Warning and apologies in advance for how ridiculously long this is going to be! Feel free to pass on by. :)
My husband and I met our 23-year-old daughter in Venice (she lives in Germany) to embark on the NCL Star 7-day Greek Isles cruise August 18-25, 2019. Planned stops were Kotor (Montenegro), Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, and Argostoli (all Greece), and Dubrovnik (Croatia). At check-in we found that the Venice Portmaster had, for some reason, mandated that the ship leave about 4 hours later, which meant we wouldn’t be able to stop in Kotor the next day. It was disappointing, but since there was clearly nothing we could do about it we just decided to enjoy having a day at sea.
CABIN: For our first time ever, we upgraded from our usual balcony to a suite. The Star doesn’t have a Haven, but has the “Family Suite” (plus other suites), which was awesome, and great value for the money! The bed was one of the most comfortable we’ve ever slept in. We were in 12026, which had plenty of space for the 3 of us. There’s no balcony, but (almost) floor to ceiling windows. Not gonna lie, I did miss having a balcony, but I would still book that type of suite again over a smaller balcony cabin. Plus, we were very close to the pool area so could easily go outside there. Our daughter had the choice of a murphy bed or a fold-out couch. She chose the murphy bed, and the steward got it out for her each evening and put it away each day. It had a curtain that went all the way around it for plenty of privacy, which was nice. The bathroom was amazing compared to regular balcony cabin bathrooms!! There was actually room to move, plus two sinks and a separate tub and shower. You have to go through the walk-in closet, which is a bit small, to get to the bathroom, but that wasn’t a big deal to us.
NEED TO KNOW: This cabin had no USB ports near the bed, and only one European outlet on each side of bed, which had lamps plugged in. My husband had to unplug his lamp and use a converter to use his CPAP machine, and I had to plug my phone in across the room, which made it hard to hear my alarm. Also, there is no outlet in the bathroom except for shavers. However, there is a big mirror and counter space in the main room with plenty of outlets (U.S. and European), and there were 2 hair dryers in the room.
~ If you’re going to book a Family Suite on the Star, try to book 12030, 12032, 12530, or 12532. They’re a bit bigger due to angling of the ship.
~ Definitely bring converters and power strips for more plug-in options, and if you’re bringing a curling iron, curling wand, or hair straightener make sure they’re dual-voltage so you’ll have a choice of either U.S. or European outlets.
~ Suites get snacks & treats delivered to the room each afternoon. If you want to keep something (like chocolate-covered strawberries), put it in your mini fridge, otherwise they’ll take it away later.
GETTING TO CRUISE: We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Venice Mestre San Giulano the night before the cruise. In my research I had been under the impression that the farthest we could be driven was to the People Mover, so had planned to take that. However, our taxi driver was able (by showing our cruise documents) to take us all the way to the actual ship, which was awesome! I believe that taxi ride was around 35 euro.
EMBARKATION: Since we were in a suite, we got priority boarding which was awesome! They had mailed us priority luggage tags ahead of time, and as soon as they saw our tags, they came to us, checked our bags, and escorted us to a priority area with light food & beverages. They brought our room key cards to us there. We were the first ones on the ship, and were led on and brought to Cagney's for lunch (suite guests have options of free breakfast and lunch in a couple of the specialty restaurants throughout the cruise). After lunch we went to the pool bar and hung out there all afternoon. Our suite was open by about 1:45 p.m., but our luggage didn't come until around 4:00 (we expected that so we weren’t upset). Muster was at 5:00 p.m., and went very quickly and smoothly. We had a couple of issues trying to set up the social media internet package and were finally told to go to the "Internet Manager" on Deck 9 who fixed our issue within 2 minutes.
