This was our 27th cruise and our third on Norwegian Cruise Lines. In '98 we sailed the newly "stretched" Norwegian Wind; in March '02 we sailed her sister ship the Norwegian Dream around South America and Cape Horn - - a dazzling trip to remember. So with visions of penguins, fjords and glaciers still dancing in our heads, where else to travel next, but the gateway to Pacific islands and the Orient: HAWAII.
The Norwegian Star is the only ship in service year round in Hawaii, and still in its "Maiden Year," it's a curiosity for us. A new ship and exotic ports, what more could a traveler ask for? Captain Niklas Peterstam was at the Meyer-Werft Shipyard in Germany during the building of the Star and knows her intimately. He speaks of her many virtues with pride and rightly so. She is environmentally friendly and generates all of her own water through desalinization. Her bridge is a modern computerized wonder with the latest equipment: a fitting setting for her accomplished captain and his well trained crew.
This ship was built with the express purpose of making her the most elegant floating Casino in the orient. Yet, that idea was scratched and she has become instead "sans casino" touring Hawaii, a "no gambling state". Thus, cruisers now have extensive onboard shoppes, 10 elegant restaurants, 14 Bars and Lounges, 3 swimming pools, 4 hot tubs, the "Splash Down" kids' center, a health spa & gym, and so much more. This ship can be called a destination in its self. But the exciting bonus of the Hawaiian Islands makes it irresistible.
The Norwegian Star was christened in January 2002; she has a gross tonnage of 91,000; an overall length of 971 ft.; a beam of 107 ft.; a draft of 28 ft. and she is Panamax. Her diesel driven electric engines allow her a cruising speed of 25 knots As most of the newer ships, she is also equipped with the Azipod system which allows her the outmost maneuverability: She can rotate on her axis, move sideways into berth at port and stay moored without dropping anchor!
We booked NCL's Air/Sea Program and flew Continental Airlines from Miami 9:20 am to Hawaii 3:30 pm approximately 12 hours flying time with a change over in Houston. This is a grueling day (time zone changes) and it makes for an early first night on board! Honolulu airport has little to none air conditioning (limited to the sealed off gates), a long hike to baggage claim and no assistance with luggage from either the airport or ship personnel (where were the porters?) and then, with Vincent in the wheelchair and a few pieces of luggage to carry, we faced another long walk to where the buses should have been (45 minute wait for them to come in sweltering heat and humidity). Fortunately, fellow cruisers Sergio Valdez and his family took pity on us and assisted us with our luggage; thank you Sergio & Elena!
Once at the port, the Norwegian Star stood majestically: All white with its pointed prow, blue NCL funnel atop and with a line of red and white lifeboats/tenders, she is easily distinguished from other liners. However, we soon noted that her outside beauty is surpassed by her inner decor. She has an exotic far eastern motif, boldly enhanced by primary colors (Black, Red, Yellow, Blue and Green) and simple, straight, modern, elegant lines (refreshing). If you expect the traditional cruise liner pastel colors, you'll not find them here.
EMBARKATION Upon arrival, we had over an hour wait at the airport with a lot of grumbling going on by passengers in the heat, but, once we arrived at the pier, everything changed and NCL had wheelchair assistance; we went straight through the Latitudes check-in counter. This new ship has one card for onboard charges and embarking and disembarking. We were greeted with Hawaiian leis (fragrant orchids for the ladies and shells for the men) and went directly to our cabin, because we could forgo the usual stop at the main dining room to check our table assignments. Freestyle Cruising eliminates the necessity of dining at a specific table and at a specific time. Flexibility in dining is wonderful. For those who prefer a set time and place, just make that usual stop to see the maitre d' and that to can be arranged; however, with so many dining alternatives, we suggest savoring the many cuisines offered at the 10 restaurants. Remember to make reservations at the specialty restaurants!
SHIP'S PUBLIC AREAS The Norwegian Star is tastefully decorated in an oriental motif with strong bold colors, no soft beige, pink or lavenders here. The primary colors are refreshingly distinctive. Her stairwells have too many murals and wall sculptures to mention, but especially look for the Water lilies in the central stairwell on Deck 6 & 7 and don't miss the Sea life (fish and sea horses) forward Deck 11. The ship design and layout make her easy to get around.
Decks 4 & 5 have staterooms with port holes or inside cabins.
Deck 6 forward has the main floor of the Stardust Theater, a simple room with dark walls and the only decoration being valances of red and gold drapery and two decorated boxes flanking the stage (Don't miss the main entrance corridor to the theater, this is highly decorated with large pictures). During the week there will be a laser show, it's spectacular.
