My husband and I took the repositioning cruise on the Star. We previously took the NCL Dawn and I've been on over 10 cruises. This was my second cruise to Alaska and third time to Alaska. We had a great time on the cruise.
We booked this particular cruise because it came with a large shipboard credit and the prices were reasonable enough that we could splurge and get a "Romance Suite." A few weeks before we left, I ordered the Honeymoon/Anniversary package from NCL for $75. This includes a bottle of champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries (that were so ripe and delicious!), canapes delivered one night, a honeymoon/anniversary "cake and champagne" party with a free 5x7 photo, and cover charge for dinner for two at Le Bistro restaurant with a bottle of wine.
GETTING THERE & EMBARKATION
We took the Blue Van from LAX to the pier, which I reserved independently. This worked quite well and was about $15 pp one way.
Embarkation was so easy. Our reservation said to get to the pier two hours before sailing, and we arrived just then. There was a very long line still waiting to get checked in. Thankfully we were in a suite and had a separate check-in area. There was no one in the line. The concierge, Belkys, met us. She was very friendly. We were escorted onto the ship and given champagne after we posed for the obligatory picture.
The ship is like its sister, the Dawn. Although somewhat older it doesn't show. It's still very nice, clean, and well-maintained. The ship had come from Mexico right as the swine flu issue arose, but we were confident that it was OK. There was antibac everywhere.
We loved our room. It was honestly not as large as I thought it would be, but it was very nice. There was plenty of storage space, a desk, sofa and small table, chair and ottoman, and table and chairs. The bed was sooooo comfortable! It had a pillow top. The linens were nice, as were the pillows. The curtains were not blackout curtains, so we did get a lot of light in the room. We had a flatscreen TV and access to a large DVD library. There was also a vanity area. The bathroom had a tub/shower on one side, the sink area in the middle, and the toilet on the other side. While people have been praising this "ingenious" design, it is still not private enough in my opinion for multiple people to use it at once. The partitions between the sections is a thin plastic that you can still see through. Towels were fluffy and in abundance. The baths have Elemis toiletries. There was a dispenser with shampoo, body wash, and hand soap. There were also bottles with the aforementioned and lotion, conditioner, soap, a loofah, and a shower cap. We had larger-sized bottles. I also saw people with smaller bottles. Toiletries were not replaced. There was a large balcony with two nice lounge chairs and a table. We loved having champagne and canapes on the balcony. We also had a mini-fridge, glassware, and a Lavazza single-serve espresso pod machine that made the most delicious espresso.
All in all, I did not feel that our ports (Juneau and Ketchikan) portrayed an accurate representation of Alaska. This was the biggest disappointment. My husband was underwhelmed. On past trips I remember seeing tons of animals and glaciers. We didn't see much of either. I think that the regular itinerary for this ship should be better and that ours was poor because it was a repositioning cruise.
We went fishing in Ketchikan (great trip!) and took a bus to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau.
All in all, we felt that the quality of NCL's food had improved over our last cruise. Food generally was as good as or better than food that we get at home. It's not the quality of a celebrity chef or 5-star restaurant but I would say that it's better than anything below that (which in my opinion is very good). There was always plenty of fresh fruit. Alcoholic drinks were reasonably priced, we thought.
Reservations - We had no problems with reservations, which was unlike our prior NCL cruise where it was hard to get reservations. I made a reservation for Le Bistro one night in advance. The concierge made a reservation for Cagney's one night in advance. We made reservations for Ginza and Endless Summer the same day. We did not have a reservation for La Trattoria and had no wait.
Ginza - Ginza is the Asian fusion restaurant. I think the cover charge is $15 pp. We felt this was worth it. This was sort of like PF Chang's lettuce wraps, etc. The meal starts off with edamame. Food and service were good. Dessert was the stand-out, with a trio of Asian-flavored creme brulee.