PHONE/INTERNET: Make sure you go into airplane mode when you’re leaving each port, or you could get big phone charges! You can still get onto the ship’s app for free while you’re in airplane mode, and the ship’s internet if you pay for it. One of our Free-at-Sea offers was 250 internet minutes, which my husband planned to use. However, he forgot to turn it off the first night, and wasted it. I told him to go talk to guest services and they might give him some time back, but he didn’t care enough to do that. My daughter and I both bought the social media package. We were going to share one (by taking turns), but then she wanted her own, so we were each able to have it on at all times on the ship, which was really nice. It worked great for Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and Snapchat. Not sure about Twitter; I didn’t try it. We could upload and send pics without a problem; it was just a little slow at times. When we got into each port, we went out of airplane mode and used Verizon data for $10/day. You can also pay around $10 per person for the entire cruise to communicate with each other through the ship’s app while on board.
SHIP ENTERTAINMENT: I had seen several reviews in which people said they were disappointed with the entertainment on this cruise. Maybe our standards are lower but we seriously enjoyed almost everything we watched! We saw Band on the Run, the Vegas Show, Paradis, Craig Halliday (violinist), a magician/contortionist show, and an aerobatic show by a married couple. Band on the Run was the first night, and when it started I thought it was going to just be so-so quality, but it ended up being very good! Vegas and Paradis were fantastic, as was Craig Halliday and the aerobatic show. The only show we weren’t super enthusiastic about was the magician. He was decent, but lots of his tricks were repetitive (just different boxes to appear and disappear in), and it was easy to figure most of them out. We also went to the Atrium lounge for Neil Diamond music by the “Melodic Trio,” which was really nice.
TIP: The BALCONY SIDE SEATS are excellent if you can get a front row in them! We were quite close to the stage (looking down on it) and could see great, plus had extra leg room and a ledge on which to put our drinks, which the regular seats didn’t have.
OTHER SHIP FUN: We went to Bliss Lounge for a “Finish That Song” game show, which was lots of fun but they clearly wanted the game to end in a tie (not a big deal, but what’s the point?). We went to World Landmark Trivia and were disappointed when it ended up being World Flag Trivia, but we played anyway and managed to guess a few correctly. We went to the “Not So Newlywed” game in Bliss, which was hilarious (as expected). It is definitely not kid-friendly, but the staff in charge kept warning people of that, so nobody can say they didn’t know ahead of time. We went to Bingo once, but they didn’t have enough players so they gave us our money back and let us play for free. We went to the Perfect Couple game, which was fun and funny, but also not for all audiences. Overall had a good time doing those things. We aren’t super late-night people, so didn’t go to any of the late parties and other events.
SHIP SPECIAL SERVICES: My daughter and I got “Fire & Ice” pedicures (involves hot rocks) in the spa, and they were awesome! They cost $75 each, plus gratuity, so came out to $88 each. There was another option that was only $6 less but it didn’t include as much leg and foot pampering, so we were glad we’d splurged the little bit of extra. We also attended one of the “Canvas By U” sessions (painting by instructions) for $35 and had lots of fun, plus have our paintings as souvenirs.
NOT-SO-GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE: I had read a lot of other reviews about this cruise and ship, and noticed quite a bit of negativity about customer service. Honestly, I thought people were just being a bit whiny, but now I have to agree, because this cruise had the poorest customer service we’ve ever experienced on an NCL cruise. It wasn’t bad enough to ruin our trip, and since we’ve had other good NCL experiences we know this wasn’t representative of all NCL cruises, but it was still surprising and disappointing. Examples:
~ We had heard/read that with a suite we would get a butler. We had a letter in our room from ours telling us to call anytime, but we literally never saw him until Thursday morning (on a Sunday-Sunday cruise), and then we just happened to notice his name tag when he was helping in the priority disembarkation area for Mykonos. We saw him a few times in our room after that, but he was always in a big rush. We didn’t have any particular needs that weren’t being met, but we also didn’t experience anything special from him. I don’t know if this was because NCL had him spread too thin doing other things, or if it was just his work habit, but we talked to other people in a suite and they said their butler was awesome.
~ In a suite you get free room service, but when we tried to call for breakfast one morning, nobody answered. The menu had said we could leave a door hanger menu out at night to order for the next day, but we didn’t have any of those in our room. I called the concierge later and told her that, so we got some after that and when we did get room service it was reasonably decent.
