I chose to cruise solo on the Star because I was going to be at a conference in Orlando and a 10/16 start was good. I wanted to go to Belise. I had cruised Star before. So, I arrived in Tampa the night before and arranged with my hotel to take the shuttle ($5) to the port. I got down for pickup early - good thing cause it was crowded. No room in current shuttle, but caught the next 30 later. As another mentioned, it was easy to drop off the Carnival people and mayhem to drop off NCL. I almost asked to get out and walk the rest of the way. I had all carryon. (Now 12:20)
Ok, so carryon is not meant to have to walk up a dead escalator. When I got to the top it was disorganizaed, but I figured out where to stand as we looped the entire length of the upstairs already. As another mentioned, someone fainted. I figured out later the reason this really stopped the line is because the person who helped was the one managing the disabled people. Once she got back to the front of the line we had a long period of only disableds going through. Finally moving again, Several wraps around before the screening machines (2 of them for all - 2 is 2 few).
Into the main area ... totally disorganized. They had rows of chairs, but you were in a line that looped through them. You could not sit down. At one point I saw an area for Latitudes members. Someone held my place while I went to ask if I could use the Latitudes (This was my 5th official NCL, although I know I have more with some groups). No, I could not. (I found out later that many with only 2 prior cruises got to use Latitudes. So, 3:40 when I got to front of line. 3 and 1/2 hours to board the ship.... and the line behind me was still long.
From discussions I found out they arranged people in groups of 3 for checkin. 1 experienced and 2 new. Almost all were super seniors and not fast movers or thinkers or strong with technology or learning. There was 1 machine to make the boarding cards. They all had to go back and forth to the printer each time. The woman who served me didn't know how to read a credit card and thought the issue date was the valid until date. I showed her how to read it. 3:55 finally on board.
Normally when I board I am greeted, even taken to my cabin. Nope ... total chaos. I'm familiear with Star from the last cruise and found my own cabin. My steward promptly appeared and introduced himself and was warm and inviting. First friendly smile of the day. Barely time now to get to boat drill. I knew the ship well enough to scoot up and get a snack to eat on the way. I am hypoglycemic so I can't go without food for any length of time. Luckily I managed to stave off a headache.
Buffet: They had the sanitizers but did no enforce them. Instead they would not let us serve ourselves for the first 4 days. I heard that Holland was doing this for day 1 but not for all 4. Now, insisting on serving us would not have been bad if they had had enough people to serve or even if those tasked to serve knew how to process through that many people and stayed alert and on task. None of those things were true. Plus, food is one thing, but they didn't even let us serve our own coffee and tea. That took the idea way too far. Use the sanitizers or get enough on task people.
Aqua & Versailles: I ate at both. The menus continue to have the 'always on the menu' standards on the right and the 'tonight's offerings' on the left. I am fine with that. The print and presentation of the offerings in the menu had seriously degraded. Small type, unappetizing wording ... blah. No wonder people complained. The quality and specialties were not nearly as good as they had been on The Star in February. I was startled and how much they had changed - and not for the better.
Normally when I eat in restaurants I get offered a wine list, buy a bottle and it follows me around. During the entire cruise no one offered me a wine list. Most times no one even offered me alcohol. I had to go to the bar to get it for myself. I was never offered wine with my meal in any restaurant.
The server on my birthday when I came in very late was very friendly and got everyone to come sing happy birthday and gave me a cake.
I didn't do any specialty restaurants this time. The nice thing about how blah the restaurants and buffet were is that I didn' eat much and lost weight.
NCLs entertainment is solid, but the presentation is very poor as far as having exciting sets. The blah black stage is always showing This is typical of NCL and I had seen the shows before .... so I did make sure I came to elements again; and to the 'fountains' by the crew! Dancing with the Stars was great fun ... mostly cause our group screamed and got into it.
I am a karaoke singer, so I was thrilled and delighted to have Karaoke for 2 hours every night. That and my scuba excursions made up for everything else.
Carnival kept arriving in ports ahead of us. As a result, they got the first and best of things. That includes the scuba boats. One of the boats used was a water taxi (This is Belise) and there was not the right places for tanks or equipment. That is bad enough but the crew had us all suited up and ready to enter and getting site info when they changed their mind and had us go another half hour ... tanks on ... to another site. We barely got back before the ship was ready to go. In Cozumel we had to go pick up the Pearl divers and another stop for more equipment ... and barely got back before the ship left.
For shopping the evening of the $10 sale they posted and announced it as 5:30pm.... but we didn't leave port that early. Chaos ensued as the sharks circled the $10 watches waiting for the doors to open.
I work online even when I cruise. The Internet guy advised the crew is online when they get off duty ... so I avoided the 8 to 1am use period. I had good WIFI signal from my room. I have to buy the 200 minute package for $100. With bonus it was 230 minutes. It is expensive, but MTN has a lock on all the cruiselines as near as I can tell. Someone should break the monopoly. the ship should at least post or include in the port information the best places to Internet in port... although scuba made that near impossible.
So, I thought long and hard .... but my steward made me towel animals every day and Sinful Sin was wonderful at karaoke and had everyone sing me happy birthday and the one server was great in the restaurant. And the price was cheap. So, I did buy another cruise rewards to go on NCL again. But, I think I am going to go back to adding other lines again; and I am not likely to go out of Tampa ever again. If NCL is getting worse and worse it is time to think about switching.