La Trattoria - Half of Market Cafe buffet gets transformed into this restaurant at night. (We were thoroughly confused one night when we went to eat here and it was missing because it's also the location of the chocolate buffet.) It had a $10 cover charge. There were so many yummy things on the menu, it was hard to choose. Breadsticks, bread, bruschetta, and olives started the meal off. There's an antipasta tray, soup, calamari, etc. I had a delicious chevre pizza.
Endless Summer - Endless Summer is Tex-Mex and comes with a free margarita. The meal starts off with chips and salsa, pico de gallo, and freshly made guacamole. Entrees were traditional fare such as tortilla soup and fajitas. My husband had the lobster tacos and said they were good. Cover is $10 pp.
Le Bistro - Le Bistro was my favorite. I think the cover is $15 pp. The wait staff was excellent. They even gave us a "happy anniversary" cake. The menu is traditional French, and they make crepes suzette at the table. The quality rivals a good French restaurant on land. This restaurant's decor itself was not as nice as Le Bistro on the NCL Dawn, which had fine art and Versace plates.
Cagney's - The cover is $20 pp. We enjoyed our meal a lot. It is supposed to be like Morton's, e.g., iceberg wedge, side items, quality beef. It's not quite as good but still a nice experience with good food.
Versailles - Versailles is the main dining room. We did not have a wait for a table for 2. The food was good but, in contrast to the other restaurants, it was apparent that they are preparing so much more food at the same time. This restaurant has Eating Well selections. No cover charge.
Market Cafe - This is the buffet, and I'm not a big fan. There were some stand-outs, such as the soft-serve ice cream and chocolate fountain. There is an Indian station, pasta station, pizza, hot dogs, burgers, etc., in addition to different entrees and side items. The quality isn't that great. I preferred to sit down for breakfast and lunch and grab a snack at Market Cafe.
Aqua - Aqua is the other dining room without a cover charge. We had a good meal and I loved the souffle. Our waiter was great.
There are so many tours in Alaska. I went to the excursion desk to inquire about some of them. Most of the staff was friendly and polite, but I did speak to one man who was rather rude. There are brochures, etc. at the desk.
The ship has two shops but also sets up an area in the atrium daily. The shops sell duty-free liquor and cigarettes, perfume and cosmetics. There is a Diamonds International. There are also T-shirts, toiletries, Bijoux Terner items ($10 items such as ties, jewelry, evening bags, pashminas), souvenirs, etc. Amber jewelry is pushed because of the "proximity" to Russia.
The ship has an indoor spa area, which includes an indoor pool, comfortable lounge chairs with a view, a hydrotherapy pool, and hot tub. The men's and women's locker rooms have a sauna and steam room. The men's locker room has hot and cold plunge pools. There is tea, water, and juice by the pool. For $20 a day, you can buy a day pass to use these facilities. You can buy a cruise-long pass for $99 or a couples' pass for $140. We bought the couple's pass, as we knew that we wanted to use these facilities daily. They say they only sell 40 couple's passes for the entire cruise, but they don't limit the number of day passes or single's passes, as far as I can tell. So it can get crowded. You also get to use a spa robe. Although the price of this has gone up, we still felt like it was worth it. However, on an Alaska cruise when it's too cold to sit out by the outdoor pool, the indoor area was busier. Sometimes we couldn't get a chair, and people would reserve the chairs with a towel and then never return. One of the women at the front desk always acted annoyed to see me, but the woman who replenished the towels was very nice.
The gym was nice and tended to be busy during the mornings. It had treadmills, ellipticals, etc. with TVs. There is also a classroom. I did the aerobics in the mornings, which was a good workout.
