Never Again. Ship: NCL Star Cruise: Panama Canal Itinerary: LA to Tampa October 1 to October 16, 2011.
Background: We cruised with a group of 10 other people all of whom had cruised many times before. Our group's average age was probably 62 or so. We had no children/teenagers or young adults with our group, so I will not comment on activities for that age group.
Hotel: Westin at LAX September 30, 2011. The hotel was clean and comfortable. The Concierge turned us on to a GREAT pizza carryout at an incredible bargain price for LA.
Transport/ Luggage: We departed the Westin on Saturday morning (October 1, 2011) for our pre-arranged transport to the pier. Our departure from the hotel was somewhat chaotic due to conflicting instructions from the travel agency and NCL.
Three of the ladies who traveled with us had luggage issues. One lady got hers on the day of sailing, but two of the ladies did not get theirs until we reached Cabo. Their luggage had been put on the Norwegian Pearl, which sailed the day before us. They plan to address this with both Norwegian and the Westin since the problem started with the staff at the Westin.
When we arrived at the pier in San Pedro a porter boarded the bus and proceeded to imply that our bags might not make it onto the ship without a tip, even though our transport voucher was supposed to cover the bus ride, driver tip and bag loading/transport to the ship. Many of the people on the bus were intimidated into extra tipping for the driver and porters to "guarantee" their bags got on the ship. Many of the passengers were not from the United States and were very confused about what was going on. Some of the passengers even dragged their luggage all the way to the gate because they were afraid they would not be loaded.
Shame on the bus driver, porters and the LA port authority for allowing this to happen!
The pier also did not have adequate security/crowd control. We were waiting in a line about two blocks long to enter the terminal when two or three other busses pulled up and dropped their passengers who proceeded to form a second line directly at the terminal entrance and push their way into the existing line. According to the "Line Jumpers" they were told to do this by their bus drivers. We thought there was going to be a riot. There was a lot of pushing and shouting before a lone security officer turned up to restore order.
Another black eye for the LA port authority.
We love to cruise and met great people on this voyage but the common theme of conversation was disappointment...about the food, over crowding in general, all of the sales pitches and extra-cost to get quality meals and service that used to be the industry standard on a cruise.
Stateroom: Very hard beds. We had to request extra padding for the beds two times so we could sleep. Clean, but we did find a pair of black panties under the bed on day five that did not belong to either of us.
Also, if you select a cabin with a balcony, be careful where it is located on the ship. The balconies near the front of the ship where we were located had a more confined view than the others located amidships.
Entertainment: Some was good some not so good. I'm not a live show person so I won't comment any further except to note that many of the seats in the auditorium were broken.
Port & Shore Excursions: We only did one in Key West. It rained pretty hard so it was not very enjoyable. Obviously, not the cruise line's fault.
General Comments: Most every activity involved selling -â€“ From how and why to buy art, emeralds, pearls, to acupuncture, specialty dinning and hypnotism. The hypnotist was entertaining during his evening performances but the additional sales pitches were annoying.
Smoking was our number one complaint. Every time we returned to our stateroom it reeked of smoke and it was not from the cabin steward. We had smokers in the rooms on both sides of our cabin and it was nasty.
We could not believe that NCL still allows smoking inside the staterooms! Especially when they make a point of telling you during the first lifeboat drill that FIRE is the NUMBER ONE Danger aboard a ship! DUH!
Even in the outside areas and bars there was no attempt to limit the smoking to one side of the ship or specific areas of the decks. The Biergarten bar outside on deck 13 was a smokers paradise. I felt sorry for the crew members who had to work there. The ashtrays all over the ship were typically filled to over flowing and rarely ever emptied.
NOISE: The noise level on the ship was painful you couldn't carry on a conversation in a normal tone anywhere except the library. Constant music blasting and very loud announcements about where to spend even more money. We never used the main pool area because you could not even speak to one another.
DINING: The Market Cafe' food was mediocre at best as were both of the "Free" dining rooms. The ice cream parlor typically had only two flavors of watery tasting ice cream.
One thing I noticed while eating at the buffet: a worker from the kitchen brought in a very large pot of soup to replenish the "potato soup" container on the buffet. I watched in amazement as he poured only broth into the buffet container. The potatoes were retained in the larger container, which he returned to the kitchen. Kind of makes you wonder what they had planned for those potatoes, doesn't it?
Main Dining Rooms: I thought the service was pretty bad. The staff never asked what you wanted to drink with your meals unless it was something from the Bar. One night I had to ask three times to get a glass of milk! Water glasses repeatedly went unfilled, but they would break their necks to get you something with an up-charge.
The whole goal of "Freestyle Dining" seems to be to push the passengers into paying an up-charge for every meal.
There was almost nowhere to wait to get into the main dining areas. People had to sit on the stairs. The elevators and the buffet areas were also too crowded at times.
"Specialty dining" is an insult to anyone who has ever cruised before. You now must pay 15 to 25 dollars per person to get meals that used to be the industry standard. Your only other option is the regular dining rooms, where the same 8 oz mediocre sirloin steak was offered every day. Other entrees were not any better.
DISEMBARKATION: Departure from the ship was completely mismanaged. Our group was the first to be called. When we got there, we faced an extremely long line where virtually 1/2 the passengers had already lined up. We told them we were in the first group, but were instructed to go to the back of the line. It took over an hour to go through the line.
SUMMARY/CONCLUSION: This cruise fell far short of our expectations and led to our decision to never cruise on Norwegian again.
I believe that two general trends have combined to lower the overall satisfaction of Cruising: Pre-Paid Tipping and Add-On Dining Charges.
NCL is clearly not interested in passenger critique because, although the guest feedback system is now online, the only way you get to comment on your experience is if you are part of the "randomly selected guests" who provided their E-Mail address during the check-in process before the cruise (Which we all did). It has now been over 15 days since the end of our cruise and not one of the 12 people in our group has been "Invited" to give feedback!
However, we all get daily E-Mails from NCL promoting future cruises. No Thank You NCL.
I hope this critique will help future cruisers to make informed choices.
firstname.lastname@example.org Thursday, November 03, 2011