~ The morning that we couldn’t get room service for breakfast I went to the cereal and yogurt bar out by the pool, and they had no spoons out. It wasn’t that they’d run out, they literally didn’t put them out. I’m fine with mistakes happening, and I didn’t throw any kind of fit over it (just asked for a spoon), but I thought it was kind of ridiculous to forget when the food items there could pretty much only be eaten with a spoon.
~ We went to O'Sheehans at 11:30 for lunch one day before docking. We were told lunch didn’t start until 11:45, so we asked if we could just sit at a table and wait until 11:45. They said yes, and seated us with menus. That was the last time they came to our table for over 30 minutes. I finally had to flag down a server to take our order.
~ They have a midweek laundry special, which is one bag for $20 (I recommend doing this!). We had it ready and was told we’d have everything back by noon the next day. Noon came and went, and we heard nothing. We finally called around 5:00 p.m. and somebody brought it to us.
GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE: In spite of that list above, we also experienced some excellent service! Our steward, Richard, was fantastic all week; he was cheerful and pleasant, and was present whenever needed. ALL of our bartenders went above and beyond to exhibit great service, which was probably enhanced by the pile of $1 bills my husband had brought and was tipping with for each drink (yes, he had already prepaid required gratuities, but he knows how far a few bucks of appreciation can go and has no problem doing that). They were calling us by name starting on the first day and remembered us every time we saw them throughout the ship. One night in Versailles the server asked if we were planning to attend the 7:30 show and we said yes, so she said she would take special care to make sure we had everything in plenty of time, and she did. Also, our daughter’s birthday was the last day of the cruise. There was a birthday card waiting in the room when we started that she could use in any restaurant to celebrate her birthday, which we used in La Cucina and she got a free mini cake. I decorated a corner of our suite for her birthday and apparently our steward saw that, so he left us another mini cake. And the last night when we were eating at Cagney’s, they heard us mention her birthday so they brought out ANOTHER mini cake and sang to her!
~ Ginza – Ate dinner there twice. Excellent food; slightly slow service but very friendly. Small portions, which worked for me because I ordered a few different courses, but hearty eaters might want to get 2 entrees (my husband did).
~ O’Sheehan’s – Went for late night snack, and remembered nachos not being great from our last NCL cruise, but decided to give them another try. I still like them more loaded but they worked. Somebody nearby got wings that looked and smelled delicious. Also went there for breakfast one morning and it was excellent.
~ Moderno – Suite guests can eat breakfast there for free, so we did twice, and it was very good (same menu both times). Also had one of our specialty dinners there. If you’ve ever eaten at Fogo de Chao (a land-based Brazilian steakhouse chain), this doesn’t match up, but if you haven’t then it’s fine.
~ Versailles (main dining room) – Had a lunch and a dinner there, and it was good both times.
~ Cagney's – Ate lunch there twice (free due to suite), and had our last night’s specialty dinner there. Very good food and service, but if you’re not a steak eater I recommend checking the menus ahead of time (I’m not but my husband really is, which is why we went). I had seen it earlier in the week and there was at least one chicken option, but the night we went there wasn’t. Also, the appetizer options were only three seafood choices and one “thick bacon.” That’s not a complaint; just good to know, especially if somebody doesn’t care for seafood.
~ La Cucina – Another specialty dining choice. Good food and service, but nothing super memorable.
~ Aqua (another main dining room) – Ate there twice, good food and service.
~ Garden Café (buffet) – Meh. Not terrible, not great. Super crowded during expected busy times, but not bad at other times.
~ Room service – I already discussed that earlier, but something to note is that even though my husband and daughter could order free soft drinks in restaurants with their Unlimited Beverage Package, that wasn’t the case with room service. We got charged $3.50 for each Pepsi Max, because apparently with room service cans are the only option and those aren’t free (except in the casino for certain player levels). If they had told us that when we ordered, we would have declined and gotten our caffeine elsewhere. (BTW, the suites come with a coffee maker, similar in operation to Keurig.)