Toward aft is the Dazzles Lounge/Night club decorated with black granite tables, a semicircular dance floor and bandstand, black and red swivel upholstered chairs and the walls are covered with portraits of Jazz favorites like Miles Davis, etc. Going aft is the Gatsby Champagne Bar with huge murals depicting the lifestyle of 'the lost generation' in Paris after W.W.I with hints of Fitzgerald and Hemmingway characters. Very nice! The far wall has a beautiful gigantic, wooden mural of transportation during the 20th century (ships, cars, zeppelins etc.).
Portside is the entrance to the SoHo Restaurant with a Andy Warhol theme of repetitive designs and Marilynesque pictures. Midship is the Havana Club for cigar aficionados and the wine cellar for Le Bistro Restaurant. The French theme is started in the corridor with white globed sconces and friezes of "Parisienne scenes". Le Bistro repeats the French theme with art posters reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec. Dining here is enhanced by the French music and aromas (more about the food in the appropriate section).
Midship is the Aqua Restaurant (the only one we did not dine in, since in seven days, it would be impossible to dine in every venue, we knew that the Aqua shared a menu with the Versailles, so we felt we knew the food if not the room. All the way aft is the Versailles Restaurant with its ornate red brocade walls, formal paintings of French royalty and crystal chandeliers.
Deck 7 is the Promenade Deck with a traditional wrap around outside promenade. Forward is the balcony of the Stardust Theater, because of the required glass topped balconies, there are several areas where visibility of the stage is poor, unlike the main floor where there is a near perfect view from every seat. Toward aft is the Karaoke Circus Lounge, on the walls are oil paintings of circus performers. The barrel chairs of leopard and zebra velour added a wild touch. Nearby is the Teen Club and Photo Gallery.
Midship is the gorgeous Ginza restaurant serving sushi on a revolving runner at the bar. This room is very modern and angular and much beautified by the kimono wearing waitresses, who use their obi sashes to store things.
Toward aft is Java Cafe` and the heart of the ship, which is the Grand Atrium with the reception and excursion desks. This area is enhanced by a fountain surrounded by thousands of shasta daisies and suspended "NeNe" (Hawaiian geese). The birdcage elevators are flanked by chrome and white columns.
Going aft on portside is the Red Lion's Pub (British down to fish and chips) and on starboard side is the Blue Lagoon (quick snacks and light meals) very handy for early continental breakfast or a fast food luncheon at its white speckled tables and leather hassock seats. This has an American '50s diner flavor enhanced by pictures of a pink Ford Fairlane and a Red fin tail Cadillac.
Aft are the Galleria Shops; the hugest shopping area afloat.
Deck 8 is the lifeboat deck, which is mostly cabins; some of them have obstructed view. Midship, above the Grand Atrium is the Endless Summer Restaurant featuring a highly decorated lighted glass ceiling and Hawaiian food. Spectacular!
Deck 9 is all cabins, mostly with balconies, except for the Internet Cafe located midship.
Deck 10 is all cabins and suites, most of them with balconies.
Deck 11, the Bridge Deck, has cabins forward, and aft is the Barong Spa & Fitness Center. gym, saunas etc.
Deck 12 forward is the Spinnaker Lounge with a great view of the ocean forward. Its chairs are appropriately upholstered in red with stars and its sofas are blue; the bar is raised and the dance floor sunken; the teak wood walls and suspended sails complete this nautical theme. Close by is the tiny Starlight chapel with an ocean view (holds approx. 30 persons). Going aft portside are the conference rooms named after famous cities (London, Paris, Rome, New York, etc.). On the starboard side are card and game rooms and centrally located the theater which shows the latest films (avoid the last row since from here only the top half of the screen is visible). This week "Lord of the Rings" "Kate and Leopold" and "Crushed" were showing.
Midship are the pool area, Topsider Bar, the Grill and the Ice Cream Bar ( macadamia nut ice cream!). Surrounding the pool are modernistic palms with lighted tops (beautiful at night when seen from the "Bier Garten" above on Deck 14). Going aft is La Trattoria (Italian dining), Kid's Cafe' (kid size tables and chairs), Market Cafe' (buffet) and all the way aft is the second level of the Barong Spa.
Deck 13 is the Sundeck Star Bar, Las Ramblas Tapas Bar and Planet Kids and aft the Helipad.
Deck 14 has the Bier Garten and the Garden Villas (some of the most luxurious suites on the seas).
The Norwegian Star is a cruiser friendly ship offering many alternatives from quiet to hustle & bustle - - - - something for everyone.
