We were excited in anticipation of our first cruise with Norwegian since we have cruised mostly with Royal Caribbean and Carnival, but found out quite quickly (the first night) that our expectations may not be met on this ship. I first must say that embarkation was very smooth and without incident. We received many friendly greetings from the crew as we boarded. Like most cruisers, we found our cabin and then went up to the Market Cafe (buffet restaurant) for lunch. The layout of the buffet was typical, and similar to Carnival, with two major food lines, one on each side of the ship. In comparison to RCI ships, the layout was inferior because on RCI ships, they have "islands" of service areas which feature the different types of food offered including a "salad island", a "hot-food island", a "desert island" etc. This makes for a much better flow of guests and eliminates waiting in the long line to go through the line. I must admit that even though we boarded very early and before many of the other guests had boarded, the restaurant was already very crowded. Our first impression of the food was that it was mediocre. We are not big fans of the buffet restaurant food on cruise ships anyway, and the "Star" was not any better than others we had experiences.
The first night there was only one show, an introductory show that introduced the production company and the Cruise Director (Ray Carr). This show was disappointing on many levels. First, the theater only holds 1100 guests and with 2500 on board, it was standing room only. Even though we arrived 15 minutes before the start of the show, we had to stand. Ray Carr hosted and the presentation was ok. Ray talked about the guest satisfaction and offered his ship phone number (8850) and invited us to call him if we needed his help with anything. The production company put on a quick show and that was just ok as well.
The second night was our first "formal-or-not" night, so we made our plans to go to dinner at 7 pm and attend the second show which began at 9:15 pm. So we headed for the Versailles Dining Room at 7 and ended up waiting for about 15 minutes to be seated. Since this was our first experience with 'freestyle dining', we had to wait in line both the first and second nights and that was a definite turn-off for us. We are used to having a certain seating time and schedule with RCI and we never had to wait in a line. Service was very, very slow and we got more nervous as the evening wore on because we were worried about not making it to the show on time. The minute we received each course, we ate quickly, hoping that they would hurry with the next course, but that didn't matter, it just continued to be slow through the entire meal. When they finally brought our desert at 9:05, we inhaled that within a couple minutes and rushed to the other end of the ship to the theater to try to make the show in time. Well, guess what, when we arrived the theater was already dark and the show had begun. We tried to look for any available seats but there weren't any. In fact, people were sitting and standing in the aisles. We were very disappointed and, after standing in the aisle for a few minutes she went back to the cabin, unable to stand any longer. I remained for the rest of the show. My impression of the show was again, just ok. It was a production company show with colorful costumes and an Asian/Japanese/Chinese theme. It was all dancing and no singing and although the dancing was fairly good, it was not a typical Las Vegas Style production show with the singing and dancing you usually find. When I returned to the cabin, my informed me that she had called the Cruiser Director, Ray, to complain about the bad experience with dinner and then not arriving in time to get a seat for the show. I was astounded to hear that he was rude and abrupt with my wife. She explained what happened to him and all she got in return were excuses. He told her that there were seats available in the theater and she should go back and look again. Even though she insisted that no seats were available, he insisted that there were. His excuse for the slow dinner service was that on a formal night service would be slower and that we should expect it to happen again with the next formal night. He also told her that the specialty restaurants had no waiting and perhaps we should have chosen to go to one of them instead. Well, this just angered my wife all the more since we do not usually dine at the specialty restaurants because of th extra cover charge. His entire attitude made my wife feel that it was her fault that she had missed the show, he did not apologize and was not at all sympathetic to our concerns in the least. She was very disgusted and told him as much, but to no avail. The conversation ended badly and that experience would be another of several that made us very unhappy with this ship and its' staff.
After that bad experience with dining and the show, we decided to attend the 7 pm show so that we could arrive early enough to find a good seat and then eat after the show. That worked out much better, although we still ended up waiting in line several times because of the freestyle dining. At this time I would like to comment on the freestyle dining. We did not like it and prefer a more structured early or late seating schedule. We enjoy getting to know our waiter, he learns our wants and needs and can give us much better service. With freestyle, none of this interaction with the waiter occurs, making the experience much less desirable and fun.
