Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Mexico February 5, 2006
Welcome to the Williams review, go get a cup of coffee because boy howdie this review is long. After 6 months of reading every review myself and my wife could get our hands on, as well as scouring the far reaches of the internet for every and any information we could find on our ship, we now sit down to write our own review. May it inspire you and excite you as your own cruise approaches.
The joyous day of embarkation we made haste from our Santa Maria home (Santa Barbara Area) at 8:00 am, kissed both of our kid's goodbye, 5 and 16 year old, said thank you to grandma for watching the kids and then we went out the door praying our youngest wouldn't scream "No mommy and daddy don't go." But alas, she was fine and it proved to be a good sign as we started our trip. Like I had mentioned, my wife and I had spent at least an hour a day, sometimes up to 4 hours or more, just looking at pictures and reading reviews of the ship and the ports. So we were a little leery of the negative reviews and had to dig deep to have a positive outlook going into the trip. My parents who have been on many cruises before gave us a little advice. They said, your on vacation, and your kids are fine at home, enjoy yourself, and don't be negative. That seemed to be enough for us, we are both glass half full kinda people anyway.
Embarkation: We arrived at the harbor after a three hour drive. That even included a stop at In and Out Burger in Ventura, but they weren't open. (Don't other people want hamburgers at 9:30 am?) Pulling off the freeway was like catching that first glimpse of the Materhorn at Disneyland from the freeway. That feeling of "Yes we are gonna have fun now." We know from previous reviews that multiple ships in the harbor meant a longer check in, with possible delays. So the fact that there was the RCCL Vision and The Island Princess with our ship The NCL Star all in port at the same time left my wife and I both saying "Uh OH!" When we pulled up to the check gate at San Pedro harbor we were asked what ship we were on, and we told them the Star, which got us a nice NCL person who said "Well the Star isn't boarding until 1:00 because there are two other ships in port and the terminal is really busy, you are going to need to turn around and come back later, sorry" So we made the u turn and went to a restaurants at the port.
The restaurant was Acapulco's, where we were greeted by a smiling hostess who led us to a table over looking the water and told us of the Champaign buffet. The vacation had begun. We took pictures, had a margarita, and ate at the buffet. When our clock said ten till one we jumped back in the car and went back to the dock where we were allowed to enter this time. I dropped my wife and the luggage off, and proceeded over to the long term parking lot. Its not to hard to find, just go back out the way you came but instead of going onto the street you take a right into the Catalina Terminal area. I parked the car and had a nice man in a bus already waiting for me to ferry me back to the boarding area. I tossed him a couple of bucks and met up with my wife. I did forget her Starbucks coffee back in the car, but hey, we are on vacation right? We were not sent any luggage tags so this became our next mission, find the tags. There seemed to be an abundance of NCL staffers so I just asked one of them.
Other reviews stated that they were unable to find any NCL staff, but when we were there at 1:00 they we everywhere. We only had one large suitcase that we needed a tag (Ya one, my wife packs very good) for so I joined 20 other people in line to get our luggage tag. A friendly NCL staffer said hi and asked if I knew what line I was in, I stated "Yes, that I just needed to get one tag." So she said hold on a minute and she went and got our tag for us. I tipped her a couple bucks for saving us the time of standing in line, which she told me "Sir, that's really not necessary." I tipped her anyway. From bags on the curb to walking into our cabin, it took 55 minutes. Smooth, fast, as stress free as one could expect.
Cabin: We had a BB category on Deck 9, with a balcony. Upon entering the room we were surprised by its size, and as we put all our carry ons down and began to take in the cabin we were very impressed at the nice wood cabinetry and separate shower, and bathroom and toilet area. There was adequate room for all of our stuff in the closet and the three drawers. There is a light in the closet, and decent lighting in the whole room. The bed was two beds pulled together to make a queen, but neither my wife or I ever ventured into the middle of the bed because it wasn't to comfortable there. The pillows were the cotton puffy variety and being accustomed to feather pillows at home this was kinda uncomfortable. But hey we are not at home so grin and bear it or you can tip your room steward and he/she can fetch you some feather pillows. The balcony was wonderful and received many hours of enjoyment once the weather warmed enough so someone from California could be out there for any length of time. Which occurred once we hit day two. There is also a small TV, a phone, a small desk, a couch that can be converted into another bed, a real hairdryer, and a hot water brewer. The brewer can make tea but it is not a coffee pot like some of the reviews stated. We even brought our own coffee, being the coffee aficionados we are, but were sadly disappointed by the tea maker. But hey were on vacation. There was one power outlet in the room, and one outlet in the bathroom, but the outlet in the bathroom didn't seem to work very well and didn't even heat up my wife's curling iron. Women you may have trouble with your fluffing because my wife said the lighting was horrible for that, but I thought she looked great the whole cruise. Lastly the small fridge is small but adequate for smaller drinks and such. What it is really great for is to stockpile all your goodies from the midnight chocolate buffet.
