Us: Husband (37), self (42), and 15-year old daughter. We live in northern CA; we drove and parked. This is our 3rd cruise, our 1st on NCL.
Boarding: We arrived at the parking structure at 10:00, and they wouldn't let us park in "cruise parking" until 10:30. They did give us the option to wait in some open spaces that faced the port and ship until they were ready for us. However, I'm glad we arrived early. We used Republic Parking and paid $140 for the week. https://www.rpnw.com/seattle/fuel/ There were cheaper options, but for those you have to wait for a shuttle and it only saves $20-40. This garage is right across the pier and has nice elevators, luggage service, and a Sky-Bridge that walks you across to the NCL cruise lobby. It was worth it. The check-in process was so fast that I found myself fumbling to fill out forms and pull out passports. They got us checked in and gave us a number to wait for our group to be called. We were "11," the first group was "10." When we boarded at 11:30 there was still no line for those going through check in. I would suggest you arrive as early as possible.
Ship: Not as grand and beautiful as other ships I've seen... but very nice. The atrium and main pool deck were nice and I thought they provided nice seating and atmosphere. My daughter loved the water slides. I liked the staggered stair-type seating at the pool. I liked the varied art in the stairwells. I saw a few places that could have been dressed up better, but overall it was fine and in most places very nice.
Cabin: Balcony, mid-ship, port, 10th floor. This room was PERFECT location. Great for elevators and easy access. Port side is great for this cruise, only one day without land view. Bathroom: Best of 3 cruises. (More room, nice tile, nice sink. Clean. If you're tall you'll find the toilet area to be short and may consider upgrade to mini-suite where bathrooms are deeper. Ship provided good shampoo, not-so-good liquid soap, and no conditioner. No tub but larger shower than last two ships I was on, and great shower head. Water system is great and water tastes great, no need for bottled. (I didn't believe it because I'm so picky about water, but it was true.) Furniture: Smart design = room under bed for our suitcases. Closet was smallish but had lots of shelves and options and met our needs for three. It was tight, but it worked. Angled cuts, mirrors, and a chair without a back (stool) made for more walking space. Only one plug, bring a power strip or splitter if you have more than one device. (Cameras, cell phones, etc.) Hair dryer was fine. Beds: Queen was a bit hard, but OK. Pillows were good, bedding was good. Fold-out bed for my daughter was HARD AS A ROCK. I'm not sure how she could stand it... it would have killed by back and neck. She is 15 and sleeps on the floor sometimes "just because"... she had no complaints. LOL. If I had to sleep on that I would have been miserable without a foam pad. Cleanliness: I'm picky about this. Bathroom was all tile, which makes it easier to clean, and it was very clean. Changing out rooms they missed a french fry under the bed and the slider had "finger writing" of hearts from the prior passenger. After we got the room it was cleaned very well each day. Our attendant said he was just back from time off so I have to guess he didn't prepare the room... without us asking windows were clean and fry was gone after the first cleaning. Room attendant: Outstanding! Friendly, great service. We did tip a couple of extra dollars each night... he left us robes and pool towels without us asking, and great towel animals. He knew our schedule and turned down our room early. A few times I left out cash on accident and it was never touched. He called us by first name, always smiled, and quickly met any requests we had. Balcony: A very small balcony, smaller than on most ships. But, large enough for 2 chairs and met our needs. BRING GOOD BINOCULARS. We brought some cheesy ones thinking we wouldn't need them. We were fighting over them and wished we had three good pair. TV: Horrible little 13" old tube. I don't care much about a TV on a cruise, but it did seem a bit ridiculous to have such an old and little TV. I do like to refer to the ship's channel that gives you information such as current location, time, miles sailed from and to next port, temperature of air and water, speed of vessel, sea condition and wave height. With volume up you can also hear ship's announcements. I know many people use the front bow camera for light. Even with window or balcony if you close the curtains for sleeps it's really dark. They had a few channels with movies and one with TV shows. We didn't care about watching TV but if you do you won't be happy with tiny screen or old TV.
Tip: Bring a small digital clock. There's not one in the room. I knew this and thought I'd just use my cell but it was a hassle to climb over the bed and go pick it up every time I wanted to see the time. I thought I wouldn't care.. I mean, we're on vacation, who cares about time? But, if you want to go to dinner/shows/activities/ports of call... you will care. I wish I would have followed advice of others and brought a clock that you can see in the dark and across the room.
Cruise Critic Reception/Meet N Greet: Great fun! You should sign up/arrange for this event. I wasn't sure what it would be and if we should go... but it was great to meet the other CC members. They set up a nice meet area at Le Bistro and provided coffee/tea and cookies. The captain came for a quick meet and we also got a personal intro to the senior offices including cruise director. They knew we would be a small group and they still rolled out the carpet for us. We were all invited to a bridge tour on Thursday.
