This is my ninth cruise and first on NCL. I have done the Ecstasy 96, Galaxy 99, Mercury 99, Sea Princess 00, Millennium 01, Zenith 01, Grand Princess 01, and Summit 02.
In order for my review to have meaning to you, I think it is important to try and understand what type of person and cruiser Pam and I are. I am a type A vacationer who likes to snorkel, sail, and walk and look at shops. I rarely use the casino (so the lack of one on this cruise did not mean much to me), and I am not a big bar/disco person, so bars are not high on my list. My wife and I cruise to dine, meet other people, and to see the ports and relax. We are not big sun worshippers because Pam is very fair skinned. Service is important, but I do not expect people to be perfect all the time. I am not, so why should they have to be? I just expect them to try and give their best effort. I also understand the difference between 5-star cruise cuisine and I don't confuse or compare it to 5-star restaurant cuisine. The ship has to feed 800 to 1700 people per seating where a restaurant only feeds 200 a night.
Please take my review as a critique and not complaining. It represents My Humble Opinion that represents my tastes and biases. With that said, I will give my humble opinion of the NCL Star.
Preface I would like to open with the fact that we booked this cruise back in September of 2001. We watched the first month of the Star and the reviews that came out on each sailing. Those initial reviews, although bad, did not bother me. I have been to Maui 6 times before this cruise and Pam has been there 5 times. I have also been on Oahu once. These were all land-based vacations of 2 weeks each. Because of this, I knew what to expect especially on Maui. The waters in the Pacific and around Hawaii can be very rough especially in the winter and spring months. The fact that they were tendering in Hawaii and Maui means there will be many times you don't make it due to the ocean conditions.
I agree that the ship does not spend a lot of time on the islands and that is dictated by US law (a very stupid law in this day and age). So there is no point in complaining or pointing out the obvious when you book this cruise. Understand that a total of 4 days will be spent away from the islands going to Fanning. For Pam and I, that is fine. We love sea days and the chance to see Fanning Island in a very young, raw, undeveloped state is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
On the topic of changing ports on the Big Island and Maui, Pam and I were happy with these changes. I see docking at Hilo as a big plus. I would think a very large majority of people would want to see Volcano National Park and Hilo is a lot closer than Kona. Throw in the chance to dock (Hilo) vs. tender (Kona) and it is a bigger advantage. Because we have been to Maui so many times, plus we went to Maui the week after the cruise meant that docking at Kahului vs. Lahaina was not a big issue. In many ways, Kahului can be better. You are not going to be able to do Hanna because you get in so late to Maui (1 PM). However, you are close to the helicopter tours, you can get a car and go to the Iao valley, to Wailea, or see Haleakala crater. I recommend a late lunch or dinner at Mama's Fish House. The fish is to die for.
This will be our first cruise with personal choice dinning and I was looking forward to it. I do not expect the quality to be that of Celebrity or Princess, but I do not expect it to be bad.
Now that I have rambled on, here is my review.
Traveling Party We were going as a large group. In addition to Pam, Ben and I, we traveled with my brother Paul (Paulfredo) and his wife Dixie, our other brother (Mark) and his wife (Sandy), our mom and Pam's parents (Marv and Dot) making a grand total of 10. This was Pam's parents and my mom's first time in Hawaii, the rest of us have been there more than 6 times. In addition, this was Mark and Sandy's first cruise. Lots of firsts and it promised to be fun.
Pre-Cruise We started out on Saturday morning leaving for the airport at 3:30 AM to catch our 6 AM flight from Indianapolis through Dallas-Ft Worth to Honolulu. Eight of us were on these flights. We were at the check in at 4:30am and breezed through security. Security was normal. No big changes. Paulfredo and Dot made the mistake of making eye contact at security so they were searched. LOL. Boarding was on time. With such a large group boarding, I knew one of us would get the strip search upon boarding, so I took one for the team and made eye contact. Yep, they got me. My favorite thing is when they ask you "do you mind if we search your bag?" What am I going to say, no? lol I used air miles to upgrade Pam, Ben, my mom and I to first class. It was my mom's first time in first class and it was a hoot watching her try and figure out what the hot white towels they give you before your meal were for. Ben showed her the ropes though. The plane was only about 40% full so Paulfredo, Dixie, Marv and Dot had plenty of room in the cattle car.
We were 20 minutes late leaving so we arrived in DFW 50 minutes late due to weather at DFW. We had to make a run through DFW to the Hawaii flight because it was on time at 9:30 and it was 9:10. Of course you can never walk through DFW without a cart running you over and now that we needed one with three seniors there wasn't one to be found. We made it with a few other passengers. As we are running to the gate they pull Ben (who is 12) and do a security search on him without a parent there (we didn't see that he had been pulled). The plane left on time at 9:30 AM. Now for the 7 hour flight! In first class, we had a choice of Filet, mahi-mahi, or mango cardamom chicken. Patrick Slaven was our server on the flight to Hawaii. He was first class. I want to take him to be our server on the cruise. Pam didn't care for the chicken, but mom loved it. The filet was very good. Not top notch, but I have had a lot worse.
We arrived in Honolulu around 12:30 PM Hawaiian time. We had our bags and caught a taxi by 1:10 PM. The cab fair without tip was $26.50 from the Airport to the Hilton. The line to check in was long and it took 20 minutes to get checked in but we were in our room by 2:15pm.
Honolulu Pam, Ben and I, Paulfredo and Dixie, and Marv and Dot stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. This is not an inexpensive place to stay, but for one night in paradise we decided to do it. We were in the Rainbow tower and we had a Diamond Head view. It was wonderful. The view of the beach, the ocean and Diamond Head was spectacular. The pool was below us and there was music from one of the small restaurants on the Hilton property that was very enjoyable to listen to. The veranda was nice. Very similar in size to that on a cruise ships. The room was large and well decorated. We had a king bed and a roll away for Ben.
