Norwegian Star Cruise Review by FtlToday
- Sail Date: November 2011
- Destination: Western Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Mid-Ship Balcony
The NCL Star left port in Tampa for a 7 day cruise. We drove from Ft. Lauderdale and met up with the group in Tampa. Most of us were 'local' so car pooled, while one family flew in and met on board. While reading past reviews...I was not looking forward to the check-in process. I read some horror stories on line about the Tampa terminal. We got to the port at about 1:30 PM and there was a long line outside of the building. This surprised me since this is Florida...and if it were summer...you'd be getting heat stroke in the sun. We were lucky. The sun was out...but it wasn't too hot and the line did seem to move quickly.
Once inside the terminal, you go through security. This was a quick process...and we maybe waited 10 minutes. We then were taken to a large seating area where they broke us into groups...maybe 50 people or so. We got to sit for maybe 15 minutes and were ushered to the main check-in line. Another 20 or so minutes in line and we got to the check-in desk. Everyone we encountered so far was extremely friendly and helpful. We also had a 'conversation piece' T-Shirt. We had gotten custom tshirts for everyone in the party to announce the 50th Wedding Anniversary. All the employees at the pier thought they were great and it made for some fun conversations. The check in desk went smooth and easy. I think it took 10 minutes or so to check us in.
After check-in, we were routed to board the boat. The 'thing to do' when you board is have lunch. I think all cruise lines try to suggest you go there first to give them time to prep for everyone. We entered the boat in the 'Atrium' which was really nice. While you look around and see some of it could be updated...it didn't look neglected.
We made our way to the 'buffet' area which is a long linear eatery that curves around and gives you views from both sides of the ship. There is a door to go directly to the pool where there is another buffet set up. They also offer an omelette and egg station there in the mornings. The buffet is split up into 'mini-sections' and while busy, it wasn't too crazy. You could get to the food easily...and we found seats easy too. One thing to note is that many of the 'stations' serve different food, so you might want to scope out them all prior to filling up. We didn't purchase a beverage 'card', so we were limited to out drink options. These are all FREE: Water (water is filtered and very good, iced tea, orange juice (in the mornings), milk. They had your normal lunch items and were making fresh sandwiches. While this wasn't the 'best buffet I've ever had'...the food at the buffet was always hot and pretty good. I did kind of get bored with breakfast...but that isn't the ship's fault. They did have a good variety, but I get bored with eggs and bacon.
After we ate...we made our way to our cabins as they were ready. We were in a balcony aft (back of ship). The room was spacious, clean and surprisingly roomie. The bathroom was a bit small, but you really didn't realize it after a bit. Water in the room is ready to drink...and really good (and FREE). Our steward was attentive and always had ice waiting for us in the evenings along with a 'towel animal'. The balcony was great and we relaxed as we started to sail out.
Now I'll go into the food during the trip:
Main Dining Room (Versailles) -- NCL is 'freestyle' dining which means you can eat whenever...where ever. The main dining room is FREE (except for drinks and espresso, etc.). The dinner menu is split into 2 sections...one has specific items offered every day on the cruise...and one has a rotating menu. We ate here for dinner twice. Each time we did make a reservation since we had a large party. Overall...the service was 'ok'. Our first dinner was the best out of the 2 days we ate there. Thanksgiving was a bit of a mess. As you can imagine everyone wanted to eat in the main dining room that day. While we made reservations...they 'couldn't find them'. We almost had to split the party up...but they were able to accommodate at the last minute. The food was 'ok' as well. It's not over seasoned and a bit inconsistent. The good thing here is that you are allowed to wear jeans and a nice tshirt or polo shirt to dinner....even during 'formal' night.
The second 'main dining room' (Aqua) -- We ate here one night. While we had reservations...the hostess looked so lost and didn't know how to handle the crowd. We waited over 30 minutes and the restaurant wasn't even that busy. They serve the same menu as in the main dining room. The meal here was probably the worst of them all. The flavors were off and I would skip eating here.
The Blue Lagoon -- this is a FREE place to eat and it's more like their 'coffee shop'. Soup, sandwiches, wings and other light bites are offered. It's open 24/7 which is great. The food was good. Typical diner kind of food.
Room Service -- This is a FREE place to eat. Service can take a bit for delivery...and we found the food really good one time...and just 'ok' the other. The pizza they offer has a 'delivery fee'...and I'm not sure if it's just after a certain time...or all day. It's 24/7 with a limited menu late night.
The Buffet -- This is a FREE place to eat. Serves Breakfast, lunch, dinner and late snack. We found it pretty consistent and sometimes found the same items on the line as in the main dining room.
The Sushi Bar -- the Sushi Bar is 'al la carte'. Discounted prices are supposed to offer a 'higher quality' product. They start you off with a warm moist towel to wipe your hands with. Nice. The miso soup was great and so were the Godzilla Rolls. We stopped here more than a few times. I was really impressed. The service here was great as well.
The Chinese Restaurant -- This is connected to the Sushi Bar (and Saki Bar). There is a 'cover' charge of $10 or $15 I think. We didn't eat here.