FOOD & SERVICE Under the capable, watchful eye of Hotel Director James Deering, this is a top of the line ship. All the public areas are immaculate and pleasing to the eye. The service is exceptional, smiling and willing to assist passengers. Freestyle dining and inclusive tipping is happily received by most passengers. Those who still want the old fashioned same table, same time, same waiter may still reserve that in the main dining rooms through the Maitre d' in either the Aqua or Versailles Restaurants.
Freestyle dining actually allows passengers to have full control over when and where they dine, which of course means over when they will go to the theater or do any other shipboard activity. The food is varied in ethnicity and the venues well organized. It will take up to two hours for dining in the upscale restaurants (Le Bistro, SoHo, and Ginza etc.) which allows for individualized preparation of your order.
Le Bistro with a cover charge of $12.50 per person serves French and Mediterranean Style cuisine. Try the Escargot, Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, Wild mushroom soup served in a sourdough bread bowl. For an entree try "Rossini style Filet Mignon with fois gras and truffled veal jus". For dessert they offer Chocolate Fondue and Tart au Citron. . . . . EXCELLENT!
We dined at the SoHo with Captain Peterstam and Mr. Deering; the service is elegant and the conversation very enjoyable. This restaurant specializes in Pacific Rim cuisine ($12 cover charge). Try the Warm Vichyssoise with smoked salmon and poached quail eggs, or the jumbo shrimp with tortellini and chervil, or Vincent's favorite the 10 ounce Grilled Veal Chop. You may also select your own lobster from the tank! We gave SoHo a four star rating.
The Ginza ($10 cover charge) has "Asian Fusion" (Thai, Japanese & Chinese) cuisine with a charming rotating Sushi Bar (the California rolls were great). The dishes and eating utensils were delightfully oriental. The Sukiyaki and Tempura Soba were excellent. Dessert is Banana Pancakes Flambe` or how about Ginger Creme Brulee`. We highly recommend both. We were served sweetly by Amarasiri and Joy Co.
Dining on this ship is a 24 hour thing at the Blue Lagoon on Deck 7. A quick meal can be made of "buffalo" chicken wings, chili con carne, or salads. Our waiter Rey Paul Asuncion was incredible, he knew every one by name and called out greetings whenever he saw us.
There are so many venues for dining on board that no one could possibly go hungry here; unless, of course, you inadvertently place your fork across your plate, the international signal for the waiter to remove it, then, the service is swift. One fellow American complained she never got to finish her meals, since the waiters rushed her through the dinner by removing her unfinished plates. We asked where she placed her fork: Naturally across the plate, and zip it was gone. We had a good laugh. She kept signaling for removal and the waiters complied!
Breakfast is served from 5 am to 9 am. (Continental in your cabin, full American in the restaurants from 7 am on). Lunch and afternoon snacks are from noon to 5 pm. Dinner and evening snacks are from 4 pm to Midnight and Room Service is 24 hr.. We found the service to be excellent, the food to be varied and plentiful. We also had the occasion to meet the helpful Concierge Anne Smith and she is charming and ready to solve any problem. The Captain and Hotel Director should be proud of their crew. Captain Peterstam says that they each have two jobs: first, safety training and second, their other assignments.
CABIN Cabin # 10700, wheelchair accessible, is large and airy, decorated in red, green and blue with beige walls and two pictures of south sea island influence depicting boats, flowers and, of course, palm trees.
When entering on the left, there are two sets of cupboards flanking a lighted armoire, a huge bathroom with safety rails all around and a single sink with two shelves, plus a large shower 4'X4'. Then, there is a queen bed, a TV console, refrigerator and private safe and a set of draws. The far wall is glassed with a door to the 6'X15' balcony which holds two chaises and a table.
When entering on the right is found a full length mirror, a desk/vanity with mirror and hair dryer, and an upper bunk which folds up on the wall. This cabin would be more than adequate for four - - -except for storage space (very few drawers). The addition of a coffee/tea maker in the cabin was a nice touch. We were most ably served by Senior Cabin Steward Conrado Colonia and his asst. Sonia Condalor. They were friendly, competent and unobtrusive.
ENTERTAINMENT There were the usual cruise fun and games: Bingo, Horse races, Exercise and Dance classes (the Hula was taught in the Spinnaker Lounge with all six moves 1. hitch hike, 2. hooky (net), 3. everyone pull together, 3. bowl of food, 4. swish, 5. King and finally 6. clean the barrel. All these arm movements are done while swiveling hips and dancing step, step, toe! It made for great laughs. However, no Casino on this ship!