Our next bad experience occurred when we returned from an excursion to the port of Cartegena, Columbia, South America. We arrived late in port -- 10 am -- so the excursions got started late. Our excursion lasted 4 hours and most of the others lasted that long or longer, and none of the excursions had a lunch included with them. This meant that everyone would be hungry when they returned to the ship and between 3 pm and 5 pm, the ONLY available dining were called "afternoon snacks" which were being served in the Market Cafe. Now although this buffet restaurant has two extensive lines to serve food, the only part open was part of one line with what they called "snacks". When we arrived at the restaurant, there was a line of about 200 people waiting to go through the line, so we waited about 20 minutes just to get up to the serving line where there was supposed to be food. Well, guess what, all the food was just about gone, and worse yet, no one was replenishing it. When we got to where the pizza was supposed to be, that was empty also, so we asked the server if he could get more pizza. He said, "just a moment. We waited several minutes and he returned with six small pieces of pizza. The lady ahead of us took four pieces and we got the final two. By this time, I was outraged. I asked to speak to management and waited. When an officer finally appeared, I expressed my concern and he seemed to have an 'I don't care" attitude. Others were also complaining to him and he finally just walked away from us. A few minutes later, I spotted him again on the other side of the buffet line which was not open. He appeared to be fidgeting with the soft-serve ice cream machine which was not even available for use. I again expressed my dissatisfaction with the entire situation in the restaurant, where there was still a long line of guests and no food available. I told him that I intended to phone the home office and write a letter when I returned and his response was, "go ahead".
After that discussion, we went down to the Customer Service desk and registered a formal complaint. A Maitre d' was summoned and spoke with us. He was extremely nice and helpful. He apologized several times for the entire situation and the rude officer that I had spoken with at the buffet restaurant, and after speaking with him for several minutes, he said that he wanted to try to compensate for the bad experience. He graciously offered dinner in one of the specialty restaurants and a bottle of wine of our choice. I was very pleased with his generous offer and accepted. We chose the French
restaurant La Bistro. The experience was absolutely wonderful, service was superb, food outstanding and ended up being the absolute best part of the entire cruise.
Now for a few comments about the entertainment. Most of the entertainment was good or very good. The best was on the last evening. He was a piano virtuoso and singer that was simply outstanding. His name was Juan Pablo. He was from Cuba but had recent become an American citizen. He had the house standing and cheering at the end of his performance. I cannot say enough wonderful things about him. Another excellent show was a group of 4 young men that sang Franky Vallie and the Four Seasons songs. They were excellent and very talented in their own right. Most of the other shows were good. The entertainment team called "Extreme Vegas" was excellent. They did high-wire stunts as well as balancing and other dangerous stunts. All-in-all, I have to rate the entertainment a 4+. We were somewhat disappointed with the production company of the ship. I believe they were called "The Jean Ryan Company". On a 13 night cruise, they only performed twice. The second show was called "Band on the Run" and was singing and dancing featuring music from the 70's. Although their dancing was pretty good, the vocalists, particularly the male vocalists were average or below average. Of the two male singers, the lead singer was not good at all, had trouble carrying a tune, and sang flat most of the time. The other guy was better, but still not really exceptional. The female vocalists were better and did quite well but overall, the performance came off as just average. We also had a hypnotist named Dr. Scott Lewis who was very good and a ventriloquist who was ok. Another night we had a beautiful lady that was a flutist and she was excellent. One of the two comedians that performed in the Spinnaker Lounge was Buz Sutherland. He was hilarious and very enjoyable. In conclusion, the entertainment was about the best part of the entire cruise. One problem we had with the theater was the broken seats. Several of the seats in the auditorium were broken. Some had homemade signs taped to them and you just had to avoid the others because many of them were on the aisle which are usually very popular.
A few words about the food and dining experience. As I stated earlier, the buffet food was not very good, but then we are not buffet-food people. We enjoy the fine dining restaurants and only ate in the buffet restaurant one time. In fact, we ate at the pool grill several times. They served a pretty good burger. The dining room menus were VERY, VERY limited. For lunch they usually listed 4 entrees, one was vegetarian two of the other three were terrible and one may have been edible. For dinner they had a standard list which repeated each night which included a sirloin steak, a chicken dish and a couple others that did not appeal to us at all. The best of the changing entrees included prime rib, lobster, beef wellington and a couple other cuts of beef that were quite tasty. Many of the other choices were just fair and were not special in the least. The cold, fruit soup appetizers were very good as well as the fruit appetizers. The shrimp cocktail was a repeat item on every menu and was terrible. They were not jumbo or even medium shrimp but, instead were a clump of baby shrimp sitting in some red cocktail sauce that was not anything special. It just came across as CHEAP. As far as the service goes, we had a range of good to very good service. But as I stated earlier, we prefer having the same waiter for the entire cruise and with the "freestyle" dining, it is not possible. We were told that we could request the same waiter if we liked, but it just did not seem practical.
During the entire cruise we could not help but compare the ship, the entertainment, the service, the food and the overall experience to our Royal Caribbean experiences. Although RCI usually was equal or superior, the bright spots of the cruise, including the Maitre d' who was so kind and helpful and the entertainment, helped make up for the bad experiences.
In conclusion, the entire cruise generally did not meet our expectations and has definitely led us to our decision to never cruise on Norwegian again.