We departed out of Atlanta at 8:15a, and arrived early into LAX at 9:45a. We caught a cab....and cab prices ARE NOT what NCL says they will be. Cab ride ONE way to pier was $60 (NCL states "about $30"). Cab companies do not charge extra for extra passengers, it's the same rate for one person, or four people in the cab. Arrived at the pier around 10:20a, and there were still a lot of people from the previous cruise milling around. I found a porter, he took our bags immediately, and then the hunt began as to where the line was, where we were to stand to check in, etc. I got different stories from each person I talked to. We finally figured out we were to stand in line to the right of the pier, where the white covered area was. One NCL rep was standing there, having to yell loudly to explain to people about forms needed to be completed prior to standing in line, etc. Many people standing in line had NO clue that they were to check their luggage with a porter. As we entered into the building, we were given a white piece of paper with a number on it (luckily, as were were in a "Penthouse" suite, we were given #1). This piece of paper was about 2 inches square, with a blue number. We were then ushered into a large waiting room.
Once all the agents were ready to go, it didn't seem to matter what number you had, it was mass migration to stand in line. One line was for Latitudes members. We showed our #1 card to an agent, and we were ushered into our own private line ... which was nice. Took about five minutes max, and we were told to proceed to the ship. We then wandered around, trying to see where to go (signage wasn't that visible) and our picture was taken on the way (darn, we usually get the pictures on the gangway!), and we were the 3rd/4th person to board the ship. Right on the gangway was a place to sanitize your hands (great idea, compared to last year getting those little throw away packets the entire cruise).
We were at our cabin at 11:50a. Our cabin was NOT what we had been told we had. We were told we had a separate bedroom, and eating area. Well, the only way to have a "separate" area was to pull the curtain (even the web page description states separate rooms). There was plenty of storage space, we had a huge balcony (at the front of the ship). We had no clue where the DVD player was (our room steward finally helped me figure that out about four days into the cruise!), never saw the CD player (maybe it was the same thing, but there was no listing of CD's you could borrow). The bathroom was a good size, toilet area can be closed off with a sliding glass door. Vanity area was nice (but our lights were burnt out, they were fixed in Acapulco). The room had a velvet love seat and chair, and a nice square table and four chairs. A bottle of champagne was in the room, plus a lovely flower arrangement. There was a nice area where the fridge was, and a coffee maker, and lots of extra glassware. Two nice deck chairs were on the balcony, plus a small table (and we used those for our tanning time, versus the pool area). We met our Cabin Steward and Stewardess, and they were very friendly, nice people.
We hit the Market Cafe for a quick hamburger, and we wandered around the ship to get a good feel for it (it's much different than the Sun and Sky that we've been on previously). We were then back in our cabin, watching preparations for departure. Lifeboat drill was at 3:45p, we had to go to the Stardust Lounge for our area. All our shore excursion tickets were waiting in our cabin, but they cancelled our shore excursion in Puerto Vallarta (Pirate Ship) and I was very disappointed were weren't advised of this before we cruised (I booked everything about eight weeks out via the internet). The lines for Shore Excursions are always very long, and so we decided we'd do our own thing in Puerto Vallarta.
After the drill, we watched our departure from the pier, and then they had the BBQ at the pool. The pool area is a bit overwhelming, it has a slide, and a pool (lap, I think), but you can't see across the pool area at all (from starboard to port), due to equipment blocking your view. The BBQ was okay, nothing to rave about, the food filled you up (Market Cafe was also open). Most of the food was cold, but you can't expect with 60 degree weather that the food will be piping hot outside. I signed up for the soda club, $31.50 for unlimited soda's (as I can only drink so much water and milk!). I then made our dinner reservations for Gatsby's for Sunday evening on Deck 7 in the Atrium.
Our first 2.5 days at sea were cold, and the water was choppy (the program on the TV stated we were in "rough" seas, 7.5-12 foot waves). To be honest, my husband is an excellent seaman, and I get seasick just watching a TV show, but I had my prescription patch, and I was just fine. The swells didn't bother me at all. I will tell you, go to Fiona's port briefings. She just doesn't talk about places to shop, she gives you taxi information, walking information, and I'm so glad I went. We saw a lot of people who didn't go, and who made some costly mistakes because of that. Fiona talked on day two about Acapulco and Zihuatanejo, and on day three she discussed Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.
