Pre-cruise: We departed Virginia via US Airways on Saturday morning from Ronald Reagan Airport. On arriving at the airport, we found the long term parking was full and we needed to park in the daily parking for $20/day. We checked our luggage and made our way through security in short order. While waiting at the gate, they announced our flight was oversold. They offered a $325 voucher (which was more than we paid for the flight!) and a first class seat for a flight later that evening. My DW and I accepted the offer and went home for the afternoon. Since the long term parking was full, we went back home and had our DD drive use back to the airport later that afternoon. SCORE!!! First class seats, no parking fee and vouchers to use for our flight to next years cruise. A great way to start the vacation.
We stayed overnight at the Homewood Tampa Airport Westshore. We were picked up by the hotel shuttle at the airport and check-in was quick and easy. The room was large with kitchen facilities and free internet. We found the bed to be a little hard but it was only for one night. The hotel also offered a free shuttle to two local malls but we were tired and did not take advantage of it.
Sunday: The next morning, the hotel offered a free hot breakfast (hash brown patties, scrambled eggs, sausage, oatmeal, rolls, etc.). After breakfast, my DW and I walked around the neighborhood but there wasn't much to see. We did walk to a nearby mall but they were closed until 11 a.m. on Sundays. By the time we got back from the walk, it was time to head out to the port. We called a cab and it was a quick 10- 15 minute ride to the cruise ship port. Cost was $20 plus tip.
Embarkation was quick and easy. We arrived at the port by 1130 and we were onboard the Star before 1200. The staterooms were not yet ready so we headed to the main dining room for lunch. It seemed as though several of the staff were trying to direct us to the buffet when we asked for directions to the main dining room. Seemed curious. If they really wanted us to eat in the buffet line, why open the main dining room? And since the main dining room was open, why did several of the staff members push us toward the buffet? In any event, we made our way to the main dining room for lunch -- let the gorging begin!!
There seemed to be more than the usual number of school-aged kids (high school and under) on this cruise. The rumor was there were approximately 900 kids onboard. It wasn't a problem, just unexpected. For the most part, they were well behaved and I did not see large groups of kids running around unsupervised getting into trouble or being a nuisance to other guests. We were not aware that spring/winter break occurred in mid-February. I guess as you get older, you lose touch of when school is out of session.
After lunch, our rooms were ready. We had an ocean view room on the fifth deck, mid-ship near the stairway. Just above us was the Aqua dining room so it was easy to get to dinner. We had sailed Norwegian several times in the past and the room was similar to what we had on other ships. Toilet and shower have sliding glass doors to separate them from the rest of the bathroom. It also had a nice large picture window over the bed looking out to sea.
Sunday night, we ate at the Aqua dining room, went to the show in the evening and then to bed early.
Monday - Sea Day. Got up early and went exploring the ship. Breakfast at the buffet. We spent a little time enjoying the sun -- not unexpectedly, deck chairs were hard to find. The CC M&G was Monday afternoon in La Bistro. We met the ship staff and the Captain extended an invitation to tour the bridge on Saturday. We had dinner in the Aqua dining room that night followed by the show -- It was 60's themed and featured five female vocalists -- all of whom were excellent. My DW was a music major in college and particular about music and she gave the show a "thumbs up". We then headed up to the pool deck and found it empty. We went back down to our cabin, changed in our bathing suits and had the hot tub all to ourselves. This was a ritual we repeated nightly. Apparently, the pool and the spas are not heavily used during the early evening hours.
Tuesday - Roatan, Honduras. We docked and walked off the ship to see what was available. Once out of the port area, my DW did not feel safe so after about an hour looking around the shops in the port area, we headed back to the ship for lunch. Then back out, caught a cab to West Bay Beach and enjoyed the day at the beach. We both snorkeled out to the reef but there did not seem to be much sea life. Someone suggested that all the boats and tourist were pushing the fish further out to sea. We did see an eel and several squid and a few small fish. If we had it to do over again, we would likely have skipped shopping at the port area and gone directly to West Bay Beach. Dinner tonight in the main dining room, followed by a show with the Second City Players. Overall, the show was enjoyable but a little more risque than I like and we had seen some of the routines on previous cruises.
Wednesday -- Belize City, Belize. This was a tender port. We had pre-booked the X-Stream Cave Tubing excursion with Island Marketing/Belize Cruise Excursions. We took a 60 minute bus ride to the site (with a short potty break at a grocery store mid-way) and then a 45 minute hike to the cave entrance. We floated on inner tubes through two caves for about 60 to 90 minutes. The tour guides were knowledgeable and friendly. The tour guides described the water as "refreshing". It was cold but not excessively so. As we exited the last cave, it started to rain and we all learned what cold was. My DW said she looked over and saw me shivering on my inner tube. Fortunately, the rain only lasted a few minutes and it quickly warmed up. Then back on the bus for an hour ride back to the ship. After the tubing, we were served a lunch of chicken, rice and beans. The food was excellent but there was not time to eat it at the cave tubing site so we ate it on the bus ride home, juggling the food, drink and our change of clothing. We arrived back about 30 minutes before the last tender back to the ship. We showered/changed, had a quick dinner (or at least as quick as dinner can be on a cruise ship) and off to the evening show. The evening entertainment was a 70's themed music/dance performance by the ship's production crew. This was our favorite show of the cruise. Then back to the room, another quick change back into our bathing suits and off to the hot tub.
