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Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Star

Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating

By Dave_CR

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Apr 4, 2015

Cabo San Lucas

This was easily the worst cruise I've been on. Compared to Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, this cruise line is a joke. Mediocre food, terrible comedians, and quite possibly the worst disc jockey (known as DJ Vibe) this side of Jupiter's moons. It was my wife's first cruise, and I hyped it up as a week of fun, food, and dancing. It turned out to be a week where we couldn't wait to get off the ship. I wish I were kidding. Food: Bland, tasteless,

lukewarm, uninspired, boring. One exception: the crepes were yummy. That's about it. Seriously. That was it. Fine except for the whiny kid in the next stateroom who started his whine routine at about 6:30a every morning. I kid you not. There were plenty of things to choose from. Highlights included the onboard dancers and dance shows. One show in particular was quite impressive (Paradis). The two comedians, on the other hand, almost made me laugh once. Almost. The mock game shows were mildly amusing, but the late night Deck Party one night was dead on arrival. As for the night club, the cover band (Exotique) out of Atlanta was quite good, but when their set was done, we all had to suffer through night after night of DJ Vibe. What a travesty this guy was. Apparently DJ Vibe ascribed to the mantra, "All Pit Bull all of the time!" On no night did he not play fewer than 6 Pit Bull songs, even on theme nights. That's 40 minutes of Pit Bull nightly! How could he submit that kind of torture to vacationers? This alleged DJ did not play ANY hip hop, very little 70s (even on 70s theme night), no 80s, no 90s, very little 00's or '10s. What did he play? He seemed to like Bruno Mars, Neo and Pit Bull, and Pit Bull. Oh, and quite a bit of Latin tunes. Every. F-ing. Night. Requests were completely ignored. I love to dance, and have really had a lot of fun dancing on other cruise ships, but every night on this cruise I walked away angry and incredulous. And I was by no means the only one who felt this way. I complained so loudly that other passengers heard me and concurred. One theory I had was that this guy was purposely trying to clear the dance floor with undanceable crap each night so he could get off work early. The emptiness of the dance floor (and the club) each night testified that I may have been right. The lows definitely outweighed the small number of highs. Food, music, and fun are what cruises are supposed to be about. This ship failed in all three. My wife hated it. I'm not sure I will be able to convince her to go on another cruise in the future thanks to this disaster. I imagine the Titanic was more fun. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being best, I give this cruise a 2.5.

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Jan 8, 2015

Mexico

In the past, we have done Princess Cruises and this was our first time doing Norwegian. It was very disappointing compared to Princess. The food was subpar and very basic. The service was moderate and most staff were not friendly and did what they could to avoid passengers. The ship itself is very old and constantly felt very crowded. There was a lot of congestion around the elevators and stairs throughout the week, almost all the time. The wait to

eat at most of the restaurants was always an issue. The entertainment was okay, but considerably lower than what we've seen in past cruises. This was the first time out of 7 cruises that we looked forward to getting off the ship! Subpar food. Stateroom was good, no issues. Didn't participate much in the activities on the ship. Excursions were great.

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By Len_CR

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Dec 27, 2014

Panama Canal

Started off in LA and the inprocessing was a complete disaster. The personnel handling the inprocessing were completely inept. Must have been all trainees, not all stations were manned. They tout being a Latitude member but in this case we were penalized for being in the Latitude line. Priority was given to the first time people. Was so bad the ship was an hour and a half late leaving port. I will forgive this once occurance but Norwegian needs

to fix this NOW! Adequate food, some people like to pig out on cruises but all in all the food was good. Versailles resturant was well staffed and again food was good. We were fortunate to have an outstanding Cabin Steward who kept us supplied with ice,clean towels and always asked "is there anything I can do for you". He made our trip a pleasure! Anything you might want was available as far as entertainment goes, we wanted a relaxing trip with no hassle and that is what we had on board! Some of the ports in Mexico were pretty filthy and had no appeal. Cabo was great as was Puerto Vallarta

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Sep 5, 2014

Transatlantic

The ship was older, but nice. The specialty restaurants were very good. There were many food options. The entertainment was good.... especially in the bars and atrium. The wait staff, art staff and housekeeping were excellent. This was my seventh cruise, but my first NCL cruise and will be my last NCL cruise, not because of the cruise itself but because of "guest services". If you want the gory details...keep reading. As I said, this was

my first cruise on NCL. I was joining four other people on this trip, so I did not choose NCL. This was their first cruise on NCL as well. It did not bode well when in March I was unable to get through to NCL without waiting on hold for less than 20 minutes. I tried the "chat" option on their website at least three times and was never connected. I tried the "call me back" option twice and no one ever called me. As a last resort I wrote them a snail mail letter. The result of that letter was a message on my answering machine from a woman an NCL. She left me her email address and told me to email her. I emailed her and she never answered my email. I wrote another snail mail letter to corporate. This time a woman from NCL left her phone number on my answering machine. I called her and told her I was shocked that the response to my letter was a woman that ignored my email, she asked if I had had my question answered, I told her I had and that was the end of the conversation. Finally the day of my cruise arrived. It had been a year since I booked the cruise. I love cruise vacations! Boarding the ship was very easy and very quick. No long lines. My cabin was nice, the cabin attendant was terrific, there were lots of food options, the bar staff, casino staff and dining room staff were all great.... life was good. I am still amazed that everyone knew our names. How do they do that? They all worked so hard to make our trip enjoyable and I for one appreciated it. There were some very bright spots on the cruise. The Park West Art staff was amazing. They were all friendly, informative and helpful. I went to all the art auctions and bought six items because of the art staff. Naomi, Stewart, Alex and Ashlee were always smiling and by the end of the cruise they were like old friends. The music in Gatsby's was terrific. In the early evening there was one of two duos. Both were great. After dinner there was Tonya. She played sing-along tunes and was great fun. The cruise entertainment staff was friendly and always smiling. About half way through the cruise I noticed that the cabin prices on my second cruise (Baltic capitals) had dropped. I was changing cabins for that cruise and it was booked as a completely different cruise. I went to "guest services" and told them I wanted to upgrade my cabin on the next cruise from ocean view to balcony. I wanted to pay to upgrade my cabin. (name removed), a "guest services" assistant manager, told me all he could do was put in a request to upgrade the cabin and when we got to Copenhagen (the start of the second cruise) they would see if there was a balcony available. I told him I wanted to pay to upgrade my cabin. He said all he could do was put in a request and wait until we got to Copenhagen. I told him I knew NCL (I booked directly through them) could upgrade my cabin for me and asked if he could call NCL for me. He said he couldn't, but I could call them from my cabin. I told him calls from my cabin were ~$5/min so I didn't want to call from my cabin.... especially with the wait times I'd experienced. He told me to email them. I told him each time I emailed them I never received a response. He shrugged and said he'd put in my request to upgrade my cabin if a balcony was available once we arrived in Copenhagen. The next day I checked cabin rates on the next cruise and the cabin prices had dropped again. I went back to "guest services" hoping to speak to someone other than (name removed), but when my turn came I was again in front of (name removed). We had the same conversation.... I wanted to upgrade to a balcony and he told me I couldn't. I told him I could not believe he couldn't contact NCL and get my reservation changed. He went into a back room and came back a second later to tell me his manager told him there was nothing they could do. If I wanted to call from my cabin I could. I left literally shaking my head. It was unbelievable. I knew NCL was doing their best to fill all cabins in the days before the cruise and the chances were slim there would be a balcony available when we arrived in Copenhagen. The next day I checked cabin rates on the next cruise and the balcony cabins were now the price I paid for my ocean view cabin. I went back to "guest services" and with no one else in line chose to speak to someone other than (name removed). I told this person I wanted to change my reservation on the next cruise but I needed to call NCL. She asked me if I had the phone number. I told her I did and she put me on the phone with NCL and in about 15 minutes I had my reservation changed. I immediately filled out a comment card detailing how (name removed) had refused to help me, changing the "vacation hero" on the card to "vacation zero". A day or two later I received a call from "guest services" saying they had my new travel documents and they wanted to know if they could bring them to my cabin. (name removed) showed up at my cabin and apologized saying he misunderstood what I was asking. I told him he didn't misunderstand, I explained twice, two days in a row, exactly what I wanted and he simply refused to help me. He agreed and then said that was company policy. I told him I didn't believe that because the very next person I spoke to placed a call to NCL for me. I told him I was very angry. He asked if there was anything he could do to make my cruise better, I said "no". He offered to buy me dinner and I refused. Later there were chocolate covered strawberries in my cabin. So that is my "guest services" story, but as I said I was traveling with four other people, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law in one cabin and two of their friends in another cabin.. I boarded the cruise in Miami, the other four boarded in Los Angeles. Their trip was three consecutive cruises. My sister-in-law made her own trip to "guest services" to see about a possible shipboard credit since prices had dropped far below what they had paid. She drew another "guest services" assistant manager, (name removed)). He told her she would have to call NCL from her cabin. When she balked at paying ~$5/min to call them he told her she should be happy to pay for the call since she was trying to get a credit. And then there was the last of our group. They too had their "guest services" story. They had an inside cabin with sewage backing up in it. One night they had plumbers in their cabin at 3am working on the situation. They were told the problem was a result of a guest flushing a washcloth - clearly not NCLs fault. The problem persisted for days and days and days. They were told the ship was full and there was nowhere else to put them. When they complained again after our stop in the Azores they were told someone had gotten off and they could temporarily stay in the now vacant cabin...but they would have to go back to their cabin when we reached Dover. They were happy to have a clean cabin and a good night's sleep. When we arrived in Dover their cabin still wreaked so they refused to move back into it. "Guest Services" put up a fight, but they stood their ground and refused to go back. "Guest Services" reluctantly moved them to an open balcony cabin and they were told they could stay there until the end of their last cruise, May 28th. Satisfied that they had a clean cabin they went to their new cabin and slept. The next day they went to "guest services" to get their permanent key and were told by (name removed) that he had been checking their old cabin every hour and that the problem was now fixed, so they were to go back into their original cabin. They told him that they were told they could stay in the new (clean) cabin until the 28th. The person that told them they could remain In the new cabin confirmed that he had told them just that. (name removed) said the other person was mistaken....they were going back to their original cabin. Dismayed they went to their old cabin to check on its condition and it still wreaked of backing up sewage. They told (name removed) they would not return to that cabin and Getting nowhere with him, they went to the ship's nurse as they were sure the cabin was not fit to occupy. The nurse came, swabbed the place and said the cultures would take 24 hours. (name removed) said they could stay one more day in the new cabin. The next day they got a call saying they could remain in the new cabin until the 28th.....no explanation. Any guess as to what the cultures showed? There were no apologies and by then one of them was sick either from something the culture found, exhaustion, a bug, stress or some combination. She was sick enough to have to see the ship's nurse and was in bed for three days. Their "guest services" story beats mine. I played bingo run by the assistant cruise director every day. He'd ask how things were and one day I told him our three "guest services" stories. The next day he told me that(name removed), the head of "guest services" was going to call me. I never heard from her, but I did see her going table to table in Cagney's Steak House. She spent considerable time at other tables chatting with the guests. When she got to our table she asked how our dinner was and scooted by. I have to wonder if she checked cabin numbers and names before doing her walk about. I received a note from her thanking us for our "kind words" and more chocolate covered strawberries. So those are my "guest services" stories. My last "service" related story is about "shore excursions". We booked three tours through NCL: Leed's Castle in Dover; Pushkin & the Hermitage; and Imperial St. Petersburg. Leed's Castle was nice. The excursion consisted of a bus ride to and from the castle and entrance into the castle. There was no tour.... you were on your own...which was fine. We ended up with 2 hours to see the castle. It would have been nice to have an extra hour or two. Two hours was just enough to see the inside of the castle and the gift shop. It did not leave enough time to see the grounds too. Pushkin & the Hermitage was wonderful. Then there was Imperial St. Petersburg. Included In the description of the tour was a hydrofoil across the Gulf of Finland from Peterhof back to the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. We did see that the hydrofoil was dependent on the weather. We may have chosen this tour anyway, but when we saw the hydrofoil, that decided it. We would take a gamble on the weather. The day we did the tour the weather was perfect. It was sunny, calm, and 80 degrees all day. As we were entering the palace in Peterhof, another person in our group asked about the hydrofoil.... they too were excited about the trip across the gulf. Our guide then informed us that there would be no hydrofoil because they don't offer that until June. A number of people grumbled that the hydrofoil was the reason they picked that particular tour and the weather was perfect. No one was very happy that they were sold something that did not exist, at least not in May. Then, to add insult to injury, the trip back to St. Petersburg took almost an hour and a half due to traffic and the bus getting stuck on a narrow street. That ate up our time at the Peter and Paul Fortress. We had less than a half hour to rush through the Cathedral. The hydrofoil would have saved us approximately an hour. The day after the tour I went to the shore excursions office and told them what happened. They said they could cancel the hydrofoil at any time. I explained that it was not canceled, it was never a possibility...it was not planned. He said he would check with his manager. I received a message on my phone saying that they had the right to cancel the hydrofoil at any time for any reason. I returned to the shore excursions office and again tried to explain that we were promised something they had no intention of doing and that it screwed up the tour of the fortress. She said they could cancel at any time and therefore there would be no compensation of any type for the inconvenience. Shore exclusions either did not grasp or chose not to acknowledge the difference between "canceling" part of a tour and offering something that had no chance of happening. By their definition they could advertise lunch with the Queen of England as part of an excursion and then just tell you it was canceled. They misrepresented the tour and had no intention of even trying to make it right. We were duped. A few last things...trivia in the Spinnaker Lounge was fun but when it was held in the Red Lion Pub it was chaos. Not enough seats so people were standing everywhere. Between the crowd and the people at the bar talking and enjoying themselves you couldn't hear the questions, which resulted in people yelling that they didn't hear the questions making it louder and more chaotic. I gave up on trivia held there. I played bingo everyday and was disappointed to find out that it wasn't "snowball” bingo. On other cruise lines I've traveled on, the last bingo game of the cruise was for the jackpot accumulated throughout the cruise. Not so on NCL, on NCL no one wins the jackpot...I say that because a member of the cruise director's staff that ran the bingo games said they'd never known anyone to win the jackpot. Despite the problems we had with the "guest services" and excursion staff, we had a great trip.

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May 3, 2014

Mexico

We just got back from our 7 day cruise on the NCL Star. We had a wonderful time with friends and family – we were a large group. We had so much fun it was the best cruise ever but the worst ship ever. However, my review will focus on the ship and its crew .This ship was launched in 2001, the Star has seen better days it is time for this ship to retire. My husband and I sailed on the STAR in 2005 so things have gone down hill.

Customer Service Failed: Each passenger is automatically billed $12 per day, which supports an incentive program for the service staff. This program appears to have failed. The staff does not provide excellent customer service. I had services in the spa and the entire time I was pushed to buy the ships products. Not very relaxing and I was billed an 18% gratuity for the pleasure. For our drinks we, paid a 15% gratuity to wait for servers to acknowledge us. I don’t like to tip for bad service. The staff needs extensive training in customer service. There appears to be Low Morale in the workplace! There were several small restaurants that you had to pay extra for. They did have an Ultimate Dining Package for an extra 119.00 per person dine in a specialty restaurant every night of your cruise. We did not buy the package, but we did go to the steak house and it was very good. The Freestyle Cruising leaves a lot to be desired. We like to know we have a table assigned to us. We were able to call to make a reservation in the two main dining rooms, Aqua, and Versailles. The only time available was for after 8:00 pm. We could not get the time we wanted. I was not going to stand in line for 30 minutes to wait for a table at an early time. The Garden café, the ship's buffet/cafeteria restaurant, serves the usual breakfast and lunch and dinners. The food did not look very appetizing. The furniture in the buffet reminded me of a school cafeteria. After the first few days we went to the Versailles dining room where the food was much better. No one in our party was really thrilled with the food overall. The Steak House was very good. Our stateroom was bad. I swear it was haunted. We had an inside cabin it was right next to the staff areas and maintenance. This created a lot of noise. I recommend staying away from those rooms. We could hear lots of banging and clanging at night. The last night of the cruse it sounded like they were throwing the luggage down the stairs. The drawers would slide out when the seas were a bit rough. Always save your money and book tours on the pier.

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Mar 15, 2014

Mexican

Ship is in average condition for its age. Food in restaurants is average with small menu choices. Wait times for seating are typically 5-20 minutes. Service in the non-premium restaurants is by far the worst of any cruise line I have ever been on. Long waits after ordering (over 11/2 hour) on two different occasions. House keeping was sub par. Overall all I would rate the Norwegian star very very sub par on the guest services compared to all of the

other cruise lines I have used. Their are much much better services for a similar price elsewhere. Average food with horrible service Room was fine but not made up on two different nights. Had to call for service Entertainment and activities was the one positive thing about the cruise. I would definitely avoid this particular cruise ship based on the terrible service in the restaurants and poor response when contacting customer sevice. Mexican riviera from LA on Norwegian Star 3 /8/14

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Feb 13, 2014

Panama Canal Trasit

Flew into Ft. Lauderdale - made reservations on SAS shuttle to Miami ($15 search SAS Transport) - at NCL terminal handed a boarding group number and a letter from the Norwegian Star captain informing all that there had been numerous cases of norovirus aboard on the previous cruise and NCL would make full refund to any who decided to cancel - I know several couples (all locals) cancelled so it was nonsense to see a "full cruise

- no upgrades available" sign at Star's main desk. A little about me: I have taken numerous cruises and am not loyal to any particular cruise line. I am not a spokesperson for nor blindly fanatic about any cruise line. I usually cruise with my wife, but can report the advantages and disadvantages of family or group cruising. We book cruises that take us to places we desire to visit and also represent value. We prefer an interior, mid to upper deck stateroom. I trust you will find candid, unbiased, and useful information in my report. Embarkation: worst ever experienced. Miami health inspection and implementation of a prescribed sanitation plan would consume the attention of many of the crew throughout this cruise. Disinfecting the Norwegian Star delayed all boarding until after 2pm. Scuttlebutt had it that if there was another serious outbreak of norovirus on our cruise it could result in Star being quarantined in Los Angeles. Delayed boarding meant it became SRO in all terminals for everyone (but VIP's) regardless of stateroom or Latitude status. Inexplicable why all boarding Star were bottlenecked into walking over a narrow, single file bridge and herded to one of two ship card check-in podiums. We finalized our shore excursion itinerary, booked our specialty restaurant, and decided against purchasing the beverage package. Once aboard I privately questioned my evaluation of the Captain's letter because a strong disinfectant with bleach odor wafted down corridors. But I gained some reassurance seeing crewmembers feverishly sanitizing every touchable surface. Crewmembers in the Market Cafe (main buffet) wore latex gloves, issued plates and cutlery, manned drink stations, and handled salt & pepper shakers. No self-service permitted. No dawg entered any restaurant without sticking out their paws for a saturating spray of "washy-washy" disinfectant. This continued uninterrupted throughout the cruise that some joked their hands were clean enough to perform a surgery. Some compromise had to be made to devote so much crew time and effort to a mandated sanitation plan, and understandably it would have to come at the comfort and convenience of the Star's guests. No ice in stateroom. This would be a long two week, make-the-best-of-the-situation cruise. Disappointingly, NCL Star appears overdue for dry docking, now delayed to 2015. Most everything showed signs of wear and tear, especially furniture. Sharp-eyed hounds could detect peeling paint, rusting spots and wobbly handrails ... and a dent astern from several years ago in Bermuda. Hope you're not a dawg who believes the quality of the Captain can be determined by the condition of the ship. There's a mandated "muster" lifeboat drill just prior to sailing. Dawgs report to their designated lifeboat listed on their ship card and staff checks your name/stateroom on their roster. Muts who skip have a private muster party later. Lifevests aren't requested. I figure some of those liferaft canisters nearby are intended for us because not all of us are going to fit into that little lifeboat. A scenic sunset sailaway from Miami was followed by two sea days sailing just east of Cuba and across "hurricane alley". Seas became moderate and caused Star's long but narrow "PanMax" hull to jerk and pitch just enough to warrant patches/motion sickness remedies from those lacking sea legs. It became windy enough to secure some deck doors and limit outside deck activities. Though Star has many talented staff members aboard, there was not an abundance of planned activities. It seemed intentional to draw unwary hounds into revenue generating bingo, shops, bars, art auctions and, of course, the casino. Dawgs on this cruise were decidedly seniors. Any 60 or less were pups in this wheelchair/walker pack. NCL appeals to independent dawgs who believe otherwise, but this cruise demonstrated that there are advantages to scheduled early and late dinner seating. Freestyle cruising didn't work with this early-bird special manifest because most wanted to be at the same place at the same time creating long lines and wait lists so long some were issued an electronic pager. The situation was worsened by the fact that the ongoing sanitation plan left the main dining staff undermanned and overwhelmed. Waits between appetizer and entree in the main dining Versailles and Aqua of almost an hour became common and anticipated. Salty dawgs understood and took it in stride preferring long waits to getting norovirus. Even so the phrase "Wait Like A Norwegian", a pun on NCL's advertising, could be heard now and then. I found myself sympathetic to those who commented that the situation might have been improved if Star's Captain or Hotel Director were seen in main dining now and then. It seemed most senior officers were going out of their way to stay away. Whatever their reasons and regardless of their legitimacy, their inability or unwillingness to correct issues of concern to the majority of their guests did nothing to build confidence or loyalty in NCL. Our Latitudes socials only confirmed the cautious aloofness senior officers exhibited throughout this cruise. Officers this fearful of catching something contagious from us did little to assure us any would risk their necks to save us during an emergency. Intentional or not, it wasn't easy to determine from the published menu where to dine because there is an unspecified "Chef's Specialty" a.k.a. "Mystery Meal". An example: one night the Market Cafe buffet served prime rib and main dining did not ... the "Mystery Meal" was a burrito! And it seemed the "Chef's Specialty" served the skimpiest portions. One could order seconds, but the wait discouraged doing so. Most of the time Versailles and Aqua published the same menu. Aqua dinnertime is casual dress (shorts and flip flops) and Versailles is not. I discovered I was less likely to be seated at my requested table in Versailles if I dressed too casually. There are optional "dress up" (formal) nights and some pampered pooches flaunted their stuff. There's also a "white night" so consider packing some white clothes. Pedigree dawgs either complained about their food offerings and quality or fled to premium charge restaurants, which is what NCL hopes many will do. This dawg was quite satisfied with the menu and quality which served up tilapia, salmon, rack of lamb, prime rib, duck, red snapper, swordfish, shrimp, flounder and surf-n-turf lobster tail & steak. I admit it: I am not among those who make a habit of eating this well in a normal two week period. We did, however, dine once at Teppanyaki: the Japanese hibachi and recommend it. We usually ate breakfast and lunch in Versailles as they permit casual dress then. Even late into the cruise we found guests unaware that Versailles, Aqua, and Blue Lagoon were complimentary (well, it's prepaid as part of the cruise) restaurants like the crowded (but faster) Market Cafe buffet. NCL has a mandated gratuity of $12 per day/per guest. Since mediocre performance is compensated the same as exemplary, inconsistent table service and stateroom stewardship is a consequence. A guest could submit a blue comment card if they could obtain one. But on this particular cruise most dawgs heard and knew the rationale creating problems. Music: I'm baffled why some of Star's musicians and DJ's are convinced mature seniors might want to listen to hip hop, rap, or reggae broadcasted so loudly hearing aids squealed and they fled the venue searching for something better. One would think the Hotel Director or Cruise Director would advise playing music appropriate to the audience. Kudos to those talented musicians who performed for the benefit and pleasure of the guests. I suspect when NCL studies the bar receipts, they'll agree. Shows: Most were hits and a few were misses. The shows on your cruise may not be the same as this cruise. The biggest hit, "Elements", packed up and moved to NCL Dawn after this cruise. I found the headliners all quite entertaining. Judging by the audience attendence and response, I believe the weakest shows were presented by the Star's singers and dancers. That might be because they're still performing shows I saw two years ago. The exception might be "Styles", but it is not suitable for chidren and is slated to be retired. The singers performed an outstanding cabaret- style show in the lounge and dancers gave basic ballroom dance lessonsinconveniently scheduled during dinnertime. It seems to me performing NCL employees are underutilized. Though NCL employs a keyboard musician, the grand piano languished unplayed in the Versailles every night of this cruise. Maybe the pianist only plays when the Captain or Hotel Director dine with us in steerage class. Cartagena is primarily a refueling stop for Star and the fumes make a good reason to go ashore. Shore excursions are cash cows for the cruise line, but independent sightseeing comes with risks warranting greater than usual caution here. The Star had to travel through rough seas between Cartagena and the Panama Canal. The Captain announced Star had to maintain speed to arrive at the Canal at the appointed time so the trip would not be smooth. He unapologetically ended his announcement with, "It is what it is." Salty dawgs knew it meant to carefully store away belongings in their stateroom left on shelves or countertops. We awoke at night to a scene out of a movie: the bed seemed determined to roll us out onto the floor and closet doors and cabinet drawers opened and shut by themselves. Imagine the adventure awaiting any attempt to sit on the toilet! The highlight of the cruise, and our reason for booking, is the Panama Canal transit. At this time of year it lasts from sunrise to near sunset. The bow on Deck 8 is opened early to permit optimal viewing (no seating) of the lock operations enhanced by live explanatory/historical narration. Dawgs hunt their own best way to view the transit, but we preferred relaxing in a lounger on the shady port side of Deck 7. It was sunny and very warm outside and freightors pass closely portside to portside in the Canal. We learned from the narration that NCL paid over a half million dollars for the Star to transit the Panama Canal! Our dash from Miami through the Canal now over, Star cut speed in the tranquil blue Pacific and began a leisurely sail along the protected coast. I imagine Acapulco and Mazatlan could be added ports replacing sea days on this itinerary. I'm thinking their port fees might add too much to the individual fares and NCL wants patrons to cruise their other ships that stop there. Any announcement pertaining to going ashore was followed by a warning not to eat or drink anything away from the ship unless it was factory sealed, canned, or bottled. This is experienced traveller precaution, but Star insisted the blame for the norovirus outbreak on the previous cruise was due to unsanitary conditions ashore, and seemingly targeted independent guests who had not booked an NCL shore excursion. Dawgs familiar with statistics know most norovirus outbreaks on a ship are attributed to unsanitary conditions aboard, chiefly suspect being careless handling of uncooked, "fresh" food. There are a variety of shore excursions from Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We took the Train, Bus & Boat Tour and returned feeling it represented a fair value. From the table talk, those on the Zip Line had a great experience. Instead of Acapulco or Mazatlan, we dock in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, which appears to be a destination NCL is in the process of developing (think Carnival/RCCL's Costa Maya). If so, expect shopping and sipping venues that are revenue producing onshore facilities of the cruise line. Right now there are two pyramid structures: one housing shopping, the other a restaurant/bar with a pool out front. It's high rent for shop owners, so that factors into any bargaining, but don't pay the marked price or accept the first offer. Hualtulco, Mexico, is a picturesque port with beach access just off the dock so wear a bathing suit under clothes and bring towel & sunscreen. Remember to take your ship card and Passport, too. There are lots of beach toys for rent or hire here. We abandoned the hot (95 degrees) beach before noon ... an icy, snowy day back home. Pass the gate into a gated tourist zone and there are people eager to sell you trips, trinkets, tonics and tees. Most is price negotiable. If you pay more than 40% of the first price, you paid to much, amigo. Downtown is a taxi drive away and, from table talk, not tourist friendly. For some unexplained reason, there was heavy security present here: police, armed Mexican soldiers, even the US Coast Guard. If there was a threat, NCL kept us in the dark about it. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is a jewel on the Mexican Riviera. Star parked across the street from a Wal-mart and a Sam's. Though a short walk, taxi drivers hawked $5 fares to Wal-mart. Here we took our $1.25 Shore Excursion. There's a money exchange on the Star and in Wal-mart. We caught a city bus ($7.50 Pesos or 62 cents US) to "Centro" or center of Old Town. From there we headed to the ocean and strolled down the entire sculpture-lined ocean walk or El Malecon. We saw several large pods of humpback whales in the bay, went into several interesting shops, and took in some street shows. We continued onto the beach. After some beach rest and more whale watching we entered the city and caught the city bus back to Wal-mart. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, is a tendering port, so you need to get a free tender ticket to go ashore. The tender docks at one end of a large, gated yacht harbor lined with shops and locals hawking wares. About midway around is Puerto Paradiso, an upscale shopping center (there's a Johnny Rockets inside). Continue on around and you'll arrive at the beach. Pass through the main gate and you'll be downtown where some bargains may be negotiated. Table talk revealed humpbacks were sparse here today. A big attraction here (among the top 5 in Mexico) is El Arco (a natural stone sea arch). Just be aware the Star will pass by the Sea Arch (starboard side) and the spectacular coastline upon departure. I stopped by the Desk and obtained an accounting statement while we were in Cabo San Lucas to avoid the long lines that would form there the next day. I had time to carefully inspect it and found that our statement was thankfully but disgustingly accurate. This is the moment inattentive dawgs discover they spent more aboard than on their cruise ticket. Our final statement arrived at our door 4 a.m. the last day and it was very quick and easy to verify. Los Angeles, California, ends this cruise. We booked the Beachfronts shore excursion that ends at the airport before 2 p.m., so we had an early departure. We packed light and had only carry-ons (yes, for a 14 night cruise) allowing us to by-pass baggage claims and with little to declare, breezed through customs. In contrast to our embarkation, this rates among our easiest departures. Overpacked dawgs and those with much to declare to Customs were less satisfied with their disembarkation experience. Things to consider packing: sunscreen, solid insect repellent, sunglasses, hat, an insulated sealable drink container, binoculars, laundry soap, bar soap, specialty shampoo, power strip extension cord, good walking map of ports, favorite snacks, hard candy, band aids, and over the counter remedies you often need. Since most young people are attending school this time of year, and most working adults used their vacation time over the holidays, one should expect a lot of seniors aboard. It seemed to me there were more than a few seniors lacking patience and civility this 14 night cruise required. The crew preoccupied with sanitizing couldn't promptly satisfy all guest demands, but enforcement of rules was virtually nonexistent. I don't want this to sound like a nursing home version of "Animal House", but selfish mongrels took advantage and saved loungers, blocked off restaurant tables and chairs, saved entire rows of theater seats, saved hot tubs, crashed lines, and rammed their motorized chair into a nearly full elevator. Instead of going to the track, joggers/speed walkers shoved aside leisure walkers, ignored section closed for maintenance barriers, and trotted through shuffleboard tournaments on Promenade Deck 7. Security was little concerned as they are employed to protect NCL property and limit liability. Take the advertised perfect vacation cruise with a good dash of salt. Dawgs who board with realistic expectations that not everything will go their way, can adhere to their budget, and be flexible in their schedule will find this escape from winter very pleasant. Dawgs whose bucket list includes a full transit of the Panama Canal and some stops along the Mexican Reviera should be happiest. That's why I booked, and that's why I enjoyed this cruise. Ours should not be considered a "typical" cruise and you should anticipate a better cruise in every way.

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Nov 23, 2012

New York to New Orleans

First and last cruise with Norwegian. We ate at the main dining room (Versailles) on the first night and did not go back. My mother and I had lobster and snapper, my wife had a stead. The lobster was over cooked and the fish was questionable. My wife's steak was over cooked. Since we were in a suite we were able to breakfast and lunch in Cagney's. Very good for breakfast, but don't order the steak as they cannot cook it to perfection.

Wife ordered 3 steaks on the cruise at Cagney's non were cooked correctly. We went there for dinner (extra pay) and all of our steaks were undercooked. Sent them back and they were overcooked. The buffet was one step above Old Country Buffet. We did not care for it. The whole theme of our trip was "a little salt and pepper goes a long way". State room was very nice. We had the two bedroom family suite as we took my mother on on her 80th birthday. We had a tub and shower. The balcony got a lot of use. It is great during the day if you like to sit at the pool, drink in excess or shop. If you do not care to sit at the pool, or drink a lot, or shop, then it is EXTREMELY boring. Do not take the best of Cozumel trip. It was nice, but it is basically a shopping trip. This was my wife's and my first cruise. My mother has taken about 14 cruises with Princess, Royal Caribbean and Carnival. This was her first time on Norwegian. We were in room 11560 (family suite Amber). We arrived at the port around 12pm and made our way to the suite waiting area. After a bit of time our Concierge arrived and said she was there to escort us onboard. My mother is 80 years old and wife has mobility issues. The Concierge took off and left our party and another party sitting there. We had to find our own way aboard the ship. We departed out of New York on 10/21 and were on the port side of the ship. We met our butler Clint and our cabin steward (both were great). We encountered the edge of hurricane Sandy on the third day of the cruise and had 7-14 foot seas. We could not even feel the ship move. Some of the shows (730pm and 930pm) were really good. Band on the Run and Shout I would see again. The others not so much. We spent a lot of time in the cabin as there is not a lot to do on the ship unless you want to gamble, shop, or drink. After 700pm the shows start so then there are things to do. St. Thomas USVI, we did not go on an excursion but absolutely loved the island. St. Johns we did not even leave the port area, we were harangued by taxi drivers. Barbados we took the 4x4 Green Monkey safari and liked it. It is a lot of walking, so if you have balance issues be careful. We went on the semi-sub at Curacao. It was a nice trip, not what I thought it would be. We saw 4 types of fish, but they cannot control that. Aruba we walked around a bit, very nice island. Cozumel we enjoyed, but it really helps if you are fluent in Spanish. Luckily my wife is. We finally arrived in New Orleans. We were supposed to have priority disembark. We arrived in port at 8am. We finally got off the ship around noon. If this is any indication of how a cruise is, we will never, ever step foot on a ship again. I have never been so bored in my life. The food on this ship was one step above a buffet. The extra pay dining rooms are ok, but not up to even 3 star standard. It seems they cater to the Europeans as they do not know what seasoning on the food is. The only surprise we had was the Asian food in the Ginza dining room. We ate at the Ginza, the Teppenyaki, and I ate at the Sushi bar. The food there had flavor and was very good. The sushi bar was very good. If you are looking for good food, do not take this cruise. I cannot say anything about the rest of Norwegian, but if it is like the Star, then stay away from it. To me this cruise reminds me of an old saying I heard -- "cruising is for newly weds and nearly dead".

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Mar 17, 2012

Tampa Honduras Belize Mexico

If you have cruised on ANY other cruise line except Carnival than this cruise line is not for you. It's like Walmart and Best Western said "Lets get into the cruise business''. They nickel and dime you to no end. EVERYTHING is extra. I overheard a passenger complain in the Spa that they wanted to charge him to use the bathroom!!! I kid you not!! Things that other cruise lines give you are either not there or you get charged for it. There

is a $25 fee for a lost pool towel. No bars of soap in the staterooms, they have soap dispensers like a public rest room. No Chocolate on the pillows at night etc..A lot of little things but if you have cruised on a nicer line you will notice it. This cruise line is ALL about shopping onboard and off. This ship has the largest store I have ever seen. The day before a port call you get tons of fliers about what to buy in that port. I am sure NCL is getting a cut from them too. The daily newsletter never had any information or history about the port itself.!! It would've been nice to get a history of the ports and also highlight some of the daily entertainment or perhaps the Captain. You never got to know the crew. Food was hit or miss. The specialty restaurants were not bad but some you can not get a reservation for.(Very few tables) and also an extra cost to eat in them..!! There are 2 main dining rooms, the ''Aqua"' was horrible, nice decor but food had zero taste. The Versailles was ok but like all the resturants the service is awful. It shows that the pre paid tipping does not get you good service. It is a tax really. The staff doesn't seem to have any real training. Most nights they never asked us if we wanted a drink before they asked for our food order. The Buffet was mediocre at best. Same food day in, day out. Took a very long time for them to clean tables during peak times. Freestyle dining is annoying. You still needed to make reservations for the main dining room or for the specialty restaurants is you had a large party. If you just showed up, there could be a wait. I definitely prefer having seatings where you have the same wait staff every night. They get to know your preferences and make you dining experience enjoyable. Stateroom was the usual Balcony room. One thing that really is amazing, in this electronic world we live in there is only ONE 110v plug to charge anything. Real good planing there. As I said above if you lose a towel you will be charged $25 for it. You only get 1 pool towel per person and you had to bring it to the pool and bring it back to your stateroom. You could get extra towels at the pool for a $25 deposit. No bars of soap just a dipenser. No conditioner, Q-tips, etc... I don't think I saw the steward 3 times in the week I was on board. He kept the room clean but there was no way to call him if you needed him and had to constantly ask for bottled water. Again pre-paid tipping is no good!! This ship is starting to show 10 years of hard cruising, curtains dirty and ripped, carpets thin etc... Shows were ok, nothing great although the last night was good. There is a cruise director but very little in the way of activities during the cruise. My daughters tried the kids club but they plunked them down in front of a movie and left them there for 2 hours. They also have this silly rule that if they were old enough to check themselves in and out, they had to stay in there for a 2 hr minimum. If they wanted to leave earlier, parent had to be called to check them out. Bingo was ok but very expensive compared to the prizes. Another profit center for NCL. Even the daily news letter was useless. Nothing about what the ships shows were about or a description of the Ports or the daily activities etc... The Programing on the TV was very repetitive and 2nd rate movies at best. The movies shown in the ships theatre were second rate as well. They do not have a dedicated movie theatre but use the Stardust lounge on a big screen but the Picture was very blurry. $300 million ship and they can't get a clear movie picture..? The Cave rafting in Belize was very cool but just know it is over an hour drive to get there. Don't go thru the ship, there are guys in the terminal that will hook you up on the same trip for half of what NCL wanted. Same vans, same Cave. The guides are very cool. You will get very wet. Great $10 buffet afterward. The Zip-line in Costa Maya we booked thru the Ship. Again it is an hour drive to the Jungle, It left 40 minutes late and when we got there we waited well over an hour for the van to bring us into the jungle. We found out 70 minutes later the van broke down. When the other group ahead of us came out they looked very scared. They said the people running the show were not very capable. We got back onto the bus and took the hour ride back to the ship. A real waste of a day. They did refund our money. Big deal. Forget this event. We went Para -Sailing in Cozumel again booked it on the dock, $65 a head after a little negotiation. Nice time. Overall I think NCL is all about maximizing every dollar, without any thought about the passenger. There just doesn't seem to be anybody in charge or anybody they really cares. The morning we got off, we did the ''easy walk off '' the line wound around the ship 1 1/2 times, elevators crowded etc.. with nobody telling us what was going on. If they had called it by deck it would have made it much easier. At the gangway the entire cruise staff was there to say goodbye, couldn't they have been spread out around the ship helping people?? A women on line with me said the had this same problem a year ago. So I guess NCL doesn't look to improve things. Bottom line... I think NCL counts on first time cruisers or people that have been on Carnival, because if you have been on a nicer ship you won't come back. Most of the people I talk to were not happy sailors.

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Jan 15, 2012

Mexico Belize honduras

Overall experience was extremely disappointing. Started off with incompetent staff members unable to correctly designate a credit card to the proper room. Somehow the staff member tied my credit card to multiple rooms and did not want to fix the mistake...."can't you just deal with it later on the cruise?" he says....yeah only to have the next guy tell me the same thing. Sure uh-huh...took him 30 minutes and 2 supervisors( even more incompetent than

the underling) to right the mistake. Food has gone severely downhill. I've been on norwegian before and this was just pathetic, unless of course you like boxed eggs and paper bacon. Only food that was consistently edible were the croissants and the restaurants you have to pay additional fees to eat at. (no complaints with the fee restaurants, they were great but cost $25). Our room steward was the worst I've ever encountered. Ask for anything and his token response was always, "tomorrow". Even when we had a small child in our group sick and merely asked for another Sierra mist, oh yeah, tomorrow. Bags were opened and prescription pill bottles suspiciously moved from inside luggage.(to which I was told to always keep them in the provided mini safe). Correct me if I'm wrong but you should not have to worry about theft from staff members. Next day after calling attention to that fact, room steward left a nice "#2" in our bathroom to let us know how he felt about that...disgusting. Another big let down we're the adjoining balconies to we were assured when booking the cruise that we would be able to remove the partitions to connect between rooms. (which we'd done on all of our previous NCL cruises). Yep, once on board they refused to open them and claimed they haven't allowed that for quite some time and that we were supposed to have known that. Trying to get compensation for that was worse than pulling teeth. Finally we were given free dinner at one of there fee restaurants only to find out they were full and couldn't get a reservation. Not to mention the constant bait and switch advertising that occurs, throughout the ship they have displays advertising different items for sale in the duty free shop, only to get to the shop and find out the item was actually twice the advertised price...a bit juvenile if you ask me. Overall, ship is aged and decrepit; rust showing, old sheets, old rough towels, robes with holes worn them, carpets worn through with stitching showing throughout the ship. It was unbelievable. And again I feel the need to discuss the seriously subpar food. Order the steak, they will never cook it right, not once. Food would come out cold, fish was just terrible, all the varieties they offered from day to day, fish was consistently way overcooked.(perhaps to hide the fact it was spoiled, yes spoiled, even charred you could taste it) I cannot stress enough how unbelievably disappointed I was with the entire experience, excursions excluded. So please take this honest review into consideration before your next cruise and pick another cruise line. Only by hitting them on the bottom line will they fix this catastrophe of a ship. The $25 fee restaurant was great. As for the rest of the food, high school cafeteria food is gourmet in comparison. Room was ok. Circa 1990's 10" box tv set was terrible. Room steward was TERRIBLE. amenities including towels sheets, robs seem to have been in use since the ships maiden voyage....11 years ago. Scratchy old towels, robs with holes, and that is if you got enough towels for the number of guests. Only on the last day did we finally get enough towels for all of us in the room, we asked everyday, sometimes twice a day. About the only highlight of the trip were the activities and excursions. Took a couple of NCL excursions, river tour and Mayan ruin exploration, we're good. Other than that they take you to over crowded beaches. I would recommend independently researching each destination and find a private beach to go to. For example in costs maya, we found a great privately owned beach to go to, $30 and you got chair, shade, and unlimited open bar and food! Best food we had the entire vacation, really, check it out, mohoch Kay, mahahual Mexico. High recommend it. Not what I paid for.

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Oct 5, 2011

Alaska Inside Passage

The ship is aging well, the crew were top notch, and the scenery was breathtaking. A happy 7 days I think ALL cruise line's MDR food is overrated. Since i accept that it is difficult to feed large numbers of people in a short time span, I am invariably surprised when a meal is anything other than "good" on any ship. That was our experience on Norwegian Star. Food was consistently good in the MDR's but not great. Hot was hot, cold was cold

and the menu offered typical fare. Buffets were again good but uninspiring. Ate once in the extra cost LeBistro and found food and service superb. I was pleasantly surprised that we NEVER had to wait to be seated, regardless of the size of our party. They simply seated us at once like we owned the place. Service was good in all other eating venues and the clearing of dishes faster than on many other ships. I personally like the greeter at each dining venue offering a spritz of hand sanitizer, and got used to the idea quickly. Small but adequate. We've cruised NCL before and know they are famous (infamous ?) for small cabins so we were not surprised. Our party of 9 had 4 cabins. By coincidence they included 4 categories: inside, outside, balcony, and mini suite. Our "mini-suite" was merely a slightly bigger balcony cabin and located mid-ship. The only furniture in the room was a pull out sofa that tried to pull out anytime one sat on it. Annoying. I dislike the soap/shampoo/conditioner wall dispensers in the bath but it seems everybody is switching to them lately. The cabin attendant was superb. An eclectic offering typical of what we've experienced on other cruises. Piano bar, trios and quartets, sports bar, "major" shows offered several times in the main show lounge. On the whole I think NCL did a good job with onboard stuff but all remain a matter of taste. My wife loved the magician/hypnotist while I was bored to tears with the act. On-deck activities were sparse due to weather. Cold, foggy, misty, often windy, it just wasn't appealing to do much outside when the ship was underway. Off ship excursions were not much cheaper than those offered by the ship. Similar to the Caribbean, it is immediately apparent that these small Alaskan towns live and die off tourism and fishing. Not poverty per se, but an obvious lack of wealth. I didn't expect that. See notes above. I would go again on this ship and this itinerary in an instant.

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May 29, 2011

Alaska

Although the overall cruise experience was good but the debits in the credit card have left a bitter taste. I paid all my bills in cash at the cruise and got a final statement of account at the time of disembarkation which showed a nil balance. Now I have got debits for more than Rs. 20,000/- which have been paid in cash. Seems that there accounts department is worthless. Although there was special arrangement for an Indian Group but the

taste of the food was not good. When we enquired from the staff, we were told that the particular spices and other ingredients used in Indian food are not supplied by the company. Hence, they have tried their best to prepare the food. Stateroom was good. It was being cleaned and tidy up twice daily. Bingo was too costly as compared to prizes being given. Theater shows were good. Other fixed activities like Gym, jogging track, etc. were good. In Ketchikan, there is no need to take any excursion. One can walk the whole of the Ketchikan in just about 2 and a half hour. In Juneu, the excursion to near the Glacier can be had at a much cheaper cost after disembarkation. Bus / Shuttle is free in Juneu from the port to the main city center. If you want to settle your bills in cash please do not give detail of your credit card at the time of embarkation. Just deposit US $ 200 or more to take care of tips. You may make payments on daily basis to settle your dues. Our trip was reasonably good as we were involved in most of the activities like jogging, Gym, theater, Casino, etc.

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Apr 30, 2011

Mexican Riviera

Our overall experience was not what we have become accustomed to from other cruise lines. We missed having the opportunity to establish a rapport with the dining room wait staff as we were never seated in the same area of the dinining room. The concept of "Freestyle" is interpreted with widely varied results We observed a couple fresh from the swimming pool (yes, dripping) in the Atrium Bistro at 8PM on "Dress Up or Not " night. The atmosphere was

extremely casual and, although most likely well suited to a family with children, was not our style. Thoughout the cruise we were relentlessly approached to sign up for extra cost options (Specialty Dining, raffle tickets, photos,etc.). Although the embarcation process was well run and fairly quick and hassle free, disembarcation was terrible. It took 1 hour and twenty minutes to get from our cabin to out of the terminal. We will most likely not choose NCL in the future, not because it was very bad but because it was very different. The variety, quality, preparation and presentation of meals in the main dining room was outstanding ! My only negative was that occassionally the food (especially soups) was not very hot. The wait staff was harried and sometimes inefficient. Special requests , although aknowledged, were often forgotten. The food was varied and well prepared in the buffet but the press of people and the cacophonous noise level was beyond our acceptance level. We took most of our meals in the main dining room or the pool side buffet (which was excellant). We did not utilize any of the alternative dining venues, of which there were many. Our balcony stateroom (BB) on deck nine was adequate and utilized space efficiently. The bathroom layout was especially accomodating. I liked the glass shower door, as opposed to plastic curtains. Cleanliness was not a strong point, i.e, a little mold in the shower, a past guest's shoe under the bed, water spots, streaks on the window/patio door, and very dirty balcony foor. Our door latch plate was loose which resulted in our cabin being left unlocked twice, it took three days to get in repaired.The cabin attendant was cheerful but not exceptionally thorough. In the evening there was no one to whom we could address problems such as our frequent lack of a breakfast cards to hang on the door. On two occassions, our drink glasses were placed back on the ice bucket tray DIRTY ! One night, at approx. 10PM, we tried to contact room service for more than 20 minutes without sucess. The cruise staff presented a wide variety of activities. There was no shortage of things to do. The main theater was well designed (seating about 1100 ) with great effects and lighting. Entertainment was first rate thoughout. Dancers, musicians, and vocalist were exceptionally good. The keyboard musician , who performed in many forums (accompanist to singers, pianist in jazz group, etc) was most likely the best I have ever seen. We greatly missed not having a nice bar (ala Wheel House Bar or Crow's Nest) to have drinks and/or dance. We did not partake of any excursions We have cruised this intinerary several times but the elimination of some of the ports (for security reasons) limited the overall experience. We were informed by the ship's master that NCL was quitting the Mexican Riviers after our cruise.

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Apr 24, 2011

Mexican Rivera

We just returned from the Cabo and Puerto Vallarta cruise out of LA and overall I'd say it was very good. Ths was my first NCL cruise and I discovered they have invented additional ways to try to get you to spend your money. Although the Free Style cruising gives you more dining options, most of them cost you more money. Very good. I was suprised of the three restaurants I tried that charged a surcharge, I thought the best was LaCuccina,

the Italian Restaurant. And the surcharge restaurants have additional items on the menu that have an additional surcharges attached. The main dining room as very good and if you don't want to spend any extra money, just stay there. Very good. We choose a Ocean View cabin, #5120 with a large picture window, and for the two of us and it was fine. If my son had come though I think it would have been a little crowed. Plenty to do all day or do nothing at all. That's the beautfy of crusing. We didn't do any excursions in Cabo and it is really small enough that you don't have to. The water taxis can take you out to the arch which you really should see because it is beautiful. Go to the cruise terminal information desk when you get off and they'll steer you to the more reliable companies. The restaurants have lounge chairs on the beach so you can buy some beverages and just relax. You will, however, get hit up by people selling everything from Jewelry to Wrestling masks! In Puerto Vallarta I would HIGHLY recommend the Las Callentas (might be spelling that wrong) tour. You take a catermeran ride about a hour to the resort. When you get there the staff are lined up on the shore waving to you. I felt like I was arriving at fantasy Island. The food and drinks were great. It was a perfect vacation day. The days at sea were a little disappointing as it never got warmer then 64 degrees so it was a little too cold to lie in the sun as it was very breezy up on the deck. Otherwise all was great. I would definitely go on a NCL cruise again.

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By Greg_CR

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Dec 6, 2010

Alaska

The mindset of NCL is cut costs, cut costs, cut costs. If they can save a buck (or a penny) they will, and it shows when it comes to providing for the passengers. When I asked for Tabasco for my eggs, I was given a bottle that obviously contained watered down Tobasco. It was okay. The food touted as being gourmet was far from it. They had a nigh function billed as a chocoholics dream, but really the desserts were lacking in richness. Very, very

humdrum. Good. If you do go on any cruise, pay the extra for a balcony. It's well worth it. Onboard activities were so-so. The show on the final night of the cruise, however, was worse than so-so; it wasabsolutely terrible. Very amateurish. If I wasn't sitting in the middle of the theater, I would have walked out. The excursions can be booked a lot cheaper when you get off the ship for shore leave. Want to travel to a glacier? Wait until you get to the port and go ashore and do it. If you are a couple and want to enjoy time in a spa or pool without a lot of kids, then pay the $150 extra bucks for a week of the private spa and pool. No one under 18 allowed. Very nice. This part was the saving grace of the cruise.

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Nov 8, 2010

carribean

We arrived at noon and had lunch-our rooms were not ready until 2pm our luggage arrived at 4pm. Dinner was casual-we ate at the Market Cafe.the Dining room menu didn't appeal to us so we did buffet. The room was always clean. The entertainment was a mess. Unorganized and 5 comics, plus second city inprov -give me a break. The singer headliner was horrible. The lounge entertainment had it all over the headliners. One big show with the dancers

and singers. The cruise crew worked hard to keep us busy but not enough activities to make the sea days go by. The one man band-Tino was great fun and we visited him nightly. The Melodic Trio was just that and very entertaining. The other variety band was terrible. The piano player was great too. All of this entertainment was head and shoulders abovae the main shows. Halloween party was very unorganized. karaoke which is a staple on most ships was 3 times only . with many people not getting to sing. Cruise director and his staff were great. Luz,Samantha, and Asly were wonderful. A huge asset to the ship. This was our 12th cruise and by far the most disappointing. The ship was hard to navigate. This was our 12th cruise--if it had been our first--it might have been our last. The trivia was so hard and no specialties ie-sports,music,movies, etc. Food was the same stuff everyday. Pork 5 times and chicken everyday. Other choices were not appealing. This was our second NCL and the 1st we were disappointed in the food and this was the same--we only ate twice in the main dining room. The choices were awful and we checked every day for a better choice and never got it. we ate in 2 specialty spots and the Italian and Mexican were very good. Also the 24 hour venue was good and we ate there twice. There was alot of India type curry foods with not many on the ship. The desserts were terrible and tasteless. On most ships dessert is a highlight not so here. Pizza was cardboard with sauce. The fruit was good and only choice of iced tea and water for cold drinks at lunch. ok--nothing fancy. The beds were hard and for the money I would have liked more attention. The onboard activities were very limited. Hardly anything to do. Trivia, as I already said ,was very hard and no specialty games. No belly-flop or hairy legs contests. No horse races, in the casino no one won!!!!! Bingo was awful too. The prices were crazy. You can get cheaper ones from the locals. We had good luck with that. I have explained all of it at the top I don't need to say anymore.