The day was beautiful. Not a cloud over Honolulu or Waikiki. Sun was hot but the trade wind was strong and it made for a wonderful afternoon and evening.
We put on swim suites and walked down to Waikiki Beach in front of the Pink Lady. It wasn't as crowded as I remember it the last time I was here, but it was still busy. The water is very warm and it is waist deep for hundreds of feet. There were small waves that would break over the rocks that were great for body surfing and riding on floating devices. It is a wonderful swimming beach with a marvelous view of Diamond Head. The sun is very hot and direct and not wanting to get burnt on day one we only stayed about 35 minutes.
We came back and changed and walked down to the corner of Kalia Road and Lewers Street. Go up Lewers to Kalakaua Ave and you are in the main shopping district. The Hawaiian Shopping Center, Waikiki Shopping Plaza and International Market Place are here. We wanted to eat at Dukes that is on the beach by the Outrigger Waikiki but it was packed at 5:30. We were going to sit on the beach bar, but it was full, no shade and the band were playing too loud for our taste. Must be getting old or something. Ended up eating at the Waikiki Broiler on Lewers St. at the Ohana Waikiki Tower. Nothing to brag about, but it was clean and the burgers were good and that was all we needed. By this time, we were really jet lagged and decided to head back. We were dead to the world by 8pm.
I was awake by 4am (my body was telling me it was 9am). We were all up and about at 5:30am. Watched the sun come up and a beautiful dawn in paradise. We had to be out by 11am and Pam, Ben, Marv and Dot were going to Pearl Harbor. They wanted to get there by 7:15am so we spent the early morning packing so we could leave when they returned. I wandered down to the Atlantis pier and met Paulfredo and Dixie and took pictures. At 6:30ish, you get a great view of the NCL Star coming in and we took pictures of her. Yes we were excited and ready to board right then! Lol
Paulfredo, Dixie and I strolled down to the Halekulani which is on the beach on Kalia St. across from Lewers St. We met Mark, Sandy, and mom and we ate at the Shore Bird. It is right on the beach and they have a great breakfast buffet. It was $8.25 with tax. The fruit was wonderfully fresh, excellent breads and traditional items like French toast, eggs, rice, fish, and ham. Paul loved the ham and he normally doesn't like it. Strolled back to the room to write this and take advantage of the veranda, the view, and the trade winds. Ahh, paradise is wonderful!
Pam, Ben, Marv and Dot took a cab to Pearl Harbor. They left at 7am and got there about 7:30. The cab ride is $30 each way before tip. They had to wait about 5 minutes before they started passing out tickets. They ended up in the 3rd group to go out. This worked out well because it allowed them time to look around the museum and gift shop before the tour. They were glad that they did it. Taxis were easy to get there and they were back by 10 AM.
Embarkation: (A) We left the Hilton at a little after 11am. Getting a taxi is easy there. We ended up taking a limo taxi. Pam, Ben, Marv, Dot, and I were in that. It held all of the luggage and it cost $20 to Aloha Tower where the pier is located.
Embarkation is very different than Ft. Lauderdale. Initially, I wasn't impressed, but after going through it, it was very good.
When you arrive, they will get you a porter. We chose not to because all they do is hold it until you check it. I didn't need to tip someone to roll my luggage beside me as I stood in line. You take your luggage (checked and carry on) and stand in line. At 11:20am, there was a fair size line, but it moves quickly. You need to have your passports and your tickets available along with your NCL bag tags with room number on your luggage you are checking. It took us about 20 minutes to get inside. Once inside, they check your tickets and passports and the number of bags you are checking. What they are doing is validating that no one just drops a bag at check in that doesn't belong. You leave your checked luggage and the NCL staff load them right on carts to head to the ship.
You then go out and stand in line for the actual check in process with your carry on bags. One note, if you do the NCL transportation via Roberts Hawaii, they do the bag matching as soon as you get off the bus and then you go to the back of the check in line.
We waited about 20 minutes and at 12 noon on the dot, they started check in. This was one of the easiest check-ins I have been through. They have two sides that go through security where they check your ticket and passport. You then go in to wait for a check in booth to open up. Latitudes members go left to special lines for them. There were 3 or 4 booths for them. The rest of us went right. They have a nice queue system set up, but weren't using all of it. At the end of the line, a NCL staff person directs you to one of the dozen check-in booths. This went quickly. When a booth is open, the NCL staff holds up a paddle and you are directed there. We gave the check-in clerk our passports, tickets, and credit card. We signed the receipt for the credit card and were given our boarding cards. This took all of 5 minutes.
You then take your carry on luggage to the metal detectors. There you empty your metal objects, cameras and small bags for inspection. You put larger bags through the x-ray machines. We were through in minutes with no major issues.
You then go up the escalators and aft and mid ship cabins go left and fore cabins go right to board. Take the standard picture and you are on. They have staff waiting upon boarding that take you to your rooms. We were in our room by 12:30 pm.
The thing that I liked best was that they let you in to your room before it was ready so you can drop your bags unlike other lines where you can board earlier but you have to drag your carry on luggage around until all the rooms are ready. I'm sure it is harder on the staff, but it is very nice for the passengers.
The Ship(B) The ship is very nice. Yes, some of the coloring schemes are strange by American tastes and standards. What is important to understand is that this ship was originally being built for the Asian market. Most, if not all, the furnishings had been ordered by the time Star decided to move it to NCL and Hawaii. If you understand that, you will understand the coloring scheme and some places like the Karaoke Circus.
