This was our second cruise as a married couple and thoroughly enjoyed our experience with Norwegian Cruise Lines. Our first cruise was on the Carnival Conquest to the Eastern Caribbean (January 2011..see our review) so all we can do is compare our experience on the Star to our experience on the Conquest. For those of you who do not want to read any further here is the overall comparison: Carnival Conquest: 5+ NCL Star: 5+
I will not reiterate what everyone else has said but here is the bottom line. Each cruise line (Carnival and NCL in our case) does a great job in making you feel welcome and ensure that you have an enjoyable, hassle free vacation.
A little confusing at first, however, once you got through the long lines (which were indoors) you quickly walked onto the ship and were free to eat lunch, explore the ship or just relax. Passengers were allowed to go to their cabins around 1400 hours, however, don't expect your luggage to be reunited with you this early. We had 3 small suitcases, one of which did not arrive until around 1900 hours. On the Carnival Conquest, our luggage was already at our room when we first arrived. Just an observation......
NCL, just like Carnival, gets an A+ for their friendly and helpful staff. You are always greeted with a "good morning, good evening, how are you?"...(you get the point). NCL appeared to go out of their way to be helpful. The cruise director (Jamie) was fabulous! She always had a pleasant disposition about her and it was obvious that she really enjoyed her work. She seemed to be working 24/7 and even participated in the Cruise Staff show on our last sea day. She made a tremendous difference on the overall mood of the ship. A++ to Jamie!
We also enjoyed the question and answer session with the ship's senior management (Captain, Chief Engineer, etc.). This was about the third or fourth time that they were introduced to the passengers, however, this time we were allowed to ask questions for about an hour. What I also thought was interesting was that the ship's officers and managers encouraged passengers to provide feedback to them. It was very obvious that the Captain ran a very organized ship and had very competent and professional officers under his command.
Food and beverage servers, room stewards, etc. were all friendly and pleasant.
Food and Beverages:
Freestyle dining is the way to go! You can eat whenever you want to. The Blue Lagoon restaurant is open 24/7 if you miss out on any of the regular or speciality restaurants. The Versailles and Aqua main dining rooms were the main regular sit-down restaurants. We were impressed with the variety, quality and presentation of the dishes. Although the portions were somewhat small, this was probably done to prevent food waste. If you wanted another portion, just order it. If you wanted two (2) appetizers, no problem. The service in the regular restaurants was very prompt, contrary to other NCL reviews.
This is a good place to make a statement. Some of the other reviews have been critical of NCL food. Both of us must vehemently disagree!! The food selection and quality was outstanding, kept at the proper temperatures, well displayed and in sufficient quantities. Several other passengers we met on this trip also commented on how impressed they were with NCL food and the extensive selection available to passengers. The buffets were good if you were in a hurry to eat and did not have the time to spend in a sit-down restaurant. The two (2) main dining rooms, the Versailles and Aqua, had an outstanding selection of dishes. There is no cover charge for these restaurants. You will not be disappointed eating at either one of them. The Versailles and Aqua are just as good as some of the higher end restaurants at home.
We also ate at some of the speciality restaurants; Le Bistro (French) and Endless Summer (Mexican). There was a $20 coverage charge for Le Bistro and a $10 cover charge for Endless Summer. If you are in the mood for a treat, we highly recommend trying out at least one of the speciality restaurants on the Star. One negative observation is that some dishes in these restaurants require "an additional cover charge" over the standard cover charge. This is a practice that NCL needs to eliminate. The standard coverage charge should cover ALL meals on the menu. We did not try any of the other specialty restaurants.