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Oct 20, 2010

Alaska

I would like to comment on our recent cruise on the Norwegian Star, which left Seattle on Sept 25, 2010. This was the "cruise from hell". Had there been a way home without excessive airline charges, we would have left half-way through it. • As far as I know, this is the only cruise line that automatically charges you $12.50 USD per person-per day for a “gratuity”, which worked out to $175 for the cruise. The service was not

that good from the entire staff, but only a few. (the management of the “trough” would walk by us and we had to move to one side to allow them to pass!) • Almost everybody ate at the “Market Café” which we referred to as “the Trough”. The food was dismal at best, although the fresh fruit was wonderful (we would take some up to our room in the evening and eat it there). • There were two additional free places to eat, which, had we not asked other people about, we never would have known about it. They both were in the aft part of the ship, and there was no mention of what the daily menu was so we had to go to one of them (they shared menus) and check out lunch and dinner. Note that the menus of the restaurants that had hefty charges (from $15 to $25 USD) were predominately displayed at the entrance to the “trough” each day! • We decided to splurge and try one of the “fee” dining rooms (an Oriental bistro), and the food was abominable! I had paid an extra $15 for lobster, which was overcooked, tough and covered with some sauce that I couldn’t eat. Now, mind you, I enjoy good Chinese food, but this was the worst! Fortunately the manager refunded the lobster charge. • The room was relatively clean, but the bathroom was another issue. It smelled of urine, and the cleaning staff was unable to remove the smell. So over the 7 days, we had to live with it. • The refrigerator was so loaded with soda that we could not get anything else into it. We removed some of the sodas, but were afraid that we would be charged for them, so put them back. • The television was so small that it was hard to view. It kept skipping parts of a program, and finally we gave up on viewing anything. There was no US based news program, and the BBC news didn’t really cover any of the highlights in the US. Very disappointing. • The "internet cafe" fees were exorbitant! Fifteen (15) minutes for $7.50 USD. We found an internet café in Skagway which gave us 15 minutes for $1.25 USD! Wireless fees were about the same. • My wife was bored during the entire cruise¦ there was nothing for her to do, since she doesn't gamble. No activities other than ones that they charged for (i.e. Bingo, 3 cards for $20). There are no movies shown in a theatre, but rather some lame movies on the television. One night of dancing (which we don't do) which started at 10 p.m., and a few shows with pre-recorded music and some live singers¦ • I chose to do some gambling, and the first 4 days I was a winner, as were others. On the last day at sea, things changed. I lost all of my winnings, playing the same machines that I had played at the beginning of the week. Nobody else was winning either! Clearly, the machines were reset to keep a higher percentage (my guess is about 98-99%) of the money gambled. Never even thought that there was no regulation in international waters, and consequently I (and others) got taken. • Shore excursions were expensive, especially if you purchased them on the ship. They tacked a booking fee to each, averaging $20 or more. We could have purchased the exact same thing in the towns we stopped at for much less. In addition, they applied scare tactics to your time ashore, saying if you didn't purchase from their approved stores, they would not be responsible for your purchase. So of course, most of the passengers that went ashore bought at those stores. On the last day, it was mentioned in the flyer that the ship distributes each day, that the stores paid a fee to NCL for this privilege. The trip from hell... we will NEVER again choose NCL... we have subsequently heard that Holland America is the best, and that's where we are going for our next cruise.

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Sep 26, 2010

Alaska

Boy, have standards changed. . . If you want to buy a lot of over-priced junk and like looking at the sloppy Walmart crowd, this is the cruise for you. Food was nothing to write home about. $1.95 for a soda, $4.75 for a COORS. It's obvious how NCL makes their money. Clean There was nothing offered to expand one's mind except the library, such that it was. AND where the heck was the cinema ????? The entertainment

was _ _ _ BAD, at least for those of us who don't watch 'reality' TV. Seaplane flight over the fjords was awesome The only way to see pristine Alaska is by water or air- - - - stunningly beautiful.

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By Elsa_CR

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Sep 20, 2010

Alaska Glacier Bay

The ship itself looked like it was decorated in the 70's or 80's. It was actually pretty tacky, from the carpets to the wall hangings (aka "art"), it just had a very cheap look and feel to it overall. Our cabin was nice but overpriced ($1675 per person). We found out most of our neighbors got a much better rate by waiting to the last minute before they booked and saved about $1500 from what we paid for exactly the same thing. The cruise was very

crowded and while Alaska was great, most of the excursions were only 1/2 day which is just no where near enough for all the time you spend on the boat. Most of the entertainment was 2nd or 3rd rate, except for the Second City shows. There was really so much to be desired that this cruise did not deliver on. Average at best! Some of it was just plain gross. Sorry but it's true. It started out quite bad and got better at the end. I guess the figured we'd forget how bad it was at first and only remember the good part. The $50 soft drink tab was just too unbelievable. What a nickle and dime cruise line. We had a balcony room. It was nice. It was not as clean as i thought it should be and not nearly as nice as the Sheraton in Seattle where we stayed the night before. They left the previous occupants dirty ice bucket and glasses in our room which we found upon check in. Pretty stupid unless you love Bingo, gambling, shopping, drinking and overeating. If you love these things, you'll be in heaven. No, the excursions were the best part but you pay extra-a LOT EXTRA for them. They are not included in the price of your cruise. Norweigian can and should do a lot better than this. From what I've heard, most people much preferred other cruises with Princess and Royal Carribean. This was definitely the "Walmart" of the cruise lines. Only the price wasn't cheap...just what you got for the money. I will never cruise Norwegian again.

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Sep 8, 2010

Alaska

The food is bad...if you would like to have good food, you need pay extra....a lots of extra money you need to pay on this cruise.... bad bad ok yes

By sam_CR

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Sep 7, 2010

alaska

because of automatic tips service is very poor . ship was clean.toilet working on and off.short stops in some ports.weather was great.rooms not ready until late afternoon, had to carry all bags to lunch and no place to sit. very poor. one ice cream machine on the ship and it could not keep up with use. ok very poor all indoor areas have been turned into freestyle dining areas. no place to play card or games.you have to sit outside or your room

over priced. cannot book train with owner had to pay $10 extra thur ship

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Aug 25, 2010

Inside Passage Alaska

This was our first cruise. The Star is a Free Style cruise. Food at the 3 restaurants that do not charge extra is mediocre.... breakfast is okay. We tried dinner at the free restaurants, but opted to pay extra for dinner at the theme restaurants. Food at the theme restaurants was excellent. Cagney's steakhouse is top of the line, but we certainly enjoyed all the others too. The cover charges ran from $10 - $25 per person...but you could eat

any/everything on the menus......all of it very excellent. For Lunch we liked the BBQ on Deck 13 by the pool/hot tubs/water slides. Cabins are small, but efficiently organized. Entertainment was okay and ran the gamut. The two must sees for us were: The Tribute to Frankie Vallie and the best juggling act I've ever seen. Excursions are expensive....so plan $200 per person per excursion and you won't be disappointed. We had fun in Ketchican catching fish with Capt. Ken, The Tram and Mendenhall Glacier made our stay in Juneau worthwhile. We opted to rent a car in Skagway and drove to Emerald Lake in the Yukon....much better than riding the train. We took lots of pictures. Do an excursion in Prince Rupert because there isn't anything to do there. Free food was at the Market Place in buffet style.....okay for breakfast, but go to the 13th Deck for BBQ for lunch. Don't do any free food for dinner.....it's about the same as hospital food. Pay the extra $10 -$25 per person and enjoy some GREAT food. Stateroom was an outside room with a window, but no balcony. I think next time we will splurge for the balcony. Room was small, but very efficiently organized. We didn't spend a great deal of time in the room.....but it served the purpose. Lots of variety in activities and didn't get bored. This was a JULY cruise to Alaska so we took shorts, tank tops and summer clothes.....we also took sweatshirts. We should have packed coats. It's Alaska!!!! The wind can really blow cold even though the days can be very warm. You have to go prepared for everything from 40 - 85 degrees. There are so many excursions .... something for everyone. Realistically, there isn't much time to crowd more than one decent excursion into each port of call..... so plan to spend $200 per person at each stop and you won't be disappointed. The Spa package is worth the extra cost......pamper yourself....you'll remember it the rest of your life. Take lots of pictures, the scenery is spectacular. Tremendous commercialism on board and at every port of call. Enjoy being the tourist and take it all in. If you are interested in getting to know Alaska, cruising isn't going to work for you. Spending a few fast-flowing hours in Ketchican, Juneau, Skagway and Prince Rupert can barely whet the appetite. You need 4-5 days in each town to really get a good experience......but cruising can be an introduction that you otherwise won't experience.

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Aug 25, 2010

Inside Passage Alaska

This was our first cruise. The Star is a Free Style cruise. Food at the 3 restaurants that do not charge extra is mediocre.... breakfast is okay. We tried dinner at the free restaurants, but opted to pay extra for dinner at the theme restaurants. Food at the theme restaurants was excellent. Cagney's steakhouse is top of the line, but we certainly enjoyed all the others too. The cover charges ran from $10 - $25 per person...but you could eat

any/everything on the menus......all of it very excellent. For Lunch we liked the BBQ on Deck 13 by the pool/hot tubs/water slides. Cabins are small, but efficiently organized. Entertainment was okay and ran the gamut. The two must sees for us were: The Tribute to Frankie Vallie and the best juggling act I've ever seen. Excursions are expensive....so plan $200 per person per excursion and you won't be disappointed. We had fun in Ketchican catching fish with Capt. Ken, The Tram and Mendenhall Glacier made our stay in Juneau worthwhile. We opted to rent a car in Skagway and drove to Emerald Lake in the Yukon....much better than riding the train. We took lots of pictures. Do an excursion in Prince Rupert because there isn't anything to do there. Free food was at the Market Place in buffet style.....okay for breakfast, but go to the 13th Deck for BBQ for lunch. Don't do any free food for dinner.....it's about the same as hospital food. Pay the extra $10 -$25 per person and enjoy some GREAT food. Stateroom was an outside room with a window, but no balcony. I think next time we will splurge for the balcony. Room was small, but very efficiently organized. We didn't spend a great deal of time in the room.....but it served the purpose. Lots of variety in activities and didn't get bored. This was a JULY cruise to Alaska so we took shorts, tank tops and summer clothes.....we also took sweatshirts. We should have packed coats. It's Alaska!!!! The wind can really blow cold even though the days can be very warm. You have to go prepared for everything from 40 - 85 degrees. There are so many excursions .... something for everyone. Realistically, there isn't much time to crowd more than one decent excursion into each port of call..... so plan to spend $200 per person at each stop and you won't be disappointed. The Spa package is worth the extra cost......pamper yourself....you'll remember it the rest of your life. Take lots of pictures, the scenery is spectacular. Tremendous commercialism on board and at every port of call. Enjoy being the tourist and take it all in. If you are interested in getting to know Alaska, cruising isn't going to work for you. Spending a few fast-flowing hours in Ketchican, Juneau, Skagway and Prince Rupert can barely whet the appetite. You need 4-5 days in each town to really get a good experience......but cruising can be an introduction that you otherwise won't experience.

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Jul 30, 2010

Alaska

Very disappointing. Dining room and cabin service good. Food in main dining room a B- at best. Felt dollared and dimed by constant exhortations to shop everytime I walked about the ship. Way too many overpriced "cover charge" restaurants where the food was no better than main dining room. Games, in my opinion, deceptive to get children to run up a big bill when they thought they were winning "free" games. NCL also seems to run the decptive

practice of requiring mandatory "tips" from passengers (in addition to the full fare paid). These "tips" are nothing more than a ploy to get passengers to pay extra in order to subsidize staff wages. It is highly doubtful that we will ever use NCL again B- Acceptable. Designed to extract more money from passengers. Excursions were over priced. Many could be duplicated at no cost by simply leaving the ship and walking about. Enough has been said - barely acceptable.

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Jul 30, 2010

Alaska

Very disappointing. Dining room and cabin service good. Food in main dining room a B- at best. Felt dollared and dimed by constant exhortations to shop everytime I walked about the ship. Way too many overpriced "cover charge" restaurants where the food was no better than main dining room. Games, in my opinion, deceptive to get children to run up a big bill when they thought they were winning "free" games. NCL also seems to run the decptive

practice of requiring mandatory "tips" from passengers (in addition to the full fare paid). These "tips" are nothing more than a ploy to get passengers to pay extra in order to subsidize staff wages. It is highly doubtful that we will ever use NCL again B- Acceptable. Designed to extract more money from passengers. Excursions were over priced. Many could be duplicated at no cost by simply leaving the ship and walking about. Enough has been said - barely acceptable.

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By T_CR

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Jul 21, 2010

ALASKA

It was my first time on NCL and we loved it! Service,food,cleanliness,entertainment was all great. We have cruised on Royal Caribbean(we love) and Carnival(we hated) and NCL lived up to our expectations quite well. The ship never felt crowded anywhere we went and all excursions were very nice that we booked through the cruise line. We sailed through check in (15 minutes) and walked right off the ship with no problems when the cruise was over. Liked

so much we are taking another NCL cruise in September 2010.

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Jul 10, 2010

Alaska

Very disappointed. I cannot figure out how this ship retains a good overall rating with all the poor reviews. Food was very disappointing, only average in the main dining hall. I ended up paying about $10 a day to eat at one of the other dining rooms. The service in the main dining rooms and buffet were poor compared to my experience with Celebrity. I was issued a refund for half of the tip surcharge without question. You had to pay and extra $99

to use the indoor pool, hot tub steam room and dry sauna which was very aggravating. The gym was small and easily over-crowded. The main entertainers were not high quality. The staff did nothing to address the issue of kids running up and down the hallways and stairs all hours of the day and night. The over all cleanliness of the ship was below my expectations and equivalent to a Comfort Inn Hotel in my opinion. I would not rate this ship more than a 3 on a scale of 1-5 and that's probably generous. Average at best Not as clean as I would have liked. Not to speak of, unless you want someone to show you how to spend your money shopping of paying for excursions which have a 40% surcharge compared to buying at the ports. Stay away unless you don't mind average quality food, entertainment and cleanliness. Alaska was beautiful, the onboard excursion prices had a hefty 40%b mark up so I took my chances and found some of them sold out by the time we reached port so I did most of my exploring on my own.

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Apr 28, 2010

Mexican Riviera

I was EXTREMLY disappointed in this cruise ship. I also sailed on the NCL Pearl which was wonderful. I had assumed that all of NCL's boat and personal were created equal. I was wrong with that assumption. This was a family cruie. I brought my Mother and 2 teen girls. FOOD WAS GROSS!! The buffet was just horrible. We ate there in the mornings but the lunch and dinner was just terrible. No variety, no flavor, totally bland. We ate at the

main dining rooms and the blue lagoon. Those were just okay for me, nothing special. Cruise ships are known for their food and the food on here was just tasteless boring food. We had an oceanview stateroom and I have to say the room was very nice. I was worried about space due to the fact that their was 4 of us in the room. We had plenty of room for everything. The room stuarts on the other had were non existant. Never met them never saw them. I made pulled out our cot and pulled down the bunk everynight and put them away in the am. My sheets were ripped and stained. I did complain and asked for new sheets and I let them know that I didn't seem to have a stuart but the service never got better. I got to my room one night at 9:45pm and the beds still were not made or pulled out for the night. Activities??? What activities?? It was pretty much fend for yourself. They did have shuffleboard, basketball. The daily activities newletter is a joke. Almost everything on there is to benifit the cruiseline not the customer. They did have games shows and entertainment at night but NOTHING during the day. Sea days were HORRIBLE!!!! Everyone was just walking around not knowing what to do. We went on and excursion to the arch and beachclub. It was VERY nice and had a wonderful time with that. In Mazaltan we took at cab to the goldenzone and shopped, that was nice. The cab ride was $10.00 and you get it right outside the boat. PV we took at tour of the city on our own. There was cabbies waiting outside the boat. they charged $25.00 an hour and it was well worth it. We landed in LA April 2nd and spent the night at the Crowne Plaza hotel San Pedro. The hotel was perfect fpr pre-cruise. The boat was very disappointting although the Mexican Riviera is WONDERFUL!! THe people of Mexico are so nice and helpful. I am looking forward to going back again. It is a BEAUTIFUL country, I highly recommend it.

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By jim_CR

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Mar 21, 2010

mexican riviera

Having been on three previous cruises i was very disappointed with NCL . What a waste of time and money this cruise line turned out to be . I have previously cruised on Royal Carribbean and was very happy with them. Not much Noisy during the cruise and not very clean on arrival. My other family members had a total of eight rooms and all of them have similar feelings about never going with NCL again Very limited . They did have one good acrobat

show and a marginal magic show , but that was it. Zip line excursion was great Terrible----- would not go with NCL again even if it was free . My time is to valuable to waste on NCL .

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Dec 28, 2009

Panama Canal

Overall we were very pleased with the cruise, the food , service and entertainment on the Star. There were three couples in our group and we had a fun time aboard the ship and in the ports. The weather was fantastic and the seas were calm so that certainly helped. As well there were many places to sit and relax in different areas of the ship during our 7 sea days, and we did plenty of that. There was a variety of good entertainment in the theater.

My husband and friends loved the Melodic Trio who played nightly in the Grand Atrium. I enjoyed the Motown music of Stan Sykes who is a regular in the Carousel Lounge. One annoying thing was the constant sales pitch about jewelry and shopping in approved stores. When attending the shopping lady's presentation the vital information about a port only included tips on places to shop where I'm sure they get a cut of the sales! Overall, the food was excellent. We usually ate dinner in the dining room where we enjoyed the food and the excellent service. The Blue Lagoon became a favorite for lunch. The chicken burger, chicken tenders and won ton soup were delicious. We ate at Endless Summer one night but did not enjoy their "Mexican" menu although the service was great. It is such a nice venue and should perhaps have a different menu so more people could enjoy it. Our balcony cabin was clean well laid out and it was great to have a balcony when we went through the canal.

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By Ken_CR

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Sep 26, 2009

alaska

It was one of the worst cruises that we have ever been on with NCL! The food on this cruise was terrible! The game room was small. We never met our room steward. The entertainment was the same thing every night. We could not believe how bad the food was, there was no difference in the menu from night to night, they called it something different but it was the same thing. We never met our room steward, so do not know if it was a man or a woman.

There were four of us and we like to play cards or games in the game room, but it was so small (about ten tables) that it was hard to find a table empty. The entertainment was so bad that I won't even talk about it. We had some friends that went on the Sun the week after we did our 7 days, and they said the same thing! They did not like it at all and this was their first cruise. If we cruise again maybe we will try Holland or some other cruise line or if it is NCL maybe another ship. Our first cruise was on the Sky and it was wonderful have never enjoyed our selves more since then. Our room with a balcony did not live up to our expectations. If we ever do cruise again, it probably won't be with NCL.

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Sep 23, 2009

Alaska

We just returned from a family cruise celebrating our parent's 50th anniversary. It was the last sailing of this season for this ship, and the weather reflected that. It was a good venue for our family group of 11 individuals. The kids program was well liked by the 3 and 5 year-olds. The 17 year-old did not participate in the teen's program, but had a good time on his own. Everything was relatively accessible for the member what was wheelchair bound.

The rest of our group was adults between the ages of 38 and 77, most of us have gone on several cruises before, but 4 of them were on their first cruise. What my husband and I noticed the most was the way NCL has become REALLY CHEAP!!! I mean, having about half of all the events listed in the onboard daily newsletter, the "Freestyler", have a participation fee. It is really upsetting. I mean, even the tour of the kitchen and the bridge were fee activities! Forget about the good old days of sharing a dinner at the captain's table! The actual ships officers never even made an appearance! There was definitely no genuine interest by the crew in any capacity to get to know any of the passengers. Activities like BINGO were horribly loud, fake-excitement events that you could hear far outside the lounge. Even though there seemed to be adequate space for the onboard shops with the Galleria taking up much the whole rear end of one of the decks, they still took over the central area where the pursers counter is located with a bunch of tables and silly desks selling all sort of cheap trinkets and even temporary tattoos! Also, we were never warned in advance that a group of pseudo-medical people were having a seminar on this cruise that monopolized all the meeting rooms and even kicked the rest of the paying passengers out of public lounges so they could monopolize those areas as well for "private functions". I feel the crew should ensure that at least one meeting area and all the lounges are kept free for passengers that were not a part of the group (the majority)! The dance team was pathetic and the French ballet couple was totally lacking talent. The male strained and grimaced whenever he had to lift his partner. I resent the $12.00 per person service charge that is automatically added to your cabin account. I approached the purser's personnel and explained that I believe tips should be earned not automatic, and dependent on the level of service. They told me that for each person that a guest personally interacts with, there are many other people that work behind the scenes. I agreed with this, but reminded them that those "behind the scenes" personnel should be paid a fair salary, and not have to rely on tips, which are usually reserved for personal service personnel, and if I am paying for "behind the scenes personnel" with the service charge, then that fee should be included in the cost of the cruise up front, and not hidden in a separate, additional, onboard charge. After all, we are already charged a seperate fee for fuel and port charges, that should be rolled into the upfront cost. They were very helpful and provided tip envelopes. On this ship at least, NCL has really crossed the line from providing a good vacation experience into a group of people who are looking for any chance to wrestle your cabin card away from you and make a bunch of overpriced charges! On the plus side, the food was delicious and the variety was pretty good, although the ice cream parlor was very sad offering only cones (we had to go to the buffet and find bowls and spoons when we wanted them) and no toppings of any kind were provided. The Chinese acrobatic group was outstanding, as was the Alaskan historical singer, and the ventriloquist were absolutely wonderful. Embarkation/disembarkation went very smoothly and quickly. The cabin stewards and, for the most part, the dining area staff did a good job and were unobtrusive.

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Aug 18, 2009

Alaska

We had the worst experience ever with NCL. They are terribly rude. I will never cruise with them and will continue to let the public know what a awful, disgusting cruise line they are!!! My finacee and I went on the Alaskan NCL for our engagement. (He proposed the night before in Seattle). We were not allowed to go on our cruise becuase he is from Ecuador (even though we called 3 times to make sure everything was in order - the NCL representative

said after the fact: "Yeah, sometimes our customer service reps get confused about that stuff!!!) Not only we were not allowed to go, but we were humiliated. We were pulled out of line and forced to stand right beside where people were boarding the ship while I was crying. We waited for 30 minutes before anyone would tell us what was going on. Then the NCL agent, Sue, tried to make us sign some paper stating that we agreed with NCL and were OK, but she refused to let us read the paper. At the same time, another family had problems, and Sue assisted them to 'a nice area to sit where we can get this sorted out', while we had to stand in front of the line waiting to board. Sue told me several times that I should 'go on, you'll have fun without him'. I was infuriated because we had just been engaged the night before! NCL charged us for the cruise, the excursion we booked, and the special treats that my fiancee had arranged to celebrate. We were treated with NO respect or dignity, while other couple were provided a place to sit and help making arrangements, we were forced to stand and be humiliated! NCL is the worst ever! All we have been told by them is "Yeah, mistakes happen" no apologies for the way Sue treated us or anything!

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Aug 12, 2009

Alaska Inside Passage

My wife and I were delighted with our cruise, taken to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Let me say up-front that I was strongly inclined to enjoy it: as a young boy in 1961-66 I was fortunate to experience Atlantic crossings on the liners Leonardo da Vinci, Independence, Constitution, France, and Queen Elizabeth, and as a young parent I brought my family across on the QE2 in 1994. Simply being on a ship, any ship, with a fresh sea-breeze blowing

fills me with cheer and happy memories! We opted for an inexpensive inside cabin. This is Alaska, not the tropics, so how much time are you going to spend reclining languorously on your private balcony? As it happened, the weather was unexpectedly gorgeous most days, so we used Deck 13 as our spacious public 'balcony'. There were always plenty of deck chairs available, the views were fabulous, and we worked off our calories with brisk power-walks around the jogging track. Nothing is more invigorating than cool sea air and sunshine! The sign says 'Joggers Only' but we carefully made way for our younger, faster shipmates, who were invariably gracious when we flattened ourselves against the wall to let them whoosh by. Our favorite indulgence was our 7-day membership in the Barong Spa Thermal Suite: for $140, the two of us had unlimited access to the sauna, steam room, hot and cold soaks, Jacuzzis, pool and lounge (with a splendid view over the stern). The powerful bubbling water-massage pools, especially when turned up to the max, do a great job of relaxing tense muscles. We spent at least an hour there every day, and always departed feeling privileged, pampered, and renewed. We took breakfast and lunch daily at the Market Garden buffet. We loved the informality and wide selection of dishes. If one must quibble, the croissants were not as light and flaky as those you'd find at a French village bakery. At lunch, we wished that more of the extensive buffet space had been devoted to offering a wider salad bar selection (note to NCL: a bigger salad bar would make for happier vegetarian and health-conscious passengers, and probably save money, a win-win situation!). Our usual dinner spot was the Versailles Restaurant. The food was always well-prepared and tasty enough, if unadventurous. The portions seemed a tad on the small side, until we realized that we were welcome to order appetizer, soup AND salad (the menu organization makes it look like an either/or option), entre, and dessert. The dining experience was enhanced by the skilled and friendly multinational staff, and the wonderful view out the enormous windows over the stern --- the matre de was happy to place us at a table near the windows on request, if available. The view was especially dramatic the evening a Coast Guard helicopter flew close to the stern, in preparation for landing on the helipad on Deck 13 aft, apparently to evacuate an ailing shipmate to a hospital ashore. For our anniversary dinner, we had an excellent meal at Le Bistrot, well worth the additional $15 apiece and $28 for a bottle of superb Alsatian wine. By far the best entertainment on board is simply being on deck enjoying the fresh air and the spectacular coastal scenery, weather and darkness permitting. The Library has a small but high-quality selection; we always had a book apiece checked out for reading on deck or in the Barong Spa lounge. We retired to the Game Room on Deck 12 several times for a match of Scrabble; at the same time, it was fun to observe nearby families enthusiastically enjoying their games of choice. As an unexpected bonus, the big windows of the Game Room afforded us our most thrilling nature encounter: a group of at least a dozen porpoises cavorting right below us, including four who leaped out of the water together like the Blue Angels aerobatic team in formation! We took in one movie at the cinema (hint: if you want popcorn, get a bagful at the Red Lion Pub and bring it with you). We caught all three of the Jean Ann Ryan Company shows, our favorite being 'Music of the Night' featuring an excellent Irish tenor. 'Cirque Pacifique' should properly be retitled 'Cirque du Pacifique' (the present title translates as 'peaceful circus' rather than the intended 'circus of the Pacific' --- please excuse an old French major!), but was well worth watching, particularly the breathtaking feats of the Chinese acrobats. 'Band on the Run' was, well, exuberant, and a nice prelude to the sinful delights of the Chocaholic's Buffet! We took in two shows by the Second City improvisational comedy team, and wished we could see more --- these young people put loads of energy, wit, and creativity into their act! On shore in Ketchikan, the things we liked best were the Soho Coho shop on Creek Street for outstanding t-shirt designs, and the Saxman Totem Park. There is no need to book an expensive guided tour; a $2 all-day ticket for the city buses will take you to Saxman Village and back. In Juneau, we caught the first (8 AM) ride up the Mount Roberts Tramway. There is a fine network of walking trails up there, leading to breathtaking viewpoints and meadows full of wildflowers, not at all crowded in the early morning, when the light is also best for photography. The trip out to the Mendenhall Glacier is another must, and does not require a guided tour: the port area has several shuttle-bus lines offering inexpensive round-trip transport. In Skagway, we took the White Pass & Yukon Railway excursion. The pass is well worth seeing, but it might be wiser to rent a car and drive up the highway, getting equivalent views and stopping where and when you want. In Prince Rupert, we took the float trip down the Skeena River. This involved a scenic bus trip 50 miles inland along beautiful wooded valleys, then an easy ride on sturdy rubber rafts for about 2 hours along this magnificent and little-known river, with a personable young guide manning the oars on each raft and giving commentary. When we returned to the ship, we watched the group paddling a large voyageur canoe around the harbor; they too looked like they were having a load of fun! The best excursion of all was the ship's Tuesday afternoon passage up the Tracy Arm fjord to the Sawyer Glacier. Rugged granite cliffs, pine forests, waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, floating ice, and the blue-white glacier meeting the sea: it was all too beautiful to believe. The ship-handling was awesome, as we navigated smoothly though sections of the fjord that seemed narrower than the ship's own length! The only flaw was my own lack of foresight: I had donned shorts and a light shirt for comfort in the 85° heat of Juneau; once we were sailing up the Tracy Arm, I was too enthralled by the passing beauty to run down to the cabin for warmer clothes --- I couldn't bear to miss a minute of it! The temperature dropped steadily as we approached the glacier, so I finally had to make a run for it to ward off hypothermia. A word to the wise: even if the sun is blazing, have long-sleeved apparel and a warm jacket on deck so you can enjoy the Tracy Arm in comfort! This was a first-rate experience for us, one of the best vacations ever. I was the guy walking the deck with a big smile, occasionally singing the first line from Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore: 'We sail the ocean blue, and our saucy ship's a beauty". We liked it so much that we immediately started planning for next year's cruise around the Hawaiian Islands on the NCL Pride of America. Aloha oe!

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By Ted_CR

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Aug 8, 2009

Inside Passage Alaska

I took my family on the Inside Passage in August 2009 on NCL Star. We have all cruised several times. We will not do NCL again. Freestyle cruising is a phrase that means charge extra for everything. You want a decent meal, you pay extra. You want to do anything, you pay extra. On other lines most events are free, on NCL there is a charge for everything. The ship was VERY crowded, from theater seats to breakfast tables, hot tubs, deck chairs, elevators,

you name it, it was over crowded! Someone needs to tell them that a mandatory tip is not a tip, it is a tax. Because of this cabin service is poor. This practice removes any incentive for great performance. For example, we could not get a third towel in my kids' room, despite several requests. Agree with others comments that the constant sales tactics get old fast. Selling NCL instant win tickets before the shows etc. The drink servers are like sharks and will not leave you alone for a minute. Food in the paid restaurants was good but average in to poor in regular restaurants. Get used to shells in eggs, and scallops the size of a pin head. The paid Mexican restaurant was terrible. I could not chew the swordfish and my sons steal was also so tough that it could not be consumed with normal human teeth. We had a stateroom, window room on 5 and kids' interior room was fine, similar to other boats. The cabin service as mentioned previously was poor. There were no free onboard activities. Other cruise lines are much better for onboard activities. The excursions in Alaska (in my opinion) are about twice the price and less exciting than the Caribbean. The scenery is spectacular, but we paid $70 x 5 people for a one hour bus ride in Prince Rupert that showed us the school and town hall, those were the highlights. $180 x 5 for a train ride (which was cool) and a gold panning (which was not) in Scagway, should have cost about a third. In Juneau see the glacier, skip the salmon bake. In Skagway, do the railroad. Ketchikan has great excursions. Stay on the boat for Prince Rupert.

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By Beth_CR

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Aug 3, 2009

Inside passage

I'd lke to go back to Alaska but not via NCL. I was very disappointed in the cruise. The Fish & Chips were the only thing I found that was edible. The onboard entertainment was okay I suppose; but there was not much variety. I didn't see any winners in the casino and the night shows were pretty bad except for the musicals. We did our own excursions. The baggage didn't arrive on time and we didn't see our steward the first two days.

If we needed something, such as ice, we always had to call. Nobody checked on a regular basis. Also, I thought NCL nickel and dimed you to death. If you expect an all inclusive experience, you won't find it at NCL.

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Jun 19, 2009

Alaska's Inside Passage

It was our first cruise and it was wonderful. I appreciated the skilled and caring captain and his crew, the friendly and polite workers, the wonderful shows, especially the great as well as good-hearted Shawn the magician, the activities on board, the most hilarious Bingo Boy and the terrific tours. Overall, because of the people, the aura on the ship was absolutely positive. I can hardly wait for my next cruise. Thank you for such a great time!

The food was great and quite varied! The restaurants were classy and yet very welcoming. Very nice and comfortable It was very good except for the "promotional" sessions. Was very pleased with the tours. The Lumberjack show(Ketchikan), the deluxe Mendenhall tour (Juneau) and the Yellow Streetcar(Skagway) were very worth it. It was so relaxing and awesome...5 star rating!

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Jun 15, 2009

Alaska inside passage

Norwegian Star overall was a good ship to travel to Alaska. The two service people in charge of cleaning our room were very attentive to our needs. We took our 1st cruise with my husband's parents(each own room with balcony) and our 2 year old son. Service always came in, cleaned up well, turn up and down the sofa bed for our son and delivered our room service food within the time allotted. All crew were friendly, but hard to understand them most

of the time (many foreign employees). Check in and out were simple and the baggage program at the end of the cruise was very helpful. For being our 1st cruise, I can say that our experience was pleasant and did not have any pressure to buy jewelry. They do advertise quite a bit to for the jewelry stores in the alaskan towns and on the ship, but I felt that compared to when you walk in to a jewelry store at a store mall (that is pressure) the cruise ship did not pressure people to buy, they just advertised everyday. The Food, well... my 2 year old is a very very picky eater and started out with the buffet restaurant on the ship, the first day. We tried lunch and dinner both were a complete flop. The food is just bland, and pasta and red sauce can only go so much for a 2 year old. The rest of the trip,we dined at different locations. The other, free of charge (most cruisers do not realize this) The Versailles restaurant was very good food for the- no fee- (and a beautiful view of the ocean). For dinner we were willing to spend the minimal fee(usually $10 -15 pp) for a more pleasant meal (keep in mind that the fee allows you to order an appetizer, a salad or soup, main course, and dessert or more if you can fit it in). We tried the Soho restaurant , I had the lobster 1 1/2 lbs (not worth it) but my husband and mother in-law enjoyed their meals. Next we tried La Trattoria (Italian), then tried (the best, and pricey $25pp) Cagney's. Lobster and filet mignon with the rasberry creme brulee dessert, was to die for! Le Bistro (French) was very good too. Tex Mex was good, just dont ask for a bean burrito they are extremely stingy on the beans or they just don't know what a bean & cheese burrito looks like. Word of caution for those going to Skagway (do not order any Mexican food at a restaurant called North Lights Italian/Mexican (it's not mexican food and again, they don't know what a bean burrito is made up of). What can get costly is the drink (sodas) so my recommendation is to purchase the $54 soda program. The best margaritas served on the ship are at Tex Mex (both regular and strawberry ). Having a balcony is the way to go on being in a cruise. If you want quiet down time you can still do so and still enjoy the view of the ocean. Take some clips to hang something dark from the top of the curtain though, the fact that the sunset occurs past 10pm and sunrise is early makes sunlight come in through the top. For those that do not like to carry a wrist watch and rely on their cell phones: they do not work out at sea, unless you are at port in town. Mine literally was 3 hours behind and stated that it was Nov. 8 1999, but would correct itself once we were ported into one of the towns. We missed out on a few of the activities, a lot of art auctions. They take quite a bit of pictures and post on these glass cabinets for purchasing. I recommend waiting till the day before disembarking to make your purchases, they cost 12.99 each and if you purchase too early and later see others that you like it will cost you more. Enjoy your time at Mendahall Glacier, we did the botanical gardens combo and did not get more than an hour to see the glacier. Whitepass train ride was very nice a bit long for a 2 year old but very nice.

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May 31, 2009

Inside Passage

We sailed from Seattle 23 May 2009-stayed at SeaTac La Quinta-superb location & free breakfast bar, free shuttle driver helpful & pointed us to Seattle Shuttle to Pier for boarding (14 minutes @ $12). Boarding was a nightmare, tho staff were friendly-but like being dropped onto an ant hill. Security everywhere was a huge pain-esp. carrying a CPAP machine for sleep apnea-very lengthy checks at all points. Difficult not to lose things in the shuffle-my

companion lost her glasses at last checkpoint & they were never recovered. But winning the $2900.00 bingo jackpot lessened the blow for her. Scenery became heavenly from the outset-a paradise of uncorrupted nature and quaint housing on forest-surrounded granite cliffs. Balcony was ideal for private viewing-when not too cold. Pack for Siberia-we froze in Skagway & worse in rainy Prince Rupert. Forget dressup (nobody did) and pack extra warmth-down, etc. No insects at all in this Ice Age scenario. Ketchikan 20 man canoe trip cancelled due to frozen lake- PR Rupert grizzly viewing cancelled due to guide sickness-don't believe excursion bookings until you are on them-and then some. Skagway train trip just after we finished was backed down the mtns due to a landslide (we saw 2 bears beside the tracks, another from Skeena River bus in PR). Humpbacks in Juneau's Bay thick as rabbits in a vegetable garden. Sawyer Glacier cancelled due to ice-rerouted to Dawe's Glacier in Endicott Arm-still breath taking-missed bear spotting due to noise pollution disallowing public address announcements. Skeena River boat trip was in open outboards-so we shivered beneath the awning instead of walking in the forest, etc-40s, rainy & unbelievably cold & wet-best guides in the business-Darlene and May. First Nations Darlene can do anything-from shooting a moose, to cooking salmon over the coals to healing the sick. An inspiration. Juneau bus driver a whiny vslley girl mouthing about college loans and crying when a curious bear sniffed her. Misty Fjords jet boat gorgeous, comfy and fun. Eagles everywhere. Itinerary-Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Pr Rupert, Seattle. Ate at Cagney's the first night to excape crushing crowds-surf and turf $35 extra, no better than Versailles unless you need cloying, patronizing Filpino boys hanging over everyone's shoulder. Food is just as good and is free at Versailles and Aqua. Market Buffet varies in quality-similar to Golden Corral-and ALWAYS crowded-the riffraff seem to hang out here. Endless Summer ($10 cover) not real Tex-Mex-but uncrowded. Room Service never more than a half hour wait-but choice & quality poor-worst pizza in existence. Had to beg for a room service menu-breakfast only cold stuff-but on time. Blue Lagoon okay if desperate-but few seats, crowd always passing thru, and closed from 3 to 5 am. Kudos to NCL for the Cooking Light and sugar free choices. I only gained ten pounds in the week! Excellent bathroom, plenty big enough for 265 pounder. Comfy firm bed, good balcony chairs-had to ask for coffee machine replacements. And fridge quit 2nd day (used to keep insulin cool)-3rd day they put in a new one. Could not get cpap machine to work first night until extension cord was changed from bathroom 220 volt (had read there was but one) to room's 110 volt-checked out a heavy duty extension cord from reception until steward pointed out 2nd 110 volt one. Carried earplugs for sounds adjacent-but never even unwrapped them-no problem. But you do hear everyone else's conversation on the balcony. If you lean out, you will even see them. Takes a while to orient yourselves to elevators, layout, etc- but wall maps everywhere and staff quite helpful. We received several bonus coupons for shipboard credit in our stateroom-but nobody will tell you if they will be honored-and you discover in the end-most are not-only Cagney's did. No merchandise, alcohol, etc. They were so-so-best was wry comic magician Murray-as droll as Jeff Goldblum. I have seen better college students in Improv than 2nd City on board-many routines scripted-not improv. No guts-no glory. Jean Ann Ryan dancers young and energetic-what they lacked in polish they made up for in striving. Chinese acrobats not too bad either. But cruise ships don't pay Vegas wages. Passenger talent show ranged from the very talented (Great Balls of Fire 13 yr old) to the embarassing. The hosts of Bingo were the phoniest, most patronizing pains I ever encountered-led by the Queen of Forced Cliches, Georgina. I suppose they are forced to perform these apish exaggerations, which probably originate in tropical cruises and rank with such things as the hairy legged contests and conga lines for the most offensively tasteless in humanity. But go for the scenic paradise-forget the casino-like offal. if that's what you like-go to Vegas, Laughlin, Biloxi or Atlantic city-much cheaper. It would be a travesty to go all this way and miss the countryside away from the Asian-imported tourist traps. Book a trip into the mountains, glaciers, forests, and rivers-you will be amazed. This bucolic retreat has not changed since the big bang. The prepondence of waterfalls was absolutely unbelievable-makes the Rockies and Sierras, and Alps look like Knotts' Berry Farm. Photographs simply do not do justice to this pristine paradise. Its too bad you must fly in uncomfortable sardine cans to begin the journey. And most airlines no longer feed you and all charge for checked bags. The NCL has a program (around 20 bucks) to carry your luggage from your casbin hasllway to your asirline-not a bad idea. But you must sign up by thursday noon! And all but handheld luggage must be in the hall by 2 am Fri. Deboarding was much easier than boarding. Customs was a piece of cake. It was much more beautiful than I ever imagined- and I have toured 22 countries and all but 5 states. I was absolutely astonished at the unspoiled paradise. And the people, though overwhelmed with thousands of us greenhorns from around the world- were friendly and tolerant. It was a most fitting beginning to mark off my personal bucket list.

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May 31, 2009

Inside Passage

We sailed from Seattle 23 May 2009-stayed at SeaTac La Quinta-superb location & free breakfast bar, free shuttle driver helpful & pointed us to Seattle Shuttle to Pier for boarding (14 minutes @ $12). Boarding was a nightmare, tho staff were friendly-but like being dropped onto an ant hill. Security everywhere was a huge pain-esp. carrying a CPAP machine for sleep apnea-very lengthy checks at all points. Difficult not to lose things in the shuffle-my

companion lost her glasses at last checkpoint & they were never recovered. But winning the $2900.00 bingo jackpot lessened the blow for her. Scenery became heavenly from the outset-a paradise of uncorrupted nature and quaint housing on forest-surrounded granite cliffs. Balcony was ideal for private viewing-when not too cold. Pack for Siberia-we froze in Skagway & worse in rainy Prince Rupert. Forget dressup (nobody did) and pack extra warmth-down, etc. No insects at all in this Ice Age scenario. Ketchikan 20 man canoe trip cancelled due to frozen lake- PR Rupert grizzly viewing cancelled due to guide sickness-don't believe excursion bookings until you are on them-and then some. Skagway train trip just after we finished was backed down the mtns due to a landslide (we saw 2 bears beside the tracks, another from Skeena River bus in PR). Humpbacks in Juneau's Bay thick as rabbits in a vegetable garden. Sawyer Glacier cancelled due to ice-rerouted to Dawe's Glacier in Endicott Arm-still breath taking-missed bear spotting due to noise pollution disallowing public address announcements. Skeena River boat trip was in open outboards-so we shivered beneath the awning instead of walking in the forest, etc-40s, rainy & unbelievably cold & wet-best guides in the business-Darlene and May. First Nations Darlene can do anything-from shooting a moose, to cooking salmon over the coals to healing the sick. An inspiration. Juneau bus driver a whiny vslley girl mouthing about college loans and crying when a curious bear sniffed her. Misty Fjords jet boat gorgeous, comfy and fun. Eagles everywhere. Itinerary-Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Pr Rupert, Seattle. Ate at Cagney's the first night to excape crushing crowds-surf and turf $35 extra, no better than Versailles unless you need cloying, patronizing Filpino boys hanging over everyone's shoulder. Food is just as good and is free at Versailles and Aqua. Market Buffet varies in quality-similar to Golden Corral-and ALWAYS crowded-the riffraff seem to hang out here. Endless Summer ($10 cover) not real Tex-Mex-but uncrowded. Room Service never more than a half hour wait-but choice & quality poor-worst pizza in existence. Had to beg for a room service menu-breakfast only cold stuff-but on time. Blue Lagoon okay if desperate-but few seats, crowd always passing thru, and closed from 3 to 5 am. Kudos to NCL for the Cooking Light and sugar free choices. I only gained ten pounds in the week! Excellent bathroom, plenty big enough for 265 pounder. Comfy firm bed, good balcony chairs-had to ask for coffee machine replacements. And fridge quit 2nd day (used to keep insulin cool)-3rd day they put in a new one. Could not get cpap machine to work first night until extension cord was changed from bathroom 220 volt (had read there was but one) to room's 110 volt-checked out a heavy duty extension cord from reception until steward pointed out 2nd 110 volt one. Carried earplugs for sounds adjacent-but never even unwrapped them-no problem. But you do hear everyone else's conversation on the balcony. If you lean out, you will even see them. Takes a while to orient yourselves to elevators, layout, etc- but wall maps everywhere and staff quite helpful. We received several bonus coupons for shipboard credit in our stateroom-but nobody will tell you if they will be honored-and you discover in the end-most are not-only Cagney's did. No merchandise, alcohol, etc. They were so-so-best was wry comic magician Murray-as droll as Jeff Goldblum. I have seen better college students in Improv than 2nd City on board-many routines scripted-not improv. No guts-no glory. Jean Ann Ryan dancers young and energetic-what they lacked in polish they made up for in striving. Chinese acrobats not too bad either. But cruise ships don't pay Vegas wages. Passenger talent show ranged from the very talented (Great Balls of Fire 13 yr old) to the embarassing. The hosts of Bingo were the phoniest, most patronizing pains I ever encountered-led by the Queen of Forced Cliches, Georgina. I suppose they are forced to perform these apish exaggerations, which probably originate in tropical cruises and rank with such things as the hairy legged contests and conga lines for the most offensively tasteless in humanity. But go for the scenic paradise-forget the casino-like offal. if that's what you like-go to Vegas, Laughlin, Biloxi or Atlantic city-much cheaper. It would be a travesty to go all this way and miss the countryside away from the Asian-imported tourist traps. Book a trip into the mountains, glaciers, forests, and rivers-you will be amazed. This bucolic retreat has not changed since the big bang. The prepondence of waterfalls was absolutely unbelievable-makes the Rockies and Sierras, and Alps look like Knotts' Berry Farm. Photographs simply do not do justice to this pristine paradise. Its too bad you must fly in uncomfortable sardine cans to begin the journey. And most airlines no longer feed you and all charge for checked bags. The NCL has a program (around 20 bucks) to carry your luggage from your casbin hasllway to your asirline-not a bad idea. But you must sign up by thursday noon! And all but handheld luggage must be in the hall by 2 am Fri. Deboarding was much easier than boarding. Customs was a piece of cake. It was much more beautiful than I ever imagined- and I have toured 22 countries and all but 5 states. I was absolutely astonished at the unspoiled paradise. And the people, though overwhelmed with thousands of us greenhorns from around the world- were friendly and tolerant. It was a most fitting beginning to mark off my personal bucket list.

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May 16, 2009

Alaska

The overall cruise experience was disappointing. We made the best of it focusing on the beauty of the area and the excursions. On board felt like one big hard sell to buy their jewelry... advertisements lined the hallways, constant announcements pitched the great shopping deals, and color brochures were left at your door twice a day. In addition, Ian, the shopping consultant, had his very own channel on TV and also gave live seminars about where

buy the "quality" gemstones in port. I was told by the locals in various ports that most of the jewelery stores in town, and there were a lot of them, were owned by the cruise companies. This ruined the ambiance of the small towns... it felt like you were in Disney World. I've had better food in a hospital. Really mediocre at best. Let's put it this way... I lost weight on this cruise, need I say more. The room scored points... well laid out with lots of storage and hooks to hang jackets etc. The only other cruise I have been on was Carnival and I thought NCL did a better job with the rooms. The bed was very comfortable and the variety of pillows was great. Saw the magician, the comedian, and went to their version of Family Feud... all pretty weak. I did like the variety of independent activities such as ping pong, driving range, shuffle board and the game room. I heard good things about the spa from a couple friends but I personally did not go. We did a great 2 person zodiac tour in Ketchikan, loved it... family run business, wonderful people, we had a great time. Also, we did a Coastal Eco Kayak excursion in Prince Rupert, which was really great too... again tour operators were good down-to-earth people. We also took the train ride in Skagway, bought the ticket at the train station, it was a beautiful ride. We booked all our excursions off the boat and direct through the companies when possible. Even if you choose to book through the ship I would recommend waiting until the day of because the weather in Alaska can be unpredictable, and you can't get your money back through the ship. The people at the excursion desk had almost no knowledge about the tours they were selling. We arrived at Prince Rupert and it was very windy and we wanted to the know if the kayaking excursion was in a sheltered area before we booked... they had no idea where it was... we had to track down someone from the tour company to get the answer... no help from the excursion desk at all. The other real complaint I had was that they charge you $12 per day per person which is supposedly a gratuity. My problem with that is it's charged after the fact. If it's a known factor include it upfront where everyone is aware of it. There were also other built in gratuities for drink orders. I'm good tipper but really it's not a tip if it's mandatory, it's just part of the price. I do think the people on board deserve it. Service was great most of the time.

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Apr 23, 2009

Mexican Riviera

We were on this cruise with 23 family members to celebrate my parents 50th anniversary. We had a great time, and everyone on the ship was extremely helpful. We had been on the Star last year in Alaska, but because it was so cold, we really couldn't enjoy the ship. However, this time we really appreciated the outdoor spaces, as well as all the restaurants and entertainment. A special thanks to John O'Hara and his staff, especially Simone, Roshan, and

all the staff at Cagney's for making this the best trip yet. The food was awesome, better than last time. Our only disappointment was that we didn't think the chocolate buffet was quite as good this time, but we enjoyed all the activities, and having the room the last night to celebrate was great. We coudn't have asked for a better time - can't wait to go again!

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Apr 10, 2009

LA Mexico run

This was our second trip with NCL and I will go over the + points first. I thought the food was great. We hit all the main dining areas and the pay resturants as well. The French resturant and the steak house were awesome, the food was fantastic and the service was spot on. In both places I left cash tips with both servers I was so impressed. The Market Garden Buffet was always great and they even had a seperate kids buffet area that our son eat

at every day. The Kids club for his age group was great as well. One of the reasons we went with NCL again was because of this program. The girls who work in that department love the kids and have fun with them all week long. This ship also has a great set up for the kids who like the water. There is a kids pool/ water slide area on the back of the ship that they all love. There is also a larger water slide area at the main pool that our 4 year old just loved. Great ship to take the family on. On our cruise there were 800 kids under the age of 18 so if your not into that scene you might want to pick a different ship. Granted is was spring break but it is a kid friendly ship. Now the bad points. I really hate that fact that this cruise line and others charge for non alcohol drinks. Orange juice and milk are served all day for free in the buffet area, but you want to charge me $2 for a diet coke. It just seems a little much and I spent a lot of time filling out and signing receipt just to get a drink. I would much rather pay a couple hundred more for the cruise and not have to deal with this. I don't think our room was that clean, the mirrors were dirty when we got there on the first day and stayed that way the whole trip. There was some other unknown substance on the walls in the bathroom and was plain to see but just never got taken care of during the week, just dirty. The carpets and the balcony area of the room was worn and needs to be replaced. The ship needs to be revamped. We went on the casino plan since we are gamblers, we got a break on the room since our level of play was high on the previous trip. After two cruises I have to say the casino is TIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don't go and exspect the level of winning that you might see in Vegas or other places. One nice thing is we got all of our drinks in the Casino comped through this program. I talked to a lot of other folks who were there on the same program and everyone said the same thing, TIGHT. Be very careful about what shore excursions you take. The providers are giving up 40 to 50% to NCL when the trips are booked through the ship. To make up for this the providers are packing in as many people as they can on these trips. I spent $250 for three of us to go on a Pirate ship cruise and the trip sucked becasue they put 240 people on this ship for the day and you couldn't move around. I got this information by talking the guys on the ship when I asked why it was so packed. Well, that's my story. If you want to go with the family and not gamble and you don't mind an older ship then go for it. Hope this helped. NCL if you want to refund my money on the shore excursion and fix the problem with the TIGHT casino I might travel with you again.

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Apr 10, 2009

LA Mexico run

This was our second trip with NCL and I will go over the + points first. I thought the food was great. We hit all the main dining areas and the pay resturants as well. The French resturant and the steak house were awesome, the food was fantastic and the service was spot on. In both places I left cash tips with both servers I was so impressed. The Market Garden Buffet was always great and they even had a seperate kids buffet area that our son eat

at every day. The Kids club for his age group was great as well. One of the reasons we went with NCL again was because of this program. The girls who work in that department love the kids and have fun with them all week long. This ship also has a great set up for the kids who like the water. There is a kids pool/ water slide area on the back of the ship that they all love. There is also a larger water slide area at the main pool that our 4 year old just loved. Great ship to take the family on. On our cruise there were 800 kids under the age of 18 so if your not into that scene you might want to pick a different ship. Granted is was spring break but it is a kid friendly ship. Now the bad points. I really hate that fact that this cruise line and others charge for non alcohol drinks. Orange juice and milk are served all day for free in the buffet area, but you want to charge me $2 for a diet coke. It just seems a little much and I spent a lot of time filling out and signing receipt just to get a drink. I would much rather pay a couple hundred more for the cruise and not have to deal with this. I don't think our room was that clean, the mirrors were dirty when we got there on the first day and stayed that way the whole trip. There was some other unknown substance on the walls in the bathroom and was plain to see but just never got taken care of during the week, just dirty. The carpets and the balcony area of the room was worn and needs to be replaced. The ship needs to be revamped. We went on the casino plan since we are gamblers, we got a break on the room since our level of play was high on the previous trip. After two cruises I have to say the casino is TIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don't go and exspect the level of winning that you might see in Vegas or other places. One nice thing is we got all of our drinks in the Casino comped through this program. I talked to a lot of other folks who were there on the same program and everyone said the same thing, TIGHT. Be very careful about what shore excursions you take. The providers are giving up 40 to 50% to NCL when the trips are booked through the ship. To make up for this the providers are packing in as many people as they can on these trips. I spent $250 for three of us to go on a Pirate ship cruise and the trip sucked becasue they put 240 people on this ship for the day and you couldn't move around. I got this information by talking the guys on the ship when I asked why it was so packed. Well, that's my story. If you want to go with the family and not gamble and you don't mind an older ship then go for it. Hope this helped. NCL if you want to refund my money on the shore excursion and fix the problem with the TIGHT casino I might travel with you again.

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Apr 8, 2009

Mexican Riviera

This ship's layout was not very open. Around the ship, there are high plexi glass walls that don't let you look over the ship. Inside the ship, there are no restaruants or sitting areas to view the ocean, unless you pay extra to go the speciality restaurants. I have cruised on six other ships and this one was by far the worst. I really didn't like that there was nowhere to go. The activities on the ship were minimal. I never saw the cruise director,

only the assistant. I was very disappointed with the food, as it was the same thing over and over every day. There was never anything new. I definitely will not cruise NCL again. Royal and Carnival are very good and cater to everyone and are more interesting. Always the same thing over and over every day. Stateroom was normal. Good thing was shower door. Very minimal and not interesting. Excursions were fine. For price, this is good, but don't expect a regular cruise as other ships. This one is cheap and it shows with activities, food, and ship.

