Bell Street Pier (#66) in Seattle and I actually thought it was okay, although parts of it were strangely laid out. We got our luggage dropped off and got inside. We were about 40 minutes early for boarding, but lots of chairs and they had juice and water if I saw right. On the way in, we had to go through the photographers (we just said no thanks) but they wouldn't let us pass those that wanted to stop and have theirs done because "that would be cutting in line"... Only a minor annoyance though... No biggie.
Got on and started exploring. One of my friends we went with had been on the Star before and knew the layout pretty well. GOOD LUCK finding the Aqua restaurant if you're new to the ship though... we were right in front of it, and it still took a minute to see it. (The entrance is wedged into the middle of a bank of elevators)
Decor - I love the metal art deco style pieces over the elevator banks, and the wood paneling along the corridors (even if it's faux, it still made the ship look classy.) I've never seen a ship with an atrium more than 3 decks tall so this was kind of cool too. The public rooms were all quite elegant and inviting. However, once NCL got the ceilings, walls, lights, linens, etc I think they remembered they were on a budget, because even from a Vegas or cruise ship approach, most of the carpet was just horrendous.
Lifeboat Drill - Yeah, they had one on the 1-day (funny as most predicted NCL wouldn't and the Volendam would the next day... they didn't...) but in doing so I got to see a different line go through their motions. I think the life jackets are MUCH better designed. More compact, easier to figure out (not that they're difficult, but compare the 2 and HAL's lifejackets are borderline logic puzzles) The requested quiet on deck with no talking, drinking or smoking and everyone complied. They stand you all in rows of 4 and it was much easier for everyone to get by as this was going on. Not once did they have to remind everyone to be quiet (it happens EVERY drill I've done...), then before anyone left, they requested that everyone take their lifejacket off, fold it back and wrap the strap on it so it was compact again and then proceed back to the rooms to return them. Public rooms are open again, wash your hands, report gastro illness please... no charges for exams or medicine in these instances (HAL does the same, but doesn't mention no charges for it which I think freaks people out... not knowing how much it might be, they stay quiet about it and possibly spread it inadvertently)
Ship Layout - Simply put, it wasn't HAL, and HAL is what I know... so it took a little while, but by the end I had it down.
Dinner - La Trattoria is one of the optional restaurants with a charge, but only $10, and the food was GREAT. I got the beef carpaccio which was decent, and the salmon scalloppini which was amazing. It was over a white bean ragout with ham, carrots and some other vegetables. I could do that dinner every night of the cruise on a longer one. No room for dessert by the end, but the choices sounded pretty good.
Entertainment - The show was called "Band on the Run" and it was fantastic. It was a throwback to the 70s and while I enjoy the majority of the shows I've seen on HAL, and while "enjoyed" is a good thing, this show absolutely blew the mind of every single one of us in the group. The music variety was great, lots of costume changes, great singers, the level of energy and precision was right on and they got the audience involved. Simply amazing!
The White Party - While it seemed a little gimmicky when I read about it on the website about 3 days before the cruise, and had NO clue it was actually going to BE ON this cruise, I had a phenomenal time. It was held in the Spinnaker Lounge which is directly above the bridge and forward at the top of the ship (like the Crow's Nest, all the way forward, lots of windows all around) During the day it seemed a little more mellow but was also the impromptu sailaway party location since the weather was crap. At the White Party they obviously encourage you to wear white... I could have planned better had I known it was happening, but I got by alright with what I brought for 2 1-day cruises. Lots of varying music, but mostly modern songs currently on the radio (some throwbacks to 70s 80s 90s and current) Ice sculptures all over, a SNOW BLOWER right above the dance floor. The atmosphere was amazing and we all had such a good time. We ended around 1:30 but I heard it went until after 4am...
Blue Lagoon - Afterhours food available in the middle of the night. While by no means the best food I have had on a cruise ship, the fact I was able to order a spinach and artichoke dip and fish and chips and with my friend getting a grilled chicken sandwich and the food tasted pretty good and was up in less than 5 minutes, this was a great destination to round out the night.
