For our first cruise on NCL, we flew into Tampa a day early and stayed at the Hampton Inn -- Rocky Point using their $119 cruise package rate. The package included: transportation from the airport to the hotel upon arrival, transportation to the cruise terminal for embarkation, and transportation from the cruise terminal to airport or back to the hotel after debarkation. The hotel is located about 15-20 minutes from both the airport and cruise terminal.
Our shuttle left the hotel at noon and we soon arrived at a very busy cruise terminal. There were Carnival and HAL ships there as well. I'm not sure what was going on with the Carnival boarding but we passed a LONG line of people on the sidewalk waiting to enter their facility. After waiting in traffic for a while, we arrived at the NCL terminal.
We made it inside the terminal quickly, filled out some general paperwork then headed to get our cards. The general boarding line had about 200 people in it but several agents were processing passengers and the line was moving. Just as we were headed for that queue, we noticed a sign for Casinos at Sea priority boarding with no one in line so we headed there since we had booked thru them. We were on the Star within 15 minutes of exiting the shuttle.
On the Ship
We went to the "Welcome Aboard" show and saw a good variety of entertainment. Some of the acts were good enough that we made plans to attend the formal shows later in the week. I thought the Cruise Director, Pedro, did a good job. The standard "we care and want you to have a good cruise" message was given, but with more sincerity, in my opinion, than others we've heard in the past so were anxious to see if they really meant it.
Casinos at Sea members also had a welcome gathering on the first night. There were light snacks and we received our free drink cards. We met the casino manager who was making his rounds and talked for a while. He was nice guy and made a point to let us know NCL wanted feedback from their patrons so they could improve their services.
We attended the Meet and Greet on our first sea day. Some of the crew were there and introduced themselves. They also made a point of telling us to contact them if there was something that they could improve to make our cruise experience better. Again, as the cruise director and casino manager the night before, we sensed they were being sincere and that it wasn't just lip service. This commitment to cruise passenger service was a recurring theme throughout our cruise.
In no particular order:
Aqua -- Ate there twice. The food was decent, service good. We sat in a side room for one meal and close to the entrance for the other. It was much quieter in the side room.
Versailles -- Ate lunch there when we embarked and dinner later in the week. Both meals and service were very good. Versailles ambiance and decor appealed to us more than Aqua.
Blue Lagoon -- Had breakfast there twice and lunch once. Good omelettes. We never tried the wings that most rave about. Oceanview on one side and overlook the atrium on the other. We liked Blue Lagoon a lot.
Le Bistro -- Delicious lamb chops. Excellent mushroom soup. Don't forget to try the chocolate fondue for dessert. A table off to the side will be more intimate.
La Cucina -- Decent Italian. Try the risotto. Took advantage of a 2-for-1 fee because we'd eaten at Le Bistro earlier in the week. Get a table by the window for a nice oceanview
24/7 Pizza - $5 and worth every penny. Supplied by La Cucina.
Market Cafe -- Yes, it will remind you of school cafeteria. We only ate there once during off hours and again the morning of debarkation. Try the chilled soups for a cool treat.
Room Service -- Used once for breakfast (only simple items available such as sweet rolls, cereal, juice...etc.) and again for some snacks. Quick delivery.
Topsiders Bar and Grill -- Definitely try the grilled chicken, brats, Italian sausage and other goodies during sailaway times. Very tasty!
Welcome Aboard show - an entertaining variety of acts. Worth attending.
Sean the Traveling Troubadour -- Catch him in Red Lion. If you're a Bob Dylan fan, he's your guy and does lots of other artists very well.
Atrium Band -- listened occasionally. On par with other cruise ships
X-Cite -- Pool band will help you get into that cruise frame of mind! Better than I expected
Shark Bait -- Two, professional entertainers in a high energy show. Juggling, balancing and more with audience participation that's fun to watch.
Elements -- Think Cirque de Soleil. Not Vegas quality but still entertaining. Stay out of the aisles!
Star Casino -- spent lots of time and money there. Free drinks courtesy of Casinos at Sea. We never could drink enough to offset our losses but tried.
Shore Excursions (see ports)
Roatan -- Independent excursion, Scuba diving with Enomis Divers at West End. They are professional, personable and PATIENT. We are relatively inexperienced divers but took two, 50+ minute dives along shallow reef areas. We saw sea turtles, lobsters, squid, endless and colorful tropical fish and even the ones that look like the NCL logo...lol. Thanks to Lee, Anita and Mag for a great day!
Belize -- NCL excursion. Lamanai ruins. First, an hour plus bus ride to a New river marina. Wilfredo was our guide. He was a very well-educated man with vast knowledge of Mayan civilization and willing to share it. Think class trip. Once at the boat dock, think Indiana Jones. A 25 mile boat ride along a windy, jungle river stopping to see crocodiles, massive termite nests, local fisherman spearfishing for peacock bass, tilapia...etc. Arriving at Lamanai, a trek on a jungle trail under trees filled with howler monkeys (they do sound scary and will throw "things" at you to reinforce their displeasure that you are there) through jaguar hunting grounds (smell the musk!) and on to the ruins. Climb the 12-story temple to continue your adventure. A physical challenge going up, a mental one coming down. You will spend about 1-2 hours here learning and exploring. Then, back to the marina for a meal before bus ride back to the tender dock. A full day but worth it in our opinion.
Costa Maya -- Independent excursion. A beach day at Nohoch Kay. We relaxed in loungers under our own palapa with a beautiful beachfront view and forgot about all our troubles. This place is a great all-inclusive deal. Jaime is the consummate host. It was not crowded. We were not hassled by vendors. He and his crew will give you as much or as little attention as you want. I can't say enough good things about them. This place is as good as advertised. It was the most relaxing day of our cruise. We had a great time and will return to Nohoch Kay on our next trip to Costa Maya.
Cozumel - Some shopping, dining and frozen margaritas!
A few short delays on the ship but otherwise a breeze.
NCL Star personnel at all levels made a concerted effort to provide us a good experience and succeeded. We had a lot of anticipation and expectation leading up to our first NCL experience. I think some opinions we read before our cruise had as much to do with individual expectations going in as they did actual experiences on the cruise. As we neared the end of our cruise, I wondered if some of my fellow, disgruntled cruisers had actually been on the same cruise as us. There were some things to complain about but small in my opinion and not worth mentioning. We had a great time and hope you too will enjoy your cruise on the Star as much as we did!