OK, time to discuss gratuities. We have no problem with the $12/day/person that NCL charges each passenger for gratuities. We also don't have a problem with the automatic 15% gratuity that is charged for every bar drink you order. This being said, WE DO have a problem with the receipt you sign for each purchase asking if you would like to add an additional gratuity to your bill. If not, you simply place a "zero" in this space and then write in your bill total (which already includes the 15% gratuity). It made me feel "cheap" to do this so we always added an extra $1.00. I know that we were under no obligation to do this, however, I recommend that NCL eliminate this practice. I went back and looked at my Carnival Conquest bar receipts and verified that they also added an additional 15% gratuity, however, they did not provide a space for an additional gratuity above the 15%. I apologize to the reader for this long diatribe about gratuities, however, this NCL practice, in my opinion, degrades NCL to some extent. And yes, cash tips are still accepted.
One more suggestion under the food and beverage category: Add an additional soft ice cream machine so there is one on the port and one on starboard sides of the ship. The single machine was always crowded. We did like the ice cream bar, however, located next to the gym (good location!!).
We are not smokers and felt that NCL could do a better job in managing cigarette, pipe and cigar pollution. We noticed that NCL apparently allows smoking in passenger staterooms/balconies besides the obvious areas such as casinos and in certain deck areas. Because of this practice, unwanted smoke makes its way into other staterooms. I highly recommend that NCL eliminate this practice and keep smoking to designated areas, not to include staterooms and balconies.
One word: OUTSTANDING!! I am not going to go into detail about the variety of shows, however, I do want to say that you will not be disappointed. If you are a night owl, there is always some type of entertainment to be found throughout the ship. The musicians were excellent!! I especially enjoyed the guitar, flute and violin trio. I hope to hear them again someday. The cruise staff show was outstanding.......very talented individuals.
Yes, I know, they are always asking to take your pictures and some reviewers have been very critical of this practice. Well, we both enjoyed having the opportunity of having professional photographers take our pictures during a variety of events. One of the photographers, Dennis, we got to know fairly well who worked very hard to make our portraits the best they could be. If you want to have lasting memories of your trip, you will wish that you had professional photographers take your pictures. Yes, they do cost money but so does a sitting with a professional photographer at home. The nice thing about these photos is that there is no obligation to purchase any of them. If you don't like them, then don't purchase them. If you do like them, then go for it! By the way, we also had our picture taken with the Captain..it turned out great and we actually had it framed. Suggestion: Budget money for shipboard photos, take advantage of the numerous opportunities to have your portraits taken and then take the time to review your photos and purchase those that you like. You will not regret doing this years down the road.
We did not participate in any of the NCL organized shore excursions. In Cabo San Lucas, we hired a local gentlemen to take us out in his glass bottom boat for a tour of the coastline and Los Arcos. For three (3) of us, we spent $40 U.S. dollars for a two (2) hour tour. Had a great time and would make this trip again. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the fauna, flora and local history of the area. We spent the other day in port shopping in town.
In Puerto Vallarta, we spent the day lounging around the main pool doing absolutely nothing! Very relaxing, I highly recommend this type of activity(or lack thereof).
NCL has got this down to an art. We elected to participate in the easy-off debarkation program. You simply walk up to the Spinnaker Lounge, have a cup of coffee (which they have conveniently provided for you), take a seat and wait until they start the debarkation process. The only requirement is that you have to carry off your own luggage (no problem!). Once the line started moving, we were off the ship in about 10 minutes. Some of the senior NCL staff had lined up to thank passengers for being their guests and wished us a safe trip back home. Wow!! It does not get any better then this folks. NCL customer service is the best I have ever seen.
Did not use it.
Gym and Running Track:
Great gym, well equipped and sufficient equipment available for guests. I noticed that they are very conscious about keeping equipment clean and sanitized. The outdoor jogging/running track is very nice! 4 laps is 1 mile. If you don't want to run and want to walk in a covered area, go to Deck 7. 4 laps is 1.4 miles. We also participated in ping-pong (extra ping pong balls are available at the guest services desk) and shuffleboard. Lots of fun......
Will we cruise NCL again?: YES!
Would we recommend cruising with NCL?: Again, a resounding YES!
Would we cruise again on the NCL Star?: Well, of course!
Overall grade: A+
My compliments to the crew and staff of the NCL Star. You made our vacation a memorable one. Thank you!