Embarkation was delayed we were told because about 200 passengers had not gotten off the ship. We waited in a snaking line outside the building for about 45 minutes. At one point, and ambulance arrived and the paramedics treated a woman who had fainted. When we finally started moving, it went quickly. After we had our cruise cards, we were mis-led away from the boarding area for a bit. After the communication confusion was straightened out, we were directed to the right area to board. My suggestion would be that the staffers directing people get it clear and LISTEN to what the passengers are saying.
Once we embarked, we started getting to know the ship's layout. We visited the Spa and purchased the Spa Pass for the week (my sisters and I). We, along with my Brother in law's cousin, went to the main dining room for a wonderful, relaxing lunch.
By the time we finished, our cabins were ready. We were very excited to see our cabin because we had an aft balcony for the first time. The balcony is longer in these rooms. We had the partition opened between our room and my sister's room. This way we could enjoy each other's company on the extended balcony and have the others in our group over. Our baggage arrived, piece by piece, earlier that we expected, so we started unpacking. Note about this cabin: you can hear the bubbles in the lounger pool in the Spa above this cabin. It is not a bad noise, just aware of it. Otherwise, it is a quiet location. Also on this balcony you can smell wonderful aromas whenever they are baking......yum.
We had a sail-away party with our Cruise Critic friends in the Bier Garten for about an hour. That was fun, talking over a cold Corona about our plans for the week.
We went back to our rooms to finish packing. We decided to make our dining reservations for the week: Le Bistro twice, La Cucina, Endless Summer (Tex-Mex/Tapas). We meant to make it to Cagney's but the steaks were SO GOOD at Le Bistro, that we felt we could not top that.
We had exceptional service from Jefferson, ChiChi, Johnson and Violet. I really mean exceptional. Sometimes the wait staff were all business, which we did not enjoy. These employees went above and beyond to make our dining experience top notch! Violet knew we loved the band that was playing in the Atrium (the trio) and suggested several songs that she knew they sang very well. She told us they sang "It's a Wonderful World" and how we enjoyed that! Johnson and Chichi were funny and entertaining in Le Bistro and the main dining room and we managed to have them wait on us several times. Jefferson also was very personable and funny. He could do his job all the while interacting with us. We loved getting to know him. (And yes Jefferson, we loved the coffee from your country!) We enjoy interacting with them, learning about their home countries and families. They all seemed to LOVE their jobs.
Our room stewards were like Ninjas! They always made up our rooms when we weren't there and met our special requests quickly and with a smile. We were always greeted in the hallways by name and wished a wonderful day.
We did have one problem with our key cards. They would only open the door after about ten swipes! Twice we had the cards re-made and the new cards each time were the same! It was probably that the 'swiper' in the door needed cleaning. This was a real hassle, and I was always worried that if returning to the room by myself that I would not be able to get in. Sometimes, I would have to go into my sister's room with her, and then enter my room through the balcony door! (Remember that our balconies were open to each other.)
Sunday, our first sea day, we had our Cruise Critic Meet and Greet. There were more members and senior staff than any other M&G I have ever been to. The Captain told all of us that we would enjoy a private tour of the Bridge on one of the last sea days, which happened on Thursday. We were sent invitations to our rooms and had only an hour to be there! We were glad we had spent only a short time in the Spa that morning after breakfast and our walk! Receiving our invitations earlier would have allowed us to plan better. We understood later that it was the Captain's secretary's first week on the job. She did an outstanding job in directing us for this event and I am sure they have ironed out the timeliness of the invitation arrival.
We used the casino for the first time on a cruise. We had a slot pull with our other Cruise Critic friends. That was great entertainment in itself and a fun activity. The casino staff were attentive and friendly.
The Fitness center was well equipped on the Star, and I liked its location near the Spa. We used the facility when it was too cold/windy to walk outside. My DH used the running track on the topmost deck each morning to get in his five miles a day. He went early (5:30 a.m.) so that it wasn't crowded with walkers. He also used the treadmills in the Fitness center. It was always clean. I noticed most of the cruisers used the towels and cleaner provided.
My DH took two snorkeling excursions, purchased on the ship, and was very satisfied with the experiences. The rest of our group just got to know the towns we visited and did much walking. We did not get off the ship in Mazatlan, instead, getting massages in the Spa, which were so-so. Not great. I told the gal who did mine that I had broken a bone in my foot and had to remind her not to do that foot when she got to that point. Too much pressure was used on my calves and I had to remind her of that also on the second leg. Also, there was a strange odor on the face rest that I can only describe as rancid oil. When I was finished, I smelled the towels there (they were fresh) so it must have been in the face rest itself. Maybe new tables are needed???
We were disappointed in the margarita and martini tastings. We were spoiled by Candalaria and then Brent on the Pearl. (Heard they went to the Epic) THEY had told jokes and entertained us while teaching us about the drinks. It was a wonderful experience. On the Star, they did not even seat us at the bar and there was no interaction with the bartender. Fun bartenders make ALL the difference and make us want to return! We did enjoy the Star Bar in the evenings when the Martinis were bogo. The staff there were wonderful.
We ate meals in the evenings at the Main dining rooms or the pay restaurants.The food was aways fabulous. The portabello mushrooms with goat cheese at lunch were to die for and everyone in our group ordered them. The first bite was "Oh my gosh, this is Wonderful!' out of everyone's mouth! Lunch was sometimes the Main dining room, sometimes at the Cafe. We found the food in the Cafe to be great with many choices. Our breakfast was a quick bite there before our exercise, again, many choices and always clean. The times of day we chose to eat seemed not to be as crowded as we had read about on the boards.
Entertainment is something we usually don't do when with a big group. We did see a couple of shows, in the theater and Bliss Lounge. We usually had a problem with the timing of our dinner and then not making the show, but this was no big deal, as we love to linger and visit after a meal. It was a choice.
We feel the value for the money for this cruise was very good. We took advantage of the $100 on board credit for booking another cruise. We are returning to the Star, this time taking our kids families. This cruise will be on the Star out of NOLA so we won't have to fly and will be able to spend more money on excursions for the family. This tells you how we value the Star. The kids will be in a new Family Suite and we will be in Aft Balconies (sisters and brother in laws going also) again on deck 9.
The bag of laundry mid-week is a bargain that we took advantage of. The things arrived expertly done the next day. We brought our own wine on board and paid the corkage fee of $15 a bottle.
The serving sizes of the restaurant and dining room meals have increased since we last cruised! I have seen complaints of the small portion sizes on the boards and reviews and evidently NCL has listened. It was TOO MUCH FOOD FOR ME! I tend to eat what is in front of me and don't want to waste food, so I ate most of it (unless it was something that was not wonderful like some stacked potato slices that were tasteless). I was usually sorry that I had eaten so much. I gained on this cruise (usually my exercise balances out the food and I don't gain weight).
For the first time, we experienced lines to disembark. I believe this was due to the government employees at the end of the line! They must have gotten more agents in, as all of a sudden the line started moving faster. More planning on their part would be nice. Our luggage was easy to find and we were on our way with the NCL arranged bus to the airport.
Overall the cruise was a wonderful relaxing week of being pampered and spoiled, fabulous food with beautiful presentation, friendly staff willing to please, cleanliness everywhere and a general feeling that they wanted to make our vacation the best.