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Apr 6, 2009

Mexican Riviera

We went to Mexico with extended family that aged from 8 to 83. We have all cruised before and went on this cruise to relax - and we had plenty of time to do that! There were activities going all the time - we all got to do some fun things on board. We were surprised that they allowed our 19 year old to drink and gamble on board. She really enjoyed that privledge. We found the freestyle dining awful. We often wait an hour for a table. One

night 6 of us went to dinner and they tried to give us a table for 4 with 2 extra chairs shoved in (after waiting for 45 minutes) - didn't work for us. The staff never smiled. The food on a whole was very average. The buffet was very average (Not as high quality as Home Town Buffet, even) and was exactly the same every day. We didn't starve! On lobster night, we asked for double lobster and were given very rude looks by the waiter. They said that they didn't change the menu like that and brought us 2 full plates (after waiting for the second one!) They didn't like to make dietary changes... Rooms were very nice (we had mini-suites) and were kept clean and neat. The mini-suite had a tub and my mother could not climb in to it to take a shower. She had to use the shower down by the pool because they wanted to charge her extra to use a shower in the Spa. YES, the spa and indoor pool cost an extra fee. There were lots of kids on the ship. The teen that was traveling with us went to the teen center sevven or eight different times and found it totally empty, so she can not share any thoughts with you. The 9 year old in our group said that the activites when he went to his group were very babyish (rolling a ball around a circle or coloring). He had no interest in that. This did allow us all more family time. The ports were nice. We booked shore trips and they all lived up to our expectations. We know that we could have made the same connections on the dock for half the price, but we prefer to pre-plan. I would never go on NCL again - mainly because of the free style dining, but also because they nickle and dime you to death on this line. Making us pay to use the indoor pool was like a slap in the wallet! Too many of the restaurants were extra fees. The kids clubs did not offer anything that the kids could not have done at home in front of the tv. Next cruise that I take will be back on Carnival, Princess or Royal Carribean - it may cost 50 dollars more but we will get smiles, kid activities and a familiar place to eat dinner every night.

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Mar 23, 2009

Mexican Riviera

I do not like free-style cruising. The lines to eat were very long and the food was terrible. I pre-purchased a "soda card" for each person in our family, but found out that it made me a 2nd class citizen because I was not paying each time for a drink, so the bartenders didn't want to wait on me!!! I was only given watered down, terrible tasting soda while everyone else was given a soft drink from a can. I was only given small glasses! Even if

a soft drink was available in a can, the waiter would leave his post to go get me a watered down fountain drink!!!!! The lines to get off the boat were long and unorganized. To carry your own luggage off the ship only saved the crew some work and made a difficult morning for the passengers. The food was terrible! I ate in the Versailles restaurant twice and finally had to go to the "pay" restaurants for the rest of my dinners. I got the impression that since the waiters knew they were getting an automatic gratuity, they did not need to provide great service. Only the waiters in the "pay" restaurants did a good job. Since I already paid $2000 for the cruise, I should not have had to pay $10 - $25 per plate in order to get an adequate meal. My state room was very nice and spacious, but the walls were thin. The boat creaked all the time and I could hear the restaurant above our room. We did the whale watch in Cabo and the Dolphin Adventure in Puerto Villarta. Both were very nice. I would never sail on NCL again!!!

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Nov 5, 2008

Mexican riverea

All my cruises have been on RCCL, NCL and Carnival. In comparison, this cruise ranks near the bottom, if not the very bottom. Lots of problems. They seem to be a cutting back in the area of food quality and choice. I don't know if this is a trend in the industry to cut costs, or if just this ship or all of NCL is going down hill. This was actually the second time I cruised on this particular ship, and I don't remember there being any food issues

on that cruise. I cruised NCL on another ship nearly 6 yrs ago and the food was great. It's the first time I've been on a ship when fillet minon was not served on any of 7 nights. The one night they had prime rib, it was a very thin slice. Buffet selections were not up to par with other cruises either. I didn't have a problem with the breakfasts. I cruised on RCCL in January of this year and the food was great. I have never had a problem with food on RCCL or carnival in past cruises. (Could they be going down hill too)? We had a number of problems with the safe. It kept deciding not to work. We had to call for help at least 4 times. Our room card keys kept malfunctioning. We had to have them reset 4 times. Other than those problems I slept fine. Although, the soap dispenser in the shower ran out of soap about half way thru the cruise and never got refilled. The onboard activities that I attended were very poorly organized. I participated in pin pong, shuffle board and dodge ball. In each case the activity staff person did not know the rules, and wasn't sure what to do. I guess free style means you make up your own rules and do what you want. That seemed to be their attitude. The theater was closed for nearly three days for refurbishing. We didn't do any of the ships excursions. We always find we can do the same excursion for at least half the price by the locals. Para sailing in Cabo was really great and very safe (going off the back of a boat, not from the beach). A local company took us out for about $35 each. I think free style dinning has some merit based on your circumstances. I am just disappointed in this particular cruise and hope it is not a trend in the industry. If it is the need to cut costs that was reflected in this cruise, then I guess I it could be a sign of the times. Unfortunately, because of this cruise, I will be avoiding NCL cruises in the future.

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Aug 19, 2008

Alaska Inside Passage

Tom Ogg CruiseReviews at AOL.com (format like an orthodox e-mail address) 22nd, 2004 The Setup I was the group leader and seminar facilitator for a group of 36 travel professionals onboard the Norwegian Star for a 7-day Alaska Inside Passage cruise from Seattle. It was my second cruise on the Norwegian Star and I was looking forward to seeing the changes that were made in her recent dry dock refurbishment.

I was also keen to see what (if any) changes in the level of service had occurred since NCL had levied the "mandatory gratuity" policy earlier this year. Summary in Advance I really liked freestyle dining on the Norwegian Star. A group of us ate in a different alternative restaurant every night and had a great dining experience (with one exception). The service level on the Star was superior to what I experienced on my first cruise on her and the ship has made several changes for the better. I can't say that other folks that I spoke with were as pleased with their dining experience, but then they did not take advantage of the alternative restaurants either. All in all, I think this ship is an excellent choice for folks that want to have a varied dining experience, coupled with a great Alaska cruise itinerary leaving from Seattle. The Ship Norwegian Star The cabin Our group was in both inside and outside cabins on various decks. I was in an inside cabin (cabin 11023) on deck 11, well situated for easy access to the pool area and Market Cafe. The inside cabin offered ample size and featured a modern décor offering wood and mirrors along with the textured wall coverings. The cabin offers an entertainment center with a TV. (many channels and music) and a telephone along with some shelving, a table and chair one could use for work. (However, there is only one 110v outlet at this location, so if you intend to do some work on the cruise, bring a multi outlet extension cord) Across from the entertainment center is a small sofa and coffee table. Again there is enough sitting room so that you can actually get around the cabin without having to squeeze through and around the furniture. I had two twin beds in my cabin, but I am sure they could be combined to make one larger bed. I found the bedding too hard for my taste, but didn’t have much trouble sleeping. The pillows are quite full, so if you like a slimmer pillow to sleep with then I would bring one along. There are two nightlights that work well for reading but oddly, no control for the cabin lighting by the bed. The cabin also offers a small refrigerator to house drinks, fruit or whatever, and a couple of shelves above the unit and three large drawers below it. Between this and the entrance door is a large closet with a stack of shelves. Finally, there are a couple more shelves right above the safe that is located behind a small door that swings open to expose it. There is plenty of storage space for clothing for two people. The bathroom is awesome! First, the shower is large and has a solid glass sliding door that completely encloses the shower area for a relaxing spacious shower without the proverbial shower curtain clinging to your body. The hot/cold water controls work excellent and once you have found the right temperature you simply use the on/off control to take a shower. There is a large mirror and sink, again large enough to actually use. The faucet is large and delivers a robust flow of water upon command. I didn't find the inside cabin a negative on this cruise, as I was able to take a quick nap at any time I wanted. By simply shutting the door, I could make the cabin pitch black regardless of the presence of sunshine outside. The Restaurants Freestyle Cruising is all about the choices one can make about their vacation. The dining opportunities on the Star are one of her major attractions, so here are the various dining opportunities. I have listed them in the order I would prefer them should I take the Norwegian Star again, but that doesn’t mean your tastes would be anything similar to mine. One of the main reasons to take the Norwegian Star (in my opinion) would be to enjoy the variety of interesting restaurants that are available as alternate dining options. If you like to try different restaurants at home, you will love the Norwegian Star. The SoHo Room The SoHo Room, deck 6, mid ship Boy, did I like this restaurant. I could have eaten here every night and been completely happy with the cruise. The SoHo Room offers an Asian Fusion / Pacific Rim menu with treats like Coriander, Garlic and Ginger Roasted Medallion of Monkfish (my favorite fish) or try Sizzling Szechwan Encrusted Beef Tenderloin Steak that is served on a sizzling platter where the sauce is added at the table. The food here is excellent and the presentation superb. We actually dined here twice and had wonderful meals both times. The restaurant was never crowded. On the first evening, I ordered lobster (a total of $20 service fee) and was disappointed in the quantity and quality of the lobster, however the balance of the dinner made up for it. The second evening I ordered a tiger prawn dish that was to die for. I had the Ahi Tune Tartare with Two Caviars and the shrimp dish. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Definitely try the SoHo Room if you like Pacific Rim cuisine. There is a $15.00 cover charge to dine at the SoHo Room and there are also ala carte items on the menu that may be purchased for an additional amount. Le Bistro Le Bistro, deck 6, mid ship NCL’s signature alternative restaurant for years, the Norwegian Star has elevated Le Bistro to a new height. The restaurant is large and beautiful with recessed ceilings, elaborate crown molding, exquisite wall coverings and sumptuous surroundings. The Star offers Le Bistro’s established menu of appetizers, soups and salads, entrees and fabulous desserts. One of the main treats at Le Bistro is the delivery of the entrée. Depending on how many are at your table, your waiter will deliver your entrée shrouded by a silver cover. Once everyone has their entrée, the covers are removed all at once, so everyone can enjoy the presentation of the entrees. Le Bistro is known for its French cuisine, mixed on-the-spot salads (Caesar is the best, in my opinion) gourmet entrees, and elaborate flambé desserts. We shared the chocolate fondue for dessert (I only ate the fruit, I promise.) There is a $15.00 per person gratuity collected at Le Bistro, and it is well worth it. The Ginza Restaurant, deck 7, mid ship The Ginza Restaurant actually offers three separate dining venues, all of which feature Thai/Japanese/Chinese fusion cuisine, that is excellent. We made excellent use of the Ginza Restaurant by not only enjoying it in the evening, but also on sea days when sushi and dim sum are offered for lunch. The Ginza Restaurant The Ginza Restaurant, deck 7, mid ship This is the main restaurant of the trio and it is awesome. Servers dress in the native garb of the theme for the restaurant and give you a feeling of authenticity. The restaurant is designed as a lavish Japanese restaurant would in Tokyo and is every bit as genuine. Two entrees make up the dinner so that you can combine flavors to suit your desires. Dishes of pork, chicken, steak, fish, shrimp, scallops and lobster are offered. All entrees are served with a green salad, a seaweed delicacy, Miso soup and Teppanyaki vegetables. The sushi, dim sum, sukiyaki and other items are excellent. There is a $12.50 cover charge to dine at the Ginza Restaurant and it is well worth it. There are also some ala carte items on the menu, as well if one so elects, that carry an additional fee. Dining in the Teppanyaki Room The Teppanyaki Room, deck 7, mid ship This venue only holds up to 12 people at a time and I encourage you to make a reservation at your earliest convenience, as it is very popular. The Teppanyaki Room offers twelve seats around a central grill (actually two grills) where the master chef and his assistant prepare culinary Asian delights for the lucky folks dining there. His assistant keeps things going and a session in the Teppanyaki Room lasts an hour and a half, or so and everyone leaves content and raving about the experience. Again, there is a $12.50 service fee to dine in the Teppanyaki Room (worth $30.00, if not more.) Cagney's Steakhouse Cagney's Steakhouse, deck 13, mid ship This was actually everyone's favorite restaurant, but on a bet, I ordered a steak (I rarely eat any red meat) and didn't care for it at all. Cagney's Steakhouse replaced the old Tapas Bar on the Norwegian Star. The restaurant is elegant and the service superb. Those that ordered the fish and lobster raved about it and steak eaters loved their steaks. It was just my own stupidity of ordering a steak that took away from my personal dining experience. Give it a try and I think you will love it. The is a cover charge of $20.00 per person to dine in Cagney's with many ala carte items on the menu that will cost a bit more. I heard that the lobster was to die for and next time I will order that instead. The Sushi Bar at the Ginza Restaurant The Ginza Sushi Bar Like fresh sushi? All you can eat for a $10.00 cover charge. I don’t know about you, but I love sushi and can eat a lot. While we didn't take advantage of the all-you-can-eat sushi for $12.50, those that did, enjoyed it. You sit at the counter and a conveyer belt brings by fresh sushi offerings that are made eight there in front of you. Simply pick the sushi you want and enjoy as much as you want. The Versailles Restaurant The Versailles, deck 7, aft This is one of two main restaurants that do not require reservations, nor does it require any sort of additional gratuity. We dined here on a formal night to enjoy the lobster. After being spoiled in the alternative restaurants, we were under-whelmed. The room was cold, the service was only so-so and overall, while an acceptable cruise dining experience, it was the only time we broke away from the specialty restaurants. The Aft Windows in the Versailles Restaurant The Versailles windows were simply gorgeous. They looked out the aft off the ship and made one feel as if they were in a very luxurious restaurant. The Endless Summer Restaurant The Endless Summer, deck 8, mid ship Once the home of traditional Hawaiian cuisine while the Star was based in Hawaii, the Endless Summer Restaurant now serves up good ol' Tex-Mex cuisine. Not being a Tex-Mex fan, I never ate at this restaurant, but those that did liked it. I never heard any raves, so I suspect that it is just OK. There is no service fee, but reservations are required. La Trattoria Restaurant La Trattoria Restaurant, deck 12, mid ship La Trattoria is NCL’s signature Italian restaurant and it is in high demand on the Norwegian Star. The restaurant is actually part of the Market Café during the daytime and then is set up as La Trattoria in the evening time. Entrees such as “Shrimp in Garlic and Olive Oil on Linguini noodles, cherry tomatoes,” “Pave of Atlantic Salmon with Garlic Olive Oil Masked Potatoes an Tarragon Herb Salad” and “Veal Scaloppini with Sage and Prosciutto, Spinach Fettuccini and Marsala Veal Jus” made everyone who dined at La Trattoria satisfied and wanting more. Reservations were required but no extra gratuity was. The Aqua Restaurant Aqua Restaurant, deck 6, mid ship I didn’t personally experience the Aqua Restaurant, as its menu is the same as the Versailles Restaurant and I wanted to try all of the alternative dining venues (or as many as I could). The setting in the Aqua Restaurant is delightful (as you can see) and those that dined there found the service and cuisine to be of the same standard as the Versailles Restaurant. No reservations or gratuities are required. The Market Cafe Market Café, deck 12, aft This is the Star’s main buffet but don’t confuse it with the typical ship buffet. For breakfast a typical buffet is offered with breakfast meats, eggs, fruit, cheeses, breads and other treats. An omelet station makes omelets to order and a waffle station will make waffle to order as breakfast moves into lunch the fare changes. Market Cafe Fresh Cut Fruit There is a fruit station with a selection of fresh cut fruit to enjoy. It was a wonderful treat. In addition to the specialty buffet offered daily, there is a more traditional buffet offering the wide variety of foods you would expect to find in a luncheon buffet on a ship. The Market Café offers six separate buffet lines and I never saw a crowd that was a deterrent to dining there. It is a great place for breakfast and a quick lunch. A themed buffet dinner is offered each evening and was very popular with families. Sandwiches and late snacks are served, as well. It seems there is always something going on somewhere in the Market Cafe. The Blue Lagoon Restaurant The Blue Lagoon, deck 7, aft Open 24 hours a day, the Blue Lagoon offers hamburgers, hot dogs, fish and chips, a couple of stir fried dishes, potato skins, chicken wings and so on. There are always cookies and fruit to munch on. This is a great spot for kids during the day or evening or for that late night snack before you go to bed. The Grill The Grill, deck 12, mid ship Here is the main poolside-dining venue. Lunch time saw the buffet quickly become salads, and other treats while the main buffet changed over to hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad and the like. Planning Your Dining Experience The best way to maximize your dining experience on the Star, is to have a plan in place from the very first day. While waiting until the last minute to decide where to dine may work out for you, it will require that you wait to obtain a table and possibly delay your ability to attend the entertainment venue of your choice. Based upon the information about the restaurants that appears above, simply plan out your week’s dining plans and make reservations when and where you would like to dine in advance. You can always change it once you are on the ship and visit the various dining venues and explore their menus. The Entertainment and Lounge Venues Entrance to the Stardust Theater The Stardust Lounge, Decks 6 and 7, Forward Wow! What a great entrance to the Stardust Lounge! Here is a huge two-story showroom with all the stage effects that you would see in Las Vegas. The Stardust Theater While I didn’t get to any of the main shows (to busy enjoying the restaurants) those that did said they were excellent. NCL is known for their excellent productions by the Jean Anne Ryan Company and the productions on the Star were even better yet. The Spinnaker Lounge During an Art Auction The Spinnaker Lounge deck 12, forward The Spinnaker Lounge serves as the observatory for the Star as it is located all the way forward on deck 12 and offers a commanding view of the horizon. It is large and offers seating for hundreds and was very popular while the ship was in Glacier Bay. It is a beautiful room to relax in and offers contemporary music for dancing and relaxing in the evening time. This also serves as the Star's main dance venue later in the evening. Karaoke Circus Karaoke Circus, deck 7, mid ship If you like karaoke you will love this spot. Here is a bar dedicated to karaoke and folks are becoming stars every evening. A very popular spot on karaoke night be sure to get here early to gain good seats. Karaoke Circus also becomes the ship's late night disco for the younger set. The Norwegian Star's New Casino Just added in dry dock is the Star's brand new casino. Formerly Dazzles Disco, the casino is a large and well appointed full service casino. Always busy, it was a hit with everyone that gambled. Miscellaneous Public Areas The Pool Area, deck 12, mid ship The pool area on the Star was fine for Alaska, but seemed to be too small for sun oriented venues. A group of us spent the 2-hour Glacier Bay viewing opportunity in one of the Jacuzzis and had a wonderful time. There are a number of areas to enjoy the sunshine around the pool and forward of the pool, as well. The Internet Cafe The Internet Café With a dozen computers hooked up to the Internet with fast connections I never had to wait for a terminal. However, it is expensive. The best deal I got was a package of 250 minutes for $100.00, or $.40 per minute. (HINT: Use the Internet Café during the cocktail hour as a group plays music in the Java Café and it is very relaxing to enjoy it while online.) The Kid's Pool Area The Kid’s Area and Pool, deck 12, aft This is a wonderful kids area that is made up of the Video Zone and the kid’s pool area. The Video Zone is quite large for a cruise ship and has several top quality video games that were heavily used during this cruise. The feature that I was impressed with was the extensive children’s pool area. It offered several small pools that kids could jump in and out of, two small slides perfect for little tykes, a couple of Jacuzzis just for kids (great idea a it keeps them out of the adult’s Jacuzzis) and several nooks, crannies and kid things to play with. Any youngster would be able to amuse themselves here for days. The Kid's Club The video Zone was another hit with the kids and was located right off the pool area/ It featured a good number of full scale video games that seemed to keep the kids busy all day. The kids club was also a hit with the younger set. The Grand Atrium The Registration Desk and Atrium, several decks This is the hub of the Norwegian Star where the registration desk and shore excursion desk are located. The Atrium itself is breathtaking and is the center of the ship's activities. Several decks are open to the Atrium and it is breathtaking from some of the lookouts in the elevator banks. The Galleria Shops The Galleria Shops, deck 7, aft The Norwegian Star offered a good number of shops and actually had them organized like a department store. One can find just about anything they are looking for in the Galleria Shops and they are set up for shoppers to enjoy (much like Nordstrom) The Photo Gallery The Photo Gallery, deck 7, forward This is quite an active photo team and there are lots of pictures to look at. The best advice is to wait until later in the cruise to buy, if you want to control your photo budget. The Barong Spa and Beauty Center The Barong Spa and Beauty Center, deck 11, aft The Norwegian Star offers a huge Spa and Beauty Center and all of the services that go along with it. While I didn’t visit the spa many in our group did and said they loved it. There is also a lap pool and Jacuzzi one can use in the spa as well. The Barong Juice Bar Adjoining the Spa was the Barong juice bar that served fresh juices and smoothies. The Norwegian Star's Library The Theater, Meeting Rooms, Library and Chapel, deck 12, forward The Star's library is wonderful and also quite large. it sits right behind the cinema. The Star offers a full sized cinema that features recently released full length moves during the entire day. On the port side of the cinema reside the Star's conference center with several breakout meeting rooms. A card room and game room reside on the starboard side of the cinema and offer a wonderful place to relax with a deck of cards. Forward of the conference center is the Star's chapel. This is used for small weddings and other ceremonies. The Fitness Center The Fitness Center, deck 12, aft NCL has done an excellent job on the fitness center and there is everything one needs to get a very satisfactory workout here. However I found it crowded much of the time with many folks who didn't seem to understand the equipment or the etiquette. I found that by going to the fitness center early in the morning I could enjoy the facility without interruption. Various Bars and Lounges, various decks The Norwegian Star offers additional bars and lounges that are available for your enjoyment throughout the ship. While the main entertainment venues are discussed above following are some of the more notable bars and lounges to choose from. The Wine Cellar The Wine Cellar, deck 6, mid ship Here is a small and intimate little bar (seats about 10) where one can enjoy a glass of fine wine. It adjoins Le Bistro and makes a great place to start an evening dinner. The Red Lion Pub The Red Lion Pub, deck 7, aft This is an authentic English pub that serves excellent fish and chips to those that want it. It is a great place to enjoy some ale or other English beverage. Never crowded, some of the folks in our group chose to spend their early evenings here every night. The Java Cafe Java Café, deck 7, mid ship Want a cappuccino, latte or other exotic coffee drink? This is the place to meet for coffee and a roll or to simply just relax and watch the movement of the passengers on the ship as they wandered past. Full beverage service is also available in the Java Cafe. Gatsby's Champagne Bar Gatsby’s Champagne Bar, deck 6, mid ship Here is the Gatsby’s Champagne Bar everyone has come to know and love. We met here on the evenings we dine at the SoHo Restaurant for cocktails and it offers a wonderfully intimate place to gather before dinner and enjoy a wonderful glass of champagne or wine (they served mixed drinks as well.) With bar stools and tables, Gatsby’s is a great place for solo travelers to relax. The Martini Bar The Martini Bar, deck 7, mid ship This little bar is tucked around the corner from the rear of the Karaoke Circus and features great martinis. It is a great place to hide out and relax. The New Star Bar The Star Bar, deck 13, mid ship This is a great bar for simply relaxing. In the evening it offers soothing music (piano) and a pleasant place to simply watch the ocean go by while enjoying a glass of wine or your favorite beverage. It is also a good place to meet friends for conversation, as the music is never too loud and invasive. The Star Bar is open during the day and is a relaxing place to get away from it all, if that is what you are seeking. The port side of the old Star Bar is now a part of Cagney's Steakhouse making the Star Bar a much more intimate experience The Bier Garden The Bier Garden, deck 14, mid ship High up above the pool is the bier garden serving beer and other beverages to those hanging on the bar stools and tables on top of the ship. One afternoon, I lounged in the sun behind the Bier Gardens and enjoyed the quick service. This is a great alternate place to sit in the sun if the pool area is too crowded. The Cruise Sunday, August 22nd, 2004; Seattle, Washington I flew on Alaska Airlines non-stop from San Diego to Seattle and then grabbed a taxi to the cruise terminal. The taxi fare was around $30 and it was certainly the easiest way to get there. I had taken a Grayline shuttle to one of the hotels and then a taxi to the terminal on previous cruises from Seattle, and while I saved a couple bucks, just taking the taxi was painless. I arrived at the terminal around noon and was in my cabin setting up my computer by 12:30. After confirming the group's details with Colleen Von der Borch, the Norwegian Star's group Services coordinator, I enjoyed lunch in the Market Cafe and then returned to my cabin to print and deliver the group's "welcome aboard" flyers. Colleen and her assistant were two of the most effective employees I have had the pleasure of meeting, as they made my job as the group escort absolutely painless. I spent the afternoon unpacking and doing some work in preparation for our group's welcome aboard cocktail party that was to be held in the New York and London Conference rooms. I arrived well in advance of the cocktail party to find everything perfect. The group members started arriving and I was pleased to meet such a quality bunch of travel professionals. We made the decision to experience the Norwegian Star's Freestyle dining experience and forego dining as a group for the entire cruise. Following the cocktail party, a small group of us decided to see if we could crash into the SoHo Restaurant without reservations. We were fortunate to find the restaurant almost vacant and were seated immediately. We had a wonderful dining experience that lingered late into the evening; we were the last people out of the restaurant. Of special note was the fact that while we were enjoying our conversation, at no time did the staff of the restaurant even hint at the fact we were holding them up. I was very impressed with the quality of service and respect that was shown our group and made a mental note to mention it in the review. The food overall was excellent. The only disappointment was the lobster that I had ordered. It was a small serving and had obviously been frozen. Everyone else's dinner was fabulous. Enjoying the menu, I could have dined in this restaurant for the entire cruise and been happy. We had missed the entertainment for the evening and I decided to call it a night and went to bed completely satisfied. Monday, August 23rd, 2004; Cruising the Inside Passage I was up early, took a quick breakfast in the Market Cafe and headed to the Aqua Restaurant, which was the site of our first seminar. Colleen had taken care of everything and we had coffee, juice, danish and other treats waiting for the group as the began to show for the seminar. The three hours went by quickly and before I knew it, the seminar was over. Again, I was impressed with the quality of travel professionals in this particular group. Immediately after the seminar we made our way to the Ginza Restaurant to take part in the Dim Sum and Sushi luncheon being served. We chose the ala carte menu for dim sum and began ordering. It was a wonderful meal. We even enjoyed a bottle of wine with lunch. We made a pact to come back every time they put this treat on. Since I had cruise the inside passage, I don't know how many times, I took the opportunity to burrow into my cabin and attack the large amount of work that I had brought with me. I emerged in time to meet with our group for a no-host cocktail party and then on to the Le Bistro Restaurant. Since it was an optional formal night, we all dressed and enjoyed a wonderful meal at Le Bistro. I was surprised that the restaurant was not packed with people and we were seated almost immediately, even though we had arrived almost 30 minutes late for our reservation. Once again, conversation overtook our intention to enjoy the comedy show that was being pout on in the Stardust Theater, but we had a great time in Le Bistro and managed to close the restaurant. once again, it was off to bed for me. Tuesday, August 24th, 2004; Juneau, Alaska We arrived in Juneau right on schedule, but as the Norwegian Spirit was in port using the dock space so the Star had to anchor up and tender into Juneau until the Spirit departed. Since one of the ladies in our group was in a chair, we made the decision to simply wait until the Star docked before going ashore. We ended up docking at a pier that I had not docked at before and suspect that it is new. It was quite a distance to Juneau, but we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk into town from the ship. It was a brisk walk, but enjoyable. We had decided to take the bus to Mendenhall Glacier and negotiated the $5 tickets and boarded the bus for the 20 minute drive to the park. We deposited Pat at the observatory and then took the walk out to the falls. After collecting Pat upon our return, we made our way back to the pick-up spot for the last bus back to Juneau. We were dropped off by the Red Dog Saloon and we decided to enjoy a beverage. Unfortunately, Phileas Poon, the legendary piano player at the Red Dog Saloon was not working on this day. While there was a duo entertaining, the Red Dog need Phileas Poon to really be fun. We moved on from there, did some shopping and made our way back to the ship. After a brief rest, we met for dinner at Cagney's Restaurant for our 9 pm dinner reservation. Cagney's used to be the Tapas Bar on the Star, but is now a wonderful steak house. While they did offer excellent seafood choices, I was challenged to eat a steak, so I ordered the largest one they had. It reminded me of why I am not much of a red meat eater. I just didn't enjoy it and it seemed as if the steak was tough. Everyone else loved their dinner however, and I do not hold the restaurant responsible for my folly. I would dine there again in a heartbeat, as the service and atmosphere was excellent. We closed the restaurant and I turned in for the evening. Wednesday, August 25th, 2004; Skagway, Alaska We arrived right on schedule and a small group of the agents had decided to join me for a hike to Lower Dewey Lake. After a quick breakfast, we met at the Starbucks Coffee House across the street from the train station and started our hike from their. The hike to Lower Dewey Lake is an easy 45 minute walk (albeit steep for part of the way) and once you have cleared the ridge, you would think you were in the middle of the Yukon. It is a pristine lake surrounded by beautiful mountains and scenery. It is well worth the hike. After completing the hike, we made our way back to the ship for lunch and to pick up our companion that is in the chair for a visit to the Red Onion Saloon and some shopping. The Red Onion is generally fun, but on this day, they had a duo playing jazz and they were, well, really bad. It was too loud and the music lacked any sort of quality that one would enjoy. We drank up and left, as soon as we could. After a bit of shopping, we decided to hit the rest of the bars in Skagway to see if there was a better choice than the Red Onion. For the most part, they were local bars with color, but nothing exceptional. Pat, the lady in the chair, did purchase a tee shirt at Mo's Bar that had printed on the back upside down "If You Can Read This, Would You Please Put Me Back on My Bar Stool?" Pat is 83 years old. We ran out of time at a bar overlooking the harbor and eventually made our way back to the ship in time to change and dine in the Versailles Restaurant. While this restaurant is one of the main dining venues that does not require a reservation or additional service fee, it is simply stunning in appearance. Unfortunately, we experienced so-so service and the room was at an uncomfortably cold temperature. We made it through our main entree, but called it quits before desert. The food was prepared quite nicely and the presentation was excellent. It was off to bed for me. Thursday, August 26th, 2004; Cruising Glacier Bay National Park Once again since I had cruised Glacier Bay numerous times, I chose to spend the day working on my computer in my cabin. Lunch at the Market Cafe. A group of us had made reservations in the Teppanyaki Room for the evening, so we all met for cocktails in Gatsby's Champagne Bar before going up for teppanyaki. The entire experience in the Teppanyaki Room was wonderful. The chef and his assistant were entertaining and skilled at preparing our meals right in front of us. I had the shrimp and scallop combination with vegetables and fried rice and it was simply wonderful. The servings were very generous. Those that ordered the filet said it was the best that they had ever had. Do make reservations for the Teppanyaki Room for a unique and wonderful dining experience. After dinner a group of us went to the Karaoke Circus and enjoyed folks singing their favorite tunes. I was bushed from working all day so called it a night and got a good night's sleep. Friday, August 27th, 2004; Ketchikan, Alaska We arrived in Ketchikan right on time, but waited for open tender before going into town. I needed to make some telephone calls so after finding a telephone and completing the calls, visited the Deer Mountain Fish Hatchery as the salmon were in full run and I found the hatchery fascinating. After some shopping and additional sightseeing, it was time to make our way back to the tender wharf for the last tender that was to depart at 1:00 pm. Unfortunately, at least 2,000 other people had the same idea and the line for the tender was extremely long. To make matters worse, it was raining pretty steadily and there was no cover available to protect oneself from the elements. I immediately thought to myself, do I want to stand in the rain, or would I rather find a nice dry spot to let the line dwindle in size? We asked a passerby where the nearest bar was. He pointed up the street and simply said "follow the bear tracks". We did just that and stumbled into a great local watering hole known as the Arctic Bar. While hundreds of people chose to stand in the rain and grumble about the wait a select few of us had a wonderful time in the Arctic Bar. In fact, it was so fun that we called ourselves the "Last Tender Group". The Arctic Bar's "Last Tender Group" When the crowd of people had finally been taken back to the ship, the tender staff yelled up to us in the bar calling for the last tender group. We boarded the tender and made our way back to the ship. I guess the moral of the story is that you can make a decision to stand in the rain, or have a good time, it is up to you. We had reservation in the SoHo Restaurant and met in the Wine Cellar for a glass of wine before going into the restaurant. Once again, we had a stellar meal (I had the tiger prawns, and they were superb.) As our reservation was for later in the evening, we lingered until we were the last people to leave the restaurant. After a quick nightcap in the Spinnaker Bar, I turned in to the evening. Saturday, August 27th, 2004; Victoria, B.C., Canada Our group met once again this morning in the Aqua Restaurant for our second seminar, which went quite well. By now the group had bonded and everyone enjoyed the "ideas for prizes" session. The three hour seminar seemed to fly by and before I knew it a bunch of us went to the Versailles Restaurant to enjoy a formal lunch. We had a great time enjoying each other. We arrived in Victoria at 6:00 pm and decided to walk into town from the port. While it is a hefty walk, it is also beautiful. Beacon Hill Park adjoins the ocean front before it spills into downtown Victoria. A group of us left the port (I was pushing Pat) and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the coastline and subsequent ponds and walkways of the park as it meanders into downtown. We headed straight for the inner harbor and the Empress Hotel where we took up residence on the veranda over looking the inner harbor. We enjoyed a bottle of the Empress Hotel's finest chardonnay and watched as the sun set behind the inner harbor. One of the couples decided to go see the sights, and the rest of us decided to walk around a bit before heading back to the ship. Once back aboard the Star, I opted for a quick round of fish and chips in the Red Lion Pub (served from the Blue Lagoon) before heading to my cabin to begin packing to debark the following morning. Sunday, August 28th, 2004; Seattle, Washington I was up early, on my cell phone and having breakfast in the Market Cafe before debarking with the first group off the ship. I carried all of my own luggage and was out of the cruise ship terminal and on my way to the airport in plenty of time to make my 11:30 flight to Vancouver to board my next cruise, Celebrity Cruise line's Infinity.

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Apr 15, 2008

Mexican Riviera

In 2006, I declared NCL Star to be my "new favorite ship". In 2008, I drastically changed my opinion. The ship has really aged. It needs attention badly, from paint to carpet to cabins. The staff is very unfriendly, not caring much whether they greet or serve you. We were extremely disappointed. An email letter to NCL went unanswered. The entertainer Jana Seale on-board is exceptional, the best of any we've seen in many, many cruises. But

she is placed in a bar and waiting area where her lovely voice is drowned out. I would not very likely go on this ship again. We enjoyed the free style dining very much (the Mexican & Italian restaurants were excellent at no add'l charge). Most of the food (with the exceptions stated here) was bland: it looked good but had little distinquishing taste. Our towels were so threadbare we could see right through them! The cabin was poorly maintained during the week and just never felt as if it had been cleaned. Trash was under furniture and bath had hairs on the floor. Poor. No excitement and little participation. Cruise Director was worst I've seen. We did love our two excusions and the guides. We learned to make clay tiles; visited a coconut plantation; and learned to cook a complete mexican meal. Highly recommended!

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Mar 19, 2008

Hawaii to Vancouver

This is a review of Norwegian Cruise Line NCL rather than of the Ship. We booked in the Spring. NCL cancelled the cruise two weeks before departure. We haven't received any communication from them in either form of Excuses, Apologies or Cover Up. They Grabbed our money way up front. But, when it came time to refund they were either unavailable, unhelpful, rude and/or obnoxious. Imagine as a customer being yelled at for bothering them.

The refund was not via a cheque that could be used right away. But, rather via a refund to the credit card. That I might add was paid off some time ago. It takes a long time to use up a large amount on a credit card for most of us anyway. I am so unhappy, disgusted and disillusioned with NCL that I am vowing sending this message to as many Potential Cruisers as is humanly possible. They give me the impression that Grabbing your money is uppermost. Caring for you as a Customer....well, I suppose there are many more to fill the gangway .. so please step aside because you are blocking the plank. Our April/04 cruise was cancelled. Norwegian Cruise Lines

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Mar 19, 2008

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line NCL Star 8 Day Mexican Riviera Karen Background: This is the first cruise my boyfriend and I had taken together. I'm in my mid 20s, this being my 5th cruise. My boyfriend is in his mid 30s, this being his 1st cruise. We love to travel far or close and we think of ourselves as being pretty cultured individuals who enjoy the finer things in life, but also enjoy simple things as well. This is our first time traveling

with NCL. We sailed on the NCL Star. We booked our cruise thru www.crucon.com. Very good online travel agency – highly recommended. We booked this cruise about 3 months in advance with Missy. Embarkation: We were to depart on 12/11/05 at the San Pedro port in Los Angeles. The embarkation process on this cruise was the worse that I have ever encountered. I sailed once w/ Holland America, and three times w/ Royal Caribbean. Usually, even at peak check in hours (11ish – 3ish) there was never such chaos as this. From start to finish it took about 2 long hours. There were some NCL officials who were going around telling people they must get a porter to take all of their bigger luggage before checking in. However, neither the NCL representatives nor the porters were very proactive in helping people getting their big luggage out of their hands. We literally had to flag a porter down, drag our luggage thru another line of people, and put in on his cart. Very unpleasant experience – it was lines after lines until we finally got our shipboard card. The NCL representatives were not helpful at all. Already a bad start. Room: We booked a room on Deck 11 with a balcony, midship. It was a decent size room with relatively ample living space. There are the typical amenities: 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 inside the closet is rather hard to get to since you literally have to be inside the closet to grab your stuff. Also – there are no lights inside the closet… which makes it hard to see what you are trying to find. Dining Rooms: NCL boasts their Freestyle Cruising experience, which basically means we can dine wherever, whenever we want. The main dining room is the Versailles dining room. There are also other specialty dining rooms that specialize in different cuisines. Some specialty restaurants are free – some aren't. Here's my review on some of the dining restaurants we tried: Versailles (no surcharge): Food quality at Versailles is iffy. There are times when the food is absolutely delicious, and there are times when it's horrible. However, in all cases, I realize that NCL does not care at all about presentation of food. My experience w/ service at Versailles has been negative. There were many instances where I received very poor service. For instance, the first night, we had to wait about 10 minutes before our server even came to acknowledge our presence. When I had asked for pepper, he simply removed a card that was blocking the salt and pepper shaker, and basically hinted I should use that instead of expecting fresh ground pepper from him. However, on the last night I had my best encounter ever - the waiter and jr. waiter for our table were fabulous. I wished they were our waiters all the time. La Trattoria (no surcharge): While this is your typical pasta joint in Deck 12 with typical pasta dishes, the service I received at this restaurant was superb. These guys at La Trattoria really went out of the way to make their guests feel comfortable and welcome. Don't be expecting a nice Italian themed restaurant here… this "restaurant" is simply a cornered off Market Café buffet area. In the morning, it serves as the other side of Market Café, at night, they turn it into "La Trattoria" by dimming the lights, and adding a tablecloth. Reservations are strongly suggested. Le Bistro ($15 surcharge per person): I don't think there is anything special about Le Bistro. Maybe if you like Fondue. Even that, the fondue dessert won't be getting any praises from me. I have to admit that it takes place at a nicer setting, with a upscale feel to it, so it's perfect if you want to celebrate a special occasion. The service here was decent – however I did receive attitude from our waiter when I asked for more croutons. 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 demanding; I simply ask for polite and speedy service. Common courtesy and speedy service are definitely not how I would describe the waitstaff on NCL Star. Ports / Excursions: We received a notice of itinerary change when we were in the port 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 to traveling further down south to Acapulco and Ixtapa. So as a replacement, we were going to stop in Mazatlan and Manzanillo. For this inconvenience, we were credited $50 per person. We heard that NCL is notorious for leaving people behind even if they are running a bit late. So we joined excursions at 3 out of the 4 ports with NCL even though it will be a lot cheaper by grabbing a cab and taking a tour that way. Manzanillo: We went with the Comala/Colima tour that involved going to the Pyramids, visiting a cathedral and a museum, and stopping by for lunch in 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 very well, so try to brush up on a bit of Spanish if you intend on buying something. Puerto Vallarta: This was my 3rd time in PV, so we decided to take the ATV tour. It was a lot of fun – we went thru the back roads and in some instances went over water banks, etc. My only advice if you want to take this tour: BRING YOU OWN BANDANNA. The ATV place did give us bandannas, but I soon realize they were useless. I guess they weren't made of high quality and therefore didn't filter out the dust. That night I went back home and had so much gunk in my nose and throat. Another thing to do: 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 b/c my goggles were obviously very used. If you go to this port, try the Zipline - I hear its very cool. Mazatlan: This is 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 the 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 Frogs before retreating back to our ship. A taxi ride to head back to the port is $10. Cabo San Lucas: This was my 3rd time in CSL as well. We took the Deluxe Cruise with NCL. This cruise just sails out to the famous Arch of Cabo, then around the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean. They serve us complimentary drinks and chips and salsa during the entire trip. My advice is that you should head out early, grab a water taxi, and do the same exact tour as I had described above for a fraction of the price. My only suggestion is to keep an eye on your clocks, as we were to all be back on the ship by 1:30pm. Entertainment / Onboard Activities: Nightly entertainment is so-so. I have definitely seen a lot 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 is so so. He's ok, 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 cruise entertainment. There really isn't much to say about onboard activities since there weren't really anything spectacular. The typical bingo, Mr. Sexy Legs, Liar's Club, etc. The cruise director is dorky, but he's funny in his own way. This ship is definitely catered towards older people. NCL vs. Other Cruiselines: In my opinion, if you are thinking of taking this cruise line: try considering other cruiselines first. Their soda packages are $46 in comparison to Princess's $18. They do try to take money from us in any way they can. I understand that is the business of things, but come on - $5 bucks daily to get newspapers?! Royal Caribbean offers a daily 1 page of news for free. Internet at NCL is 75 cents per minute, NOT to mention there is a start up fee for $4.50. At RCL, its 50 cents a minute and no start up fee. 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 it very unappealing. The changing 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. For those are you who are thinking of taking a cruise: Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Holland America are the way to go. Hope this review was helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions. We can be contacted at AbeAndKaren@gmail.com  

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Jan 11, 2008

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Kristen G. My husband and I just returned from celebrating our 1st anniversary aboard the Norwegian Star.  We took the 8 day Mexican Riviera Cruise out of LA.  This was my first cruise and his 5th cruise.  I will share both perspectives which may help you.  Embarkation was interesting – we were met at the airport and greeted by NCL staff and directed to a bus

for our transport.  You can purchase this transport thru the cruise line.  I highly recommend it because they handle your luggage all the way through.  We arrived at the pier where we had to fill out a few more forms and wait a little bit – but it wasn’t bad.  I took the advice of some of the cruise websites and packed a small carry-on with my swimsuit, dinner clothes, toiletries, etc. – in case our luggage was delayed.  Well, apparently everyone had brought too much luggage they wanted to carry on and they made us send all of it together.  This didn’t make me happy – but it all worked out in the end.  Once on board – our room wasn’t ready yet – because we were early – food was ready, and we had lunch and got the lay of the land so to speak.  All the food is fair.  Some of the restaurants do charge a service charge – we only did this once – in Cagney’s for our anniversary dinner.  It was $20 per person and the food was very good.  The rest of the time we found the food to be good and didn’t bother paying the extra money.  The Thai noodles in Aqua were outstanding as was the wonton soup in the Blue Lagoon.  We thought we were in heaven when we ate smoked salmon and bagels every morning for breakfast in Versailles.  There was rarely a wait for meals.  The service is very, very good.  My husband did miss sitting with the same people every night and getting to know your waiter.  However, getting to set our own schedule was very relaxing.  We like Versailles and Aqua (all free) – the buffet was standard (nothing spectacular but good choices).  The Blue Lagoon that is open almost 24 hours was the best kept secret.  No waiting – limited menu – but good food.  Every night  we had drinks at Gatsby’s where I loved the guitarist and the cheese and olives (you have to ask for them) Amazing olives.  All of the alcohol is expensive – and they don’t let you bring your own – however we did smuggle vodka packed in water bottles in our suite case – then we filled our insulated mugs with juice (only served in the morning) and drank that during the day.  A bucket of 6 beers on ice is $23.  Wine selection isn’t bad – we bought a bottle of wine each night with dinner – if we didn’t finish it – they would save it and it could follow us to our next restaurant or bar.  Wine is $24 and up per bottle.  We spent less than $500 on booze – but didn’t drink heavily either.  We took advantage of beer and tequila in port where they were cheaper.  But if you bring it back on board you have to check it in – then scan all of your bags when you return on ship.  We booked an interior room without a window.  (The husband said that we would spend very little time there so what was the point).  I found it to be adequate.  Plenty of room for clothes and toiletries (people who complain about the size must be hard to please).  There is a safe for your jewelry and a mini fridge and a hair dryer.  Nice size shower.  They give you shampoo, lotion and soap – no conditioner.  Plenty of pillows , extra towels if you request them.  In room coffee maker, TV.  Pretty complete – and very clean.  The guys that the clean the rooms are very friendly and will bring you just about anything extra that you need.  My only trouble is that because there is no window – it always felt like night time to me.  My body clock got thrown off a little bit.  After breakfast, if we went back to our room – all I wanted to do was nap.  And…if we napped in the afternoon (as everyone does on vacation) – I could sleep all day and had a lot of trouble waking up.  Next time I might try a window or balcony room for the light.  The balconies aren’t big – but the rooms are larger and it does give you a nice place to relax in private.  The movement of the  ship didn’t bother me at all – I came well prepared with all of the goodies and didn’t need any of it.  The attire is quite casual – but people did seem to clean up for dinner.  You can’t wear shorts at dinner – but you can wear jeans everywhere except Versailles.  The air conditioning made me  cold in most places on the ship – I wish that I had brought more Capri's. They do have one optional formal niter – we saw a few tuxedos – but not many.  My husband says that he thinks that he prefers the traditional cruise with two dinner seating and more formality.  His preference, I guess.  In the Galleria (gift shop) they have great wraps for your strappy stuff for $10.  They also have a selection of toiletries and clothes, souvenirs, some inexpensive costume jewelry and a large selection of what I felt was overpriced jewelry.  The thing to buy here is Duty Free alcohol.  The prices are amazing.  The entertainment was average.  They did have one gal in Gatsby’s that was very, very good with the guitar and she had a crystal clear voice.  Everything else was average, music wise, except the guy (who was a fill in – in the Carousel Lounge – Al – he was painful.  Second City did some comedy that was great – they are always good.  A newspaper delivered to your room every night gave you the run down for the days events.  Lots going on – but you don’t have to do any of it.  We didn’t do the pool – our sea days were cool.  The best place to have peace and quite outside is at the front of the ship.  The hot tubs (5) were always very crowded and full of kids.  Would have preferred if the kids had their own area.  They did have a separate pool – but no one seemed to use it.  Mine are grown and I have been there…done that.  You can pay extra $85 per person for the whole trip or $20/day per person to have access to the indoor pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and steam rooms, etc. at the Spa – disappointed that this was available at an extra charge.  The gym was included though and it was nice (yoga, etc.) was extra.  Best kept secrets…12th floor Spinnaker lounge very front of lounge for fabulous sunsets…the library – if you need a quite moment in bad weather.  Ice cream at the juice bar. Now about ports of call.  Acapulco is crowded and dirty.  Reminded me of Honolulu/Tijuana.  City with a very high crime rate – police with AK47’s everywhere.  We did NO ship tours.  My husband is a Mexican national and is fluent – so we like to make our own way and get to see much more authentic Mexico and have a great time.  Hate being stuck on a stuffy tour bus!!  This is a port where I left my jewelry in the safe and we did not go out at night here – if you do, travel in a group.  We walked through the old city and toured the cathedral.  Architecture here is much different than the others we have seen, domed ceiling and lots of blue and white tile.  Beautiful.  We then went down to the ocean for the cliff divers.  This was very impressive – because we walked it only cost us $14 for four drinks and the show. We could have seen it for free if we had watched from outside.  I don’t know the cost of the tour through the ship.  We then walked around the old city, ate great tacos then took a taxi to the hotel zone – where I wasn’t impressed.  Probably won’t go back.  We travel Mexico twice a year and have been to many, many out of the way places – this I didn’t like.  At each port we always go to the Mercado (for the arts and crafts), the grocery store (cheap booze, cheap clothes), and always eat in the corner taquerias…the best!!  Ixtapa was by far my favorite stop.  Serene, quite little fishing village on the Zih side and then the Ixtapa has the resorts and super clean streets (all master planned).  We rented a moped here in Zih and drove to Ixtapa.  We loved it so much we will be back there next year.  The streets of Zih are authentic, narrow, cobble stoned with great bungalows with views of the ocean.  Lots of Americans and Canadians winter here.  We bought great Mexican art here and hand woven textiles.  The Zih side has large resorts, Carlos and Charlies, thing is like that – but it is clean and tranquil.  Can’t wait to book a trip here.  Puerto Vallarta was charming.  There is a Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club here – so if you forgot something – take a left at the pier when you exit.  We took the city bus for like…2 bucks.  To the right is down town PV.  Some old town mixed with the Hard Rock, etc.  Charming and quaint.  Impressive Cathedral (Our Lady of Guadalupe) – Great fish tacos and shrimp cocktail in the back street restaurants.  Very large arts and crafts Mercado here.  Pretty place – may be back.  Cabo – feels like San Diego.  It is very modern and Americanized.  Nice and clean near the marina – but old Mexico is still there.  We took a city bus to the bus terminal and then took a bus to Todos Santos.  This is where the Hotel California is from the Eagles song!  Very charming artsy town.  Would like to explore it some more at another time.  We actually caught the ships’ tour bus back…it worked out well for us.  Check out the Tesoro resort on the pier…in their lobby there was an exhibit of a fabulous Mexican photographer.  Wonderful.  We spend the next day on ship returning to LA – just relaxing and ordering any of the food that we didn’t want to miss – napping and packing.  Disembarking was pretty simple.  Be prepared to put your luggage out the night before – so pack an overnight bag.  We recommend taking the last group luggage tags and hang out and get off the ship last (depending on your travel plans).  I booked a late flight out of LAX just to be safe – so there was no rushing.  I recommend you check with your cell phone company on the cost of calls.  Texting seems to be the cheapest way to go.  Pack light – you will invariably take more than you need.  Dress in layers, because the weather is so varied.  I had a great time – very relaxing and enjoyable time.  Next time we will do the Caribbean in January for better weather.      

