Embarkation: We (4) flew into LAX -took a 30 min-$60 van ride to the pier. Arrival time to pier about 1130 & it was pretty chaotic-lots of people! Not enough signage & the porters not so pleasant. There was 1 long line that wrapped around the grey portable building & back out towards the gate-1 line 1 very long line. Beyond a certain point (clearly marked "no luggage other than carry-on passed this point") there was a little more chaos as guests either didn't pay attention to the sign or didn't understand English as they were having to back up the line w/ luggage and wait for someone to take it then move back to the rest of their family. It took about 15-20 minutes to get into the NCL staffed building. We were booked into a AE Penthouse 9732; we did have an advantage over most ONCE we made it into the NCL staffed building. We were taken to a small sitting area where you we were escorted from there to a small check in line --once we had checked in & swiped our credit card/passports we were escorted to the FRONT of the VERY long line to the security area. We were quickly taken by escort to Cagney's for lunch as rooms were not ready yet. We had friends arrive at the pier at about 1:30 & the line was almost non-existent. Hint: arrive very early or just wait till after 1:00!
We brought on five 2 liter bottles of soda, water & 6 bottles of wine. The soda and water no problem. On the wine you should keep it out when you check in so that staff can get a beverage supervisor to check them in for $15 corkage fee & they put a sticker on them. If they are packed and checked in luggage, your luggage will be held and you will have to wait hours to go to the 'bad boy room' so staff can open your luggage in your presence & get the wine out.
Cabin(s): As mentioned we booked a AE Penthouse 9732 Aft, our Birthday Boy 18 year old son & relative had a JJ category room 9729 & our friends had the next door Balcony room 9730. All the rooms were fine-exactly what we expected. Penthouse and above have the option of enjoying breakfast & lunch at Cagney's-no surcharge. Our Butler was Flor & she was amazing! She took care of anything we needed quickly & always with a smile! There were always yummy afternoon treats and towel sculptures hidden in different places every nite-fun! I don't know when she slept as every time we called her phone ext. she always answered... morning, noon & evenings. Our Suite attendants were perfect- whenever any of them saw us in the hallway they greeted us by name. Room and furniture were nice and clean-comfy bed & pillows, nice crisp sheets, spa robes, huge bath towels, huge closet, many drawers for storage, flat screen tv & dvd player with dvd library menu. Suite 9732 has a wrap around deck with 2 lounge chairs- we brought out the 4 dining room chairs and sat on our back deck with room service & cocktails-the suite life was fabulous! On tender days, suite guests have priority tender tickets delivered to the suite- which is helpful when you only have a few precious hours at a port.
Staff: Very, very pleasant with the exception of a few-which is normal anywhere. On 2 occasions the receptionist desk personnel were less than acceptable; & a couple times we ran into a side dish that didn't arrive at Blue Lagoon-which can happen anywhere. If you have realistic expectations you won't be disappointed. There are SO many people that have complained- we found most all of the complaints to have no merit at all & unfounded! Just go with an open mind-if you are looking for only negative I guess you will find it.
Food: I was extremely apprehensive pre-cruise as I read the cruise critic blogs as they were not so positive. We enjoyed the food and diversity. If you don't see something you like...odds are they can do something for you!
We dined at Cagney's, Versailles MDR, Market Cafe, Blue Lagoon, Topsiders Grill & room service. Cagneys for breakfast & lunch were wonderful- excellent service! Dinner at Cagneys was spectacular. Room service was always quick and exactly what we ordered & perfect temperatures. Topsiders had a nice couple of BBQ's and the buffet was fine-nothing over the top but nothing to be bitter about. Blue Lagoon was always open and fine as a light snack. Overall, the portions are a little surprisingly small when set in front of you-as our society has become accustomed to the super-sized plate full of food. We found once we had finished our meal that the portions were very adequate and most likely geared towards no waste. I'm sure if you need more food you could order a 2nd helping.
