Norwegian Star Sailing Date 2 October 2010 Itinerary: Pacific Coastal Number in party 6 (one from Seattle, and 5 from the Salt Lake City, Utah area)
On 28 September 2010 five of us flew from Salt Lake to Portland, Oregon and board Amtrak Cascades to Seattle. We transferred to the Empire Builder and left the train in Edmonds, Washington. The scenery along the railroad is really wonderful, some of it is inland and some along the sea shore. We stayed two nights in the Seattle Area. Then we boarded another train (Amtrak Cascades) for Vancouver. Crossing the boarder into Canada, a number of people were waving at the train. We arrived in Vancouver and stayed two nights in North Vancouver. We did rent a van, but it appears the mass transit system in Vancouver I really good. Doing this again, I would not rent a van.
On 2 October, we went and dropped off the luggage, and most of the people at the pier. My wife Kristi and I then took the van back to the rental agency, and walked back to the pier. We went through the check in line, and boarded the ship. The check in line was not really bad, it only took us about 45 minutes once we were in the queue to be on board the Norwegian Star.
I am not really sure about the hull graphics (some might call it art) on the outside of NCL's ships; however, the inside was really tasteful. NCL does push the pay extra dining options. There are only a few choice for the free options, two dining rooms, a cafe, and the buffet. We ended up eating breakfast in the buffet, lunch was a mixture of the dining room, the buffet, and once on shore. We had dinner in either the Versailles or the Aqua dining room. The Versailles dining room had better decor, but the service was terrible. The Aqua dinning room had really wonderful service. As near as I could tell in the Versailles dining room when someone complained about the service, the head waiter / maitre'd of the section would pull all the people from other tables and have them wait on the table that complained about the service. Now the complainers had fair service, but the rest of the dining room suffered. The Aqua dining room ran like a well oiled machine, really good service, and the wait staff did attempt to talk to the customers a bit. As far as the free style dining ... I can see this being useful, esp. if people are late getting ready, or the ship is in port late. You show up for dinner when you feel like it, not on a schedule. I did miss getting to know the waiter and assistant waiter. When you have the same waiter, they know what you want to drink and it is waiting at your table, along with the bread, and the table is all set up. With the free style we had to wait for a table to be set up a couple of times, and we always had to order our drinks first. The food quality was as good as we had on other mass market cruises. The portions were smaller then I remember from years ago sailing on NCL, but as I recall the portions on all the ships have been getting smaller.
The ship did make an attempt to let you know how much you were spending on things ahead of time. I am not sure if this is a sign of the times with people watching their money more closely, or if it is a policy of NCL's. It was nice to be informed that the corkage charge for bring your own wine on board was $15 before you even started the cruise. Also, I purchased a soda card, and they did want you to know just how much it would cost. The drink menus had the prices, so you new you were spending $9 for a fancy drink. They were not pushing drinks as much as they did before the free style cruises. (We last sailed on NCL in 1995... we have been on other lines since then.)
The ports on this cruise were Victoria, Astoria, and San Francisco. In Victoria we took a van taxi to Buchart Gardens, in Astoria we took different ship's tours, and in San Francisco we took a Grey Line Double Decker Bus tour from dock side. All the different options were fine, no real problems with any of them. The layout of the Star reminded me of the layout of NCL's MS Seaward / Norwegian Sea. The main difference is the size of the ship, and the Casino is hard to find on the Star. The entertainment was the Las Vegas Review type of shows.
We did clear immigration before making port in Astoria. We had to go through customs again in Los Angeles. NCL does have a walk off (if you can carry your own luggage), and we did that because we had a 12:15 flight from LAX to Salt Lake.
Would I sail on an NCL ship again - yes! However, I would hope NCL fixes the service problems in the dining room.