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Nov 24, 2007

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Terry Usually the biggest question asked is would I take this cruise again.  The answer is yes I would take the same itinerary and no I would not take the same ship.  That doesn’t mean it was a bad ship, or that I did not enjoy being on NCL’s cruise line.  But, if you want specifics, please keep reading. Pre-cruise: We flew to Los Angeles the day before the

cruise, and decided to stay in Long Beach for two reasons.  It was fairly close to the Port of Los Angeles and we had neither been to Long Beach before.  We stayed in the Coast Hotel of Long Beach.  One FYI here, we had flown into LAX and took a cab from LAX to the hotel in Long Beach.  That was about $70.00 including tip and then a cab to the Port of LA Saturday was about $60.00, again including tip.  If we had it to do over again, we would probably have just stayed in one of the nice hotels near the Port of LA. However I have no regrets about where we stayed. Boarding the ship: We arrived at the port of LA around 9:30am and were met by a porter as soon as we got out of our taxi.  Bags taken care of we went into the terminal to register.  Now we have had a suite on every cruise we have been on.  One Radisson, one Carnival, one Royal Caribbean and now two on NCL.  We always book suites because we like the perks that you get with a suite.  One of the most important to us is you get priority boarding.  We like this perk because we get to usually get to our room, put our carry on stuff away and take a quick tour of the ship before it gets crowded.  After you register and you are in a suite, the concierge (another perk having a suite) is supposed to introduce you to the butler assigned to your suite (another perk having a suite).  The butler is supposed to then escort you on priority boarding and take you to your cabin as soon as the ship is cleared to receive passengers.  Well, the lady who checked us in was very new, we were the second people she had ever checked in, and she did not know to show us to our concierge.  I won’t go into all the details, but we had to track down the concierge ourselves.  She introduced us to three different guys telling us they were our butlers and in a moment they would be taking us onboard.  One finally led us to the elevator to take us to the ship and then did not get on with us.  We ended up onboard with no one to show us to our cabin.  We tried to just go to the cabin ourselves, but they have the hallways blocked off until the “all’s clear” is given for every one to go to their cabins, which on this day was going to be 2PM.  We tried to advise the people in the hallway we were in a suite and should be allowed to go to our rooms, but they didn’t know that and wouldn’t let us pass.  We were told by the people at the front desk that no one was allowed to go to their cabins until the “all’s clear” is given, and even though we knew that was not true, we decided to just give up and have lunch at the buffet.  We had read in many reviews of this  ship that it was often the case that the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing, and I can assure you, that is true.  Every time we brought that to someone’s attention we were told “oh that person who gave you the wrong information is new”.  If that many people were new, the ship would not have been able to set sail, as no one would have known how to sail it.  This is just one example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing.  There were many examples I could give you, but just trust me on this one.  The NCL Star: This ship is a pretty ship.  I had read reviews that the carpets were worn, the colors were wild, the ship looked old, etc.  I never saw one sign of this.  I thought it was a very well maintained ship, very pretty, and extremely clean.  Every where you went someone was always cleaning something.  The ship has 14 decks, but unless I am mistaken, you can only access decks 4 through 13.  3 and below is for the crew and 14 is basically for the garden villas and you have card access to get to them.  Our suite was on the very back of the ship, cabin 9232, a Penthouse Suite.  I found the suite to be small compared to the last NCL suite we had which was a Penthouse Suite on the NCL Sun.  This is probably the main reason I said I would probably not take this particular ship again.  Small as it was, it was very beautifully decorated, had a “walk in closet”, lot’s of drawers and cubby’s every where.  We took four large suitcases and had plenty of room to unpack them completely.  We stored them under the bed.  The bed was AMAZINGLY comfortable and I had NO problems sleeping on it at all.  In fact, there were times I hated to get out of it.  The linens on the bed and the towels in the bathroom were in very good shape. The pillows were wonderfully soft.  I am fairly sure that all of the beach towels, provided to every one in every cabin, were all new.  They would "shed” on you when you used them, and usually that only happens with new towels.  The cabin has a wrap around balcony that actually goes from the back of the ship to the starboard side of the ship.  There were two folding lounge type chairs on the deck when we first started this cruise, but the second day or so they were replaced with new “wicker” lounge chairs with nice thick padding.  The bathroom was adequate and that is being generous.  Definitely the smallest bathroom I have ever had on a cruise ship before. It has a bathtub with a showerhead and a sliding glass door, then a sink area and a “separate” room for the toilet separated only by a sliding glass door.  The two room stewards we had kept the room in immaculate condition.  The suite had a bottle of Champagne, a flower arrangement and a bowl of fruit waiting for us when we arrived.  The butler brings in snacks every day around 5PM and they are sometimes savory snacks and sometimes sweet. The food: I had read in several reviews where people complained about the food aboard this ship.  I have to say, with the exception of the buffet, the food on this ship was terrific every where we ate.  We ate in both of the main dining rooms, The Versailles, The Aqua, Teppanyaki (fee’s apply), Le Bistro (fee’s apply), Cagney’s (fee’s apply), Blue Lagoon, Topsiders Grill, Endless Summers and we did use room service. I had read where people said the food in the included restaurants was adequate and were offended you had to pay for the better food in the specialty restaurants.  I can tell you, one of the best meals I had onboard was in The Versailles and it was the Veal Scaloppini.  It was EXCELLENT.  We ate at Cagney’s three nights, Le Bistro one night and one night at Teppanyaki. Now with all of that said.. PLEASE HEED THIS WARNING.  If you have even the slightest clue what Tex Mex food really is, avoid Endless Summers at all costs.  As a born, tried and true Texan, I was actually offended at what they tried to pass off as Tex Mex.  I knew we were in trouble when we sat down and they brought us chips and salsa and it was round tortilla chips out of a bag and GOD KNOWS how they called the semi liquid in front of us salsa.  On the buffet when they served tacos they actually used Picante Sauce.  That would have been a MUCH better choice than what they served in Endless Summers. As far as the rest of the meal, all I can say is God save their souls. One other perk you have by getting a suite is you can order off of any menu in any of the places to eat, although we never take advantage of that, we always just order from room service if we eat in the room.  Tea, water and coffee are always available as well as juices (during breakfast only I believe).  You can buy soda cards, which allow you to get unlimited soda, but you have to get the soda from bar services.  The cost is $7.95 per day per person for the unlimited soda.  We opted not to get that on this cruise and came out ahead by buying ours per drink.  Adult drinks were expensive as they usually are on cruises.  Fortunately neither of us drink adult drinks that often.  The Star Club Casino: We usually judge a cruise mainly on how we liked the casino.  I have to say that if we judged the cruise by this casino and it’s staff, I would never cruise with NCL again.  First of all it is the tightest casino we have ever been in, and we have been in casinos around the world. We played $.01, $.05, $.25, $1.00 and $5.00 machines.  We literally spent $13K in the casino and only hit one jackpot and that was for $1,500.00.  We have been in Vegas a week, spent half of that amount and won several jackpots each.  Finally after three days of the casino not paying out anything, I made an appointment with the Hotel Manager onboard.  A lady named Rosita.  We wanted to express to her how disappointed we were in the miscommunications aboard the ship and with how tight the casino was and how unfriendly their staff was.  She was very nice, talked to us for about 30 minutes.  And I have to say I really do believe she took an interest in what we were saying and took action to correct some of the issues we had as far as the miscommunication onboard with the ships staff and crew.  Unfortunately our luck never changed in the casino. When we spoke to the Casino manager, the main two casino hosts and several of the workers, they could have cared less.  We are very aware there were big spenders in the casino compared to us, some spending as much in one day as we did the entire trip.  So, take it for what you will.  If you are a casino player, don’t book this cruise.  We did not have this experience on the NCL Sun, so I know it is not company wide.  Now please don’t get me wrong.  We never expect to walk into a casino with money and leave with more than we came with.  It has happened, but we never expect it.  We do expect to be able to spend money in a casino and to at least win enough to keep playing for a while.  But that did not happen in this casino. NCL, as far as I know, is the only cruise line that has a casino that you actually ear points while playing and the points are then converted to credits towards your onboard charges.  Also, if you join the casino’s players club, and you play enough in their casino, they will invite you back aboard with a free room and free drinks.  You probably won’t get a free suite unless you are truly a high roller, but we got a free room with a balcony and just paid the difference between that and the suite we ended up with.  To give you an idea of how the points add up, with what we spent in the casino, we ended up with about 600 points.  They credited a little over $700 towards our onboard charges.  With what we had spent in their casino, $700 just didn’t seem to mean that much to us.  Ports of Call and excursions: Acapulco.  Acapulco, to quote the ships daily newspaper is like a diva.  Old and maybe some what past her prime, but still able to capture an audience.  I think that is the perfect way to size up Acapulco.  We took the shore excursion “Acapulco Beach Day” for $69.00 a person.  I honestly could not recommend this excursion to anyone.  For this one you load up on a very nice, very clean tour bus and head out to a beach that is actually near the Acapulco airport.  The beach is actually on the ocean, not at a bay.  Half way to the beach, the tour guide recommends that you do not swim in the water because since it is on the ocean there is a very strong undercurrent.  They recommend that you do not get in the water above your knees, maybe if you are a strong adult, up to your hips.  Now if you are someone who all you want to do at the beach is lay out under the sun, go for this excursion.  We, however, like a mixture of lying out, getting in the water, etc.  The place they actually took us too is a “beach club”.  It is basically a swimming pool right near the beach, tables with umbrellas and then the beach.  And oh yes, probably the nastiest bathrooms I have ever been in that I can ever remember.  The tour does include your lunch and soda’s, water and beer.  So it depends on what you want, but I can assure you, I would not take this one again. I rarely recommend people to just get off the boat and do your own thing, but in Acapulco that is my recommendation. I would just make sure you don’t go anywhere that you can’t get yourself back to the ship by the time it leaves.  If you book an excursion via the ship, they will wait on you if you are late.  If you go out on your own, they will not.  From what I could see, there was a LOT of places very close to the pier. One last complaint about this excursion is that I felt like we were on a time share presentation tour. You could tell that there were certain hotels and condos that had paid them to make sure they pointed out their facilities.  PLEASE.  If I see a place I want to stay if I come back on a land tour, I am pretty sure I can write down the name of it as we drive by.  I do not need a tour guide that I am paying for to point out hotels.  Tell me about the local history, etc. Don’t try to sell me on hotels. Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa: Here we did do our own thing.  We got off of the pier and tried to walk around and shop in Zihuatanejo.  All we ever saw there were old dirty shops, much like an old dirty flee market.  And there is a big fish market right there and believe me, you have no trouble finding it with your nose.  I really wouldn’t have minded the flee market type atmosphere, however what I can not stand is for hordes of people to beg and plead with us to come into their shop or their stand to look at what they have got.  If I want to come in, I will.  If not, leave me alone. Some people like that kind of thing and deal with it very well; I am not one of them.  So finally we got tired of that and got in one of the many taxis that were waiting there.  Now I don’t know if this is across the board with them, but the one we got into offered to drive us around for two hours, show us all the sites of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa (about a ten or fifteen minute ride from Zihuatanejo) and all for $40.00.  We told him was wanted to see a few sites, but had heard about the great shopping in Ixtapa and that was really what we wanted.  He offered to show us a few places were we could pull over and take pictures of the beautiful bay that was there and then drive us to Ixtapa, drop us off at the good shops over there and then pick us up two hours later, all for $40.00.  We didn’t think you could beat that deal.  So off we went.  Sure enough, the places he stopped at for us to take pictures at were beautiful views.  Then he took us over to Ixtapa and dropped us off at some shops there.  I thought Ixtapa was very beautiful and very clean.  There were several places we saw that looked like great places to eat, but we had very limited time and this was the one port we had set aside for shopping.  To be honest, I found a ton of pottery that was very beautiful and very reasonably priced, but I didn’t want to have to lug that back to the ship, and back to Texas when we got back to LA.  We did find a linen shop and I have to tell you, some of the most beautiful linens I have ever seen.  I could have spent a fortune in there.  I wish I had thought to get the name of the shop but if you want to find it, have the taxi take you to where Senior Frog’s is located.  If you are facing Senior Frogs, go in the direction of your right.  You will very quickly come to a grocery store.  Right past that is a two story building that is like a small mall.  It is somewhere in that building.  Well worth the effort to find it if you are as in to linens as I am.  That is also the building where we saw very beautiful pottery at good rates.  Now here was the most interesting part of the whole day to me.  The taxi driver did not take one cent from us when he dropped us off.  He trusted that we would be there waiting for him when he came back.  And believe me, there were a lot of taxis there we could have gotten into and taken back to the pier.  We were so impressed with that, and his obvious pride of the cities he lives in, that we gave him a very nice tip.  He showed up to pick us up exactly when he said he would and where he said he would. We paid him the $40 and gave him a $20 tip.  To me, to have a day like that for $60 was a great deal. If you do want to take a ship-sponsored excursion, I recommend the Las Gatas beach break.  We saw the facility you go to several times and it looked terrific. Puerto Vallarta: If I wrote 1000 words I could never describe the beauty enough of this port city.  It has beautiful building, lush tropical scenery, beautiful water, friendly people and doesn’t look overly developed.  I literally could go on and on.  I have been all over Mexico, and I have to say this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen in Mexico.  I could easily say I would retire there and for me to say I would live in Mexico, well, that is saying a lot.   In the bay we saw so many whales we literally lost count.  As far as the excursion, we took the “Las Caletas Hideaway”.  Now I have to tell you, in 20 something years of traveling, there are two excursions I will remember very well the rest of my life.  One was going to Tulum Mayan Ruins near Playa de Carmen, Mexico, and one will be going to Las Caletas.  Las Caletas was so memorable for two reasons.  One the crew of the boat that took us over there was the most entertaining I have ever encountered.  Also, while we were on our way over of course they have certain sights they sort of drive the boat up to and show you, then you move on towards Las Caletas.  This day, we ran across some whales that were near our boat, and instead of showing us different beaches or hotels, they took us to the whales and followed the whales for quite a while.  It was an experience I will never forget in my life.  Seeing those whales up close was so spiritually moving.  I was embarrassed that I had tears running down my face from the beauty of seeing them, until I realized that almost every one else on board was having the same feelings as well.  We then went to Las Caletas.  Now they tout this was the hang out of the actor John Houston.  I could care less.  This place is BEAUTIFUL. It has a great little beach area, a great dining area (and lunch was included), nice facilities, beautiful plants, Parrots, a monkey, etc.  I literally could just go on and on about this place.  The cost was $89 a person and would have been worth it at double the price.  When you take  an excursion you are usually expected to tip a dollar or so a person for those of you who go for the crew.  We were so impressed with the crew we tipped them $20.00.  I am telling you, please take this excursion.  They are VERY entertaining.  Soda’s, water and some adult beverages are also included in the price of the excursion.  Cabo San Lucas: Although I fell in love with Puerto Vallarta, there was still room left in my heart for Cabo San Lucas.  It is a rather small village, not too over developed, pretty in it’s own right, clean and has very friendly people.  We opted to take the Nikki Beach Bash excursion.  If you are thinking you want to take this excursion, please do me a favor.  Take the $79.00 per person you would spend on this and throw it over the side of the ship.  For one thing, the beach they take you to is literally less than a half mile from where you get off the ship onto the pier (via tenders).  We could have easily walked to that beach.  The hotel there is the Nikki Beach hotel.  It is a VERY beautiful facility with two pools, beds surrounding the pools, Zen gardens, well-manicured grounds, etc.  Normally on this excursion you are only allowed to use the chairs and beds they have for you down on the beach. However I guess it was a slow day at the hotel so they allowed us to use their pools and the beds by the pools, which were much nicer than the ones down on the beach. I appreciated that. Lunch was included. My partner took a lot of pictures of me trying to get into the water of the bay (water was very cold), pictures of the beautiful grounds, of the pool, of the hotel, etc.  He took picture after picture after picture.  Now I tell you this for a reason.  As we were getting ready to leave, as we were making our way back to the lobby of the hotel, we paused and took a picture of the landscape that was beyond the beach of the hotel.  Like on the other side of the bay from where we were.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a lady who worked for the hotel.  I turned to look at her and instantly said to myself, oh God, this lady is going to be a bitch about something.  I wasn’t wrong.  She came up to us and asked us to delete the pictures we had taken. Told us that this hotel was a copy written design or some BS and that we could not take any pictures as they didn’t want us using it in some magazine ad or we couldn’t take any video so we wouldn’t use it in any commercial, etc.  I just looked at her and told her we would delete the pictures we had taken when they pried the camera out of my cold dead hands.  I told her “Lady, do you really think your hotel is so special that someone would do that?” and turned around and walked away.  She followed us saying their hotel was world-renowned.  Known all over the world in places like Milan, Paris, New York, etc.  I told her in the most hick voice I could muster, “well we are from Dallas, Texas and believe me, we have never heard of your fine dwellings you got here”.   Someone REALLY needs to get a reality check.  Yes, it was a nice hotel, nice facilities, but does she have some misgivings.  I don’t really know how to say this about this excursion except I can’t say it was truly a rip off because we did enjoy it, however you do NOT need to spend the money to enjoy the beach at Cabo San Lucas.  Save your money for something else. You only are actually at the beach/hotel for maybe two hours by the time they get you loaded on the bus at the pier, drive you around the bay going some long way, and then loading you back on the bus before it is time to leave, etc.  Lunch is provided, but only lemonade is available to drink.  Other beverages you have to pay for. Disembarkation:  This went as smooth as silk.  Since we were in a suite, the concierge met us in a meeting room near the Spinnaker Lounge and then escorted all suite guests to immigration.  This was so you didn’t have to wait in the enormous line that every one else had to wait in.  Another great perk for having a suite.  Also, if you wished, you could follow her immediately afterwards to get off the ship before every one else.  We had an afternoon flight back to Dallas, so we choose to go have breakfast in Versailles, then go back to our suite and disembark the ship around 9:30AM.  Regardless of when you disembark, if you choose to have them take your luggage off the ship for you as opposed to you having to carry it all yourself, your luggage is waiting for you in an area designated for guest who stayed in suites.  The only reason this is a plus is there is a lot less luggage to go through to find your own.  From there was walked out, hailed a taxi and were on our way to the airport. Overall impression: If you have read this far, you probably think I have more complaints about this cruise/ship than anything else, but that is wrong.  There are just many things I wanted future travelers to be aware of.  We love to take cruises and try to get as many “converts” as we can.  So I just want every one to have the best expectations they can so their cruise is a wonderful experience.  The most important thing I can say about the NCL Star is their staff can not be matched anywhere to me, as far as how friendly they are.  We never passed one crewmember that did not say good morning or hello or some pleasant greeting.  They were all as helpful as they could be.  We never blamed the miscommunications they had on them directly, but on their management, which is why we met with the Hotel Manager.  The main reason I say I would probably not take this specific ship again is there was nothing spectacular about the ship to me.  There is nothing that will last as a once in a lifetime memory.  Not as far as the ship at least.  The places we visited, the crew, etc, yes, but not the ship.  Without hesitation I will cruise with NCL again.  I am not saying there isn’t another cruise line out there that couldn’t win our future business and not saying I didn’t enjoy other cruise lines just as well.  I will say that if we do cruise with NCL again and if their casino is just as tight, it will be the last time I ever give a dime to NCL.      

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Oct 12, 2007

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Chuck Recently concluded an 8 day Mexican Riviera cruise. It had been 9 yrs since my last cruise, which had been on Carnival.  I was attracted to this cruise by the itinerary and the price. I did not make the reservations for this cruise so I cannot comment on this process, but it seemed to go smoothly. The lady I was cruising with did not indicate any problems and

was able to get all of our questions answered. Boarding- We drove to LA from Phoenix the day before embarking, which I would recommend.  The parking and unloading process was fine (If you park, beware of parking under the light poles, birds, you know). The registration and boarding was professional and uneventful. Our luggage got to our room quickly and without a problem. Food & Drink- Norwegian features "freestyle dining" which we found to be wonderful.  For people who are flexible, enjoy dining at off-peak hours, and do not want to share tables with other cruisers freestyle is terrific. We loved it. However, we can understand that it could be a pain if you need to dine at a specific time or have children or older travelers that need more of a set schedule.  You may have to wait at peak dining hours, in fact we saw several lines outside Aqua at 6pm. Reservations are required at the specialty restaurants, we tried Cagney's which we found good.We also tried the fusion restaurant, which we found outstanding. We were going to try Le Bistro, and in fact were seated there, but had a dispute about the up-charge and walked out.  The reservation desk advertised 50% off the up-charge after 9pm. So we dined after 9pm. When we were given the menu, there was a regular selection, and a chef's tasting menu for two which was what we wanted to order. Well, the up-charge discount didn't apply to that item on the menu.  While minor in amount, I felt it was deceptive and another way for the cruise line to "stick you" with another charge. So we left. The food selections were adequate, but not as varied or consistent as I remembered on previous cruises. I think the freestyle dining limits the options.  In our opinion the restaurants are comparable to good restaurants at home, but not top restaurants, as they are too inconsistent. We enjoyed the Blue Lagoon for snacks and light lunch.  We did not understand the attraction of the Market Buffet, though it was usually very crowded. Entertainment- We found the theater and entertainment very impressive.  The theater was comfortable and the performances were top notch.  Shawn Farquhar, the magician, is not to be missed.  Our cruise director, Ricky Matthews, was also outstanding & entertaining. Shore Excursions- The itinerary attracted us to this cruise but due to a tropical storm and a cargo boat in distress, our shore time was quite limited. Acapulco was great, we hired a driver and explored on our own. The cliff divers were disappointing, though it's what everybody goes to see. Had a great dinner at a restaurant overlooking the bay, Kookaburra. Romantic, and the best dinner of the week. Ixhuatenjo- all shore excursions cancelled due to storm.  Went to town for a short time, but streets were flooded. A bust. Puerto Vallarta- Booked day at Las Caletas. Though a cloudy day there was no rain and the tour staff was great. Fun cruise, excellent lunch, tequila flowed, & we got to get off the boat and go to the beach. We thought this trip was worth price charged. Cabo San Lucas- Due to having to "stand-by" a cargo ship in distress, we missed our port call at Cabo.  Very disappointing. No offer of complimentary compensation, i.e. a free cocktail hour, waiver of the up-charge on restaurants for the night, or anything else to compensate. Even though it was out of their control, it would have been a nice gesture. Other- Ship was clean and cabin was great. We had mid-ship level 5, near almost everything but not too close to any noise, etc.  Seemed to feel less ship movement in this part of the boat.  We enjoyed the secluded hot tub at the front of the boat, which was undiscovered at the beginning of the cruise. The cruise line has more ways than Disneyland to separate you from your money.  While the cost of the cruise is a great value, there are many other ways to spend money, or not if you so choose. Enjoyed the cruise very much, in fact signed up for another. Take a look at this freestyle cruising program if you like Norwegian and would cruise with them again, as I will.      

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Jun 29, 2007

Alaska

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Alaska Elizabeth Before Cruising, I would have loved reading a review by a kid, so I thought I would write one. Overall, our cruise experience was wonderful. All of the staff was polite and willing to help. I thought the food was good and the shows were excellent. Embarkation: Embarkation for us was very easy. After having our car parked and our luggage taken away by the parking personnel,

we walked into the cruise terminal. After walking up into the main check in area, we went through a series of line dividers until we checked in with an agent. They gave us our room keys and took a security picture. I thought that was a good idea on their part. After waiting about 15 minutes for our number to be called, we walked through security and onto the ship. We waited about an hour and were let into our room. Cabin: We had a Mini-Suite, and it was worth every penny. You walk in the door and there is another door to the side that leads to the bathroom. Also in that little “hall,” there is a small desk and two drawers. In the main area of the room there is a bed with a small nightstand on either side. It is next to a closet with shelves and many hangers. On the other side of the bed there is a sofa that can be converted into a bed. Across from that is a set of cabinets and a small table and chairs. Above the table is a small TV, which showed cruise shows that had been taped, a few network channels while in port, and 2 movie channels. There was also a ship information channel and a bow cam. There was a refrigerator and a safe in 2 of the cabinets. A large curtain could be pulled out to separate the two halves of the room, which was very nice at night. We had eight suitcases, and wondered how we would fit them all in the room.  What we would up doing was storing many of them under the bed, and taking a few sets of clothes and putting them in a drawer or cabinet, adding some every few days. Utilize all the space in your cabin. My brother wound up storing his clothes on top of the safe.  I had a friend who was in an inside cabin. I went in once. There were two twin beds, a bed that pulled off the wall on top of another bed, and a bed that pulled out from under another. She and her family complained often that it was very small. Once again, go for a mini-suite, or at least a balcony room. It is worth the extra bit. Restaurants: We did not eat in all of the restaurants, but the ones we did eat in were very good! Market Café We ate in here most of the time. It was a buffet, and was very good. I thought their breakfast was the best. They had omelets, French toast, eggs, potatoes and other food. During lunch and dinner, there was a sandwich station and a pasta and pizza station. They also had a “Kid’s Café” section that had mini tables and a mini buffet, which served hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and cookies. My brother ate from there a lot and was very happy. Blue Lagoon This is the only place that was not as great. It was ok, but not as good for some reason. We wound up wandering back to the Market Café. However, it was nice to be able to stop by and get a plate of fries for a snack while the Market Café was closed, which my brother, my friend and I did once. Aqua Main Restaurant We ate in Aqua once and were very impressed. We had a great waitress. All the food, (that we got, anyway) was very good, and had great portion sizes. It is a five-course meal, you basically read off what you want from each section. Versailles Main Restaurant This was very good too. We ate here once. We got in line a half an hour before it opened, and got seats in the back by the large windows. The food was also good here and we had another great waitress. The menu is the same as Aqua’s. The restaurant is very nice. (By the way, don’t make the same mistake I did and pronounce it “Ver-salls.” This was very embarrassing. It is actually pronounced “Ver-sai”!!!) The Teppanyaki Room Do this!! It was so much fun! Twelve people sit around two large grills while two chefs cook the food. I, who love oriental food, loved it and thought my Chicken Yakisoba was delicious. My poor brother, who is not as big a fan, mostly was there for the show. They were nice enough to give him some plain rice, though. We had a great chef, who tried to get us to catch egg for the rice in our mouths. (Only one lady actually succeeded, mine landed on my eye. Oh well.) He also joked around, calling the butter “peanut butter” and the sauce “Diet Coke!” This was a great experience, which I think is a must-do! Cagney’s Steakhouse This was another must-do! The food was fantastic, and we had another great waitress! (Hmm, maybe they are all great.) My parents got filet, and loved it. I got salmon and a crab leg. They have got to be either the best or some of the best I have ever had! They also had really good sorbet, which is what I had for dessert. The Grill My parents got barbeque chicken here and said it was pretty good. This is basically an out door buffet with your average grill food. Chocoholic Buffet OK, this isn’t a restaurant, but I wanted to write something on it. It was AMAZING, with chocolate and ice sculptures everywhere! They had everything from chocolate covered apples to chocolate centerpieces you could take! It was a lot of fun! It starts a bit late, but I think it is worth it! Other Public Places: Once again, these are places that we actually went to. I passed by the others, and they looked nice too. Spinnaker Lounge This has got to be one of the coolest places on the ship. Windows were everywhere! We saw several whales while waiting for a show to start. There were many cool shows here. They also held bingo games. (There was a lot of bingo.) You could order a drink or a soda here, which was nice while waiting for the shows to start. Topsiders Bar My friend and I ordered soda from here once and took it out to the observation deck. They were very nice here and gave us cups of ice and straws to put our sodas in. (By the way, I am pretty sure you can order soda from any of the bars.) Splash Down Kid’s Pool My brother went here once and decided to go to the big pool instead. However all the young children seemed to be enjoying themselves. The pool had 2 smaller slides, one really small slide, a small swimming area, and a hot tub. (Probably cooler than the regular ones, but I don’t know.) The Oasis Pool This was a well-designed area, with 4 hot tubs and 2 swimming areas. There were also two slides. Strangely, the pool water tasted very salty. Later, we were told that the pool water was, most likely, filtered seawater! That explains the taste. Clever, but kind of nasty if you like to swim underwater. Barong Spa My parents went to the spa once. They enjoyed it and said it was very nice. Stardust Theater The theater was beautiful! All the seats had decent views, except maybe some balcony seats. The shows were all great! The seats were very comfortable. They also had an isle running horizontally through the middle of the theater, which I thought made movement a little easier. Cinema I went in here once; it was a decent enough size. It had a projector to show the movies. All but the back row was stadium seating. The Galleria Shops This store was very nice if you forgot anything. It sold clothes, accessories, souvenirs, jewelry, watches, and other things. I noticed that things here were a little more expensive than on shore. They had a nice selection of watches and jewelry, though. Starlight Chapel This was a very nice little chapel, right next to Spinnaker lounge, although you can’t hear much of the noise in the Chapel. They held a few services here, which I thought was nice. Shuffles Card Room I came here several times to play games. It has a nice atmosphere, with good views. However, a few of the games are missing pieces. Don’t be afraid to ask though, some boys asked where other sets of a game could be found and were given a brand new one to use! Planet Kids My brother went to the kid programs a few times and had a lot of fun! The staff was fun and nice. There was a central room, a nursery for the 2-5 year olds and a jungle gym…complete with a ball pit! Teen Club I went here a few times. Although it was not very well attended, it was still a nice set up. There was a room for the 10-12 year old group in the back, a room of computers with games, a room with seats and a foosball table and a dancing/disco room. Video Zone I thought games here were very expensive, ($1.00 a game!) but there was a wide selection. I loved this cruise. I would go on an NCL cruise again in a second! It was a great vacation!    

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Mar 21, 2007

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Kimberly Marchese-Kieffer We just got back from our Mexican Riviera Cruise on NCL. I’ll start by saying we had a wonderful time. I’ll also say that there were some highs and lows about the trip and the cruise line. I’ll start with NCL’s reservation and information phone line. This is my biggest complaint. The employees are very unknowledgeable! The man who booked

our cruise didn’t know if I needed a passport for Mexico. He also told our friends that there was babysitting for their toddler and there wasn’t for ages 2 and under. Then, another representative told them that children weren’t allowed in the restaurants and they definitely are. Any time I called to ask a question, the response was read to me from a manual—things I already read myself but had additional questions they couldn’t answer. There is no excuse for this lack of knowledge about their trips. I read many reviews complaining about the embarkation process. We did not have the same negative experiences. Boarding was a very smooth, fast experience for us. It was well organized and we got our luggage pretty quickly compared with other cruises. We had a mini-suite and it was fantastic. The balcony was wonderful, the room was spacious and the bathroom had plenty of room. We didn’t have the same claustrophobic experience we had on other cruises. Some of my best memories include waking up in the morning, going out on the balcony and watching the boat arrive in its next port; and ending my day out there as we pulled away. This is a kid friendly ship, so if you don’t like kids, this isn’t for you. It was perfect for us, we took our 3 year old and were very appreciative of the kid’s menus, booster seats, kid’s pools, and children’s program. Our room even had a curtain to separate my son’s pull out bed from our bed, a helpful touch. The kid’s program seemed good with caring, professional adults supervising it. For some reason, my son did not like it. I don’t think this is a reflection on the program, all the other kids appeared happy and there were some really cute activities planned. The meals were decent. I really enjoyed eating at Aqua, the specialty restaurants were kind of mediocre—I don’t know if they were worth the cover charge. To be honest, my steak at Gatsby’s was one of the worst I ever had; it was the fattiest, grizzliest NY Strip I’ve ever had. I liked Le Bistro, the French Restaurant. I noticed that all the food was loaded in LA, so if you want fresh fish have it early in the trip. It just gets fishier as the days go by. As for the ports and excursions, we had a very nice time. Acapulco was kind of dirty. The fort is interesting. The Zocalo didn’t have much going on. If you speak a little Spanish, venture out to Magico Mundo Marino at Playa Caleta. It was a very cool way to immerse yourself in local culture. While the aquarium is a bit primitive, you can see some cool sea critters and my son had one of his best days of the trip there. There is a Sea Lion show daily at 3:00 (or 2:00?). My son got to take a picture with a seal and got to hug it and it gave him kisses. We had some really good margaritas and guacamole and chips at a place in el Zocalo—it’s upstairs on the right of the gazebo as you head back to the port. Zihuatanejo was our favorite stop. The town is small but really charming. Playa Madera is nice but if you want to swim, snorkel or whatever go to Playa La Ropa. Our friends did the catamaran trip and said it was one of the best tours they’ve ever taken, anywhere. Puerto Vallarta—well, the first thing you see as you pull in to port is the WalMart; could have done without that but whatever…The city is both very, very rich and devastatingly poor. We did the Zip Lining Tour and had a blast. The tour company (Vallarta Adventures) was extremely professional and safety minded. Cabo San Lucas had the most beautiful water, I couldn’t get enough of it. It was a gorgeous, clear, sapphire blue. We did the Sea Kayak and Snorkel tour to Lover’s Beach and the Arch. Wow! We had a great time! It was a magical place. We didn’t see much of the town but did a little shopping by the port and had to hurry back to the ship. Our friends went to Todos Santos and had a nice, mellow day. The spa treatments we had were great. Everything I had and my friends had were fabulous. The technicians are so thorough and put a lot of care into what they do. I wouldn’t bother with a manicure. The hand sanitizer you need to use everywhere on the boat eats away your pretty nail polish. Disembarkation was kind of a mess. It took a very long time with a lot of waiting in an enormous line. We wanted to get off at 9 am but there were no baggage stickers for that time so we had to settle for 9:30. We arranged for our car to pick us up at 10 but with all the waiting, we didn’t get off until 10:45. Other cruise lines handle this process much better. All in all, it was a very nice trip. I have so many nice memories. I would recommend this particular trip if you are traveling with kids over 2. Otherwise, some of the hassles aren’t worth it and you may want to look into Princess or Royal Caribbean, they have a similar itinerary.    

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Feb 18, 2007

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Doug DuCharme Arrival We arrived in San Pedro, California on Saturday afternoon, one-day before our cruise departure. Having booked a Holiday Inn “Park & Cruise” package for $149 per couple, plus tax, we received a deluxe room accommodation for one night and free parking for the duration of the cruise. One of the best features - their parking lot was under video

surveillance 24/7. In addition, a chauffeured van was available to transport us to the Los Angeles World Cruise Center the following day. Day One – Sunday, February 18, 2007 - Embarkation My wife Judy and I arrived at the LA World Cruise Center at 1:30pm, Sunday afternoon. Two other couples were riding in the Holiday Inn van with us. They were sailing on the RCCL Vision of the Seas. The driver pulled up at the NCL pier and proceeded to unload our entire set of luggage…or so we thought. First mistake, we didn’t count the number of bags he pulled out of the van. After dragging our luggage into a passenger “line up” at the pier, we began our long wait. The weather was cold. There must have been four to five hundred people waiting to gain entry into the main building. Curbside cruise line porters were nonexistent. This day we had to wait until we entered the building to drop off our luggage. Poor service! About fifteen minutes in to our long wait, Judy noticed the duffel bag with all our medications and toiletries was missing. She concluded that it hadn’t been taken off the van. I agreed. Judy suggested I stay in line while she tried to chase down our bag over at the RCCL pier. Trying to move four large pieces of luggage in a progressing line, albeit a slow one, was difficult. Thanks to some caring folks from Bulgaria, I was able to keep up. Judy returned about forty minute’s later empty handed. The staff at RCCL told her that if they found the duffel bag, it would be returned to our ship. Good luck! After waiting about one hour and thirty-five minutes in line, we were finally inside the building. Judy mentioned the lost bag to the first NCL official we found. This young lady promised to follow-up. After receiving our room key/charge card, we progressed up an escalator to the ship’s entrance…unfortunately without our most important piece of luggage! Our Stateroom Our cabin was number 11680 AFT…a mini-suite on the eleventh deck. We were pleasantly surprised that our luggage (minus duffel bag) was waiting for us when we arrived at the cabin. Our stewards were Efren Rivera and Juniver Ilag…wonderful gentlemen. They were continually busy, we didn’t see them much. The rooms were always clean. I was a little disappointed that this mini-suite was smaller than the ones we had on RCCL and Princess. The bathroom was larger. It had a shower with a sliding door. The bed was king sized. Unfortunately the clothes closet was a mess. Positioned parallel to the bed, it was difficult to access clothes. And the little “cubbies” were a challenge. Storage space for luggage was minimal. We ended up stacking two suitcases on the couch. The balcony had two nice lounge chairs. I reserved a port sided cabin so that we could have the “sun” in the afternoon on our journey north from Acapulco. By the time we finished the mandatory muster drill, our misplaced piece of luggage still had not arrived. The ship was scheduled to depart San Pedro at 4pm. It was now 5pm and the ship was just pushing away from the dock. This wouldn’t be the only time Norwegian Star would be off schedule. We stayed on deck for a few minutes after departure but it was so cold, we soon went to our cabin. Much to our chagrin, the duffel bag was still lost. So what now? Let’s eat! The Ship The ship is large and beautiful. First suggestion, pick up the handy little “Pocket Guide” from your room and keep it with you at all times. You will refer to it every day during the cruise. It will keep you from getting lost. Norwegian Star was built in 2001 and refurbished in 2004. Passenger capacity is around 2200 and it seemed like there were that many standing in line earlier in the day! Prior to going to dinner, Judy thought it would be a good idea to check in with Guest Services (front desk) and see if anyone had heard of our plight. The nice associate who took care of us filled out a written report and then mentioned that someone would soon make contact regarding our missing bag. A different associate standing nearby gave us t-shirts, toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving cream and razor. We thought that was very nice of the two of them. It helped too. While Judy was checking on the whereabouts of our bag, I signed us up for daily admittance to the Barong Spa. For $70 each we were allowed to use (for the duration of the trip) the lap pool, Jacuzzi tub, hydro-whirlpool and wooden lounge chairs with comfortable padding. You can also use these facilities if you booked a treatment…but for that day only. We used the Spa facilities every day. I don’t think we saw more than ten people at any one time when we were in the Spa area. The lounge faces out to the ocean from the southern most part of the ship…just large windows and water. Is the dining room open yet? We proceeded to Aqua, a wonderful restaurant on the 6th deck. After being told it doesn’t open until 5:30pm, Gatsby’s lounge was our next stop. A short walk from Aqua, this lounge is centrally located. To one side is the SoHo room, featuring California/Pacific Rim cuisine; to other side isle is Le Bistro, food with a French twist. On another side we have the Havana Club with its enclosed cigar room. The Wine Cellar is in the middle of it all. Gatsby’s is a lovely, dimly lit lounge, perfect for two people who lost a valuable piece of luggage. We sat down and ordered a glass of wine. About then, an entertainer named Jana Seale arrived and stepped up onto the small stage. She plugged in her acoustic guitar and proceeded to mesmerize us with her singing for one hour. Just what we needed…well, that plus a second glass of wine. Time for dinner at Aqua. This is a wonderful restaurant with very good food and great people. We were never disappointed dining in Aqua. Tonight we had Mahi Mahi and it was superb. After dinner we went up to the non-smoking Star Bar on deck 13 and enjoyed Jana in her new venue. After a glass of wine, we decided to return to the cabin and change into our bathing suits. The Spa was waiting! Upon arrival at our cabin, I noticed the message light was on. Anita Niedinger, Assistant Front Office Manager, called and shared some good news. They had found our duffel bag! The bad news was that it was on the Vision of the Seas. We went directly to meet with Anita. She was a personable young lady…caring and attentive. Anita is definitely an asset to NCL. After explaining to us what had transpired, she offered us an onboard credit to assist in our procurement of toiletries from the gift shop. We spent most of it that evening. I was impressed with Anita’s people skills…her genuine concern for our dilemma. Judy and I felt much better after our conversation with Anita. She even loaned Judy a pair of black dress shoes for formal night. That’s service above and beyond! Now…off to the Spa! The Freestyle Daily is delivered to your room during the evening hours. This is the ship’s daily newsletter. There are so many activities scheduled, you will never get bored. It mentions the times and locations of all the restaurants, shows and music venues. Games, classes, meetings and guest services are listed. Utilize this resource to attend events…or to avoid them. It is 9:30pm and we are the only people at the Spa. After testing the Jacuzzi and the Hydro-whirlpool, we decided it was time to retire for the evening. Except for losing a duffel bag and a one hour and thirty-five minute wait in line, it was a pretty good first day. Day Two – Monday, February 19, 2007 - At Sea Judy and I decided not to visit the buffet this cruise. Nothing against buffets…we come from the land of the buffet - Las Vegas. We just wanted to dine in a “sit down and order” atmosphere. The Versailles Restaurant on deck 7 was open daily for breakfast (7:30am – 9:30am), lunch (Noon – 2:00pm) and dinner (5:30pm – 10:00pm). This is a beautifully decorated dining room and the food was always good. As for the staff…exceptional is the word that comes to mind. Most days we would visit for breakfast and lunch. The food was always tasty, the service prompt. This day Judy had an omelet and I had French toast. Delicious. We brought our own decaf green tea. After breakfast we visited the casino. Being from Las Vegas we had to check out the gambling arena. The Star Club Casino had an ample number of slots. The variety was OK. Table Games offered a good assortment of product and the minimums encouraged play. We decided to try our luck at the Video Poker – Deuces Wild. After about fifteen minutes of play we cashed out winner. So the money wouldn’t burn a hole in my pocket, we proceeded directly to the Galleria gift shop and spent our winnings…plus more. Not very far from the gift shop was the Guest Services counter. We strolled over to visit with Anita to see if anything was new regarding our bag. She told us that the RCCL ship was to be in Puerto Vallarta on Thursday, the day before we arrived at that port. Their representative will take the duffel bag off Vision of the Sea and secure it for transfer to our ship the following day. Great news! We thanked Anita again and bid her adieu. I decided to telephone the Ship’s Doctor to determine if he had any of the meds I needed. Turned out he had only one…the one I didn’t really need to take for a few days. Oh well…I can get what I need in Acapulco. We made reservations at the SoHo restaurant for this evening. The food was great! Judy had the lobster…one and half pounds to be exact. I had the tiger prawns. My wife needed a little help cracking the lobster shell, which the staff readily provided. For dessert I had mango flambé while Judy had chocolate cake. SoHo has a $15 cover charge per person…$20 if you have the lobster. It was now 10:30pm; we went back to our room for a night of peaceful slumber. Sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning we were told to set our clocks ahead by one hour. This coincides with Cabo San Lucas time (Mountain Standard Time), but not the other three ports. They are all on Central Standard Time. It gets tricky if you book any shore excursions yourself, not through the cruise line, as I did. More to come on this subject. Day Three – Tuesday, February 20, 2007 – At Sea It is sunrise and I am enjoying our balcony. The temperature is very comfortable 68 degrees and it is sunny. Finally, the warm weather has arrived. This morning we had another delicious breakfast at the Versailles room. Upon our return to the cabin, we prepared to walk down to the Barong Spa for some R&R. Come to think of it…this entire cruise is nothing but R&R. Upon entering the Spa I decide to swim a while; Judy climbed into the Jacuzzi. A short time later, I joined my wife. After about fifteen minutes of that bliss, we moved to the hydro-whirlpool. Following about ten minutes worth of this therapy, we are now totally relaxed. Off to the lounge chairs! Soft music, relative quiet and a great view of the wake of the ship soon has us dozing off. This evening is the one and only Formal Night during this cruise. Now Formal Night on the Star means anything you want it to mean. I wore a long sleeved dress shirt with dark blue wool slacks. Judy wore a lovely black, long sleeved top with print skirt...and the shoes Anita loaned her. Most folks did not wear formal attire, yet were dressed very nicely. “Upscale Causal” was the attire of the evening. Since we had breakfast and lunch at the Versailles Room, we decided to make it a clean sweep and have dinner there too. The Lobster Tail was outstanding. We didn’t miss dessert either…Crepe Suzette. It sure was tasty. After dinner we attended the 9:30pm show in the Stardust Theater. It was entitled “Music of the Night,” a tribute to Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s finest songs presented by the Jean Ann Ryan Company. We thought they did a fine job on the music. Having just attended “The Phantom” at the Venetian in Las Vegas one month earlier, we were a little spoiled by the quality of that singing. But this group did OK. Judy suggested we return to our cabin for an early turn-in. Busy day tomorrow in Acapulco. Day Four – Wednesday, February 21, 2007 – Acapulco The time is 8:00am and it is 77 degrees with 82 percent humidity. Visibility is hampered by the fog. The ship entered Bahai deAcapulco only to find out that the Princess ship which was scheduled to leave Acapulco last night didn’t. Later I found out they had mechanical problems which wouldn’t be fixed for five days. We heard the passengers were transported to the airport and arrangements were made for them to fly home. OOPS!!!!!! Unfortunately, our ship had to anchor in the bay. There are two spots for ships to dock. The other pier was being used by one of the Crystal ships. They would leave port by 3pm or 4pm and our Star would then proceed to the dock. What does this mean for the passengers of our ship…we had to use tender boats to visit shore. Our ship didn’t weigh anchor until 12:30pm ship’s time – 1:30pm Acapulco time. One and a half hour late! I’m glad I arranged for our tour guide to meet us at 2:30pm ship’s time. We were in no hurry to tender in as we had two hours to spare. A month or so before this cruise, I went online and contacted several potential tour guides for Acapulco. After reading up as much as I could, and after considerable negotiation, I decided to hire one of the Pink Ladies – Olga. The self named Pink Ladies all wear pink shirts and white pants. A good way to brand isn’t it. Anyway, I wanted a mini-tour of the city culminating with the 7:30pm (Acapulco time) Cliff Divers show at La Quebrada. Reservations were made at La Perla restaurant. I asked to return back to the ship at the conclusion of the show…about four and one half hours after we began. Here is Olga’s e-mail address oescuen@hotmail.com and we highly recommend her. She has a wonderful personality and speaks good English. She is very accommodating as you will see during this review. We arrived at the pier around 2:15pm ship’s time. After walking past several shops and many more cab and tour drivers, we walked out the exit gate and happened on to Olga holding a sign with a version of our last name on it. Yup…we’re here. She proceeded to lead us to her red Chevy Suburban – 2006 I believe. Olga began outlining her basic tour when we interrupted. I asked, “Can you bring us to the Pharmacy?” Judy began to explain about our missing bag with my medications, our toiletries, and her shoes. Olga commiserated with us. First stop, the Pharmacia! About ten minutes down the busy main street was the Pharmacia. They had everything I needed. All the medications were in blister packs of 14, 20 or 30...direct from the manufacturer. Four packages of meds ran about $140 US. In this country it would cost around $260 without insurance. Next stop… hotel row. The traffic was horrible. Nobody drove in a lane and there were no crosswalks…it didn’t matter. People just ran across the street whenever and wherever they wanted. Olga began to point out the various hotels that lined the street. Beautiful properties to say the least. As we started to drive up the hill, she pointed out the famous Las Brisas hotel. I remember that hotel from several movies. She pulled over into a turnout and I took a few pictures…of both the hotel and the bay. Good stuff. We continued on. Next we visited the Chapel of Peace. You will see this landmark on a hill overlooking the city, designated with a large white cross. Beautiful place. Olga asked if we had any other places we wanted to go or anything we wanted to do. Judy told her we needed toiletries. We also wanted to get ashes since it was Ash Wednesday. I wanted Judy to buy some shoes and a Mexican white lace dress. Perhaps a traditional Mexican formal men’s shirt for me. And of course…the Cliff Divers show at 7:30pm Acapulco time. Olga stated that we better get moving! And so we did. Olga said she had the perfect place for us to pick up toiletries. Plus the church of the Blue Cross was near the location. Soon we were driving into the Wal-Mart Super Center in downtown Acapulco. It looked just like the one we visit here in the US. In and out in about fifteen minutes. The cash register even converted pesos to dollars. Now off to the church. The traffic was really heavy. Soon we were parked right in front of the Church of the Blue Cross. We jumped out, walked up the steps and into the church. A priest was standing near the alter. As we approached, Olga said something to him and he nodded. He then picked up the bowl with ashes and placed his thumb in the bowl. As each of us stood before him and bowed our heads, he made the sign of the cross on our forehead with the ashes. We then headed for the exit. Near the door, we dipped our fingers in the holy water font, crossed and blessed ourselves, and proceeded to leave the church. It was almost like drive-thru ashes! OK…off to the flea market! Olga took us through the old…I mean really old section of town. It was one traffic lane each way and cars were parked on either side. Barely enough room for two cars to pass! Did vehicles slow down and even pause at the stop signs? Nah…not really. It was quite an adventure. The cobblestone streets were interesting, adding to the flavor of the journey. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at what Olga said was the flea market. She parked right in front of one gentleman’s store front. There we found Judy’s dress, my shirt and various other souvenirs. Around the corner was a shoe store. The ladies spent twenty minutes there trying on shoes. In total, we spent about one hour shopping at the flea market. Next stop, the Cliff Divers at La Quebrada. I calculated that we must have spent almost two hours driving or in traffic. Suggestion – if you take a private tour like we did, go for six to eight hours. You’ll see much more of the city. It took us about fifteen minutes to arrive at Hotel El Mirador, home to La Perla restaurant. Olga explained that she prepaid the tickets for the Cliff Divers show, $20 each, which included two domestic drinks. Soon we would descend the stairs to a wonderful spot down below, midway between where the divers pushed off and the spot they land in the water. We would only be thirty to forty yards or so away from the performance. As we waited in line to be shown to our seats, I noticed the hostess shake her head and frown. She then told Olga that the restaurant workers just went on strike! Timing is everything isn’t it. Olga said that the work stoppage should be short…but how short, no one knew. It was getting close to show time. Olga then took us down a few steps to a large balcony. This is where we viewed the show. Not great seats, but we did get to see the show. As for our two drinks, they were delivered in Dixie cups! I’m sure the labor dispute was settled right after we left…of course. Olga had us back at the pier by 8:30pm Acapulco time or 7:30pm ship’s time. We paid her our agreed upon fee in US dollars. We then extended a generous tip to her for the outstanding service. We all hugged then offered each other a heartfelt “hasta luego.” The Norwegian Star was now parked at the pier, thank goodness. Judy and I boarded the ship with our loot. Time to eat, isn’t it? We dined at Aqua. Then we did the Spa thing again…very relaxing. Off to the cabin to watch a movie. They had a couple of first run movies showing on TV and several oldies too. Time for sleep. Day Five – Thursday, February 22, 2007 – Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa Only about one hundred and fifty miles or so northwest of Acapulco is the lovely village of Zihuatanejo. We arrived a few minutes before 7:00am. The ship anchors as passengers prepare to take the tender boat ashore. The gangway is on deck 4, mid ship. Judy and I are in no hurry. When we finally arrive at the pier around 9:00am, we walk over to the building advertising water taxi tickets to Las Gatas beach. There we purchase tickets for $3.50 US each, round trip. Keep your ticket for the return visit, otherwise they will charge you twice. It is a short ten minute ride over to the beach. You see wonderful views of the bay on the way over. When we arrived at Las Gatas, the sky was a little cloudy but the temperature was warm. The first sight you notice after landing on the pier is a long row of palm-thatched huts with lounge chairs sitting out front. Each particular area had a sign with the name of the restaurant or whatever it was, prominently displayed. Menus were everywhere. The only real designator was that each “spot” had a different colored table cloth or umbrella color or chaise lounge cushion marking their area. And yes, they were territorial. Every “spot” had a salesman out front encouraging you to sit at their table/chairs. We walked about half-way down the beach when we met a gentleman by the name of Angel. He promised, “Good food and clean bathrooms. Outdoor showers too.” We chose his place to relax. I really think it was the orange table clothes that attracted Judy if the truth be told. The name of the place was La Red del Pescador. Hope I spelled that correctly. I also learned from Angel that all beaches in Mexico are public beaches. It was now time to snorkel. I asked Angel if he had swim fins to rent…of course he did. We brought our own face mask and snorkel tube. Upon entering the warm ocean, I hoped not to get a mouthful of sea water. Well, that’s the first thing I did. Is that the old “you move toward and become like that which you think about” scenario? Anyway, Judy took right off like a fish in water. I kept stumbling and mumbling. Finally I got it right! I actually saw fish. Some small, some tiny and some a little bigger than that. A few different colored fish too. It was fun! This adventure lasted about one hour. Soon it was time for a soda and cheese quesadilla. Just sit back and relax. Aah...the good life. Arriving back to the ship around 2:00pm, it was just a little late to have lunch at the Versailles room. So we ordered a pizza from room service. Don’t bother…it was terrible. Judy had scheduled a facial at the Barong Spa for around 3:00pm. That of course meant that I would indulge myself with a Jacuzzi and a swim, and then relax on one of the lounge chairs. I will be famished by this evening. Earlier today we made reservations for the Endless Summer restaurant on deck 8, mid-ship. It is known for Tex Mex cuisine. Reservations are required but there is no additional charge. Judy and I had the Red Snapper topped with a relish of diced papaya and tomato. Excellent meal. Day Six – Friday, February 23, 2007 – Puerto Vallarta The ship backed into the pier around 9:00am this morning. It was fun to watch from our balcony. Puerto Vallarta has a beautiful port with lots of green grass, well kept buildings and a nice variety of shops just outside the exit. The weather is perfect today…clear skies and mid 80’s with a slight breeze. I scheduled massages for the two of us at the Millenium Massage Clinic in the Hotel Krystal just a few blocks from the pier. All correspondence was accomplished online at www.milleniummassage@hotmail.com a month before our visit. The time reserved for us was 12:00 noon Vallarta time, 11:00am ship’s time. The Hotel Krystal is about a ten to fifteen minute walk after you exit the dock area. It’s just down a side street. Two Hotel representatives were standing at the entrance gate upon our arrival. I told them we had scheduled massages and they directed us to the front pool. It looked like they intended on charging us to use the hotel facilities. Anyway, we proceeded to the front pool (thatched hut) to check in with a lady named Judith. She confirmed our appointments for a couples massage, beachside. Being an hour early, we laid out on two lounge chairs at the beach. When the appointed time arrived, we proceeded to meet with Judith near the pool. She then led us to a tent adjacent the beach. That is where we were introduced to Gabby and Rodrigo, our masseuses. The seventy-five minute massage was a little slice of heaven. The sound of the waves, the soft spa music in the background, it was well worth the $75 for the two of us. This will be a required stop for us in our future visits to Puerto Vallarta. We soon took our leave only to end up at the back pool for a quick dip. The water was perfect. After a quick change of clothes, we hailed a taxi. Next stop, old town. A yellow cab took us downtown to an area near city hall. This is where it’s advertised that the original Senor Frog’s bar and restaurant began. Although, I think we heard the same thing in Acapulco. Anyway, we went in to their gift shop and donated to the Mexican economy. Afterwards, we walked around for awhile before approaching a taxi driver to take us back to the pier. I asked “how much? He stated $8 US. I tried to negotiate down…he said $8 US. We started to walk away…he let us! I tried yet another taxi driver…he said $8 US. We kept walking. After going about a long block, we approached a new taxi driver. We asked “how much to the pier?” He stated $8 US. I said it was $8 US a block ago. He said $8 US. We kept walking. Judy told me we should just pay the $8…I said no, “They are supposed to negotiate.” We kept walking. It was now about five blocks from Senor Frog’s store. Five long blocks. Our forth different taxi driver approached down the street. We flagged him down, and asked “How much to the pier?” He said, “$10 US.” I said “What! Five blocks ago it was $8 US!” He said “OK, OK. $8 US.” We happily agreed with his price. I finally got someone to negotiate with…well sort of! Arriving back at the pier, we decided, well Judy decided, we should shop some more. So we did. She shopped while I sat down in the shade. Soon we were back on board and in our room. It was now around 4:00pm. Our missing duffel bag had arrived…hallelujah! We checked the contents of the bag and determined that everything was accounted for. Both Judy and I expressed a sigh of relief. It was now time to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. From our balcony we watched our fellow passenger board the ship. The Star is scheduled to depart Puerto Vallarta at 5:00PM. We watched some people run onto the gangway around 4:57pm. That was cutting it a bit close. Ginza was our restaurant of choice this evening. Reservations are required for this outlet and there is a $10 cover charge. It is located on deck 7 forward. Ginza is known for its Asian fusion cuisine. All servers are attired in oriental garb…nice touch. We both had the sweet and sour shrimp for dinner. I don’t remember what we chose for dessert…but I’m sure we had something delicious! Day Seven – Saturday, February 24, 2003 – Cabo San Lucas El Arco, a rugged rock formation with a wide arch cut through it by generations of tides and wind, welcomes visitors from the sea. This is where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. Since Cabo does not have a deep-water port, the ship will be anchoring in the middle of the harbor. Passengers will tender to the pier. This is one port that we have nothing in particular planned. We are just going to do the tourist thing. Maybe do a little ocean swimming. Our large beach bag contains towels and a bottle of water. Bathing suits are being worn under our shorts. We’re ready! Upon arriving at the tender pier, we walked around the dock area. After asking for directions to Cabo Wabo (Sammy Hagar’s place) we took off on foot. From the tender pier to Cabo Wabo is about a thirty minute walk. After taking the obligatory pictures of CW out front, we went inside to purchase souvenirs. We loaded up on t-shirts. Now it was time to get a taxi and go to Pueblo Bonito Los Cabos, a beautiful hotel situated on El Medano beach. It was a $7 cab ride to the hotel. This property was recommended on a cruise review board as being accommodating to cruise passengers. It turned out to be a wonderful suggestion. We arrived at the entrance and proceeded to stroll to the pool area. Then, we went down some short stairs to the beach. It was there we asked a gentleman wearing a hotel name badge if we could sit on their beach chairs…at the same time I was giving him a three dollar toke. He said “Of course Señor, would you like an umbrella too?” I said yes. The gentleman soon returned and took our order for chips, salsa and a bottle of water. On the review board I mentioned earlier, someone stated that if you order something, food or drink, they’ll let you use the facilities. It worked for us. We had an enjoyable time utilizing the Pueblo Bonito beach. And the pool is outstanding…warm water. I swam in the ocean for about fifteen minutes. There was a fairly strong undertow. Probably not good for children. By the way, Pueblo Bonito it is right next door to Nikki Beach. After a $10 taxi ride back to the dock, we walked over to the Dolphin exhibit, a short stroll from the tender pier. There we were able to view Dolphins playfully swimming, through a large glass porthole. We learned that the only way to gain access to the top side of the facility was to book a tour through one of the cruise lines. Maybe next time. We ate in La Trattoria this evening. In case you couldn’t tell…this is the Italian restaurant. No additional charge to eat here but reservations are required. We both had the penne pasta with veggies. A very pleasing dinner. Most every restaurant on the ship has a vegetarian food option, just in case you are so inclined. They’re all good too! Most evenings while we were at dinner, our stateroom attendants turned one of our bath towels into the image of an animal. It was cute. Tonight they created some sort of a creature I couldn’t recognize. I decided to turn it back into a bath towel. Day Eight – Sunday, February 25, 2007 – As Sea After a tasty breakfast at Versailles, we attended the disembarkation seminar at the Stardust Theater facilitated by our Cruise Director Archie. It was at this time that Archie told the group the ship will not arrive in Los Angeles until around 9:00am...two hours late. This was due to the Captain shutting down one of the engines for unexplained reasons. Combine this with the fact that the seas are rough, plenty of white caps and there is a head wind blowing 20 to 25 mph. After the seminar we proceeded to the Atrium to pick up disembarkation luggage tags. We obtained the 10:45am tags. After a leisurely wandering around deck, we went back to our cabin and spent the day alternately packing and sitting on the balcony. We filled out the U.S. Customs form required of all passengers. Also completed were the disembarkation ID tags for our entire luggage. Later, we did find time to visit the Spa for a relaxing soak. Day Nine – Monday, February 26, 2007 – Disembarkation It is 8:00am and the ship is now scheduled to arrive in San Pedro (Los Angeles World Cruise Center) around 11:00am. We lost another engine last night. Two down…two to go??? Good luck to the next group of passengers boarding this vessel. Judy and I went to have our last breakfast at the Versailles room. Always a great way to start the day. Our cabin statement was left at our door. Upon review, all charges were accurate. If you have a disputed charge, proceed to the Reception Desk/Guest Services for resolution. The NCL Star finally docked in LA at 10:30am. I figure it will be at least 30 minutes before the first passengers disembark. Our “color” was finally called around noon. We got off the ship at 12:45pm. A porter was waiting for us as we entered the luggage area. Within minutes we identified our bags, the porter placed them on a cart and we were out the door to a holding area for departing passengers. I called the Holiday Inn for pick up, but the van was in Long Beach dropping passengers off. The nice lady at the desk asked us to catch a taxi and she would reimburse us…which she did (the yellow cab driver was terrible, rude). Soon we loaded up our car and started heading back home. The end…well, almost. Summary The food was excellent (kudos to the Chef and his team for the myriad of culinary choices), the entire staff was exceptionally professional and friendly (“Atta girl” to Anita and her crew), other passengers were genial and the entire experience…well, what a wonderful adventure! My wife and I can hardly wait to cruise again. With the exception of terrible embarkation and disembarkation experiences, the Star represents Norwegian Cruise Line in an exemplary manner.    

