BOTTOM LINE: The is a spectacular itinerary on a well-maintained ship with a wonderful crew and very enjoyable dining.
ITINERARY: Two weeks along the coast of Norway, from Copenhagen DK to North Cape NO and return, well above the Arctic Circle for the summer solstice (midnight sun). The scenery on this itinerary is spectacular, much of it in mountainous archipelagos like those of Alaska and Chile. The cities and towns along the way are delightful and (except for Bergen and Geiranger) they are uncrowded. More port-on-your-own info follows.
SHIP: The Star is about 15 years old, but was nicely refurbished in 2015. The deck plan is a bit chopped up, with some areas requiring detours for access, but overall the public areas are very pleasant. The one weakness is the lack of a vista lounge for scenic cruising -- the top deck buffet and short hallways aft of it are the only indoor areas with full glass walls. The "free" dining rooms have some windows, but only the surcharged restaurants (mostly unused during the day) have full glass walls. You will need to be outside for good scenic cruising, so dress accordingly.
CREW: The Star crew is exceptionally friendly and helpful -- a reflection of good management. The officers are also very responsive to passenger requests. The master gives scenic cruising and port info by PA, but unfortunately this is not included in the daily printed program, where entertainment and dining options seem to take precedence.
CABINS: Smaller than the current industry average, but attractive, functional, and comfortable, with good climate control. The bathrooms are larger than average, with great showers. On this itinerary I opted for a (windowless) inside mid-ship lower deck cabin, so that I could have absolute darkness when I wanted to sleep during the midnight sun, and stability in case of storms in the unprotected segments of the north Atlantic (the sea was calm and the weather was fine -- just one rainy day, and that was a sea day near the end of the cruise).
DINING: Dining on the NCL Star is surprisingly good. NCL prides itself on the the variety of restaurants on each ship, and the Star did not disappoint. About half of the dining venues are surcharged, but one can eat very well using only the "free" restaurants. While many cruise lines are simplifying menus, NCL instead offers a huge variety of menu choices and styles, even in the buffet. Every dining venue that I tried had good to excellent dishes available in each course. Only the appetizers in the Asian Ginza restaurant disappointed -- hollow spring rolls, tiny pot stickers, meager cabbage salad. Since the Star repositions to Asia at the end of 2016, this menu problem will probably be corrected. The Ginza main courses (Chinese-American) were fine. I did not try the surcharged Japanese (sushi and teppanyaki) Ginza options. The main dining rooms (Versailles and Aqua) are very enjoyable (identical good menus and fine service), and the "free" 24-hour Sheehan's pub offers tasty guilty pleasures. The buffet was so good that I always had breakfast and snacks there, and sometimes opted to have dinner there too.
DRESS CODE: The Star is informal -- there are a few dress-up-or-not nights on each cruise. On my cruise people wisely focused on outdoor clothing (good rain gear and warm layers for scenic cruising and shore hikes). There were no tuxes, rare business suits, and few sports jackets in the main dining rooms. I managed fine with just a small (18 inch) carry-on bag plus a down vest, fleece sweater, and a goretex rain suit that I carried over my arm. This also allowed easy self-assist disembarkation shortly after 0715 in Copenhagen (before the official 0800 start time).
ENTERTAINMENT: The musicians, singers, and dancers on board our cruise far exceeded the industry norm. All were very talented. One warning -- the sound level, especially in the smaller bars and sometimes in the main theater, will blast you out of your seat. Take ear plugs and do not be afraid to use them! Ear plugs are also useful in the buffet if you do not want to listen to pop music while you eat. During the day the ship is quieter than most, almost as subdued as a deluxe cruise line, but at night the crew try to push a party atmosphere, which did not match the older European clientele on our itinerary. Again, take ear plugs to the public areas in the evenings.
ENRICHMENT AND SHORE ACTIVITIES: There were no enrichment activities other than a brief announcement by the captain at each port. Hopefully NCL will add this in the future. I did not use any shore excursions except for a private tour of the Lofoten Islands ex Leknes port (see logistics below).
LOGISTICS: The ship doced at Ocean Kaj terminal north of the city center. I boarded around 2:30 pm when there were no lines -- embarkation took only a few minutes. Copenhagen public transport is excellent, and the city provides shuttles between the cruise terminal and Oosterport transit station (there is a half-block walk between the cruise shuttle stop and the station). Take bus #25 or #27 to/from Ocean Kaj, or bus #26 to/from other cruise terminals. The disembarkation shuttles do not start until about 0800, so I hitched a ride (about 2 km) with a local to exit the port area, then took the train from Nordhavn transit station, which is one station north of Oosterport (S-trains to city center or regional RE trains to CPH airport are fast and cheap). There were 6 cruise ships turning around in Copenhagen at the end of our cruise (a total of 15,000 pax on, and 15,000 pax off) yet my early disembarkation was a breeze. I rented a place for several days before and after the cruise via airbnb.com -- living like a Dane was great fun and is highly recommended if you have the time.
PORTS ON YOUR OWN: Each port on our itinerary was enjoyable without needing to buy an excursion, with the exception of Leknes (Lofoten Islands). The Lofotens are gorgeous, but you will need to buy a tour (preferably through the roll call on this site) to enjoy them. Public transport, museums, and other venues at each port in Norway are so modern that I used a credit card (chip and pin type for Europe) in every port and did not even have to change any money into NOK. There was a good free map, tourist info center, and public transport in or near each port. Using comfortable walking shoes (joggers) and my copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Norway, I was able to enjoy a full day on my own in each port. I will not list my favorites for each port because this review will be buried soon after I post it. Besides, if you do your own research, you will find the options that you enjoy the most -- for me that was scenic villages, panoramic hikes, and local museums -- available in abundance on this itinerary. Bon voyage!
SUMMARY: This is one of my favorites of my 40 plus cruises -- very highly recommended!