My husband and I have cruised eight previous times on Holland America, all full ship charter cruises with a theme of Blues Music. Very fun, but quite different from the ordinary HAL cruise.
We had been watching prices and itineraries on HAL for a Panama Canal transit when we noticed a quite good price on the Norwegian Star. My parents agreed to give it a try, and we booked two balcony cabins and air to Miami and from LAX.
We arrived in Miami a day early and stayed at the Airport Hilton. Dinner there was probably a mistake-it wasn't great-but the rooms were nice. We grabbed a cab to the cruise terminal the next morning.
Embarkation was long but not totally awful. The wait outside in the sun would have been nicer if NCL had offered a cold beverage.
Once on board we went to the cafeteria on the 12th floor for a little lunch and to check out the views. The cafeteria was crowded but the food was decent-a nice selection and most items well prepared. There are five food lines, roughly divided into two variety lines, one Italian/pizza/ethnic, one fast food type and one dessert. Cookies are fresh baked and snapped up quickly!
Our rooms were called as ready so we went to check them out. Small, after having been in HAL suites the last few cruises, and the balconies have some crud on the floor that apparently is not removable. There are also almost no electrical outlets, and the ones that are there are in bad places. We had a cord running across the floor the whole cruise-not the safest of options! Other than that the rooms were fine. My parents were very pleased with the balcony and the cleanliness of everything. Our stewards introduced themselves and filled the ice buckets.
I decided to make a dinner reservation for one of the specialty restaurants the first night. The Bistro seemed to have a nice menu. After fooling around in our rooms some more and checking out some other parts of the ship, we sat down to a nice meal. I particularly recommend the mushroom soup and the escargot. The onion soup was nothing special.
Over the two weeks of the cruise we tried most of the free and cost added dining options. We rarely had to wait in line when we did not have reservations, and we really did not have a bad meal. My husband was a little underwhelmed by the Asian fusion place, but my folks loved it. The cafeteria was often crowded but the selection continued to be varied and tasty throughout the cruise. They could use some more bar stewards in the cafeteria though.
We had never really experienced "regular" cruise ship entertainment before. The Frankie Valli tribute was cute-Mom loved it! The Band on the Run show was painful. We fled within 5 minutes. We skipped the next few mainstage shows, but enjoyed some of the music around the ship. The trio of Indonesian men performing standards were very good, as was the jazz group.
We did return to the main theatre for Second City. Another split decision-I liked it, my husband was bored.
We also enjoyed playing trivia at least for the first few days. After a while the crew seemed as bored with the trivia as we were. Apparently they ask the same questions every cruise. Good luck claiming the prizes, which are lame.
My mom and I dragged the husbands to the first dance lesson. It was fine, our men just weren't wanting to be there. They hid during the chacha lesson so we only learned the swing dance. We did not go to any karaoke nights, disco balls or other kind of thing. There were tons of things on each day's activity list-seemed like a good variety. We prefer to read and take pictures.
The purpose of the cruise for us was the ports and particularly the canal. We had all read the McCulloch book, me on the plane down, and a movie featuring him was played prior to the Canal transit.
The Canal was actually closed the day we were supposed to transit it, due to excessive rain creating unsafe water levels. We floated around in the harbor for a while before being admitted.
There are not a lot of good public spaces to view the transit from. It rained off and on most of the day, so we spent most of the transit on our balconies. I would not book an inside cabin on this Ship if you want to see a lot of the Canal.
And the problem with the balcony cabins is the smoking issue. We are nonsmokers and unfortunately ended up surrounded by smokers, including at least one guy who frequently puffed on cigars. Very annoying, and kind of astonishing that the cruise line has yet to deal with this issue. Surely there is some solution that can be tried such as putting all the smokers aft or portside or something.
The ports were all great. On sea days we kept busy. One thing I noticed is that the public areas of the ship were much more crowded than I am used to on HAL. There was no dedicated card room or game room. Instead, space was made in restaurants that did not serve this lunch. On one day the card players got kicked out of a restaurant that was having a lunch that day. This lack of space for cards and board games also caused more congestion in the already overcrowded cafeteria as folks grabbed tables there to play their games.
The promenade deck was also packed most of the time, even on the one chill day we had. NCL should work on this, 13 days is too long to spend on a ship that feels cramped.
Our cruise was made easier by the seas. With one overnight exception, the seas were calm and some days even glassy in appearance. We were worried about Mom getting seasick, so this was a huge relief! Our cruise critic roll call person arranged a very nice meet and greet the first full day, and also a dinner the next to last night. At the dinner she managed to produce crew members who dined with us. We learned that the calm seas were attributable to our guest, Per, pf the engineering department. Yeah Per!
Our cruise was over almost too soon. Disembarkation was horrible. I will avoid the Port of Los Angeles in the future. The customs agents see the passengers on board, and the line for this is long, poorly supervised and unruly. I really thought fights were going to break out.
We finally got off the ship, only to find that cabs are rare and involve another line. The cab captains were idiots-no other way to describe them. I hated to end the cruise on such a low note, waiting in the rain for an hour for a cab. We chose the BAGS program so at least didn't have to hassle with out luggage. And our bags showed up at our home airport as advertised.
The Star overall seemed less luxe and more cramped than the HAL ships we have sailed on. Crew were great, the ship was always clean and tidy. Our rooms were adequate, with the balconies saving the day! For the price we felt we got a very good deal and had a fun experience with my parents we will always remember!
I was particularly happy that I was able to buy some shirts with mola. This is decorative embroidery hand sewn by the Kuna Indians of Panama that I collect. I also got a very nice hand painted chess set for my nephew. The pieces were Indians and Conquistadors, with the Indian knights appearing as llamas.
We would like to go back to this port and try a restaurant or two, and visit the marketplace again.
The review of ports feature is not letting me add additional ports, so I am going to continue here.
Our second port was Puntarenas, Costa Rica. I love Costa Rica! We elected to do the rain forest tram, booked through the ship. It was a really nice excursion. We saw a macaw, many crocodiles, and lots of interesting vegetation. Our guides were knowledgeable and the bus ride to the tram place was actually not totally scary. We went directly back to the ship and did not check out any shopping or other in Puntarenas.
Port # 3 was Huatulco, easily the most beautiful. It is still pretty unspoiled. We chose an excursion to a crocodile sanctuary, booked through the ship. We liked this fine, but it was misdescribed in the ship materials. It is definitely a fairly high activity level trip. One lady was already complaining just on the walk to the bus. Be prepared for a walk on a sandy beach, climbing in and out of elderly rowboats in croc infested waters-fun!- and a "lunch" consisting of a skimpy cheese quesadilla and choice of water or soda. Long bus ride back, some interesting shops on pier. We definitely want to return to Huatulco.
Port #4 was Acapulco. We grabbed a cab and got the driver to give us a private tour. He was great. In addition to the view hotel stop, we also saw a mosaic mural on a private home that had been created by Diego Rivera. We saw the John Wayne hotel and Johnny Weismuller's bungalow.
We then went to the other side of Acapulco and visited the church whose cross is visible from the harbor. It was very private and very beautiful-architecture in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a great tour and since we fixed it up ourselves, much cheaper then going through the ship.
The shopping area on the pier actually has a few items of interest, worth spending some time. Lots of t shirts etc also.
Port #5 was Cabo. We did whale watching in a zodiac booked thru the ship. Yes we saw whales! Big Humpbacks with giant tales! My husband got some great pics. The Zodiac is a wild ride and we were still shaking when we came back to the pier.