NCL STAR REVIEW- 8 DAY MEXICAN RIVIERA
This was my 12th cruise, 4th with NCL. This was a vacation for three couples: my wife and I – in our early fifties, another couple in their late forties (first time cruisers), and a third couple (seasoned cruisers) in their early thirties.
In my review below you’ll note my rating system – each category gets a star rating, with 5 being Outstanding, 4 Excellent, 3 Satisfactory, 2 Marginal, and 1 Unsatisfactory.
Embarkation: Solid 4 stars NCL has online registration that includes e-tickets. You just print out the materials and have them checked at the dock outside the main building. We began our embarkation process at about 11:30 am. You go through one line outside to hand in your pre-registration, one inside for actual key card registration, and one to get on the boat after registering. The last line was a bit annoying as you had already checked in and had to wait to basically get your photo taken, regardless if you wanted your photo taken or not. However, the lines where short and moved fast, the building was air conditioned and bathrooms were readily available. There was also a Latitudes line for key card registration to facilitate repeat NCL guests – it moved fast and was a nice perk. The only negative was the total CONFUSION regarding luggage drop off and luggage tags. You are expected to turn in your luggage to a porter once you arrive at the NCL dock area. However, there are no signs, no general area marked and everyone seems to point you to a different direction. Meanwhile, you are lugging your bags all over the place and dodging people and cars – a hassle. After 10 minutes of floundering I finally found the desk (that was not manned at the time – 10:00 am) and then I had to find my room number, get the correct tags, put them on your bags and then hand them to a porter!
Cabins: Solid 4 stars We had three different cabin categories assigned to our group – Inside, Outside and Balcony. Each cabin category appeared slightly larger in size. I viewed all three cabins and was impressed. The outside cabin had a nice sized picture window and the bathroom was nicely laid out. Note that you really should bring your own bar soap – they have dispensers in the sink and shower and the soap is barely usable! The shower had a door instead of a curtain, which was nice. Each room had a mini fridge that you could use to store drinks in, etc.. It did not come with the usual mini bar snacks, which was nice, as I don’t use them anyway. The closet storage space was adequate and had a room safe. The only real complaint that we had was noise and sounds from next door cabins and cabins above us. On two separate occasions the banging above my cabins was so loud that I could hardly sleep all night. The TV had two separate commercial channels, plus the on-board channel and two movie selections which where fine, although I was rarely in my room to watch. Our cabin steward was fine – nothing to rave about – just doing the basic good cleaning and a few smiles in the hallways.
Dining/Food: 3 stars. Freestyle Dining: The concept is to choose from a variety of restaurants in addition to the normal dining rooms; you can eat at any time within the operating hours. There is one restaurant/snack area that is open 24hrs – the Blue Lagoon (which you have to order from a menu and wait for your food) – great hot wings and fish and chips at this place! However, this concept comes with a PRICE. Besides the two main dining rooms (which have almost the identical menus, just different styles of rooms) you have a choice of an Italian – La Trattoria (not that good and is basically the buffet area with tablecloths and chair covers sectioned off) and a Tex-Mexican style (which I did not eat at, but my fellow passengers did seem to like). The other four specialty restaurants charge a minimum of $20 per person + depending on what you order. So even though “Freestyle” means eating at your leisure, this comes with a price tag. Formal clothing is optional but on formal nights and I would say about 75% of the passengers were dressed up – not to the tux level, but nice cocktail attire. In every restaurant I visited I found passengers waiting for a table. Overall food in the main dining rooms was good. Some nights better than others, but biggest disappointment was the “FISH” dishes (with the exception of Orange Roughy), which tended to be dry and oily, yet the meat dishes were excellent. I had read a great deal about the buffets and to avoid it, but I found this not to be the case, the buffets were excellent with a great deal of variety in the stations. Each day a different vegetarian buffet was offered at one station and most days they also had a BBQ cookout on the pool deck in addition to the grill selections. To insure that my party of 6 always was seated together for dinner, we scoped out the tables in each dining room prior to the ship sail time made dining time arrangements with the maitre d’. We were given a set table and asked to arrive at a certain time every night – 6pm to ensure our table. The entire staff was accommodating and friendly. We even liked our waitress so much we demanded her for our table every night (they rotate the servers in the main dining rooms, so it is not like other ships with the same staff every night)!
