My wife and I are in our mid 30's and just returned from the Sept 18 Alaska sailing on the Star from Seattle. We were traveling with six older relatives, five of which are senior citizens. We initially planned to do the Golden Princess because I have sailed on Princess before and have always wanted to sail on their Grand Class of ships. However, due to procrastination, the ship was sold out in the category we wanted (oceanview) and the only option on that sail date was the Norwegian Star. Still seemed fine and we got a good deal as most were on a budget.
There was a line at the port but we arrived at peak time (right at noon) and the moved quickly so no problem. The staff at the port were all very friendly and helped you quickly though the process. Once we boarded the first thing to do was go eat lunch because the rooms were not yet ready. Everyone was ready to try soem cruise food so we went up to deck 12 and the Market Cafe. I have cruised 8 times before but 3 of the people in our party were on their first cruise.
The Market Cafe (buffet area) was packed and the way they have the tables arranged it makes it very easy for two people to hog a table for six. We spilt into two groups of six and two in two tables and started eating. It's not really laid out well because on the starboard side of the ship, the cafe is twice as long and you can walk through it to get from the midship pool area to the aft gym. But on the port side the cafe stops half way back and becomes a crew only closed door area. So if you are sitting there and wanted desert you literally had to fight your way forward the port side, around the front and all way down the aft side then go back the way you came to get to your table. Walking is never bad when you are on cruise eating non stop but a bad design is still a bad design. Plus if you wanted a soda or alcohol they set up a "cart" on that same starboard side only again making it inconvenient to those on the port side. We were all satisfied well enough with lunch and anxious to get to our rooms and unpack before the life boat drill.
Mind you, we only had an oceanview and not a balcony, but the king size bed took up the whole room and the only way on or off the bed was from the foot. There is a small table and desk chair on one side and a table/cabinet piece of furniture on the other side with a stool in front. Really? Who is going to sit down at a desk in 150 sq ft stateroom to right their memoirs? Essential space could have been picked up by losing the stool (and chair) and just building wall storage. The bathroom was tiny with little sink space but the doors on the shower and separating the toilet were nice. The water temp was never consistent in the shower even when left on the same setting. One day hot, one day just lukewarm. The soap dispensors looked cheap but it saved me having to crowd the tiny shower shelf with my personal toiletries so it worked.
The lifeboat drill was odd. On every cruise I've been on before, your muster station was actually out on the open deck below the lifeboats. On the Star it was in the lower section of the forward Stardust Theatre? You really are telling me that is the ship is sinking I am supposed to come into a 900 seat theatre, go to the lowest point and sit there??
We had beautiful weather in Seattle and found a nice spot on deck 13 for the sail away. The pool deck has a nice tapered rising gallery for chairs but the strange column things by the slides are ugly and so are the numerous fake palm trees. I like that forward area of the ship had nice deck space as well. This was a wonderful spot to enjoy the sailing away from Kethchikan on our third day when it was gloriously sunny and in the upper 60s!
We ate at the Auqa and Versailles rooms but only the Versaille (aft) is open for breakfast and our cabins were pretty forward. The breakfasts in the Market Cafe are as bad as people say. No omelet station. No waffle station. Cold eggs. Hard pastries. Lukewarm pankcakes. The bacon was good. The cereal was good. The fruit was good. We still ate there 5 of the 7 mornings because the Versailles only serves until 9:30am. The Market Cafe though was pretty much always crowded and sometimes took several walk arounds to find a table.
We ate at the Steakhouse which was excellent. As our party was looking to me to be kind of the organizer I had previously also suggested we try the Italian and Tex-Mex restaurants too. So the first day on board I make our reservations for the three nights. What I had seen before told me the last two had no cover charge but now NCL decided to charge $10 pp at these. Everyone still said we would try them and I enjoyed the Italian (where others in our group didn't) and we all liked the Tex-Mex. Excellent service there and great steak fajitas. So two of the three were hits.
Dinners in the main dining rooms were ok. You can tell they have taken the food down a tier to drive people to their specialty restaurants. There isn't anything inherently "free" with their freestyle dining.
One more negative then I will get to some positives. I think the ship's cruise director Candi was awful. Very plastic, fake sounding personality. She repeated the same phrases over and over seemed very ingenuine. Her cruise director staff selling the lottery cards were worse then used car salesman. And the assistant cruise director and Bingo guy was grating to the ears. His English was terrible and his "it's Biiiiiiiingo time!" announcements might as well just said "it's time for us to get more of you moneyyyyyyyyyy". Probably the least enjoyable cruise director staff I have ever had.
Ok, things I liked. The professional entertainment was good. Second City, music shows, most live performers, etc. The Star Bar on deck 13 quickly became our favorite place. Initimate, usually uncrowded with the same waiter every night. And maybe the only real true bargain on board: 2 for 1 Martinis from 5-9pm each night. The only bad thing is the decor of the place lookes like a lounge from a ship 20 years ago and the view is basically the pool and those ugly fake palm trees I mentioned earlier. This ship lacked the "oh wow" public area with an amazing view. That's the one thing I was looking forward to on the Golden Princess - the view from Skywalker Lounge.
We had beautiful weather in all three Alaska ports and at Dawes Glacier. Prince Rubert was a waste a time and my wife and I only got off the ship because we figured we could find a Tim Horton's (think Canadian Dunkin Donuts only better) and sure enough we did, about a 5 minute walk from the pier.
Someone else mentioned the Spinnaker Lounge being a dungeon. And even the gym had only tiny walls with window views. Most of the workout equipment was facing a mirrored wall with no line of site to the outside. Two big fails in my opinion. A ship should maximize its window space and every public space should have nice outside views. Even the Versailles which has large rear windows are not full windows. They have these architectural designs that block 50 percent of your view on what could otherwise be a gorgeous glass dining room overlooking the wake of the ship.
All in all, I was underwhelemed and a little disappointed. I would never go on this ship again and being my first time on NCL, I would pretty much gurantee I would not go on any of their ships again (even the Star). It felt like they were always selling something, or cutting back on something to force you to spend extra and it felt cheapened like I would expect on Carnival.
Next cruise will definitely be Princess. I have leared.