This was our second cruise aboard the Star and our fifth with NCL. Our previous cruise on the Star was on the Mexican Riviera. We are empty nesters so its easy to get away any time of the year, as long as we can find cat-sitters. We chose to do Alaska in May because the weather in Alaska can be as cold and rainy in July as it is in May, but in May there are fewer ships in port than later in the season.
The ship sailed from Vancouver, BC, because the previous cruise had been a repositioning cruise from Los Angeles. Vancouver was the foreign port that was required in order for the ship to operate its casino. But the Star will be primarily based in Seattle this summer. We stayed at the River Rock Casino, which is just east of the airport and right across the street from a light rail station. We don't gamble, but we found a package special on Travelzoo that included a two room suite, breakfast, and free parking, for just $140 per night, including tax. Unless you want to go out of town, you don't even need a car if you stay here, because the airport and Canada Place (the location of the cruise terminal) are all on the same, very easy to use, rail line. We chose to rent a car because we wanted to drive up to Whistler the day before the ship sailed.
We were aware that two HAL ships were departing from Canada Place cruise terminal on the same day as the Star. What we did not know is that the cruise terminal, while having room for up to three ships, was totally unprepared to deal with three ships. We got our first clue when we found the streets by Canada Place in total gridlock. We called the rental agency and were told to return to the care to the parking ramp under Canada Place. However, the traffic police had that blocked off and did not want to allow us in. I was let in after explaining to the cop that we needed to return the car. Our plan was to return the car at noon, check our bags with NCL, and wander around Gastown for a couple of hours. Wrong. After returning the car, we headed down the jammed elevators to the cruise terminal. We were met at the bottom by a huge queue, stretching as far back and forward as we could see. We were curtly informed by someone who appeared to be in charge that those at this location in the line had been waiting for two hours, and that we would have to go back up the packed elevators, out onto the street, and down the street to get to the end of the line. Another person who seemed to be in charge suggested that people may want to go away for a couple of hours and "have a coffee". We decided to take his advice and leave for awhile. Unfortunately, there was no way to dump our bags. So we took off, three suitcases, a backpack, and a carry bag in tow. Strolling Gastown was out of the question. Fortunately, we found Steamworks brewpub nearby and had a couple of excellent beers. I also ran down to the Alibi Room a few blocks away while the wife watched the bags. We returned at 2:30 and found the queue to still be huge, but at least it was moving. We still waited in lines for another hour before we were on the ship. The major jam was at customs. Everyone had to clear US customs before boarding. The queue for each ship did not even start until after customs. It looked like the non US or Canada citizens were being shunted off to a waiting room and were waiting even longer. Until we cleared customs, there was not an NCL or HAL representative in sight. I know the queue was not the fault of either cruise line, but I wish they had their reps out there letting people know what was going on. Based on this experience, I would advise avoiding cruises from Vancouver, or at least making sure that no other ships are leaving that day.