I did the spa tour when we got on the ship. This is a Steiner spa. They pitched the regular ionithermie treatment and GoSmile tooth whitening, etc. (My mom did the ionithermie once and it did not work.) The first cruise deal was 20% off signature treatments for the first morning of the cruise. The regular prices are slightly higher than land spa prices. I did note that they ran specials throughout the duration of the cruise, whereas on other cruises I've been on, this would just be on certain days. They ran the 20-20-20 promotion for the entire cruise, where you can get 3 mini-treatments of 20 minutes each for $99. They also had a similar promotion with up to 5 treatments. I got a 1 1/2 hour treatment for $149 that included a mini-facial; back, neck and shoulder massage; foot massage or scalp massage; and full-body exfoliation. The flyer said that it also included a body wrap, which I did not get. The technician was nice but not overly friendly. At the end, she tried to sell me over $1000 worth of products. $175 in muscle soak might relax my muscles, but I'm sure it would give my husband a heart attack.
We got pins that said "NCL Star." There was a Latitudes cocktail party with hors d'oeuvres and drinks. The band played and a few bottles of champagne and other gifts were given away in a raffle. The end of the party turned into a sales pitch to make a deposit for a new cruise. Members also get a gift shop discount off some items.
The casino was on the smaller side but fine. Everyone got free coupon books where you could get $30 in slot play for $20, chip coupons, etc.
ART AUCTION/PARK WEST
We were invited to a "special" wine and cheese event with an exhibition of some of the artwork on the ship through Park West. There was no pressure to buy, and this was not an auction. Supposedly, prices were deeply discounted. The host gave us a brief overview of the selected artists. There were, of course, numerous auctions throughout the cruise. This was a nice, small event, but I'm still not a Park West fan.
This was a disaster. Photos must be purchased in packages, e.g. a 5x7, 3x5, 2 wallets and a magnet (that has nothing to do with NCL or the trip) for $15, or 2 5x7s and a frame for $20. This is bad if you just want one photo. There are no exceptions to this, and the man in the photo lab was rather rude.
I attended the port talk on Juneau, which was an hour-long sales pitch by Ian, the shopping consultant. He gave out some prizes (people were horribly grabby over a free Frisbee!). All attending got a coupon for a free "diamond" charm bracelet at Diamonds International. I should know by now that this is always a rip off, yet I can't seem to learn. I redeemed by coupon in Juneau and got a plastic-like gold bracelet with a charm that says "DI." The "I" supposedly had a diamond chip in it. The talk just emphasizes the stores that have paid NCL to promote them. Most other events with free giveaways were a similar waste of time. Better to spend the time enjoying the scenery or in the hot tub.
From what I can discern, people in categories A1-AE get special perks as described on nclsuitesandvillas.com. We were in a category AD. Our perks included assistance from a concierge, Belkys, who was very nice. We did not use her much, but she was available via phone and also had a spot in the Star Bar where you could visit her. She would check in on us at breakfast and see if we needed anything. She made dinner reservations for us one night. We also had a butler, Theodore. I only saw him once, as we did not want room service. He will get you anything that you want, however. He brought us canapes daily and also replenished our coffee. We could have breakfast and lunch in Cagney's. This was the best. No waiting for a table and great service. I became addicted to the Challah French Toast with Tahitian Vanilla Mascarpone and Macerated Berries. YUM! In addition to the menu, there was a small buffet with strawberries and fresh whipped cream. There is French press coffee, which is much better than the buffet coffee. We were invited to a "VIP" cocktail party with the captain. This was our only real opportunity to meet the captain...other cruises had opened this up to all guests. The priority embarkation was great. We did not use the disembarkation. There were canapes and a bottle of champagne in the room when we arrived, as well as a beautiful floral arrangement and fruit basket that was replenished. This really spoiled us, and it will be hard to ever have a regular cabin again!
We decided to go salmon fishing. Even though we returned empty-handed, it was a beautiful boat ride and the water was calm. We saw bald eagles and beautiful mountains. We booked through the ship. There are no more than 6 to a boat, and our boat had 3 passengers and the captain. It was the beginning of the season, so I imagine that in a few weeks, it will be a different experience with plenty of salmon. After fishing, we walked around downtown and took the $2 funicular on Creek St., which had a good view. We found the best salmon prices at a little shop on Creek St. that was actually a Salmon Etc. store but less busy than the shop closer to the ship. Creek St. had the best shopping, and Coho Soho had local handmade gifts.