We boarded the Norwegian Star on August 6, 2011. My in-laws accompanied us. My father-in-law has always wanted to see Alaska and it was part of his "bucket list."
Our first experience was with the buffet lunch, which is customary when you board. It was good. Then we went to see our cabins. They were smaller than what we had expected. They have some very old 13 inch TV's and 15 channels or so, half of which are cruise ship channels to promote the ports, sell you stuff, etc. The bathroom was okay and was a little bit bigger than what we had experienced previously. After checking our cabin, we went to tour the ship. We are used to amenities on board and this ship is older and does not really have much to do. There was no rock climbing wall, water park, outdoor big screen for movies, sporting events or anything. There were a couple of golf cages, a couple of pools, hot tubs, and there was a water slide which the kids enjoyed once or twice, but the Alaska weather doesn't really lend itself to that. In fact, I never had a bathing suit on during this cruise (and maybe that's a good thing!).
So, let's talk about dining. We did like the ability to go to the dining rooms whenever we wanted. With NCL, you have freestyle cruising. The food was good. Kids loved the steaks. I had some really nice fish plates. The service though was lacking. The waiters seemed to have too many tables to care for and their assistant waiters were good at filling your water glass, but very slow to clear plates, etc. It was not the dining experience that we were used to. The food though was decent. We enjoyed breakfasts out on the back deck (level 12) where we could get fresh waffles and omelettes.
Do wear a jacket when eating breakfast outside because it can be a bit chilly. We did not try any of the "specialty" restaurants. We paid $4,000 per cabin for 3 people ($8,000 for the six in our family) and figured that we should get our money's worth for what we had paid for. They did try to up sell the specialty restaurants quite often.
As for our cabin steward and his assistant- they were very lacking. We have normally had really good attention on our other cruises (Carnival, Costa, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity), to the point that I've given extra gratuities to them. Not so here. In fact, the service was so lacking that we asked to have the gratuity lessened (NCL charges $12 pp/day). My wife was embarrassed to have to do this, but it was not up to par. I even asked the cabin steward how many rooms he was taking care of and he responded 18. This is probably too much.
We did enjoy the ports and I'll comment on those below. We spent a fortune on excursions and purchased them through NCL. NCL probably takes a 40% cut for them, but we wanted to experience Alaska to the fullest. I tried to see if the excursions could be booked privately, like we've done in other places, but it just wasn't possible.
Entertainment is one of the final things that I will comment on. We generally love the production shows, the cruise director and staff, etc. The first night on board was the worst show imaginable. This set the tone. The cruise director, Jaime, is very nice, but just not the larger than life personality that a cruise ship needs. Her assistant, Rob Sugar, should probably take her place. He's lively and pretty fun. Jaime is milk toast and I hate to berate her, but she needs to be there for the introduction of the shows to pump up the audiences and get them excited for the shows. She did not do this. I think this is a major flaw. So, the production shows were lame, except for the final show on Friday night- "Elements" which was very good. The other shows during the cruise that were NCL production shows lacked any star power at all- very few if any set changes, costume changes, etc. We are used to some really great shows on Carnival and RC. We did enjoy the French acrobat show and the hypnotist, Dr. Scott Lewis. Scott did three shows and should have done more. He was terrific. Truthfully, I would have liked for his shows to be a little more wild (especially the late night, adults only show). There was a comedy troupe on board that was okay. We do like more variety and talent stuff. NCL underperformed here big time.
Let's see- final thoughts- The gym was okay. Make sure to bring headphones. The on-board shops were okay. You kind of get tired of them after a couple of rounds. If you want real ice cream, it's back by the gym and is open from 12:00 to 5:00 pm. The kids liked the kids club. I thought it was a bit wild at times- very noisy, but hey- kids like to play and have fun. They did a good job with it and our kids kept asking to go back, which gave my wife and I plenty of time to do what we wanted to do.
Enjoy the ports, they are fun, but the NCL star was very lackluster in our estimation. Oh, I should also comment on the staff. We are used to people being much more friendly. The staff was performing a job, not really enjoying their jobs- the friendliness factor was greatly missing on this ship. We saw lots of loafing around and at one point even saw a couple of the staff making fun of fat people on the ship and moo'ing at them. It was very disrespectful and mean spirited.
Also, we generally expect to have a bill to review the day before- they don't put it out till the morning of disembarkation. I wanted to review our charges for accuracy, so I went and got a bill on Friday night. There also was no comment card given out to rate the ship and give opinions. I found this odd. Maybe this is why our experience on NCL was mediocre at best. They need to up their game and if you have the choice between NCL or Carnival or Royal Caribbean, go with Carnival or RC. We have no desire to sign up with NCL in the future based on their current performance. Also, we thought that the value for the price that was charged was not very good.