The artwork was wonderful IMHO especially in the stairs. There is not as much polished brass on this ship compared to the newer ships on Celebrity and Princess. They have used woods in place of this in many places (stair well rails, etc.) The other thing that was odd was that there are many twists and turns and mazes. An example is the only way to get to the Versailles restaurant is down the back elevators or stairs. You just can't go straight through to it on deck 6 because the kitchen is between the Versailles and the Aqua. It was very difficult when there were long waits at the Versailles because there is no waiting area except the Red Lion Pub so the Pub and stair area was very crowded. The other area that is interesting is the area on deck 7 and deck 6 where you have the Ginza Restaurant, Teppanyaki Room and Suhsi bar and then down below is Le Bistro, SoHo, Wine Cellar, Havana Club and Gatsby's.
The main public areas are on deck 6, 7, 12, 13, and 14.
The color schemes on most of the carpeting are based on the primary colors with lots of gold, orange, and yellow colors mixed in. Room doors are metal and painted. Because of this, I found the ship to be in closer comparison to Carnival than say Celebrity. One nice feature is that you knew what part of the ship you were in based on the color of the carpet in the stair well. Blue was the fore, Red was mid, and Green was aft. You could also tell which side of the ship you were on because the cabin doors on each side are different color.
The Versailles Main Restaurant is aft and it is beautiful and very elegant. Again, the color scheme on the chairs shows a very Asian décor with chair fabric being green or red with gold patterns on them. As stated, you have to enter on deck 7 or deck 5 aft. You proceed down a half flight to the entrance and from there descend another half flight to the dinning room floor. The only issue I had was that the square tables for four were small and that they have four leg supports instead of one central one. I kept hitting my leg on them. I found the chairs to be very comfortable.
The Aqua is the other Main restaurant. The main entrance is not nearly as elegant as the Versailles and the artwork is more contemporary than the European style in the Versailles. In the Versailles, the largest table that I could find was for six people and I never saw them move tables together there to make larger ones. Most of the Aqua tables are for two, four, or six, but there were a few tables for 10 and they could push some tables together along the starboard side that had benches against the wall to form bigger tables.
La Bistro, is a small, quaint restaurant towards the fore of the ship on deck 6. There is one table for 6 and the rest seat two or four. The decor is nice with wood and the lighting dim to create a romantic environment. Only complaint when we ate there was one side of the tables was on bench seats and they were not as comfortable as the standard chairs.
The Wine Cellar is right by the Le Bistro. It is a nice wine cellar displaying many of their wines. There is a table for 10 in there for dinning and tasting. One downside with that table is that everyone in Gatsby's Lounge or up at the Ginza can watch you eat. Not a big deal unless you are looking for some romantic privacy. Right next to the cellar is the Havana Club. It looked nice, but small compared to the cigar lounges on the Celebrity ships. In that same area is the Gatsby Bar. They have recorded and live piano music in the Gatsby Bar. This is a nice place for drinks while you wait for your reservation time at the Le Bistro, SoHo, or the Ginza Dinning Rooms. The SoHo is small and we have been told that it is the best in dinning, but it is slow. Count on dinner taking 2 to 2 ½ hours. James Deere (Hotel Director) explained that the kitchen is too small so it adds time to get the dinners prepared and served.
The Ginza restaurant is on deck 7 and it is straight up the staircase from Le Bistro and SoHo. Within the Ginza there is the Sushi Bar and the Teppanyaki Room. The Ginza is very nicely decorated with oriental tones. The Sushi Bar is at a bar and it has a small conveyor that brings your sushi from the chef to you. The Ginza has both tables with chairs and tables that are half chairs and have bench style. We did not set at a bench so I don't know if they were as uncomfortable as the ones in Le Bistro. The nice thing about dinning in the Ginza was that you could hear the piano music down in the Gatsby's Bar and this added to the dinning experience IMHO.
The Market Café is on deck 12 and it is the main buffet restaurant and it is down right strange IMHO. The wallpaper is funky to put it lightly. Big pictures of fruits that make up the wallpaper in very bright green, red, yellow colors (see my photo gallery). We mainly ate there for breakfast, but would sit in the dinning area for the grill or cookout lunches because you couldn't find a place to sit outside. The main problem here is that it is a central isle for people going to the aft of the ship and the ice cream station, plus the drink stations are way out in the aisle. When you compound this with the charge beverage cart going back and forth and back and forth trying to sell mixed drinks, beer, and soda made it a nightmare to get around in there.
I would highly recommend that NCL do away with the mobile beverage cart at lunch and have them stationed in the big empty space that is wasted as you enter the Market Café. People would know it is there and could go over to get their pay drinks if they wanted them and it would ease the congestion in the main isle.
The La Trattoria is the Italian restaurant on deck 12. It was strange because it is just a section of the Market Café with fancy tablecloths and silverware, but with the same fruit wall paper. None of our party ate there so we can't comment on the food.
Endless Summer is located around the Atrium on deck eight. It wraps around the atrium viewing area. There are few seats at this restaurant and you will not be able to get large groups together here because much of the seating area is tiered and have rails between the tables. Very nice view.
Las Ramblas Tapas Bar is on deck 13. It is accessible from the mid-stairwell. It is a small facility but the décor is very Spanish and it is a cozy place for drinks and a light lunch. I recommend it for lunch on Fanning Island day. The Tapas are good and all you can eat with a bar drink purchase.
The Stardust Theater is accessible on decks 6 and 7 (for the balcony). It is a very gorgeous theater. I think it compares well to the Celebrity Millennium class theaters in looks. The big difference is that they have theater seats and there is not a middle aisle so it can be a long haul to get to the seats in the middle of the theater. The other thing that they miss is the small tables for drinks. In seating, it is very similar to Princess but is classy like the Celebrity theaters. The seats themselves are very narrow and wide hipped people may have problems sitting in them. The other item is that when you sit in them, they feel like they are angling down and you are sliding off the seat. Comfort wise, they are okay but not spectacular.
The Spinnaker Lounge is on deck 12 fore. It is a very nice lounge with good views to the dance floor and band. The seats are very comfortable and there are great views during the day as you cruise along.
