2 Norwegian Star Hawaii Cruise Reviews

Norwegian Star 4/18/2004 - 4/25/2004 This is our sixth cruise, our second on NCL, and our first on NCL Star. We are an active, professional couple in our mid-thirties. Prior to boarding the ship on Sunday, April 18, we spent two nights ... Read More
Norwegian Star 4/18/2004 - 4/25/2004 This is our sixth cruise, our second on NCL, and our first on NCL Star. We are an active, professional couple in our mid-thirties. Prior to boarding the ship on Sunday, April 18, we spent two nights in Waikiki at the Ohana Waikiki Village. This was in order to acclimate ourselves to the time difference (since we were traveling from the east coast), as well as to do some sight-seeing on Oahu since it was my husband's first trip to Hawaii. We recommend this highly as we felt completely acclimated by the start of the cruise. We spoke to other cruisers who did not do this and wished they had because they were so tired the first day. The hotel was average, but was in a good location for the price. On Oahu, we rented a car to visit the Pearl Harbor memorial, attend the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet (a Hawaiian style flea market held every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 6 am - 3 pm), visit beaches on the North Shore, as well as various sights on the eastern part of the island. For dinner the two nights in Waikiki, we ate a small meal at House Without A Key in the Halekulani Hotel just down the street from the our hotel on Friday (dinner served 5-9 pm accompanied by Hawaiian music); and Saturday we went to Neptune's Garden based on a recommendation on a message board. Both places were very good with a great view at House Without a Key and an impressive fish tank at Neptune's Garden. Also, per recommendations on the message boards, we obtained an Entertainment book prior to our trip which we used at Neptune's Garden and a few other stops on our trip. We more than made up for the cost of the book (around $30). The ship: We found the NCL Star to be very roomy. Our cruise was sold out, but other than embarkation and the Chocoholic Buffet, we never felt crowded or had to wait in any long lines. And, even though the immediate pool area was crowded during our one at sea day, there were plenty of open lounge chairs on the many sun decks around the ship. In general the ship was clean and tidy, though we did notice that dishes sometimes laid on the Market Buffet tables for a while before being taken away. Our inside cabin on Deck 9 Forward had plenty of room for two people and the bathroom was a very good size for a cruise ship with ample room for storage. We had booked with the open "Inside Guaranteed" option, and were very happy to get assigned to Deck 9. Everything was laid out efficiently. Kudos to NCL for the heavy duty, powerful hair dryer and the mini-fridge with a daily supply of fresh ice. Our cabin steward team kept the cabin spotless and well stocked. For embarkation, we got to the pier at 2:00 pm ($20 taxi ride from the airport, including tip and baggage fee). The embarkation line was long, but moved at a fairly steady pace. If you are a Latitudes member (NCL frequent cruiser program), make sure to bring your membership card with you, as there is a separate line, usually shorter, for embarkation for members. We didn't have ours, so we had to wait in the longer, general boarding line. Once we got through the line, the actual embarkation was fast (we had pre-registered on-line), we just had to show a credit card for our onboard account, show our passports, and have our pictures taken. We were on the ship by 3:00 and, much to our surprise, found that our luggage had already been delivered to our cabin. We immediately unpacked, stored our suitcases under the bed, and set off to explore the ship, have lunch, and investigate our dining options for the week. To help us plan our week of dinners, we checked out all the specialty restaurant menus (on a table in the Grand Atrium by the Reception Desk on embarkation day till 5 pm) as well as the Aqua and Versailles menus for the week (available to browse through at the Reception Desk). We did this first thing on embarkation day and wrote down which nights we wanted to go to the main dining rooms, and filled in the other nights with Endless Summer, La Trattoria, and Ginza. Reservations can only be made for the same day or one day in advance and are only taken till 5 pm each day either at a desk in the Grand Atrium or by calling from your cabin phone. After 5 pm, you could still go to the restaurant to try to get a reservation for the same night. Following this, we attended the muster drill at 5:30 pm, which was very well organized and quick. For disembarkation, there was an option to keep your luggage and carry it off yourself at your leisure OR you could set your luggage out by midnight and the porters would take it off the ship for you and you were assigned a color group. We set our luggage out, and waited for our color group to be called the next morning to leave the ship and get our luggage. We were allowed to stay in our cabin or in any of the dining areas or lounge areas while waiting to be called, and we really enjoyed that option versus our previous experiences of being herded to a specific area to wait. Everyone had to be off the ship by 10:00 am. Some things we liked: the temperature in the public areas on the ship was very comfortable (we have found other cruises to have the AC turned up way too high); we liked that the photography staff did optional portraits almost every night (not just formal night); very helpful color coded carpets for the elevator shafts (green for aft, red for mid, and blue for forward); cabin plaque that had a dial for 'Do not disturb', 'Turn down room', 'Make up room', and 'Welcome'. Some things we didn't like: Internet usage prices were too high; no free beverage that was caffeine free except water (we would have liked to have a lemonade or fruit punch option); we thought that many guests dressed a bit too casual in the evenings. Some things to note: Since we were within Hawaiian waters, there was Hawaii sales tax on purchases on the ship and the casino was not open. I understand on the Pride of Aloha ship, they don't even have a casino. The service The staff around the ship were very friendly and efficient. We didn't find them to be quite as formal or outgoing as we have experienced on other ships, and we noticed a lot more chatting between staff than on any of our other cruises. We enjoyed the cruise director and his staff and thought they did a good job with entertainment. The food This was our first experience with Freestyle dining and we came out of it with mixed feelings. On the pro side, we loved the flexibility of eating dinner at any time (restaurants open 5:30 till 10:00 pm, last seating at 9:00 pm). We ate as early as 6:00 pm and as late at 9:00 pm, dependent on the entertainment schedule and the port schedule for each day. In general, we found that most people ate around 7:00 pm, so we avoided that time and usually went later or earlier. And, we liked going to different restaurants with different dEcor and menu styles. On the con side, we missed the camaraderie you develop with fellow passengers assigned to a big table in a traditional dining arrangement. Every time we elected to share a table, we went into a repetitive getting-to-know-you mode (what are your names?, where are from?, is this your first cruise?, etc). We also missed having the same wait