Tip: we brought an air freshener for the toilet area, because it is small with no ventilation or fan, and hey 8 days of cruise food has to go somewhere. Another great item we brought was a power strip. This allowed us to use multiple electric devices plugged in at the same time. You might think, hey, I don't have that much to plug in, but we brought a clock, digital camera battery charger, video camera charger, laptop, and a curling iron. Sometimes several of these were being used at the same time. Negative 1: While the cabin was beautiful we did have a couple of issues. One issue which was possibly the most irritating was that the cabin creaked. And popped. And snapped. When we were on the sea the first night, from that point on our beautiful cabin began a symphony of irritating sounds. Not constant mind you, but erratic and spaced out sounds that would allow you to begin to fade to sleep, then be jolted by creaking, and popping. But hey were on vacation. And I kind of got used to it by day three. Negative 2: while deck 9 is a great deck to be on. You will find that the two days you go into ports with the aid of tender boats, that's the fore mentioned tender boats are right below your room, and they begin there day at 6:30 am. Nothing like the wake up call of heavy machinery sounds pushing large boats out over the side of the deck, and heavy cable singing wake up its 6:30, and hey you're on vacation.
Service: My wife and I had no problem with service in any of the areas of the ship. In fact we feel that service for the most part was exceptional. There were times that the waiters and waitresses were a little swamped, but of course everyone wanted to eat around the same time. Another thing we noticed is that a lot of the waitresses were from Russian republics. And most of the time we felt like we were being waited on by the Russian mob. (not in a bad way, it was actually funny) **Russian voice: "Are you done sir, I can make you be done."
Other reviews had stated their angst with the bar staff that walks around the pool or bar areas asking if you want a drink. Yes there are a lot of them, and yes if you don't have a drink in your hand they will ask you if you want something, but in our opinion, and this is our review, it is a resort type atmosphere and I think those same people who complained about getting asked to much if they wanted a drink would have complained if they did want one and no one asked them. I think the later would be worse than the former. No one was ever rude about our refusal for a drink, but they did ask a lot. You can definitely tell the different styles of personalities from different countries. Some people who had more subdued attitudes may be portrayed as having a bad attitude, but that wasn't the case, they just weren't as overly friendly as others. If you are the kind of person who is a friendly semi outgoing person, then you will find this a great place to meet people from all over the world. If you are the kind of person who finds faults, you probably will. Or is you are starting your cruise with high, unrealistic expectations of being constantly catered too, then this may not be the best choice. Freestyle dining doesn't really fit with this. You may want to try Celebrity or Holland America cruise lines where they are extremely focused on the minute details.
Ship: Wow this ship was really pretty. This ship was extremely well laid out, with all the bars, public areas and restaurants. There are a lot of windows. Everything is easy to find, and you never felt overcrowded. The style was not gaudy, but modern and sheik. From the art work in the halls to the beautiful 3d art on the stairways, we were both impressed by the level of décor. It all blended very well with all the different themes, and it will be a dream for those who like to video and take pictures.
The ships stabilizers have to be top notch because we didn't even feel the motion of the ocean, until the last day. There was a little movement, but nothing compared to what we have seen on other ships.
Negative 1: the chairs in the Stardust theatre do slope down. Maybe not all of them, but the ones we sat in over several days. The good thing about the seats though is that each one has a vent/blower in the rear of the seats, so it was never stuffy. The balcony is a waste of space because you have pillars and curved seats with bad layout that make the balcony a poor viewing area.
Negative 2: Way too much fake stinking smoke. I am all for setting the mood, but "Dang!" this smoke had a hay day on our sinuses and contacts, and it managed to follow us into the Spinnaker Lounge upstairs where they did the same smoke effect to the extreme. "Dang!"
Extra: Smoothies and alcoholic drinks were very expensive and small. You are charged a tip of 15% with every drink. Tip: order your bar drinks in a regular glass. If not they will bring it to you in a special collectors glass that says NCL Star, and it will cost you $3.00 more for the cup. The servers will automatically bring your drink in these if you don't request a regular cup.