Dinner at Gatsby's Sunday evening....in our personal opinion (other's have stated different) it wasn't worth the extra $20. My husband said the meal we got there was what NCL used to serve in it's main restaurants. His steak was very overcooked. It just wasn't a great meal for the extra cost. We did go to the Music of the Night (Andrew Lloyd Webber) show at the Stardust, the Jean Ann Ryan Company performers were very good! Monday night (still at sea) we went to see the Comdy Show in the Spinnaker Lounge, featuring Bill Keller. The lounge was packed, and he was good (some of his material didn't connect with the younger crowd).
Had a gorgeous arrival into Acapulco on Tuesday. Nice to dock at a pier. We did the ACA-101 tour (Acapulco City Tour with Cliff Divers). Our guides (Alejandro and Raquel) were great, the divers were awesome. But, one clue...you are bombarded when you get off the bus by people selling stuff at the hotel where the cliff divers are, it's unreal! My husband just walked outside their formed line and we avoided all of them. You are given a soda/drink at the hotel, and chips/salsa and a good seat to view the divers. The divers do wait for you when you leave, as they ask for tips (which we gave them, I sure can't do those jumps!). The bus did stop at a few places for us to take pictures during the tour, so that was nice. It also made a half hour stop in town for shopping (I didn't buy a single thing, I really didn't see any bargains, or things I couldn't live without).
We watched a lady buy a "silver" necklace from a man on the street for $10, and after we told her it probably wasn't silver, she wasn't happy (she would have been prepared if she went to Fiona's talks!). The shopping at the pier was all I needed for the quick souvenirs). We did have ice cream at Dolphy, it was great, considering it was very warm and humid outside (while everyone shopped). I did collect my rainbow topaz gem at the B&B Jewelry Store (no time to have it set). I had made dinner reservations for La Trattoria, and the food was nothing exciting. We watched people's meals sit with their covers for 20 minutes at a serving station before they were served! I can make the same meal at home, and it is served hot. The service was nothing extraordinary. Never saw the fort show from the ship. The ship left the dock at 2:15a.
Then, onto Zihuatanejo. Our concierge (Al) provided us with tender tickets, where we could go at any time, and let me tell you, NOT ONE PERSON looked at our tender tickets! We had no problem exiting the ship. I had been looking forward to our ZIH-122 tour (Zipline Tour). If they could do it on "The Amazing Race', then we could too! Didn't see much of the town, so I can't comment, as we had a 40 minute drive via bus (airconditioned, thank heavens) to Troncones. This tour is not for people who are NOT in shape (and, I didn't think I was in perfect shape, but after this tour, I'm in horrid shape!). You start off being split (we were 23 people) into two groups, those in "good shape" and those "not". Well, those that volunteer to be in good shape, they get to hike up the 800 foot hill with the zipline gear in backpacks (plus bottled water). After about 10 minutes of walking uphill, I was done.
The tour guide was great, he offered to take my backpack for me, and he trudged on ahead (or, as he called it, he "tootled along"). I still was huffing and puffing, but I wasn't last to the platform (yay for me!). My husband hiked up without a problem! The guides explain all the safety features to you, and then we were ready to zip! Let me tell you, what an awesome experience. Jaguar Tours tells you "You will sweat, you will get dirty, you will never forget it". They are so right. You zip from tree-top platforms. The hardest part was at the first platform, to just let yourself get off the platform and zip! After that first platform, I was hooked, and wished would could have done more. Most of us did a yell (some did the Tarzan yell). At the second platform, you can see the beach where they filmed the finale of "The Shawshank Redemption". It's just gorgeous! After you are done zipping, you have to hike back up to the top, where the cave is. My husband and I declined hiking down into the cave, we had enough of tootling, we sat and collected our strength, and we hiked back down to the starting point. We watched the second group do the zipping from ground level. We were given soda and chips back where the vans were. Be sure to take some mosquito spray, those bugs are horrid!