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Feb 10, 2007

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Kay Nemjo It was more than a great disappointment. We will never go with Norwegian again. They denied the $75 on board credit that was part of the booking benefit. They changed the itinerary completely after sailing without any explanation. This caused many passengers to miss booked excursions as our time in port was shortened. This also involved turning in and reissuing

all of our excursion tickets. The good and the bad : The good : - Food in surcharge restaurants ( extra $10 - 20 per person ) excellent with fabulous service. Surcharge for Valentines went up to $45 each. - Really good entertainment, especially lounge singers/musicians. We particularly enjoyed Stan Sykes. - Beautifully appointed public areas. The Bad : - Unrelenting noise. Everywhere, and loud ( like unable to have a conversation loud ). From our stateroom ( Deck 8, outside balcony, forward ) we could hear our neighbors up down and sideways. Additionally we could hear the music from two different lounge areas. The ship was very crowded with people everywhere. This made it difficult to travel from any area of the ship to another. - While the food and service in the surcharge restaurants was excellent it required reservations that were difficult to come by and they wouldn't accept reservations more than 24hr in advance. - The food in the sit down restaurants that didn't have a surcharge required reservations, also hard to get ( Endless Summer, Trattoria , Aqua, Versailles ). Blue Lagoon - a tiny, very limited menu place in the middle of a main traffic corridor ( literally ) had good food, burgers, fish and chips, cookies, but very limited menu. Advertised as open 24hr, but wasn't. - There were three other places to eat which did not require reservations. Room service ( cold food only ), the grill at the pool, and the open buffet ( Market Cafe ) The grill at the pool offered hamburgers, hot dogs, and a couple salads. The buns were stale and sometimes half frozen every time we ate there. Hot dogs cold to lukewarm. One time they had no fries in the line and when I asked about it the cook just glared at me. Room service was really horrible. Breakfast " assorted pastries " was two stale rolls like one would buy at 7 - 11. The " fruit platter " was one strawberry, three grapes and a garnish size slice of orange, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon. Three times the carton of milk was sour and once it actually poured out in chunks. One morning we ordered extra butter which did not get delivered. We called and asked for it - they brought more coffee creamers. The Market Cafe ( main buffet ) was almost as bad as room service. We are not at all picky eaters, but this was really bad. Three day old coleslaw, stale breads, only one main selection, really low rent desserts, stale iced tea, inedible scrambled eggs, it went on and on. The food was arranged in a totally nonsensical manner and there were no trays to carry your plate and drink on, a real problem for the elderly who received no help from the crew. The crew with a few exceptions was unfriendly, and unhelpful - no doubt the fact that most didn't speak English contributed. On numerous occasions the crew was outright rude to both of us. Very condescending. The water pressure was quite low, the toilets malfunctioned quite often in all areas of the ship and we endured banging in the walls at all hours related to plumbing problems. The soap and shampoo ( neither of which produced suds ) were supplied in wall dispensers. The public restrooms ( not well maintained ) offered wall blowers for drying hands. On several occasions we ordered drinks ( nonalcoholic ) when in public areas. The waiters never returned. We heard more than once from servers that if you don't order alcohol they won't fill your order as they don't anticipate a tip. Our stateroom was perfectly acceptable. The balcony was on the small side. My only real complaint was the fact that they didn't utilize standard bed linens. They had a very thin " duvet " and a thin bedspread. No top sheet or blanket. Our bedspread kept disappearing after the room was serviced, we had to keep calling for another. The first morning we were told that they had taken it away to launder as they didn't have time to do it between the last cruise and the start of ours. I could have gotten by without that little bit of information. Three days we returned to our room late in the day finding that the housekeeping staff had yet to service it. Regarding the Ports. The only one we got to see was Ixtapa ( for one hour ). All others we were late getting to our excursions and late returning for departure of the ship ( due to itinerary change ) Helpful hints. The ship is laid out odd. When attempting to go from one end to the other the corridors route through lounges, restaurants, dead end and crisscross. Use the outside promenade on the Port side, it is a straight shot. The elevators are slow to arrive and quick to close. We routinely were unable to board before the doors closed. Take the stairs. Plan to do your shopping in Ixtapa. Nice shops, no beggars, reasonable prices, nice merchandise. If you are elderly and require assistance of any sort do not plan on getting any from the crew staff. If you want good food and service plan to spend the money and commit to a reserved dinner daily. Reserve first thing in the morning to get a space. Take your own soap and shampoo. If you need a blanket for sleep pack one. Collect chocolate chip cookies from Blue Lagoon to take to your cabin for a late night snack. We found Blue Lagoon had very good potato skins and fish and chips. The best quiet spot to hang out with a great view is the Spinnaker lounge. We enjoyed really good whale watching and also spotted porpoises at the bow. The Spinnaker Lounge also had the best most syrupy soft drinks on the entire ship. Don't bother to attend the shopping seminars unless you are interested in high end jewelry, that is all they discuss. We highly recommend the Dolphin Swim in Xtapa. It is expensive at $185, but worth every penny. We had an hour in the water with the dolphins in a group of twelve. Each person had almost constant opportunity to interact with the dolphins. This also included one on one activities such as being pushed and pulled by the dolphins. We don't recommend the Pirate Ship Excursion in Puerta Vallarta. The seating was on wooden benches without back support and minimal leg room between the benches for a one and a half hour ride each way to the beach destination and back. Part of this ride was in full sun. The " sail " is actually motorized. The entertainment which is constant going and returning is very loud music and a lot of shouting. I knew we were in trouble when it started with a whistle blowing demonstration followed by the dance of the Macerana to the tune of Mission Impossible. The "secluded" beach is actually a crowded beach ( shared by a private resort ) with an incoming surf so strong that the staff had difficulty in reaching the beach, keeping the boats in place long enough for passengers to get out, and then re-launching the boats to depart the beach and return to the Pirate ship. The waves coming in were strong enough to turn the boats sideways despite four crew members attempting to stabilize. Several men guests had to assist the crew in order to allow us all to return to the ship. Our main reason for taking this excursion was to snorkel. The water was filthy. The crew recommended not getting in the water as it would probably burn the skin and we might develop a skin infection. Several people did get in the water and attempt to snorkel. A woman with a small child became panicky and was trying to return to the boat holding the child in her arms as she called for help. The crew member on our boat was oblivious, it took me several attempts and finally involved me grabbing his arm to get him to realize that one of the guests was in urgent trouble. I think part of the problem, aside from inattention, was that he didn't speak English. The boats that one snorkels from offer no ladder or swim platform to get back on the boat. Two of the crew haul the guests back into the boat by grabbing them under the arms. The beach itself, as I have said, had large rolling, crashing wave action. It also dropped off abruptly into deep water. A small boy was knocked off his feet, dragged under, and swept out. The only thing that saved him was another guest had been watching the boy after realizing the parents were more interested in partaking in the free alcoholic beverages than supervising their child. This gentleman dove in repeatedly at the place he had last seen the boy and ultimately was able to find him and pull him out. The excursion to Todos Santos in Cabo was pleasant, but rushed. It was an hour and a quarter bus ride coming and going. Twenty minutes at the Mission/Museum ( which included the bathroom break for a bus full of women in a three stall bathroom ), a 30 minute group lunch, and another 20 minutes to explore the town and shops. The tour guide was friendly and informative, but talked the entire trip coming and going. A little silence to enjoy the ride would have been welcomed. In Acapulco we signed up for the Fort Presentation and Night Cliff Divers. We boarded a bus at our pier which took us up to the Fort. The bus driver entangled the top of the bus in some sort of low hanging utility wires on one of the narrow streets.. After much walking around the bus and consultation back and forth between the driver and our guide they chose to just drive off pulling the wires until they disengaged. The walk from the bus to the presentation area at the Fort is assorted sand and cobblestone with uneven surfaces not well lighted. Wear appropriate footwear. The presentation was quite interesting. A short bus trip brought us to the cliff diver location. Interestingly enough we had arrived thirty minutes early with our guide insisting that we spend our time in the adjoining shops where we were subjected to high pressure sales techniques. The show itself was very enjoyable. We were able to see quite well, a large portion of our group were seated in an area were they could not see the divers. Our guide for this excursion was loud and obnoxious blatantly soliciting tips. He had the microphone in the bus turned up very loud and repeatedly performed a cackling laugh thinking it humorous. I had a splitting headache before we ever arrived at the cliff diver location. On arriving home I felt I needed a vacation from my dreadful vacation. The entire experience was constant noise, large crowds and constant rushing. We heard the same complaints from every single person on the ship who had taken a cruise before with another line. No one planned to book again with Norwegian. The only other cruise we have done was Alaska last year. The difference between Holland and Norwegian was like the difference between flying first class and taking a bus in Tijuana. No kidding.    

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Nov 29, 2006

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Shannon BACKGROUND – This was my 6th cruise, second with NCL and first Mexican Riviera trip. Previous cruises include HAL Westerdam in 1998 (East Caribbean), Celebrity Mercury in 2000 (West Caribbean), NCL Wind in 2003 (West Caribbean), Carnival Destiny in 2005 (South Caribbean) and Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas in 2006 (West Caribbean). I went on this trip with

my mom and my grandma. EMBARKATION – We arrived at the port after a half hour shuttle ride from the airport (Super Shuttle?). It was about 11:30am. A porter took our luggage and we entered the holding room, went through security and began to check in. We went through the line, got our pictures taken for our room cards and were walking onto the ship within 30 minutes. I thought the process was well organized and there were even some staff members handing out refreshments. CABIN – We knew our cabin was going to pose a new challenge for us because there were three of us in an inside stateroom. I slept on the upper bunk while my grandma and mother slept on the lower beds. The upper bunk was not as comfortable as the lower beds. There was plenty of storage space in the bathroom and the tiled shower was large for a cruise ship cabin. Shampoo and body wash is provided in the shower through a dispenser. There is a safe, coffee pot, TV and a fair amount of storage – surely enough for two people but a little more cramped for three people. The only minor disadvantage to the room was that the bedside tables did not have any drawers or shelves and the drawer space throughout the room wasn’t very sufficient. STAFF – We found the staff to be very friendly in almost all situations. The wait staff in Endless Summer was lifeless, but we enjoyed the staff in both the Aqua and Versailles dining rooms. Also, our cabin steward did a wonderful job, and we were always greeted in the hallways by smiling faces. The cruise director was a friendly man from Australia named Simon. He came to our Cruise Critic meeting and spent a little time getting to know us. FOOD – I believe NCL has improved the quality of their food since the last time I sailed with them in 2003 on the Wind. Even though the breakfast buffet selections became boring after a few days, the fruit was very fresh, bakery items were delicious and scrambled eggs weren’t too runny or too dry. We ate breakfast in the Versailles dining room one morning. Extra items on that breakfast menu included Belgian waffles, smoked salmon dishes and biscuits with gravy. The buffet room was well organized – it was divided in two with identical buffets on each side of the room in order to split the crowd in half. Many lunches were enjoyed off the ship, however, when on board, we usually had salads and pastas in the buffet or burgers near the pool. Selections at lunch seemed to change each day but maintained staples such as fruit, pizzas, Caesar salad, small sandwiches and an array of desserts from fruit tarts to a new moose each day. Dinner, as I said before, was much better than the last time I sailed with NCL. A few dishes that stuck out in my mind are the Cooking Light Tilapia (the best meal of the week), the Warm Goat Cheese Potato Au Gratin appetizer and Cooking Light Apple Brandy Pork Roast. For the most part, appetizers, salads and desserts were great. Some entrees left something to be desired such as the Mahi Mahi which was way overcooked. We switched between the two free restaurants each night for dinner and found that the Aqua dining room was noisy and the staff not as attentive. Especially one night when we had dinner with a couple we meet through Cruise Critic. We preferred Versailles. One night we ate at Endless Summer and were disappointed in the food. I had red snapper that was overcooked and didn’t have much flavor. The chips and salsa were a nice touch at the beginning of the meal but we decided to go back to the other restaurants for the rest of the cruise. We were unable to get a reservation in La Trattoria during the cruise and did not try any of the surcharge restaurants. I am not a fan of freestyle dining because I don’t think you should have to waste time waiting for a table or trying to make a reservation for dinner. During peak eating hours, typical wait time for a table is about 20 to 30 minutes. Although, it was nice to be able to enjoy a drink at a nearby bar while waiting for your table. I prefer traditional dining with the same wait staff, same time and same table each night – just so you don’t have to think about it and plan ahead. As for desserts, we were always pleased with the selection. Typically, a frozen yogurt, a sherbet, a Cooking Light selection, a chocolate treat and some type of fruit tart or cheesecake were offered every night. My favorites included the peach frozen yogurt, pineapple sherbet and the chocolate moose. FITNESS CENTER My mother and I did a lot of exercise during the cruise. We walked the track every morning (4 laps is a mile) and then did some weight training in the gym located at the back of the ship just underneath the track. The walking a jogging track was a little narrow but it was nice to have a clearly marked and separated path (separated by a glass wall) from the rest of the pool and sunbathing area. The fitness center has a lot of machines and was never very busy. There are stationery bikes, elliptical machines, rowing machines, treadmills and a lot of quality weight training machines. There is also a stretch and toning area with yoga balls, free weights and mats. Next to this area is a separate room for aerobic, stretch and spinning classes. We participated in a stretch class one morning that was done very well and was a nice way to start the day. For $30, you could sign up for 3 fitness classes throughout the week that included yoga, Pilates and spinning. We did not know until the last day of the cruise that you can collect points for all the fitness activities you participate in and then get a prize at the end of the cruise. We would have kept track of our activities if they had better promoted this program. ACTIVITIES / ENTERTAINMENT Personally, I have always thought that NCL does a great job with daily activities which is one of the reasons I wasn’t too worried about being bored during the first two consecutive sea days. There were dancing classes, language classes, cooking classes and history lectures as well as bingo and other casino games that my grandma enjoyed. My mom and I went to the Second City lecture (they teach you how to do "improv" and you can participate as a volunteer which my mom and I both did) as well as the Italian language lesson. The most enjoyable shows throughout the week included the Second City comedy group, the Newly Wed Game and the talent show. Second City was great – maybe not totally appropriate for kids, but absolutely hilarious and extremely entertaining. It’s an improve comedy group with locations throughout the United States – they have a contract with NCL to provide a group of comedians for ship entertainment. PORTS OF CALL / EXCURSIONS ACAPULCO (ship docked) Acapulco was much more urban than I expected (2.5 million people). We cancelled our ship-booked excursion to take an independent tour with some Cruise Critic members. For $30 each (price based on total number of people, and we had nine total), Rosie took us to many of the city’s top attractions, most of which had few to no other tourists at them. I believe Rosie decides which activities to go to based on the traffic conditions and time allotted, but our tour included a stop at La Quebrada to watch the cliff divers’ 1pm show. This was a very neat experience. Not only is the location beautiful but the divers are outstanding. The divers climb up the cliff and jump at different heights. There were two children (I’m guessing they were in training) that dove from the shorter heights and one diver from the very top of the cliff. Rosie told us the diver’s only dive from the top of the cliff once or twice a week because it is so difficult on their bodies. My only complaint about the viewing area is that there are only a limited number of spaces where you will be able to see when the divers hit the water. I recommend either watching from the restaurant at the top of the hill or making your way down the stairs to the viewing area closest to the cliff (it fills up quickly). But just be aware – there are a lot of stairs at this attraction. The cost to see the divers was $3.50 each or around 30 pesos each. There are souvenirs available and a store at the top of the stairs for silver items, lots of jewelry, wood carvings and bathrooms. Other stops included Casa Blanca Hotel, an abandoned hotel with arguably the best view of the bay, Los Flamingos Hotel with more outstanding views of the coast, Senor Frogs for lunch (not included in the price), the Chapel of Peace and ended the day at Rosie’s parent’s house. They do not speak English but Rosie helped to translate. It was a very interesting experience to see how they live, how their houses are designed and how they survive with their garden and chickens in their back yard. We made our way up to the roof of their house to see another beautiful sight, pink and orange clouds over the bay and our ship in the distance. I highly recommend learning some Spanish for this cruise. It will help you in the stores, in the streets and also grants you a little deserved respect from the locals. Rosie also made a stop at the Hard Rock Café so I could run in and get a pin (I collect them). It was very nice of her to make that extra stop for me and we gave her an extra tip for that. The whole tour lasted about six hours and was thoroughly enjoyable. I highly recommend Rosie for a tour of Acapulco. ZIHUATENEJO For the rest of the cruise, we booked excursions through the ship. Usually, we like to book independent excursions through local tour companies, however, given it was our first Mexican Riviera cruise, we were unfamiliar with the local companies and didn’t really know what the “must see” attractions were. We booked Rustic and Folkloric Countryside for $69 each. We boarded a bus (a very comfortable bus with plush seats and lots of room) and began our approximately 20 minute ride out of the area to the countryside. The first stop was a coconut plantation. We were able to watch a farmer open coconuts, carve out the “meat,” and grind up the coconut flakes. There were some coconut products available for purchase including a coconut, honey and brown sugar candy bar that I highly recommend you purchase. I believe it was one dollar for two large pieces. The plantation also makes pita bread with coconut baked inside that tasted like a sweet sandwich. We were able to try this for free. The next stop was a tile plantation. The tour guide explained the process of making the clay roofing tiles as a local formed them by hand and laid them in the sun to dry. During this presentation, I walked over to a hut where a man was making plates and bricks out of the clay. He did not speak any English but was eager to show me what he was doing and allowed me to take pictures of him. He was also proud to show me the water source for the plantation which was a sad sight to see - a brown creek with bugs floating on top of the current. The man told me he was 82 years old and in great shape, so I’m amazed at how they are able to keep themselves healthy and survive on what they have. He also showed me some of the plants they have growing on the plantation including blue agave cactus (for tequila), aloe vera, loufa, lemongrass, basil and oregano. Everything smelled so wonderful. The final stop for this excursion was a large outdoor restaurant on the beach. We were served fried Spanish mackerel and some local vegetables as well as a free drink (this meal was included in the excursion price). It was a big meal and everything tasked pretty good. We were then given about a half hour to explore the beach. It was a very large beach with some local families and many vendors selling jewelry. The water was clear, clean and very refreshing to wade in. PUERTO VALLARTA We booked “Mexican Cooking & City Tour” for $45 each. This excursion started with a bus ride into the city. We made a few stops and participated in a short walking tour of the waterfront areas. We were given some time to visit the Lady of Guadeloupe church; however, there was a ceremony taking place so we did not spend too much time there. After walking through the city, we were taken to Santo Tequila for our cooking lesson and tequila tasting. We were taught how to make salsa, guacamole, tostadas and tortillas. It was a lot of fun and I’ve been making guacamole at home ever since this trip. We were also given free drink of choice. After eating, we were shown the tequila process and invited to participate in a tequila tasting that was not only a surprise, but a fun event that included four different types of tequilas and a lesson in how to say a Mexican cheer. There is some time to purchase tequila after the tasting. The tour then took us to a shopping area for about a half hour. We asked the tour guide to drop my mother and I off downtown so we could walk over to the Hard Rock Café and then we took a cab ride back to the ship for about $6. CABO SAN LUCAS We booked “Deluxe Coastal Cruise” for $59. I had a feeling that, even though whale watching excursions were not suppose to start until mid-December (to give the whales a chance to settle in their seasonal homes), that the huge amount of coastal cruises would try to seek out the whale families and sure enough, we came across one. My goal for this trip was to see whales and I used a roll and a half of film on them. We were able to get pretty close and watch them swim with Los Arcos and Lovers Beach in the background. The cruise included lots of drinks (beer and margaritas, although the margaritas are not what you’d expect back home – it was tequila, triple sec and orange juice), a history discussion by a crew member and lots of pretty scenery. I think $59 is a little on the expensive side for what we got but seeing the whales made it worth the trip. My mom and I walked into town to see Cabo Wabo and the Hard Rock Café and then took a water taxi (for $10 roundtrip) to Lovers Beach to get some sun and do some snorkeling. WOW! This is the neatest beach I’ve ever been too! The scenery is amazing with huge rocky boulders jolting out of the sand in strange forms and gold sand – the snorkeling wasn’t too bad either. You have to take a water taxi to reach the beach and you will have to jump out of the boat into the shallow water to get to the beach – however there are a couple local guys willing to carry you and your belongings as long as you tip a couple bucks. It is highly recommended that you do not swim on the Pacific side of the beach because the current is very strong, but I recommend at least walking over to that side to see the rock formations and take some great pictures. PUBLIC ROOMS The public rooms are very colorful and tastefully decorated. However, I got in the habit of tapping my fingernails against a lot of decorations throughout the ship and was disappointed to see that most of them were plastic, though they were made to look like concrete or marble. The ship was very clean and comfortable. The theater was very large and tiered well – so it was possible to see the whole stage from every seat. I enjoyed walking down the hallway outside the Steakhouse – it was painted like an outdoor sidewalk in Europe and with the sun rays coming through the windows, it didn’t feel like you were on a cruise ship. The only room I didn’t like was the Carousel Bar – it was very tacky and I didn’t like the whole circus theme. We also enjoyed the Spinnaker Lounge where the Second City performed on the last night as well as the Newly Wed Game Show and the talent show – all were great. Even though we didn’t spend time in it, the Red Lion Pub was really neat. Usually the hang out for watching sports, it was like being in an old English pub. Gatsby’s was a nice bar to get a drink at while you were waiting for your dinner table. There was usually a singer or piano player here. We also used the internet café every day to email our significant other back home – it was $50 for about 100 minutes (I think) and there never seemed to be anyone in that café to help with the computers so you’ll have to fend for yourself. There was only one store for shopping but it had everything you would need including souvenirs, perfume, jewelry, clothing and all the cheap Bijoux Terner items DISEMBARKATION This process took a long time. I’m not sure why some cruise lines make you go through customs on the ship and others make you go through it once you get off the ship. In any case, with NCL we were given colored luggage tags. We had to get new tags because we needed to get off the ship for an early flight. We had to be out of our rooms by around 8am, then we had to wait in a public room until our luggage tags were called – but this didn’t mean we could get off the ship. This meant we could go wait in line for customs. And it was a good thing we ended up getting in line for customs before our luggage tags were called because the line was SO long. We were in line for about an hour. Then we waited for our tags to be called in order to leave the ship. IN SHORT I really enjoyed this itinerary. The Mexican Riviera was much more fun and exciting than I thought it was going to be. I was nervous that I would miss the clear blue waters and sandy beaches of the Caribbean, but the dramatic cliffs, mountains and traditional ways of these port cities made it a thoroughly enjoyable cruise. The cruise ships’ excursions were a lot of fun and the onboard entertainment was excellent. I look forward to going back to visit cities again. I would highly recommend the NCL Star’s for this trip, not for the food, but for the adventure, the scenery and the itinerary. If you have any questions about my experience, feel free to email me at deedesign0281@yahoo.com    

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Oct 15, 2006

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Sarah Rizzuto My husband, my friend, and I embarked on this Mexican Riviera cruise and had a great time! The embarkation process wasn’t all that smooth. Getting to the pier, my husband dropped us girls off with the luggage, then went to park the car and get back. There was a huge U-shaped line of everyone with their baggage. The idea, we think, was that porters with

trolleys would load up people’s bags at the front of the line. Nope. They arbitrarily headed for whoever apparently got their attention. So this took a while and was chaos. Then you go into the terminal, get a number, and wait some more. Forget the “Latitudes” (former customers) special treatment. We didn’t notice any benefits. There was quite a wait to get through that line too, once your number gets called, but then we were home-free to get on the boat. Everyone must use hand sanitizer before getting on the ship, and all over the boat as well, especially around restaurants. I never heard of anyone being sick, so I guess that was a good idea. The ship layout is fine (I have seen worse) and we enjoyed everything. It is true that there is basically only 1 pool. The spa has a small, heated pool, but it is so small, I got out after only 1 lap after I scraped my toenails on the bottom. It’s only like 3 feet deep! You have to pay to use this pool, or you can use it before or after a spa treatment. We each visited the spa 3 times during our trip, and each treatment was wonderful. Except the acupuncture. Somehow my husband got the idea that would be neat to try, and he was just mad afterward! Not relaxing at all. But the massages, seaweed wrap, facials, and pedicures were wonderful! Pretty pricey, but very pampering and relaxing. The restaurants were all decent to very good. LeBistro was probably our most favorite. It is French, and everything was awesome. Teppanyaki is hard to get into, as there is only 1 table for 12 people. The food was good, but man, we were stuck with the most awful group of 8 that diminished the experience. The Blue Lagoon is a very informal, awkwardly-placed little restaurant that is surprisingly wonderful! They plug it as ‘comfort food’ and it includes a small menu of things like fish and chips, some Asian dishes, macaroni and cheese, cookies, etc. It is super casual, and really good. The main restaurants, Versaille and Aqua, had nice atmosphere, but most nights we weren’t interested in their menus so we rarely ate there. Breakfasts and lunches there were great, but I’m not sure we ever hit dinner there more than once. The Market Café is a huge buffet with 3 or 4 sections to it, and there was always plenty good stuff there to choose! We were there most of the time. The only problem was it was hard to find a Coke in there. By the way, the Coke cup (unlimited refills) has gone up to $48, which I thought was awful. A can of Coke is only $1.75, and you get the whole can. The refills are small and you can only get them filled in certain places, like the bars. There is a minibar in the cabins, and the prices there are the same. That was nice. You have to make reservations at the ‘pay’ restaurants, and by mid-week, they were pretty much booked, so we were not able to hit all of them. Cagney’s is their steakhouse, and it was rather disappointing. (Compared to Fleming’s, Rainwaters, or Ruths’ Chris fare) If you go before 6pm, most of the restaurant fees were half price. The rooms were fine. We were in a balcony room on the 8th floor. It was bigger than others we have had, and the balcony was awesome. We later learned that the balcony rooms above us didn’t have as much enclosure on the sides as we did, but that wasn’t a big deal. It’s great to be able to lean over and see where you have arrived in the morning. The bathroom size wasn’t bad. Still small, but I’ve seen worse. My friend was in an interior room and her room was smaller, but the bathroom seemed bigger. We didn’t see many of the shows at night (always so busy…) in the big theater, but there was this one musician that we loved- Jana Seale. She was either in Gatsby’s or the Star Lounge with her guitar, and her song book is full of the great acoustic stuff we love. She has a wonderful voice that is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. There are trivia games, bingo, and many other things going on that are quite fun. Our group won trivia one night and was rewarded with 4 decks of NCL cards. Woohoo! So we shared with the runners up. Our first stop was Acapulco, and we took a tour that included the Fort of San Diego, which is right where the ship parks, then on to see the cliff divers (pretty cool), we criss-crossed the main road a couple times, stopped at the Flamingo hotel. This was kind of a waste of time, because a lot of time was blown driving around. The roads are crazy, busy, and stinky like exhaust. I would have rather walked to the Fort ourselves, taken a cab to the cliff divers, and there was lots of shopping right near the ship. The next day was Zihuatenejo, which was very relaxing. We basically just walked off the ship, found a restaurant right on the beach, had a great breakfast and naranjaras (a must!!!), then walked around, shopped, laid on the beach, had lunch, drank a few, and relaxed the whole day. The vendors are pretty annoying, coming at you nearly constantly with their wares, but all you can do is shoo them off. Then it was Puerto Vallarta. We first (don’t laugh) went to Wal-mart! They thought I was crazy, but it is right across from where we parked, and I wanted to see how similar it was to the American stores. And get some soap- I hated the stuff on the ship. My husband wanted some walkie-talkies and found some at the Sam’s Club next door. We then took a cab to the Melancon (the touristy beach and shopping area). We had a great lunch, naranjaras, etc., then took off to relax on the beach while my husband went walking all over, exploring the place. Watch out; there was one bar where they totally try to rip you off. Try to entice you with Cheetos with hot sauce then want $9 for a little cup of a drink. The last stop was Cabo, which is awesome. We had been there 6 years ago on another cruise, but this time I didn’t remember anything being similar to how it is now. There is a ton of new construction of condos, hotels, and restaurants all around a yacht harbor and shopping (same stuff, different port). We ended up on the beach, and it was beautiful. This is the one stop where the water is pretty and relatively warm and you want to get in it. My friend and I took a 45-minute boat ride for $12 out to see the Arch, pelican rock, lover’s beach (not much), etc. That was well worth it; it was fun, a small group, and we saw the famous stuff up close. My husband had discovered Margaritaville, a restaurant on one end of the harbor, and we met him there for awesome drinks and food. There was a very unpleasant man at the next table complaining about the prices, but you get one of their big margaritas, and nothing seems to matter after that! We had a great time at an outside, 2nd floor balcony table. Getting off the ship was the easiest thing EVER! You have your choice of putting your bags outside your room at night to be collected, and you get off by colored luggage tags, or you can carry your bags yourself and basically get off at your leisure when they call floors. We were off by 7am!! 8 days was about 1 day too long, and it is so funny to see how everyone wants on the ship so bad the first day, can’t wait to get on, and the last day, everyone wants off so bad, can’t wait to get off! But it was a great trip, lots of relaxing, lots of food, lots of scenery, lots of things to do.    

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Oct 14, 2006

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Steve Azer We just returned from an 8-day excursion to the Mexican Riviera on the Norwegian Star. We chose the Star for two primary reasons. First, we planned our vacation on short notice and they had space available on this cruise. And secondly, because this cruise stopped in Acapulco, Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo, an itinerary that was more thorough than the

other cruise lines. We avoided the smaller ports like Manzanillo and Mazatlan, which in our opinion were smaller and less attractive. I’ll summarize the review by saying there are a lot of things to like and dislike about the Norwegian Star. If you know what you’re getting into before you go, you can decide for yourself if this is the right ship for you. We had an open mind heading into it, as this was the first time for us cruising with NCL. Highlights of the cruise include the great itinerary, the excellent service onboard, the cleanliness of the ship, and the choices available for drinking and dining with their Freestyle cruising options. Lowlights of the cruise include their near total lack of organization on embarkation and disembarkation, the quality of the food in the main dining rooms, the small pool, and the ship’s tendency to try and be all things to all people, which can cause it to fall short for many. Our embarkation process was a total nightmare. I could write an entire review about that alone. Suffice it to say our cruise was 5 hours late getting starting because a passenger had jumped overboard on the way home from the cruise before ours. Law enforcement had to come on and clear the ship prior to the previous group disembarking, and my group embarking. That said, the embarkation process was a total failure and there was a complete lack of any proficiency or organization. Our embarkation including standing outside in the rain on the outer edge of the parking lot for nearly three hours, waiting in an overcrowded port hall with no seats, no food or beverage options, no signs, no staff, no organization of any kind. Older people had to stand for hours with no chairs, people were breaking into fights in line just trying to board the vessel. It was a complete breakdown in every regard. I understand why the cruise was late, but it was as is every process and procedure went out the window and there was no sign of NCL direction, support or efficiency until 5 hours later we finally found ourselves on the boarding deck. First impressions go a long way, and NCL completely dropped the ball on everyone on this cruise. I honestly felt like I was in a third world country trying to board the boat to start my vacation. Once onboard, we made a conscious decision to let the embarkation process go and move on, to enjoy the rest of our vacation. The itinerary starts off with two sea days, enough to get your city life behind you and get into vacation mode. It’s also a great opportunity to explore the ship. I liked the ship overall. They keep it immaculately clean. There are numerous dining and bar options, more than on most other ships, as part of their Freestyle Cruising concept. The menus are uniquely different in each restaurant. Our favorites were Cagney’s Steakhouse and Ginza, the Asian restaurant. Here’s my take on the food. If you like all you can eat bland buffets, you’ll be pleased. Breakfast and lunch were generally un-memorable. For breakfast, we preferred the pool deck where you can get made to order omelets, however the lines can get pretty long and they only can cook two at a time. The Marketplace Buffet is fantastic for people watching, not so great for food quality. The Blue Lagoon is open 24 hours for made to order diner food. Service at the Versailles dining room was great, but the food there is hit and miss and sometimes cold. The best dining options were the restaurants with the additional surcharges. We really enjoyed Cagney’s Steakhouse and Ginza, mentioned above. Reservations were fairly easy to make, and if you book for an early dinner you can often get half off of the surcharge fee. Service and food quality in the paid restaurants was significantly better and $10-20 is a small price to pay for filet mignon and live lobster, for instance. Entertainment on the ship was generally enjoyable. The onboard song and dance crew certainly do their best to deliver. Sometimes they hit and sound great, other times they sound like they needed more rehearsal. The dancers were fantastic. The theater is great, and good seats were generally available for each of the two shows. There was a magician onboard one evening who was great. There are movies onboard in the cinema, however they were not widescreen format and the screen was dark like a bad TV set. Movies also show on your room TV’s. There were numerous bars. I enjoyed the Star Bar on deck 13 with acoustic guitar music at night. The design and layout of the ship was clean and easy to follow. The pool space is quite large, although the pool itself is tiny. Don’t be fooled. They mention three pools on ship. One is a kiddy pool, the second is in the spa and costs $15 per day to access. The main pool on the main deck is incredibly small for a 2000+ passenger ship. There are numerous Jacuzzis. This ship seems very well geared for kids. From the pool slides to the Kids Zone to the mini-buffets set at kid level, there are lots of kid friendly options. I had a porthole cabin on deck 4, which was small but comfortable enough. The bathrooms are larger than on some other ships. Storage space is tight. Cabin service is good. Regarding the ports, we had rough weather in Acapulco, although we did enjoy the cliff divers. Ixtapa was nice enough, Puerto Vallarta was the highlight and Cabo San Lucas was small, compact and too American for my taste. I’ll leave the port reviews to others, although I will mention that we didn’t book any tours on the cruise and frankly were really happy about that. The tours had a lot of waiting in line, follow the leader, etc. You are only as brisk as your slowest tour member. Too much on and off the busses. If you aren’t very mobile you might find the tours to be helpful. But if you can navigate on your own, do so. You’ll find the prices of the tours and taxis drop accordingly to how many yards you are from the cruise terminal. A $30 taxi ride near the dock becomes $20-$15 a few blocks away. I’m not sure I would seek out another NCL cruise, mostly because of the embarkation issues and food quality compared to other lines, however their service levels were high, they aimed to please where they could, and my overall experience was pleasant. NCL also tends to repeat the same on-board events from cruise to cruise, “Mr Hairy Chest contest,” “Family Feud,” etc, which could get old after repeated cruises. Hope you have a great cruise and bon voyage!  

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By Katy_CR

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Oct 4, 2006

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Katy We sailed out of San Pedro on October 5th. The Norwegian Star was not as nice a ship as we had experienced on our Princess cruises. Food - The buffet food was so-so. We did not know in advance that to opt for most of the dining rooms we thought were included in "freestyle" dining would include a surcharge. The only dining room that was acceptable was the Versaille.

Even there, the wait staff was not as attentive to detail as I have experienced on my Princess cruises. There were times that the items served were not as listed on the menu. I would have expected the wait staff to advise the diner of the substitutions before bringing the item to the table. Ports of Call - We purchased a shore excursion in Acapulco that was advertised as 3 3/4 hours. The first 1 1/4 were spent getting to the boat that was to take us on a bay cruise and leaving the dock. The drinks were marginal, the food was not kept at good temperatures and we were afraid to eat it. The excursion was not worth the $65 we paid per person. At three of four ports of call we had to board tenders to shore. In Puerto Vallarta, they said that there was too much sand in the port to take the ship to the pier. There was a long wait to board the tenders. There was also a Princess ship that was docked at the pier. Why we could not dock, I'm really not sure. The ship - NCL advertises several pools. The only pool that is really available to adults at no extra charge is a pool much too small for the number of people carried on the ship. Therefore, we did not use the pool as we had planned. The movie theater has a terrible screen. It reminded me of watching movies at my small town theater in the 1950s. The seats in the main show theater are very uncomfortable. They are small, low to the ground and tend to tilt downward making you happy that their shows are only one hour long. Unfortunately, while we were cruising a passenger went missing and we had to return to the area where it is thought that the passenger went overboard. The crew did not seem well prepared to handle the end of the cruise when our ship returned late to port. We were advised to drag our luggage up to the 12th deck to go through immigration. We waited in line for a long time and then dragged our luggage back down to the 4th deck to wait in a narrow corridor for well over an hour before the FBI gave clearance to let passengers off the ship. We were not given assistance in rebooking our flight home. I have made several calls to NCL customer services. After long waits on hold, I have not been given any useful assistance on whether or not I will be reimbursed for my extra travel expenses or the basis for an additional charge that showed up on my credit card bill.  

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Jun 24, 2006

Alaska

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Alaska Mark Hafner This was my 9th cruise and one of the best. The NCL Star is a great ship. We had a balcony room on the 9th floor. We left the port of Seattle right on time. The embarkation went well and we were on this ship within 40 minutes. The crew and staff were very friendly. The lunch buffet around the pool and in the Market restaurant was one of the best I have had on cruises.

The room was very clean and quite large for a cruise ship. Freestyle dining is the best. So many choices and you can eat at anytime. The longest wait we had in the main dining room was 15 minutes. Food was good. The only complaint I have is that they now charge to use the steam rooms, saunas, and indoor pool. $15.00 per day or $60.00 per week. This is the first time I have ever been asked to pay for these amenities on a ship. The exercise room was free and it was very good. The ports were excellent. The shore excursions were somewhat expensive and we did book some of them at the dock to save some extra money. For instance the Glacier and City tour in Juneau was $49.00 on the ship. We booked the same trip for $22.00 at the dock. When you get to Ketchican get off the ship right away. We made the mistake of taking our time and when we got off the ship at 9:00am it was too late to book excursions as the ship leaves at noon. All we did was shop. Alaska is a great destination and the NCL Star is a great choice.  

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Jun 22, 2006

Alaska

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Alaska Marlene Stein Horrible. We were on the Star last year and it was our favorite ship. That is why we chose the Star to Alaska. The food was simply horrible. The service was very poor. How could a ship that was our favorite become the worst ship in just 14 months? We were so shocked. Was NCL bought out by Carnival? It was worse than our one and only Carnival cruise. We resented

the mandatory $10/day when our service was terrible. Did you know you don't have to pay this? The bathroom floor was never washed. Pills I dropped were on the floor for days. We were very disappointed. We will never sail NCL again.  

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Jun 3, 2006

Alaska

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Alaska Bob Erickson This was our 9th cruise on Norwegian and 2nd cruise to Alaska. Getting to the pier from the airport was simple and fast. I pre-booked a ride for 6 thru Emerald City Shuttle Service (888-622-3400). We started the boarding process at 11:45 and were in our cabin by 12:15. We ended up with an inside cabin on the 4th deck, which turned out to be not so bad. Most of the

departures were from the 4th deck, it was quiet, not crowded and dark for sleeping. We had traveled on the Jewel in January and found the Star to be pretty much the same ship; clean, easy to navigate, and a very friendly staff. Our only complaint would have to be that the Market Cafe closed much too early, but there is a small 24 hour restaurant on the 7th deck (Blue Lagoon) which was very handy for coffee for the late night and early morning. The main dining room (Versailles) was open for lunch, which we found out too late…but did have a nice lunch in the 12th deck Market Café. We were sailing before we knew it and for the rest of the trip it was a very smooth ride. Cloudy, a little rain off and on all the way to Juneau. In Juneau, we went to the Mendenhall Glacier and will recommend it for everyone to see. Postcard picture opportunities from every angle. It stopped raining and didn’t rain again for the rest of the trip. Skagway was sunny and warm (well, being from Minnesota, it was warm). Don’t miss taking the train ride…...outstanding scenery and wonderful picture taking again. Of course there is lots of shopping to do there too. Glacier Bay was the highlight of the trip. Our last trip there was all rain and cold weather. This time the sun was out and even though it was chilly, it was spectacular. Lots of calving from the glaciers, humpback whales, Orcas, seals, dolphins and sea otters. At times there were whales in every direction. What a humbling place to be with the animals, blue sky and all the snowcapped mountains. We took the City Cultural Tour in Ketchikan. Very informative and a great chance to see many of the reproduced Totem Poles at the park and then see the antique ones at the museum. Great culture and craftsmanship went into their creation. Victoria was a place we just walked around, went out on the pier to the lighthouse and sat and watched the sun setting with the mountains in the background. A general review of the ship would have to be: Clean, friendly, very smooth sailing. We ate mostly in the Versailles dining room. The food was good, not great, lobster night was the best meal (on the Jewel it was our worst meal) the food serving staff were very good but we didn’t find anyone that was outstanding. Our room was cleaned and taken care of very well. The shipboard events were standard cruise fare…Fun but the same old same old…… Our party of six thought the over all entertainment was a step down from what we’ve normally found on the Norwegian ships. Great magician, but a little self-serving in promoting himself. Good show band, Kim Doolittle, Stan Sykes were good. The Jean Ann Ryan company were probably the best dancers of all the shows we’ve seen, but the production numbers were not up the standards of what has been done on other ships that we’ve been on. Cirque Bijou on the Jewel was the best of the best, but the Cirque Pacific on the Star was lacking as a big production number and even boring at times. Overall, we would go back in a heartbeat and we probably will. We’ve been on other cruise ships but we still think Norwegian is the way to go, mostly for the people and the Freestyle system. We plan on 2 or more cruises this coming winter with Norwegian and can’t wait to try the new ships coming online. Thanks for a wonder time Norwegian.  

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May 6, 2006

Alaska

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Alaska Sarah Hoagland Summary: Horrible start, average finish! Due to scheduling completely in the control of NCL the ship arrived late. I was forced, along with 2400 other people, to stay in a Convention Center in town for 10 hours w/ only water and coffee. NCL slowly bused half full buses to the Pier and slowly processed the passengers. I wasn't allowed on board until 12:30 am the

next day!!! We didn't depart until 2am and therefore went full speed to make up the lost time. NCL pulled up the stabilizers and there was coincidentally rough seas so half the ship was sick...literally. There were barf bags on each level by the elevators...it was like a horror movie. My baggage was lost and I would get to bed until hours later because my contact solution was in the lost baggage. I was sick the whole second day due to the high speed we were forced to go. The stops themselves were really nice but I will never take a cruise with NCL again, due to their complete lack of care. They have failed to every apologize or move to compensate any of the passengers. Go to Alaska...it's amazing...just not with NCL.