The Red Lion Pub is on deck 7 and it is a nice cozy little bar that has several types of English ale for sale along with the standard bar drinks. On the other side is the Blue Lagoon. This small, order restaurant was busy, but I found it to be a waste of space and a logjam. People would stop to get coffee and put cream or sugar in it and it would block the whole isle so no one could pass. Again, this seemed to be a common theme on the cruise that NCL puts too much stuff in the isles and there is not enough room to get through and they tend to be major traffic areas.
The Karaoke Circus is on deck seven by the Stardust Theater. The décor is definitely Asian. The colors are bright, Carnival colors and there are two merry-go-round horses that can be used for bar stools. You can get pre-show cocktails and drinks here before going into the theater. They also passed out Fanning Island tender tickets there on Tuesday during the day. We rarely saw people in this bar.
The Star Bar is on deck 13 across from Las Ramblas. It has windows that face out over the Oasis Pool area. The chairs are very nice made of a beautiful, burgundy leather. The walls or mainly wood but it is very plain. We were fortunate enough to be some of the guests that were specially invited to the Captain's cocktail party there.
The Galleria Shops is a large area on deck 7 far aft. It is a big, wide-open area that has all the main stores. You have Emeralds International doing the jewelry sales. There is the standard duty free perfume, liquor, and cigarettes. Throw in the standard clothing and sundry items and you can find what you need there. My guess is this is where the casino was to go, but it made a good spot for the galleria shop.
The kid's area is aft on deck 12. Ben is 12 so he didn't use it, but it looked like the kids really enjoyed the pool area and the slide. It is a very busy area because the free ice cream is served just before entering the area and the hall way is very narrow. It gets crowded and impassable sometimes when kids are going to and from the kid's area and dozens of people are lined up for ice cream.
The jogging track is on deck 13, and this is by far the best I have seen on any ship. It is separated from the lounge chair area by a wall on the port and starboard sides so you don't have to compete with those lying in lounge chairs. It is a little narrow, but very nice.
Now for an area of wide discussion, the Oasis Pool on deck 12. I understand the complaints and would agree. The two water slides take up too much space. They were well used this week with over 500 kids on board along with the kids at heart, but they are space eaters. There is no room on the side for lounge chairs so you can't just jump in the pool and get out and go to your chair. Also, there is a total lack of lounge chairs in shaded areas. You are in the tropics and there is no respite if you are fair skinned and go from white to burnt in 10 minutes. The other bad thing is that the glass windows that protect this area on the port and starboard sides only have a couple of windows that can be opened to let a breeze through and it is by a door towards the mid ship. Thus it gets stifling hot under the deck area. The other issue with the slides is it makes it next to impossible to get through. It is so narrow and when they do the on deck barbeque and set up the side dishes, it is like an LA interstates at rush hour.
Moving on to the barbeque. It is a mixed blessing. First, it is outstanding IMHO. I loved the ribs and lamb. Again, it was very hard to get to and get the side dishes. Second, there is no place to eat on the outside for two reasons that I could see. First, many of the pool hogs where using the tables as their all day resting spots by the pool. Second, any available tables were taken up by the first people in the barbeque line or by those eating earlier from the Market Café. We ended up eating way in the back of the Market Café when we did the barbeque. Pam's complaint about the barbeque is your food is cold by the time you can find a table.
On the pool deck towards the fore going up from deck 12 to deck 14 and the Bier Garten are may tiers that go from port to starboard that have tables or lounge chairs. They are a sun worshippers dream.
Now for my last area of concern (dislike), the Promenade deck. First, it is great in that it goes all the way around. I'm sorry that they don't use teak wood all the way around, but it is a cost and maintenance thing. The funny part is that there is a small section on each side that is teak and it makes no sense at all. Now for the complaint, this is really the only shady spot on the ship, why they will not put lounge chairs there is beyond me. They have plenty of lounge chairs and there is room on the Promenade, just put lounge chairs there instead of the chairs. I have never seen the promenade deck this on any of my other 8 ships I have been on.
The one thing that I missed from the Celebrity ships is the smoking sections. I wish that one side were non-smoking and the other side smoking. I am a non-smoker, and I agree that smokers should have places to smoke, but I don't feel that I should have to sit next to them and smell and breathe their smoke. This is a very combustible topic with both sides having strong opinions on the subject. I will leave it by saying splitting the ship is the best compromise.
In summary, the ship is really beautiful. I just question the architects' thought process and those at NCL that approved the space layout when they started building it. The current management staff is doing an excellent job, but there is only so much you can do when there are steel structures and walls that limit space.
Rooms: (C) We booked this room about 9 months in advance. We decided to spend the money on a Cat BA stateroom with a veranda. We only book a veranda when we can get one on the very aft of the ship. Pam and I were in room 9238 and were hoping that it would be similar to the Cat 1 cabins aft on Celebrity Millie class ships. We like this location because there are staterooms above and below us. The hard thing is that I will be comparing the rooms to the Celebrity Millie class aft cabins.
I always take my tape measure and measure what the actual cabin size is and veranda if applicable. The cabin measured 9' wide by 19' 6" deep totaling 175 square feet. The veranda was the standard (disappointing IMHO) 40 square feet and measured 4' 6" deep by 9' wide. The veranda contained two chairs that reclined, but they were not lounge chairs. Nothing like reclining for a nap, but having your feet hanging down and touching the floor. There was also a metal coffee table. The veranda was teak which was very nice. The door leading to the veranda slides open and you can swing the latch up and it locks the door open, which is a very nice touch. The curtain that covered the sliding door was heavy and I liked the colors.
The walls were a nice beige/white design and the wood trim was a medium/dark color that I found very pleasant to look at. The carpet was blue with yellow ropes making diamond shapes with red ship wheels in some of the diamond centers. The bed covers where green with bright yellow ropes showing different knots. Yes the color scheme on the carpet and bed covers were different but no more so than the Celebrity Summit room we were in.