staff each night, as they really get to know you over the course of the week and know whether you like ground pepper, whether you order from the bar, etc. We ate dinner in La Trattoria, Endless Summer, Ginza, Versailles, and Aqua. La Trattoria is Italian-themed. There is no extra charge, but reservations are required. We made reservations when we got on the ship at 5:30 after a day in port for 9:00 pm that evening without any problems. While my husband liked the very meaty sauce for his spaghetti, I had to return my lasagna (menu said spinach and cheese, but it was really vegetable lasagna which I don't like). The chicken parmesan I ended up with was good, but it seemed to take a long time to get it. Loved the freshly grated parmesan cheese and the tiramisu. Endless Summer is Island themed. We recommend the boneless BBQ pork ribs, Caesar salad with fruit, and mahi-mahi chowder. This restaurant has lots of windows and a beautiful stained glass ceiling - get there for a great sunset dinner as the ship pulls away from one of the ports. The menu was limited and set, and while we really enjoyed our meal there, we never returned because we had already eaten the items we wanted there. The only fee restaurant we tried was Ginza, for the Teppanyaki Grill. It was $12.50 for most of the combination meals (we had Filet and Shrimp). Service was great; the chef's tableside show was good, and the food top quality. Versailles and Aqua were the two main dining rooms. We found that Aqua was usually less crowded than Versailles, but they usually have the same menu (though there are slight variations). A menu breakfast is only served in Versailles, and we ate there twice and were very pleased with the menu choices as well as food and service. The other days, we either had room service breakfast or went to the Market Cafe - which had a good selection though buffet food never seems to be hot enough. They had made to order omelets, eggs, and waffles. With five port days, we only ate lunch twice on the ship, once during our at sea day and once at embarkation. We really enjoyed the poolside BBQ on the at sea day (salads, potatoes, freshly grilled steak, fish, and chicken). We tried the poolside grill on embarkation - good fries when they are hot and fresh. Would prefer the buns to be warmed for hamburgers and hotdogs. But, they always had all the fixings and a good sliced fruit selection. There was also a great optional choice for snacking "23 hours a day" at the Blue Lagoon. They had chicken wings, potato skins, fries, burgers and a few other choices. Fries were better here than at the poolside grill because they are made to order so always hot. The only "healthy" choices were a side salad and tomato soup. But, they also always had fresh fruit and some delicious pound cake and banana bread available. Ice cream was available from a Smoothie stand by the Spa in the afternoons from 2 pm till 4 pm. Selection was good, but the serving sizes were a bit skimpy. The entertainment On our first NCL cruise, we had seen two of the production shows by the Jean Anne Ryan Company, so we opted to skip those this cruise. They were good to see the first time, but didn't warrant a repeat performance in our opinion. But, we really enjoyed the third production, Cirque Asia. We also really enjoyed the comedian, Kermit Apio - he did two shows during the week and participated in the Liar's Club show. We also really enjoyed Lucas, who did a variety act with comedy and some impressive juggling. He did one show on his own and one show in combination with his wife, a violinist. We also enjoyed the Matangi Polynesians (dancers), who did two shows. There was the usual Newlywed game, which we always thoroughly enjoy. We also went to see the Liar's Club and Who Wants to be a Bizillionaire? I also attended the lei-making class, which was fun and educational. There seemed to be a good variety of other lectures, lessons, wine-tastings, etc, but we just didn't have time to attend any of them. Nor did we ever make it to the Spa. There were poolside Olympics, an ice carving demonstration, and a Hairy Chest competition by the pool on the at-sea day which were entertaining. There were two nighttime, poolside events. One was the sail away party and the other was a Big Kahuna party later in the week. We would have liked to have even more of these nighttime deck parties. Below is a summary of our days in port, so read on for recommendations on things to do. Kona on the Big Island This is a tender port, but the ride to shore is short. We never heard an announcement over the PA that tendering had started, so we decided to just walk down to the gangway. There was no line and we got right on a tender. We had reserved a rental car from Dollar on-line prior to our trip. After arriving at the pier, we didn't see their shuttle, so we called for pick-up. It was only then that we learned that the Kona Dollar location does not provide free shuttle service to the pier and it is a $20 one-way taxi ride from the pier to the airport (where the Dollar office is located). Thanks to help from a Kona visitors' center volunteer right there on the pier and our cell phone, we were able to change our reservation to Enterprise and cancel the Dollar reservation. The Enterprise rental was $11 more per day than Dollar, but the free shuttle ride clearly made up the difference. And, as an added bonus, the Enterprise office is about 2 miles from the pier right in Kona, instead of located at the airport, so that helped us make up some of the time we lost changing our reservation. Once in our car, we drove south on Route 11 heading toward the Southernmost point. En route, we stopped at the Coffee Shack (one mile south of Captain Cook) to get sandwiches and pie for a picnic lunch later. Sandwiches were excellent on their home-made bread with fresh, tasty meat and fixings. The peanut butter pie and macadamia pie were wonderful!! The Coffee Shack had a great view of Kealakekua Bay and outside seating if you have the time to eat there. They do serve breakfast. We stopped along the side the road several times for quick picture taking, so it took about 2 hours to get to the southernmost point. After exploring there and taking several pictures, we continued on Route 11 to Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park to see the beautiful palm tree lined black sand beach. There are green turtles there, which we saw swimming in the water. While we ate our picnic lunch on the beach, one of them crawled onto the beach and began basking. Some folks were in the water, snorkeling, but the water seemed very rough so we decided against going in ourselves. Instead, we walked around the cove to the lava fields and watched some dramatic waves crashing into shore. We had been warned that traffic in the afternoons in Kona could back up, so we allowed ourselves plenty of time to get back into town. Took us 1.5 hours to return to Kona from the Park, with no stops. We didn't encounter any really bad traffic, but there were some backups at lights and the opposite side (south bound) traffic looked worse than north bound. We went past Kona to get gas for the rental car and also to go to the MacPie shop (located just north of Kona, in the second level of a shopping center behind a Chevron station). We bought a small pie which we saved until we returned home and it was delicious!! They offer mail order, so I think there will be some Macpie deliveries in our future. We also quickly visited the Kona Brewing Company to