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Norwegian Star Cruise Review
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
2,612 Reviews

The ship was nice, but the shore excursion process was painful

Norwegian Star Cruise Review by MIT72

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Dec 2019
  • Destination: the Panama Canal & Central America
  • Cabin Type: Mid-Ship Balcony

We chose this cruise because we wanted to go through the Panama Canal and had been to most of the Mexican ports that would be covered by a cruise starting or ending in California. We were particularly interested in the Colombian ports, which were cancelled two weeks before our sailing date and NCL would refused to let us cancel and get our money refunded. Supposedly the ship had "mechanical issues" that required the change in itinerary, but as best we could tell, the ship was sailing at full speed. No one on the ship would tell us what was wrong until the last day when a "beverage manager" said they had engine issues.

Our previous voyage with NCL was to the Canary Islands in January 2019. We liked that cruise and booked the Miami to Santiago cruise shortly after our return home. Our experiences with the most recent cruise were so bad, we do not intend to sail with NCL again.

We booked our flights through NCL. Coming from California, we wanted to have one night in Miami prior to the cruise, but NCL insisted that we either stay 2 nights in the hotel they specified (which got poor reviews on Trip Advisor) or come in the day of the sailing on a red-eye flight. Our red-eye was scheduled to arrive at 7:00 AM, but got in at 6:30 AM. Our final cruise documents said the transfer desk would not open until 8:30 AM and the first transfer would be around 10:30 AM. We sat in a cafe and showed up at the transfer desk at 8:15 AM. There was a sign on the desk saying they opened at 8:30, but they had been open for some time and had filled all of the seats on the first two buses. There was no where to sit except on the baggage carousels, which at that point were not in operation. About a half hour later the baggage carousels started and we were left without seats. My husband uses a cane and cannot stand for extended periods of time, so it was a problem. We were told we had to stick around, because they didn't know when the buses would be loaded. We finally got on a bus around 10:30. When we got to the terminal, we were directed to the handicapped line, but we still ended up standing for about 40 minutes. Every so often a check-in staff person would rush by, look at the line and just say "Everyone fine?" and rush away before anyone could respond. The check-in process was terribly slow. We watched people being given the wrong ship card and then the come back to interrupt the line to get the correct one. This went on for a long time. When it was our turn, the check-in person walked away to get our cards and came back, looked at them, saw they were the wrong ones and immediately went back to get the right ones make the process take about an extra 5 minutes at least per person.

Our balcony cabin was very nice. The cabin bathrooms are well designed and the beds comfortable. Our steward was attentive. If you want hand lotion, you have to ask your steward for it, but it can be provided.

The buffet food was not nearly as good as the buffet food we had on NCL in January. Many passengers commented that the quality and variety of the buffet food was much worse than previously. One person said his last cruise was in October and the buffet was much worse this time. At lunch the best thing was the Asian noodle soup and although there was always a line for it (with many non-Asians including ourselves), they never created a second "station" for the Asian noodle soup. The other lunch highlight was the carmel sauce for the desserts, but unfortunately, except for the first day, there was never any vanilla ice cream. The ice cream at the station outside by the pool was usually overly soft and the time the buffet staff sent me out there, they didn't have vanilla ice cream either. At breakfast, the buffet ran out of both All Bran cereal and Bran Flakes early in the cruise. Also cottage cheese was not available except for a couple of days at the beginning. If you wanted prunes or prune juice for breakfast, you had to go the main dining room.

We ate dinner in the main dining room every night and because of our ghastly boarding experience were given a dinner reservation for the same table for the duration of the cruise. Our waiter was excellent and provided good advice on what was good to eat. Unfortunately, the menu repeated much too often. There never was any kind of "gala night" so no lobster tail or real steak (just mediocre strip steaks).

The excursion departure process has horrible, especially on the disembarkation day. We were always told to gather in the auditorium (which spans from deck 5 to deck 7 with narrowly-spaced seats in tiers. On disembarkation day, we were told to arrive 20 minutes before the time on our tickets for a tour and transfer to the airport. We arrived about 25 minutes ahead and were fortunate to secure seats in a handicapped area. However, the overall process was very nasty and in my opinion dangerous, with people moving rollaboard suitcases on stairs and lifting them over seated passengers. We sat and sat and sat. Our tour with transfer wasn't called until 45 minutes after the time on our tickets and we were on the bus until over an hour after the ticket time. We had to endure a similar, but not quite as lengthy process of sitting in the auditorium before every excursion. In hindsight at least on departure day, I would have booked an independent cruise transfer with an outside vendor, so we could just get off the ship and skip having to listen to the same messages in the auditorium for over an hour.

There were supposed to be "port" lectures, but the lecturer was more interested in general trivial and sensationalism than informing people about ports. Only the first one or two of his talks concerned places we were able to visit on the cruise.

Ship days got to be horribly boring, because we do not gamble, attend art auctions or do trivia. The library shelves were locked except for a few hours a day.

The volume in the ship shows with the cast of singers and dancers was for us painfully loud. We had enjoyed the shows on prior NCL cruises, but this time the high volume was a major negative.

We sailed with Holland American in August and with Hurtigruten in April and found them more to our liking. At this point, we have a couple of river cruises booked, and I keep my eyes open for ocean cruise itineraries of interest, but NCL is off my list of vendors.

MIT72's Full Rating Summary
Onboard Experience
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
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Shore Excursions
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Cabin Review

Mid-Ship Balcony

Our cabin was compact, but comfortable. There was only a bedside table on one side and we both use CPAP machines, so I put my on the side of the small couch. There were no electrical outlets on the side of the room with the head of the beds, so I ran an extension cord from the other wall and plugged both CPAP machines into it.

There was not a chair in the room, just a stool. Some people complained about the lack of chairs. The ship internet was extremely slow even at off peak times like the middle of the night. Messages that I was never able to download through the ship wifi downloaded instantly when I got on the wifi at the airport lounge.

NCL only asks about a limited range of competitors. They do not see small ships like Star Clippers or Windstar or river cruises or expedition ships or tours as competitors, but all of those are competitors for potential passengers time and money. We enjoyed our first 3 NCL cruises enough to come back, but this cruise indicated to us that NCL is moving downmarket and that it no longer provides what we want.

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Island Tour

There isn't a lot of do on Grand Cayman if you don't want to get in the water. This port was added as a substitute at the last minute. We would not have booked this cruise if we had known the Colombian ports would be cancelled.

View All 209 Island Tour Reviews

Excellent local guide. Good cooking demo and produce market tour.

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Our NCL transfer to the ship was not handled well. Seating at the location for meeting the transfer was completely inadequate.

The Tortuguero Canals

When we spent a couple of weeks in Costa Rica, our Tortuguero Canal cruise in the national park was a highlight with spider monkeys swinging in the trees over our heads. This time the cruise was in an old industrial area. There were a few howler monkeys high in the trees near the start point, but other than that it was birds, iguanas and a cayman.

View All 82 The Tortuguero Canals Reviews

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