Let me start by saying that if I had to rate my overall experience on the Star this past week I would give it an 8 out of 10, so not too bad. The purpose of this review is to point out some of the reasons that I can't give my experience a 10 and maybe help set expectations for fellow future cruisers on this ship/route. Additionally my previous cruise on NCL (Pride of aloha) about two years ago was an awesome (near perfect) experience that raised the bar for me and has made it difficult to achieve that same level of satisfaction again.
This was my 4th cruise (2nd with NCL).
Casino - I found the ship to be very similar to the pride of aloha with the exception of a casino on the star. When I booked the cruise I was excited to see that there would be a casino, especially with 4 at-sea days and time to kill. However, as a non-smoker, I found it difficult to even walk past the casino without being overwhelmed by cigarette smoke smell. I get it, people smoke in casinos, so I chose to avoid it altogether. It was actually not possible to avoid walking past the casino if you come down the fwd side of deck 6 so you need to go up to deck 7 over the top of the casino and back down to 6 to avoid the casino and get to the locations past the casino on 6. To add to my disappointment, there were some outside blackjack tables on one of the open decks, but of course they allow smoking too and I really couldn't enjoy myself with all of the smokers in and around the tables. I would think that a couple tables in a smoke free zone would be great and I certainly would have spent more time there. (minus .5 stars)
Soda Package - I drink a *lot* of soda. So, of course one of the things I do when I first get on a cruise is sign up for the 'all you can drink' soda package. A little over $100 for me and my wife for the week. Pricey but it pays for itself if you down them like I do, also more convenient than signing a receipt every time you want a $2 soda. The way it's supposed to work is that you show your card (with pepsi sticker on it) to any restaurant/bar staff and they get you a soda. I ran into some snags this time though. Some staff were visibly unenthusiastic to serve 'free' sodas over high-priced cocktails since they don't get a 15% auto-gratuity as they do with non-sodas - While I found this annoying it wasn't as bad as a couple other soda incidents I ran into. 4 or 5 days into the cruise we was being told that they were out of various sodas. But if you hunted around you could find them elsewhere on the ship. And of course there were some available *for sale* in my cabins mini-bar. When I 'bought' one from the cabins mini-bar, it was quickly replenished by the cabin steward. Hmmmm. So they were only sold out of the free ones. It was consistently difficult to get soda in the Market Cafe (the main buffet). However, the biggest issue I had was that at Gatsby's (Piano Bar, Desk 6) I had a waitress pour me half a regular pepsi mixed with canned club soda and try to pass it off as diet pepsi! Seriously? OK, not to whine on about soda, but as I said I'm a big soda drinker and the package sounds like a dream, but this time it wasn't
Internet Access: Ok, I expected it to be slow (and it was) but there are also other unforeseen issues... I could not VPN to work (not such a bad thing), but I expected this to work. As soon as I was back in port I was able to use ATTs 3G net to get to the VPN.... same with some security cams at my house... could not access from the ship from my iphone. There are some blocked ports or something on the ships service. Frustrating at 75 cents a minute when it's slow and then doesn't even fully work. Not too disappointed about not getting into work - but the cameras were setup and tested before my trip so I could monitor my house while away - it wasn't accessible from the ship so i felt like i wasted my time setting it up. works from 'everywhere' else.
(Services = minus .5 stars)
Food: Some real disappointments included:
creme brulee - they kept getting it wrong, even Le Bistro, the 'french' restaurant with a cover charge served creme brulee that did not have caramelized tops. it's one of my favorite desserts but I found myself passing on it after having it done badly in two different places (probably from the same kitchen/staff).
ice cream bar - sounds exciting, but its just bad 'buffet'ice cream machine that pumps out watery chocolate, vanilla, or 'twist'. the real ice cream in the restaurants is the way to go and readily available at lunch and dinner times in the restaurants with cover charges.
the 'free' restaurants - in general the restaurants without a cover charge were mediocre at best and were only useful for grabbing something quick right before heading off ship to do excursions. food (food overall = minus .5 stars)
Itinerary. so you have 3 'days' in port and 4 at seas. mazatlan is pretty shady. i'd prefer to have 4 days in port and get an extra half day either in cabo or puerto vallarta. i think it would be possible to pull this off and get more port time than seas time. (minus .25 stars)
The constant upsell. Maybe it was just getting us in shape to defend against the throngs of people trying to sell you stuff in mexico when off the ship (including drugs on the PV beaches) but NCL never missed an opportunity to take your photo or try to sell you something.. photos every time you eat, roses in the restaurants, handing you drinks as you walk into a room, and *then* asking for your payment - a little sneaky. (minus .25 stars)
Now for some high points... Boarding and Disembarkation were pretty smooth and pain free. We were late to an excursion and there was no way to catch up to the rest of the group - the NCL excursion desk employee who was monitoring things off the ship on the pier managed to get us on a different excursion with no hassle. It could have gone badly but they took care of it and we had a great time anyway. The entertainment choices were varied and mostly fun - even with 4 at-sea days we had a pretty full schedule. Cagneys Steak House - it's a minimum $25 cover charge per person to get in but they know good food there. The cabin was nice (we had a balcony) and was always well attended to by the cabin steward.
Overall, a solid 8/10.