buy a t-shirt and made it back to the Enterprise office by 4:30 pm and they quickly shuttled us back to the pier. There was a very long line for the tender, since it was almost 5:30 pm (last tender), but they had four tenders going and the line moved as well as can be expected. Kona is a small town with only a few blocks of shops, but the pier is right in the middle of it, making it easily walkable to the stores from the pier where the tenders come in. There is an ABC store just behind the large banyan tree as you exit the pier for souvenirs, a newspaper, or snacks. Hilo on the Big Island This was a gangway port, so no time wasted on tenders. We elected to take an NCL excursion for this port called the EcoSafari Tour. This was the only excursion we booked through the cruise ship. We made the reservation online prior to the cruise as we have with other cruise lines and we highly recommend this to cruisers as it saves time waiting in line on the ship. This particular tour was 6 hours in length and we visited five spots south of Hilo. The group was split up between a 12 passenger van and a mini-bus, which we preferred over a coach bus. Our driver/tour guide was Tony, and he was a wealth of information about the environment as well as living in Hilo. You could tell he was very happy living there and very proud. We first visited the Hawaii Orchid Farm, where Tony told us how orchids are raised and how new varieties are created. We then walked briefly around one of the greenhouses. Next stop was to the lava flow by the ocean, where the 1990 lava flows created new oceanfront property. The longest stop was at Ahalanui Park, where there is a geothermal pool, a mixture of heated fresh water coming from underneath the ground and cooler salt water coming in from the ocean. We were served a deli style lunch, which was plentiful complete with cookies, chips, and fresh fruit along with soda, water, and fruit drinks. The park was beautiful and uncrowded - a very relaxing stop. After lunch, we went to the Lava Tree State Park to see the tree molds from the 1790 lava flows. Last stop was at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo. This was a nice surprise. It was a county zoo, but very well maintained and very interesting. Tony walked around the zoo providing interesting commentary, but many folks elected to go at their own pace in their own direction, which was fine, too. After the tour returned to the ship, we took the free shuttle to Hilo Hattie's (offered in every port during the tour, along with free shuttles from the pier to Wal-Mart and K-Mart at some ports). The Hilo Hattie's was only about a 10 minute ride away from the pier, and was located near a mall and a Wal-Mart. We stocked up on extra film for the rest of the trip and reasonably priced macadamia nut treats to take home to our co-workers from Wal-Mart, which had a good selection of souvenir items. My husband had looked several places for a University of Hawaii shirt, which we ended up finding at a Champs store in the mall, and we bought a couple of things at Hilo Hattie's before returning to the ship. The downtown area of Hilo was not walkable from the pier, and we overheard other cruisers complaining about that fact - just keep this in mind if you want to explore Hilo on your own - you will need to pay for a taxi. Because we took the tour and did the shopping, we saw virtually nothing of the town of Hilo itself. Lahaina on Maui This was another tender port and, once again, we didn't hear any announcement on when tendering started. So, we just walked down to the gangway and waited in line. Once again, we had rented a car from Dollar, and once again, we did not see the Dollar shuttle. But, we called the local office and they said they would send the shuttle. This took about 30 minutes, and during that time we saw two Hertz shuttles, two Budget shuttles, and two Avis shuttles come in and out of the pier area. Also, when we called Dollar, they informed us that they would be picking up a lot of people, and that only the driver would be allowed to ride in the shuttle. We were, of course, not happy about this, as we knew this would waste more of our precious port time. But, once the shuttle did arrive, we were the only people waiting for it, so the driver allowed both of us to go back to the office. Once in our rental car, we set off north searching for some good snorkeling spots. The first spot we tried Hanakao'o Beach Park, recommended in Fodor's, proved to be a nice beach, but the snorkeling appeared to be far out from shore, where there appeared to be an anchored pontoon platform that we assumed was for snorkelers or divers. In fact, while we were at the beach, two scuba divers did wade into the water and disappeared toward the platform. The undertow there was quite strong, but we decided to give it a try anyway. As we feared, there was nothing to see near shore with snorkeling equipment. The water was very cloudy in some places, and where it was clear, there was merely a sandy bottom. But, we still enjoyed the nice swim in the refreshing water. This park is next door to one of the canoe clubs, so we also enjoyed watching the rowers while we were there. We headed north again and turned off at Napali Road, and drove toward the water till we spotted a Public Access sign at Kapalua Beach, found a parking place along the road, and walked down to the beach. This was a very nice area, including public bathroom facilities. There were several hotels around the beach, and the beach was crowded, but still had plenty of open space. We were encouraged to see several snorkelers in the water and the area did indeed prove to be a good excursion with several varieties of fish. After our snorkel, we walked up to the point to overlook the beach and to also peer over the ocean in hopes of sighting some whales. Timing wasn't our on side to see any whales, but the view was still spectacular. We headed north again and went to the Kapalua golf course club house, where one of the PGA tournaments (Mercedes Championship) is held each January. My husband bought some items in the pro shop. We had hoped to have lunch at the club house, and there really was a very nice restaurant with gorgeous views of the course. But, we found that the menu consisted of appetizers and large entrees. We were really looking for more lunch-type items like sandwiches, so we opted to look elsewhere. We ended up back at a shopping center at the corner of Route 30 and Napali Road. We had the BEST smoothies at Planet Smoothie and ordered some take-out tacos at Maui Tacos (we recommend the steak - great grilled flavor and very tender). We also wandered into a small art gallery, Napali Art Cetera Gallery, and surprised ourselves by immediately finding some prints of the Napali Beach that we fell in love with and bought. The shop even offered shipping, so we elected to have the prints sent to our home instead of having to carry them with us for the rest of the vacation and risk damaging them. The shop carries originals and prints from local artists, with varying styles. We talked to one of the artists, who was running the shop that afternoon while working on a painting. And, the prices were much better here than the galleries in Lahaina. With our smoothies and Maui tacos in hand, we drove to the next potential sight, Honolua Beach Park. This proved to be the best sight of the day. The beach was not very crowded and was absolutely beautiful. But, there were no bathroom facilities. The snorkeling was