We cruised with Royal Caribbean and Carnival before and found that Royal Caribbean offers better service and food than Carnival. After reading Norwegian Star reviews posted before November, we expected this cruise to be the worse cruise we ever joined, even worser than Carnival...but we were surprised! NCL apparently did improvemnets in management, food, and entertainments recently.
Embarkation: we arrived at 10:30am, waited 2.5 hours before boarding, boring, but we were given the first day "freestyle daily" schedule to plan for the first day fun while waiting. Once boarded, we started our trip with a nice and quiet lunch at Versailles instead of going to the crowded buffet.
Ship: the ship is older but it offers the traditional grand attrium with glass elevators that newer ships don't have. Versailles dining room was the restaurant we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost everyday. We love its ambiance and high ceilings versus Aqua dining room. Even Versailles is located at the aft, we didn't feel the motor's vibration like Carnival Splendor at all. My husband and sons found a men's room with oceanview above the potties on the buffet deck.
Stateroom: the stateroom we had seems being updated, the decor is modern and chic, wall unit and drawers with dividers offer ample space for all of our clothes and luggages. It has the best bathroom layout as compared to the previous cruises. The bathroom seems being updated, too, everthing in there looks newer, with glass doors separating sink, shower, and toilet. Switch the door hanger to "Turn down cabin" before heading for dinner to ensure a towel animal waiting in the room when you come back.
Meals: There are several complimentary restaurants and a dozen fee-based specialty restaurants. We did not spend extra money in the specialty restaurants since the meals offered in the dining room were good to us, and we tried to stay within our vacation budget, too. The following list is the complimentary restaurants:
Versailles dining room: opens breakfast, lunch, and dinner, nice decor
Aqua dining room: opens dinner only, midship, fast turnaround
Market Cafe: buffet with cafe style quality food, non-hotel standard
Grill: off of the buffet outdoor, similar food as in the buffet
Blue Lagoon: 24-hour fast food style, food was just OK, not many selections
Ice cream bar: off of the kid's pool, grab a cone or two daily noon - 5:00pm
Food in the dining room was hot served and great tasting, services were great, but need to go early to avoid long lines. One downside is the lunch menu in the dining room, it never changed, as compared to the two other cruise lines we sailed before, their lunch menus have something new and exciting everyday. There were two late-night buffets: "Mexican Fiesta Deck Party" and "Chocoholic Buffet" with ice sculptures, not as grand as Royal Caribbean, but better than Carnival. There were a couple of barbeque lunches but only bbq pork chops were served, not like Royal Caribbean with bbq babyback ribs, bbq pineapple, etc.
Entertainment: night time shows were the best we have ever seen. NCL hires performers from Las Vegas, there are different shows everynight so you don't see repeated faces all the time. The entertainment starts on the very first night with a 70's musical, not just a typical introduction welcome social the other cruise lines offer. There were even afternoon mini-shows with card tricks, folk dance, and especially the crew talent show with "fountain", it was hillarious. Like always, be there at least 1/2 hour earlier to get to the front rows. The last night time show, Elements, was a must see, it combined all the performers to perform in one show, we were there 1/2 hour earlier but could only find a standing space on the balcony.
I must say that the cruise director, Sinan, leads the ship with lots of fun. Since it was a Christmas cruise, there was a Christmas carol sung by the crew lining up along the stairs and balcony at the grand attrium on Christmas eve, we were there early to get some good seats because there were only a few cafe tables available at the attrium. The following list is the night time shows:
1) Band on the Run, 70's Disco musical
2) Duo Acobatique, Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics
3) Extreme Vegas, magic and stunts
4) Comedy Hypnotist, audience participation
5) The Second City, various comedies
6) "Shout! The Mod Musical", just OK
7) Elements, must see, grand show with lots of stage special effects
Ports: we did most of our beach activities at Stone Island in Mazatlan: riding horses on the beach, kayaking, banana boating, etc. We rode a boat trip to Land's End at Cabo, the sea was very rough with big waves, better wear lift jackets.