Ports: We did pick this cruise for the fact it was an 8 day run. It was also a bonus that it went to Acapulco and Ixtapa, which were two ports we hadn't seen when we did the cruise one year earlier to the Mexican Riviera. We were aware of the change in itinerary because as I told you at the first of the review my wife and I spent many hours per night looking at cruise info for fun. We tried to contact NCL and request a postponement of our cruise date to a time that included the two other ports, but they were VERY firm in saying that this was not an option. I then tried my hand at negotiation, which I consider myself pretty good at. Only to find that this was a dead end that ended with "well sir if we did something extra for you, we would have to do it for every passenger." So I decided at that moment either to come down with some highly infectious disease that would allow the medical insurance we had purchased kick in a reimburse us our money or to just let it go, and prepare ourselves for the cruise. We picked the second choice if you hadn't guessed.
Port 1-Manzanillo We pulled into this port first and arrived around 9:45. While it was exciting to be reaching a port, we were kind of put off by the fact that there was a large factory belching massive amounts of black smoke into the air. This smoke was being pushed by the wind down the coast and over the city of Manzanillo. We later found out that this is a coal run electric power plant that provides power to six states in that area. Hows that for useful information? We don't have anything else to say about this port because we had determined that we would stay on the ship while we were in this port. Mainly this decision was based on the fact that my parents had taken a cruise to this port two months earlier and said that the city was nothing to get excited about. And they know ports. They go on cruises every 3 to 6 months. When I grow up I want to be just like them. It turns out that our decision to stay onboard was a good one because most people were back on the ship within a few hours, and we could hear the grumbling of "I really didn't like that port, wish we had stayed on the ship." There are a few nice hotels down there, you may want to find one and camp out for the day. You can watch the smoke from the factory make puffy clouds in the shape of animals.
Puerto Vallarta This is a good port. There are so many options for things to do in this port. I would suggest reading other reviews and finding what fits you. This was the second time in a year that we have been to Acapulco. The first time we went we had 6 people in our party, and we rented a SUV and took a tour around the area for 1 ½ hours for $65.00. This same type of tour was available on the ship for $30.00 per person. Check with the cab drivers when you get off the ship. They can take you anywhere you want to go at a considerable savings. Just agree on the price before you get in, and don't forget to barter, or they wont respect you. Remember this is what they do for a living, and you probably make more money in a month than they do in 4 months. This trip we decided to walk two blocks to the Puerto Vallarta Krystal Resort. We are so glad we did. It is a resort perched on 30+ acres. Primarily set up for time shares, and doubling as a resort also. There are at least three large pool areas, and easy access to the beach and watersports. We spent $20.00 each and purchased a day pass which got us access to the pool and facilities. The $20.00 was redeemable for food or drink.
Tip: Get towels on the ship, you can check them out, because the day pass didn't include towels, they were only for hotel guests. And make sure you tell you waiter to not serve anything that goes over the credit limit you have, because they will keep serving you as long as you want. We asked for our total about 1/2 of the way into our day, and had to do the math to figure if we had gone over or not. Well we did and it cost us an additional $12.00. But hey, were on vacation. There are other beautiful resorts that you can go to. And in regards to shopping this port doesn't offer the best deals. They will let you walk away. Check out Mazatlan for the better bargains, unless you see something you just have to get. But once you have seen 5 shops you pretty much know what items will be in the next 500 shops. I think they all buy from the same place, and the variation is sparse.
Mazatlan We are not really excursion, dolphin kissing types of people. We like to sit at resorts and relax. Shopping is by far the best value in this port, but most of the things you will be buying are not that expensive anyways. So if you really want that trinket in Puerto Vallarta or else ware you won't be spending more than a few dollars difference.
This was also the second time we had been here in less than a year. I like Mazatlan depending on what you do. There are people that will greet you when you get off the tram that takes you to the gate to leave the port. Many of them will offer you free cab rides, and take you to their resort. When we were there El Cid, and Pueblo Bonito representatives were there. Pueblo Bonito offers a 1 hour seminar that tells all about their time share options, and finishes with giving you full run of their facilities and free food and drinks for your party all the time you are there for the day. They will also take you to the resort and back to the ship for free. Not a bad investment for an hour worth of time. This was a gorgeous resort and worth going to.
Tip: At the end of the presentation on the time share just tell them you are a real estate agent and you would want to look over the contract at length and do research before you purchased anything. You will get the real estate shuffle as they push you out the door saying "Next."