There were several shows featuring the Jean Ann Ryan Company which were on a par with other cruises. The show featuring the Chinese acrobatics and juggler was exceptional. BUT, the Hawaiian mood was beautifully set each evening in the Grand Atrium by Butch Niauhoe Kekaulike O'Sullivan, billed as "Three Octaves of Versatility," he was by far the most memorable voice aboard. His gentle manner with the audience and his clear explanations of the background of various songs were spellbinding. Whenever we passed through the atrium, we couldn't resist sitting and enjoying his dulcet tones and golden voice. Thanks for honoring Vincent's request for "The 12th of Never" with a very beautiful rendition.
The Norwegian Star has successfully incorporated Polynesian (Show time "The Drums of the Islands"), Chinese (Juggler and Acrobats), Hawaiian (Butch's memorable songs) and Pacific/Asian themes in the entertainment making this trip well worth it!!!
ACTIVITIES & PORTS OF CALL
HONOLULU, OAHU Departure 8:00 pm This port for us came after disembarkation. We spent two nights at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, one block from the famous surfing beach of Waikiki. We visited Pearl Harbor and the monument to the Battleship Arizona. Very touching.
HILO, HAWAII Arrival 7:00 am Departure 12:30 pm This island is the largest and the youngest of the Hawaiian chain and boasts the active twin Volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, both over 13,000 ft. We took the tour to the Macadamia Nut Farm and then on to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where we saw the caldera of Kilauea Volcano, home of Pele Volcano Goddess. Here were steaming vents and old lava flows, sounds safe? Right? Wrong. It erupted on July 28, 2002, only six days after we left the island.
FANNING ISLAND, REP. OF KIRIBATI Arrival 9:00 am Departure 2:30 pm This is truly the most isolated of island paradises, at over 1,000 miles from Hawaii. An oval coral atoll, it is just 26 sq. mi. In 1979 Fanning Island became part of the Republic of Kiribati, whose capital is 2,000 miles away at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. Its population is about 1,600 natives from the Gilbert Islands: who are stranded former coconut farm workers. We went ashore on the first tender, since the sea was a bit choppy, the crew halted the passengers behind Vincent, in order to make sure he transferred safely. Later, we heard of a woman who ignored specific crew directions and jumped the line rudely to get on the tender first. She lost her pedicure to the sliding gangway. It's difficult to feel pity for a "queue jumper."
On shore we were met by singing natives and we shopped at the dock side straw market. We forgot to bring candy for the children, so Vincent gave them dollar bills. The children are shy and sweet. NCL has a barbecue on the island, but we took the first returning tender, because so close to the equator the sun is unbearable, even at 10:00 am. There are "sand wheelchairs" on the island, but expect to go only in a straight line; turns are difficult! Our friends from Chicago toured the island and pronounced it a dreamy paradise unspoiled by civilization.
KAHULUI, MAUI, HAWAII Arrival 1:30 pm Departure 9:30 pm For an island with so much to see and do (i.e., the Maui Ocean Center, Helicopter Tours and the Atlantis Sub Adventure) we managed to do the least interesting: the Hoku Nui Luau, where the long ride to the other side of the island was the most interesting part. We ate at the Sheraton Hotel Luau outside on a knoll overlooking the sea. Sounds idyllic, but it rained on and off, and the food was as dull as the dreaded poi. The beautiful sunset over the water was enjoyed much more than the overpriced luau.
NAWILIWILI, KAUAI, HAWAII Arrival 8:00 am Departure 6:00 pm Kauai is the setting for many famous films (South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, Jurassic Park etc. King Kong?). Waimea is the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Beaches, Mountains, SCUBA, Fern Grottos and Rainbow Waterfalls, this island has it all. All we needed was more time.
1. Passengers need to be reminded that "Freestyle Cruising" allows for flexibility in dining as to where and when ---- but, it does not eliminate the traditional set time and table for those who want to eat in the same restaurant and at the same table every night, served by the same waiters. This also allows for automatic tipping charges on your onboard bill, which we enjoy. We still tip at the different restaurants, when we are served especially well, even though its no longer mandatory.
2. The cabin drawers have grooved handles underneath: This is where function was sacrificed to design. They are not very handy and instead are awkward. This is a minor inconvenience, but sometimes, like Sisyphus, a designer should be condemned to use his/her designed "mistake" for life, or better for eternity! Then the emphasis would be on functionality and the user friendly designs would be common occurrence around the world.
We have booked three more cruises within the next few months. We are boarding the new RCI Brilliance of the Seas on Sept. 8 in Harwich, England on the way to Boston. This will be our first transatlantic crossing since 1968 on the Michelangelo. The next cruise will be on Nov. 30, a return to the Golden Princess for an Eastern Caribbean cruise to see our old friend, Executive Chef Antonio Cereda. The third cruise will be on the new RCI Navigator of the Seas, Jan. 25, 2003. We especially enjoy new ships and writing about them. Happy Cruising!