Thursday -- Costa Maya. We had pre-booked the Chacchoben Mayan Ruin's excursion with Native Choice. It was a 45 minute bus ride to Chacchoben and an hour and 45 minute tour through the ruins. Ruins consisted of three temples/pyramids and various unexcavated/restored mounds. While you could not climb to the top of the pyramids, you could climb the first several steps. We also saw several monkeys living in the trees at the ruins. They had limited shopping at Chocchoben for those looking for souvenirs. We were back to the port by 2 p.m. We had a light lunch (nachos and drinks at Carlos and Charles) at the port and did a little shopping. Drinks were excellent but expensive and the nachos were bland and disappointing. Then back to the ship, short nap and off to dinner. The show this evening was aerialists and was not really our preferred venue so we skipped the entertainment and went to one of the lounges where the ship's production cast performed show tunes. My DW tells me at least two of the singers have some formal voice training.
Friday -- Cozumel: Cozumel is a shopper's paradise. We left the ship about 8:30 a.m. to pick up some souvenirs for our children and grandsons. Came back to the ship for lunch and then took a taxi to Paradise Beach for the afternoon. Paradise Beach was a fun stop. Taxi was $14 each way and it was $2 to use the facilities. They had a large pool, and a palm tree lined beach front with chair underneath (for those who wanted shade). There were also chairs in the sun around the pool and along the beach. Paradise beach also had rest room, changing and shower facilities and even a few stores selling miscellaneous souvenirs. For an additional charge, they had trampolines and slides floating out in the water, jet ski and kayak rentals, massages, etc. They also had two large bars selling both drinks and food. Only complaint was the area was not good for snorkeling and the water was stirred up quite a bit. If we come back, we would likely spend more time at Paradise Beach. Then back to the ship, dinner and off to the show -- a comedy/juggling act called "Shark Bait". When we got back to the room, we had a voice mail message on our phone that the bridge tour was scheduled at 1 p.m. on Saturday. We skipped the hot tub this evening and went to bed early.
Saturday -- Sea Day. We got up early and went to eat breakfast in the main dining room. After breakfast, we starting the packing process (How did we get some many clothes scattered throughout the room and how did we fit everything in our suitcases?). Then off to spend our room credit. The sky was overcast and the temperature dropped quite a bit so no pool for us today. We puttered around the ship until dinner, followed by the evening show, Elements. Elements was a Cirque du Soleil-like show. Then back to the cabin to finish packing.
Sunday -- Disembarkation. We got up early and went to the buffet for breakfast. It was a mad house with no tables available. We found a table outside but it was overcast and fairly cold. Not the ideal weather for eating outside. We waited for them to call us for disembarkation and and got in a long line winding around the ship to get off. Lots of people cutting into the line. We were finally about half way through the line to get off the ship and they announced that they had opened another gangway off the ship. So, they split the line in the middle, where we were. We had the choice of the back of the line we were currently in or the back of the "new" line. We then picked up our suitcase and waited on another line to get through customs, then a third line to get a cab to the airport. It took longer to get off the ship (approximately 60 minutes) than to get on. Bottom line- neither Norwegian nor the port authority seemed to have their act together for disembarkation. You would have thought they had never done this before.
Summary -- excellent cruise for the money. Food was good, entertainment was good and the port stops were good. Out goal was to get out of the cold for a week and we achieved our objective. Now time to start planning next year's cruise.
We found there were no lines for dinner provided you ate before 6 p.m. After 6 p.m., there were lines at both Aqua and the main dining rooms. Since we are early eaters, we never had to wait for a table.
We enjoyed each meal and have no complaints about the quality of the food. In the buffet for breakfast, they have a fresh-made waffle stations and an omelet station (which will also prepare eggs made to order if you would rather have fried eggs). At lunch, they also had a Caesar salad station, vegetarian station, and pasta station in addition to the rest of the buffet line. I cannot comment about the buffet at dinner as we had every evening meal in either the main dining room or the Aqua dining room. Both the main dining room and Aqua had the same menu. The main dining room was more formal than Aqua but the service seemed slower. We enjoyed each meal and have no complaints about either the food quality of the service. Dinner normally took between 60 and 90 minutes for a three course meal with coffee afterwards. We are on vacation and were not in a rush so the time was not an issue and we enjoyed taking our time to enjoy the meal. If you are in a rush, I would suggest the buffet line for dinner. We also ate one lunch at the Blue Lagoon Cafe. Buffalo wings and tomato soup are highly recommended. We did not eat at any of the specialty dining rooms that have a cover charge as we found the main dining room more that sufficient for our needs.
We must have been last on our room steward's cleaning schedule. Rooms were serviced every day but typically, it was late morning/early afternoon before beds were made, towels exchanged, etc. Similar experience in the evening. Beds were not turned down after we returned from dinner. Our past experience was the rooms were serviced before we returned from breakfast and turn down service during dinner. The room steward always got to us, it was just later than we had experienced in the past. There was always ice in the ice bucket in the room. And we had towel animals and a chocolate on our pillow waiting for us every evening when the turn down service was performed.
We had a room credit for this cruise. Norwegian no longer allows the room credit to be applied to the tip (or the casino). Be sure to use the room credit before the end of the cruise or you lose the money.
There is only one electrical outlet in the room, by the desk. I have sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine. Without an extension cord, the cord from the CPAP would not have reached the outlet. We found it helpful to bring a power strip so we could also power/charge more than a single electronic item (e.g., lap top, cell phones, etc.) at one time while allowing me to plug in the CPAP.