As first time cruisers taking the plunge with a spring break trip out of Los Angeles, we had a few concerns over what our experience would be with the number of kids and college students on board as well as the cruise line itself and the recent changes. Having nothing to compare the "old" Star versus the "new" Star, we weren't sure what to expect.
We flew out of Seattle the morning of the cruise, staying overnight the night before at the Sea-Tac Raddisson (which was outstanding and offered free parking for the week we were away and a free shuttle to the Airport terminal). Flew into Long Beach which is a nice small airport. Within 15 minutes of landing we had our luggage and were waiting for car pickup (another 15 minutes). Paid $55 for A-1 Transportation to take the four of us the 30 minutes or so to the World Cruise Terminal. We got to the terminal at 11:45 and were through security and checked in with our room tags by noon. Skipped the embarkation photo (which we later regretted, however after traveling all morning no one felt very photogenic). It was a little confusing to figure out where to get the Teen Passports (Ginza Room) and Spa Passes (at the Spa, duh!) but we got it straightened out and headed to the main dining room for lunch which was excellent and very relaxing. The portions were modest so order two entree if you are hungry. By the time we finished eating we wandered around a bit and our room was ready by 1:30ish.
Our mini-suite was larger than we expected, very comfortable for four (two adults, two large teenagers!). Unpacked and found ample space for everything with use of the over-door shoe holder for toiletries. We bagged up the contents of the mini-bar and had the steward take it away so had use of the fridge for snacks.
Several notes - the rooms were impeccably clean. Our room steward Vicente was marvelous, helpful, cheerful and quick to make up or turn down the cabin. There is an indicator outside the door which you turn to note when you are ready for the room to be made up or turned down and it was amazing that whenever we left, by the time we returned our room as perfect. We tipped him the first night and the last night for the remainder of the week.
There were hand sanitizers everywhere. There were crew members manning the stations at the entrance to the restaurants and it appeared that passengers were using the sanitizers.
We made use of the breakfast room service every morning. It served as a nice wake-up call (a few moments before delivery they ring your room) as well as a pleasant start to the day with hot coffee on the balcony, fresh fruit (superb!) and yogurt or cold cereals to tide you over for a later breakfast. Make sure you list number of servings on the form or you will end up short. We tipped the delivery person each morning.
We signed the teens up for the teen club and it seemed that they had quite a few activities scheduled. Our sons were busy the first half of the cruise with excursions so did not try to use the club until the last two sea days and found there wasn't much going on they were interested in. They wanted to do dodge-ball but it was canceled due to lack of participation. They did make use of the water slide, chess, and golf cage as well as enjoyed a few of the shows and the movie in the Stardust. They felt it would have been better if they went to the ice-breaker reception in the beginning instead of waiting.
We attended a few shows - the intro show the first night, the comedy/juggling act RootBerry (fun and the guys in the show were very engaging when we ran into them off ship or in the common areas), the magician (he was good for a brief bit we saw), the Chinese acrobat/Jean Rand dance show (which was not our cup of tea), and the Second City comedy sketch show (funny and PG-13). We didn't gamble although the area around the casino reeked of cigarette smoke. We shopped a bit buying fairly inexpensive gifts (some jewelry, a mug, an ornament) at reasonable price. We didn't buy anything in the duty free shop. There are a variety of specials throughout the cruise so watch for what you want to go on sale.
The spa admission package was excellent when we wanted to get away from crowds or relax out of the wind. There are a steam and dry sauna, a lap pool, thermal pool, hot tub, lounge chairs and relaxation rooms with armchairs. We used it frequently.
We used several spa services - teeth whitening, haircuts, mini-back massage and mini-facials. Everything was on sale the first day at 25% off and services went on sale throughout the cruise. We did not get pressured into buying anything.
We dressed up and got photos taken the first day at sea, "formal night," which turned out very nice. We purchased several on the buy 3 get one free special.
We ate in the main dining room several days for breakfast which had good food in a nice atmosphere. We ate at Blue Lagoon several times, for breakfast and lunch. The food was generally very good with a few exceptions and it was uncrowded. It was a good space to listen to the evening jazz band in the atrium. We ate in Aqua for dinner formal night - the lobster was uninspired and tough, although the duck the same night was delish! We ate at Endless Summer which we felt was mediocre and the lobster tacos were not good. We ate at Ginza for all you can eat sushi which was ok but service was really slow - the fish quality seemed good and the deserts were good. We ate at Cagney's which was excellent and offered the best meal we had - well worth the upcharge. And, yes, a 14 year old boy CAN eat a 32 oz steak with all the sides even if it says it's for two....
We ate quite a few times at the buffet - the food was generally good with a wide variety to choose from. Lots of fresh fruit and salad options, the sandwiches were primarily bread and the pizza was not good. We enjoyed the desserts and the option for skim milk and tea throughout the day. The main drawback for the buffet was the atmosphere and the crowds. The kids got soft serve everyday.
The only unpleasantness we witnessed was a discussion over chair saving - a rampant practice which made it all but impossible to get a deck chair on a sunny day (although the sun bathers generally cleared out by 2:30ish and you could enjoy the deck with ease). The elevators could get crowded but it was easy to get around with the stairs (and far better for your waistline!!).
We did use the internet more than expected - 8 hours between checking business emails and young men chatting on facebook with girlfriends! The internet manager was helpful and the speed wasn't terrible.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We tagged our luggage with the latest tags having a very late flight out. We changed our mind and wanted to rent a car so half our party disembarked with no luggage which was very swift and then, 40 minutes before our color tag was called the luggage porters told those waiting with the rental car that all the luggage was actually in the terminal, so the second half of the party walked off between luggage calls and it went smoothly and quickly. Between leaving the ship and getting out of the Cruise Terminal was less than 30 minutes.
All in all it was a very pleasant and relaxing trip - weather was perfect, excursions were great and the boat was wonderful!