Service: Hit and miss. Officers on this ship were more available and friendlier then I've seen on other ships. Guest services was easy to understand and helpful. Most crew-members were smiling and helpful. Some looked bored and/or disinterested, I'll talk more about that when I review dining as this is where we ran into poor service at times.
Shops On Board: Only three. Typical jewelry, t-shirts, mugs. A lot of "made in China/India" plastic crap. I had some ship credit and went there several times having a hard time finding anything I wanted to buy. Almost nothing made in Alaska. I did find a small, wooden, Alaska-carved totem pole. Also, I asked for 10% off on a non-sale item and they gave it to me. They will re-position in a few weeks so if you’re going to Alaska in 2011 look for big sails on the last 2 sailings. I ended up happy with purchases of the totem pole, a sweat-shirt, some scrapbook stuff, a 50% off mug and corkscrew. I spent $90 for all of that.
Selling: Let me say this is my BIGGEST pet-peeve on cruises and I'm a bit over-sensitive to it after a horrid experience on Princess. Maybe it was just good luck but I had almost NO sales offers other than TV channels and room fliers (which I don't mind.) There were photographers looming about to snap photos, but no pressure to go view or buy the photos. There were waiters that would ask if you wanted something from the bar and "ship lottery ticket" sellers at the shows, but they never blocked our walkways and they always accepted a polite "no thank you." One night a nervous young man at Aqua tried to up-sell a specialty restaurant while we were eating. That was intrusive. I gave him a sneer and told him we were not interested and he left us alone. There were a lot of "bingo" and "art auction" and "jewelry seminar" announcements over the ship's systems.., but you couldn't really hear them unless we had our TV to the ship's channel or we had our door open, or we were out and about. I was pleasantly surprised that the ship offered these things but didn't push them.
I did avoid things like art auctions, jewelry seminars, bingo, and any such stuff where they will try to sell you something as I didn't want to be spend my money on these things and I learned from past cruises that these are ship opportunities to sell you things you don't really need. I can do all that stuff at home, that's not what I cruise for.
Actives/Parties (not shows): We thought the selection was great. We tried to get in on the Newly-wed game as a "married for a long-time" couple, but we didn't quite make it. It was fun. I liked the game shows and pool parties and night-club parties. We always had things to do and for those who say they didn't I wonder if they really read their daily schedules. Because, one negative I had, was that they didn't announce all their great activities very well and we often just stumbled upon them. They had music in the atrium and movies that we didn't even know about until after the fact. We were never bored so it is a small complaint, but be aware that many very fun, and free, activities are poorly advertised - really study your daily room schedule.
Teen Center: My daughter only went on the last day at sea, but she loved it. They kept it simple and there were lots of teens there and she wished she would have gone there sooner. They had loud music with videos, air-hockey, food, and other teens. What more do teens want? They did have scheduled activities (like bingo and scavenger hunt), but the teen counselors let the teens decide if they wanted to do them or not. This was good as on other ships my kids felt the teen center was more for pre-teens with “dumb” activities.
Spa and fitness center: Never used.
Dining: Afraid of what I might find with so many bad reviews, but we were happy with the food. We did not pay for specialty restaurants.
Buffet: Almost never used as we don't care for them. Food was OK, some of it good, kind-of like a good hospital cafeteria. Seating was limited and too close. It was not 24-7 and for "freestyle dining" there were many times late at night, brunch-time, or late lunch to early diner time that everything was closed (or a fee), except for Blue Lagoon.
Blue Lagoon: Went for lunch and dinner... Good wings, good won-ton soup. Very limited menu with burger, sandwiches, or salad. SLOW service. Wait persons seemed bored. Service was fair to poor, food was acceptable. Nothing to write home about.
Aqua: Good menu and choices. Not a great atmosphere. I am not sure why, but the PASSENGERS at Aqua were generally acting awful each time we went. The decor, menu, and tables were somewhere between predictable and upscale, but our fellow passengers were acting like they were at a Wal-Mart MacDonald's. Well, really, I'd get mad at my kid for acting that way at MacDonald's. We had one family seated to our right, almost on their dessert. After we were seated that family discovered they had more family two tables to our left. They proceeded to take pictures through our table and yell comments to each other through our table. No sooner did they finally leave did we have another family sit next to us and loudly argue over bingo. The tables are only separated by about one person and it was obnoxious. The service was just OK, as I think the wait people were also worn out by the rude passengers. We went there again thinking it was just a bad night... and that time the family next to us had kids getting up and running about and knocking into us.. and the parents didn't care. I like kids.. but this was simply bad behavior going unchecked. Then some teens were seated who proceeded to talk about very inappropriate subjects, very loudly, and my teen spent dinner sneering at them. I'm not sure why Aqua drew a different crowd then the other free sit-down restaurant, but it did.
