We were second-time NCL cruisers when we boarded the NCL Star on Saturday, November 20th. We had been overwhelmingly impressed with our first NCL cruise in September aboard the NCL Dawn and so were eagerly anticipating a repeat-performance.
While cruising on the Dawn in September, we were delighted with the caliber of entertainment. There were nights when we were torn between going to the main showroom or getting seats in one of the lounges for the "other" entertainment. They had individual performers in some of the lounges who were so good, we could have listened to them every day. The main showroom acts were collectively wonderful and individually talented. The cruise director was personable and highly entertaining and the team he headed seemed to genuinely enjoy each other. They performed their shipboard duties with humor and professionalism. The cruise director took a personal interest in some needs my husband expressed to him (i.e., a meeting for Veterans and a "service club makeup meeting").
That was the basis for our expectations on the Star and it didn't take long to see that it was not going to live up to those standards. The entertainment in the lounges was about a step above a local karaoke club and the main showroom entertainment had only a couple of highlights (the Frankie Vallie Tribute and Elements). The cruise director and his staff didn't seem to have the camaraderie that makes a cruise enjoyable (if the staff isn't enjoying themselves or hasn't got a rapport, it is passed along to the guests).
I can't begin to describe my disappointment in their bingo. They called it "classic"...I found out that meant they had scrapped their machines that connect to the main bingo ball machine and display your "best" card at all times with the 1970-era particle boards with "shutters" to cover the numbers. The balls were replaced with a computer-generated program that popped up a number. The callers felt they had to fill every second of silence between balls with a joke or personal anecdote that they (and not many others) found amusing and then giggled...do you get the picture? And for this experience, they charged anywhere from $25 to $89 (if they played 4 games) and $15 to $59 (if they played only 2 games). The large bonus bingo amounts of up to $10,000 had to be won on a 47 number coverall (which almost NEVER happens...the fewest number I've ever seen is 48). They paid out less than 20% of what was collected by my calculation (which was underestimated based on counting the # of players and estimating the lowest pay-in by each player). Needless-to-say I was less than happy and after writing my complaint to the hotel captain, I stayed away until the last day. They had to cancel bingo for lack of interest several times. One of the crew members even told a joke about Delta airlines that was very derogatory...Delta is a "travel partner" (as well as my former employer) and I really took exception to it. I went up to her the next day and said, "How would you feel if you got on a Delta flight and the flight attendant said 'did you know that NC in NCL stands for No Class?' She apologized, but it was just an example of a lack of engaging their brain before opening their mouths. There seemed to be a shift when the assistant cruise director left the ship and a new assistant boarded before the end of the cruise. Perhaps it got better on their return through the Canal.
As for the "Best of Times" referred to: the staff in the casino was beyond compare. They were attentive, professional...especially Hanna. Made the trip a joy. I only wish they'd take a lesson from Royal Caribbean and have a few "NON SMOKING NIGHTS"! I'd love to know why someone's "right to smoke" trumps my "right to breathe"?
Freestyle dining was wonderful. However, a couple of nights our choice of sharing a table was a disaster. Have you ever sat for two hours listening to two people discuss the pitfalls of motorhomes and every mechanical difficulty of their vacations for the past 10 years? Only thing that made it tolerable was knowing that it wasn't assigned seating and we wouldn't be sitting with them every night for 15 nights!!
The food in the specialty restaurant fell way short of the same experience on Holland American. Food in the Versailles was okay on most nights, but fell short of the menus on the New England NCL cruise.
We paid the down payment for a future cruise in September so we will be doing another NCL cruise, but I will do my homework before we book again. If given a choice, we probably will not choose the Star for our next NCL cruise.