December 11, 2005
Embarkation We were to depart at the San Pedro port in Los Angeles. The embarkation process on this cruise was the worst I have ever encountered. >From start to finish it took about two hours. Some NCL officials were going around telling people they must get a porter to take all their bigger luggage before checking in. However, neither the NCL reps nor the porters were very proactive in helping people get their big luggage out of their hands.
We booked a room on Deck 11 with a balcony, mid-ship. It was a decent sized room with relatively ample living space. The typical amenities were there: coffee machine, hair dryer, safe, small fridge, and a very small TV. There is a drawer with two shelves. Also, there is a decent sized closet with more shelf space inside. However, the shelf space in the closet is rather hard to get to, since you literally have to be inside the closet to grab your stuff.
Dining Rooms NCL offers Freestyle Cruising, which means we can dine wherever, whenever we want. The main venue is the Versailles dining room. There are also other dining rooms that specialize in different cuisines. Some specialty restaurants are free, some aren't. Here's my review on some of the restaurants we tried:
*Versailles (no surcharge): Food quality in Versailles is iffy. There were times when the food was absolutely delicious, and times when it was horrible. However, in all cases, I realize that NCL does not care about presentation of food. My experience with service in Versailles has been negative. For instance, the first night we had to wait about 10 minutes before our server even came to acknowledge our presence. When I asked for pepper, he simply removed a card that was blocking the salt and pepper shakers, and basically hinted I should use that instead of expecting fresh ground pepper from him.
*La Trattoria (no surcharge): While this is a typical pasta joint on Deck 12 with typical pasta dishes, the service at this restaurant was superb. These guys really went out of their way to make guests feel comfortable and welcome. Don't expect a nice Italian theme restaurant here. This "restaurant" is simply a cordoned-off section of the Market Caf頢uffet area. In the morning, it serves as the other side of Market Caf黠at night, they turn it into "La Trattoria" by dimming the lights and adding tablecloths. Reservations are strongly suggested.
*Le Bistro ($15 surcharge per person): I don't think there is anything special about Le Bistro, unless you like fondue. Even so, the fondue dessert won't get any praise from me. I have to admit that it takes place in a nicer setting, with an upscale feel, so it's perfect if you want to celebrate a special occasion.
After speaking to other guests on board, I realize I'm not the only one who feels service is horrible at NCL. My expectations are not high; I simply ask for polite and speedy service. Polite and speedy are not how I would describe the wait staff on NCL Star.
We received a notice of itinerary change when we were getting ready to embark. There were no prior attempts on NCL's part to notify us of the so called "rotor" problems that prevented us from traveling further south to Acapulco and Ixtapa. So as a replacement, we were going to stop in Mazatlan and Manzanillo. For this inconvenience, we got a credit of $50 per person.
We heard that NCL is notorious for leaving people behind if they are running a bit late. So we took the NCL shore tours at three of the four ports even though it would be a lot cheaper to grab a cab and taking a tour that way.
Manzanillo: We took the Comala/Colima tour that involved going to the Pyramids, visiting a cathedral and a museum, and stopping for lunch downtown. This tour was interesting, but not great. The restaurant they took us to, however, was fabulous -- very authentic Mexican food. The people in Manzanillo do not speak English well, so brush up on a bit of Spanish if you intend to buy something.
Puerto Vallarta: This was my third time in PV, so we decided to take the ATV tour. It was a lot of fun - we went on the back roads and in some instances went over water banks, etc. My only advice if you want to take this tour: Bring your own bandana. The ATV place did give us bandanas, but I soon realized they were useless. I guess they weren't made of high quality material and therefore didn't filter out the dust. That night I had plenty of gunk in my nose and throat. Also, try to find goggles that are not ripped apart. I had a rock that was stuck in my eye for a better part of the evening because my goggles were obviously very used.
Mazatlan: This was the one port where we ventured out on our own. We just took a cab, asked the taxi driver to take us to the cathedral in old Mazatlan, then asked him to take us to see the cliff divers before taking us to the Golden Zone. That trip cost about $25 for the both of us. We did a little shopping at Senor Frog's before retreating back to our ship. A taxi ride back to the port was $10.
Cabo San Lucas: This was my third time in Cabo. We took the Deluxe Cruise with NCL. This cruise sails out to the famous Arch of Cabo, then around the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean. They served complimentary drinks, chips and salsa during the entire trip. My advice is to head out early, grab a water taxi, and do the same exact tour I described above for a fraction of the price. But keep an eye on your clock, as we had to be back on the ship by 1:30 p.m.
Entertainment/Onboard Activities Nightly entertainment was so-so. I have definitely seen better. The Jean Ann Ryan Company Singers and Dancers can be missed for sure. The Fallons (Magician) is pretty good - try to watch the Close Up Magic in the Spinnaker Lounge later on in the cruise. The comedian, Dave Heenan, was so-so. He's entertaining enough, but not extremely funny. They also had a Broadway star, Jeri Sager -- she's one NOT to miss if you are a Broadway fan. I loved her - definitely the highlight of the entertainment.
Overall: I will probably never sail with NCL again. I also will not recommend it to anyone I know. If anything I have been telling people to steer clear of this cruise line.
While the ship itself is a beauty, the service of the workers there made the experience very unappealing. The fact that the line changed of the itinerary without any attempts to notify us, the lack of courtesy of staff on board, the generally poor quality of food, and the money-hungry ways of NCL makes me wander back to my favorite cruise line: Royal Caribbean.