Public Rooms: We sailed on the Star June 2009 to Alaska- so we have a pre & mid refurbish opinion. We were very impressed with the Star's condition & cleanliness & decor. NCL is updating the Star to a loung'y, upscale, more modern vibe. The new Deck 7 Aft Spinnaker is beautiful-did miss the wrap around windows though. The guests in the suite below us on deck 8 said they could hear the loud bass/music through their floor until wee hours of the morning from the new location of the Spinaker Lounge. The Blue Lagoon, Galleria shops & photography areas have moved. I believe the movie theater, library, game room and the cigar room are non existant.
Entertainment/Play: We went to the Comedian Jeff Harms which was funny. Our son went to The Second City which was fine. We watched the newlywed show but arrived late and there was no seating so we left after 1 round & watched the rest on TV. Some in our party did Bingo 1 time & my cousin Bingo'd! We played a lot in the Casino & poker & slot tournaments My husband won $800+ playing Let It Ride & 3 Card Poker 1 of the nites! We went to the Oasis Pool- which is a bit on the smaller side....get your lounge chairs early. The Carribean Band was very good. We enjoyed the sun deck & hot tub at the front of the ship-nice quiet area. We also used the jogging track-its fine except on the sides of the ship it's a narrow single lane only-so you have to be patient to pass.
Ports: We stopped at Puerto Vallarta & Cabo San Lucas.
In PV, we did the Puerto Vallarta swim with wild dolphins tour $49/each. It was amazing! We took a cab to Opequimar Pier- saw & swam with so many dolphins-well worth the $ & experience. This is not an amusement park or tour fed dolphins....this is the real deal. Very knowledgeable staff. From there we hired a taxi van to take us to Mama Lucia Tequila Distillery in Bay of Banderas -very tasty. We drove by Mismaloya Beach & stopped for 1 quick photo. We ate at Juan & Only across the street from Mama Lucia-very clean & very good food! We stopped off at a couple of shops, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe which was spectacular! We ended with a quick drive by Los Arcos, the sand sculptures & statues-wish we had more time there. Our taxi driver dropped us off at WalMart so that we could pick up inexpensive PV souvenirs & supplies. We paid $100 USD for the taxi ride from Opequimar Pier all the way out to Banderas Bay and back to Walmart- which was about 4 hours for 6 people.
In Cabo, we set out on foot and walked out of the marina. We ate at Taco Cantina next to the Die Trying store-strong drinks and good food. They offer free WiFi & free calls home to the USA- take advantage of that to check in with family & update the Facebook! Medano Beach is a must. Lots of people, clean & beautiful beach. There are a lot of vendors- but they understand a firm No Gracias-you will say it often! We took a water taxi to Medano Beach's The Office- we made the mistake of prepaying for the return trip which was late or never came-we were a little on the impatient side and just jumped on another-We were in Mexico shoulda known better than to prepay! Just pay as you go- about $3. While at The Office, we took a banana boat ride $10/person and my son & I rented jet skis for 30 min. for $50/each. We shopped at Cabo Duty Free in the Marina which has cheaper prices on perfumes and alcohol than on the ship. A lot of the shops on the Marina have discount baskets so you can pick up t-shirts for $5/each.
We left Cabo to a very windy & rough sea. Our lounge chair covers blew off while rounding onto the Pacific Ocean. This was not the norm- normally the sea state is slight. The last day at sea was very rough all day long. By early evening the staff had put out little white air sickness bags at the exits to public rooms, dining areas & at every elevator button key pad. We had our butler bring motion sickness medicine to our room. They are also passed out free at the reception desk. By nightfall the sea's state was the roughest & hardly slept- we had taken both the motion sickness pills & wore the acupuncture wristbands.
Overall our group of 6 (ages 18-53)had a wonderful time-we most definetly will sail NCL again. We liked the freestyle dining & no formal night unless you wanted to. Our 18 year old had the time of his life- hardly saw him! He met lots of new friends that they all kept track of when we left the ship until they all arrived at their home bases- they exchanged myspace & email addresses. We took 1000's of pictures and had a wonderful 18th birthday for our son!