Rather than write a review that is structured, I am going to just free-flow through my impression of the cruise and hopefully cover some areas that might have been missed in the past.
First, my overall impression of the Star - this is only my third cruise, and my second with NCL, so I may be a bit of a neophyte, but we had a fantastic time. The ship's appearance and architecture is stunning. It took us the better part of the week to learn our way around, and we still had days we went aft instead of forward! But I digress.
We flew into Honolulu the day before and took the Roberts shuttle to our hotel, the Ilikai on Waikiki. It was a beautiful hotel that was recently renovated and is a short walk over a causeway to the beach. We went over to the Aloha tower to get something to eat at a seafood restaurant recommended by the hotel, and get a feel for where the ship came in on Sunday. We also went over to the Ala Moana Shopping Center and got our Hilo Hatti trip out of the way! After that we went down into the heart of Waikiki on Kahahahu Ave, but the jet lag started to get to us. I am not much for touristy type stuff, and was a bit turned off here by how commercialized the whole area got with the Hard Rock Cafe type restaurants, and the people passing out flyers and such. It made the whole experience seem not that much different than NYC or New Orleans, and that is certainly not what I went to Hawaii for.
The next morning, I woke up early and hit the beach for a run. I wanted to watch the Star sail in, and as I made my way day Waikiki she appeared over the horizon and headed towards the harbor. We spent that morning basking on the beach before we packed up and took a cab over to the pier. We got there about noon and it took us a little under 15 minutes to check in our bags and clear security on to the ship. I must say that security on the pier was even more restricted than in the airport, and I was impressed that every port we went to that NCL continued that policy. You are issued and green scan card to get in your room, and have to show that and a picture ID to get on the boat every time. My wife got a beautiful flower lei, while they gave me a shell lei, we got our picture taken and headed on to explore the ship.
We were in a mini-suite, number 11100. The room was a great size, with a huge closet, close to the central elevators. It was definitely worth the extra expense. We went down and had lunch in Aqua, explored the ship, then got off and did a little shopping in the Aloha Tower Marketplace. That night we had a worst meal of the trip, in the La Trattoria Italian Restaurant. Part of it had to be that they have simply taken part of the Market Cafe and cordoned it off, but I think it was the limited menu and the fact I have eaten much better Italian in my life.
The next day we got to Hilo, where it was drizzling and cloudy. Our excursion there was the volcano biking adventure around Kileaua Caldera. The tour driver was very informative on the way there, and assured us the squall line would clear when we got to the park, which it did. The ride and the view of the crater was very impressive - the power of nature is something to behold. We got some beautiful pictures of rainbows over the crater.
That night the captain cranked up the engines and pointed the ship towards Fanning. We had brought patches just in case, but even in 7-12 foot seas I thought the roll was not all that bad, and got used to it pretty fast. It took some adjusting to your balance, but once we were over that things were fine. While I would love to spend more time in the Hawaiian Islands, I did not mind having the sea days to lounge around the pool and read. The ship has a ton of activities to keep you busy.
I thought Fanning was great. We spent the extra $10 to go to the private beach, and it was well worth it. The beach is huge, and relatively untouched. There were perfect shells to collect in the water if you are into that. NCL has a cabana over there to rent out paddle boats and Hobie boats and such, and sell drinks. They have hammocks and picnic tables and umbrellas and chairs set up on the beach. The water is shallow and blue. You only get to spend about 3 hours over there, then they tender you back to the main beach where the food is. It was real crowded over there. The locals have quite a market going. My wife wondered if they really made all that stuff over if it was made in China! I guess they are learning quickly how to make a buck. There was even a pickup truck with a sign that said "Island Tour" that ferried people up and down the same road you could rent a bike and ride. I brought a bunch of plastic baseballs, balloons, pencils and such. The kids were not lined up like a bunch of beggars like I had read. Most were a bit cautious to accept stuff, but really seemed to enjoy getting something. One mother stopped me and gave me a beautiful shell she had polished. I was touched by the exchange, and consider it the best souvenir I have ever gotten. The people danced and sang and smiled a lot, taking donations and making a good deal of cash from what I saw. I am afraid that a few more month's of this will change this unspoiled island. One guy had a generator and lights around his hut. I think getting to see it in is current state was quite a new experience for us. Then it was back on the boat, crank up the engines, and back to Maui.
Maui was our biggest waste of time, as we were delayed getting in the harbor by a barge. We went to a luau, since neither of us had done one before, and got a to see a sunset like you only hear of on the beach in Lahaina. I hear that in the future NCL may start charging for the free shuttles. We only had about 5 hours in Maui, and wasted more time with the huge crowds getting off and on the boat.
The next day in Kauia we went on a snorkel to Poipu beach, and got to swim with the huge green sea turtles there. That was a great trip, and again the excursion leaders were well informed, and safety was greatly emphasized. Our last day we took the tour of Pearl Harbor and downtown Honolulu, which we also enjoyed. Now back to the ship. We ate most of meals in the speciality restaurants and the main dining rooms. We ate in the Market Cafe once, but I get enough BBQ here in Texas that I did not want to eat it day in and day out like lots of folks. Besides, the Market Cafe was always short of space, and the pool deck was crowded. We loved Versaille - the room is impressive. We also ate at Soho, Ginza and LaBistro. Great experiences at all, presentation was fantastic, and all the wait staffs were friendly and efficient. Reservations are taken at all restaurants 24 hours prior.
The Barong Spa is a great hideaway that no one seems to use much. They have comfortable lounge chairs that look out floor to ceiling windows on the back of the ship, and a huge lap pool, hydrotherapy pool and hot tub, all of which you can use even if you don't use the Mandara Spa. The gym is on the next floor up, and is well equipped, but I thought it a bit cheap how NCL was now charging for most classes they offered, even as an introduction to what they offered.
I can't say enough about the treatments on the boat, the paintings in the stairwells, the trim in hallways and the grand atrium. I think the ship is a stunning achievement and was a joy to spend a week on. Now for my complaints. The huge fruit wallpaper was too much for me in the market cafe, so I am glad I did not eat there too much. We ate breakfast and lunch most days in Versaille. The constant harping on the tv and before shoes and over the speakers for the selling and discounting of future cruises got a bit annoying after 3 days. I guess it was the captive audience syndrome. The same for the art sale. The port talks that featured select restaurants and merchants was a poorly disguised affiliation between NCL and those merchants, and I felt that was a bit unfair to the rest of the economy of Hawaii. I am not big into theme restaurants, and Tom's hype and free giveaway of stuff from Bubba Gump's made me think that the reason he loved the place so much is that he probably ate there for free every week the ship is in Maui. For the most part, these complaints are quite small and in only a very small and insignificant way took away from the overall trip. I really enjoyed this cruise, and I think most people will feel the same.
I will be happy to answer any questions people might have on the cruise, the history of Hawaii or anything in general. One last thing - we did make all the shows in the Stardust Theater and enjoyed them immensely. The Jean Ann Rand Company has some fantastic singers and dancers, and a juggler by the name of Henrik Bothe was funny, and also later in the week put on a display of photographs he has taken of the active volcano on the Big Island that were stunning.