The Norwegian Star cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore 22th of December suffered from itinerary changes because of a broken Azipod. The communication from NCL was totally insufficient when it was already known from the forums that the ship will never make the original itinerary. The email came through the TA first couple of days before the cruise. The next changes were waiting when embarking the ship. The itinerary was changed once again during the cruise. Kaohsiung in Taiwan, Halong Bay in Vietnam, Sihanoukville in Campodia and Koh Samui in Thailand were left out but the ship instead stayed extra overnight in Phu My and made stops in Chan May and overnight in Laem Chabang. We would have never chosen the new itinerary while it was boring with too many sea days. The 50 % payback and 50 % future cruise credit made it still tolerable.
The embarkation in Hong Kong went super smoothly as we were practically the only passengers in the cruise terminal around 4 pm. In the ship our luggages were already waiting outside the cabin. From the cruise program we noticed surprisingly that the evacuation drill was in half an hour. Just made it. The ship was still to sail first in the next day.
The balcony cabins are rather small and outdated. The table by the balcony is outmost terrible. The bed was though very comfortable and the bath functional enough. Our cabin steward Jennifer was really good as we like the stewards that are not too pushy and social. She made us an unbelievable collection of towel animals and always remember the nightly latitudes guests chocolates.
Market Cafe, the buffet on board, must be the ugliest on the seven seas. The beverage stations in the middle really doesn´t help. We would wait to see something like this place as a eatery for the workers in a factory, no offense for the industrial workers. The variety of the dishes was minimal and the quality seldom met our expectations. The lunch was always the same. The dinner buffet tried to have some theme nights. The service was though efficient and the used plates were cleaned up quickly. The cruise was not full and it was always quite easy to find a table.
The two main dining rooms serve the same menu. It was always easy to get a table anytime, probably while the cruise was not full. The waiters were efficient and professional but why the hurry? We are not going anywhere. We usually have two appetizers and a main course, sometimes even a main course as the second course. This seems to be impossible to understand. Maybe it is the American way to get all the food at the same time but as we are used to more European style dining we find it rather strange. Why the waiter is standing by my table with the next plate in hand while I have not finished the previous one? I am sorry to say but we find this rather rude. This is though not only a problem in NCL. The quality of the food is mediocre but the portion certainly are big. The food was too often served lukewarm. The menu is a bit confusing while there are some dishes there every day, just in the other order. The lava cake and the chocolate volcano by the are the same dessert.
The special restaurant onboard there lacking the "special" what they usually have on the other cruise lines or even NCL before. We noticed no difference in the service and mostly the food was nothing special. It would be ridiculous to pay the "a la carte" prices and the only way to enjoy the dinner is to have the dining package. Le bistro was nothing special. The soups were normal. I don´t eat any meat but fish is alright. The main course salmon was totally the same as served almost every day in the main dining with the same strange liquid potato smash or soupy beans made for the people with no teeth. La Cucina has lost the last bit of its charm when they change the menu. The service was bad and the atmosphere nonchalant. Cagney´s was a disappointment. The shrimp cocktail is the same you get in the main dining room in the other cruise lines. The salad with parmesan (wow?) and oversweet dressing was strange. My friend needed even to send the steak back while it was inedible, my fish was a bit better than other where. All the special restaurants have the same couple of wines by the glass as every other bar in the ship. Not even one "special" wine. The only way to get some other wine in NCL is to buy the whole bottle.
The pool area is rather small and some parts were always under maintenance. The two yellow waterslides are really too much and they ruin the area. The Topsiders bar has practically no comfortable seating. The beer garden on the other end is a bit strange. They had some extra beer selection but was mostly doing frozen drinks as every other pool bar in the ships. No pretzels or anything resemblance to a German beer garten. The solarium part in the front misses the stairs. If you want to go from lower level to the only whirlpool you will need to walk quite a round. In the back of the outside deck is "a quiet zone" that here means a helipad and is located just by the kids corner which takes the best place from the outside deck where there would be a perfect place for a sunset bar. Do they really need to have to zones for the children as the main pool with the slides practically is a children pool as well? Because of the slides, the main pool falls also in the category of the most ugliest on the seven seas.
The grand atrium is surprisingly impressive but why there is no bar or at least bar service? The best place and practically the whole seating area is Java Cafe which serves only costly special coffees. If somebody wanted a aperative, they were asked to get their drinks elsewhere. When the worker was alone there, he of course showed no interest in getting other drinks for the guest. The other guy sometimes working there probably had nothing else to do so he sometimes even got the drinks. Most of the evenings people were just sitting there with no coffees or drinks. This area appealed mostly the elderly public probably because of the peculiar Philippine trio playing old American country classics or something in that style.