DISEMBARKATION/LEAVING CRUISE: We chose to carry our own luggage off because for us it was more of a hassle to have it ready by midnight the night before. Being in a suite, we got priority disembarkation, which meant we could go to the Ginza restaurant between 7:45 and 9:30 a.m. and get escorted off the ship ahead of others. It was fairly seamless. We were planning to take a taxi to our hotel (staying one more night in Venice), and we saw a taxi line right when we got off the ship. However, there were no taxis there and upon further investigation we discovered that those would have only taken us to the outside of the cruise port. So, we just walked out (took maybe 10 minutes) and caught a taxi there. We were staying at the Doubletree Venice North, which was quite a ways away (closer to the airport), and it cost 75 euro. Taxi driver only wanted cash, so I had to run over to an ATM (it was right there) to get that. After arriving at the Doubletree, I saw that they had a shuttle to & from the cruise port that would have been 12.50 euro per person, so of course wish I would have checked that ahead of time.
~ Venice – We arrived in Venice the day before the cruise around 9:00 a.m. After taking our luggage to our hotel, we purchased a 24-hour ACTV (public transportation) pass for 20 euro. This was good for all buses, local trains, and vaporettos (public water taxis), and was really easy to use. I recommend downloading the MyPass Venezia app before you go, and then just purchasing from there. (You can also purchase the cruise port People Mover ticket from there for 1.50 euro.) We just showed it to the driver on the bus, and then when we got to the water taxi stop, we had to go to the machine, hold it up to a scanner, and have it print us a paper ticket to use for the rest of the day. We didn’t spend time on actual Venice that day; we used the pass to boat-hop to Murano (famous for glass-blowing), Burano (famous for lace-making), and Torcello (first place Venetians settled in the 5th century, and has a church dating back to the 600’s, plus a 12th-century bell tower that you can climb for 5 euro). We loved all of them, but especially Burano and Torcello, because they weren’t very crowded. Highly recommend visiting these places if you have time, and it was a good way to stay awake after traveling all night. You can also take a more formal tour to all 3 islands for around 20 euro, but you’ll have to pay to get to wherever that leaves from, and our passes included that transportation, plus gave us more flexibility on time. We used Google Maps to figure out where to go, and it told us exactly which boats and buses to take.
~ Corfu – We booked NCL’s “4x4 Adventure” and LOVED IT!!!!! Seriously, it was our favorite excursion the entire week. You have to be able to drive a manual-transmission jeep and be comfortable starting from hills. Everybody gets a small jeep and drives in a caravan all over the island. We were able to go many places that the buses couldn’t, due to size. We went up the side of a mountain that had 27 zigzag turns to the village of Sokraki, which was small, peaceful, and beautiful. We also went to Bella Vista (“beautiful view”) and it was amazing! They served us ouzo or wine there, plus a few snacks, while we overlooked the amazing blue water. Then we drove to the Koum Quat distillery where we learned a bit about them, saw what they made, and sampled the liqueur and candy. It was fun, beautiful, relaxing, and we felt like we got more of the island flavor by visiting the less populated areas. I HIGHLY recommend this!
NOTE: They had us fill out a scary-sounding waiver on the ship before we left and told us to give it to the guide, but when I tried to give it to him he laughed and said we wouldn’t need it!
TIP: If you have a backseat passenger, bring a towel or something to put on the seat. Our daughter wore shorts, and the back seat got REALLY hot whenever we parked.