wonderful. We even were graced with seeing a green sea turtle swimming and eating. We watched it for quite a while, maintaining our respectful distance, and he never seemed to even notice us. Water was fairly clear and there was a good variety of fish. Regretfully, we had to leave this lovely beach in order to make it back to the Dollar office near the airport to catch the last shuttle back to the pier at 4 pm (otherwise we could have left the keys in the drop box and called a cab, but that seemed a worse option). Once back at the pier, we tendered to the ship, showered, dressed, and went to Endless Summer for our 6 pm reservation. Watched the sunset and viewed Lahaina during dinner. We then boarded another tender (there were only 5 of us on this tender) and went back into town for some shopping and strolling. Had some great ice cream at Scoops on Front Street. This was definitely the "shopping" port of the trip, with a mirage of art shops, jewelry stores, souvenir shops, and clothing stores as well as several restaurants and bars. Many of the bars were open air and had live entertainment. Returned to the pier around 9:30 pm, hoping to make it back to the tender line before the buses of Luau excursion participants returned. We think we made it, but there was still a fairly long line. They were still running several tenders, so the line moved steadily. This was our first time having a nighttime port, and we really enjoyed it. Kahului on Maui We walked off the ship just after getting into port and, once again, began looking for our Dollar Shuttle. It showed up without too long of a wait, and we were taken to the office by the airport and got our car. We then headed across the middle of the island on Route 311 toward Kihue, then on south to Route 31. We found two parking lots for Big Beach, parked at one, and walked down to the beach to see if snorkeling was a possibility. The Beach is very aptly named, as it extends for 300 yards. There were many sunbathers there, but no one was in the water, which concerned us, as there were signs around the beach warning against the strong undertow. So, instead of attempting it, we merely took a stroll along the beach. There are no public bathrooms here, but there are port-o-lets at each parking lot. At the far right end of the beach is a point that you can cross over via a dirt trail to Little Beach. Maybe there were snorkelers over there, but we had also read that this was unofficially a clothing optional beach, so we decided not to explore it. Instead, we continued south where the road becomes one lane (but still paved). Once inside Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, along the roadside, we spotted a beautiful cove where there were several snorkelers and roadside parking and we went in for a snorkel. There were several varieties of fish, but the water was a bit cloudy (we learned there had been a very bad storm the afternoon before, which probably attributed to the cloudiness). The area also was very shallow, where you really had to navigate your way around the coral formations, because it was usually impossible to swim over the coral. Often times, you would find that you had reached a "dead end" surrounded by coral formations with no way out but the way you came in. So, we enjoyed a quick snorkel but decided not to linger here for too long. The cove was very beautiful, but there was no beach, only black lava rock on the shores leading into the water. Therefore, we recommend wearing some sort of surf shoes at this location. We decided that it was time to take a lunch break, and drove back north to Wailea where the closest restaurants were located. We initially tried to go to Joe's Bar and Grill, which overlooked a tennis club, but we found the doors locked. There were no signs, but this was almost noon on a Friday, so obviously they were not open for lunch - at least not the day we were there. We then went to the Cheeseburger in Paradise, located in the Wailea Shopping Center. This proved to be a great lunch stop. Good food, great smoothies, open air, casual atmosphere - a very popular lunch spot. After lunch, we attempted to find some other good snorkeling spots in the Wailea area. We found a Public Access parking area and access walk near the Makena Surf Properties, so parked there and walked down to the beach. The walk itself turned out to be the highlight with gorgeous flowers planted along the walkway in an array of varieties and colors. I went back to the car just to get my camera for the flowers. It was almost like its own botanical garden. We found the beach to be a nice, completely uncrowded sunbathing beach, but didn't look too promising for snorkeling. It was a little after 1 pm at this point, so we abandoned our quest for snorkeling and drove to Ma'alaea to the Maui Ocean Center. Admission was $20+tax for adults, but there was a AAA discount of $4 per person with a AAA membership card. They offered portable headset devices with a recorded tour (we're not sure if there was a fee), but we elected to stroll around the center on our own. This stroll lasted 2 hours, and while we didn't rush, we also didn't really stop to read all the displays. The displays and tanks were mostly indoors, with a few outside tanks. The most notable outside tank was for the Green Sea Turtles, where we stood for some time watching these creatures from both a surface level and underwater level observation deck. A staff member was there talking about the turtles, who were set to be released in the next two months into the ocean and then another batch of younger turtles would be brought in to be raised at the Center until they were ready for release. At 3 pm, there was a feeding in the main tank, where the sharks and sting rays were located, along with several other varieties of fish. The feeding consisted of two scuba divers in the tank, one of which had a microphone and she discussed the different varieties of fish and their eating habits as well as took questions from the audience in the underwater observation area. We found the Center to be very enjoyable and would definitely recommend it. We learned the names of many of the fish we had seen snorkeling, and saw many varieties that we could have never seen snorkeling. Around 4:00 pm we left the ocean center and drove back to Kahului to the Dollar office and took the shuttle back to the pier to conclude our time in Maui. Nawiliwili on Kauai Our last port, and possibly the port we were looking the most forward to. We ate breakfast while we watched the ship coming into the obstacle-course port of Nawiliwili. Definitely a fine display of navigation to get into the dock. We then leisurely left the ship and again waited for our Dollar Shuttle, which did show up shortly after we had walked out to the shuttle area. The shuttle took us to the Dollar office at the airport, where we got our rental car and headed south to Hanapepe, taking in the scenery along the way. Our goal in Hanapepe was Burn's Field, where we had pre-booked a helicopter flight-seeing tour with Inter Island Helicopters. Our tour was scheduled for 11:30, but we were supposed to check in by 10:50. We got to Hanapepe a bit early, so drove past the entrance to Burn's Field to explore the Salt Pond Park. This proved to be a great park with pavilions, bathrooms, playgrounds, and a very well protected cove great for swimming (especially for young children). Having read that there was also good snorkeling here, we were surprised to not see any snorkelers in