This was our third cruise in three years (all with NCL), so we are not nearly as experienced as many others. However, some conclusions we have reached based on our overall experience with NCL are: (1) NCL is in the budget cruise market, and you get what you pay for. NCL cruises, in our opinion, are an excellent value, which is why we keep coming back. (2) Unless you to shell out the cash for a luxury cruise, you will probably find that the food, overall, is plentiful and looks pretty but tastes “fair to good,” rather than “very good to excellent.” (3) Service is, overall, very good. Sometimes it is a bit slow in restaurants and sometimes there is a slight language barrier, but overall, staff aim to please. (4) The entertainment is fun but amateur. If the stage show performers were experienced enough to be on Broadway, that’s probably where they would choose to be. Performers have to begin their careers somewhere, and cruise ships provide a good venue.
Our experience on the Star was similar to previous experiences on the Dawn and the Sky. I happen to love Indian food and was pleasantly surprised to find it on the buffet in the Market Café every day. However, we were disappointed that the fare seemed to be pretty much the same day after day—with only minor variations. And some of it was consistently bad. Hamburger buns were stale and dry, the burgers were tasteless, and much of the food was cold. (Cold French fries are not good.) We found food quality in the Versailles main dining room was much better—especially breakfast. One thing we discovered on this cruise is that it’s smart to buy wine by the bottle instead of the glass. If you don’t finish the whole bottle, the bar staff will keep it for you and you can return for more the next day. I am just a “one glass per day” wine drinker and spent $28 on a bottle that lasted almost all week.
Every experience we had interacting with staff on this ship was delightful—from the room stewards to the servers in the restaurant to the bar staff and all the way up the chain of command. We really enjoyed the meet and greet event with the Cruise Critic group and were pleasantly surprised when the Captain and his officers made a visit. They were very friendly and hospitable, and we were thrilled to be invited to tour the bridge later in the week. This tour was one of the real highlights of our week. I also found the personality and communication style of our Cruise Director very pleasant. Some might say she lacked personality, but I found her very professional and much less annoying than other cruise directors we have experienced who tried a little too hard with the cheesy wit.
We enjoyed the entertainment on this cruise. The Cirque du Soleil-type performance (I cannot recall the name) was quite impressive. The hypnotist was enjoyable. “Shout” was a bit disappointing, not because the performers lacked talent but because the musical numbers and choreography were rather ordinary and became a bit redundant. I was sorry to see so many people leaving. It’s just an hour of your life, and the performers work very hard. We also enjoyed listening to both pianists in Gatsby’s just about every night. My husband had fun playing cash game poker (not tournaments) but was alarmed that the house took a 10% rake from each hand, which was the highest he has ever seen. Casinos usually take 5% (with a $5 cap).
We enjoyed all three ports very much—Cabo, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Cabo is beautiful, and NCL always handles tendering in an organized fashion. We were so pleased that our ship went to Mazatlan, as others were canceling that port the same week. We hitched a ride to the Golden Zone for $10 with another couple but found it pretty irritating that the cabs are somehow directed to drop cruise passengers down an alley at the back door of Diamonds International so you have to walk through their show room in order to get to the main street. In any case, we had a fun day shopping and having lunch at a hotel right on the beach. We had just been to Puerto Vallarta in August and enjoyed being there again. The cruise terminal was a short walk to where the local buses stop. We remembered that the blue and white buses all go downtown, hopped on for $.50 each and enjoyed the wild ride (which is part of the fun). We felt safe in all three ports.
As others have said, embarkation was a very slow process. We stood in line for a long time and kept being told it was going to be “another 15 minutes” over and over again. Even when we got inside the building, nobody seemed to know where to go. Signage was poor and there weren’t very many NCL staff directing us. Our other two cruises left from Miami, where embarkation was very fast and efficient. Hopefully, this was just a bad day in LA and not the usual way of operating. Disembarking, however, was extremely fast for us. We did the early walk-off because we had a noon flight, and we off the ship and on the bus to the airport in a half hour!
All in all, this was a fun cruise and, again, a good value. We made a deposit with the Cruise Rewards program and plan to sail with NCL again. We are glad we had an opportunity to experience the Mexican Riviera cruise since we understand NCL is dropping this itinerary after the 2011 season comes to an end.