Versailles: Lovely. Had our 1st meal here (lunch after boarding) and got great service from a man named Romeo. Décor was outdated and a bit gaudy, but table spacing was nice and it felt more private then Aqua. By luck we were seated in Romeo's section for our third day's dinner. My husband gave him a tip and every night (and some lunches) after that we went there and asked to sit in his section. Excellent service by him and his assistant "Charleston." Food was good. I did notice that both “free” restaurants overcooked the meat... prime rib, steak, fish, pork chop. Several times we would ask for beef "medium rare" and get "well." Some of the veggies seemed fresh, crisp, and lovely.. some seemed canned and mushy. Overall we were happy with the food; it was seasoned well, served at the right temperature and served at the right pace. The hostess was irritated when we asked to be seated in Romeo's section and she didn't provide good service at all.
Tip: Versailles opens at 5:00, Aqua at 5:30. There is ALWAYS a line and EVERY night they opened a few minutes late. If you want to get a good seat at the early show (7:15) you need to be at the theater by 6:45. Dinner is 3 courses and can take a while. Show up to restaurant 10 minutes early or plan to wait in a long, disorganized line with irritated passengers.
Room Service: Summary = Disappointing. My favorite part of room service is breakfast, but it was awful. Like a motel continental. There was NO protein available. You can get drinks like milk, "orange drink", (I think also tomato or grapefruit juice), coffee/tea, cereal, muffins/pastry/bread, and fruit. There may have been a couple more things. But NO eggs, (not even hard-boiled.. I requested them as a write in and they ignored it), no meat of any kind, nothing like a protein smoothie or even nuts. It was all sugar and more sugar. Not a good way to start a long day. The regular menu (lunch/dinner items) was not bad, but very limited. Pizza has a $5 surcharge, anything between 12-5 am has a surcharge (and buffet is closed). Twice when we called they told us the wait would be over an hour so we said forget-it. Once they said 20 minutes and it took 40.
Ports: I will do port reviews but I will say this here - the ship needs to greatly improve the way they handle passengers going on and off the ship. They have no roped off area for the lines and they have elevators opening into the lines. This caused people to cut and other people who had been waiting to get very angry. I felt so bad for one female crew-member who was trying to organize the lines on her own. NO WAY. She needed about 3 assistants and some ropes. All the stairways have a right and left side and it's obvious that the line should go up one side and leave the other clear for passengers who need to get to their rooms or go up the stairs. Passengers were so irritated about people cutting that they were blocking people who were trying to get up or down the stair for other legitimate reasons. Lines in general were a mess; Prince Rupert being the worst... we got to the line at 20 minutes till and were about 100 people back. Soon the line wrapped all the way to the end of the ship and back around towards the start of the line and I felt that pushing and anger caused it to be dangerous at some points. A child or disabled person could have easily been hurt... and a couple of times I thought some heated passengers might go to blows.
Side note: This is the first ship I've been on where I've noticed such bad behavior from passengers in general. You can't blame the ship for that.. but I had to wonder if "freestyle" cruising didn't attract some "I don't want to follow any rules" patrons.
Excursions: Ketchikan= Zip Lining. Juneau = 1) Musher's Camp 2) Tracy Arm Explorer. Skagway = Combo of White Pass Train and Gold Fields. Prince Rupert = Heritage Museum and First Nation People's Feast Ceremony.
I'll review them individually below on Port Reviews. Were they worth the money? I'm not sure, they were pretty pricey.. but I do have priceless memories and overall they were good. I spent A LOT on excursions and more than I ever have before. Doing pre-research I found that Alaska is expensive! Over the course of 4 ports and 5 excursions we might have saved $300-$600 by booking independently. But the ship offered extras that were not offered elsewhere that would have cost money like snacks and transportation. Not to mention we were CRUNCHED for time. It didn't seem worth it to lose the guarantee of the ship waiting for you and to lose the convenience of ship transportation.
Tip: The time on our tickets was NOT the same as what we were told online when we booked. In every instance we had to meet up earlier than we thought we would. Therefore, we had less time in town than we thought. Tracy Arm meets on the ship instead of on the dock so you lose even more time.