~ Santorini – We booked NCL’s “Charming Oia & Winery” excursion, which we enjoyed very much. I wanted to see the island, but my daughter wanted to see a winery, and this was a nice happy medium. We didn’t spend too much time at the winery, and the views from there were incredible. After that our bus took us to Oia, which has the amazing blue & white buildings you see in so many Greece pictures, and after some time there took us to Fira, where we had the option of taking the cable car down to the ship tender (2-hour wait), riding donkeys (DON’T—it’s cruel!), or walking (we did that). I had read that Santorini is ridiculously crowded, and that was true. Even though this was the location I had most been looking forward to on the cruise, once was definitely enough because I don’t have the patience for that many people. However, I’m glad I went, and the tour we chose was a good fit for us. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about the history and customs on Santorini, and I was never bored during the ride. I was surprised how “not green” the island looked; I didn’t realize rain is such a rare occurrence there. After we got to Fira my husband and daughter were ready to go back to the ship, but I wanted to stay in Fira for a little shopping, plus watch the sunset from there. I watched part of the sunset, but then decided I also wanted a bit of light while walking down, and it was beautiful watching the sun set the rest of the way on my journey down the hill. As far as the steps go, even though our tour guide had advised against walking, it really wasn’t bad and we were all glad we’d gone that way. You have to dodge a few donkeys and a bit of donkey dung, but there’s plenty of room. Each step is around 4 feet deep and at least 5 feet wide. They do all slant a teeny bit downhill, so I recommend some type of closed-toed shoes. I was wearing Croc flip flops, which are usually my most comfortable walking shoes, but my feet kept sliding down into them since the steps slanted down.
TIP: Make sure you have euro coins for restrooms! (Actually, this applies everywhere we went.) And keep in mind that some of the restrooms are just holes in the ground. I paid 0.50 euro for that privilege.
~ Mykonos – We didn’t book anything ahead, because everything I’d read made it sound like we could just wing it. My husband stayed on the ship so it was just my daughter and me. I had read about “Mykonos Farmers,” a local creamery that supposedly made fantastic cheese and Greek yogurt, so we looked on a map and found it. We were going to get a taxi or bus, but decided to walk to Starbucks first (my daughter’s town in Germany doesn’t have one so she was quite excited). It was about a 20-minute walk through some really cute areas, but also included SUPER long and high hills, and (worse than that), walking on a very busy road with no sidewalks or shoulders. But we made it without a problem. By then we were only a 30-minute walk from Mykonos Farmers, so we set off to do that, with similar hills and unsafe roads, so when we saw a car rental place we decided to give that a try. The first one quoted 80 euro, so I said no (we only needed it for about 4 hours). The second one quoted 60 euro, plus said we could return it at the port (which we were somewhat far from by then), so we went for that. I didn’t need an international driver’s license; she just took down info from my license and CC number. She said she only needed the CC number “just in case,” but actually wanted us to pay in cash. I told her I needed to go to an ATM, and she said I could do that while we had the car and just bring her the money when we return it, which was really nice. So we took the car (a 2-seater SmartCar) and were thrilled that we had done that! I’d read horror stories about driving in Mykonos, but it wasn’t bad at all, especially in such a small car, and we were able to accomplish so much more than we would have. We drove to Mykonos Farmers and LOVED IT!! The owner, Yiorgos Syrianos, was gracious enough to give us a spontaneous tour (12 euro each) and was extremely proud when telling us about the generations-old techniques they use, with very little modern technology, to create their very creamy yogurt and flavorful cheese (both of which we got to sample!). He learned everything from his grandmother, and has passed it down to his son. We got to sample quite a bit of the amazing yogurt, plus 3 different cheeses, and little toast things with cheese spread, all included in the price of the tour. We purchased cheese, because he said certain types could stay unrefrigerated for up to a week. It was seriously fantastic, and we were the only guests there so it felt very personal and local. Apparently you can also book cooking classes there. After that we drove to a beach to take some photos, and then went to the Little Venice area, which is by the windmills. We had to pay 12 euro to park there (not a big deal, but good to know). Little Venice had the typical Greek tourist shopping we’d come to expect, but it was still fun to walk around. When we were ready, we called the car rental lady and told her we were heading to the port, where she met us and we paid her cash. Getting a car there made a huge difference in what we were able to see and do in a short time.