There is a bright yellow love seat couch that could be pulled out to sleep a third person. It is yellow with orange ship wheels on it and hard as a rock. Very uncomfortable to sit on and the back is just as hard. Our room had a small 18 x 18" table coffee table with a shelf under it. By the veranda door is a 24"x24" wood table with one support pillar and it slides up under a wall that has the phone mounted on it and a shelf with the TV on it and above the TV is another shelf that we put miscellaneous items on like hats and the NCL daily news. There was one chair that was used for this table. Good idea, but the table is not functional. First 1/3 of it slides under the phone and then ½ of the remaining space has a metal tray that has a hot water machine coffee cups, and sweetener. This leaves you 12" x 12" to write or do other things with.
As you enter the room, you have closet space on the left and the bathroom on the right. On the left, right after entering is a 16" wide x 44" tall solid wood wall from the floor up. Yes, no easy access drawers there. Just above that is a wood panel that opens up to reveal the standard, self-programmable safe. This was nice and worked well. Above the safe is a 16" wide x 14" tall shelf that has a metal bar rail to keep things from falling out. Above that shelf, is another 16" wide x 16" tall shelf that is identical to the one below. However, it is somewhat worthless because it houses the third person's life vest.
After that section is a double door closet. The closet measures 33" wide by 73" tall. There is a rail at the top for hangers and they provide many hangers for your use. Kudos for that. There are also a couple of metal racks that can fold down to put small suitcases on in the back or you can hang your own metal hangers with clothes on them if you brought some. Not really useful when you have long shirts and pants hanging in there. Now for the fun part. Remember that wood panel on the outside when you enter, well, it turns out that there are 4 shelves inside the closet to the left. Yes they hold your clothes, but it is not very accessible or easy to get to when you have clothes hanging in there.
Next are three drawers that measure 16" wide x 9" tall. These are all the drawers you have. Above that is a desk and in that section a small, non-stocked (yeah!) refrigerator. They put the plastic ice bucket in there to help keep the ice longer. With the ice bucket in the refrigerator, we were able to get 5 bottles of water in there as well. There is about 8" of space between the refrigerator and the first shelf. Why, I have no idea. We ended up putting things on top of the frig and treating it as a shelf. Hey, when you are short of space, you use what you can. There are two shelves above the frig that have metal bars to keep things from falling off. Again, you don't get full access to both. In the first one is a glass tray that can hold the ice bucket when it is not in the frig and two glasses for drinks.
Next to the frig, the table top goes about 12" and then is cut at about a 30 degree angle giving you a corner desk spot with a mirror. There is a small stool with a round top that slides out from under the desk. There is a very nice hair dryer on the desk. Probably the best one we have had on our 9 cruises.
Now the other funny part. There is only one 115 volt outlet in the cabin and there is one 220 volt European outlet. We knew this and brought a power strip. There are two data ports in the room, but they don't go anywhere so you can't get Internet in your room. The other interesting thing is that you cannot check your account balance on the TV like you can on Princess or Celebrity.
The beds where pushed together to form a queen bed nice touch I think, but there is no divider partitions so they are made up as two twin beds side by side with the cavernous gap between them. The other interesting thing is that there is no sheet. There is just a comforter blanket with a clean casing over it and that is it. Pam kept getting too hot and would kick it off and then would get cold. She finally requested a sheet on the third day and it was supplied by our great cabin steward. There is a very small stand by one side of the bed for an alarm and book and it has a small shelf under it. Not very useful or functional.
The bathroom was nice. The shower was A+ excellent. It was large and it had a glass door that slid shut so you didn't have the plastic shower sticking to you. The water pressure was excellent and the soap and shampoo dispenser were easy to use. The sink worked well with two shelves below it and they used a liquid soap dispenser instead of bars of hard soap so it wasn't as messy. The toilet is on the right and it has a door that closes. This makes it hard to get in there. There is an ash tray and a magazine holder by the toilet as well.
Final comments on the room. We took our son Ben but decided to pay the difference so he could stay with Grandma and she could go. I am glad that we did. The room was difficult with 2 people, but there is no way you could put three people in this room. There is not enough storage space and if you unfold the couch you couldn't get out to the veranda without climbing over beds. The other problem is that I could not store all my bags. We had two bags sitting out in the room. I have been in Princess and Celebrity rooms that were this size or smaller with three people and we easily got them in. In an inside or outside with a window, you might be able to fit 3 or 4 people, but I don't see how you could store it all in the limited space you have.
The Staff: (B+, variable) There have been many posts and concerns that the auto deduct tip policy would cause poorer service because it is a belief that the staff is money motivated and the threat of not getting a good tip would cause them to work harder.
Fact one, that is not a true concept. I have read that 30% to 40% of the people stiff the staff on traditional tipping cruise lines. The staff know it, but they still give good service. Fact two, those that are going to give good service will give good service no matter what the tipping policy and those that are going to give bad service will give bad service no matter what the tipping policy.
With that said, I can honestly say we had some of the best overall service on the seas. Was it 100% perfect, no and I would not expect that. In most restaurants we ate in, the staff worked their butts off. Some were better and more efficient than others, but almost all were good.
In fact, I had the very best service in a standard, non-pay dinning room on Tuesday night in the Aqua. Santose and his assistant Elsa were the best I have ever had on any of my 9 cruises. We were so impressed we turned in a comment card for them. We were at a table with the 10 of us and it was very busy. Even with all of their other tables full, Santose and Else managed to keep our glasses filled, plates cleared, new courses in front of us without us having to ask anything. Santose also found time to show Ben how to make about a half-dozen different napkin designs. They did it all with big smiles and friendly laughs. Again, they were working their butts off, but they made it look so easy. That is the mark of truly great servers.
