We are not cruise rookies & thought we knew how to pick a decent cruise. I think we goofed. Ride from the Tampa airport to the cruise terminal was your normal chartered bus, only minor confusion. The embarkation terminal was another story, or rather NIGHTMARE!. Poor planning and poor execution. The way they had things set up caused a pedestrian traffic flow problems. Confusion from the traffic patterns, the agents were not sure where to send you, paths crossed several times and the wait! This was the worst embarkation EVER. After we got inside the terminal we were in line over 2 hours! Hardly moving. Not well laid out at all- but we did finally get on board.
We always purchase the inside cabins, we are rarely in them so why does it matter? Our cabin was your average inside, clean small, but the ship is showing a little age. Some drawers didnt work well, doors didnt open and close as smoothly and easily as they should. Some lights in the cabin didnt work. Just age problems mainly.
We left port a day before Hurricane Rina took shape in our path- not the cruise line's fault at all. We were never got an official weather update from ship's personel about this storm until we were about to dock in Roatan Honduras 2 days after our departure from Tampa. When we arrived it was rainy and windy, not the ships fault. After leaving Roatan we headed for our next stop, Belize.
The following morning ,in 15 foot seas, the captain finaly comes on the speakers and says, oh its a little rough to be in Belize, we will circle around today and come back tommorow. He made no mention to guests that this move would cause us to miss at least one of our other ports. We knew this from past experience but other cruisers we talked to on board were in the dark, no idea what was going on and still beleived we would make all the stops. Poor communication from the bridge about our re-direction was a big problem. When on the next to the last day the captain did anounce we wold miss Cozumel, many cruisers were upset- they were kept in the dark. We rarely got accurate info or any info from the captain about the storm. We knew because of our old friend the internet- never leave home without it! The captain even got lost one morning annoucing our arrival to Belize( which we had left the day before ) when we actually docked at Costa Maya, Mexico. Hey Captain, need a navigator? or a good map?
Now the food- In the past we have had good experiences with cruise dining- not this time. The main restaurants and buffets were so plain and average and cold at times. The food was not good in the 'free' dining option restaurants. Menus never changed hardly at all. The NCL Star has many different dining options where you pay extra. They call them specialty restaurants. We tried them all and they were all much better than the free dining restaurants. Our favotites were the Le Bistro and the Endless Summer and Teppanyaki. All excellent food and service- but you have to pay extra for this. You could tell these restaurants offered food that was fresh and hot and prepared to order. Over all we liked these. It appears that NCL is driving guests to pay for these options by offering lesser quality food in their main dining rooms. NCL offers a chocolate buffet on their cruises, normally quite good, not this time.
They held this in the buffet lines rather than in the main dining room as was the case on past NCL cruises. They way the lines were laid out, it was very confusing. Once again traffic flow, problems, lines crossing each other, masses of people not knowing where to go, and once we got to the chocolate goodies, we found they were not so good, very plain, many not even edibile. We tried ot sample several items, all were bad. What happened to the good old days of cruising? I guess marketing for the masses has taken over and it shows. When they need to provide for a larger number of guests who want 'freestyle' they cant do anything other than offer pre-cooked- pre packaged meals it seems.
Just an additional note about the workers on the ship, everyone we encountered was extremely nice and helpful. Outstanding service from the staff. The command crew ( captain ) did not impress us. The entertainment staff seemed nice , but way too cheesy.
All in all, the restaurant workers and cabin stewards and other workers, get a big KUDOS. Shame the NCL management team cant follow the lead of their employees and do a better job.
I think our tastes have evolved beyond free style and then entry level cruise.
If you have never curised before, you will probably like this. So go ahead and try.
We will probably not be taking any NCL freestyle cruises in the furture.
Thanks and be safe
Andy and Lisa