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May 3, 2006

LA to Vancouver

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review 3-day repositioning. Los Angeles to Vancouver Karen Knowlton My husband and I booked a 3-day repositioning cruise on Norwegian Star, sailing 4 May 2006 one way from Los Angeles to Vancouver, moving the ship from her winter Mexican Riviera itineraries to her summer Alaska cruise schedule. It was our vacation, and I also wanted to sample Freestyle cruising, which NCL initiated after my

last cruise with this line. The idea of a repositioning cruise was also appealing, just because it’s different from the usual cruise itineraries. We really enjoyed the Freestyle dining concept, allowing us to choose when and where to have our meals, and allowing us to dress casually – neither of us particularly enjoys formal nights. My husband also agreed with me that NCL’s entertainment troupe, the Jean Ann Ryan Co., does a superb job. The weather was less than ideal - cloudy and rainy and only in the 50s for much of the cruise – but we had just about enough warm clothes with us, and we enjoyed the opportunity to relax during the 1 ½ days at sea. The layout of the ship took us the entire 3 days to learn, which is not unusual for us, and we liked the various small venues in the ship – the small bars, especially the out-of-the-way ones, and all the alternate restaurants. Décor is brighter and more whimsical than I expected – very different from my previous NCL experience on the old Norwegian Sea – and it’s a bit much for my taste, though not as in-your-face as one other cruise line that comes to mind. The ship traveled very fast on this trip, about 23 ½ knots, close to its designed maximum speed. We had expected rough seas, but despite the rainy weather, it was not stormy, and we experienced only a gentle rocking most of the way. Noticed very little vibration from the propulsion system too, even in the dining room and gift shop at the stern. We ate in a main dining room one night and in alternate restaurants the other two nights, and found quite a difference in the food and the service. Breakfast and dinner were in the Market Café (buffet) or Blue Lagoon casual restaurant, and were decent enough (Blue Lagoon was quite enjoyable, but hard to find a seat during regular meal hours.) Service onboard was good, though not exceptional in most cases. Most of the crew we saw were either from the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, or from eastern Europe. Officers were largely a mix of Norwegian and British. The captain appeared personable; we didn’t take the opportunity to meet him on formal night, but observed his interaction with a few other passengers. The passenger mix was, by our guess, about 60% Canadian (mostly from B.C.) and nearly 40% U.S., with a small contingent of Australians. Most of the Americans were from the west coast; we definitely stood out as an oddity, and people reacted with surprise to hear we are from Illinois. There was some good-natured ribbing going on, sometimes prodded a little by the cruise staff, between Canadians and Americans (and also between Vancouverites and Torontoans, who apparently have a big rivalry going). There was also a surprising number of families onboard, considering school is not yet out for the summer in most places; I later heard there were 400 children onboard. I didn’t notice any real behavior problems, and saw a group of kids enjoying what looked like a fun activity with the kids’ program, interviewing a chef and learning to make pizza at one end of the buffet area. Adding a night before and two nights after the cruise on land made it a full week of vacation, and we capped the trip off with a visit with friends before returning home to the Midwest. Day-to-Day Wed., 3 May 2006: We flew from Chicago to Los Angeles this afternoon on American Airlines, having booked the flight separately from the cruise line. The nonstop flight was uneventful and arrived on time. After collecting our bags, we went outside to the outer curb and took a PrimeTime shuttle van to the L.A. harbor in San Pedro, about a 20-minute drive. Cost was reasonable, $16 per person (plus tip for the driver). Weather was cloudy, and much cooler than the national weather report had led us to expect – only in the low 60s! We had chosen the San Pedro Holiday Inn for our pre-cruise stay, again booked separately from NCL, and found it to be an interesting hotel. There isn’t much to choose from in San Pedro, and the HI was about as good as some of the other choices, and relatively convenient. It’s an older hotel, and in need of some TLC, but the antique furnishings, light fixtures, wallpaper etc., plus some of the architectural features like high ceilings, made me feel it’s a gem in the rough. Our room was very large. The bed was quite comfortable, and linens were clean, but the carpet was stained and the walls really need a fresh coat of paint. The exact same picture was hung over both sides of the bed, which we found amusing. We decided to eat an inexpensive meal, and walked the ½ block to Burger King for an early dinner (by Pacific time standards). There are also several pizza places nearby, apparently some of which deliver, and a few Asian restaurants of uncertain quality. If the front desk clerk who checked us in had been more helpful, we might have asked them for a recommendation. The street where the HI is located is busy, with all sorts of small businesses. Thursday, 4 May: We got up at our leisure, having gone to bed early (body clocks still 2 hours later than the local time) and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Service was ok, if a bit slow, but only 2 workers were on duty in the dining room. It seemed the hostess and waiter did each other’s jobs interchangeably. There were perhaps 7 or 8 other guests eating there. It made me feel a little sad that this potential gem of a hotel is so obviously barely hanging on financially. I hope their weekend business is much better! The breakfast menu offered quite a few choices and wasn’t unreasonably priced. We had a big breakfast, not knowing how early we’d be able to board the ship. We took the hotel shuttle to the pier, which we had to reserve the night before. We had chosen the noon shuttle, which actually arrived about 12:20, but no harm done, and we were soon at the cruise terminal. Outside the terminal building, we were first directed to the porters to check our bigger bags. We presented them our cruise documents and they tagged our luggage and took it in on carts. That accomplished, we entered the building, having to show our documents and photo ID at the door. Up the escalator to the main check-in area, we were directed to one of two long snaking lines (a la Disney), and noticed as we stood in it that it led to stations labeled “Latitudes,” “non-US & Canadian citizens” and for suites guests. We were none of the above, but many others in our line weren’t either, as conversation disclosed. We decided that this line had been too short, and they were evening them out by sending us here, and so it proved to be. We waited in line perhaps 20-30 minutes before checking in, which was a relatively painless process. Our picture was taken for encoding on our sail cards right at the booth, saving a step, and the whole process was seamless, if not exactly a well-oiled machine. Outside by the ship’s hull, I stopped to take a picture of it, and a guard rushed up and forbade me, for security reasons. Oh well, I can get one during our port call in a couple days. The usual ship’s photographer spot for the “before” picture was set up right before the gangway to the ship, and we obliged them. Our Cabin #9120 We were able to go right to our cabin, #9120, a balcony cabin midships on deck 9. The hallways on the cabin decks are brightly colored, with teal blue cabin doors and red and blue carpeting. Our cabin also is bright and cheery (a little brighter than I like), with bright green & yellow bedspread, bright blue and red carpet, walls of either light finish or an attractive cherry-finish woodwork. There are a desk and chair, a small TV, a very firm couch (probably a pullout bed), a makeup table with stool, closet, 3 deep drawers, a cabin safe, several open shelves in the closet, a coffeemaker (!), and a stocked minibar (that’s an extra charge, of course). The balcony is good-sized, enough for a lounge chair (not fully extended), sitting chair and small table. Clear plexiglas below the railing allows a good view, and the footing has the appearance, if not the texture, of cork. The queen-size bed is firm, but we found it comfortable. Clothes storage was barely adequate for us – perhaps we bring too much – but I could have used a couple more drawers. The closet, however, was of good size, with just enough hangers. The Bathroom The bathroom we found impressively large. One enters right to the sink, which is flanked by the toilet room on one side and the shower stall on the other. Both side “rooms” have sliding glass (plexi?) doors. The sink has the usual mirror, with an attached magnifying makeup mirror on one side, and the standard shelves above and below the sink. The sink area and toilet room are of the same woodwork as some of the cabin. The shower is huge for a cruise ship – plenty of room for even large people, and the door is so much more pleasant than those clingy shower curtains. Controls are European-style, which took a little time to figure out, but are really fairly simple. (Just set them to where the buttons are and you’ll be fine.) The showerhead had seen a little use and wear, but still performed well, with good water pressure. The Norwegian Star's Interior After getting acquainted with our cabin, and watching some of the embarkation action from our balcony, we went up to deck 12 to the Market Café buffet for a late lunch. Lots of choices, from salads and sandwiches to pizza and some hot food. I thought of eating light, but my husband wanted something more substantial, so after wandering for a bit, we got burgers at the poolside grill, which turned out to be thick, juicy and delicious. We found a table by the pool and ordered a drink from the first waiter to come by, who turned out to be the worst one of our cruise; we finished our burgers and would have just left, except that he had taken my sail card (which doubles as a room key)!! Finally, after perhaps ½ hour, he brought our drinks. Other servers in the area, we noticed, brought orders much faster. Maybe he took a lunch break in between?? After lunch, we toured the ship, enjoying some warmish sunshine on the pool deck. When we returned to our cabin at 3:30, our bags were already there! Unpacked and relaxed in our cabin, watching the goings-on from the balcony, until the safety drill at 5:30, slightly delayed by a few latecomers. Our lifejackets were stored on an open shelf in our cabin, easy to grab, and our muster station was right below our cabin, two decks down, on the promenade underneath the hanging lifeboats. The drill procedure went fairly quickly, all things considered, and by 6 PM was concluded. The crowds on the elevators and in the stairwells afterward led one lady to observe, “this is the one time the ship feels crowded.” We watched sailaway from our balcony. About halfway down the channel from the pier to the breakfront, a loudspeaker onshore suddenly blared the Norwegian national anthem, which I recognized from watching the Lillehammer Olympics years ago, and later a male voice with strong accent (probably Norwegian) addressed the ship and wished us a safe journey. As this was Norwegian Star’s farewell to San Pedro for about 6 months, I thought it was a nice sendoff. Versailles Restaurant We followed a freighter out past the breakwater, and eventually started our turn toward the west and then north. At that point, as it was near sunset (and very cloudy again), and dinnertime, we changed from jeans into slacks and went to dinner. We had decided to eat in one of the main restaurants, and opted for Aqua, located amidship on deck 6. It was already quite busy, and we were told there were no tables for 2 available – were we willing to share? We said yes, and were led to a large round table in the somewhat crowded, modern-design restaurant. We were soon joined by 3 other couples, all from Vancouver but originally from Portugal. Two of the couples weren’t very communicative, but the ones who sat next to me were companionable. The restaurant was noisy, however, and it was difficult to maintain a conversation, especially needing to concentrate due to accent differences. The food was pretty good, though my husband’s prime rib was more done than he wanted, and my salmon wasn’t as fresh as I had hoped; still, their preparation made them taste good, and they were quite edible. Desserts were a hit – even the vanilla ice cream was especially good! Service was a bit slow, and our assistant server, a young lady from Bali, was really into the freshly ground pepper role, which we found amusing. (We even wondered if she’d offer it with dessert, but she drew the line there.) We excused ourselves about 8:40 and went to the Galleria, the large “emporium” that serves as the ship’s gift shops, to try to buy a windbreaker. I have used up the one I bought on a previous cruise, and hoped to find one, but was very disappointed in the logo wear selection. On a ship headed for Alaska, no long-sleeved t-shirts (at least none that I liked, and very few of them), and absolutely no windbreakers! I did buy a few toiletries we had forgotten to bring along, and we headed back to the cabin. We were both too tired to stay up for a show, and opted to skip the comedian scheduled for tonight. Friday, 5 May: This was a full day at sea, and those planning on some pool and suntan time were seriously disappointed, as the entire day was cloudy, cold and rainy – high temperatures in the low 50s, with an 18-knot wind. We had a few disappointments in our cabin this morning, mostly due to electrical malfunction. The plug in the bathroom, of uncertain voltage, never seemed to work at all. And the coffeemaker had a strange plug which seemed like it should fit in the 220v outlet right beside it, but it didn’t want to go in. Of course we didn’t discover that until my husband had already filled it up with water! We slept well and late, ending up in rush hour at the Market Café at 8:30 AM; difficult to find a table, and ended up sharing one with a large and boisterous young family. My husband enjoys reading, and was amply supplied with books we had brought, although he did check out the library, and relaxed for a time in the reading room, until a lecture held there intervened. I joined a group of 20 or so for the trivia game in the Red Lion Pub mid-morning, and my team came in 2nd. I intended to participate again, but other events intervened – more on that later. After trivia, I made dinner reservations for tonight and tomorrow night in two of the alternate restaurants at the desk next to the purser’s. It was quite easy, especially with all the choices available (I had picked 3 possible, and could be a bit flexible with exact days and times.) As we prefer to eat early, it was quite easy and I got both first choices. Other activities for us today were shopping in the Galleria and spending some time on the internet. Lunch was in the Blue Lagoon. Food there is good, a combination of down-home cooking (like soup and burgers) and international, with things like miso-type soups and fish & chips on the menu. Unfortunately the restaurant straddles a high-traffic area, and resembles a cafeteria but is actually waiter-serviced. With limited seating, it’s always busy and usually full during mealtimes. Otherwise, we liked this little eating establishment quite a bit. The internet café turned out to be located only a few doors down from our cabin, reached by a “secret door” through the wall into the top of the atrium. It’s spacious and airy, and NCL was offering some decent (for cruise line) rates for the short cruise, amounting to about 40 cents an hour. Connection and use speed was quite fast, and my 60 minutes of use turned out to be just the right amount to keep in touch with a few family and friends, and check the weather report for our port call in Astoria, Oregon and for Vancouver. One more thing to do today was to sign up for “freestyle disembarkation,” which entails our taking our own luggage off the ship in Vancouver, rather than leaving it out in the hall by 3 AM for the crew to handle. We decided the tradeoff was worth it, and that we should try it, but passengers are asked to sign up ahead of time to participate. The weather having forced everyone but a handful of very hardy souls inside, my husband commented that the ship seemed really crowded, and I had to agree. I never had realized how many passengers spend much of the time up on deck! By late afternoon there were some peeks of sun through the clouds, and some peeks at the mountainous coastline of northern California in the distance, which was enjoyable. In the captain’s afternoon announcement, he said we were between 16 and 24 miles offshore. Dinner that night was in Ginza, the Asian alternate restaurant. We had a table for two, and ate from the menu, not being into sushi. Teppanyaki is also available, but seating is limited. The wait staff all wear kimonos or other Asian costume, and for a restaurant open to passersby, the atmosphere was pleasant enough – perhaps a bit too light and not intimate enough. Background music is disappointingly lounge-type music; Asian music would have been nice. Not possible, though, given the location of this restaurant, next to (and open to) Gatsby’s champagne bar with a live pianist. (Very good, by the way.) We both ordered a Thai soup, which was delicious, but a warning – if you see something in it that resembles a tiny, thin piece of asparagus, do not eat it!! It’s extremely hot! My mouth was on fire, and the waiter had to go find a glass of milk to quench it with. My husband had an entrée of pork, prepared in 3 ways, and I had the tempura shrimp. Both were delicious, and presented beautifully on Japanese “boxes” (I’m not sure of the correct term.) My dessert, a wonderful passion fruit cheesecake, was just gorgeous – but I ate it anyway, and it tasted as good as it looked. Service was good, better than it had been in Aqua the night before. This was “optional formal night,” and there was quite a mix of dress. More passengers than I expected were very dressed up – especially fun were the children, many of whom were in pretty dresses and patent-leather shoes, or shirts and little ties. About half were dressed in “resort casual” slacks outfits, and a few were in jeans and t-shirts. The best part was the feeling that all was ok. No one seemed to be upset or annoyed at others being dressed differently than they were. We had a bit of a comedy of errors trying to get some way for our coffeemaker to work (my husband does like his own coffee in the morning). After a few misunderstandings at the purser’s desk, they sent a maintenance man, who understood when we showed him the problem, and returned with a little plastic plug-like thing that he apparently had appropriated from some crewman’s electric adaptor kit! He installed it in the 220v outlet, but had to push really hard to get the plug to go in, making quite a noise! Apparently this coffeemaker had never been plugged in, and the outlet itself may have never been used! Saturday, 6 May: Yet another cloudy, damp, cool morning. I was awakened really early by a real sense of movement, over and above the gentle rocking we had had all of yesterday. Looking out, we could see lights onshore, indicating we were closer to it than we had been previously. Our coffeemaker worked this morning – evidently nothing broke when the maintenance guy plugged it in – and the hair dryer in our cabin was really powerful, a real change from most cruiseline-provided hair dryers! We went to breakfast in the Market Café about 7:15 this morning and it was much less crowded! One aspect of it we especially enjoyed is the kids’ buffet area at one end, with low tables, cartoon-like characters, and a little low buffet table just for them; at breakfast it has eggs, bacon, sweet rolls, muffins and cold cereal, and at lunch it has burgers, hot dogs, French fries and pizza. Cute. After breakfast we passed by a fleet of little fishing boats, not too far away. The mountains in the mist in the background made it a pretty picture, if in shades of gray. I had intended to go to the trivia contest again at 9:30, but before that, the captain announced that the Columbia River pilot would be arriving by helicopter at 9:30, and those who wished to watch should be up on deck by that time. He said that this is one of only two places in the world – the other being Bordeaux, France – where the pilots come out to the cruise ships by helicopter, as the ride in their small pilot boats is so hazardous. (The Columbia River “bar” is notorious for its ferocity, and even several pilots, not to mention many other people, have been lost in this area.) We decided this was a special enough occasion to watch the procedure, and headed for the stern on deck 12, where the helipad is located. Of course due to safety concerns, we couldn’t get close, and the crew members there directed us to deck 13 or 14 “mid” as the best place to watch from. We found a place by the rail, and after a while, we could hear the chopper in the distance. We couldn’t see the actual landing, but it was interesting to watch the crewmen in fire gear on the deck behind us, crouching to avoid the blades as the helicopter landed long enough to unload the pilot. After that excitement, we spent most of the rest of the morning on our balcony, watching as we drew closer to the shoreline and entered the mouth of the Columbia River, huge and wide, threading through green forested hills and rock jetties. (We learned that the Columbia is the second-largest river in North America, in terms of volume.) We passed several barges being towed by tugboats, and a sunken freighter – a sobering reminder of why we need pilots! The current is so strong that it took us about 45 minutes to turn and sidle up to the dock in Astoria, bow and stern thrusters working hard the whole time. This town of 10,000 turned out in droves to greet us, one of 35 cruise calls they receive in a year, and I was touched at their warm welcome. Volunteers in blazers, bus shuttle drivers, school buses, craftsmen and artisans, etc. provided transportation, information, souvenirs and sightseeing for all who chose – which was most of us. We arrived about 12:30 PM and the line – or rather, mob – to get off stretched up two decks worth of stairwells! My husband and I decided to wait to disembark, and went up to the Market Café for a light lunch first. From there we could look over the dock area, and monitor how the disembarkation was going. By the time we finished lunch, the crowds had dissipated somewhat and the shore excursion buses had left, so we then headed down to the lower deck and walked off the ship. We had visited Astoria briefly before, on a driving trip, so we had decided to forego the shore excursions offered and just explore on our own. Volunteers gave us stickers to wear, labeled “special visitor,” passed out maps of the town, and sold tickets for shuttle buses (some folks chose to walk the 2 miles into town). Due to time constraints, we opted for the bus, and went to visit the Columbia Maritime Museum. We were quite impressed; a modern facility with a sweeping roofline and huge picture windows overlooking the river, it holds exhibits about the heroic rescues (and the losses) of the famous “bar,” the fishing industry, duck hunting, and some general ecological and historical information about the area. In conjunction with the museum, one can tour a “lightship,” essentially a floating lighthouse, which is now retired from service. We happily spent a couple hours there, then made our way back to the ship. Other passengers shopped in town; we did a little shopping in the booths set up on the dock by local artisans. As the afternoon wore on, the clouds parted, then dissipated, and we ended up with a beautiful sunny day – still cool (in the low 60s) but very pleasant indeed. All too soon, we were re-embarking the last passengers and removing the lines that tied the ship to the Astoria dock. Getting away from the dock was a lot easier than arriving, as we were going with the current, and we crossed the bar without incident as well. My husband and I watched the proceedings from our balcony, meanwhile starting to pack and changing for dinner, as we had reservations at 6:00 at Cagney’s steakhouse, another of the alternate restaurants. Cagney’s is located on deck 13, and with the reentry into the Pacific, the ship’s movement was somewhat apparent up there. We were seated at a table for two in a back corner, but it felt airless and uncomfortable; coupled with the enhanced rocking of the ship, I was very concerned that this would not be an enjoyable dinner, so I asked our waitress if we could change tables. She didn’t seem too sure, saying they were booked up for the evening, but shortly the maitre d’ arrived and led us to a different table in a completely different area of the restaurant, overlooking the pool. Much better, especially with improved air circulation, and we settled in to enjoy a really delicious steak dinner. The steak was among the best I have ever had, and the triple chocolate dessert was truly to die for. Our servers, both young ladies from the Philippines, did an excellent job, polite and friendly, timely but not hovering. The Norwegian Star's Theater After dinner, we took in the production show featuring the Jean Ann Ryan song & dance troupe in the main theater at the bow. We didn’t arrive until a few minutes before it started, but we found seats at the back, with good sight lines. The quality of the performers is first-rate, although this particular show, which is a tribute to Bob Fosse, I found less enjoyable than the usual shortened-Broadway-show fare that this company does on NCL ships. For the most part, the show was family-friendly, and there were a couple of salsa dancers who were just dynamite! A bit more last-minute shopping in the Galleria, and more packing, and it was past time for bed. Three-day cruises are too short; even my husband agrees with that! Sunday, 7 May: We awoke quite early (about 5 AM) to a cloudy, gloomy day, with occasional rain showers. Being in the Pacific Northwest, we expected this, and dressed accordingly. It was really nice having our luggage with us in the cabin, and being able to wait in the cabin until our group was called for disembarkation too! Although we were now traveling through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and through the San Juan islands, we were in a wide shipping channel and were still going nearly full speed. We had breakfast in the Versailles dining room at the stern – our other choice being the Market Café, which we knew would be jammed. We arrived just before the restaurant opened, at 6:30 AM, and waited in a short line for only a brief time before being seated at a table for 2 right by the window; that was great, as we could still watch the islands and the freight traffic (more barges), and our progress toward Vancouver, while eating. Breakfast was good, and we ate a hearty one, knowing lunchtime was uncertain. Assistant servers brought around coffee, juice and sweet rolls, offered in addition to the menu items. Vancouver Hiding Behind Stanley Park By 7:45 we were entering Vancouver harbor under the Lions Gate bridge. The city was shrouded in mist, clouds obscuring the top floors of the tallest buildings. It’s an attractive skyline even in these conditions, especially with Canada Place, the main cruise terminal, positioned front and center. Canada Place Cruise Teerminal Two other ships were already docked there. As we got closer, the clouds began to lighten and lift, and within half an hour the city came fully into view. Norwegian Wind and Ryndam were the other ships in port that day, both docked on the western side of Canada Place; we pulled around to the eastern side of it and docked nose in, which meant we had front-row seats (as it were) for all the action while watching from our balcony. We actually arrived a bit late – not sure of the reason – and the dock workers seemed to take quite a while to get organized, getting gangways and luggage conveyors in place. (My theory about the extra time it took was that Vancouver is just coming off winter hiatus, and everyone’s skills might be just a bit rusty.) Moving the Gangways to the Ship My husband enjoyed watching the mobile gangways, which reminded him of transformer toys in their ability to change shape, go up and down, turn, etc. We waited about an hour before our group (Freestyle, deck 9) was called to disembark, at which point we left our cabin, dragging our rolling suitcases behind us. Of course we had to use the elevator, and there was a huge crowd trying to do the same. With a little patience, we got about the fourth or fifth elevator going up, and then down, and were directed along the length of deck 7 toward the bow, where we waited in a long line on the Promenade to be checked off (i.e. our sail cards unvalidated). After that, we were on the gangway and off the ship, only to wait in another long line inside the terminal, prior to clearing Canadian customs and immigration. All of that took at least an hour. I’m not sure how they could improve the system, but it did seem like they could somehow lessen the chances of standing in line forever. We were frustrated to find that, after finally clearing customs, we had yet another very long line to wait in for a taxi to our hotel! Since the rain had stopped and the weather seemed to be less threatening, we decided to hoof it, so off we went, up the ramp to street level, found Howe St. (which ends right at the terminal entrance), and headed south, still going uphill, dragging our suitcases. It was 11 blocks to our hotel, the Holiday Inn downtown, and we were quite tired and sweaty by the time we arrived; we still think it beat waiting in another long line, though. Fortunately, although it was still morning, we were allowed to check into our room. We were in #607, on the 6th floor right above the entrance and across the hall from the elevators; as a result, it was a bit noisy at night, but not too bad. This room was smaller than the one in San Pedro, but was in a bit better shape – still had a stained carpet though. The bed was quite comfortable. Other furnishings included the standards we like: hair dryer, coffeemaker, iron & ironing board, TV, desk & chair – plus there was a couch and coffee table. After recovering from our walk, we decided to head out for some sightseeing, as this was our first visit to Vancouver. We purchased tickets for one of the hop on-hop off trolley/doubledecker bus tours from the Gray Line tour desk in the hotel lobby. Both tours pick up close to the hotel – ours on the side street beside the entrance, and the other across the street at the city bus stop. Tours run from about 9 AM until about 4 PM, with the last dropoff occurring sometime after that. The drivers (we had 4) are all funny and entertaining, as they regale their passengers with narrative about what we are seeing, while they drive a large loop around the main part of the city, including into Stanley Park. They were all kind, too – offering rides to a few tourists who seemed lost or stranded. The narrative is not memorized or “canned,” but varies with each driver. Totem Poles The weather cleared beautifully by about 1:00, becoming sunny, with just a few puffy clouds. Still cool, but in the sun it was very pleasant. We spent some time in beautiful woodsy Stanley Park, along with many other people – despite the beautiful weekend day and all the use the park gets, it only seemed crowded in a couple spots. It’s huge – larger than Central Park in NYC, we were told. Looking Across the Channel From Stanley Park After finishing the trolley tour – we got the last run of the day – we returned to our hotel, tired but pleased with Vancouver. It’s a beautiful city; we’ll definitely return someday! Despite the city’s gastronomic reputation, we decided we were just too tired to change from our jeans and go out somewhere for dinner, so we ate in the hotel restaurant, Medley’s, which we found surprisingly good. The atmosphere isn’t anything special, but the food – comfort food prepared with a few surprising twists, such as herb-crusted meat loaf – was delicious and portions generous. Our waitress was a very cheerful sort; even a very cranky fellow customer failed to wipe the smile from her face. Monday, 8 May: For the first time since we left home last Wednesday, we awoke to a gorgeous sunny day! Looking out our window, we noticed we could see the mountains that dominate Vancouver’s northern view, in between two tall buildings across the street to our northwest. On a balcony of one of them, a man sat, wearing his winter coat, but clearly soaking in the rays. It was a chilly morning (about 40 overnight) but promised to be fine. After a hearty breakfast in Medley’s, we checked out about 9:00, and the front desk called us a cab, which was right there as soon as we walked out the front door! We rented a car at the Hertz desk in the Renaissance Hotel along the waterfront, near Canada Place, and it was a real adventure spiraling our way out of the parking garage under the hotel, then finding our way through Vancouver to Rte 99, which turns into a 4-lane freeway heading east and south to the U.S. border. Beautiful scenery as we left the suburbs and drove by flat farm fields (lots of potatoes growing in that area), with the snow-capped mountains rising high in the distance to the north. As expected, there was a long line waiting to cross the U.S. border, and it took us almost an hour before we passed muster and found ourselves on I-5 heading south through northwest Washington. In order to enjoy some of the scenery, we bought a sandwich and drinks at Subway in Bellingham and headed for Larrabee State Park on Rte. 11, which conveniently has two intersections with I-5 about 20 miles apart, so we didn’t have to backtrack. Beautiful park, and a lovely drive along the way too, with great views of Samish Bay and the offshore islands. Returning to the interstate, we made good use of the diamond (commuter) lanes through Seattle and arrived at the Comfort Inn & Suites by SeaTac Airport in the late afternoon. After a change of clothes, we met with some good friends from the area for dinner at Cactus, a Southwest-style restaurant near Lake Washington, and had a wonderful evening with them. Tuesday, 9 May: As our flight left at 11:45, we were able to get up and ready at a fairly leisurely pace. Our room at this Comfort Inn was basic and reasonably comfortable, though the bed was harder than the ones at the Holiday Inns. The same amenities were available, and the “water-pik” style showerhead was new. The window opened, too. Their complimentary continental breakfast was exceptional, offering both fresh and canned fruit, juices (including guava-passion fruit!), cereal, sweet rolls, muffins, bagels, English muffins (with toasters available), hard-boiled eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and waffles, which guests make themselves on practically fail-safe machines. Again, we ate heartily, knowing what awaited us on the airplane. Checked out about 9:15, got gas, and dropped the car off in the airport parking garage at the Hertz section. Because it had been a cross-border rental, we had to go inside to their counter to be checked out, but that took only a few extra minutes. Mt. Rainier Our flight was on time, and the airport not unpleasant to wait in. Being another beautiful day, we had a good view of Mt. Rainier after takeoff, and enjoyed the scenery over the rest of the state, and over the mountains of northern Idaho and western Montana, before cloudiness took over for the rest of the flight home. Summary: We had chosen NCL for the Freestyle dining, and were not disappointed, although we found the alternative restaurants preferable to the regular ones, and worth the extra charge. Freestyle disembarkation’s good point is being able to wait in your own cabin to disembark – much better than in a public lounge with hundreds of other people. However, I don’t think it would be nearly as pleasant in an inside cabin! And the long, long lines in Vancouver were frustrating and annoying; I hope they were mostly due to the ground crew being somewhat rusty after the long winter off-season, and not typical of either NCL or Vancouver. Another good aspect of Freestyle is the generally nonjudgmental feeling on formal nights. Unlike on other cruises, those who chose not to dress up that night were not made to feel out of place, and as one of the casual crowd, I found it enjoyable to watch others’ fun as they partied in their finest. We had no issues with food or service onboard, other than one waiter the first day, and cleanliness standards were fine. Our cabin was kept very clean, stewards and maintenance were responsive when we needed anything extra, and it was nice to see so many passengers using the many hand sanitation stations without even being asked. (It was also nice not to be harassed by the crew into using them either.) Our cabin was smaller than similar ones we have had on other cruise lines, but still comfortable for two; by contrast, the bathroom was much larger. The Pool Area Décor on the ship was too lively and colorful for me; I prefer more muted tones and soft colors, and though the artwork on the hull and outside along the Promenade was fun, I thought it was a bit kitschy. Different Colors Everywhere All in all, we found this cruise relaxing and enjoyable. The itinerary, with a relatively long time at sea, enabled us to become somewhat familiar with the ship, and gave us plenty of time for rest, reading and other low-key things we enjoy doing, and having the balcony cabin is a must for us, especially with so much shoreline to see. The atmosphere onboard, though crowded (due mostly to the weather) and sometimes hectic (especially at disembarkation and during the safety drill), was otherwise relaxed and fun.

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Mar 1, 2006

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Luanne Ramage My husband and I choose Norwegian again for our fourth cruise because of the freestyle cruising, which is not offered by other cruise lines. We are not the dress up type, so the casual attire was perfect for us, (less clothes to pack too!) We were told at the airport there was an NCL shuttle that would take us to the cruise ship pier, but we could not

find it, so we went to the Prime Time Shuttle pick up area and within 5 minutes, a van came along! It took us directly to the cruise ship pier in about 40 minutes, at a cost of $16 ea. We arrived very early to the pier, about 10am, and waited in a huge room until check in started at about 12noon. The waiting area was nice, with comfortable seats and a few vending machines, but it would have been nice for NCL to offer everyone cool drinks/snacks while we waited. There was no one around to make change for the vending machines if you did not have the correct change. Check in was a little slow, but with 2300+ other people wanting on at the same time, it wasn't too bad considering. It went fairly quick for us as NCL had a special Lattitudes members check in counter seperate from the rest. We had taken the Norwegian Star last year on a cruise to Alaska, but it is still exciting to board such a beautiful ship with a huge grand atrium with fountains, marble floors and a spiral staircase! Our cabin was an outside cabin only 2 doors down from where we were last year, so we knew exactly what to expect as far as layout and space. Lots of drawers, big closet, roomy shower and a large picture window. (I recommend to NEVER get an inside cabin, as it is dark 24/7, pay the extra little bit and get an outside) Unfortunetly we were dissappointed upon arrival in our cabin. It was not up to it's usual cleanliness. The glassware, ie: the mirrors, door edges; were not clean and there seemed to be a slight smell from spilt milk or something. There also were sticky finger prints on the table(s.) We contacted the desk and a fellow came shortly to spray some carpet deodorizer. Problem solved! Late the next day, we saw our room steward, he apologized and gave our room the attention to detail that should have happened prior to our arrival. Perfect! The entertainment was great, from the comedian and the magician right on down to the Jean Ann Ryan Company! The only complaint we have about the ONBOARD activities is that it was the same as it had been for the past 5 years. How many times can you watch the Not So Newleywed Game, Vegatable Carving, and people dancing like John Travolta? Because we have been on 4 cruises in less than 5 years with NCL, we remember these activities, so when we had sea days, we were bored. First time cruisers with NCL, would enjoy them though. The restaurants were great too. We ate most of our meals in the Market Cafe (buffet), although we did eat ate The Versailles once. Because the Market Cafe is on the same deck as the pool, there were people walking through when you are trying to eat, with no shirt or shoes. yuck, not very appetizing. Come on people, observe the "no shirt, no shoes" rule! Plus, read the signs upon entering the cafe AND your Freestyle Daily, wear appropiate attire in the dining areas! There is a cover charge for the specialty restaurants, which varies depending on the restaurant. My husband ate at The Ginza, (Sushi) and enjoyed it very much. (I don't like sushi) Cover charge there was $10. We also ate at Cagney's Steakhouse, which has a cover charge of $20 ea, but I won a free dinner by matching three symbols on the oversized slot machine in the casino onboard! The steaks were awesome! Hubby having a 14oz T-bone and I had a filet mignon! YUM! A great place for wings is The Blue Lagoon. We were disappointed that there weren't any outdoor BBQ's, the weather was perfect for this the whole time. I was disappointed that the Chocoholic buffet was at midnight again. That is one thing I look forward to with NCL, but I don't want to eat all that chocolate at midnight! :o( Because the itinerary had changed, all passengers received a $50 shipboard credit. Some passengers were upset that they were not told of the change before hand, but our travel agent knew this months ahead, so why didn't others know? We used that towards a shore excursion in Manzanillo. (City tour & shopping) We don't like tours of any kind because your on a schedule and have to be here or be there at a certain time and don't get to spend time in places you really like, but, hey it was "free!" This was the only excursion we took. It was really hot in all ports, with Manzanillo being the hottest at 102F! We found that all the ports are the same as far as shopping goes, so if you don't like shopping, take an excursion, because there isn't really much to do otherwise. Mazatlan was the place we liked the most even though it seemed the poorest and dirtiest. Take liquid hand sanitizer EVERYWHERE you go as the sanitation is poor. You must go to the open air market in downtown Mazatlan! The motto for Cabo San Lucas should be Bring Money, because it is very expensive. The marina has hundreds and hundreds of huge, million dollar yachts and fancy resorts/time shares all along the causeway, and of course there are salesmen trying to sell them to you. Be sure to get your picture taken holding a Iguana! Only 2 Pesos! ($2 US) The last day of the cruise was a sea day, sailing back to LA, and we found it boring, and talking to other passengers, they did too. Remember to bring along an overnight bag because you have to put your luggage outside your cabin the night before, so you need a small bag for "essentials." Arriving into LA and disembarking from the ship was easy and quick, and there are lots of buses/vans and taxis waiting to take you back to the airport or where ever you need to go! I would reco mmend NCL to anyone planning a cruise, but choose your time to cruise carefully. There were alot of kids on this cruise. The crew were very accommodating to our every question/need and all seemed happy to be there, which in turn makes for happy (and return) customers! Thank you NCL!

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Feb 5, 2006

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line NCL Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Doug Mac Before I booked the cruise I had concerns. Can a person who loves mid-size ships and “traditional” cruising find happiness going “freestyle” on a large ship? Am I going to miss the set dinner hours and the security of knowing with whom I’m dining each night? Will the service be impersonal and reservations impossible to come by? Will the food in the specialty

restaurants be worth the extra money? If you like a review that is one paragraph long the answers are: yes, no, no and definitely yes. If you interested in more detail, read on. I’ve done just under 20 cruises on the major standard, premium and several of the luxury cruise lines. On my last two cruises with Holland America and Celebrity I ended up changing tables because of (how does one say this nicely?) less than desirable tablemates. That is the risk with traditional cruising; bad assigned tablemates can make a cruise a miserable experience. While it’s not the end of the world to move tables, I always felt sort of guilty about it, hiding from the people at my former table the best I could the rest of the cruise. With freestyle I theorized I could control my own destiny, and that of my friend who was a first time cruiser. Embarkation: 40 minutes from drop off to opening the stateroom door. NCL doesn’t do the complete check in at the pier. You are allowed to board by group number into the ship where your credit card information is obtained, picture taken and cruise card is given. There is a bit of a musical chairs quality to this arrangement in reverse. The quicker you get up from where you’re seated when your group number is called the closer to the front of the line you’ll be. Tip: If you have e-docs and didn’t receive luggage tags make sure you get the luggage tags from the pier personnel curb side first thing. Have pre-printed stick-on labels with your name and address so all you have to do is write your stateroom number on the tag. Cabin: Balcony cabin on deck 10. I enjoyed the cabin very much with a few minor issues. It was attractive, well maintained and comfortable. The beds were great and I appreciated the duvets instead of the usual top sheet and blankets. The closets however are bizarre. It is a two door arrangement that gives you a larger hanging area but to access the shelves you have to literally get down on your knees, move any hanging clothes out of the way and reach around the side. I much prefer the three door arrangement where the middle door is the location of the safe and shelves. If you don’t know about the closet light (located in the back behind the closet rod) it would be an impossible arrangement, especially because there are only three other drawers in the cabin. The cabins seem to have soundproofing issues. Perhaps it was because we were blessed with amazingly loud neighbors with children above and beside us. If you leave the balcony door open, be prepared to hear everything! Beyond that, the stateroom creaks and groans (probably from the ceiling panels) which can be quite annoying at night. Tip: Bring ear plugs. Public Areas: The Star is a big ship, no doubt about that, a true floating resort. The lack of a unifying ship theme troubled me at first, but I soon discovered that if you aren’t in a public room to your liking, just keep moving and you’ll find one. There are some beautiful rooms and lounges on the ship, covering almost all design themes. The longer the cruise went on, the more I appreciated the diversity of styles. I also loved the full outside promenade on deck 7, something sadly designed out of other modern cruise ships. What I didn’t appreciate is the pool deck. The two humungous water slides absolutely dominate the area. Not only are they unattractive, but they don’t work! There isn’t enough water flow or steepness for anyone other than the kids to use them. Trust me, I tried. I ended up crawling down one half of the way. The visual impact and atmosphere of the pool area would be greatly enhanced if they were removed. The other gripe is lack of “prime” sun lounging areas. Part of the problem is that they use the entire main deck area by the pool for table and chairs, instead of lounges. Another problem is that many passengers (for lack of a better word) “hog” the chairs. They’ll lie in the sun for an hour or two but leave the towels there all day in case they want to come back later. Many cruise lines handle this by having the deck staff promptly remove the towels unless other personal items (bags, books, etc.) are left with them. I think this would solve a lot of problems, since it’s easier to train the staff then to teach the guests manners. Entertainment: There are three types of entertainment on a ship. Production shows, headliners, and lounge acts. Having worked with a production company in Vegas in the past I learned long ago not to expect too much from the entertainment on a ship, any ship. “Entertainment” is a relative concept, if you think you’ll be seeing a Vegas or Broadway quality show, a famous headliner, or you’ll catch a rising star in the lounge, you’ll only be disappointed. With that said, overall I was very impressed with the Star. When it comes to shipboard entertainment, NCL knows its business. The usual cruise ship production show is heavily lip synced with choreography so amateurish it would work if the ship was in the process of capsizing. Not the case here. The first show Music of the Night, the tribute to Andrew Lloyd Weber was very entertaining, well sung and danced. The second show “It’s Fame” ended up being cancelled half through both shows due to technical issues. What was presented was extremely well done. The last show Cirque Pacific was my least favorite. While I enjoyed the Chinese acrobats very much, the “flying numbers” were done a death defying 10 feet above the stage (gosh!) and the Jean Ann Ryan Company dance numbers looked something like Tai-Kwon-Do meets Jazzercise. In this case less would have been more, just focus on the acrobats. Since it was the night before the end of the cruise they also bring out the Captain and fill the stage with crew members for an inane pandering tribute to themselves about how wonderful they made your cruise experience. Obviously, I was not moved to tears. Also in the main showroom are the obligatory comic and magician (which I missed) and for our cruise the cabaret performer was Lorna Luft, the daughter of Judy Garland, and the far less frantic and famous half sister of Liz Minnelli. She did an abbreviated version of her club act without the benefit of photo and video clips. NCL really seems to appreciate and understand lounge acts. From the bands to piano players the quality of the performers was surprisingly good. I won’t name names, just wander around and I’m sure you’ll find a room and a performer you enjoy. Dinning: NCL is a standard line, with an average outside cabin costing less than $100 per day per person for this cruise. To expect anything other than mass market cruise cuisine is not realistic. In the end, you get what you pay for. But for $15 to $25 per day more you can have a completely different experience. When it came to the specialty restaurants, the Star shines brightly (pun intended). In fact, the dinners were better then on luxury cruises for which I paid more than $300 per day. Shortly after boarding I set up reservations at Le Bistro, Teppanyaki (at Ginza) Soho and Cagney’s for consecutive days. We ended up repeating Ginza twice and did Le Bistro one more time. Each of these restaurants greatly exceeded my expectations for service, food and presentation in a relaxed yet elegant atmosphere. We did have one dinner in the Versailles room, where the food and service was surprising good, certainly comparable with Holland America and Celebrity. We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the Market Café, which is the buffet restaurant on deck 12. The food was perfectly acceptable as far as variety, taste and freshness. The Market Café’s problem is the layout. The Café runs the full length on the starboard (right) side, but only half the way on the port, therefore there really isn’t enough space to accommodate the number of people who utilize the room without cramming tables everywhere. It is not a classy room by any stretch of the imagination and the tables and chairs are rather unattractive. Make sure to check out the buffets when they are set up pool side, they have great chicken and ribs. Service: The service staff on the Star is multi-cultural, with Asians and Eastern Europeans being in the majority in the restaurants and lounges. In days gone by some cruise lines would brag that their service staff was predominately Filipino’s (technically Asian in these politically correct times), who came from a “culture of service”. That sort of smiling, gracious and familiar service became the expectation of cruise passengers, and appears to exist to this day. Now you add into the mix Eastern Europeans, who approach service in a less familiar and more formal way. To many they come off as unsmiling, aloof and generally stern. Even when they do their jobs well, the passengers never warm up to them. I certainly agree with a recent review I read about the Star, what passengers may think as “spotty” service, in reality may just be the cultural difference. It was certainly my experience aboard this cruise. My only minor complaint about “service” had to do with the lounges. Be prepared to say “no thank you” a lot if you don’t want a drink. Since the servers roam the various lounges instead of having a set service area you are constantly being asked if you want a beverage, even if you just ordered one from another server. It really bugged me at first, but after awhile I got used to just saying no. Ports: We booked after Acapulco was dropped from the itinerary and were actually grateful about that. With all the recent news reports about gang wars, drive by shootings and general deterioration of the city many passengers felt the same way, besides I’ve been to Acapulco a number of times both by land and sea. NCL offered what I thought were some good and reasonable priced excursions in all the ports, although generally you can always do better at the pier or in town price wise, with the possible exception Manzanillo which does not have organized tourist facilities like the other ports. Personally, I always do my own research before I leave. If you haven’t checked it out www.portreview.com do so, it’s a wonderful site Manzanillo: At first glance the downtown looks tiny, but like the tip of an iceberg most of it is hidden from view. I really enjoyed walking into town and exploring the back streets and shops. Manzanillo is a working port town and has one of the highest standards of living and lowest crime rates in Mexico. You are not assaulted by vendors, or children trying to sell “Chiclets”. Speaking a few words of Spanish really helps here, as the town has not gone gaga for tourists (yet). Don’t get me wrong, the people are friendly, it’s just your not the center of their universe. Since NCL does not have recommended vendors here (meaning merchants who pay kickbacks) the Port Guide they provide is completely lacking. Puerto Vallarta: I’ve been to PV more than 10 times, including an extended land based vacation last year. For “beach time” skip the large chain hotels, and head to Playa Los Muertos (beach) in the old section of town also know as the Romance Zone. If you tell the taxi driver to drop you off at the El Dorado Restaurant you’ll be in the heart of things. Just walk up the beach until you find a spot you like, and then let the café personnel know you want to chair. For the cost of some drinks or food you can have a beach chair under a palapa (umbrella) and the best people watching in PV. Mazatlan: On my perpetual least favorite Mexican resort town list. It doesn’t have the sophistication, visual impact and beach environment PV has, or the shopping and glitzy newness of Cabo. Unless you’re looking for diamonds or gemstones skip the tiny over-hyped “Golden Zone”. Tour old town in one of the cute open air taxi’s and save your shopping for the facility right next to the pier. You can get everything there that you could get in town, and actually at better prices. Cabo: The only trouble with Cabo is time, or lack thereof. On almost every cruise I’ve been on the ship has to leave by 2pm to get back to the States. Therefore, Cabo is always a bit of a “rush.” The most Americanized of the Ports, in the Marina area you’ll swear you’re in Southern California (is that a good thing?), complete with a Mall. Cruise Staff and Activities: The Star offers the usually barrage of shipboard activities from Bingo to Trivia hosted by a very competent and charming cruise staff. If you were bored on this cruise you were: (1) anti social, (2) traveling with the wrong person(s), or (3) in need of anti-depressant medication. Make sure to check out the interactive Live at Five call-in show with the Cruise Director, it’s a hoot. Fellow Passengers: The whole gambit, from new born babies to the so to be departed, sophisticated travelers to drunken louts, chiseled fitness enthusiasts to enormous buffet junkies. Truly a bit of everything and everyone. Disembarkation: No need to be out of your cabin at 8:00am like the old days, NCL continues to have a very urbane process for re-entering the world. You can stay in your cabin until your luggage tag color is called then you proceed to the designated lounge where you “clear” customs on the ship, instead of at the Pier. This eliminates the risk of being late off the ship because a person not of US citizenship doesn’t understand announcements and cannot be located, because under the “Pier” system all non US residents were required to clear customs before any US citizens could disembark. While the itinerary said we wouldn’t arrive in Long Beach until 9:00am, we actually were off the ship by then in plenty of time for our flight at 11:20am. In the end: Every time I fill out the little survey cards you get the day before the end of the cruise I always come to the same conclusion; the complete experience is more than the sum of it’s parts. Things can be less than perfect yet I still thoroughly enjoy myself. In the end it won’t matter that a port got changed, or the waitperson trying to anticipate my every need didn’t look completely thrilled while doing it. That’s all small stuff. The big stuff is about completely relaxing and savoring the moment. The freedom of Freestyle dinning, and the quality of the specialty restaurants was the highlight of the cruise for me. This “traditional” mid-size ship lover couldn’t help but appreciate the product the Star offered, and I’m certainly not complaining about the price. DougMacP@aol.com

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By Rho_CR

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Jan 28, 2006

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Star Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Rho This was our 6th cruise- 3 with NCL. We chose NCL again because we love Freestyle dining and the itinerary to Acapulco. We decided to make the best of things after they changed the itinerary- taking away Acapulco. After a long, unorganized embarkment...we finally arrived in our cabin. It was roomy (for two of us) and had a balcony. (Unfortunately, our neighbor

smoked his cigar on his balcony rendering ours useless for several hours a day.) The room was not clean. It was dusty, and dirty. The bed linens smelled like BO. It was obvious that no one had vacuumed under the bed for a long time (where we stored our luggage.) The frig area smelled of mold as it was growing due to a bad drain. Overall room--D It is very obvious that NCL prefers cruisers to patronize their specialty dining rooms (with surcharges) as the food in the regular dining room was the worst I have ever had on a cruise. The buffets were even worse. Very skimpy. Coffee- worst EVER! Alcohol/Beer VERY expensive!! All desserts were tasteless-except chocolate chip cookies in kid's line! Another plus...ice cream cones were great if you like kiwi and raisins. Overall Food--C- The entertainment on this cruise was really bad...EXCEPT for the Elton John Tribute...it was the highlight! The so-called comedian Dave Keenan(? I think his name was) was terrible; old stale jokes-skip him. The outdoor band was very dull. The dance company was OK... but once is enough! No other unique shows ...same old routine magic show, Newlywed game, Bingo for 30 or 40 bucks, art auctions! B O R I N G! Overall Entertainment-D On the plus side: The weather was great. Really enjoyed the chocoholic buffet. Like that the cabins had soap and shampoo dispensers. Had plenty of pool towels available...(although the salt-water pool was about 40 degrees) Overall, I think this experience has forced us to look into a different vacation experience--no more cruises for awhile!

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Jan 20, 2006

Mexican Riveria

NCL, Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Don Mueller Let me start by saying this was our first cruise on NCL out of 8 total cruises. All of our other cruises have been on either Carnival or Royal Caribbean. The only reason we choose NCL was that of all the other cruise lines they were the only ones that went to Acapulco on the Mexican Riviera Cruise. We were greatly disappointed to find out in a round

about way that the Acapulco stop was cancelled, due to some mechanical difficulty. We found this out only one week prior to our sailing date. NCL never bothered to contact us and tell us Acapulco was cancelled. They only gave us a $100.00 per cabin credit. We much rather have gone to Acapulco. NCL Knew of the mechanical problem that kept us from going there months in advance and said nothing so we could not cancel the trip. The problem with the ship will nty be fixed until April or May until they can get the ship into dry dock. If you are planning on seeing Acapulco before then don't let them fool you because it's not gonna happen. The second disappointment was that we booked a whale watching tour via internet back on July 05. When we went to the excursion desk they had no record of our reservation. Otherwise, the ship was beautiful and very clean. The rooms were small and poorly set up for four persons. The bathroom was much better than any other ship we've been on. The dining room food and service was bad. The buffet food and service was excellent. We didn't try any of the specialty pay restaurants. The staff on the ship were super friendly and really seemed to enjoy their jobs. I thought the entertainment was good, although I only went to see the comedian and magic show. There weren't any bars or clubs open late at night as I think NCL is geared toward the older generation like Royal Caribbean. Will I cruise NCL again? Not a chance. We will stick with Carnival!

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Jan 20, 2006

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Bill Mueller I went on this cruise with twelve members of my family, and we all had a great time despite the unfortunate itinerary change. While we were bitterly disappointed to learn that Acapulco and Ixtapa had been replaced with Manzanillo and Mazatlan, and that we would only receive a $50 credit for this change, we still enjoyed all the ports, and Mazatlan especially

turned out to be a great stop. My take on vacations is that they are what you make them. If you wait around for someone else to manufacture a good time for you, you’re doomed from the beginning. Having that approach in mind, I got more involved in the activities on this cruise, and am really glad I did. With that, I’ll get into the specifics. I’m going to give each category a letter grade based on how it compares to Carnival and Royal Caribbean, the other cruise lines I have traveled with. Food: C I have to agree with some of the other reviews on this one. The main no cost dining rooms, Aqua and Versailles, were merely average. There was no filet mignon night (something I particularly enjoy on Carnival), and the food was a notch below what I expect. It almost seems as if Norwegian is pushing its specialty restaurants (which charge you) by offering the less than stellar food in the free dining rooms. It’s not that the free dinners are bad; they just don’t equal what I’ve had previously. On the other hand, I felt the breakfast and lunch buffets in the Market Cafe were better than anything I had previously experienced. There was a wide assortment and the food was very good. Also, the Blue Lagoon had a great late night menu of buffalo wings, delicious burgers, Chinese dishes, and other food. I did not eat in the specialty restaurants, because I refuse to pay for dinners on a vacation where food is supposed to be included in the price. To me, if you’re going to pay for all of your dinners, then the cruise “value” is greatly diminished. Not to mention my alcohol bill was large enough!!! Entertainment: A Entertainment was the highlight of this ship, and it was better than anything on Carnival or Royal Caribbean. We saw a hilarious comedian named Dave Heenan, a magic show from the Fallons, a singing and dancing group that did a couple of great shows, acrobats, and a fantastic tribute to Elton John by a vary talented piano player named Jeffrey Allen. There were also game shows and other interactive forms of entertainment that were a lot of fun. In fact, just about everyone in my party got involved and made it on “cruise TV”. This gets back to my point about your vacation being what you make it. The more we got involved, the better it was. The cruise director and his assistants were also a major plus. I should also point out that the music acts were all very good. The band Kenosis was fantastic, and the Caribbean style music at poolside was nice to listen to. The one complaint I have for entertainment is that there is not a night club on the ship. It would have been nice to have a place to go on those late nights when I was hoping to hear some dance music. The first stop was Manzanillo, a quiet little town with some shopping. Overall, I don’t have much to say as all we did was take a bus to downtown and shop for a couple of hours. The next stop was Puerto Vallarta. We took a cab downtown and did a lot of shopping. I really enjoyed this stop, but wish I would have gone on the zip line excursion to see the jungle. After PV, we stopped in Mazatlan. Here we took taxis to the Golden Zone and did a lot of shopping, lying on the beach, and swimming. We also went to a restaurant on the beach that served very good food and margaritas for very cheap (I wish I could remember the name of it). I thought Mazatlan was beautiful. Finally, we stopped in Cabo San Lucas, my favorite stop. The scenery is gorgeous, and I highly recommend the 2-hour whale watching tour. They served unlimited margaritas, beer, chips, and salsa, and took us to a site where whales were coming out of the water everywhere. Whale watching is seasonal, but if you’re there at the right time, check it out. Overall, I really wish NCL would have eliminated the Manzanillo stop and added more time to Cabo. All we had was from 7am to 2pm, and this was simply not enough time to fully enjoy this great stop. I could spend a full week there. Rooms: B The bathroom in our room was very spacious and the shower area was much better than on previous cruises. There was much more room, the shower head had good pressure, and there was a solid door instead of a flimsy curtain. The only complaint I have is for the bed setup. We had four people in our room, and I would have preferred two bunk beds and two floor beds instead of three beds on the floor and one bunk bed. Having three beds on the floor cut off half the room and made things a little cramped. But overall, the rooms were well insulated and comfortable. The ship is beautiful, clean, and diverse. There are a lot of dining and bar options, and the health club is really nice. I especially liked the Spinnaker Lounge, where there always seemed to be something going on. Overall, I was very impressed with the ship. Service: B Service was not a problem. Bartenders and cocktail waiters and waitresses were very friendly. We made friends with one waitress in particular in the Spinnaker Lounge who rewarded our friendliness with an endless supply of peanuts, snack mix and excellent service. The room stewards were also very friendly and prompt. My only complaint relates to the dining room service. We often had to wait a long while for our food, and one waiter gave someone in my party a difficult time for wanting to try two entrees. But this does not apply to all waiters. Overall: B Despite the itinerary change and so-so food and service in the free dining rooms, this cruise stacked up fairly well to all of my past cruises. Luckily, I won a free cruise for two (by pulling the free spin slot machine in the casino), and I’m very glad that I’ll be traveling with NCL again in the near future. I don’t believe that NCL is the evil empire as some people seem to think. I agree that their handling of the itinerary change was sub-optimal, but it didn’t strike me as being full of malicious intent or anything like that. However, all this being said, if I had to choose a cruise line to travel with, I would probably go back to Carnival. Although NCL has better entertainment, I like that Carnival is more geared toward a younger generation, and the dining room experience is better. But if there’s an NCL cruise with an itinerary you like, and the price is right, give it a try. I can’t imagine anyone having a bad time on NCL. In fact, all the cruise lines I have been on seem to offer something a little bit different, but as a whole they are all very good. Just go with an open mind, get involved if that’s your thing, and realize that a bad day on vacation is much better than a great day at work!!!

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Jan 4, 2006

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line NCL Star Cruise Review Mexican Riveria Lori Barudoni My husband & I enjoyed this cruise despite some problems. The ship was beautiful, always clean and well maintained. The service was good. The beds were comfortable. Our room, deck 9 with a balcony, was beautiful however the cruise line says it can sleep 4, we would not wanted to have had more than 2 people in this room as it was smaller than expected. We cruised

with our 2 children on the Disney Magic two years ago and the Magic’s rooms were much bigger and better suited for a family. Some things that you might expect to have provided for you, were not provided on the Star. No hair conditioner in the bathroom, no robes to wear to the Jacuzzi on a cold night, no CD or DVD players. We had booked this cruise because it went to Acapulco and Ixtapa. Unfortunately we received a notice two weeks or so before sailing that the itinerary had been changed and we would not be going to those two ports. NCL would not refund our cruise if we chose to cancel, nor would they let us change our sail date to a future date when they would again include Acapulco and Ixtapa. Food: If you like good food you will be disappointed in the main dining rooms, Versailles and Aqua. The steaks are thin, inexpensive, flavorless cuts of meat. The fish was dry. Most nights when we dined there, or checked the menu there, there were no offerings of shellfish. If you want great food plan on spending 15 to 20 dollars extra per person each night and you can enjoy fabulous 5 course meals in the specialty restaurants. You will need to make reservations. If you do so when you first get on the ship you should be able to get reservations for each night at whatever time you want. These reservations can be cancelled by 5 pm on the night that you are going to dine, without incurring a charge. The nights we ate at the specialty restaurants we had appetizers, soup, salad, and entrées and it was all delicious, except the lobster, it seems the lobster tails are dry and over cooked everywhere on the ship. When we complained and sent back the lobster tail the next one came out just as dry. If you really like lobster, have it for lunch in Mazatlan where the price is right and the lobster is good. When we dined at LeBistro we especially enjoyed the escargot and the filet with béarnaise sauce. At the SoHo room we had a wonderful vichyssoie soup with poached quail eggs and smoked salmon and the schezwan beef for our entrée was delicious. At Cagney’s we enjoyed the prawn cocktail, crab cakes, sautéed mushrooms, and the oyster Rockefeller casserole, also the filet and porterhouse steaks were as good as we would expect to find in the finest restaurants. We are not big dessert eaters but we could have had that also, included in the price. We also enjoyed our dinner at Endless Summer, this is a specialty restaurant that requires reservations but there is no charge to go there. The spicy crab corn chowder was good and the prawn fajitas were good also. We ate at the Market Café for lunch several times. This is the buffet style restaurant and the food here is hit or miss, other than the fish which was always moist, tender and delicious. We did not get around to trying the food at the blue Lagoon (one can only eat so much) but the fish and chips looked good, so did the buffalo wings. Drinks: We pretty much stuck with beer and wine after ordering Mia tias and margaritas that tasted like overly sweet punch, yuk. Tips: Tips on the ship are charged to your room at the rate of $10.00 per person per day. If you don’t know this you can end up tipping as you go (because they always leave a space for an additional tip) and having to pay up at the end of the cruise. My husband liked the flat rate tipping because we did not have to worry about who to tip or how much to tip. Ports of Call: Manzanillo: We took a cab for $12.00 to The Hotel Sierra at Playa La Audiencia. First we stopped to enjoy a margarita at the swim up bar at the hotel. Then for $10.00 we rented a palaypa with 4 beach chairs and a table for the day. When you rent the palaypa you will also get service, you can have drinks and food delivered. We had chips, guacamole, and margaritas, it was all very good. The beach was nice and it was a protected cove. We did some snorkeling and saw some pretty fish. Puerto Vallarta: We did not do much in this port except take a cab to the main shopping area and shop. We ended up finding the best quality sterling silver jewelry right next to the port, at Factory Jewellery 41. Mary made us a good deal. Mazatlan: We took a cab ride, $10.00 to the Las Flores Hotel on the beach. If you get there early you can get a palapa on the beach and beach chairs(no charge), and the Hotel restaurant will deliver food and drinks to you. The hotel will also let you check out towels. If they try to get you to listen to their time share in exchange for free food and drinks you can just tell them that you prefer to pay for your own and they won’t bug you. This is a nice beach and it is in the Golden Zone which is the main shopping district. There is an island across from the beach and you can hire a boat if you want to go out there. We did not go to the island but we were told that it is a nice place to snorkel. Cabo San Lucas: I cannot say enough about our shore excursion in Cabo. We had a great time! What a blast. We went on the snorkel and sail to Santa Maria Cove. The catamaran took us out to sail by land’s end, we saw some whales on the way and the snorkeling in Santa Maria cove was better than expected. We have snorkeled in the Bahamas and the Caribbean and in the Gulf of Mexico. This was as good, if not better. We saw so many colorful fish, schools of them. We were glad that we brought our ½ wetsuits because the water was cold. The tour company, Tropical Tours was very generous with the drinks on the way back and served us delicious salsa, guacamole and tuna sandwiches. All in all we had a great time but next time we will try a different cruise line due to three things. 1. The poor quality of food in the main dining rooms. 2. The poor quality of the drinks. 3. The fact that when we complained about the change in the itinerary NCL gave us only a $50.00 per person ship board credit. We felt that this was not just compensation since we had booked this ship because it went to Acapulco and Ixtapa and the others did not.  

