My wife and I took a cruise on NCL Star departing from LA on November 20, 2010 through the Panama Canal and terminating in Miami after fifteen nights. We flew to LAX on November 19. I bid $60 on Price Line for a hotel for one night and used the address of the Crown Plaza at San Pedro. For the first time I got a room for my price but it was the Westin in Long Beach which is about four miles from San Pedro. The area of Long Beach is very nice by the way and we enjoyed walking around the hotel but transportation to San Pedro was an issue I hadn't expected. The hotel staff said that a taxi was our only options but I found that a bus, Rt. 142 would drop us at the San Pedro terminal area for $1.25. When we got off the bus there was quite a walk, maybe .3 miles dragging baggage until we reached a pick up point for the terminal shuttle. Be certain when getting off the shuttle to look around for the luggage drop off point or you will find yourself in the check in queue with all your luggage to tote around on board until the cabins are ready. The cabins were available at two PM. We had a nice lunch in the Versailles dining room first.
The food on Star is noticeably better than on our most recent Mercury cruise which was a very welcome change. The passengers were of the same demographics as the Mercury ship. Our silver Latitudes Club level earned us little in the way of perks (a luncheon with free wine on one occasion). After our next NCL cruise we will move to the next level but that means nothing significant except priority tendering. The frequent cruiser programs on RCL/Celebrity are much more generous. The future cruise deposit program on NCL is a good value because a $250 minimum future deposit yields a $100 credit on ones current cruise. We debated about doing this because of limitations on use described by the future cruise consultant on Star but purchased one anyway.
We booked no excursions through the ship, preferring to negotiate them ourselves on shore on the day of arrival. As long as one uses good judgment this technique will work and will provide one with lots of flexibility.
To ourselves and some other cruisers this ship seemed crowded. There is very little space for seating in public areas and in fact very little in the way of public areas at all. I understand that a lot of that space has been changed to specialty restaurants and suites. We paralleled the Celebrity Infinity through the canal and I noticed that ship had a lot more room on the deck. On Star, passengers were elbow to elbow and if one had no more than ten inches on either side someone would muscle in. People began saving places for themselves by shoving chairs along the rail and doing the towel and paperback book routine to hold them. When I returned home I did some research and found that Infinity is the same size as Star but is listed as accommodating 1950 passengers while Star had 2400 on board. An extra four to five hundred people would explain the crowding. Another example of the problems this caused is that there is virtually nowhere to wait to get into the main dining areas. People had to sit on the stairs, not very classy but I would have done it myself if I felt the need. The elevators and the buffet areas were also too crowded at times.
The entertainment, with the exception of the Second City troupe was very good and Elements and Galumpha were wonderful. Second City is dated and during the improv segments they were struggling and uncomfortable.
Disembarkation in Miami was very slow because of unloading issues that were not explained. All guests went through customs the day earlier in Key West so I thought the process in Miami would be a breeze but we had to do it all over again on shore. There were five other ships at the terminal during this process and maybe that overloaded the stevedores, and customs staff but that is only a guess.
All the passengers we spoke with during the Key West stop would have very happy to stay there longer that the four PM departure permitted. Since Miami is only 157 miles away the travel time couldn't have been an issue but perhaps tides, currents, port fees or who knows what cause NCL to do this.
We took the Tri Rail train from the MIA terminal to West Palm Beach for only $2.50 each but then had to take a four minute $18 taxi from the train to the airport. We had hoped for a free shuttle which is provided at MIA and FLL but not here.