EMBARKATION: There is no easy way to get 2500 people on a boat so I don't think there is a perfect solution here but I will say I thought NCL had everything moving quickly and smoothly. For Carnival out of Long Beach, they have you in groups in a big 'barn' waiting for your group to be called before you stand in line to check in. Even though the NCL line was longish, the fact that you were in line and moving made the experience much better to me. The whole check in process was pretty quick and efficient. Within a minute of boarding the ship, a crew member had a complimentary glass of champagne in our hands. Even though that was such a small gesture, it really made an impression on me. Great way to begin the trip.
SHIP: Common Areas I thought the ship looked great although I have yet to see a cruise ship that doesn't have bizarre and brightly colored carpet, not sure what that is about. The grand atrium was tasteful and very nice and featured live music most of every day on board. The Stardust Theatre was beautiful as was the Spinnaker lounge which had amazing views.
The Casino was nice and clean and fairly large for a ship I thought. The staff was good and knowledgeable. I did catch the dealer miscounting my hand in blackjack twice although once was in my favor so he wasn't trying to cheat. Just make sure to double check your hand and the payouts.
The Red Lion Pub was nice as well and featured a dartboard (when there was no live music as it is behind where the person performed) and a big screen TV. One downer was they are only able to show two NFL games on Sunday for those interested. They did show Monday Night's game.
The outdoor decks were very nice and partitioned in such a way there was always plenty of quiet areas. A "party" band played every night on a stage next to the pool. My only complaint about the outdoor deck was on deck 13, there is a jogging trail which is nice for the joggers however, to get to the front of the ship, you have to cross the jogging path which on the left (port side) of the boat, is coming out of a ark tunnel. I saw a few 'collisions' there, one of which involved a small kid and the jogger was rather indignant about it. The jogging path is painted red and there is a spray-painted text warning but unless you are looking for it, it is very easy to overlook. Be careful here or cross the path only on the starboard side where you can see them coming 100 yards away.
The ship also featured a very comfortable library and a separate game room, which was quite large. Generally, the musicians were just OK. We really enjoyed a female guitarist that played nightly in Gatsby's bar and a jazz combo that played in the atrium once or twice.
All in all I thought the ship was well maintained, clean and had ample places for whatever your pace is, mine being more peace and quiet. On other cruises I have been on, the pool bar always seemed to be filled with loud partiers but thankfully, this was not the case on the Star.
We did not make use of the spa or fitness center on this trip but other passengers said they were both top-notch. We only saw one show which was Second City but honestly, not the greatest and I am a person that loves comedy and Improv. A few folks that cruised with us took advantage of the movie theater with their kids and said that was great too. One additional item was NCL's attention to safety and security, which was above and beyond anything I have experienced in the past. All over the ship, the staff was almost pushy (in a good way) about the use of hand sanitizer which was available everywhere. I really appreciated that, especially in the buffet. While getting off one of the tenders, a small wave rocked the boat and that staff immediately jumped to prevent anyone from getting off so they would not get hurt. And in one of the lounges, a passenger seemed to be having a severe medical issue. A call was made over the PA and within a minute, about 15 medial personal showed up with everything from a stretcher to a defibrillator. (turned out to be a false alarm)
SHIP: Staterooms We upgraded to a balcony room and I have to say we are now spoiled and it's almost impossible to fathom anything less in the future. It offered us a chance to relax alone and at night, we kept the door open and slept to the sound of the sea. The closet was good sized and had a lot of hangers, cubby holes, etc. The bathroom was well laid out and seemed much larger than on other ships.
SHIP: Dining - Buffet A buffet is buffet for the most part. Nothing amazing here. Food was good. I would add that during peak times, it gets a little crowded. The lines were fine but finding a table for more than 2 people can be tough. We were there mostly in off-peak times so we had no problems. I thought the buffet could have had a late night offering as it closed at 9:30 each evening. Although, in hind site, maybe that was for the better, ha ha.
SHIP: Dining - Aqua / Versailles The ship has two main dining rooms that both serve the same menu, Aqua and Versailles. Aqua was very stylish yet casual. Versailles was more upscale and required evening attire. Due to some of our guest's budgetary constraints, we ate all but two dinners in the main dining rooms. The food was outstanding every night of our trip and the service was simply amazing. If, like our guests, you prefer to save money to spend on other things and eat in the dining rooms, you will be very happy.
SHIP: Dining - Cagney's Steakhouse This was one of the specialty restaurants that required a small 'cover charge.' The charges range from $10 at La Trattoria and Endless Summer to $20 for Cagney's. My wife had crab cakes and lobster bisque, both of which he said were the best she had ever had, then she finished off with a huge filet mignon which was nearly 2 inches thick and melted in her mouth. My entrEe was surf and turf which required an additional $10 (anything with lobster) and was fantastic. Basically, for an extra $50, we had what would have easily cost $150 in a restaurant. The service was outstanding and the dEcor was very nice.