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Dec 19, 2005

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line NCL Star Cruise Review Mexican Riveria David We booked this cruise as a family Christmas vacation about 5 months ahead of departure. I Used Cruisesonly.com which was excellent on customer service. On the whole, the cruise was wonderful, the weather was perfect and the ship was decorated quite festively. I don’t want to downplay the excitement and enjoyment we had on the cruise, but really feel the need to

express NCL’s unethical tactics and ‘captive audience’ marketing style. Even at that time of booking I could not get the room I wanted as they did not have it ‘opened’. I waited about 3 months and then was able to get a mid-ship balcony. The prices jumped all around during the 5 months, but I was able to get a $550 credit by calling and asking for the current fare vs. canceling. I got a further $350 ‘shipboard’ credit and an upgrade after another price drop during the phase where there was a significant cancellation penalty. The room credit was not ‘allowed’ to be used as a credit against the mandatory $10 per day tip charges, but at the end they did credit the balance. They wanted you to spend the credit with their constant sales tactics. SALES, SALES, SALES….everyone on the ship was selling you something. This certainly got in the way of relaxing at times, but we learned to just ignore. This sales tactic went as far as even the waiters in the restaurants. The Spa / exercise area stood out as the worse, approaching people on the treadmills to the point where some guests would not return to the high pressure atmosphere. Even the ship captain announced sales events over the entire ship intercom! ‘For the next 30 minutes we are having the best sale for the entire cruise’. Every day when the cabin was made up the bed was covered with sales brochures. My girlfriend booked an expensive facial / massage combination they were advertising. This came with a coupon stating 20% discount if you book during port times. Of course this was another marketing scam and they would not accept the coupon, coming up with another price list showing that the prices were already discounted ($100 for a facial is a discount?) Unfortunately, they overbooked ship capacity by 500 people (2700 passengers), making it impossible for all passengers to enjoy Christmas dinner in a restaurant, leaving them to the buffet or room service. We were fortunate to have the foresight to book a reservation 4 days ahead of Christmas, but could not get a reservation except in the makeshift Italian restaurant and not until 8:30PM. The port changes were in my opinion an unethical act by NCL to save fuel costs. I understand that some other lines will now assess a fuel surcharge by being up front with the passengers. NCL claimed the ship could not go over 20 knots, but my GPS said that we were going 30-32 miles per hour (whatever that is in knots) at night. We also left the last port (Cabo) two hours early due to the ‘mechanical problem’ to get back to port on time. We arrived back in LA two hours earlier than stated. The food on the ship was less than average; even the specialty restaurants were so-so. The buffet I would compare to a college dorm cafeteria in quality, although my kids told me I was being generous. I booked NCL due to reputation and recommendation, but will certainly NEVER use them again. Hate sounding like a ‘whinner’, but really feel people should know the scam they are entering into by sailing on NCL. Watch out for NCL! Try another cruise line with the same itinerary, as, all in all, a great itinerary (if you find a line who will really go to Acapulco), good weather and a nice clean ship.

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Dec 19, 2005

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riveria Richard and Phyllis Kay My wife and I have literally cruised all over the world from freighters to Vista class ships. The past five years our family of six has been cruising the Mexican Riveria (because of vacation time available for our fourteen year old granddaughter.) Our children had never been to Acapulco or Xtapa, and we purposely booked an eight day cruise (Dec.

19.05) on NCL's Norwegian Star) going to the new ports. Practically the only difference in a negative review by a Newitt Bradley who booked the Dec/ 3/05 cruise was that passengers waiting in line to board for an hour and a half were notified in line of the change due to mechanical difficulties by a flyer passed out by attendants. Upon our return I immediately wrote the President of NCL enumerating the problems. To date the only answer I have received is a standard printed post card sent on Dec. 4,2006 that my letter was received and they were looking into it. It is now January 27, 2006 and I have received no further correspondence. However, my son did in-form me that he received a letter from an attorney regarding a class action suit" that has evidentially been filed against NCL. It is hard for me to believe that NCL changed the itinerary because the mechanical difficulties limited the cruising ability to no more than 20 knots. However, we have pictures (taken from the cabin TV that on several occasions the ship was cruising faster than 2; knots. It was the opinion of the majority of th e passengers that since Acapulco was an additional six hundred miles the fuel costs would cut into the huge profit NCL recently released in a Jan. news item. We always book a handicapped room due to my needing the use of an electric scooter - and are used to a large room with a great deal of closet and drawer space (as we are used to on the HAL's Ryndam) Instead we were in a cabin barely large enough to accommodate my scooter. One small closet, and three small drawers in a desk to accommodate our belongings. Mr. Bradley (not in a handi-capped also commented on the small accommodations. The first full day of sailing, the reception area was crowded with passengers complaining about the change in itinerary, and other problems prevalent aboard. Example: our cabin was not cleaned until my wife notified housekeeping. The only good service was - room service which came promptly when called - that is when we could get the telephone to work properly. Mr. Bradley, upon receiving his bar bill asked the bartender about the 15% gratuity automatically put on the bill. He was in-formed that the crew DID NOT of the automatic gratuities placed on our final bill. On two occasions we took our party of six to the cover charge restaurants, because the food in the "no charge" restaurants we liter-ally inedible. In addition to the cover charge if you wished a surf bad turf you were charged an ADDITIONAL $25.00. The standard joke among the passengers was what you didn't eat at dinner the night before you gotten some inedible form the next day for lunch. Our travel agent always send a bottle of wine to our cabin (never received.) Since we usually book well in advance to make certain we get a handicapped cabin = we received no cabin upgrade - but my agent always makes certain we receive a $50.00 gift credit for each cabin - am item listed on our ticket, but when my wife complained to the reception desk we were told that the $50.00 was a gift from our travel agent. Adding insult to injury NCL magnanimously gave each cabin $100.00 credit for the change in itinerary. This is really an insult after reading of the "mutiny of the passengers on the Queen Mary 2" They received full reimbursement of their tickets AND airfare. A major problem aboard was lack of communication between passengers and crew. An example of not being able to understand them was the fact that my fourteen year old granddaughter ordered a virgin margarita - and was served a drink with alcohol in it. I have just torched on the major points that made our cruise a grave dis-appointment but I will end with a closing statement by Mr. Bradley which stated that his first cruise would be his LAST on NCL. Our family definitely concurs - in fact our travel agent is already working on our nest cruise (fifteen days to Hawaii) which will NOT be with NCL. Closing on a bit of humor. When we were moored in Cabo - the Ryndan was moored next to us. The consensus of our family's opinion we should don water wings - get our luggage - and swim over to the Ryndam to enjoy the rest of the voyage.  

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Dec 11, 2005

Mexican Riviera

NCL Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Dee & Steve Stompanato While standing in the 2 hr wait line for embarkation we were handed a paper by NCL staff advising us of the change in itinerary eliminating Acapulco & Ixtapa due to mechanical problems with the ship, saying the ship could not go over 20 knots and could not make it to Acapulco. This was an untruth as we cruised at 22 knots on the way back. We booked this trip in

May through American Express and neither our agent or ourselves were advised of the change. NCL made the decision 11/23 to change the itinerary and then continued to sell the old itinerary. Norwegian Cruise "Liars" did not notify the passengers and continued their deceit up until boarding, which was like sheep being led to slaughter and handing the sheep a notice that "NCL has the right!" They took away our right to cancel by delaying the notification. We were told that NCL would not allow cancellation without the 50% fee. We would have offered to rebook when the ship was repaired but were told they would not accept that. We met with the front desk manager to discuss how deceived we felt. I asked why NCL allowed the Garden Villa passengers to cancel at $26,000 each. She claimed one Villa was booked and other was being held as a "prize for the bingo game". Now if anyone believes that, I'll sell you a bridge in Calif! We were in a Penthouse and we heard that one of our Penthouse neighbors was very upset about the change in itinerary and NCL upgraded them to a Garden Villa. My husband suggested to the Front Desk Manager that NCL calculate how much money they saved on fuel by not going to Acapulco and split it with the passengers instead of the $50 allowance they insulted us with. She was like all the NCL Management staff in quoting the small print in the contract "We have the right!" We heard that there was someone on board who was starting a class action suit. We never met this person and anyone associated with this action but would really appreciate it if anyone knows of a contact as we want to get involved. We are highly offended by NCL. To substitute Manzanillo & Mazatlan for Acapulco and Ixtapa is an insult. Manzanillo was filthy and the Turtle excursion was an insult to your intelligence. You had to use a bucket of water to flush the toilet! The smart people stayed on the ship. Instead of Manzanillo & Mazatlan NCL should have given the passengers an extra day in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, both beautiful ports with plenty to do and enjoy. They gave us 5 hours in Cabo which was totally inadequate. Despite being very upset at the blatant deceit by NCL we did manage to enjoy my birthday trip. We went whale watching in Puerto Vallarta which was the highlight of the cruise. The food on the was just OK so we ate in the Extra charge restaurants which we found to be great. We loved the entertainment and atmosphere of the ship which is quite beautiful, and also quite big. To go from the Penthouse to the Versatile at the end of the ship is 900' which was great exercise but a boring trek. We would take the elevator down about 1/2 way and then walk on the outside. NCL doesn't appear to care what the passengers felt and had an attitude of not caring if we ever cruised with them again. Well, they're getting just that. As we told our agent, "never, never, never ever on NCL again!"  

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Dec 11, 2005

Mexican Riveria

Norwegian Cruise Line NCL Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Kelly Our 1st cruise and it started out so so but ended up Excellent! There were 22 of us in our group ( a wedding group). The only thing we found to be overpriced were the drinks. Every time we turned around it was 1.76 for a pop or 5.00 for a beer....so that could have been cheaper. The room was nice, we had an inside room on deck 5 so it was smallish but functional

and we loved the bathroom! The restaurants were good, you had to know where to eat at certain times, we figured that out by day 3. Cagneys all the way, definitely worth the 20.00 per person cover charge, we went there twice. The crews were great, working long shifts probably wasn't that easy on them but they held up. The only bad experience I had was with the photo guy being rude. The programs and activities were excellent. My husband loved the Golf guy, Michael! The shows at night were something to look forward to every night. If they could improve on a few things it would be disembarkation, it took forever to get off! Also they shut down the hot tubs every night at midnight for cleaning...right when we were going in, they really should do that later in the night. All in all I would give this cruise a 8/10 and yes I would cruise with them again!  

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Dec 3, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review Mexican Riviera Thea Dalfino Background My husband and I are both physicians in our residency. I am 28 and he is 30. This was my 5th cruise and my husband’s 3rd. PreCruise We booked this vacation through travelocity, as they had a comparable rate to other online agents and also allowed us to pick our specific room. We found out 4 days before the cruise departed that the itinerary

had changed and we were not going to Acapulco. I never received anything in the mail, and simply printed our tickets online. I would advise you to make sure you call and get luggage tags mailed to you, it will make embarkation a lot easier. We flew to LAX from Albany, NY the morning of the cruise. Norwegian cruise lines offers a bus from the airport to the pier for $25 per person. We took a taxi because it only costs $50-55 total and you can get up to 6 people in a taxi (some of them were vans). In addition, there was quite a wait for the bus. We were initially going to take the bus but it was taking so long that we simply hailed a taxi. On the way back to the airport at the end of the cruise, the taxi is only $45 from the pier to LAX. Embarkation F This was the most disorganized embarkation imaginable. We arrived at the pier at 12:30pm and there was a VERY long line. I overheard that they had trouble with the gangplank and it slowed debarkation. There were still people who had just got off the ship and were waiting for taxis. My husband got in line (which was outside the building and curled all the way around to where the buses stop) while I went to figure out how to get luggage tags and whether my paper tickets were alright. Yes, the paper tickets that you print online are sufficient to board with. The luggage, however, was a pain in the neck. They only had ONE person giving out luggage tags and it took her at least 5 minutes per person to get them the correct tag. It took me 1 hour in line to get the luggage tags and by the time I’d received them, my husband had almost made it to the entrance of the building. No one is allowed to bring large suitcases on the ship themselves, the porters have to take them. So we quickly tagged the luggage and gave it to a porter just in time. Once inside the building there is a metal detector then another long line before you get to the reception desk. It was the most inefficient process I have ever witnessed. Every other passenger we met agreed that they had never seen anything like it. Many people were confused about whether they had the right tickets, where the porters were located (they were all around), what to do with their luggage, if they were in the right line, how to get a luggage tag, etc. It was a mess. They did not have enough personnel outside explaining where to go, and many people were very frustrated. I don’t know what we would have done if it rained or was too hot. To make matters worse, NCL handed out a paper explaining that we were not going to Acapulco due to a problem with the thrusters and each person would be given $50 shipboard credit to anything except services, gratuities, or the casino. Many people were not previously aware of the itinerary change. The Room A- We stayed in a balcony room, #10158. The room was slightly larger than the other ships we have been on. The balcony was smaller than on the Grand Princess. It had 2 chairs and a small table. The weather was often too cold to sit out there while we were traveling, but the windows were large and brightened up the room. The décor was very nice- some wood, mirrors, and a nice piece of artwork. There was a small couch that also pulls out into a bed, a little table in front of it, and a desk. The room also had a refrigerator, coffee maker (makes 4 cups, with a flat bottom filter), Folgers pods, large shower, and separate toilet area. NCL provided shampoo, liquid soap, and shower caps. We brought our own filters and coffee, as my husband is very particular about coffee. The major drawbacks to the room was that the shower had very little water pressure, the toilet smelled like sewage, and the room creaked. I often showered at the spa because it took forever to shower in the room. The first night in the room I was awaken by the creaking in the room. It sounded as if the furniture and ceiling were moving. Other people noticed it in their rooms as well. Thereafter I slept with the balcony door open and the sound of the waves muffled the noisiness of the room. I have never had that problem on any other ship before. The room was well insulated and we never heard our neighbors. Dining/Food C The ship’s signature feature is “Freestyle” dining. There were 2 main dining rooms (Aqua and Versailles) that served usual cruise food, with a different theme each night. We were told that the menus at Aqua and Versailles were the same, but in fact, there are subtle differences in the main courses. The ship had multiple specialty restaurants without an additional fee, including The Trattoria (Italian), Endless Summer (Mexican and tapas), and Blue Lagoon (grill that was open 24 hours a day and served hot dogs, hamburgers, and French fries). The other specialty restaurants all had varying fees- Le Bistro (French restaurant, $15 per person), Cagney’s Steakhouse ($20 per person), SoHo (Pacific Rim, $?), and Ginza (Japanese, $12.50, for sushi bar $10 per person). It is HIGHLY recommended that you make reservations early in the cruise for any of the restaurants, as we were unable to eat at The Trattoria because the only available time was 9pm! The first night we ate at Le Bistro and my husband had the surf and turf (2 lobster tails and filet mignon) for $20. We shared an excellent chocolate fondue for dessert. The meal was superb! However, when we went back there on the 5th night, the lobsters were overcooked and the meal was less impressive. We also tried Ginza’s sushi. Rather than ordering at the sushi bar, we ordered a la carte. I would highly recommend this. The sushi bar only has rolls, not slices of fish sushi. It was much wiser to order a la carte because when it says “1 roll”, it actually means 6 pieces of sushi! It was a lot to each, for much less price. Overall, the food was not as well prepared as on other cruise lines and although NCL offered a wide selection of food, it was not as high quality. The main dining halls ran out of food twice (they ran out of oysters and substituted it with conch, and ran out of cherries on a night when cherries jubilee was the signature dessert). Normally, I expect the food on a cruise to be superior to what I’d get in a regular restaurant, but NCL did not meet my expectations. In addition, service was often very slow in the main dining rooms and we missed our shows twice. Pools B There were 2 pools on the ship, one saltwater pool on deck 12 surrounded by 4 hot tubs and 2 slides. The other pool was freshwater and located in the Barong Spa (also on deck 12). I enjoyed the indoor pool because the water was warmer and it was in a beautiful setting. There was also a hot tub and small thallassotherapy pool there as well. They also have about 15 chairs set up in front of a large window that looks out the back of the ship. It is a very relaxing environment. I often showered at the spa because our showed had no water pressure. When you go down to the spa, they give you a locker, towels, and bathrobe. We only went in the outdoor pool once, as the weather was generally in the high 70’s and overcast most days. We didn’t like the set up of the deck- the slides take up too much room and there were no lounge chairs near the pool, they were all up in the amphitheatre-like stands. Activities/Shows B During the days at sea there were few activities to do other than bingo, bridge, shuffleboard, etc. My husband went to a lecture on car insurance, and one on wills, which he enjoyed. It was too cold to swim in the outdoor pools so we usually just stayed inside and read. We tried to go to a swing dancing class, but there were far too many people there. We did not see the comedian, but the magician was phenomenal (The Fallons), and the musicals were ok, nothing spectacular. They also had a game show every night with passengers as contestants. It was cute, but sometimes disorganized. There was a midnight buffet only one night and it was the chocoholic buffet. Get there 30 minutes ahead or else you’ll stand in a VERY long line. It was nice, but not exciting. Most of the entertainment ended at 11pm. The cruise seems to be geared toward older folks, as we rarely saw more than a handful of couples our age. Even 40 was young on this cruise. Most passengers were in there 70’s and 80’s and the activities were mostly tailored more to their generation. Day 3- Manzanillo This is a small industrial town where there is little shopping but nice beaches. We took a taxi out to La Boquita beach because we had read that there was nice snorkeling there. The woman at the pier said there was a flea market out in that area and that we could walk from the flea market to the beach. It cost $12 total for the cab ride and took ~25 minutes. The flea market was no more than 2 small buildings with multiple vendors selling silver jewelry, shells, and clothing. We walked about a mile on a relatively deserted beach to get out to the tip, where all the restaurants and umbrellas were. There is a small fishing co-op out there with numerous restaurants that sell seafood, coconuts, and mangos. We had tons of delicious nachos with salsa for only $2. Look at the prices, because some are more expensive than others. The weather was too cool and overcast so we didn’t go snorkeling. You could rent a small boat to take you out to the ship wreck for snorkeling ($15 per person for an hour), or go jet skiing. We just sat under an umbrella, ate the local food and relaxed. The taxi back cost $15 total. Most of the passengers on the ship did not like this stop because there’s not much to do and the shopping isn’t very good. Day 4- Puerto Vallarta Puerto Vallarta was our favorite stop because there was a lot to do and it was absolutely beautiful. The day was overcast and drizzled a bit but we made the best of it. We arrived at 7:30am and were tendered to the dock. You can see the Walmart and Sam’s club off to the left of the tender. My husband needed more coffee filters so we went to Walmart. They had an ATM there that only charges 7pesos (70 cents) to withdraw pesos. We met a couple who had spent the week in Puerto Vallarta and they showed us where to catch the bus. The bus stop was on the corner of the main road, adjacent to where Sam’s club is. Just take any one of the blue and white buses, or one that says “downtown” and names hotels on it. It cost only 20 cents (2 pesos) per person, as opposed to a cab which was more than $3 per person. We got off the bus after about 15 minutes, in the Zona Romantica. We walked around ate some grilled food from locals on the beach and went parasailing ($25 per person). They take you right off the beach and the view is absolutely stunning. I would highly recommend it. We then had massages in a little outdoor cabana at one of the hotels. They had a promotional sign on the beach- $30 for a 75 minute massage. We couldn’t pass it up! I wish I could remember the name of the hotel. After that we walked back toward Downtown and looked in some of the jewelry shops. The bus back cost 40 cents per person. Overall, it was a nice stop. The only thing I didn’t like was the constant harassment from beach vendors, but that was the case on every beach. Day 5- Mazatlan Prior to this stop, I had no read much on what to do there. When waiting for a taxi, there is a large sign that posts all the fees for each location. It clearly says $6 per cab to go downtown, however, every cab driver charged $10. We bargained one cab down to $8 and took it for a short 5 minute ride to downtown. I recommend walking out of the walled in port area where there were many cabs waiting and I suspect they would be much less expensive. Downtown Mazatlan was very dirty and busy. I would not recommend going there unless you want to see how the locals live. We ate lunch at a very small restaurant that sold tacos. There were only 3 small tables in the place and a mother and daughter did all the cooking. We had the best tacos ever, and thankfully, didn’t get sick. We walked about ¼ mile from downtown, over a hill, to the beach. We were on the Southernmost end of the Playa Norte. There was a nice concrete walkway along the roadside and we walked about ¼ of the way down the beach and went swimming. The entire beach looked like it was about a mile long, and it was almost completely deserted. We were the only people swimming. It was such a beautiful beach and we couldn’t understand why no one was there. After resting a while, we walked the entire length of the beach all the way to the Golden Zone (if you see the beach, you’ll realize it’s quite a hike!). There, the beach was full of people, kayaks, parasailing, vendors, restaurants, and hotels. It seems like the cabs drop everyone off out there and no one goes to the other beach. The beaches were equally as nice, but we preferred our deserted beach. It only cost $8 total back to the ship from the Golden Zone, which is much further than downtown. Day 6- Cabo San Lucas This was another beautiful stop. We arrived at 8am and had to depart at 1:30pm, which left very little time. By the time we tendered to shore it was 9am. We took at glass bottom boat out to lover’s beach (near the rock formation) for $10 per person roundtrip. The driver showed us the fish and sea lions on the way out there. The beach was amazing. The water was crystal clear and we snorkeled and saw tons of fish and stingrays. My husband spent the entire time in the water and then sadly, we had to leave. On the main beach there were some hotels, restaurants, parasailing, jet skiing, etc. It was a beautiful place and if we’re ever in the area we’d gladly go back again. Disembarkation A+ Our flight was at 11am so we went to the reception desk in the morning on the 7th day and they gave us blue stickers for our cards and we were one of the 150 people who can walk off the ship. The ship docked at around 7am and we were told to meet at the Spinnaker lounge at 8am, where we would go through customs and carry our luggage off the ship. We got there at 7:20am, and there was already a line of people. At 8am they let people go through customs and we were off the ship by 8:30am. We made it to the airport at 9am. The taxi to the airport was only $45 flat fee total. Overall Impression C There are many reasons why we will likely not cruise NCL anytime again in the near future: few young couples, last-minute change in itinerary, food quality, poorly designed pool and upper decks, and lack of interesting activities, to name a few. With all the other cruising options out there, it will be a long time before we take NCL again.

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Dec 3, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review 7 Day Mexican Riviera Hewitt Bradley I was accompanied on this first time cruise by a female friend and the trip was booked through a travel agent. Several days before sailing, the travel agent sent us a letter advising us that the itinerary had changed due to engine problems which did not allow the ship to achieve maximum speed and that we would be given a $100 cabin credit. The

shortened trip eliminated Acapulco and Ixtapa and substituted Manzanillo and Mazatlan. I had visited Acapulco and Mazatlan before but was looking forward to seeing Ixtapa. After flying into LAX, we got our baggage and were met by NCL representatives who guided us to where we would catch a bus to the port. After about 45 minutes, we finally boarded the bus and headed for the port. Once there, we had to wait almost an hour on the bus. We were told that there were problems with the gang plank and this was delaying embarkation. Our luggage was picked up and we were told that it would be delivered to our stateroom. We then had to wait in line for almost an hour and a half before beginning the embarkation process. Fortunately we were at the head of the line that snaked all around the building. Others behind us had a much longer wait. While we were waiting in line, they passed out a paper from NCL stating that the itinerary had changed. It was obvious that most people in line were previously unaware of the itinerary change. Once aboard and after going through registration and processing, we headed for our balcony stateroom on deck 9. The room was small with two twin beds, a couch, small table, TV, hairdryer, small fridge, a closet and bathroom with shower. The outside balcony had two chairs and a small table. My only complaint about the room was that it creaked. Once we got to the calmer waters off Mexico, the creaking stopped. Each day, we were provided with "Freestyle" which is a newsletter covering shipboard activities, port reviews, and other information. It took me almost two full days to explore the ship and feel comfortable walking around so that I knew where I was going. Dining was "freestyle" meaning you could eat when and where you wanted. The ship had several specialty restaurants where an additional fee was charged. We ate mostly at the non-specialty restaurants with the exception of Cagney's on the last night. We had dinner twice in the Versailles and found the food to be excellent. For breakfast and lunch, we ate at the Market Cafe buffet. In general, I thought the food and service were very good. The exception to this was a Mexican dinner I had at the Endless Summer (Tex-Mex) restaurant. Quite frankly, I thought the food at my local Taco Bell was better. I drink alcohol so I usually had a few drinks before dinner and wine with dinner. The drinks served in the various bars were expensive and weak. The exception to this was a daily drink special and a double martini that costs around $8. They also add a 15% gratuity to all drinks including sodas. I asked one bartender if he received the gratuity and he said "no" so the gratuity is not really a gratuity at all. I was displeased to see that smoking is allowed in all bars and the casino but fortunately, there did not seem to be an abundance of smokers on the ship.To cut down on your bar bill, I would advise bringing a bottle with you although it is against NCL rules. The wine served at dinner came in big glasses but with very little wine. I would guess 3 ounces at most. The waiter encouraged you to buy it by the bottle to save money and also you can take the bottle back to your stateroom. I did this on several occasions. I might also add that we were charged a $10 per day gratuity on our shipboard account. Shipboard activities were numerous. They had a daily schedule of events such as poolside talent shows, bingo, lectures on various topics, and night time entertainment. In addition, there is a movie theater showing recently released movies.There is also a very nice casino on deck 6 which has all the latest electronic slot machines, video poker, table card games, roulette, etc. I was fortunate to hit 2 jackpots on the next to last night which covered my previous losses as well as my shipboard account. Concerning port excursions, all excursions were shortened due to the itinerary change. Our first stop was Manzanillo. We did the sightseeing and city shopping tour. I was not overly impressed with Manzanillo compared to the other stops and the shopping was not that good. Our next port was Puerto Vallarta and we did the city sights tour which was very good. At the end of the tour, we had some time to go shopping and believe me, the shopping there is great. Stop three was Mazatlan and we did the old Mazatlan city tour. This was an interesting tour and it was good to see the locals trying to revitalize the older buildings in this part of town. The final stop was Cabo and again we did the coastal highlights tour. The tour was good but we did not have any time to look around Cabo itself as the ship had to sail at 2 PM. Disembarkation went a lot smoother than embarkation. We were given a color assignment matching our baggage stickers and when our color was called, we cleared customs. The good thing was that we could wait in our stateroom until our color was called rather than waiting in a long line. The disembarkation process probably took about 45 minutes. In conclusion, despite the itinerary change and embarkation hassles, I loved this ship and the cruise. I guess it's because this was my first cruise ever. I would like to go cruising again but I will probably select another cruise line the next time.

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Dec 3, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line NCL Star Mexican Riveria Rodney As a couple in our early 20's, we picked the NCL star Dec 3 cruise because it was inexpensive, and we wanted to try something new. I was scared of some of the bad food reviews I had read online, but once onboard, we didn't have any problems. Our room was the least expensive category, and it was still great. Bigger than other cruises I have been on, and very nicely decorated.

There was a mini-fridge and safe, both of which we used everyday. The best part was the shower, which was spacious, had a sliding glass door, and decent water pressure. We ate at Versailles, the beautiful main dining room, many times for a variety of meals. They try to ask you to share a table, but we always told them we would prefer our own table, and it was never a problem. A couple times, we got beautiful window tables that were incredibly romantic. We never had to wait for a table there, but we also tried to avoid going during the peak hours. We ate at the other dining room, aqua, two times for dinner, and while not as pretty, the food was just as great. My main advice for food is to look at the menus they always post for the dining rooms during the day; You can take a look and see if there's anything that you like. If not, make a reservation for a specialty restaurant that night. We never had a problem getting a reservation, but we were flexible with our times. Sometimes we ate at 9:00, sometimes at 6:30. Granted, I'm not a picky eater, but even when I heard other tables trying a dish and not liking it, the waiters are happy to bring you anything else you want quickly and without any hassle. We didn't try any of the surcharge restaurants, seeing as we were more than satisfied with the free ones. la trattoria (italian) and endless summer (tex-mex) are really great, and the service was always good. One complaint is that they have signs posted by the restaurants that jeans are not allowed in the dining rooms after 5:00 pm. Its completely ridiculous, and the staff didn't seem to care either, seeing as how almost every night I wore my blue jeans and no one mentioned anything to me. Looking around, I saw several people doing the same. We found the buffet to be good. The breakfasts were nice with a lot of variety and selection. My only complaint is that they give you free pineapple, orange, and apple juice during breakfast, but for lunch and dinner, they only offer iced tea. It doesn't make much sense to me, but we didn't mind filling up jugs of juice and keeping them in our room fridge for drinks during the day. Regarding the ports, I would say that they are all generally ok. Alot of times, vendors try to sell you tours and they can be a little difficult to get rid of. We got so tired of saying "No, Gracias" that for awhile we just ignored them, but a some got offended at our silence and yelled after us. I guess for us it was harder because we just wanted to be left alone and explore for ourselves, and most others were shelling out lots of money for tours. We did use our $50 shipboard credit for a turtle ecological tour in Manzanillo, which was incredible. For the other ports, we just took taxis to the shopping areas and walked around. It was a good mix of shopping, food, and nice beaches. But it is still Mexico, so they weren't perfect either. The shows at night were performed by the Jean Ann Ryan company, and they were pretty good. They did a good job of keeping most people of all ages entertained. There were some broadway themed shows and an incredible one called "Cirque Pacific". This was a definite highlight of the cruise. There was also a comedian named Dave Heenan, who was hillariously funny. His brand of humor didn't appeal to some people, but I was laughing non-stop. I was surprised to find someone so funny on a cruise ship, so I have to give credit to whoever booked him. That was definitely another highlight. The magician, Matt Fallon, was alright. He had some amazing tricks but a goofy personality. I think he was good overall. They had a few singers and piano players in various bars around the ship at night, and i didn't particularly like any of them. One thing that dissapointed me was that there was no real nightclub on the boat. The carousel bar was the closest thing, and supposedly it has music after 11:30pm, but mostly it is just karaoke, art auctions, and people sitting around. It is not a closed off nightclub, and I thought that was one was lacking. I think that there weren't many couples our age on board, so they probably don't have many complaints about that, but it would definitely have been fun. I thought the cruise director did a good job of having activities planned througout the day. There were some goofy game show type things with passengers, but they were entertaining. I thought there were a decent amount things to keep us busy during sea days (i.e. a movie theatre, shows at night, a cool board/card game room, a video arcade, the pools). there's a teen club that i never went too, but it seemed like kids were having fun and they had special activities. The 24 hour gym is awesome, but can get busy at peak hours. Inside the Barong Spa, there is a very relaxing indoor lap pool with hot tubs, and there is no charge for its use. It is probably the most beautiful part of the ship. The staff are very nice overall, but you get tired of them trying to sell you stuff as well. You can't sit in a public lounge without a cocktail waiter/waitress coming up to ask if you want a drink, and sometimes 3 or 4 different people ask you within the span of just a few minutes. Also, personally I didn't agree with the mandatory tipping, but at least they tell you up front about it, so you should factor that into the cost of the cruise. Overall, I was impressed and satisfied with the cruise. Some other reviews I had read beforehand scared me, but the bottom line is that some people expect everything to be top of the line and luxurious, and they should not be going on this cruise. It is an excellent value for the money, and don't sweat the little things. I would definitely cruise with NCL in the future.

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Nov 25, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star 7 Day Mexican Riviera Jacqueline Konopka DON'T TAKE THIS CRUISE unless you don't care about your itinerary and you love being lied to. Months in advance we purchased and paid for a Mexican Riviera cruise that was to include stops in Acapulco and Zhue/Ixtapa. Two days before we were to sail, Norwegian called and left a message saying that because of problems with the ship's rotors not being able to

dock at those two stops, they would be substituting Manzillo and Mazatlan for Acapulco and Zhue&Ixtapa. They said it was also too late to cancel and get our money back. When we arrived at the dock in LA to board the ship, they handed us a piece of paper indicating the change in itinerary had been made to accommodate a problem with the ship that would not allow it to go over 20 knots per hour and we could not accomplish the original itinerary in the 8-days allotted for the cruise. This was the first many of the passengers had even heard about the change at all - and you can believe there were some pretty angry people there. NCL would only give us a $50 ship's credit for our troubles and that was it! NCL personnel on hand were very rude in explaining the situation and there was an incredibly long line of people snaking around the building to be checked in - so long in fact that people were fainting from standing there so long. When I questioned an NCL "greeter" about this, her response was "what you expect, there's only 3,000 people trying to get on the ship. Dah." I guess that was meant to welcome me to NCL. Although the ship turned out to be lovely, with a great crew aboard and wonderful food, I will not recommend a cruise line that repeatedly lied to me and the rest of the passengers for a week. Ultimately, according to the ship's log from the bridge that is posted over the TV system, we at times were going in excess of 22 knots per hour. On the last sea day as we headed back into port, we passed numerous ships - including a Holland America ship that we left in the dust - as we were obviously cruising much faster than 22 knots (but they mysteriously removed the cruising information from the TV on the last sea day and replaced the channel with a sports channel) so it appeared there was no problem with the ship's speed - so the printed sheet claiming why the itinerary had been changed didn't wash. We clearly could have made it to Acapulco and back. The theory among many of the passengers was that NCL must have bought the fuel for that cruise on the futures market when the cost was at an all time high, so as cost saving measure (for a company that hasn't been meeting its profit margins, according to a recent financial statement) they cut out sailing to the furthest ports. NCL claims they will not resume the original itinerary going to Acapulco until after the ship goes into dry dock in April for repairs - but continue to sell the cruise with the old itinerary on many websites and through travel agents we checked with. Don't be fooled. Instead of visiting two lovely ports like Acapulco and Ixtapa, you'll being going to Manzillo -basically a backwater highly industrial Mexican town where trash floats in the brown water and there is nothing to see and nothing to buy and nothing to do - and Mazatlan, that is only slightly better. And your time in the other decent ports - Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas - is cut down to a point where you wonder why they even bother stopping there at all. I mean, to stop in Cabo for five hours - by the time you are tendered off the ship and back -is hardly worth it. If you take a tour, you are left with virtually no time on your own. Take another ship and another cruise line if you want to enjoy the Mexican Riviera. Looks like the Sapphire Princess came through for its passengers. And if you dare to take NCL anywhere else, just remember they may decide to up and change your itinerary at the last minute and the cruise you bought and paid for is not the cruise you get. And they don't care at all. Their attitude is basically "too bad, we gave you $50 bucks, what's your problem?" My only hope is there was a sharp lawyer on board who is angry enough to start a class action suit. I know 3,000 people who would join up in an instant. If NCL had seemed even slightly sorrier about what they did - I don't think any of the passengers would have been nearly a upset as they are. But their "could care less" attitude is what stings the most. And what will remind me to tell everyone I meet never, ever to cruise with NCL again.

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Oct 9, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review 7-Day Mexican Riviera Bill Cassina My wife and I along with our son and daughter in law just got back from a wonderful cruise on another line. As is our custom we tried to book our next cruise and decided to try NCL as we had not cruised with them before. After checking their online website we decided to call them direct. We were given information that upgrades were available

and a price quote. We were told that confirmation would arrive via email. When that arrived it did not include the upgrades we were promised. I called them and was told that since I was quoted the senior rate no upgrades were available. I was told that the price is now $200.00 more per cabin but no upgrades were available today so instead of deck 8 we would be given rooms on deck 5...not an upgrade. During this process I spoke with four different individuals and never got the same answer from any of them. I then spoke with a supervisor and she could care less. She stated that the cruise line is not responsible for their agents quoting the wrong rates. They would accept no responsibility. I then requested cancellation of our reservations.   After this fiasco it is doubtful if we will ever cruise on NCL.  

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Sep 30, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review 7-Day Mexican Rivera Carol I was very apprehensive about NCL having read some very unfavorable reviews on-line. However, when I checked reviews on other cruises I had taken I realized that their would be pros and cons on any cruise. I decided reluctantly to take the cruise because the itinerary was great and the price was right. This is the first time I felt the need to send in a

review to help other cruisers make a decision before taking this cruise. My first encounter with the cruise was embarkation. We arrived early so the wait was very short and went well. We were greeted with free drinks when boarding the ship. That was a nice touch! We immediately went to our rooms to see our accommodations. We had a suite which wOther family members that arrived later did have to deal with the long lines and complained that it was very unorganized. Accommodation: We were taken to our rooms immediately after boarding the ship. I was very impressed with our room because it was a suite. We had been upgraded from a balcony to a suite prior to cruising. Needless to say, we were overwhelmed by the size and the décor of our suite. It was a two bedroom suite with each room having its own bathroom which was separate from the rest of the suite, and a living room and dinning area. Food: Most of the reviews that I read criticized the food. Our first experience was lunch on the pool deck after boarding the ship. The food was just ok. I didn’t let that influence my opinion because we had just arrived and the deck food may not be the same as in the dinning room or restaurants. The best thing about free-style dinning is you can eat WHENEVER and WHEREVER you want and that is a PLUS. We tried to eat at all the restaurants in order to give it an all around fair rating . The dinning rooms and restaurants were very nicely decorated and very appealing to the eye. However, the food never met my expectations. For the most part the food was just mediocre and sometimes cold or warm at best when it was served. Other than that, the fresh fruits were sweet and tasty wherever it was served. The best food was found in the Blue Lagoon. It was a 24 hour restaurant that served freshly made burgers, fish & chips, buffalo wings, potato skins, and other snack foods. . Ports of Call All the ports of call were great. My only complaint was that we never arrived on time at any of the ports. We were supposed to arrive in Acapulco in the morning but we arrived at 6PM. that evening. To make up for the loss time they extended the stay the next morning at noon. But the shops didn’t open until 9:00A and we left at 11:30 so we had only 2 ½ hours of shopping. Because of the delay of the first port they cancelled the next port.. We arrived at the next port 3 hours late and they only extended the stay by 1 hour. The next port we also arrived late. We were never compensated for any delays or cancellation of a port. Things to say about the Cruise: Bad: The entertainment was fair. Room service was mediocre. The food left much to be desired. Many times the drinking glasses were spotty. The days at sea were not well planned and very, very boring. Very little music or entertainment/activities on the deck. You would sit for several hours with nothing to do but swim or sunbathe. You had to create your own entertainment on deck. No entertainment what-so-ever in the dinning rooms. Bingo cost $29.00/game - outrageous. No disco per se. The only thing available to drink on board for free was water and ice tea. You had to pay for everything else to drink. Except at breakfast you had coffee, juices, milk, tea and water. On all other cruises I have taken you had water, punch, lemonade, coffee, milk, and tea available at all time. It has always been the policy that you pay for sodas and alcoholic beverages. Photos were very expensive. This cruise was all about the $$$$$$$$ from you to them. Good: The ship was immaculate and beautiful! Getting around the ship was very easy because every deck was well marked with directions. The staff was very friendly and helpful. Final Analysis Basically, I will NEVER, EVER use NCL Cruise Line again. We traveled with 33 people in our party and everyone said they would never travel on NCL ever again.

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Sep 29, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Lines Norwegian Star Cruise Review 7-Day Mexican Riviera John Hunt I can’t say enough about the NCL staff aboard the Star! We departed from Long Beach after a rather goofy check in; there were three ships in port so it was a wee crowded. Once aboard the NCL Star things were looking up! A state-room with balcony is the way to go it made waking up a treat. We departed Long Beach and immediately had to deviate west

for hurricane Otis, the captain kept everyone updated; we found out early on that because of the hurricane dodging maneuver we would lose one stop. We arrived in Acapulco a little late; however, it was an interesting stop. The next day we were on our way to Porto Vallarta, one of my favorite places. We were once again delayed because of strong head winds, now those of us on board with any sailing or flying experience fully appreciated the task faced by the Captain … many of the passengers whined about the delay, most of us understood, after all we had a relative wind of 40 knots over the deck. Because of the delay the captain didn’t want a prolonged tender (small boat shuttle) ride for the passengers, he eased the big ship into a port keeping the ships position with their dynamic position systems, way cool! For anyone that has witnessed a "loved-one" (wife/daughter) trying to parallel park a car will appreciate the amazing job the captain did backing into the tiny port area … Bang, we were off the ship like a shot. In Cabo, NCL had commercial tenders help with the shuttle operation. I was so impressed with the crew of the NCL Star I wrote the NCL president and the Star’s captain to say thanks; with all the weather challenges they did a magnificent job. Here's some advice for travelers, if 100% of your trip doesn’t pan out for what ever reason, have another margarita and relax your on vacation, and don’t whine near other passengers, some us don’t want to hear it, I heard enough whining about the hurricane to last a life time … HAVE FUN for goodness sake. Aside from the weather issues I’d do another NCL freestyle cruise in a New York second, well done N! CL!!!!

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Sep 29, 2005

Mexican Riviera

NCL, Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review 7-Day Mexican Riviera Charlene Bethel Embarkation: This was a very negative experience as we waited in line for 3 hours before boarding the ship. It was hot from the Santa Ana winds and humid from a very large fire close by. However, I later learned that the long lines were caused by Customs because there were three ships in port at the same time. We did receive a rum drink upon

entering the ship which is a nice touch. Once on ship checking in was a breeze. Did I love this ship? Very much! The crew was friendly and helpful at all times and in every area of the ship. It was obvious that the crew is proud of the ship and happy to be working on her. This indicates good management to my husband and me; and if the crew is managed well it is passed on to the passengers in very good service. Stateroom: We booked a mini-suite on deck 11 forward and will do this again. The room is larger than a balcony with beautiful cherry wood accents, cabinets etc. and perfect size for two people. There was plenty of storage, extended balcony, nicely large bathroom with a bathtub. The room was clean at all times, and we only had to leave our room for one hour and it was made up or turned down, absolutely no complaints here. Public places: The pool area was always hoping, however, we did not spend much time there. The Casino was fun and we won some and lost some probably came out even, but had lots of fun here. Our favorite place for a drink and a little entertainment was the Red Lion Pub where the wait staff came to know us, even on shore if they ran into us. The coffee bar in the atrium is beautifully located and we enjoyed coffee here a few times as well as cookies (the cookies are free). The workout room is well equipped with staff very helpful. Entertainment: The Jean Ann Ryan Company put on two shows that we enjoyed quite a lot. One was “Music of the Night” Andrew Lloyd Webber music and was beautiful, the second was “Fame” and that was also very good. The Stardust Theater is quite beautiful and each seat had good view of the stage. Dinning: We ate mostly in the Versailles and usually had good meals, a couple of times the dish was not what I thought it would be, but overall very good. My husband had prime rib the first night and said it was excellent; he is a prime rib lover and has eaten it at some very nice restaurants. We ate twice at Endless Summer and found the food good there as well. We had fish and chips in the Red Lyon and that was good. The buffets were . . . well buffets, however, breakfast was usually pretty good as was lunch. We did not like the coffee in the buffet it was too strong and bitter, but we usually made coffee in our stateroom which we enjoyed. Ports: We did miss one port, however, made each of the larger ports and this was okay with us. We kind of had an extra day at sea because we did not arrive in Acapulco until 6:00 p.m. due to hurricane Otis the next morning we took the ship tour to the Cliff Divers and I would recommend this tour to anyone we enjoyed it quite a lot. In Puerto Vallarta we were late arriving because of strong headwinds however our captain maneuvered us very close to the dock in order to hasten our tendering to shore, this was the most amazing thing. Carnival Pride was docked and we skirted right past her, she had a sign on the side of the ship that said “for security reasons stay 50 feet away”, and I know we came closer than 50 feet. I could see the bridge crew and other passengers on their balcony and we could even yell at each other. This captain really knows how to drive a ship and take good care of his passengers. Cabo San Lucas was beautiful and our first day with sun and very little humidity, it is smaller than I thought it would be, but we had a lot of fun. Did not take a shore excursion here but those that did raved about the good time they had, so kind of wished we had too. Disembarkation: This was the easiest I have seen so far. We waited in our stateroom until our color was called, then we went to the Spinnaker Lounge for Customs and off the ship. Our luggage was very easy to find by the way it was clustered in groups. Will I sail this ship again? In a heartbeat. Will I sail with this captain again? In half a heartbeat. Will I sail NCL again? Without a doubt. If you have to have an unplanned day at sea the Norwegian Star is the ship to be on. In fact we plan on sailing to Alaska on the Star next summer.

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Sep 29, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Crruise Lines Norwegian Star Cruise Review 7-Day Mexican Riveria Dan Elseman Boarding: We arrived around noon and were greeted with a pretty long ling waiting to get on the ship. While many people blamed NCL for the delay it was US Customs not NCL that held us up. With 2000 passengers waiting to get on there were only two agents checking us through. Once past we boarded quickly and NCL had at more than ten stations set up

the check us in. They also served us a rum punch as we waited. Stateroom: 11079. The room was very nice and clean and everything worked as it should. It was cleaned daily and we never had a problem obtaining ice or whatever else we wanted from the housekeepers. Food: WE try and avoid the extra cost restaurants as we're found the food in the main dining rooms to be more than good enough. Like many who read these reviews I've read a number of stories about how the food was cold or only warm, etc. We were never disappointed and were always treated nicely. We did find ourselves eating in the Aqua restaurant rather than Versailles. The menu is the same but Aqua is smaller and to us was more intimate. The staff also seemed to be more attentive. We also ate at the Blue Lagoon cafe for a late night snack. The market cafe buffet was lacking in food quality and selection compared with the other NCL ships we've sailed. We really missed the waffle and omelet stations on the other ships.... Ports of call: I've already read one review here complaining about the ship being 7 hours late arriving into Acapulco. What the writer failed to mention was that the Captain had to avoid hurricane Otis and sailed more than 160 miles around it. Not NCLs fault for mother nature. Yes, this did cause us to miss a port. The choice was to stay longer in Acapulco or move on to a dusty small village up the coast with a bunch of luxury hotels nearby. We both thought the Captain made the right choice. We agree that we were late in arriving into Puerto Vallarta by an hour and it too was caused by Otis as the ship ran through heavy seas and wind as much at 50 miles an hour across the deck. This point was also overlooked in the other review. The sun gods did do there thing when we arrived in Cabo San Lucas. The sky was clear and very little humidity. It was a fun port to visit and enjoy the sites. Overall: It was not the best cruise experience so far but this was due more to the weather and not the ship or it's crew. We love the freestyle system and wish all ships used it. Will we sell NCL again. Absolutely. Our next NCL cruise will be on the Wind next year.

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Sep 17, 2005

NOT FOUND

This was a group of five couples for the Sep.18, 2005 Norwegian Star repo - 7 day Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. Embarkation well done - efficient and friendly. We were aboard ship at 11:20 AM. Auto dispensers of hand disinfectant was first thing noticed and were all over the ship.... good idea. The crew was very friendly and more than helpful at all times. Cabins are smallish - appx. 170 sq. ft., but adequate. All verandas are fully covered

and private, (unlike those of larger Princess ships.) Larger bathrooms with separate toilet stall w/ sliding door. Large shower w/ removable head. Duvets for beds. Small 19" TV's with two movie channels, CNN, ship bridge cam, etc. Promo channels shows well produced. Stage shows above average - good costuming, lighting and sound. Showroom seats with minimal leg room and seats are tilted slightly forward for your discomfort. Cruise director was a dignified, middle aged English gent - he knew his business. Ship layout complicated - room for 10 restaurants makes for a maze. It takes days rather than hours to get the layout of the ship. Promenade full wrap around but is narrow to thin in spots due to inner restaurants protruding out. Very large atrium which simply gives that appearance of huge space and actually takes away from guest space, (study Millie Class Celebrity ships to see what I mean.) Top notch spa and exercise areas. Not well attended by staff other than for spa treatments but + for style and layout. I work out and used the facilities three times. Exercise is one level directly above spa and aft. Best of cable weight machines... more than enough tread mills, bikes, etc., all with LCD monitors with all TV channels. Free access to men and women's spa areas..... clean spacious locker rooms, sauna, steam rooms, showers/sinks. Central co-ed 40' lap pool, (well heated,) large dual jacuzzis, one with inserted metal bars for reclining. Cushioned deck chairs in rear with beautiful view aft. Never crowded - fine with me. First time I have worn blue jeans around deck. Very casual attire by most guests. Dining rules: no blue jeans, shorts, sandals after 5:00 PM in all restaurants. Resort casual required. Other than that, get comfy. Restaurants: buffet was better than average in quality, variety and service. Buffet staff socialized with each other way too much but this didn't seem to affect service. Very short wait times to be seated. Some restaurants request reservations. We went to The Endless Summer, (TexMex,) one night. Party of six and had no problem getting a table. Versailles Restaurant is very elegant, (SoHo and Versailles - no extra, no reservations required.) We ate at The Versailles twice. First night at sea was formal.... I'd say 30% of passengers went formal/semi. Interesting to see dress variety all at once in the restaurant. Ate at Gatsby's Steakhouse, (deck 11 midship.) $20 cover and worth it. Italian restaurant is actually conversion of port side of buffet after 5:00 PM. They have shades that roll down over the buffet lines - really does give Italian feel to area. Portions here were small, (as they were in most restaurants on board,) but ordering extra was no problem. I ordered spaghetti and meat balls. I got four tiny meat balls in center of plate...... ordered room service later. Room service very basic - sandwiches, oriental soup, pizza, no beverages, chocolate mouse. Time from order to delivery - appx. 15 minutes. Breakfast room service - continental. Phone notification of breakfast delivery one to two minutes prior. I'd go to the buffet and load up a plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, fruits, coffee and juice.... take it back to the stateroom. RCI and Princess offer more but Celebrity is tops... full breakfast can be ordered interactively via TV on the night prior. Not so on The Star. Place your order sheet to the outside doorknob no later than 3:00 AM. Drink of the Day was appx. $4.20 PP. The help always pushed to have drink in souvenir glass, (double the price.) I'd have to say no, no, no, regular 8 oz. glass ! Speaking of push - as it is with all standard and premium lines, push push push the ads for the art gallery, the jewelry, the photos, etc., all adds laid neatly on your bed at turndown time. There was no piping of ads to individual rooms, thank goodness ! First day at sea was wet and wild. I noticed in my three A.M. dreams that I was on a roller coaster. Once in awhile this huge explosion as we bottomed out. 6:00 AM we went to the veranda to view huge 20' swells we were plowing through at an angle at reduced speed. Back to bed to get horizontal until noon when things calmed down. Smoother seas for the rest of the voyage. Not quite as bad as my 2001 mention of The Enchantment experience but bad, very bad nonetheless. These rough seas made us one hour late for Juneau but all shore excursions went ahead without cancellations. I had to mess with the photo crew on the pier at Juneau. You know, they take your pic and then post and charge onboard.... so I had Pat stand with the guy in the moose outfit and I started snapping. They actually tried to block my shots so I would snap their pic and put out my hand, offering a $5 sale. They finally saw some humor in my smart a** antics and stopped blocking - actually posed for us in some shots. Ports: Juneau - Light rain all day and cool temps. My wife, Pat, wanted to pan for gold. Fun but wet and cold for us. Others went to the local glacier and enjoyed it. Skagway - Partly cloudy and cool - train to White Pass is nice. You can sign up for bus tour of White Pass - costs 1/2 the amount of the train. The highway runs on the other side of the valley. Train leaves from dockside. Glacier Bay - we were allowed into Johns Hopkins Inlet - awesome. Mostly cloudy and cool. The National Park service restricts access to Johns Hopkins Inlet due to the fluctuating population of sea lions. If the sea lions are too numerous you may be re-routed to another area. Johns Hopkins inlet is the best with that gorgeous view of Mt. Fairweather and Mt. Quincy Adams in the background. Ketchikan - Light to moderate rain and cool - not much here unless you book advanced to fish. My nephew tried to charter a boat but nothing was available. There was a lumberjack show on the southside of town. We walked by and heard big cheers and yelling - good time to be had. Inside Passage - beautiful but not the highlight of any Alaska voyage. Vancouver post cruise - stayed at The Sheraton Wall Centre. Very nice room. I told them I smoked and, as they had no smoking rooms left, we were given a balcony @ no extra charge. Took the 4 1/2 hour city tour. Had an awesome steak dinner seven walking blocks from the hotel at The Hamilton Street Grill in Yaletown. Highly recommended. Spendy but the best meal of the entire vacation. Tipping: Ten dollars PP PD charged to onboard bill. I brought my wad of $2 bills for tipping but brought most home. Trouble with drink orders - the bill you sign clearly shows a modest built in tip, with a space for additional tip. The wait staff would see me skip that line - I'm sure they would react inwardly. I would rather tip from my pocket but the help is looking for an amount on the bill before them. My thought was 'fine', no tip then, and kept my $2's in my pocket. No pressure in restaurants regarding tipping - pretty much finish and leave. Overall: If you freestyle, do it on a newer NCL ship that is designed for it. They still have older ships in the fleet offering less room. I'd do NCL again and might take The Star to the Mex Riv next year. Webshots: Images from the cruise. Many good shots of Holland America, RCI and NCL ships we met along the way: First album is from Seattle to The Inside Passage. Second album is the post cruise stay of Mike and Pat in Vancouver, B.C. Links: Norwegian Star - first album: http://community.webshots.com/album/462325642uShLUm Norwegian Star - 2nd album: http://community.webshots.com/album/462394480cQNtWb Using the slideshow is a good way to view the photos. You can adjust the time on picture from two seconds upward. Heber M. Ball

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Sep 10, 2005

Alaska

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review 7 Day Alaskan Cruise NACTA Seminar at Sea The following review was done by the participants of a NACTA Seminar at Sea. The ship was divided into three sections: restaurants, bars & theaters, miscellaneous area of the ship. Restaurants Sushi Bar $10.00 cover includes Miso Soup, all you can eat sushi, ice cream or fruit plate. The sushi is vegetarian only, no raw meat or fish.