We ate at La Bistro. The service there was good, but it did not compare to Celebrity's Normandie. Still, we had very friendly service with a smile. One minor problem is that it took about 15 minutes before we could get water. That is a long time especially when we are eating at 5:30 on the first night and there are only two other tables in there.
Service at the Ginza was very, very good. Better than La Bistro. Thursday night, 8 of us plus a group of three ate at the Tappanyaki. The service here was outstanding. It was the best on the ship and it was as good, if not better, than the Celebrity Normandie and that is saying a lot. If my water glass was more than ¼ empty it was a miracle.
We had a couple of minor issues. I believe this person and his assistant must have been new and were not sure how to handle it. We were having Wednesday night dinner in the Versailles at table 44 which is back by the windows. Our staff was working their butts off but other groups were eating and finishing well before us that were seated at the same time. Dixie order sparkling water which is $3 for a bottle. The waiter poured 1/3 of the bottle in the glass and put it in an ice bucket. Dixie had only had a couple of small drinks when the assistant came along and topped her glass off with regular water. She did it so quick that we couldn't stop her. We explained the issue to her. She ended up taking the glass away which Dixie ask her not to. I was okay with that because I wanted to see how she would handle it. She brought a clean empty glass and poured the second third of the sparkling water in the glass. Okay, not what I thought she would do, but still not a problem. We then told the waiter what had happened. His response was to stutter "oh, ah, oh," and walk off. He obviously had no clue what to do. Throughout the meal, they poured the remaining water. Still, I'm okay with that. Finally, at the end, the waiter asked for Paulfredo's card and charged them full price and finally said he was sorry.
Yes, we could have called the assistant Maitre'd over, but I wanted to see how they handled it. I think they handled it wrong. One of two things should have happened; 1) They should have brought a new bottle with the new glass, or 2) they should not have charged for the bottle at all. Again, this is very small, but it is what separates truly great service from just average service.
A second incident that I did fill out a card on was in the Aqua. It was on Maui night and it was not busy. When I run out of water and my wine glass is empty and I have a bottle with wine in it over in an ice bucket, I get a little perturbed when the waiter is staring out in space and not being attentive.
Final fun part is that in the wine tasting (which was excellent by the way), James Deering told the group that you could get the good wine glasses in the Versailles and Aqua dinning rooms. On the last night, our group bought an expensive ($100+) bottle of wine and we asked for the good glass. The assistant did get them, but not before giving us the good old eye roll and "I really don't want to do this" look.
I am not complaining, just pointing out some things you will face on the ship. They may upset you or not. For me, it was fun watching how the staff reacted or didn't react to situations.
There were two instances where one of our party did not care for the dish they were served. Both times, the waiter was very happy to remove it and replace it with another dish.
Our cabin steward and his assistant where exceptional. I give them an A++. Santiago was the head steward and his assistant Carmela. They did an exceptional job. From the first meeting, they greeted us as Mr. and Mrs. Sims. Always with a smile and the warm greeting that leaves you feeling good.
All of our room requests were met efficiently and in very, very timely manners. We bring some of our own wine so we asked for four wine glasses. We also bring a small expandable cooler and we ask it to be filled with ice every day and Pam likes to have an extra towel each day. These were all filled quickly each and every day. Later, Pam found that she needed a sheet because she was either too hot or cold during the night with the comforter, and she also asked for a bathrobe. Both were there when we came back same day. Again, great, great service.
The last topic I would like to touch on is the top management staff. They were exceptional! I have never experienced this and it was truly great.
On Monday evening at 6 PM at the Bier Garten, there is a Cruise-Critic.com meeting. You really should go to this. Mark Lockwood (Food and Beverage Director), John Anderson (Cruise Director), and James Deering (Hotel Director) meet with you there to talk about the ship, answer any questions or issues that you have. It is well worth the time. You learn a lot about the ship and you can have your questions answered. They are kind enough to give you their on board cell numbers to call them. We called James on one occasion for a request. James happily helped us with our request. The great part is that all three are very sincere in hearing the good, bad, and ugly about the cruise and the staff. They are sincere in their desire to try and improve the product and that is almost unheard of in most industries today. I congratulate each of them on doing an outstanding job with the ship and for caring. Thank you John, Mark, and James from the Sims' clan!
The food: The food was mixed. We never had a bad dish, but the quality was not consistent. I found the Versailles and Aqua to be good to very good. Some things were strange. One lunch, they served seared tuna that was cooked well done. Seared means quickly cooked on the surface but raw on the inside.
I rarely had desert because they just were not to my taste. Doesn't mean they are bad, they just don't offer a lot and were not the kind I enjoy. Normally on Celebrity, you have four or five deserts to choose from and then ice cream. On most nights, you only had two or three and then ice cream in the dinning room.
The pastries are not Celebrity or even Princess quality. They are okay at best. When I walk through the Market Café and never pick up a desert, that means H*** has frozen over or something.
We are pizza freaks, and this is a touchy subject for many and stirs a lot of debate. IMHO, this pizza is blah. I still find Celebrity to be the best and Princess can be very good if it is hot.
In La Bistro, the courses were very good to excellent. You choose an appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, and then desert. The Warm, Green Asparagus were excellent as an appetizers. The traditional French onion soup was good while the cream of forest mushroom was excellent. The spinach salad with warm goats cheese crouton and Caesar salad were very good. They mix those in the restaurant area, but not right at your table. The filet mignon was good, but not outstanding like Normandie. The sea bass was very good but the portion was very small. Can't remember what I had for desert, but Paulfredo and Dixie had the Chocolate Fondue that others have raved about. Okay, I don't get it. The fruit was good, but the chocolate is Hershey syrup. I found it to be fair at best. The surcharge is $12.50 per person. Reservations are a must and on Sunday night from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM, they only charge 50%.
