We chose Norwegian Star as it was going to northern Norway and one of our group was particularly keen to visit the North Cape. Whilst my wife and I are regular cruisers (we average 2 a year) the reminder of our group were either novices or had cruised once before.
There were 6 of us in total and we joined the ship in Copenhagen, embarkation was relatively painless and despite the check in area being very full from arrival to actually getting onboard took approximately 30 mins. Whilst our cabins were not available we had been informed of this during check in so we took the opportunity to explore the ship.
Norwegian Star is a small ship in comparison to newer ships (she is 15 years old) but for this cruise she was completely full; passengers were a mix of Germans, American, South Koreans, Australians with small contingents of Spainish, French and British.
As I said the ship is not in the first flush of youth and is beginning to show her age particularly in the area of fixture and fittings, which are reaching the end of their operational life (shower fittings that leak, dents and scratches to walls etc and occasional issues with the public toilets), however, once made aware these problems are quickly rectified.
Our cabin (8568) was an obstructed view on the port (left) forward section of the ship and whilst not the largest cabin we've had it was sufficient for our needs with plenty of storage space. The "obstructed" view was not as bad as some and we had more than sufficient natural light and a decent view and was not an issue. The only thing to note was when the beds are combined (to make a double) the space between one end of the bed is insufficient to get through, although stepping over won't be too much of an issue for the able bodied.
As already mentioned and in line with most other lines our cabin was not available until approximately 2 hours after embarking, but when the announcement was made we headed straight for the cabin and all our luggage had already arrived. Again in line with with all other cruise lines you get what you pay for so toiletries were limited, just shampoo and shower gel in wall mounted containers was available neither were we entitled to a kettle (reserved for deck 10 and above) nor chocolates at night.
As an incentive we had been "given" the ultimate drinks package which had we purchased it onboard would have cost 70 USD per person per day. Having seen the amount and vitriol this matter generates I will just say the only disappointment is that it does not include coffees and teas purchased from the coffee shop which I consider to be a little mean spirited - on other ships we've sailed on it was included and it enhanced the benefit of the package and resulted in more people participating. It is also noteworthy that cakes are charged for at the coffee shop which again is not the case on upmarket lines.
We also paid to use the onboard spa and I initially thought this a mistake as the weather was so good we spent the majority of our time on the upper deck sunbathing and swimming (it is worth nothing that it is always possible to get sun beds and there is a large number of beds in the pool area - although these are the first to go). However, as we streamed further north the weather did turn with overcast skys, wind and at times rain and this was when having access to the Spa became beneficial.
The main restaurants onboard open for every meal are Versailles and O'Sheehans with both having waiter service and Market Cafe self service (open from 6 am - 10:30 pm) the food in all three is of a good quality but can get busy: Versaille and Market Cafe for breakfast and dinner (particularly prior to shows and early morning port arrivals) and O'Sheehans in the afternoon when people come back onboard (O'Sheehans is open 24hr).
Aqua is open for dinner and occasionally lunch (I think) and serves very similar food to Versaille (they share a kitchen) again the food is of a good standard. The main difference between Versaille and Aqua is the decor.
With other lines we've enjoyed the speciality restraurant package so we purchased a similar restaurant package which entitles you to a meal in 3 of the 4 A-la-carte restaurants. We chose La Cucuina (Italian), Cagney's (Steak) and Le Bistro (French). The main reason we choose this option is to have an enjoyable relaxed meal in special surroundings. Regretfully this was not the case with La Cucuina the food was if anything a little worse than that available in the normal restaurants, with the pasta being to al-dente for my taste and the atmosphere being dull and lifeless we all agreed that if we encountered the same in the other two restaurants we would request our money back.
We then tried Cagney's (steak) and whilst the atmosphere was better the food was of a varying standard - your steak is measured by its uncooked weight and 4 of our party order the same steak, weight and cooked the same we received different sizes and level of cooked meat.
As a party of 6 we were sat at a table for 4 (despite our pre booking our number of diners and arrival time), and despite the restaurant being less than half full, consequently we ate cheek by jowl and elbow to elbow whilst not an issue for the starter it became one for the entree. Such was the lack of room to move and the impact on our enjoyment that some of us gave up with less than a third of the entree eaten and decided against a desert. We've still to try the French restaurant and I'll provide an update in due course.
The shows are of a high quality with something for everyone - you won't like every show but you should enjoy most. We feel the standard of entertainment is one of the best we've encountered.
The ship lacks a place to sit inside enjoying the scenery with a drink - given that we're in the Artic sitting on deck with a glass of wine watching stunning scenery go by is not an enjoyable pastime not least as it gets cold and wet.
The other annoying thing is the insistence of having music in the bars - the problem being that the music is provided by live musicians who are very good but the bars are so small and full (hence noisy) that to be heard the music has to be played loudly thus making conversation all but impossible.
The situation is not helped by the number of restaurants - this looks to me like an accountant has had an input - this results in less people going for pre dinner drinks and post dinner going to the threate (pre show) to enjoy a drink and conversation.
Perhaps of greatest concern is hygiene management - as is now industry standard hand gel is provided at each dining venue as well as outside of all public toilets. On a worryingly number of occasions we've found the containers to be empty and even after informing senior members of staff found the situation to still get exist some 40 minutes later. 2 of our group are health professionals and thus we've taken to carrying our own hand gel just in case.
However, the service provided by the staff is high and nothing is to much trouble - you feel if you asked for polar bear nose in aspic they do their best to provide.
So far the impression is one of a ship past its best and an organisation run by accountants which results in too much penny pinching and reduced quality - we previously considered NCL and Celebrity to be of a similar standard but this seems to be no longer the case with NCL going the way of P&O whilst Celebrity going from strength to strength.
Hope this helpful to you.