Souvenir Glasses (A CONSTANT annoyance) - Is it typical for NCL to basically tell you they "don't HAVE any glasses that aren't souvenir glasses"?? We got our first drinks off to the side of the waterslides under the covered area and they came in the tall plastic neon glasses and ran about $10. None of us wanted the glasses but we just took the "oh well, lesson learned approach" then we went up to the Bier Garten (I don't remember what time, sorry I missed everyone) and ordered my drink. He held up the same kind of glass as I didn't even keep the first time and said "8.95?" to which I replied "No thanks. A regular glass is fine." I get the drink in a little glass that couldn't have been more than 8-10 ounces and find out when I go to sign the receipt, this was a different souvenir glass with the Star's hull paint on it that is SEVEN ninety five... Feeling totally taken again I realized everything must be a souvenir glass unless it's just clear and steered away from the cocktails for a while and had Bud Light. Later after getting wine at the Star Bar right before our dinner at La Trattoria and enjoying a couple bottles with dinner with our group we went to the show. We ordered our drinks, specified REGULAR PLAIN GLASSES, NOT THE SOUVENIR KIND before the show started and waited quite a while. The guy came back JUST as the show was starting and they asked for no talking and handed us our drinks... in the tall, neon plastic glasses. Not in a position to argue during the show, we sucked it up once again. After some shopping we went to the SPinnaker Lounge until about 1:30 and my friends had a few run-ins with these glasses too. He would specify a plain clear glass and they'd put it in a souvenir glass. He'd call them on it and they'd put it in a plain glass, but then tried to charge him a higher price (by $1.50) for the exact same thing he'd been drinking all night and paid the same price for each time up til then. He called them on that, and I saw the guy give him an incredibly dirty look, then find someone to fix it. After seeing that display, I kept it to buckets of Bud Light the rest of the night between a few of us. There was absolutely no way they could try to do anything with that, and the wandering drink order guys in Spinnakers were AWESOME about making sure the aluminum bottles (which I found out the hard way aren't twist top like every other Bud Light in the world) were getting opened just as we needed them. To be continued, because we took this issue to the...
Front Office: and they actually initiated contact with us as we went about $20 over our cash deposit we made the next morning. We told them we were finishing getting ready and would be there in 10-15 minutes. "Well, we're closing NOW" was the reply. My friend grabbed some more cash and ran down there since he WAS ready at the time. He mentioned he was happy to pay any overages (but explained the entire souvenir glass ordeal and that it was ridiculous) "Well we can't go around and talk to all the different servers and bartenders you had to see what happened, so you need to pay this. We're not adjusting it" He proceeded to explain he was happy to pay for every cocktail, beer, etc... but the extra couple dollars on every drink for stuff we weren't even keeping was ridiculous. He even said "and we didn't know the first time, as this is our first cruise on NCL... you can keep the charge on for that one... whatever..." to which the Supervisor type guy at the desk just repeated the amount we were over from our deposit... It was a messy, VERY awkward situation which could have put a damper on the whole night if the entertainment, White Hot Party and food in La Trattoria hadn't made up for it. The balcony room (10596) was also great, except the closet door came off the hinges the first time we opened it, and the deck chair was ripped to the point I was scared of sitting on it (Stuff happens though, no biggie with that, and the closet was fixed within a couple hours while we were gone)
Disembarkation - It was a free for all, or so it seemed. We woke up, didn't get breakfast (not so hungry) and it seemed like there was no organization to it. The lines were HUGE and stretched all through the Grand Atrium. We just sat for a while until it mellowed out some then got in line once it was shorter and worked our way to the Canada Place Pier, to walk in a big circle and get right back on... the Volendam this time... More on that one later...
Like I said... 1-10 scale this cruise would be an 8 or 8.5 and had SO much more potential for even better scores if not for the souvenir glass "BS" and the way the Front Office chose to handle it.
A great time overall.