Entertainment: First, I go to theater a lot, and coach cheer and dance, so I'm a bit critical. The shows had good, great, and then not-so-good parts. 1st night was just OK... but it was an introduction so we didn’t expect much. We noticed on the first night that the male dancers were A LOT better than the female dancers and the voice performances were very weak. 2nd night: 60's review dance and song = weak. 3rd night = missed. I can't remember the order of the next nights but - Comedy Troup = pretty funny; Hypnotist: Weak... and one guy was so under that he fell off the stage and cut open his head. It was quite the show! This was about the 5th time I've seen a live hypnotist and his material just wasn't very funny or interesting; "Angels" (aerial acrobats) = EXCELLENT! Superior show, amazing. Must see. Final night was "Elements" = Pretty darn good. It got amazing reviews and I did enjoy it a lot. It is mostly themed costumes and dancing combined with aerial acrobatics, props, and choreographed magic tricks. I could have done without the magic tricks, other that that it was great. Really inventive costumes and great dance moves.
Movie Theater: Oh wait.. there is none. Seriously? I thought all ships had them. The used the main theater to show a couple of movies at times when we couldn't see them. This was lacking.
Bar entertainment: Sorry, we don't drink much so we were only @ Spinnaker once. But I heard the music at both was pretty good for bar-room entertainment. We did hit the "White Hot Party" on the last night and my daughter and I danced to modern music and it was great because we both felt very comfortable and it was fun.
Cruise Director: Julie = very good. I think it must be a hard job to please everyone. She had an ‘over-the-top’ (personality type) gay assistant cruise director... and he was great too. Very animated. They were very different and made a great team. She wasn't the funniest or smoothest speaker I've seen... but if they were both over-the-top you wouldn't have got the great feeling of informed guidance and suggestions she provided. She was very nice and remembered my daughter's name and we saw her all over the ship.., always welcoming and smiling and asking how our meal/excursion/show went. Good job Julie!
Disembarking: Good and bad. Good = We could just carry off our own luggage.. no tags or night-before packing needed. Simple, nice, good. We packed our luggage and off we went, they started on time. Bad = For some unknown reason they made us haul our luggage up into Spinnaker Lounge (it's an up-hill, ramp type, long entryway) and then back down out of Spinnaker Lounge. It looked like they predicted a long line, but there was not one. And, this was unnecessary as they could SEE there was not a line because Spinnaker entrance and exit are just down the same hallway. (You can see right to the other end.) OK for us and just slightly inconvenient, but not for the elderly man in front of us that was struggling to pull his luggage up into and across the lounge. Then, once off the ship, but still in the port lobby, it was a madhouse. They were directing us to take either the escalator or the elevator, we chose elevator since we had our luggage. Around the corner we saw the LONG line to ONE elevator so we went back to escalator... directed by an employee. Then right at the escalator a RUDE man snapped at us that we couldn’t go down the escalator with our large luggage. We told him we were directed there and he just snapped "it's dangerous, use the stairs" What? It's dangerous to use an escalator but not stairs? The stairs were spaced narrowly and didn't look safe to me if you couldn't pick your luggage up high, (ours was on wheels and heavy and neither I, nor my daughter, could not have managed the stairs with the luggage.) While he was concerned about his ability to control our entry onto the escalator we saw others with luggage going easily and safely down the escalator and pointed it out.., he didn't care and was getting angry because he didn't want them on the escalator either and we were obviously irritating him, so we just went back to the elevator... where there were now 20 more people in front of us. Sigh. Also, we had taken the Sky-Bridge over from the parking structure (no stairs or escalators, just an easy breezeway over the street) and we were trying to get back that way, but it was "closed until around 11." Really? When the ship is DONE disembarking at 11? I will say (for the good) that the only longish wait time was at the elevator where we waited about 20 minutes to go down one flight of stairs.
Summary: Value = $3,700 (after taxes and port fees) for 3 of us in standard balcony. This was more than I spent on my last two cruises but A LOT LESS then other ships were charging for Alaska for the same type room; mostly because NCL only charged $400 for my daughter as a "3rd person" in the cabin. We spent $2,300 in shore excursions. (Ouch) 5 excursions, so an average of $153 per person per excursion. We got room credit of $335 + a free bottle of wine. I used the room credit for tips and still had $83 left for on-board charges and since I don't gamble or drink I went to the gift store and spent it. (The excursions were pre-paid so I couldn’t use the credit for them.) The bottle of wine was nice.. we brought it home and gave it as a gift with a corkscrew we bought at the gift shop. Overall I think the cruise and room value were good. The excursion value was good except for White Pass & Gold Fields, which I'll explain in Port Reviews. I think it was a good value for what we got.
NCL Star provided an overall quality experience with good service, entertainment, and cabin. I would recommend a few improvements to the Star, but overall I thought they did I great job. I would sail with them again and I would recommend them to family and friends.