The O´Sheenans pub share the view to the Atrium and to the Philippine Trio. The bar staff was stressed out. The eatery side was tops 1/6 full on any night. We had there a lunch one day but unfortunately we don´t get the idea of this "comfort food" or pub food however you call it as it means hot dogs and hamburgers. Really? Are they not the same as are in the pool grill.
The new 5 o´clock somewhere bar goes also in the category the most ugliest bar on the seven seas. Why the uncomfortable chairs made for outside seating? Why the sport screen on the other end and the "stage" with a bad guitarist or even the string duo playing classical or, what was the most shocking, karaoke? Some special drinks were served in a plastic cup as in the pool area.
Spinnaker lounge would be a great place if it was meant to be retro chic but I am afraid it is the original "night club" from the seventies. Although the ship is built in the 2000´s. The ultimate white party and other ultimate things NCL likes to praise were organized in this sad vague venue. The results were no more that ultimate. Even the normal guest/crew dancing contest that usually is a bit entertainment lost a lot in this venue, although the losers lounge video inserts were genuinely funny.
Gatsbys seemed to be the only decent bar to sit at the evenings. The program was always the same. First the string duo followed by Lisa playing Piano. She was though quite amusing in her own style. The martinis were good although you need to be friend with the bartenders and the waiters while the Norwegian ultimate beverage package is quite far from ultimate. You can still get in this bar the Cosmopolitan with normal vodka and a appletini with normal vodka instead of the "special " cosmopolitan and "special" apple martini that are in the menu but not included in the package. The espresso martini was though not to replace by any so we even paid the difference couple of times.
Back to the "ultimate" beverage package. We understand the package often given as a free perk may not be able to include everything but please don´t call it ultimate. It is almost a crime to charge extra 6 USD for a bottle of distilled water. We rather like the Celebrity Cruise style there they have two packages the other one including also all martinis, bottled water and special coffees. If you want to have those in your package you can buy an upgrade. Everybody can choose what they prefer.
The production shows were rather good and certainly the singers and the dancers the most professional we have ever seen on the cruise ships. It was nice for a change to see adult dancers instead of the young girls and boys trying to manage the choreography or trying to be sexy. We are not a big fans of acrobats but on this ship they were also very high standard. It was nice to watch a show when you needed not to think how they can evacuate this poor thing from the ship when he/she is going to fall any second. The show with lady changing clothes and "dancing" with the guy "dancing" in funny costumes and doing acrobatics were like the ones from the country side high school shows.
Chan May, Phu My and Laem Chabang are industrial ports and there is totally nothing to do in there. We realized first onboard that the ship is not going to Danang although it has a port but to a tiny forgotten place called Chan May. The passport officer (really, no corruption?) sold us a taxi to Hue. The place was really not worth visiting. In Phu My we have bought a country side excursion from the ship while there was nothing else to do in the first day. The ship arrived at 3 pm but was cleared first after 4.30 pm with strange explanations from the captain who certainly was not a born talent to make the PAs. We cancelled the excursion while the sun set already in 5.30 and we thought there is no use to sit in the bus looking at a dark countryside. Next day we have booked a private car to take us to Saigon. Of course we needed to change the date while the itinerary kept on changing. We could never find the driver although he probably were outside the gate. We figured this out later from the emails from the company. He just knew no English nor could held a paper with our name. We took instead a taxi which turned out to be cheaper. Ho Minh City was nice to see but nothing special. By the way, why the excursions from the ships always start at 7.30 or 8 am? We had a nice quiet breakfast and took the taxi at 10 pm and could perfectly do everything. Laem Chabang is two hours bus ride from Bangkok. We would actually not call this port Bangkok anymore but who are we to say. We have visited Bangkok several times so we took the shuttle bus to Pattaya and a taxi back while there was nothing to do in Pattaya for 8 hours. The beach is rather small and otherwise it is a place for older gentlemen coming without female companion but searching for one or English party people. Obviously we were neither.
The NCL resembles the new cheap airlines there you need to pay extra for everything, to have a luggage or to get even a glass of water. The crew in Star was though especially professional and relaxed compared to other Norwegian ships we have sailed. Once in the Pearl most of them did not even recognize the difference between red and white wine. Don´t wait any ultimate or luxury in Star, it is just Norwegian. It is alright as long as you know what can wait for. We were prepared to this and although it felt sometimes strange had a good time. And believe it or not, have booked a future NCL cruise with our credits.