~ Argostoli, Kefalonia – We booked NCL’s “Melissani, Meze & Ouzo” tour. It was okay, but not what I expected (which was my own fault after reading the description again), and now that I’ve been there I would rather rent a car and just do things on our own. For some reason I thought this tour involved a lot more time on a boat (again, I see now that the description never says that). It consisted of a 45-minute bus ride across the island (with an outstanding guide!), then a 30-45 minute wait in line, then a 15-minute ride in a small boat around the underground lake, then a short ride to the village of Sami where we enjoyed ouzo, wine, and meze (small Greek dishes) in a really pretty setting by the water, and then a 45-minute ride back to the port. The underground lake is beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle and wait. Like I said, our line was 30-45 minutes, and when we got out it looked twice as long. If you’re set on going to this lake, you could rent a car and try to go as early as possible to beat the crowds. We loved the village of Sami, and enjoyed about an hour of walking around there after our meze. It was touristy, but not too crowded and very cute, with friendly people. But again, we could get there on our own in a car, and some other sort of boat tour would have been fun. We did enjoy the island overall though, and wouldn’t mind going back. It was interesting to see such different topography and architecture from the other Greek islands we’d just visited.
~ Dubrovnik – We booked NCL’s “Game of Thrones” tour and really enjoyed it! Old Town, Dubrovnik, is another insanely crowded place, but we’re big GoT fans so just dealt with it. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, and gave us little radio things to hang from our necks with earbuds so we could hear everything he was saying. He had photos of GoT scenes, which he showed us from those spots, and talked about other GoT scenes that had occurred around Dubrovnik that we weren’t going to. It was really interesting to see how many changes the show made to the scenery (I think mainly digitally). Our guide also talked extensively about the history of Dubrovnik, and mentioned memories he had of when it was part of Yugoslavia, and from the 1990-1992 war after which Croatia became independent. It was a bit of a rushed tour with tons of information, but our stop wasn’t very long and I think this was probably as efficient as we could have been. Our daughter isn’t a GoT fan, so she just paid 30 euro to see the fortress and Old Town herself, with no tour, and enjoyed that also. When we were released for free time and told to meet back at the bus about an hour later, we were kind of over the crowds, climbing, and heat, and decided to take an NCL shuttle back early (our guide had said we could). It was nice getting back on the ship without the crowds!
~ Venice (again) – We had saved St. Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal for the end of the trip, so after we left our luggage at our hotel, we took the hotel transportation back into Venice and bought vaporetto tickets (7.5 euro each way) for the Grand Canal. Those are crowded (as is the whole St. Mark’s area), but a nice inexpensive way to see a lot in a short time. At St. Mark’s Square we first went to Hard Rock Café for lunch, and then went to St. Mark’s Basilica, which is free if you don’t mind standing in line (it looked long but moved quickly so we only waited about 20 minutes), and then the campanile (bell tower), which has an elevator and cost 8 euro to go up. It was well worth that for the amazing views, and there was no line when we were there. After that we went to the Rialto Bridge, and on the other side was more tourist shopping. Then the others wanted to sit and have a beer, so I walked on my own to the Jewish Ghetto, which I’d been wanting to see. This was the area of Venice in which Jewish people were forced to live by the government of the Venetian Republic starting in 1516. (The English word ghetto is derived from the Jewish ghetto in Venice.) It starts at the Ponte delle Guglie (bridge), and actually had locked gates back then. In 1797 the Venetian Republic was dissolved by the French army of Italy, ending the ghetto's separation from the city. Today, the ghetto is still a culturally active center of Jewish life in Venice, although only a few members live in the ghetto. It was really interesting to see, and nice to get away from the crowded tourist areas, but sad to think about the history. If I’d had time, a tour would have been helpful to get even more out of it, but it was still interesting to see the buildings, people, and stores with Menorahs and related artwork. It should have been about a 20-minute walk, but I stopped to take quite a few photos, so it was longer, but I enjoyed getting out of the crowds and seeing a different area of Venice. On my way to the Ghetto, I’d seen a really cute restaurant with red checkered tablecloths both inside and out called “Al56zerootto,” so we all decided to eat dinner there. It was very good, with lots of culinary options and great service, and seemed “authentic.” The address is 30131 Venezia – Cannaregio 5608 Campiello Riccardo Selvatico, in case anybody is interested in trying it.
If you’ve actually read all of this, thanks for following along, and let me know if you have any questions! Read Less