After a truly delightful 11-day Hawaiian cruise on the Star three years ago, I decided to book the Star for a second cruise to Alaska last summer (sailing from Seattle) and, last winter, I booked the Star yet again for an 8-day "Mexican Riviera" cruise from Los Angeles. The three cruise destinations are quite distinct, but the Norwegian Star consistently provided a cruise environment which was remarkably uniform. Of course the ports-of-call and shore excursions aren't similar, so my comments pertain solely to the ship itself.
The Star is a large ship, but not overwhelmingly so, and is well laid out - once you learn the patterns. There are ten dining venues on board, and even more places to drink. Three of the ship's restaurants impose a surcharge of $10-to-$15 and, while the majority of passengers probably don't patronize them, I found them to be worth the extra fee (especially Cagney's). Food quality varied according to the nature of the restaurant, ranging from buffet and 'diner' to sushi bar and French bistro -- a very broad range of styles, anchored by two large "main restaurants," Versailles and Aqua. The quality of food, the attentiveness of the service, and the ambiance must be judged in accordance with the expectations that each of the ten restaurants establishes for itself. On that basis, I found the Star's restaurants to be consistently good-to-excellent from one cruise to the next. Clearly, the extra-fee venues provided the finest meals with the highest level of service, and the buffet was... well, a perfectly adequate buffet.
The Star's public areas are well maintained and generally quite attractive - even impressive. The ship's main theater (the Stardust) is beautiful and comfortable, seating almost 1,200 - with production capabilities rivaling the best professional theaters. Performances range from the Jean Ann Ryan Company's 22-member cast (presenting three spectacular shows), to magicians, acrobats/jugglers, solo musicians, and the hysterically funny "Second City" company. NCL obviously decided to invest substantial resources in its on-board entertainment, and it shows. Indeed, some of the best entertainment isn't in the Stardust Theater, but in the various cocktail lounges and nightclubs elsewhere on the ship. The Star's "showband" is a knockout, as are guest vocalists and instrumentalists (including the best jazz pianist I've ever heard!).
The center of the ship (the location of the Reception area, Excursion desk, cruise consultants, etc.) is built around a 7-deck-high atrium with a flank of glass-enclosed elevators and stairways to the sky. I'm surprised NCL designed the Star with a huge interior area producing no revenue - a mass of open space that's being used for no purpose other than to look impressive - but it definitely does dazzle!
In addition to the aforementioned main theater, there's also a cinema which offers a different film every day throughout the day. I didn't frequent the spa and gym areas, but they appeared to be large and well-equipped. The ship's library is a nice size and reasonably well stocked, with a large reading room across the hall - ideal for settling in with a good novel or, at the writing desks, attending to the day's correspondence. In this general area on Deck 12, there's also a game room, a card room, a chapel, and several private meeting rooms.
Cabins (staterooms in ship parlance) vary in size from tight to extravagant, with prices to match. Outside cabins on decks 9, 10, 11 have balconies. The Courtyard Villas on deck 14 are, according to NCL, the largest penthouses at sea, well over 5,000 sq.ft. in area. The interior cabins are small but efficiently laid-out, and they are a bargain! For those who use their cabins only to sleep and shower in, NCL's interior cabins are a good choice. The Star's balcony cabins provide ample space for two lounge chairs and a small table. Passengers in the higher-end cabins (suites and mini-suites) have the benefits of a concierge and butler.
Lots of folks complain about about the embarkation (and debarkation) process, apparently not realizing that cruise ships are not in control of that process. Once a ship is in port, the local port authority controls everything relating to the loading and unloading of the ship. Recognizing that some passengers have to catch flights home, the Star offers an "express walk-off" debarkation as soon as the local port officials permit it. On the other hand, it you want to have a leisurely breakfast on board and leave the ship a couple hours later, you may do so -- it's all part of the "Freestyle" concept.
"Freestyle" is one of the distinguishing features of all NCL ships, designed for passengers who want to have dinner when, where, and with whom they wish. The traditional approach the dinner on a cruise ship requires that you be assigned to a time ('early' or 'late' seating) at a specific table with the same tablemates each evening. If you really look forward to having dinner at the same hour each evening with the same group of passengers assigned to your table for the duration of the cruise, then you would have little interest in the Freestyle concept. If, on the other hand, you consider yourself to be on vacation and would like to avoid the lockstep approach to meals - preferring to eat at various times in different restaurants, either by yourself or with friends just as you would if you were on shore, then NCL's Freestyle dining arrangement is worth considering. With the Star's ten dining locations, it's likely that you would not have tried every dining option during your cruise.
The Star and its sister ships are best suited to people who like to be a bit spontaneous when on vacation, with the least regimentation and the most latitude. Indeed, NCL's program for repeat passengers is called "Latitudes."
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