Puerto Vallarta is a very pretty town. Tendering was very easy, no problems (except for the masses of scooter and wheelchair loading, and these ports are not handicapped friendly at all!). You have to take a taxi from exiting the terminal (unless you want to hike for three miles in very warm/humid weather). The taxi's are $3 per person (you don't have to barter, just confirm the cost before you get into a taxi). No matter how many people a taxi takes, it's $3 per person (we took a van with four other people). You are dropped off at Pacific Jewelry store. There are loads of shops, and I highly recommend Paradise Burger for lunch (NCL also recommends). The food was excellent (my husband loved the fish tacos, I had a HUGE chicken burrito), and the service was great. We sat right on the balcony, and watched the people walk by, and all the people parasailing, and we were able to see the ship as well. When we were done shopping we caught a taxi back to the pier, and it was $5 for three of us (we invited another lady to join us). The taxi driver started to quote us another rate, and all we had to say was "we were advised on the ship it's $5 for the whole cab back to the pier" and he was fine with that rate (use the taxi's with yellow doors ONLY for this rate). We went to the Magical Show at the Stardust Theater, featuring Shawn Farquhar. He is EXCELLENT, don't miss his show!
We had dinner at Le Bistro. The word "EXCELLENT" just doesn't do this restaurant justice! Our server "Shetty" was excellent. The food was excellent. We've eaten at Le Bistro on the NCL Sun and Sky, and we were waiting for this dining experience on the Star, and it lived up to our expectations. My husband ordered the "Surf and Turf" for an extra $5, and he enjoyed his meal. I just had the Filet, and it was cooked perfectly. And, their desserts are excellent.
In Cabo San Lucas, we had no problems with the tender, we were off the ship by 8:30a, and wandering around the pier area (it's under construction). It's just a 15-minute walk into town. We caught most shops just setting up and opening. I did zip into Diamonds International to get my free charm for the bracelet I got in Puerto Vallarta. The streets are all cobblestone, and they have police that direct traffic. We went back to the ship for lunch, and then we tendered again for our CSL-105 (Deluxe Coastal Cruise), which left the dock at 1:30p.
It's a large ship, and they take you right out to the arch, for plenty of picture taking (and you'll cruise right by the Star, so be sure to get some great pictures of the Star!). There was also the Carnival Pride tendered next to us. So, we turned north to go view more coastline, and I looked over the edge, on the port side of this ship, and lo and behold, WHALES, cruising right along the edge of the ship, and then the captain spotted them! Yes, we were visited by three humpbacks, so our coastal cruise turned into a whale watching cruise (these whales are VERY early, they usually don't appear until December). We ended up having a floatilla go with us of sailboats and other ships. We followed them for a long time, they were heading south. Many people ran out of film as the cameras were clicking (I did have extra film, thank heavens). We didn't return to port until 3:45p, and the last tender was to have left at 3:30p, but there was a huge line for tenders (and as long as you take an NCL excursion, they will hold tenders for you if you're running late). I'm glad I had on my seasick patch, because on this boat you will feel the waves, as the ship does roll from side to side. This excursion provides drinks (liquor and soda) and also chips/salsa. As we left the port on the Star, you could see marlins jumping in the water!
Friday night we did hit rough seas, but the TV information kept stating "moderate" waves, and these waves were much more than what we had the entire trip so far (so I don't think that information was totally accurate).
Saturday it was chilly, no sunbathing for sure! We were sitting by the pool eating our b-fast, and my husband noticed we had slowed down a lot, and I felt us turning. I looked in front of us, and there was a sailboat, and then I noticed the Carnival ship was heading back our direction. We went back to our cabin, so we could see more clearly from our balcony. We were advised that this sailboat had one person on board, and he asked for our assistance (people in the cabin next to us told us they saw a flare go off prior to us stopping). The man in the sailboat was all by himself, and had run out of food, water, and fuel, and had been drifing for three days before we helped him. The Star sent a tender out to him, with the ship's doctor, and after a few hours, we were on our way again, and the man in the sailboat was very happy to have had the help. Kieron (our cruise director) told us at the debarkation meeting that we even called his wife to let her know he was okay (he was heading to San Diego). It's nice to know that people do help out others!