SHIP: Dining - La Trattoria This was only so-so in my opinion and it required a $10 per person cover charge. First, the restaurant is really a part of the buffet that they partition off with curtains so nearly zero ambience and the food wasn't really anything special. It was fine and we enjoyed the meal but would probably not go back there. Personally, since you are going to be sitting in a buffet anyway, why not offer a 'premium' buffet for the cover charge?
SHIP: Dining - Blue Lagoon This is the only dining establishment that was open 24 hours except for room service. The food was OK. I had a hot dog and it wasn't very good, nor were the chicken wings. A few folks on our trip had the fish and chips and said they were fine.
SHIP: Dining - Summary of Free Style Dining Overall, I really like the concept. We were in a group of 12 with different budgets so I think had it been my wife and I alone, we would have made more use of the specialty restaurants but with that said, the food and service in Versailles, one of the main dining rooms, was excellent. The night we left port there was a pretty good line to get into the dining rooms but it moved quickly enough, and after that, the lines were never very long in my opinion. The only other thing that could be challenging is if you are in a large party, as they did not offer reservations in the main dining rooms during peak hours between 6PM and 8PM. It worked out OK for us since some of our group was from the East coast so we ate at 5:30PM every night and were able to reserve a table for 12.
DEBARKATION: I thought the way NCL handled this was great. As part of free style cruising, you could select what time you wanted to disembark and had color-coded luggage tags for each time slot. Most chose the first few times slots but we took the last spot and had a relaxing breakfast, a shower and plenty of time. Once our group was called, the line moved quickly and we were off the boat in minutes. Compared to Carnival where a massive line snaked around the atrium, this was a HUGE plus for NCL in my book.
SUMMARY: On a scale of 1 - 10, I give it a 9.9. It really was the best vacation I have had, possibly ever. The Star was a beautiful ship and the staff was outstanding. The food was great. Like any trip, there are things I would like to see improved upon but compared to other cruises and especially when you factor in NCL's low price, I don't think they can be beat. We have already booked our next NCL cruise and can't wait!
CRUISE TIPS: Bring some coffee and filters and a little Tupperware thing to get half and half from the buffet and keep it in your mini fridge.
If you are a group of any size, bring walkie talkies. They were a life saver but be sure to be respectful of others on board, turn them off in some places and get a set that has a vibrate mode. We got Midlands with a 30 mile range but if you get ¼ mile to ½ mile, you will be lucky. However, they worked on the ship in most places and also worked well when we were in various ports and even worked ship to shore some times. They were great to keep 12 people connected. There are some who hate them but I don't see the big deal as long as people are respectful with their use. But the added upside if you have kids, it was great to be able to check in on them from time to time without having to wander the ship to find out where they were.
I thought NCL's prices on everything including drinks were reasonable except the charges for Internet access. They charged a $3.75 connection fee then 75 cents per minute unless you bought a plan, the cheapest of which was $55 and only dropped the price to 55 cents per minute. Also, the connection is kind of slow since it is via satellite. If you need to check email, you can save money by doing it in ports but know that everyone else, including the crew, has the same idea. You will probably need to seek out a net cafe away from port as the ones I found near by all had long waits.
A power strip and an extension cord is almost a must. There are only 2 US-style plugs in the state rooms. One in the bathroom and one in the cabin by the coffee maker yet the most sensible place to charge camera batteries, etc. is at the desk where there are no outlets.
If you are prone to seasickness, take your Dramamine before you board at the regular dosage, 2 tabs every 12 hours. Once on board, my wife took one tab every 6 hours instead and was fine without the usual drowsiness. As mentioned above, watch out for the jogging track coming out of the tunnel on the port side.
Behind the back stage curtain in the Spinnaker lounge is a portal where you can view the bridge and see the boat controls, etc. This window was blocked off once in awhile but pretty neat to peak at.
The only thing I might have done differently is eat breakfast in Versailles instead of the buffet. We ate there on our return day and the food was good.
Always keep an eye out for dolphins and whales. We saw two whales about an hour out of Cabo and they put on quite a show!
My last tip; if you decide that NCL is right for you, please consider our cruise coordinator, as she has been amazing to deal with. Her name is Heidi Moss and can be reached via phone or email: firstname.lastname@example.org / 877-436-9722 Ext. 7584. Be sure to tell her Gibby sent you and maybe I'll get a free drink on my next cruise! Seriously though, she is awesome and you will be glad you spoke with her.