Public Rooms: 4 stars Simply beautiful. The ship was nicely decorated and was in tip top condition. The ship was designed with making the 6th and 7th decks the main hubs of activity, i.e. shops (located in the aft area), casino, lounges, photo, etc. The eating snack area” Blue Lagoon” located on deck 7, had great food, but its location was poor and the seating extremely tight. I was very disappointed in the duty free shop on board as the prices were high – you could get better deals on shore. Rest rooms were easily marked and elevators were plentiful and always operational. Note – internet service prices are VERY high on the ship ($.75/min with a $3.95 set up fee, packages – $55 for 100 minutes and another I cannot recall), better to pay for a few minutes on board and then find an internet café while in port.
Entertainment: 2 1/2 stars with room for improvement In the evening, you will find a very good piano player at the Cagney’s Lounge and a good guitar player at the Red Lion pub. The Carousel lounge features easy listening music until about 10:00pm, when the popular adult Karaoke begins. At 11:30pm the Disco starts in the Carousel, but this was a VERY poor place for a disco – small dance floor and bad location in the middle of a traffic area. The lighting and sound are just not great – as was shown in the amount of people that actually stayed for the disco. I think one or two nights they had the disco in the Spinnaker, but it was also not that great for a nightclub – NCL is lacking in this area very badly. The Spinnaker also featured a live band on most nights AND on theme party nights (a DJ would have been better for theme night parties), but these events were not very well attended by passengers – what a waste of a lounge. The live Spinnaker band also played at the pool deck most days. Mind you, I thought the band was pretty good, but listening to them every day and night got old fast. The nighttime shows at the Stardust lounge were a major disappointment. The Stardust lounge is VERY pretty and no annoying poles everywhere, but the shows in general were 2 stars at the most. I enjoyed the Magician and the “Elton John” Piano player, but the three musical reviews were not to my taste. The Chinese acrobats where a good addition, but too far and few in between POOR dance routines. One of the other couples actually joined the Pub Crawl one night, which was a BLAST, but too bad it was only one night. Overall, the entertainment is a very weak area.
Excursions/Ports: No rating The Star stops at four wonderful ports; Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. The problem rests with the length of the stops in each port. In Acapulco, your first stop, you arrive at 11:00am (12 noon Acapulco time) and depart at midnight, which is excessively long in my opinion. Your second stop is in Zihuatanejo, where you have to tender, you arrive @7:30 am (8:30 am Zih time) and leave by 1:30PM(last tender), which is WAY too short and not enough time to do anything as most shops open at about 9-10am. In Puerto Vallarta you also tender, again leaving you are short on time. Your last stop is Cabo San Lucas -another tender stop, where you arrive @8:30 am and leave by 1:30PM(last tender), which is WAY too short and not enough time to do anything! As for excursions, I usually opt to do my do my own excursions, and saving a lot of money. On this cruise I experienced three wonderful and unique excursions that I would recommend anyone who desires a bit of adventure.
Activities: 3 1/2 stars A variety of daytime activities are offered throughout the cruise. From the usual trivia (offered twice a day) to the Very Expensive Bingo (I always play bingo; but on this cruise I was a shocked by the high cost of playing -$39 a pop – and the low prize money given, so I only played twice the entire cruise vice every day). The not-so-newlywed game, liars club, martini tasting, tequila seminars, etc. were all fun and well attended. The Casino was the norm, but I’m not much of a gambler. My lower rating was based on the LACK of activities during the final day at sea and the lack of consistency in each day’s events. You would have a day filled with activities all bunched together, and then you would have a lot of dead times. Art auctions where prompted daily and got a bit annoying over the loudspeaker….
Disembarkation: 5 stars GREAT ending to the cruise. Basically you leave depending on your connecting accommodations. You get a specific tag color based on your connections and deck, but you do not need to leave the ship immediately and can wait in your stateroom! The disembarkation was quite smooth – it seems that cruise ships are beginning to get the picture on this one.
Overall: Despite a few negatives, this is a wonderful ship and a cruise itinerary not to be missed. I would not hesitate to recommend this ship to anybody. The entire staff from busboy to the officers seemed very friendly – everyone had a smile and was willing to help. NCL seems to be developing a niche and is promoting its Latitudes loyalty program which has some benefits (lower cost on cruises, drink specials, parties, and a few giveaways) over other lines’ frequent cruiser programs.