We loved the Ginza. This is another of the pay restaurants. The surcharge is $10 and you should make reservations. We lucked out and walked in on the night we ate there. The menu is good. You choose two menu items and one desert. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it is plenty. I had the Tempura soba which contained two jumbo black tiger shrimp, eggplant, and carrot slices all tempura style with buckwheat noodles in a Japanese soy infused broth. The tempura was the best I have ever had. The soup came in a huge bowl. It was different, but I'm not sure that I like it. I then was served my second item the beef tenderloin with black bean sauce. This was outstanding and a very large portion. Pam had the seared Ahi and it was some of the best she had ever had. For desert, I have to highly recommend the Thai banana pancakes with coconut ice cream. They will substitute vanilla ice cream for the coconut which Pam and I did. Out of this world good!
The Teppanyaki was the best. The food quality was outstanding and the portions were huge. I had the filet and shrimp combo for $12. You get 5 jumbo shrimp and a huge 7 oz steak. When you include the seaweed appetizer (not sure if I liked it or not), soup, salad, and desert, the staff have to roll you out with a stick. Yes, this was Normandie quality food.
We did not eat in Endless Summer because the menu really did not appeal to us. It is a no charge restaurant, but you do need to make reservations because there aren't many tables and it is usually full. We also did not eat at SoHo, but others did and rated the food quality gourmet. The SoHo is a reservation restaurant and it charges a $12.00 cover unless you get the A La Carte specials which are the Pearls of the Caspian Sea (Caviar) for $22, Taste of Sonoma Valley (seared Foie Gras on roasted Shallot) for $8, Live Cold Water Lobster for $25, or Surf and Turf which is a ½ Lobster with a Beef Fillet for $17.50
The on deck barbeque got mixed reviews. IMHO, it was very good. I loved the ribs and the lamb. Both where tender and very well flavored. I really liked this concept on NCL. Again, it does crowd the deck space by the pool.
Had one hamburger at the Grill. This will cause some debate, but take it with salt because it just reflects my tastes and opinion, but I would rather had a McDonald's hamburger than the burger on the grill. The French fries are not the same caliber as Celebrity. They always tasted soggy and if they were not hot, they were not very edible.
Shows and Entertainment: We only saw one show and that was Wednesday night with one of the Chinese performers, Xianghui Kong, doing things I didn't think the human body was able to do. We then saw the comedian Lorenzo Clark. He was excellent. Others in our group (Ben and Mom) saw most of the shows and said they really enjoyed them. Again, we are not big on the shows.
Disembarkation (A++) WOW!!! That is all I can say.
Oh NCL, you have a winner here. Yes, I did not have to rush out of my room and take my carry on luggage to the dinning room and eat. Nor did I have to sit with 2000 passengers in public spaces trying to find a seat to sit and wait one and a half hours to be released. Nor did I have to deal with those pax that are rude and disembark before their color is called.
We ate a leisurely breakfast in the Versailles dinning room, and then went back to our room and waited till they called our color. We went after they called the tag after us. We walked down to deck 6. Walked right up to the gangway where they scanned us out and were off the ship in 2 minutes max! Walked down to where our checked luggage was waiting on us and we were out of that area in two minutes.
Taxis are plentiful and we stood in a line for about 5 minutes or so, but it didn't seem long because it was always moving.
The trip to the airport from the pier was about 10 minutes and cost $18.00 before tip. We were there by 9:30 AM. We were flying inter-island on Aloha, so the line was long but it moved quickly. We were through checking, and security by 10:30 AM.
Free Style Dinning (C) This is a very touchy subject to some. Many feel that only the old, traditional cruisers like the "regimented" traditional cruise experience and don't like freestyle. Well, I take exception. First, I'm not old (36) and second I have only been cruising for 4 years.
I personally like the traditional dinning experience better. I am not saying that this is bad, but it is different. I see many pros and cons with this type of dinning. This is MHO and are just points as I see them.
The thing I liked was that I could eat when I wanted to. The bad side was there were several nights (three in fact) that we wanted to eat at 7:30 PM in either the Aqua or Versailles because of activities. Each time, we went to those restaurants on those days there was a 45 to 90 minute wait that normally occurs between 7:30 and 8:30 PM every night except Maui night. I noticed that many people waiting were frustrated and unhappy. One night, we then tried to get into the Endless Summer after the failed attempt at the main dinning rooms and they were booked till 9:30. We did get into Ginza but it was 8:20 by that time.
There is too much need to plan in Freestyle. Every night we had to figure out what we were going to do for the next day because we would need to make reservations or have to plan for the crowds. I do that at home in Indianapolis on Friday and Saturday nights. I certainly don't want to be doing it on a cruise.
I like the traditional cruising because I know that I will eat at that time, in what restaurant, and at what table and I know who my table mates will be and my wait staff.
I missed the fun of meeting the new tablemates and getting to know my wait staff. For me, that is a very important part of the cruise experience.
Again, I'm not saying that free style dinning is bad, but it is not for everyone and it is not for me. For those that do love it, I am happy for you in that you have found a venue that fits your style.
Ports of Call HILO, BIG ISLAND à This is a wonderful island, but it is not enough time. You would need at least three days to do it right, but 4 hours isn't enough time to do much of anything.
We rented a car. Originally, we booked Avis that said we would have to call when we arrived and they would pick us up. Yes, they try harder. Upon arriving, we called and they said we had to take a taxi to the airport that would cost $15 each way. You know what we told them to do.
We ended up on Dollar and they did a great job and were very friendly. It takes about 30 minutes to get your car. From the airport, it takes 45 minutes to get up to the Kilauea crater. We ended up driving all the way around it in the time we had. We felt rushed, but got to do most everything. It is chilly up there early in the morning and the odds are it will be raining or misting. Once you move around the crater, it cleared up and was windy (trade winds) and warm. The crater is amazing that is all you can say.