the water. So, we inquired with the lifeguard and he directed us to the snorkeling area to the left of the main part of the cove. We walked out to the area (which is best accessed not from the main park parking area, but from a dirt parking area which can be reached by making a left hand turn on a road just before reaching the main park area). We were skeptical, because the water looked very shallow and sandy. But, it was then time for us to head over to Burn's Field for the helicopter tour. We checked in at the Inter Island Helicopter trailer. Burn's Field is very small, there is a runway, but as far as we could tell, the Field is only used by a couple of helicopter tour companies. After signing the release form and watching a short safety video, we were taken to the helicopter and given inflatable floatation devices. We picked Inter Island because we had read some good recommendations on the Cruise Critic message boards. The helicopters only hold four passengers - two in the front beside the pilot and two in the rear. We liked that every passenger would have a great view. We also liked the fact that Inter Island didn't use the doors of the helicopters, so the views were unhindered - which is great for flight seeing, but especially great for taking photographs. Though a bit scary at first and when the pilot does banking maneuvers (especially for someone like me, who admits to a fear of heights), this no door thing proved to be a wonderful experience. We do recommend wearing pants and/or a jacket, as the flight can be cool at times and we did encounter some moisture as we flew through low-lying clouds and into some of the very rainy areas of the island. The tour provided ample photo opportunities so make sure you bring plenty of film. Also note that the pilot gets extremely close to the scenery, so a zoom lens is unnecessary. Following the helicopter tour (which lasted about 50 minutes), we returned to Salt Pond Park, although we parked at the area convenient to the snorkeling spot recommended by the lifeguard. Despite the water being shallow, we did find the snorkeling to be pretty good. There was coral protected by rocks that shielded the area from the much rougher currents further out. The snorkeling provided the opportunity to see many of the fish we had seen at other locations, although we had the surprising opportunity to see an eel. This was a very nice park and a place we'd recommend bringing a picnic lunch, as well as a place conducive to families with children. After some time snorkeling, it began to rain (a relatively short shower, but we didn't know that at the time and decided to explore other parts of the island). We headed east on route 50 to route 530 in order to find a place for lunch in Poipu. We settled on a place called Keoki's Paradise. This turned out to be a great decision! Like we found on this entire trip, the Hawaiians really know how to make a good fruit smoothie, so we had one more before the end of our vacation. The restaurant was open air and beautifully landscaped with a great selection of lunch items including sandwiches and salads. After lunch, we walked to a public beach nearby (access was across route 530 from Keoki's) through a timeshare community parking lot. We were short on time, but we enjoyed a short snorkel at Poipu Beach Park. This beach was large and had lots of activity, although I wouldn't call it overcrowded. The snorkeling was decent although not the best of our trip. We did enjoy watching the surfers one last time before we headed back to the ship. Following this, we returned to the Dollar office and then back to the ship for our last evening aboard. Read Less
Sail Date April 2004
My partner and I took the 7-day cruise on Norwegian Caribbean Lines' "Norwegian Star" in early January 2003. This was our first cruise on NCL. The Star is an attractive new ship; we had a great time, and are glad we went. ... Read More
My partner and I took the 7-day cruise on Norwegian Caribbean Lines' "Norwegian Star" in early January 2003. This was our first cruise on NCL. The Star is an attractive new ship; we had a great time, and are glad we went. However, we probably won't be back on NCL anytime soon. Read on to see if this cruise is for you. We're a gay couple from the West coast, both around 40 years old. We travel to relax first and to see new sights second. We've cruised on Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and now Norwegian. We're both very partial to Celebrity, and I'll try to make comparisons when appropriate to help you understand where we're coming from. As I said, we had a great time, and the things that we did not enjoy might not matter to you. Everyone has different tastes, which is why there are different cruise lines. I'll try to break this review up by subject, rather than a day-by-day description. First, the itinerary. As you should already be aware if you're considering this cruise, you shouldn't expect to get a real sense of the Hawaiian islands from this cruise. The port stops are even shorter than usual for a cruise, due to the need to sail 1,200 miles south to the Fanning Islands and back in order to comply with US shipping law. I understand that NCL is trying to get an exception from this law, which would significantly change the experience of this cruise. My partner and I particularly enjoy days at sea, so we didn't mind at all, but others complained about spending so much time in transit. Until the law changes, if you really want to see Hawaii, plan to spend some time in the islands before or after the cruise. Pre-cruise: We arrived a day in advance, as is recommended for any cruise. There's a bus transfer from the airport to all Waikiki hotels for only $7 per person, which runs every half hour. A taxi to Waikiki would be about $35-40. Just walk across to the middle island from the baggage claim carousel, and ask one of the attendants. You can pay on the bus, and there's a savings of a dollar or so if you pay for a roundtrip. We used it at the beginning and the end, it was on time, and the drivers were both very professional and efficient. Plus, you get a little tour of Waikiki as they drop off other guests. We stayed at the Marriott on Waikiki, which is almost at the far east end of the beach. We were there because my partner works for Marriott and could get a good deal, but it's actually a nice hotel in a good location. Because it's at the end of the "strip" the beach and the streets around it aren't as crowded as they are further west. It's only a block from a lovely park, which includes the Honolulu zoo, so it might be of special interest to families with children. There are several restaurants, including a roofdeck bar/restaurant overlooking the beach that had good live music. There are two pools and lots of sunning space. The hotel has two towers, and we were in the taller one set back behind the front one. It appears that the rear tower is actually newer and nicer and the upper level rooms all have balconies with views. We had a gorgeous view of Diamond Head from our room. We relaxed after our flight, walked along the beach as they lit the gas "tiki" torches, and had a cocktail while we watched the orange sunset. What a romantic welcome to Hawaii! The next morning, we were up early due to the time difference, breakfasted on our balcony, and went to workout. There's a 24 Hour Fitness gym on the second story of a building overlooking the beach in the middle of the "strip". It's a great place to workout and watch the surf (and the passing crowds). I'm a member of the chain, but I think a day pass is $15, and less if your hotel has an arrangement with them. Boarding: We figure that the ship is the main destination on a cruise, so we try to board as early as possible in order to check it out, have lunch, and be the first ones at the pool or reading a book on the promenade deck. We took a taxi to the terminal ($25 - it's not that close to Waikiki) and were at the terminal before noon. The baggage checkin was efficient, and the lines weren't too bad. After verifying our information and getting our cruise cards, we were up the escalator, had our picture taken and were on the gangway within half an hour of arriving. Comparison: Both NCL and Celebrity have special lines during check-in for their return guests, "Latitude" for NCL and "Captain's Club" for Celebrity. It makes a difference in speed and treatment on Celebrity. I couldn't tell whether the Latitude guests were moving faster, as there were so few of us checking in at the time. Boarding the ship itself was our first introduction to NCL's inefficient people-moving process. I've read similar comments on other reviews, and we experienced it occasionally during our cruise. It appeared that no one was in charge, and after our cards were "swiped" on the computer we were standing in the lobby area for about ten minutes with a growing crowd. We were told someone would be coming to escort us, but I finally asked if we could just go on, as I knew where our cabins were. Comparison: Celebrity has white-gloved staff lined up waiting to escort you to the cabin. They take you all the way to the cabin and make sure your card works in the door. Cabin: We had a handicapped balcony cabin on the 9th deck, port side, aft. Neither of us is handicapped, but we booked a balcony cabin only a few weeks before the cruise, and this is what we were assigned. When I realized what had happened, I talked to our travel agent because I didn't want to prevent someone who really needed the cabin from being able to reserve it. He laughed and just told us to enjoy it. When we walked in we understood what he meant: in order to accommodate wheelchair users, the handicapped cabins are larger than normal. The bathrooms are also much larger, and have a large shower. We ended up with a cabin the size of a mini-suite for the price of a normal outside cabin. Like all the cabins on the Star, ours had nice, cherry-look paneling, matching furniture with metal legs which reminded me a lot of grade-school tables and chairs. Unlike most cruise ship cabins, the refrigerator and TV aren't built in, but are just stacked in a corner. The refrigerator was empty - whatever happened to the idea of a mini-bar? I thought they could make money that way, and also make it more convenient for guests. The desk, closet and shelves are built in. The bathroom had a sink rather than a vanity, although I don't know if that was only for our handicapped cabin. There were only a few narrow glass shelves. As a result, there weren't enough flat surfaces to put our things on, and we don't have THAT many toiletries! Also, a small point, but there were drinking glasses in the bathroom that don't fit the holders, so I was always afraid they'd end up falling on the tile floor and shattering. The carpet and bedspread are very bright colors, but otherwise it's a nicely decorated cabin. The balcony was wider than those of other cabins, to match the cabin, but no deeper. Still, it had two plastic chairs, one reclining, and a cocktail table. Comparison: Celebrity also uses a wood-look paneling in most of their cabins. The colors are generally more subtle, and there's more of a sense of finish, with a small loveseat in all cabins, glass cocktail table, and the TV and refrigerator are all built-in. Also, Celebrity provides terry cloth robes in all cabins, which I have never seen on other cruiselines. We had a bowl of fresh fruit and a nice bottle of wine from our travel agent - thanks Stan! (aka "Stan the Cruise Man") DEcor: As I mentioned above, I think of the ship as the destination on a cruise, and the dEcor partly sets the tone for the week. Here, we found NCL Star was a little glitzier than our taste, but it was generally pretty well done. Probably the most garish area was the pool, with giant twin yellow plastic slides into the pool and towering green plastic palm trees that were lit from within at night. As I mentioned, the cabins have bright carpeting and bedspreads to offset wood paneling. The atrium lobby has a good deal of shiny brass and tracer lights, with marble floors and plants. Think of an upscale shopping mall. The theme restaurants are all decorated differently to correspond to their theme, and generally well done (more on the restaurants later). The stair wells had some interesting modern pieces in the landings and the use of wood paneling tied everything together pretty well. Probably the nicest space on the ship is the two-story Gatsby's lounge outside the Bistro and Soho specialty restaurants and below the Ginza restaurant: It had an art-deco theme, with a set of bronze panels depicting modes of travel through the ages, and several oversized deco-style paintings of cosmopolitan partiers. We usually ended up there every night for a drink and to listen to the piano player. Restaurants: NCL has moved entirely to a dine-when-you-want-where you want policy they call "Freestyle Dining". On the Star, they have 10 places to dine, and we tried all of the nicer ones through the course of the week. My partner is vegetarian, and we're not burgers and fries-type people anyway, so we didn't try the poolside grill, the 50's diner style Blue Lagoon, or the Italian style La Trattoria, which is really a section of the buffet which is sectioned off at night and has red checkered tablecloths and candles. We also didn't try Ginza, since Japanese food seldom has vegetarian options, although the space looked very elegant and they were busy most nights. In general, we found the food was average to good, but the service was mostly just average. Several points: there are no sommeliers, except in the Bistro French restaurant. The wait staff doesn't appear to know wines at all, and we were reduced to giving the waiter the number off the wine list to get the wine we wanted. Also, the wait staff seemed to assume we were in a hurry, and kept our courses coming with no break. We figured this out after a couple of meals and learned to tell the waitperson as we were being seated that we prefer to linger and not to be rushed. We never had a problem getting a table for two in the non-reservation restaurants, even at peak times. The host would tell us there would be a 15 minute wait for two and would ask if we'd be willing to join others at a larger table. We'd decline and say we'd prefer to wait for a table for two, and we were then seated immediately. Now I'll give my impressions of the various restaurants in which we dined. Market Cafe (Buffet) Deck 12 aft: We only ate in the buffet for lunch, so we can't speak to either breakfast or dinner service there. The buffet is large and has good traffic flow, with entrances from both the rear and mid-ship elevators. There is plenty of seating and we never had trouble finding a table near the floor to ceiling windows. There is a good variety of food, including salads, hot and cold dishes including fish and other "healthy" choices, but the deserts were a little lacking (think Jello) Celebrity has a variety of fresh pastries, along