The Japanese Steakhouse -- this is also connected to the Sushi Bar. This is like Bennihana. You need to book well in advance and there is a 'cover charge' as well. We didn't eat here either.
Le Bistro -- This is the French restaurant and there is a cover charge of $20 per person. Let me say that this was the BEST restaurant we had eaten in. The $20 was well worth it. With the $20 you get a special 'pre appetizer' from the chef and as many selections as you want off of the menu. I had the best duck here! We had escargot and French onion soup....all were GREAT. For after dinner...we went for the chocolate fondue and cream brule. Both were just as good as dinner. The service was over the top as well. Can't say how much we loved this place.
La Cucina -- This is the Italian restaurant and there is a cover charge of $10 or $15 per person. We ate here twice. They give you a 'pre appetizer' which was good and we had fried calamari as well. I had a chicken marsala type dish that was good. The pizza is pretty big and good quality. I think it's a different pizza than is served as 'kids meals' and on the buffet.
The Steak Restaurant -- We heard really really good things about this place. It carries a cover charge that was the highest of them all ($30 I think) and some of the menu items carried an additional charge. From the looks of the menu...they have some impressive options. One person in the party said it was the best steak she ever had.
Casino -- your typical casino with slots and table games. Not a bad slot assortment and they were not that tight. You might want to be sure you 'max bet' on the slots to maximize your pay back. The coin pusher thing was really fun. We spend hours at it on our last day. The casino is very smoky. You will know you are close by the smell.
Shows -- we went to the70's tribute show. Was 'ok'. Very typical cruise and what I expected. We also went to their last show of the cruise which was AWESOME. I think it was called Fire and Ice or Elements. It was like a Cirque show with cast members flying overhead and all over the theater. You must see this show.
Bingo -- was kind of pricey...so we passed.
Martini Tasting -- There was a cover charge..but well worth it. We got to try 5 full martini's.
Chocolate Buffet -- What a mess. This was set up around 10PM one night and the line was so long...you couldn't get near it. They should really re-think this.
We actually didn't hit so many things. This will leave room for next time!
Roatan -- This was probably the worst stop. The country is quite poor and the excursions are a bit one sided. It's a great place to SCUBA, but other than that...not much to see. The port itself has a small retail and restaurant space. You can venture outside the gates...but it's nothing too exciting to me. We took a tour around the island. The tour guide was 'ok'. We stopped at a grocery store and all the kids kept begging us for money.
Belize -- This was much better than our Roatan stop. We had to take a small boat to the port and we were first off since we booked an excursion through the ship. We did Altun Ha ruins. We got to the bus and I was surprised that it was an old school bus retrofitted with a new A/C unit. Weird. We boarded and the tour started. The first problem showed up right away. The PA system wasn't working...so the tour guide had to shout and we missed most of what she was saying. We finally got to the ruins (was an interesting ride) and we were handed off to a 'friend' of hers (since her voice was going). The ruins were awesome. You can actually climb some of the temples. It's quite humid and hot...so dress accordingly (even in winter) and don't forget bug spray! On the way back...the bus broke down. We waited about 45 minutes for a new (well..new'er than our first one) bus and rushed back to town. We complained to the NCL desk on the ship and we got a discount. Another reason you might want to book with the cruise lines. You pay a bit more...but at least they will not leave you if the tour is late...and you can possibly get a refund if the tour is a bust. The rest of Belize cruise terminal was full of retail and a few places to eat.
Costa Maya -- We docked early in the morning and were one of the first off the ship. Many people LOVE this port because they have so much to do right where the ship docks. You can swim with dolphins, shop, eat, snorkel. We took a taxi to the main beach area and walked around. Man do they like to attack you on the strip to shop in their store. There was a lot of construction on the beach strip, but was a nice area. They got slammed with a hurricane years ago and are still rebuilding. We ate at a small bar/restaurant and made our way back to the port for shopping.
Cozumel -- this was our favorite port. There was a medical emergency on the ship...so the captain had to pick up speed and we were in Cozumel hours ahead of schedule. We waited and left the ship early in the morning. The city is quite 'modern' and almost feels like you are in South Florida. There are a few very large Supermarkets just off the ship and you can get cheap soda and snacks. There is so much shopping here...we shopped and walked for HOURS.
Getting off the ship was easy and quick. We took our own luggage so didn't have to bother with tags.
A few things I didn't care for on the cruise:
If I hear about Tanzanite one more time!!! Sheesh. I get it...people like to buy gems...but they hock it so much on the ship. I would skip the 'port shopping seminar' unless you are into buying high end merchandise.
The Art Auction was a bit of a bust. The art was really nice...but the actual action seemed fake. I didn't remember any real bidding wars.
There was a 'sewer' smell many times by the portrait display area. It was reported and still showed up. Didn't like that it couldn't be fixed consistently.
Not enough places to get good sweets and small items.
We liked our cruise so much, we booked another cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale in March. Different cruise line (since NCL doesn't leave from Ft. Lauderdale). We will be cruising with NCL again and we recommend the Star. The staff is quite helpful and friendly and that makes a huge difference.