Cabo San Lucas I have a tremendously soft spot in my heart for Cabo. It was a place that my family and I used to visit in the 80's when Devo was king and big hair was the rave. And what ever happened to spandex and parachute pants, I hope those come back in, but my wife says there is something in our marriage vows that permit me from wearing either.
I digress, Cabo is another place with many options. You can pick from any of the luxury hotels and plant yourself for the day. We chose to do just that and stayed at the Finistera Resort. But most other resorts that are on the water are top notch. Most wont bother you as long as you purchase drinks and or food. Most drinks are in the $4-$6 range. With food in similar ranges at most resorts. The town of Cabo is atypical to other towns on the cruise venue, so not much new here. Its fun to watch the boats come into and out of the harbor from "The Office" restaurant. The Office has been there since the 80's. It is an open aired restaurant, and truly beautiful.
For those more adventurous you can rent any number of water craft. But I caution you on this because Cabo has some areas with really extreme undertow. Some areas that are deadly. Plus Cabo is loaded with sharks, so care is needed in regard to the choice of a swim spot. Don't just dive in anywhere. We have seen hammerhead sharks in as far as the port side of the Arch. Lovers beach is safe enough, just don't go to far out.
Tip: Do you know how to get away from a shark? Cut your buddy.(Joke)
Shows: We did skip the first nights show, because we had seen in several reviews that it was an intro type show anyway. So we are unable to comment on that one. But the rest of the shows were enjoyable. Peoples taste varies so much, one person may really enjoy the shows on board while another may think they stink. Last year we traveled with the family on the Vision of the Seas with RCCL, and we felt the shows on the Star were better than on the Vision. But to each his own. The comedy was funny, the magic was interesting and funny. The singing was good, with each show being different form the next. And what else are you going to do that is better than a show. You can sit in the bars anytime, and the casino is open 24 hours. So I would say go and experience the shows. Some you'll like some you may not, but hey, your on vacation.
Dining: All of the paid or main restaurants do not allow jeans, shorts, or beach attire after 5p.m. You will also need to plan out your meal times unless you wanted to eat in the main dining areas, because you will need to make reservations. And making them the day of your dining will not usually assure you a time earlier than 8:30. I have seen so many people complain that they really dislike the fact that they have to pay for some of the other restaurants. But I watched people pay $6 plus for alchohol in tiny glasses, or extra for the special glass and did not blink. And in the ports people were spending money on food, which I think is a brave endeavor eating anything that was prepared in an unknown kitchen in Mexico. I know their health laws are not like here in the States.
A bonus with freestyle dining is that you get a flexible dining time. There were times when we had cruised with other lines and we weren't hungry when our scheduled dining time was. But you didn't have a choice unless you wanted to come back two hours later. We ate when we wanted. This was partly true however. While freestyle does enable you that freedom of dining times, you must make reservations in most areas, and you can't cancel them after certain times. You get charged $5.00 if you cancel per person. So you have to know a day in advance when you want to eat. The time is your choice so I guess its still kind of freestyle. Who's to argue that point, obviously the people from NCL have put a lot of thought into this concept, and overall it works really well. If you enjoy the same waiter every night like on standard dining cruises, you may need an extra Mai Tai to mellow you out, because odds are you won't have the same waitperson twice. We ate at one pay restaurant, the Ginza, and it was great. For $12.50 per person you get two main courses and a dessert. You finish your meal with green tea. We ate there two times, and both times my wife and I could not eat two full meals each so we didn't try. The first night since we didn't eat more than two meals between the two of us, our waiter took $12.50 off the bill, and only charged us an additional $4.00 for the a la carte price on some items. This was unexpected and unnecessary, but they did it. The service at this restaurant was stellar, what one could expect with high end lines. The food was beautiful. We did take pictures of every meal we had on the cruise, and some were very nice looking.
The other restaurant we chose was the Blue Lagoon. Let me say that it was ok. The fish and chips was better than average. But order extra fish because you only get two small pieces. Everything in this restaurant is made fresh. We try to avoid carbs as much as possible so we didn't try some of the other choices. This is a good place to get your food and take it back to your cabin.
The next place we tried was the Endless Summer. This is Mexican food, and was difficult to get a reservation for. It is a beautiful setting on the second level in the main atrium with great views down onto the main level of the ship. Fun place to people watch, and feel like you are really on a cruise. This is a fantastic example of great ship design, and is only appreciated at its fullest when you see it. This ones a keeper. My wife had fabulous ribs, so she says, and great enchiladas.