with cakes and pies. We were impressed to see that NCL had an entire section of the buffet that is vegetarian, with pastas, Indian dishes, and different steamed or grilled vegetables. My partner is vegetarian and we are happy if there are one or two choices. Here, they had a whole section. We also learned that it was easier to find a seat near the vegetarian section as most guests were going for the normal food. Comparison: NCL puts out food in big colored plastic bowls that look like Tupperware ® which weren't refilled right away. Celebrity uses polished stainless steel trays and bowls that are artfully garnished and are refreshed frequently. On NCL you picked up your own tray, cutlery, and a napkin; on Celebrity a waiter puts a linen cloth on a tray, with a roll of cutlery and a cloth napkin, and hands it to you. You get the idea. Versailles Main Restaurant - Deck 6 aft: We ate in the Versailles for dinner on the first night of our cruise, once for lunch and for breakfast on two mornings. NCL was going for a pseudo-French look that could more easily be called English Country House, with wood paneling and fabric on the walls and gilt on the railings and the high ceiling. There were lots of tables for two and four. There are large windows in the back and in a portion of the sides. There are also raised areas with tables that allow diners seated in the middle to enjoy the views even though they're seated away from the windows. On the first night we asked to be seated in the back of the room right against the large windows overlooking the stern so we could see the sail-away. The rumble of the propellers and the movement as the ship pushes away is always a dramatic moment. Due to the waiter rushing dinner (see above) we were having desert and coffee before the ship had sailed, so we literally had to sip coffee for a half hour until we could watch Honolulu disappear in the distance. The wait was worth it for the view. The food was fine, well presented, but brought out too quickly by a waiter who was distracted. NCL always had one vegetarian option on all their restaurants' menus. Celebrity, by contrast, creates a separate vegetarian menu each night with several choices not on the main menu. We were impressed with breakfast the two days we ate in Versailles: a wide variety of choices served well. Breakfast is a meal that I don't mind having served quickly! The breakfast waitstaff was also very good about refreshing coffee and juice, and offering more toast. A design note: there's no where to stand when you're waiting to be seated in the Versailles, as the hostess stand is on the landing in the middle of a flight of stairs. People were sometimes backed up the stairs, holding the railings as the ship moved, which was probably not comfortable for the many older people on board. Aqua Main Restaurant - Deck 6 midship: The other main no-reservation restaurant seemed to have the same menu as Versailles, but was contemporary in design. Unfortunately, it's a large, low-ceiling room and the predominant color is white, so it can feel a little institutional. Still, we ate dinner there twice. Design note: there's a large window into the kitchen, which in many restaurants we've been in is used to display the chefs at work. We made a special request to be seated near the window one night, and realized that you have a view of where they stack the plastic plate covers before the dishes go out. Why doesn't NCL take advantage of the possibilities of their design? Le Bistro French Restaurant - Deck 6 mid-ship: One of the reservation-only, extra charge restaurants, Le Bistro was the only restaurant in which we felt we had truly professional service. We had a knowledgeable waiter who didn't rush us, a friendly host, and a sommelier. We probably spent the longest at dinner here, and truly felt that it was worth the extra charge. The restaurant itself is not large, and is appropriately quiet and softly lit, but the restaurant has windows onto the brightly-lit hallway through which people are passing from the show lounge. NCL has painted "French" looking scenes in the hallway and put "French" style globe streetlights in the hall to try to soften the transition. The Soho Room - Deck 6 mid-ship: NCL's "trendy" reservation-only, extra charge restaurant. We ate here for dinner twice, as the food and its presentation was probably the best of all the restaurants, and the setting is good, with large pop-art paintings, an aquarium in one wall, and large windows to the outside. There's also some separation between the tables, the lighting is subdued and the music is quiet. Although the service did not quite match the setting, we recommend this for anyone who enjoys fresh California-fusion style food. Endless Summer - Deck 8 mid-ship: reservations required, but no extra charge. A big disappointment. Both the food and the service were less than average. The restaurant overlooks the atrium, where a band plays every night. We didn't enjoy the band that much, but at least we got a few laughs about it. You couldn't avoid the band since the tables are arranged in small, curved sections with glass railings that are terraced down toward the lower level. Perhaps because the sections are curving, the tables for two are pretty small and our waiter had trouble fitting all the plates, glasses, etc. on the table. The restaurant is billed as being "authentic Hawaiian", but we couldn't figure out what items on the menu were supposed to be Hawaiian. They should just serve the same food as in Aqua and Versailles and not try to be different. Our waiter appeared to be learning his job. If you're going to eat there at least check which band is playing first! Room service: we usually get room service breakfast so we can have coffee and breakfast before going to work out in the gym. On the Star, room service was always on time and got the orders correct, and they normally called when they were on their way. However, the Star uses plastic plates and mugs, instead of china as on Celebrity. We never ordered room service any other time than breakfast so we can't speak to the quality or the choices. Entertainment: Most nights we ended up in Gatsby's, the piano bar in between Le Bistro and The Soho Room. Mark was the piano player during our cruise, and he's got the ability to play requests, chat with people, learn everyone's name by the second night, and generally make everyone happy. We only went to the large production shows in the Stardust theater, and were impressed by the singers and dancers, as those things go. We learned later in the week that one of the female singers had been sick, which explained some obvious doubling up of singing parts. We watched a movie in the cinema one night, which has good seats, but there was something wrong with the video projector and we were missing part of the picture. The screen also washes out every time the doors are opened. We attended the "Polynesian" cultural show one evening, which combined some actual cultural lessons about Hawaii, Fiji, and the Philippines with a little wink-wink joking about the women in grass skirts and the hunky men with the mostly elderly audience. There were two bands that alternated in the lobby, neither of which was very impressive. There is a great dance band that plays in the Dazzles nightclub. As you should know if you're reading these reviews, there is no casino on the Star, due to Hawaii's laws. Not quite in the category of "entertainment", but we spent a good deal of time during days at