Saturday afternoon we hit some VERY heavy seas and overcast skies (TV monitor still said "moderate"), and my seasick patch kicked in full-speed. We ended up with 40 knot winds during the evening/overnight. We could hear the wind, and I sure felt the ship dip into every wave.
Sunday we arrived at the pier, it was 49 degrees, very chilly! There had also been some rain overnight, and the skies were overcast. Debarkation process is not well-organized. At the meeting on Saturday (hosted by Kieron), we were told about 6:30a the process would start Sunday morning. We didn't dock until around 6:20a, and the line that formed from the Spinnaker Lounge went down the hallway, out to the pool, around the pool. Then, a tour rep was trying to find people that were on the Los Angeles tour, and he was bombarded by people asking questions, because NO announcements were being made (we saw him personally ask a NCL rep for helpers to answer questions so he could do his job, and the woman told him to just stand by her, so he wouldn't have to hear them, I thought that was rather rude!).
They finally decided to form a line with people who signed up the day before for "Express Departure" (those that didn't leave luggage outside their cabin the night before, that would carry their own luggage off ship, and had a sticker on their key card), and everyone else (because if you had Express, you were to be there early, but it seemed the entire ship turned out!). People were standing in line with their luggage (which was to have been left in the room!). Once you entered the lounge, you showed your custom's card, and your ID, and after they stamped the custom's card, you then proceeded to leave the lounge, and collect a "receipt" so that you could exit the ship. We then went back to our room, and collected our luggage. Now, we had NO clue where we were to exit the ship, so we hauled our luggage around, and we finally were told we were to exit off deck 5. We were off the ship, turned in our receipt, our custom's card, and in a cab by 8:15a. We were at LAX by 8:45p.
To sum up this lengthy novel, the cruise staff is excellent (I think we had Kieron as our Cruise Director on our Alaska Cruise in 2001). We never ate at the main restaurants on the ship (we've learned from previous sailings that the service is just VERY slow). The Market Cafe, it's okay, b-fast was the same boring food every day, no variety (I stuck to cereal, my husband stuck with an omelette). On Oriental Evening at the Market Cafe, no steamed white rice to be found, just fried rice. On day four of the cruise, they ran out of ketchup packets, so they just set out bottles of ketchup (yuck). We heard many passengers commenting on their unhappiness with this cruise, how NCL was less than they expected, etc. Each cruise is what you personally make of it.
We didn't participate in any exercise activity, or on-board ship activity (satin rose making, beaded bandanas, card playing, etc.). The Assistant Cruise Director Clint is from SIU, where I went to school, and he has loads of energy! All the staff were pleasant and friendly, everyone said hello, everyone was helpful. The Tax & Duty Free Shops were very nice (we didn't purchase anything, but they were very neat). The Blue Lagoon Cafe....excellent fish/chips (steer clear of the Shepherd Pie). We never were in any of the pubs/lounges in the evening, so I can't provide comment. I will say I could hear the sounds from the Stardust Theater in our room every night, as that was two decks below our room (never heard the neighbors, would just hear a door slam now and again). Didn't go to the Chocolate Buffet, but on previous cruises it's been excellent. In our cabin, we had silver trays for holding the shampoo bottles, and they were rather tarnished. The cinema was nice (we caught a movie in there), and the movies on the TV's in the room were nice to have (except they didn't stick to the TV timetable). This cruise just seemed to have a lot of "older" folks on it (I was amazed at all the scooters and walkers and wheelchairs). I did see young children, and with school being in session, was surprised to see them on board. Lots of people with brand new babies, strollers all over. The way to sanitize was a great idea, made it much faster. Request a copy of your bill before you arrive in port, ours wasn't correct, and a few others were incorrect as well. Get it taken care of before you dock, and are delayed.
It was hard to leave the ship, and return to the working world. I think with more sailings into these ports, NCL will get into routine that works (as they've only been sailing to Mexico now for about two months). Cruising is definitely the way to take a VC.....and see places you've never seen before.