There are two main dining rooms that accommodate everyone who doesn't want to use the pay restaurants, these are the Versailles and the Aqua. We never ate at the Aqua, but did several times for several different meals at the Versailles. The two places are very similar with slight variations in preparation. Food was ok at best in the Versailles, with most meals missing anything that came from a cow. Steak was a difficult thing to find, and the one night that they had steak it was tough and raw. We did send it back which they accommodated, but it came back the same way. The bonus in this room was the view and the Crème Brule, and the Banana Lumpia desserts. Find them and eat them as much as you can, because they are the only truly great desserts on the cruise. Most others desserts we airy and bland. I should know I book cruises with desserts in mind. Guess I missed the review on that one.
Next was the market cafe. This is the ships full time buffet, and while the food was good, there wasn't much in the area of variety. They have a vegetarian section that has different choices, so be sure to check both. I am not a vegetarian and there were times that the items there where better than in the other section. Again desserts were bland, and juice is only available in the morning. So if you want juice throughout the day you better take some back to your fridge. Just one more point regarding selection. My wife and I pondered this. Really trying to figure out why the selections were so few in the buffet. We came up with this. There is usually different items just outside by the pool at the Grill, so if you combine these two areas, Voila, more choices.
Surely in the 8 days we didn't starve.
Lastly the Bar B Ques. The ship had several of these. All of them featured hamburgers and chicken, sometimes ribs. All Bar B Ques were great, tasty, and fun. I really like the hamburgers. Im not sure what seasoning they used, but they were delicious. If anyone knows how those were prepared I would appreciate an email.
The grill is available out by the pool, and doubles as an omelet station and waffle station for breakfast. The fresh made omelets are worth the extra few minutes you have to wait. The rest of the day the grill serves those yummy hamburgers and other assorted foods including hot dogs.
And no dining section is complete without talking about the Chocolate Buffet. How can there be any problems with this concept. Its chocolate and it's a buffet. Wow, sign me up. The desserts were beautiful and the only regret was that these same desserts were nowhere to be found anywhere else or at any other time on the ship. I am glad the plate they handed me was relatively small because I would have filled a wheelbarrow if they would have given me one. The buffet starts at 11:30 and we were seventh in line at 11:00 p.m. By 11:20 the line was down half the length of the ship, and we seriously considered selling our spot for $20. Most of the chocolate yummies we brought back and stashed in our fridge and truly enjoyed them the next day. Try the white chocolate dipped macaroons.
Spa: We didn't do any of the pay spa facilities, so wont comment on them. What we did know is that you can walk past the desk through a mens side and a womens side, and slip into a great lap pool, two large Jacuzzis, and a therapeutic spa that had very violent bubbles. But violent in a great way. There is no charge for this area of the ship, and it gets very little use. So enjoy it, and it makes a great first night getaway when everyone else is at that intro show in the Stardust theatre, you can sneak away to the spa, enjoy the violent bubbles, and sit in a puffy lounge chair that sits in the back of the ship with slanted windows peering out at the wake of were you have been. Ahhhhhhh.
Disembarkation: We had a 9:45 disembarkation time. The main restaurants are open from 7-9:00, either Versailles, Aqua, or Market Cafe, and room service is available. You can lounge in the public areas while you wait for your time. When you are called you proceed to the center of the ship and take the stairs or elevators up to deck twelve where you shuffle to the front of the ship to the Spinnaker Lounge to go through customs on the ship. You then proceed with yellow slip in hand down to deck 4 where you will show your slip, slide your sea card for the last time, and exit the ship. SOB. All of the luggage has already been offloaded at this point and you just go to your color to look for anything you may have had sent there. Plus: Last year on the RCCL Vision we waited in the hallways with our two kids and sat on the floor with hundreds of other cruisers, because you have to clear out of your cabin. It also took twice as long, and was uncomfortable. The NCL method of disembarkation was as good as we have seen. Negative: This last day of leaving and going home for everyone is a tense day. There are many cranky people, and rightly so. The vacation is over. So mentally prepare yourself for the people that need a time out, or a nap, and haven't had one.
Summary: My wife says it's the most relaxing thing she has ever done in her life. She says "be ok with just sitting and that most married couples should get away like this at least once a year." I say that we both enjoyed the Freestyle concept and enjoyed the selections of restaurants to choose from. I missed the higher end desserts, but didn't starve on the trip. The ports proved warm and enjoyable with the only real disappointment being Manzanillo. But overall it was a joy to be on this beautiful vessel. And hey we were on vacation.