The thing I wanted to do there but couldn't because of time was see real, live lava flows. You know the red stuff. You can't do both in the time you have. Paulfredo ended up doing the lava flows and we are going to trade pictures.
We left the crater at 11:15 AM and got back to town and stopped at the Long's Drug store. There is also a Wal-Mart there before you get to the airport. You can stock up on coke, water, booze, etc. there for your three day jaunt to Fanning.
Of course, wouldn't you know, Kilauea started erupting the week after we were there. LOL Oh well.
FANNING ISLAND à We love sea days so the trip to Fanning was great for us. The Ocean was way too calm so we lucked out there. In fact, when we were coming into and leaving Fanning, it was a sheet of glass.
We did the $10 per person private beach in the AM. We thought it was well worth it. The beach is pristine and very lovely. There are many small white colored sand crabs that scurry around. In addition, there are large crabs that have their holes there and you can get pictures of them when they slink out of their holes.
The water was colder than I expected, but then I'm a wimp. Lol It is knee to waist deep for hundreds of yards out. You get a yellow floating pad that is great. We just floated around all day. They have a rental facility where you can rent canoes, paddle boats, and sail boats. They also sell drinks (water, soda, and Miller Lite beer).
There are some hammocks, picnic tables, standard chairs, and lounge chairs. The problem is that there are not enough lounge chairs. We came across on the special tenders NCL has. We had to sit on the top deck (which has no cover thus no shade). They let the bottom out first and we were the first ones off the top section and we could not get a lounge chair because they had all been taken.
My main complaint is while you are waiting to return to the main area of Fanning. You have to take a tender across the channel to the main town area. There is absolutely no shade here. We waited 15 minutes for the tender in sweltering heat. You don't get burnt at the beach, you get burnt waiting on the tender.
The town area is primitive, but you can see the touches that NCL help add. There are a few block buildings and a basketball court. There are many people set up tables with their items to sell. Most items cost $2 to $20 dollars. I found it to be fun to see how these people lived and I for one am glad that I was able to do it.
One note on the subject flies. There are flies there but no worse than at an outdoor picnic or eating in the open air restaurants on Maui.
MAUI à I have been to Maui so much, this was an easy port. This is the unusual part of the trip though. Because you are coming back from a foreign port, you have to go through immigration before you can get off. To help expedite the process, NCL meets immigration in Lahaina. In fact, immigration takes a boat to us and boards. This happens at about 11 AM. From 11 AM to 1 PM when you arrive at the Kahului pier, they call you by deck number to go through immigration. This part is a pain. We were on deck 9 and were called at about 11:50 AM. We went down the front stairs and there you catch the line. It took 20 minutes. The line wandered around the landing area. It went into the Star Dust Theater clear down to the stage and then back up the other side. You then enter Dazzles night club and go to a NCL staff person with your passport and they mark your name off. You then go to an immigration official that looks at your passport and you are done. Before exiting Dazzles, you get a slip of paper per person that states that you cleared immigration. You cannot get off the ship in Maui unless you have this paper.
We ended up docking and were allowed off at 1:30 PM. We rented from Hertz. You have to call them and let them know you are at the pier and they were there in about 10 minutes. We ended up driving to south Maui and went through Kihei and to Wailea shopping. I enjoy this area. Wailea just opened a nice shopping area in the last year with many shops. After that, we drove to the Grand Wailea. Pam, Ben and I stayed a couple of days there about 5 years ago. IMHO it is the best resort on that side of the island. The grounds are garden covered. There are many pools and several slides and a wonderful beachfront area.
We then drove to the Wailea Golf course that has the Emerald and Gold courses. If you ever get a chance to play, the Emerald is a little easier and the views are spectacular.
We didn't want to be rushed so we got back to the ship by 7 PM and the ship is deserted so it is fairly easy to get into about any restaurant.
KAUAI à We had never been to Kauai and we were looking forward to seeing it. We got in at 8 AM and were off the ship right on schedule. Again, we had another rental car nightmare along with others. We booked Dollar and you have to call them. Well we tried and were on hold 20 minutes during that time we saw the Dollar van enter the check point and turned right around and left without even driving up. We ask the Hertz driver if they had any vans and he said yes but he would have to check. The Hertz driver made it back before Dollar and his rate was half the price so we climbed on board and rented Hertz.
We ended up going up the North-East side of the island to Princeville. We had booked a 35 minute helicopter flight with HeliUSA (through Tom Barefoot's on Maui). The trip is 20 miles and would only take 45 minutes or so. On the way there, we stopped along the road to take shots of the mountains and scenery. A don't miss site is at Kilauea Point and the Kilauea Lighthouse. The lighthouse opens at 10 AM and they ask for $3 per adult, kids 16 and under are free. This area is a bird sanctuary and the lighthouse is very cool.
We drove on up to Princeville and did a little shopping until it was time to go for our 1:15 PM flight. It started out cloudy but it burnt off throughout the morning so we had excellent weather for the flight. It was a short flight that did the highlights of Kauai which is mainly flying along Mount Waialeale, over the Mamalahoa Halelea Forest reserve, the Na Pali-Kona forest reserve, flying over the Waimea Canyon (incredible!!) and along the Na Pali coast (Incredible!). For $95 a person, it was well worth it. The island is so beautiful.
We then headed back to the ship and were on board by 4 PM. We then met our travel agent and their family for a sail away. This was a lot of fun and the sunset was spectacular. Thanks Barry and Lori!! We had a great time!
Conclusion I had a good time and I am glad that I did NCL. It is not as bad as many people post. The key with NCL is you have to be comfortable with their freestyle dinning. Some may like it, some may not.
I found NCL to be more competitive with Carnival and maybe RCCL which is the group I believe they market to. Personally, for me, I still prefer Celebrity and Princess.
I would sail NCL again, and I would recommend them. It is a good cruise and if you don't have a good time, IMHO, it is your own fault.