sea playing Scrabble in the cardroom and reading in the quiet "writing" room. Both of these rooms have floor to ceiling windows and are lovely places to hide out. During the cruise I finished three books from the small but well-stocked library. Exercise facilities: We work out every day, so a ship's gym is pretty important to us. The gym on board is a good example of the odd design choices on the Star: it's a pretty nice gym as ships go, but it has almost no windows and is poorly lit to boot, making it dark and kind of depressing even though you're cruising in the middle of the sunny Pacific. The only windows are right in front of the exercise bicycles, which look directly out on where overweight people line up to get ice cream. No comment. There were even a few lights that were burned out the entire week of the cruise, which were never replaced. The gym has eight bicycles, treadmills, Stair-steppers, two elliptical trainers, several selectorized weight machines and dumbbells up to 50 lbs. There's an aerobics area that's about 20 by 40 feet. By comparison, Celebrity puts its brightly lit gyms at the front of its ships, with a wall of windows all across the front of the ship. The 10 treadmills face windows, and I remember jogging on the treadmill in the Caribbean as the Millennium was surrounded by a school of dolphins leaping out of the water. On the Star, the ship could be surrounded by dancing whales and you'd never know about it if you were in the dark, sunless gym. There's a walking/running path on the top deck that is separated by a glass wall from the sun loungers above the pool. This is a great idea for joggers, but be careful if you're just strolling and you accidentally enter the path, as you can't get out! There's also a half basketball court between the Garden villas and the funnel that I saw being used occasionally. Port stops: Obviously, your experience in a port will depend on the excursions you choose, so I'll just describe the ones we took. Hilo: On the Big Island, we took the tour to the observatories at the top of Moana Kea instead of visiting the Volcano national park. The observatories are at 14,000 feet, so high that you have to stop part way to acclimatize to the thin air. We left the ship at sea level, in warm sunshine, and drove in a van up to 9,000 feet. The guide described the fascinating landscape as we drove, showing us how to tell the difference between the several kinds of lava fields we saw. At 9,000 feet there is a visitors' center with some exhibits, a gift shop, and a small garden with native plants. Our guide fed us some juice, water and cookies, and basically made sure we all felt OK. After almost an hour, we drove on up to 14,000. At that altitude, there are no plants, no life at all. Moonscape is a good word to describe it. Once at the top, you can see the eight or ten different observatories. You actually go inside the Keck observatory, which is air conditioned to match the temperature of the nighttime air so the delicate machinery isn't affected by any changes in temperature. Even with the hour-long pause at 9,000 feet, we still felt a little light-headed up that high. The air is amazingly pure and clear, and we could see all the way back down to our ship in Hilo, down the other side to Kona, and across the water to Maui. Fanning Island: OK, I admit, we didn't actually get off the ship. The stop itself is pretty short, about five hours, and we're not beach people anyway. As they need to tender guests ashore, it took over an hour to get everyone off. So we just took advantage of the empty ship by lounging by the pool and eating lunch in one of the restaurants. We could see a palm-fringed atoll with white sand beaches that looked picture perfect, but I'm afraid you'll have to read actual descriptions on other reviews. Maui: As we were planning to return to Maui after the cruise, we debated even taking a tour at all. We finally decided to take a whale-watching trip, and were glad we did. There are LOTS of whale-watching trips on Maui, but NCL arranges its tours with the Pacific Whale Foundation, a non-profit group that is staffed by wildlife biologists and others who love the animals and enjoy telling you about them. This is not a booze cruise, and will be appreciated by those who actually want to learn about the whales' habits. We saw a number of spouts and a few tail flips, but no full breaches. Still, we learned a lot during two hours. Kauai: We took a bicycle/snorkel excursion along the Poipu coast. We were actually disappointed in the bike ride, as we never even worked up a sweat. But it was beautiful, and amazing to see how relatively undeveloped Kauai is. We bought some "fish food" while we were suiting up with mask, fins and snorkel, and we became very popular with the fish. If you don't scare easily, I recommend it, as you'll be surrounded by a cloud of multicolored, and apparently very hungry, fish. The trick is to release the food and then back up right away. Ship Design: There are a number of odd design features on the Star that you notice and wonder "why did they do that?" Some of them have to do with designs that block light and views. The dark and windowless gym I've mentioned above. The shops are hidden in the back of Deck 7, and it's all just one big brightly-lit room, like a K-Mart. Not a bad analogy, in fact. Every other ship I've been on strives to make the various shops feel like fine boutiques, and puts them where you have to walk past them to get through the ship. Not NCL. The Spinnaker Lounge at the fore of deck 12 has a prime location at the front of the ship with a wall of windows all around could be a prime viewing spot for whales and Islands, but for the heavy black curtains they've put behind the stage that blocks out the middle third of the view. Celebrity also puts a lounge at the top, front of the ship, but maximizes the view from all the seats in the lounge which makes them very popular spots all day and all evening. I've mentioned the lack of a place to wait to be seated at the Versailles restaurant, and the same is true for Aqua. In addition, neither of them have a bar at the entrance, unlike Celebrity, which puts a champagne/martini bar right at the entrance to the dining rooms. Those bars become popular meeting spots for groups of friends before dinner. The pool deck is terraced up so that all the seats have a great view of the hideous yellow water slides. Also, the ship creaks as it rolls from side to side in open water to the point that we woke up almost every night. We're experienced cruisers, so it wasn't just first-timer's nerves. Summary: You may be asking why I said that my partner and I wouldn't be cruising on NCL again when I've said so many good things about the ship. Basically, the things that are most important to us, fine food and service, a good gym, and a younger and more cosmopolitan crowd, were lacking. The ship is quite beautiful in some ways, and we made our own fun. Watching the waves, reading a good book, and spending quality time with the one you love can make any cruise a pleasure. Happy cruising! Read Less
Sail Date January 2003
Norwegian Star Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.0
Dining 3.0 3.7
Entertainment 4.0 3.8
Public Rooms 4.0 3.9
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.7
Family 4.0 3.7
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.7
Enrichment 2.0 3.2
Service 4.0 4.0
Value For Money 4.0 3.7
Rates 4.0 4.0

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