Our one week aboard NCL's Norwegian Star ended all too soon. While it doesn't rank as one of my favorite ships and didn't provide us with the best ports-of-call, NCL did enough right to make this a truly enjoyable and memorable experience. As my previous cruise experience is with high-end luxury lines, I had my reservations about trying a "mainstream" ship. But NCL erased any concerns I had.
EMBARKATION: Embarkation was very well-handled by NCL. Despite a long line to enter the terminal building at San Pedro, once inside we were able to use the VIP/Suite check-in. It was quick, painless and hassle-free. We breezed on over to the VIP holding area in which we received our room keys from our Concierge and were escorted onto the ship. It was a well-orchestrated process and provided us with the perfect start to our vacation. For those who were not in suites, I cannot comment on the check-in process, except to say that their line was LONG!
ROOM: We booked a Penthouse More
Suite. Costing a little more than we had initially planned, I thought that the higher accommodations would provide a nice cushion for me in moving from the luxury ships to a mainstream ship. The day before sailing, NCL called to offer us an upgrade to the Owner's Suite for an additional $650/per person, which we snatched up. Our room was the Picasso Suite. Words cannot adequately describe the, ahem, bold use of color and design for the decor. One carpet was putting green-green, one was red, one had designs of roses, one wall was green, one was yellow, one was red. It was an assault on the senses. However, the layout was fantastic and the large bathroom was more than sufficient. We had one balcony off the living room (which looked off to the port side of the ship) and we had one large balcony with lounge chairs that faced the bow of the ship. If you are able to overlook the mirrored ceiling over the bed, this room was spacious and well-designed. The main concern I had was with the badly stained carpeting and scratched door and walls. This not acceptable for any accommodation, let alone a suite.
THE SHIP: Built in 2001, Norwegian Star is already showing its age and outdated (in comparison to her newer fleet mates). Much of the carpeting in the ship is stained and/or faded, making it seem as if not much attention is paid to the soft goods onboard. I was very shocked by how bad the carpets looked. Also, oftentimes, there were leftover crumbs in chairs and dirty napkins on the floor (such as in the Spinnaker Lounge).The layout of the ship is strange - lots of dead ends. But someone did something right in the planning stages. Despite this being a full cruise, you never felt a crowd. There were many quiet places to relax and enjoy personal space. The whole "Freestyle" concept that NCL touts works extremely well. It creates for a relaxed, unhurried vacation. And the lack of formality is appreciated. Also, a reduction in onboard announcements was appreciated, in comparison to other ships in the same category.
There is a long list (a dozen or so) of places to eat, from Cagney's (steakhouse) to Ginza (sushi) to Aqua (main dining room). I found the food, overall, pretty good to excellent. Ranking as excellent were the sushi in Ginza and the crab dip I had one day in Cagney's. There were some misses. But nothing was an inedible as I've heard. The only thing that is truly wrong in this area is with the Market Cafe, the ship's buffet area. I was completely horrified by this room. It always stunk of dirty, wet rags. The floor was sticky and dirty. And the seating was flimsy and plastic. I could never get myself to eat in there, because it was so disgusting. The stench from the room was so strong, you could smell it all the way down the hall. Just horrible!
The entertainment onboard had something for everyone. The main production shows (of which there were 3) were excellent. The 1970's tribute show brought the crowd to their feet. We also had a magician onboard whom people raved about. There were late-night activities that kept things going into the wee hours - the Adult Quest game was fun and the White Hot Party is a great time, if a little underattended.
PORTS: I had been to all the ports previously, so nothing was new to me. CABO SAN LUCAS is a beautiful little beach town. Not much to do there, but the scenery is spectacular. And everyone should have the experience of sailing into the harbor and seeing Los Arcos from the deck of a ship. MAZATLAN was next, and I fail to understand why ships keep this stop on their itineraries. It is dirty, crowded and completely unappealing. Nothing scenic or note-worthy there. PUERTO VALLARTA, as usual, was the best port-of-call. The ship stayed anchored until 10pm, which allowed us a full day and evening to enjoy this city. The mix of old and new, combined with the gorgeous hills and great beaches, make for a wonderful visit.
Overall, NCL left me pleasantly surprised. I had many concerns about trying this line, but NCL met most of my expectations and exceeded some. Freestyle cruising really does work and is, I feel, the wave of the future for cruising. Despite NCL's shortcomings (unmotivated staff, dirty public areas), they offer a solid product that is not at all 5-star, but definitely a few notches above the bottom. Without doubt I would sail with them again. Less
Fabulous balconies (one on the side and one facing the bow), great bathroom with glass enclosed shower and seperate tub, so-so closet space, can be noisy while ship anchors, located away from hallway traffic