First, a disclaimer: we are first time cruisers. I'm writing this review because I found the other family reviewers so helpful prior to our vacation. No prior cruising experience to compare it to, just lots of other travel!
My parents booked this cruise for our entire family: 2 over-65 grandparents, 4 adults (30s) and 4 kids (ages 2-5). We live on the west coast, so chose this itinerary for convenience of getting to the embarkation port, but have actually been to all of the ports (including Mazatlan, which was in the original itinerary) on separate vacations.
We were looking for a fun family vacation with something for everyone and in that sense, we weren't disappointed. My husband and I are not sure if cruising is for us (we prefer a lot more independence), but here is a breakdown of our experience:
We arrived relatively early and waited a minimal amount of time to board the ship. We were prepared with swimsuits for everyone in our More
carry-on luggage, but the weather in LA was barely warm enough for swimming. Ate lunch in the Market Cafe, which was crowded but manageable. The rooms were supposed to be ready at 2pm, but were not. Needless to say, we were not the only family with a toddler overdue for his/her afternoon nap! We stood with a group of other families near the stairwell waiting to be told our rooms were ready. And waited. And waited. We all eventually just went to our rooms, but there were no crew members nearby to give us the word.
We had an oceanview stateroom. As mentioned by a previous reviewer, the nautical theme is a bit loud, but the room was clean and tidy. The bed arrangement was interesting: Two twin beds, one fold-down bunk (where our 5 year old slept) and the fourth bed is actually a pop-up trundle that goes between the twin beds. Nice, creative use of storage space for unpacking. Our kids loved sitting in the window, especially in the port cities, where they could watch the loading/unloading, etc. The bathroom was spacious enough. Our steward was friendly and competent. Best part for the kids: a different animal every night folded from the towels - really, really cute.
I should also mention that we had an adjoining room with my sister's family and this was a major plus. If multiple children were sleeping, only one adult had to stay behind.
We ate in the two main dining rooms almost every night, and I would say that the food was better than I was expecting. Considering that the chefs feed >1000 people nightly with food that can't be freshly obtained that day, I think they did quite well. I am a slender person, so the small portions were perfect for me. I ordered 3-4 courses at dinner and did not feel like I was wasting a lot of food. Service was S-L-O-W, though, which got to be a bit dicey having 4 kids at the table. Our major problem was this: the kids liked the evening shows, the first of which typically started at 7:30. The dining rooms open at 5:30. Even if we were seated right away at 5:30, it was a problem nearly every time to get to the 7:30 show. Maybe they are just accustomed to vacationers wanting long, leisurely meals, but it just didn't work for us. The buffet is ok, but was a complete zoo with all the kids on the ship. Not a relaxing experience. We avoided the buffet after the first day or so, except for breakfast.
We ate in La Cucina, the Italian specialty restaurant, on our last night. Well worth the extra expense. Food was great (although the seafood in my pasta did not taste very fresh - I should have known better and ordered something else) and the restaurant was not crowded. The server even saved our table for dessert when we didn't have enough time to finish dinner before the show - very accommodating. My sister and her husband also took advantage of the the "all you can eat" sushi in Ginza another night and said it was quite good.
A highlight. Kids pool area in the back of the ship, which was great, and main pool area in the front of the ship. When the weather was warm enough, our kids did not want to get out. Even when it wasn't hot, the kids could still warm up in the hot tubs between slides. Surprisingly not too crowded given the number of kids on board.
Nice service. Really crowded the first day during registration. Basically they are open from 9a-10p (? - didn't keep ours up that late!) and you can drop off/pick up whenever you want. They don't change diapers and don't feed the kids. We used this service less then I thought we would, but our son really liked it and had fun. They also have a port-day option, including lunch, for an extra fee.
This was our major disappointment of the cruise. I know it's not NCL's fault that our third port city (Mazatlan) had to be cancelled, but I just felt that this cruise involved WAAAAYYY too much time on the ship. We were in Cabo on Monday afternoon and from 8-2:30 on Tuesday and in Puerto Vallarta from 7-3 Wed. The remainder of our vacation was at sea. Getting to shore in Cabo involved tender service, which was complete chaos the first day, not so bad after that. We didn't do any shore excursions, as we had access to some very nice resorts in both ports and just spent the days there. We did hire a glass-bottom boat in Cabo to take us around the rocks for *AMAZING* whale watching (a mom and 2 calves, I think - they put on quite a show) and back to the resort where we were going to have lunch/swim.
Friendly and helpful. Except for slow restaurant service, prompt as well.
Shows were great and almost all kid-friendly. My kids loved the magician and acrobatic shows. The singing show was only ok - mostly it was just way too loud. Seating in the theater was great - my kids didn't have any trouble seeing the stage.
Since I have no prior experience, please take what I say with a grain of salt, but it was pretty bad. Just long, long lines and hoardes of people.
Overall, we had a great vacation and made a lot of memories. In terms of meeting the needs of grandparents, kids and parents, this cruise did that pretty well. My husband and I aren't sure we'll be back for another cruise. Definitely not this itinerary. We tend to like a lot more independence and more-than-superficial experiences at our destinations. If you are looking for a big, family-friendly ship with a lot of food and entertainment, the Star might be for you. Less