Ginza $12.50 cover includes 2 menu items + chef’s appetizer. Portions good size. Negative is that the music from Gatsby’s bar is not appropriate to restaurant atmosphere. Restaurant is seldom full. Cagney's Steak House Located on deck 13 aft, it is, as the name implies, a steak house. Featuring primarily steaks, like T Bone, Boneless, New York Strip loin and Filet Mignon. It also offers Pork and Veal chops, Rock Game Hens, Salmon Steaks and Lamb ribs on the menu. For a specialty restaurant, it has the widest selection of menu items, but is also the most expensive on the ship at $20.00 service charge per person. This price is posted in large type on the top of the menu, which is smart, because it is pretty hard to overlook like that. Like most of the restaurants, it also offers Surf and Turf at an additional $5.00 per order charge. Some of the specialties of the house are in the appetizer section, with oyster rock casserole, crab cakes, New England clam chowder and onion soups. Salads feature both the traditional Caesar and also a Spinach salad. The service was good, the staff very friendly and the ambiance was quiet. Le Bistro This is the signature restaurant for NCL. The restaurant is on each of their ships and has pretty much the same menu on each one. The service price is $15.00, but is buried in small print at the back of the menu, easily overlooked. Since we witnessed one party disputing this, maybe they should move it to the top and in larger type. The menu features Salmon, Sea Bass, Filet Mignon and a Vegetarian Entree. Also available was the Surf and Turf at an additional $5.00 charge. A signature dish is the mushroom soup which is served in a bread bowl. Not only is the presentation nice, but it tastes excellent and I had it both times I ate in this restaurant. The other signature dish is in the dessert section and is a pineapple filled with cut up fruit and served with hot chocolate fondue. They strive for a continental feeling in this restaurant, which would be better served if the Maitre D here would help bus tables during busy hours instead of just frowning in that direction. Since our second meal here was during a time in port, and most persons were ashore, the service was better as the restaurant only had 2-4 tables occupied during the entire dinner. My husband had commented that the Filet Mignon was very small, so they served him two of them on the plate. That was a nice accommodation. The service is not as good as it once was here, nor as good as other NCL Bistro's. Versailles Restaurant No reservation required and no charge. This is, in my opinion, the most elegant and nicest restaurant on The Star. I had breakfast, lunch, and the famous Chocoholic Buffet here. The service in this dining room was wonderful, just as the rest of the ship. Food was very good and if you are lucky enough to get a table at the very back, the window overlooking the ocean is quite large and beautiful! The whole dining room was lovely, light and airy. I could have eaten here every day and been perfectly happy. Even during the chocolate buffet, the wait staff was easily handling the crowd. At lunch, we were asked if we wanted a private table (there were only 2 of us) or if we wanted to join others, which we did. The option was nice. As you can tell, I highly recommend The Versailles. Versailles Restaurant This restaurant was truly an elegant dining experience. The Versailles décor was French as you might imagine with impeccable service provided. The timing between courses was perfect. Our drinks were well attended to because we never had to look about for our server. He was extremely helpful and attentive to our every need! My ethnic background is Japanese and so I ordered an Asian dish which was prepared to perfection. My husband’s sandwich choice could have been a bit larger. We chose the lunch meal to try this restaurant. The Versailles is open for breakfast from 7 – 9 am most days; lunch 11:30 am– 1:30 pm and dinner from 5:30 pm to 10 pm. The cuisine will satisfy all palates. Alcoholic beverages will cost patrons extra. Highly recommended. LaTrattoria Restaurant: The transformation of "The Market Place" buffet service style to the "La Trattoria", was done professionally in full fledged Five Star style. They sectioned off the plain decor of a cafeteria line with panels of beautifully designed fabric curtains that made you feel you were in an original Italian restaurant. The Staff was dressed in a variety of colored vests and black formal attire. The menu presented a nice variety of Italian fare and an excellent choice of imported wines. Service was professional, prompt, courteous and made our evening well worthwhile. Teppanyaki Teppa means an iron plate and yaki means cooking, thus cooking on a grill. This is one of the Asian specialty restaurants. It seats 12 people and has ala carte pricing. Prices are from $10 - $15 per meal. The lobster is at market price. Seating is around two Teppas and two chefs work them skillfully when the table is full. The piano music from Gatsby’s can be heard, so that is nice. The experience was a pleasant departure from the main dining room hustle and bustle. We enjoyed! Blue Lagoon Easily accessible by a main walkway from Reception to the elevators. The seating area is long and narrow and is separated from the kitchen/serving area by the main walkway. It presents an informal, food-court ambience. The seating area will readily allow handicap access or usage by a family with children. A children’s menu is included along with many international favorites such as hamburgers, fish and chips, soups, and wok dishes. The restaurant is open 24 hours, is tastefully decorated, and has pleasant servers. Endless Summer Restaurant: Beautiful atmosphere, views from both sides of the ship with excellent service. Problem with passenger traffic walking through restaurant to get to other side of ship was a little distracting. The restaurant was billed as Tex Mex and we found the food not very tasty and much too dry. We quizzed other diners on different nights and they had the same reaction as our party. Market Café The Market Café has Freestyle dining at its best for a variety of reasons: great dishes to choose from, all you can eat and very flexible hours for a no rush dining experience. The floor plan is quite plain featuring galley-style seating in along the windows. The views of the sea are breath taking! The Market Café can get crowded but this minor flaw is best solved by dining during off-peak hours. The menu is varied and excellent with buffet-style efficiency. Our choices were as varied as the nationalities represented aboard. Asian, Mexican, All-American, you name it, it was there. Menu varied on main courses day to day. Although you would serve yourself, the staff stood by ready to assist at any given moment. Disabled patrons were assisted to their table with another attendant carrying their trays. The Market Café is where we took the majority of our meals but we chose to, it was very good and convenient. Breakfast is from 6:30 am to 11 am, lunch is 11:30 am to 3 pm, dinner from 5 pm to 9:30 pm. Highly recommended for those casual diners on a budget. The Soho—high end Pacific Rim food There are twenty three tables. The Soho offers a movie star motif. The restaurant is light and airy with one wall of windows. There is a $15 per person charge. Some items are called a la carte which really means an added per person charge. The waite staff was friendly and accommodating. The menu included: Appetizers—Ahi tuna tar tare with caviar was a stellar presentation with a small salad under an inverted champagne glass with the tuna and caviar on top. Next there was Rice Wine marinated Sea Scallops, spiced avocado & gazpacho. It was very nice but the Ahi tuna was better. Entrees: Signature Dish was sautéed jumbo black tiger shrimp served with tortellini, aromatic vegetables, chervil & Sauvignon Blanc cappuccino. Very good. Next was a grilled cider marinated 10 oz. veal chop celeriac, baby leeks & carrots on soft porcini—polenta, tapenade veal jus. Then there was pick your own live cold lobster $10 surcharge, however, I was NOT offered the option to pick my own even though I specifically asked if I was going to be able to. The surf & turf ordered at a table near us looked like a better choice. Desserts included tempura chocolate cake with carmel fudge sauce. Not overly inspired. Red wind poached pear with mascarpone & pistachio nuts—good but not overly inspired. Bars Wine Cellar: A name only not a bar or cocktail lounge. Sake Bar is in Ginza Restaurant. It seems not to have customers. Star Bar—Midship, Deck 13 overlooking pool area. It is quiet with piano/vocalist in evening. BierGarten- located on Deck 13, high up midship, overlooking the pool area. You can clearly hear the pool side entertainment here. Unfortunately, since it is so high, it is not a highly desirable place to be in Alaska or any other cold weather cruising, hence the reason it was open only twice on this cruise. It was offered once during the sail away party and one other morning. Fortunately, we have sailed on the Star in a warm weather clime, and this bar is a huge gathering place during those conditions. The bar serves the standard array of drinks, especially featuring the helmet with the purchase of 4 beers, the fifth is free. However, since they serve bottles which can readily be carried into the pool area, this might need to be re thought. When The Star was in Hawaii, the bar served hamburgers, hotdogs, knockwurst and sauerkraut, and giant pretzels. This voyage had no food services. Champagne Bar—Gatsby’s Deck 6 Forward and adjacent to LeBistro and Soho dining rooms, and Havana Club Cigar Bar. There was singer/piano entertainment every evening. There are 15 tables with 4 soft plush chairs per table. The bar has seating for six people. All types of drinks are available. During the daytime this area is used for small presentations and/or classes. Entertainment this week varied between Jeffery Allen and Allen Roman. Mr. Allen had a wonderful voice and entertained guests with Elton John tunes. Champagne by the glass is $4.95-$8 & $10. Vintages and non vintage—waiter did not know the difference. By the bottle the prices ranged from $19-$99. Seven tables are non smoking and often the singing is quite loud and interferes with Ginza dining. Dazzles Bar Located in the casino. Small, seating for 8. Poker played at 3 of those seats by inlaid screen in bar. Very non descript. Not somewhere you would go for a drink unless you were in the casino. No sign to even let you know it was The Dazzles Bar. Only people using it were playing poker or the servers going to the bar for the drinks they were delivering to the players. Carousel Nightclub Located on Deck 7 and near midship, this nightclub features music and regular karaoke activities within elegant surroundings. The circus-like atmosphere is complete with normal size carousel horses used for seating at the bar, a small band stand, animal print covered seating, and colorful wall décor. With its beautiful décor and low hung ceiling, the cozy atmosphere and carousel ambience seems to invite the first-time-aboard cruiser to linger several minutes while congering up pleasant childhood experiences. The nightclub is situated on either side by the ships main corridors and comes to life only after the dinner hour. At no time during the week was the volume of the music or karaoke activity loud. The Carousel Nightclub is a great place for taking pictures whether day or night. Star Dust Theatre: A large professional theater with comfortable stadium seating for approximately 1,000 people. It is easily accessible to all passengers and provides handicap viewing areas. The Jean Ann Ryan Co., without question provides some of the finest five star talent that you will find on any stage in America. The singing voices and dancing performed by this group to portray the story line just like on "Broadway" is a MUST see for all NCL passengers. Stardust Theatre It is decorated in reds and gold and seats half of the passengers. It is lovely with no poles on the main level. Good viewing with adequate slant to floor. Nice comfortable seats, though there were no drink holders and/or tables. Minimal bar service before show as there is not enough room to have wait staff deliver to your seat. There is no access to the seats down front against the wall on either side, so you must climb over lots of people to get to those seats and to those in the middle of the upper rows. There were not enough aisles to facilitate the seating. There are very few balcony seats, and not wonderful viewing because of the glass partition. The sound system and lighting were terrific. The shows were as follows: Sunday, comedian Ben Anderson was family friendly & funny; Monday, Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber; Tuesday, Chris Riggins, classically trained singer; Wednesday, “It’s Fame” Broadway dancing and singing; Thursday, Magician Shawn Farquher; Friday, “Cirque Pacific” was visually stunning. It was dance only, with special Chinese acrobats and martial arts performances. I found this singing and dance troupe to be one of the most talented of any ship. Saturday, Tribute to Elton John show was at 4 pm to accommodate our Victoria Port Call at 6 pm. Miscellaneous Rooms Atrium Six decks with 3 glass elevators, two winding stairways going up 2 decks to Internet Café. Java Café is located in center. There is often live music. Purser/Reception—Well staffed and courteous. Shore Excursions—Staff well versed on destinations. Sign up went smoothly. Miscellaneous Rooms Deck 12 Forward Reading Room with comfortable chairs and tables for computers, Library—well stocked with books, three conference rooms, two game rooms with lots of game tables. Well used area. On each side of Spinnaker Lounge is one small room with comfortable chairs for small gatherings. Cabins More spacious than some I have been in and lots of storage space. The main plus was the bathroom. The shower was larger than most and enclosed by a sliding door. Water on the floor was never a problem. The toilet was on the other side and also enclosed by a sliding door so 2 people could use the facility at the same time and maintain some privacy. The sink was in the middle. Towels were changedconstantly even though we had hung them up and would have used them again. Safe in the cabin was easy to operate and I like having one. Linens were changed daily as well. Overall, the cabin we had was very nice. No complaints. Maid was personable and sweet, couldn’t do enough to please you. We gave her an extra tip. Cinema /Auditorium: The destination lecture "Alaska: the Great Land" with the presentation by Mr. & Mrs. Perron was more than just "statistics". It did compare the size and scope of what Alaska is, but also the adventure and History of its people were brought to "life" with stories of their struggles to settle a new frontier and then gain Statehood and a future. It was nicely presented and very interesting. The facility is also used to show the latest movie films available and is accessible for all who wish to attend. Fitness Center It is large and fairly bright, but machines face a wall instead of the ocean. The classroom area has large windows, mirrors & bars. Very nice, large exercise area. All the major types of equipment are available. There is good sanitation available as well. Smoothie Bar available in the room. Music is piped in and you also have individual TV monitors on the equipment. Downstairs is the Spa. Sports Areas The golf area for driving was unattended on this cruise, but they did have some putting on the schedule. The basketball area is adequate in size, however the netting overhead would prohibit many shots. Ping pong is back by the kid’s swim area during this cool weather cruise. There are two oversized chess sets on Deck 12, where the walking track is. One shuffleboard as well, in addition to the two located on Deck 7. The basketball area doubles as a soccer and volleyball court. The track was four laps to equal one mile, and was on the perimeter. A little tight when passing someone, but walkers were directed to the inside. I would say the facilities were very good, although I passed the sports deck several times and never found it attended. In the warm weather cruises, I’m sure they would be available as well as in the Dive In center. I didn’t recall any scuba diving excursions in Alaska! Barong Spa Deck 11 Aft is accessible by a grand spiral staircase or elevator for the physically challenged. Spacious changing areas are surrounded by steam, sauna, showers, and in the center of the spa is a lap pool 1 whirlpool, 1 thalassotherapy pool, lounge chairs for reading/relaxing by floor to ceiling windows. The luxurious surroundings compliment the offerings to provide a soothing experience. The hydrotherapy area may not be conducive to those with a physical handicap. Massage, facials, body treatments, hair and nail services are provided. Fees are not for those on a strict budget but there is a wide selection to choose from. The Fitness Center is adjacent and open 24 hours. It has all the newest equipment to compliment the various classes offered. Galleria (The Shops): Beautiful appearance similar to a department store feel on a smaller scale. A lot of jewelry and a nice collection of clothing. We were a little surprised at the warm weather clothing on the racks. Lots of perfumes and makeup that is on other cruises. Embarkation This experience was very orderly and efficient. Your room key is printed with your designated muster station and your name. Crew members directed you to your cabin. The Emergency Drill conducted just before sailing was not only required but absolutely necessary should an emergency at sea arise; this could save many lives. Security on the ship was very good. Internet Café Location on Deck 9, midship. There were 12 stationary terminals or you can use your laptop. Plans are not interchangeable. You pay by the minute. There are three plans: 250 minutes $100 (40 cents/minute) 100 minutes $55 (55 cents/minute) 33 minutes $25 (75 cents/minute) +$3.95 activation fee. For laptop users there are hot spots around the ship: Grand Atrium (all decks), upper and outside deck areas (poolside, Bier Garten, Conference rooms, Reading room and general surrounding areas). There are very few 110v outlets. You need a 220V adapter. You can rent a wireless card at $10/day, optional insurance at $3/day, or you can rent a laptop for $20/day with insurance of $10/day. Smaller time plans became available Friday at 30 minutes for $12 and 15 minutes for $8.25. Time Plans end at disembarkation. Wheelchair access to the Internet Café is from Deck 9 but there is a very heavy door that must be opened. The area feels very dark and has no view. Disembarkation Our experience was quite satisfactory. The Star did a great job of getting the word out to the guests regarding the debarkation procedure. The colored tags were an excellent method for debarkation because this "staggered" the guests. We were lime green so we enjoyed the opportunity to relax, eat breakfast and reflect on our great experience! The actual debarkation was very orderly and efficient. We had no difficulty locating our baggage in the Terminal. We had no flight to catch so we simply hiked up to downtown Seattle and took the bus home (very healthy)!

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Jun 25, 2005

Alaska

Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star Cruise Review 7-Day Alaska Virginia Wagg This was a round trip Seattle Alaska sailing. I was traveling with my family, which included 2 children, 6 and 9 years of age. The children and pricing were the most important factors in choosing. I was correct to choose this ship for the children, big mistake choosing for price. As there were a total of 11 people in our party, cost was a factor and NCL

Star was the most economical way for us to go, plus I was interested in trying “Freestyle” dining. As far as the physical plant of the ship goes, it is absolutely beautiful. Well appointed public rooms and lots of them. Standard sized cabins with great bathrooms although somewhat lacking in storage space. Probably a little larger ship than I would have liked but still, very nice ship. The kids program was well run and kept to the schedule listed in their program very well with one exception. My grandson’s name is Simon. The cruise director’s name was Simon. The CD was supposed to visit the kids and conduct a kids cruise director program, however, each time it was scheduled he canceled due to a sore throat, severely disappointing my 6 year old grandson. And that pretty much epitomizes the attitude of the staff aboard this ship. “ Do whatever is most convenient for the staff without regard to what is best for the passenger.” Examples: Closing dining areas fifteen minutes earlier than scheduled to get a head start on clean up. Not opening areas of the buffet at the scheduled time and receiving a surly answer when questioned about it. Failing to refill certain items in buffet because they were closing in ten minutes. Requiring you to visit the purser’s desk to make arrangements for disembarkation. Making a party of seven wait to one side for twenty five minutes to be seated in the Aqua Restaurant when there were plenty of empty large tables. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Throughout the cruise you are constantly bombarded with announcements and extraneous papers left on your bed, all attempting to find a way to extract more money from you. Gone are the free activities we used to attend on ships. Everything here is geared toward producing revenue for the ship. It got so that the last two days of the cruise we were plotting ways to get through the day without giving them another nickel except for the “non-adjustable” service charge of $10 a day a person. And therein lies the problem with Freestyle. People working for guaranteed wages do not attend to their duties with the alacrity shown by someone hustling for tips. It’s just not human nature to do so, and while we had many excellent service people in the restaurants, there were an equal number of poorly trained, uncaring people who were just interested in getting through the day. My son had dinner one evening in the Bistro (charge of $15 per person). While the food was good, the server with no apology laughed at the piece of sharp, white plastic which was found residing under the steak . For this type of service we should pay extra? On three consecutive port days we arrived back at the ship (one day after a fifteen minute wait outside because only one entry was open) and called for room service. You know how you feel after coming from a long tour or an invigorating hike. Exhausted! The last thing you want to do is go to the buffet for a snack. I understand that this is probably the busiest time for room service, however, I was not prepared for what happened. The first two days I called and received a recording to press one for a call back. We decided not to wait and dragged ourselves up to the Market Café for coffee and a small (very small) sandwich. The third day, after receiving the same message, I pressed one for a call back. Sure enough, within two minutes the phone rang. But by the time I answered it, no one was there. I called back and within two minutes the phone rang again. This time I was right on top of it and picked the phone up only to hear the phone click as it was hung up on the other end. I tried one more time, same result. It seems your room number goes into a computer queue and the only way for them to get it out is to make the call back. But that doesn’t mean they have to take anyone’s order! After complaining to reception I received later that evening a message from the room service supervisor asking me to call him back. No name and no extension number, customer service at its worst. Latitudes members (Past passengers) get a 20% discount on well drinks in the Spinnaker Lounge between 5 and 7 PM. Your personal card clearly states Latitudes but getting this discount is like pulling teeth and in fact I was charged twice for the same round and had to correct this on disembarkation day at the front desk. I’ve just reread this, I know it sounds whiney but it’s exactly what happened and how I feel. I will never do another “Freestyle” cruise. I feel as though I wasted a ton of money and subjected my family to an inferior product. Who should go on NCL? Novice cruisers who have limited expectations and are traveling with no more than one other couple. People who feel comfortable in the fast food environment of today’s restaurants and feel that getting dressed for dinner means putting on a clean pair of jeans.

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May 14, 2005

7 day Alaska

This was our first cruise. My husband and I flipped a coin for the itinerary (he won) and we ended up on an NCL 7 day Alaskan cruise. We both had friends that had been on cruises before (Carnival & NCL) and we went armed with their warnings. I am 33, my husband is 47 year old teen-ager. My thoughts are really scattered, so let me apologize in advance. Embarkation is painless. If you are leaving out of Vancouver, as we did, you

have to go thru immigration, and that was a pain in the behind. Almost 2 hours of waiting. We were “cash passengers”. We just notified the check in staff that we wouldn’t be charging our trip (we thought we were going to spend a lot more money than we did) and we set up our cash account when we got on the ship. There were quite a few passengers setting up their accounts. We had been told beforehand we would be needing a deposit in the amount of $700 per person, so we went prepared for that. When we got on the ship, they let us put down whatever we wanted. We started with a $700 deposit in our onboard account and never had to refresh it. I think our final bill was around $580- including a $200 spa treatment, our tip, 3 pictures taken aboard the ship, some shopping and of course, our alcohol tab. Beers are around $3.50 each, and they charge a gratuity and tax on top. Foo foo drinks are around $5 to $6.50, and they try to push these NCL souvenir glasses. We thought the best deal was a football helmet filled with ice and 6 beers, for around $16. People don’t start drinking on this cruise until way past lunchtime. More like dinnertime. That’s why our tab was so low. I had actually budgeted around $500 for alcohol alone. We weren’t even close. Our Carnival friends had left their cruise with a $500 just alcohol tab. We took around $3000 with us for this trip, and brought home around $2000. The ship is like an “upper middle class hotel”, like a really nice floating Marriott, but definitely not The Plaza. Very clean, and on more than one occasion, I noticed a newly painted wall or a carpet being replaced. The rooms are fabulous. We had a balcony cabin on the 9th floor AFT. The rooms are big, Lots of storage space for all your stuff, big bathroom, big shower (big enough for 2), nice beds and large balconies. Our room had a couch and table, lots of mirrors and light. A blow dryer, a safe, and a fridge are included in each room. Another cruiser we met had an inside stateroom. She said it was large also. The pool is too centrally located for my taste, but it was too cold and windy to use it anyway. I had hoped for hot tub time, watching the glaciers go by, but the hot tubs are surrounded by tables, so we didn’t even unpack the swimsuits. The food was good. Just good, depending on your tastes. Very gourmet. The desserts were better. We never ate the reservation (cover charge) restaurants because if you didn’t put your reservation in on Monday for Wednesday or Thursday, dinner was at 9:30 pm. If you want to try out the cover charge restaurants, make your reservations on your embarkation day if you can. We opted for the main restaurants (Versailles, mostly) instead and were seated around 7 or so easily. There was lots of food, but no crab leg or lobster tail buffets on this cruise. The freestyle dining situation was nice. I actually got to eat a hot dinner with just my husband near with beautiful scenery passing me by! That was really nice. There were times we wanted to have interaction with other passengers over food, and we would eat at the buffet, which was more like a cafeteria setting, but dinner was like a private time for us. The chocoholic buffet is late at night (which I thought was odd) but was worth it. I think the chocoholic buffet is the highlight of my cruise. The Blue Lagoon snack bar has American Fast food (if you order from the kiddie menu) Hamburgers, chicken fingers and French fries. It’s open 24 hours. Resort casual means jeans. Don’t let anyone tell you different! The older people on the cruise wore their khakis and button ups, anyone under 50 wore tees, jeans and flip flops. I wish I would have taken more! We dressed for dinner when we ate in the restaurants, but even then it was a skirt and top, khakis and a polo for my husband. There was one formal night, (big band night) and was a total waste of shaved legs. They should have made the formal night toward the end of the cruise when the entertainment was better. I think that was a 10:00 night. On evenings we didn’t want to dress up we ate buffet in our jeans. If you are stressed about what to pack, honestly for this cruise, at least 4 pair of jeans, at least 6 tees, and a few cardigans or zip ups. Take a formal (not a big Cinderella gown, either) if you want pictures, and a couple of skirts with tops for each night. Leave the “resort casual” clothes at home. There are very few people that actually dress resort casual. You are literally relaxing 24/7, so with the exception of dinnertime, you need to be comfortable. We would eat dinner then go back to our room to change back into jeans, then hang out at the Spinnaker (a glassed-in lounge on the 12th floor with the best seats for scenery on the ship). This is not one of those cruises that everyone is looking at what you are wearing. Nobody cares. You could wear the same black skirt every night and nobody would ever notice. I wasted some serious time planning my wardrobe for this cruise. I brought home a large suitcase of clothes we never touched. We lived in our jeans. Even late at night, a pair of high heels paired with my jeans got me into anywhere I wanted to be. The laid back type of people and the paired down entertainment just don’t warrant dressing up. We were hoping for a range of entertainment on board to keep us busy. With our age difference, our range of entertainment differs sometimes. We were both bored stiff for pretty much the first half of the cruise. This was the longest 3 days of my life. We had heard NCL caters to the older cruiser, but that the average cruiser of NCL was in their mid 30s…. baloney! Maybe that’s what they are saying to try to attract younger cruiser. Let’s just say there was lots of BINGO on this cruise. Unless you are over 60, sea days are boring, nights are worse. If you are a younger couple (under 40), take another couple with you. We are not unfriendly people. My husband is incredibly outgoing. He makes friends with everyone. We found lots of people to talk to, or even to share a lunch with, but most of these people are in their 60’s or 70’s at least. You wouldn’t want to go party with them. On this cruise you need to bring your own fun!!! There is lots of BINGO (did I say that already??) on this cruise. Lots of reading books and lots of sleeping. There is nothing to do on this ship during the day if you are not in port. They have talks and art auctions… but no fun stuff. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this was not it. The movies in the Cinema were not even new to video. The weather was really nice in Alaska, so we spent some time on the deck, but when the weather turned colder, we were trapped! I slept so much I got tired of sleeping. We were in bed by 9:30 or 10 most nights and took at least 2 naps each day at sea. Boring. Eat, Sleep, look for entertainment, look again (in case we missed something), then sleep again. Blah blah blah. Night entertainment was the ship band “The Ironics” there were evenings of verbatim Lawrence Welk programs, and if you didn’t want to watch them, you could enjoy Big Band music elsewhere. If you could stay awake through that, there was a DJ that would come on later, but by then we were already so bugged, we had already given up. The Ann Ryan (or something like that) musicals were pretty good, but geared for older tastes. I wanted glitter and lights… the comedian was just okay and used a lot of 50’s music in his act. This was the first half of the week. By Wednesday, I was emailing home and calling work because I was out of my mind bored. Of course, I had to blame my husband for dragging me out to Egypt and wasting my vacation! (It gets better, I promise). 2nd Half of the cruise to nowhere….. I’m not sure their thinking, but perhaps they noticed the natives were restless. The second half was much better. The Magician has a magic show one night that just leaves you feeling good. The Elton John impersonator was really good (we saw Elton in concert before and this guy really rivaled him). The Spinnaker lounge hosted some better entertainment and we hooked up with another couple Mickey and Sarann from Waco TX. If you aren’t taking another couple with you- find one as soon as you get on board! Being bored is much more fun when you aren’t doing it alone! I wished we had met this couple when we first got on this ship. I’m sure laughing through Lawrence Welk would have even been fun. 7 days is a long time to do nothing! We had a lot more fun when the entertainment changed and began staying out til 1am, like you are supposed to! The ports: There is loads of info on the excursions on the ship, and I don’t think a single one sold out, so there was plenty to choose from. I suggest just walking into the towns and finding stuff to do. We walked into a free walking tour of Skagway by mistake and ended up joining it. We later found a local seafood hangout and ate gigantic crab legs for around $40. We did some shopping and there was also a train to ride. The weather was around 70 degrees. Skagway had a charm to it. We had ice cream and pretzels on the main strip and rested in a park that had a Salmon pond. It was a very unhurried, nice day. Alaska is rich in history and is really a beautiful place to be. Juneau was the best- the shopping is good, there is a tram ride that gave us the most beautiful shot of Alaska I could’ve asked for. The tramway was right when we got off the ship. The people that went on the helicopter trips pretty much had the same pictures we had from the tram in Juneau. I was worried we wouldn’t find anything to do if we didn’t book a cruise excursion. There are loads of booths when you get off at each shore with stuff to do- at around ½ price! The beer in Juneau is very, well we’ll say strong! There were a lot of cute nooks and crannies to find in Juneau. The people are so friendly and welcoming. The weather was around 70degrees. Ketchikan was cold and rainy. My husband went Salmon fishing and ended up 50 feet away from a whale! Great pictures. We booked online with a company called Ketchikan Fishing Charters. I think we paid around $150 for the 5 or so hours. Bargain. This town is a jewelry town. (they all are, but this one is the winner). Don’t expect any bargains though (unless $400 for garnet earrings is a bargain to you)…. Strangely enough, you will find 100+ jewelry stores all in a row, but no deals…hmmm. Glacier bay was a sight to see, and the Inside Passage held many treasures- bears, eagles and lots of whale sightings. THE VERY GOOD: Our room steward, Hary was awesome. I honestly think he would set up camp outside our door, because even if we left for 15 minutes, he would come in and straighten out our room. We were never afraid to leave our cameras, binoculars, or change on the table. He never hesitated to straighten out a crumpled jacket on the couch or organize my shoes which I would leave thrown on the floor! At night, he would turn our bed down and leave a chocolate. Hmmm…. How I miss Hary! The entire staff on the Star is first rate. Every one of them works so hard to make sure not a single cruiser lifts a finger!!! I never saw a paper on the floor for more than 30 seconds, or a finished plate left on a table. They were everywhere! The entire staff was polite, professional and would even take a minute to talk. (Most of my conversations were with the staff, everyone else on the ship was near 100). If you’re looking for a VACATION, this is the cruise to be on. I actually left wanting to go home and clean my house! The spa was really nice, but at the end of my massage, the girl put together a package of items I should buy, and I have to admit I felt pressured to buy. It was kind of like “here’s your free massage (which it wasn’t) and now you need to buy a $70 lotion”. That was a bummer moment. $200 down and I was outta there! The Spinnaker lounge became our hangout and the bartender from Honduras was very cool. I wish I remembered his name. I can’t say enough good things about the staff. They are very hard working people. We began leaving tips on top of our “Freestyle tips”. They were that good. So that’s it. My tips in a nutshell: 1.Take a lot less clothes than you are currently planning on. 2.Don’t do this cruise as a couple and expect to come home talking to each other. Unless you are one of those very sticky couples that spend hours gazing into each other’s eyes, Take Friends!!! (or make a point of making friends the minute you get on!!) 3. Things are not as overpriced as everyone says. This turned out to be a very affordable vacation. We do a lot of couple vacations, and this was probably one of the cheapest ones. 4. If you are traveling alone or as a couple, take entertainment. Take lots of magazines or books. Take a video game. Take a scrapbook you’ve been thinking of getting started (or finished). Don’t go empty handed expecting to be entertained. Use your extra luggage space for this stuff! 5. Horde the chocolate at the chocoholic buffet! Save it in your fridge. You will spend the rest of the cruise looking for it in the buffets, but it’s not there. It’s a one night only thing. Save as much as you can!!! 6. Don’t leave your kids at home with a sitter that doesn’t do dishes! All in all, we had a good time. The staff made it worthwhile. We saw beautiful sights. We met people we’ll probably keep in touch with for a long time to come. We’ll definitely do it again- yes, with NCL. Next time we’ll do a Mexican Riviera cruise. We’ll take less clothes, the same amount of money (just in case), and we’ll take either our kids or our friends with us. If you want a VACATION, this is the one to take. You will come home rested and ready to take on the world. I think my expectations of a week-long party were just unrealistic. Looking back, the 2nd half of the cruise made the 1st half not so bad. In fact, I caught myself looking at the NCL website for future cruises today…..

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May 14, 2005

Alaska

This is our 3rd Alaskan cruise with NCL and we love Freestyle cruising, as well as Alaska! We boarded the Star in Vancouver, which is only a short ferry and bus ride to Canada Place as we live in Victoria. Checking in at Canada Place was very slow as both the customs/immigration computers and NCL's computers went down at the same time! It took about 2 hours to get through, but the line kept moving so you were not standing in one spot

and we were offered juice and cookies. Very nice! Walking on board was like walking into a movie! The Grand Atrium was amazing! Glassed in elevators and small fountains, marble tiled floors, WOW! And our room was great. As Lattitudes members, we were treated to a 6 category upgrade in the room and it was so nice. Large picture window, comfy bed and a bigger than expected shower, which was nice. Lots of storage space too. Our two room stewards were VERY attentive to our every need. Always there when we needed them. The many restaurants on board offer a great variety of food for all tastes. We ate most of our meals in The Blue Lagoon which was a buffet stlye restaurant and the food was excellent, the cleanliness and friendliness of the entire staff there is to be commended. The smoked salmon was a big hit with my husband! Other restaurants we dined at were The Vesailles, and The Aqua. These were dress up restaurants which were also very good. Waiter/waiteress was also very attentive, and each course of the meal was served in a timely manner, with the hot food being hot and the cold being cold. The restaurant manager also comes around to each and every table to see how things are. I don't know how they do it with those 100's of people they serve at the same time! My husband ate once at The Ginza restaurant for the sushi buffet. He was very dissapointed with this. He found that there was very little fish sushi. There seemed to be only California rolls with cucumbers and avocados. He also did not like the way the seating was set up. 10 or 12 people sat at one long counter so if you were sitting at the wrong end from where the chef puts his creations, (which, of course, he was) you got the last of the sushi. There was a cover charge of $10 pp for this restaurant. I did not go as I don't like sushi. The variety of activities on board for all ages, and the entertainment in the Stardust Theatre were spectacular. There was a comedian, (very good) a magician with card tricks that were awesome, but we thought the BEST entertainment in the theatre was Jeffery Allen as Elton John. The only complaint we have with this is it wasn't long enough! He was amazing! Like the real thing! The weather was good all the way up and back. A little cloud and a few sprinkles here and there, but in Skagway it was hot, hot, hot! As I said earlier, this is our 3rd cruise to Alaska, so we did not go on any shore excursions, as we have done a few before, but I do recommend the White Pass/Yukon Railway in Skagway. Because the weather was great, I walked up to the Gold Rush Cemetery, which is about 2 miles from town. Very easy, flat walk and people have the most interesting things in their yard! An old wringer washer made into a planter, an old model T car used as a lawn ornament! All the houses are well kept and tidy. The walk was well worth it, as I walked along the Skagway River to get to the cemetery. There are also street car/tour buses that will take you there as well. If you go on your own, be sure to take the SHORT hike up to Reid Falls, worth it! I do not believe the street car tour gives you time for that. Back in town we saw the Days of '98 stage show which was really good. Great acting and it looked like they were having fun! Watch out though, they get people from the audience to participate! In Juneau or Ketchikan we did not take any shore excursions either, but we have taken the Mendenhall Glacier tour and the Mount Roberts Tramway. Both were excellent too. Creek Street in Ketchikan is interesting as well. Tram in Creek Street offers a wonderful view of the harbor when you get to the top. The cost was $2.00 return. This third time we sailed through Glacier Bay. (The first two were Sawyer Glacier) What a breathtaking sight! The weather was good for viewing too. Not to cold. But the park ranger who came aboard to narrate to us as we sailed through was terrible. She seemed to be stumbling over what she was saying. You could tell she was reading it from a script and not very good either. She said she had been doing this for seven years? Lots of other cruisers said they same thing, that they tuned her out after awhile. The only real complaint I have is about the chocoholic buffet. It should not be at midnight. Most people don't want to fill up on chocolate that late or else they are sleeping! The first time we cruised with Norwegian Wind it was at midnight, the second time with Norwegian Wind again, it was at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, (perfect time!) but this time it was at 11:30 at night. Not good. I didn't make it as I feel asleep! The chocoholic buffet is what I look forward to with NCL. We arrived back to Seattle the following Sunday morning and the disembarkation was really well organized and fast too. We were off an hour earlier than we expected! We were getting the Victoria Clipper back to our home of Victoria that afternoon, but we were directed the wrong way to the pier in which to catch it and must have walked at least a mile dragging our luggage behind us until finally we asked a taxi driver and we were told it was back the other way! Some one at the pier should be more knowledgeable or there should be signs directing people. All in all, the cruise was fantastic! We are looking into the Mexican Riviera for next year, with of course NCL! No other cruise line for us! 2 thumbs up NCL!!

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May 14, 2005

Alaska

I took my daughter, mother-in-law, and friend on this ship for a 7 day cruise to Alaska. It was great! The staff, from the check-in to the last person we saw getting off the ship were great. We had a VERY bad experience last year on the Spirit and we very anxious about taking NCL again but it was worth the try. The food in the specialty restaurants was very good and the Market Cafe (buffet) was good. We had 4 to an inside cabin and had

a great time. The bathroom actually accommodated 4 women. Lots of room, it does help if you are all family and out to have a good time. Which we did, great shopping in all our ports( Juneau, Skagway, & Ketchican) and the scenery was amazing, saw whales, mountain goats, sea lions, seals, and bear. We booked thru a great travel agency and were very pleased with our 7 days of pampering. Got involved in alot of the ship activities, they really did keep you busy if you wanted to be or just sit in a deck chair and read/sleep. I would go again in a minute on the Star.

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May 7, 2005

Pacific Coastal Repositioning

My wife and I are avid cruisers and this was our first time with NCL. We were so impressed with all aspects of this cruise that we booked another one on the same ship for next year. Embarkation in San Pedro CA We flew into LA the night before and stayed at the Holiday Inn San Pedro near the pier. The service and accommodations were excellent and it was only a $6 cab ride to the ship. Embarkation was very quick and organized. We were

greeted with refreshments and friendly service by the check-in staff. Cabins Since we cruise every year, we always book inside staterooms to save money. The cabin on the Star had everything we needed including a fridge. It did not include the use of bathrobes like some other cruise lines however. We only saw our stateroom attendant once the whole week but he did a great job cleaning our cabin promptly twice a day. Food Our first meal was lunch in the Market Place Cafe. I didn’t have the highest expectations based on reviews I’ve read but I was pleasantly surprised. There was a good variety of hot foods and salads the quality of which exceeded my expectations. The only things I missed at the buffet were freshly squeezed juices and self serve espresso which other cruise lines offer. The Star has a number of cover charge restaurants. We ate at the Ginza when it happened to be half price for only $6.25. This place had great Asian food in a very relaxing environment with live piano music while you eat. The Italian restaurant is open for dinner only and is free of charge. Both meals we ate there had great food and good service in a quiet environment. The Mexican restaurant Endless Summer is also free of charge but it was a little disappointing. The service and ambiance was fine but we made the mistake of ordering a family style meal which includes a variety of dishes that you share. It turned out to be way too much food with some unusual items I didn’t care for. The Versailles is one of the main dining rooms we ate at twice for breakfast and twice for dinner. The food was always great but the service and noise levels were a little disappointing. Our favourite place for lunch was a smaller buffet on the pool deck called The Grill. This was open all afternoon and was never busy. I liked the hamburgers, sausage, chicken and salads. Bar Service Beer is $3.25 a bottle plus a 15% service charge. I took advantage of the bucket of six bottles for the price of five. The fridge in the cabin was useful for storing full bottles for other days. If you’re a pop drinker I recommend buying a 12 pack on shore rather than paying $1.50 each on board. Entertainment The entertainment this cruise was second to none. The highlight for me was the Jean Ann Ryan Company performing Music Of The Night. NCL is the only cruise line licensed to perform this show of Andrew Lloyd Webber hits. The other entertainment such as the comedian, the magician and the juggler were all excellent too. Not to be missed is Jeffrey Allen performing as Elton John. Ports of Call The ports of call on this cruise were Catalina Island, San Francisco, Seattle, Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver. San Francisco was great since Pier 39 was only a short walk away. In Seattle we went to Pike Place Market which is also walking distance from the ship. We normally only spend the mornings in port in order to get back for a free lunch on board. Debarkation NCL did a good job unloading the passengers by deck number but next time I will sign up for their Freestyle Express disembarkation option at 7:00 am to avoid the crowds in the terminal. Summary In summary, NCL far exceeded our expectations. We love the Freestyle concept with no formal dress required and no set dinner hours. NCL has earned our loyalty for next year’s cruise and more after that I’m sure. Bon Voyage!

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May 7, 2005

Pacific Coastal Repositioning

Some of our friends thought we were insane, taking two children under 3 on a 7-day cruise from LA to Vancouver on the Norwegian Star, but we were hopeful. Last year we had an enjoyable cruise with one 18 month old on Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas to the Mexican Riviera and we believed that the addition of our new 8 month old into the mix would not prove much more challenging, especially with my parents-in-law along to assist. For

reasons outlined below, while we didn't have to be insane to survive the voyage, we did need to have a sense of humor to enjoy our vacation. Embarkation went relatively smoothly. We were allowed to begin lining up and entering the waiting area in San Pedro at 10:00 am. My in-laws were issued numbers for check-in which reflected their Latitudes membership, which is strange because they have never cruised with NCL before. While checking in, we found that my 2 year old daughter's name appeared twice: once in each of our two cabins, and that my infant daughter's name had disappeared off our preregistration. Easily corrected? Not exactly. While we went ashore at Catalina Island, the first port of call, we were told that my 2 year old and my 70 year old father-in-law's pictures were mixed up. I went to reception to clear that problem up, and subsequently had to return when the ID cards no longer opened the right rooms: yup, reversed again. Three strikes, you're out, guys. I was impressed by the professional escort to our cabins, and forgave the registration mixups. We later discovered that our two child car seats did not make it to our rooms. Eventually, they were located, but when we finally saw them again at the end of the voyage, the rugs used to adjust the heights of the seats were missing. Cabins: We stayed in adjoining balcony cabins 10156 and 10158. While the colour scheme was like a billiards hall (billiards green bedcover and dark red curtains), the woodwork was nice and modern, and the bathroom was superior to those on other cruise lines we had previously sailed with. Yes, the cabins were very small once the sofa bed was opened up, but the balcony made it seem less enclosed. Early on, we asked that the loudspeaker which blared announcements at an ear shattering volume be disabled for both cabins. We were glad for our decision, as the loudspeaker in the hallway could still be clearly heard outside our cabin many times while we were napping or sleeping. Restaurants: Having read previous reviews voraciously, I decided to reserve at all the specialty restaurants immediately upon boarding the ship. Our first dinner was spent in the Teppanyaki Room of Ginza. Our chef was a congenial Filipino who made passable Teppanyaki, but was less than polished in his utensil acrobatics: He kept dropping the salt and pepper shakers when he was spinning them, as well as some other cutlery. I actually felt sorry for him, since he said he was nervous performing for us. The next night's dinner was a walk-in experience at Ginza. I ordered dishes as suggested by our server, but these were marginal at best. I was very surprised since I had read other glowing reviews on this site of these restaurants. Perhaps we had higher expectations since we live in a city with a high level of Asian cuisine (Vancouver), so the cooking which might seem great and unique to other was indeed barely passable to us. I wanted to try the all-you-can-eat sushi bar, but I could see why it was deserted but for a single couple the night we attended Ginza: all of the sushi dishes were maki (i.e. rolls) and not the more expensive sushi (sashimi and nigiri). We elected to try the regular menu at Ginza, which resulted in our disappointing dining experience. Unfortunately, because of our first two nights, we began thinking of cancelling our other restaurant reservations (Soho, Le Bistro, etc.). This decision was eventually made for us, as discussed in the next section... I tried Versailles for two dinners: the gala night and the farewell dinner. I actually thought that the food was quite good on those nights, in contrast to the opinion of some other critics. The appetizer of Tuna Tartare was particularly excellent, since it was served with the contrasting wakame (Japanese seaweed salad). What was shocking was that I found the food at Versailles on those two occasions to be much better than the "extra charge" restaurants. The Market Cafe (buffet style) left much to be desired. Unfortunately, my father-in-law, a very shy man, insisted on eating there at every opportunity, so I joined the hordes in jockeying for a position to get my portion of slop. On a good note, I enjoyed the fresh fruit at the Cafe. Where did they get all of that consistently sweet and fresh cantaloupe and honeydew melon? When I could convince my father-in-law, we did eat many breakfasts at Versailles. I also enjoyed the smoked salmon and capers as well as the pickled herring for breakfasts. I would much rather take quality over quantity any day, and I preferred to be served the same smoked salmon in style rather than line up to serve myself the same smoked salmon at the Market Cafe. Of the no-charge restaurants, I would highly recommend La Trattoria (prosciutto and the salmon cream linguine). Endless Summer was just "okay", but maybe I did not choose the right dishes to really showcase the food (I chose chicken quesadillas, jalapano poppers, and the Mexican cheesecake). The salsa chips looked suspiciously like packaged tortilla chips you can buy at the supermarket, complete with 30% of them being broken. Medical Clinic: On the third night of our trip, we went to La Trattoria. There, my 2 year old proceeded to vomit over her new dress and the covered chairs of the restaurant. It was the beginnings of a lovely odyssey of illness which touched all members of my family. My infant daughter had already vomited that same morning, but I thought that it and her diarrhea were manageable since the vomiting was isolated to one incident. By the end of the voyage my husband had vomited 18 times and had nearly the same number of diarrheic episodes, and my daughter lagged behind him, but, unfortunately, could not control where and when she vomited, so we had to regularly contact our cabin attendants to change the sheets and pillow cases on the beds. We self-quarantined ourselves for the duration of the voyage. We do have some complaints about one medical clinic staff member who asked us to come down to the clinic so that she could track our illnesses, then proceeded to charge us $50 for our infant daughter since she was no longer showing active signs of gastroenteritis. Apparently, assessment is supposedly free for such disorders since the ships have an interest in tracking and containing such illnesses. Because she did not have a fever by the time we saw the ship's doctor, we were charged $50, despite her ongoing diarrhea (doesn't that mean she is still sick)? When the second nurse came on duty, she explained that charging us $50 was indeed an error, and would be reversed. Later, the first nurse came back on duty, with a harsh wake-up call at 8:00 am in our cabin to ask us whether my husband meant midnight or noon when he wrote 12:00 pm in his self-report log of illness. The two docs on duty gave us conflicting advice, which we will not fault them for, but we felt like following the advice of the more liberal doc who thought we should be free to travel throughout the ship so long as we were careful since the illness can only be transmitted through an oral or fecal route. We ended up canceling all further reservations at the other restaurants for my husband and daughter. We did wonder whether we contracted the illness from the previous occupants of our cabin since we heard that there were outbreaks of illnesses similar to ours in the two weeks preceding our visit. If what the medical staff tells us is true, we were successful in not transmitting the illness to our fellow travelers for the duration of our cruise. Entertainment: The Jean Ryan Company lived up to previous posters' accolades. Yes, they were the best cruise production company I had ever seen in my long history of er, three cruises. However, some of the company still sang off-key, although they did have great stage presence, and the dancing seemed to be top notch. The self-promotional magician Farquhar was only doing card tricks during the times I was able to see him, and I did not have the opportunity to see further shows since we were confined to our cabin for much of the cruise. Debarkation: Canada Place was packed with cruise folk since three ships had arrived simultaneously that very same morning: the Norwegian Sun, the Ryndam, and our ship. Not the fault of NCL, but a terrible timing problem which led to unbelievable crowds and lines for taxis stretching far past their normal boundaries. On the part of NCL, we loved the smooth debarkation process: relaxing in our own cabin (as if we hadn't spent enough time there already, heh heh) while waiting for our tag color to be called. Ports of Call: The only novel port to us Westcoast folk was Catalina Island. Due to familiarity with the ports, and our illness, we only went ashore for two of the four stops. Our Catalina Island Eco Discovery Tour was just terrible, though not entirely due to the tour operator. We were fogged in, and saw absolutely no wildlife at all. Not much of a reward for enduring nearly two hours in a bumpy bus. Children's Program: We only spent a short period of time attending these programs, and only in the presence of one parent at minimum. I was not impressed with the organized activity of coloring (too boring for my 2 year old), but the facilities were excellent, with a ball room and a padded play area. I think the staff were also excellent, from the brief visits. Summary: Our voyage was tainted by our illness, but I would recommend NCL for those who do not mind extra charges (the only free drinks were watered down iced tea, milk, coffee, tea, and water) and the so-so food. I rate NCL as the best for overall availability of food, but I rate it as middle of the road for quality. Definitely a passable cruise experience, but not one of the best in our books.

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Apr 29, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Just back from this cruise and it far exceeded our expectations. My wife and I went on our honeymoon and choose this cruise b/c, frankly, there was no other ship leaving on the 30th. We went with very low expectations, due to the poor reviews the ship and line has gotten via this website and other so called cruise review websites. All I can say is, "WHAT THE @$#% ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT!!!!" This was the best cruise experience we have ever

had. We have been on three cruises and this was the best. Best food, best service, beautiful ship, and by far we met the most and nicest people we ever have on any line. We had a blast. THE FOOD: We are both professionals w/ no kids. We eat out often, 2-3 times per week. We have been to restaurants of all kinds. We live next to NYC so we know very good food. We are not afraid to pay for it either, if its worth it. If you go on this ship do one thing, GO TO THE PAY RESTAURANTS. I will guarantee you will have meals that you would never think came from a cruise. This is not fancy wedding food. We are talking about well prepared, well presented meals with service to match. We ate at all the restaurants and we liked the SOHO the best. Out server was Nellon both nights we ate there and he was terrific. We had a lot of fun with him and he really knew his stuff. The Maitre'd and the sommelier are also VERY fun and VERY knowledgeable. We had lovely bottles of wine with the sommelier helped us pick out and they were decanted for us tableside into nice Schott crystal decanters. The glasses are also Schott crystal, which by the way, we took once we were finished w/ our meal and used at the other bars and lounges. We didn't care much for Cagney's (but only in comparison to some of the nicer New York Steak Houses which only sell prime. Otherwise, it was a very good steak expertly prepared. Word of advice: If you like medium, ask for medium rare. All the steaks and lamb chops we asked for medium, came out a bit overdone, but still were very good pieces of meat which by far surpassed any cruise food we have ever experienced. But, You will pay for these restaurants, which again for us it wasn't an issue as it was out honeymoon and we only had 1 week. The main dining room food was hit or miss and we only went a couple of times. Service is good there and everyone is very nice. The buffet is actually quite good. The have very inventive items for both lunch and dinner and at the end of the cruise I found a cool sandwich station with different kinds of very well made breads and sandwich items. The staff is very friendly and attentive in the buffet rooms as well. In fact, several times my tray was cleared when I was only getting up for a drink, so watch out for them, They are everywhere, cleaning and scrubbing, scrubbing and cleaning. The Blue Lagoon is like a Jersey Diner. You sit and order from a limited menu and the wait staff will bring you the entire. They have excellent burgers, Won Ton soup and AWESOME Fish and Chips. You can also get the fish and chips in the Red Lion Pub which they order from the blue lagoon and bring it to you in the pub. Great beers at the Pub as well. Drinks: The staff on this ship pushes the booze, and I mean it. You will not sit idle for 10 minutes before being asked to bathe your liver. We went for the buckets of beer which was 6 beers for the price of 5. Definitely worth it. We are basically beer and wine drinkers. Except for when I met Mike, but that's another story. Again, everyone on this ship was cool as hell!!!! Wine list was excellent and beer list was good too. They has Corona, Corona Light, Becks, Bass, Guinness, some microbrews, miller light, MGD, coors light, etc. Pretty much anything you want. Oh yeah, Bud too. The stops were good but we could have used a couple more hours in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo, but its a cruise. My only bad report: Getting off and on the ship is a bit cumbersome. The tenders have these dumb tickets, which by the end of the cruise they ceased using, thank God. It really made no sense to have a ship where you can eat whenever you wanted but could only get off when your number was called. Absolutely asinine. Please don't hesitate to e-mail me w/ any q's Devon

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Apr 29, 2005

Mexican Riviera

With some slight fear and trepidation, my wife and I booked a “freestyle” cruise aboard the Star to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We are experienced cruisers, but this was our first venture into the freestyle format. All I can say is that Freestyle Cruising is the best! It’s going to be very hard for us to ever go back to traditional cruising. Also, for all those who have made negative comments about the food…poppycock!

We’ve sailed numerous times on Celebrity, Princess, Costa, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Holland America and in our opinion the food on the Norwegian Star was as good as any and better than most. Here are some observations: THE SHIP: This 92,000 ton ship glides through the water with hardly a wiggle. It’s well laid out, never seems to be crowded, and is in well kept shape. The cabins are a tad on the small side, but our standard balcony cabin (9210) was neat, clean, and served its purpose. The shower was larger than most, but getting onto and off of the toilet was a tight squeeze for a big person like me as it is enclosed in a rather tight space. There were always plenty of deck chairs and only VERY short lines at the main dining rooms and buffets. All of the bars and showrooms were well designed, though the seats in the main showroom slanted downwards towards the floor and were amazingly uncomfortable. I can’t imagine who designed these things! A great spa area, exercise room and basketball court helped to keep me in shape in between meals. We didn’t use the casino (too smoky) but it seemed to be adequate. There was a cinema for those who wanted to catch a recent movie, and lots of rather decent shops. THE CREW: Everyone was friendly and I noticed no difference between this type of tipping ($10 per person per day charged to your account to be split among the staff) and the traditional last day individual tipping of traditional cruises. THE DINING: Trust me, my wife and I LOVE to eat. The food on this ship was absolutely fantastic, and I disagree with those who say only dine at the extra cost restaurants. We had many fine, fine meals in the Versailles dining room. We also had fine meals at the Bistro and Cagneys (both extra charge). The ship has a special for wine drinkers: buy five bottles and get the sixth free. We ate in the dining rooms only at dinner time. The rest of our meals were in the buffets upstairs, and I can say without hesitation that the breakfast and lunch buffets on this ship are the best on any I’ve ever been on. As you probably know, you eat when you want and where you want. You can sit at a table for two, or choose to share a table and meet new people. We did a little of both. The dress code is resort casual. I have to say I LOVED not having to bring a tie and jacket aboard! Of our 8 dinners, two were at the Bistro, two at Cagneys, three at Versaiiles and one night we just ate in the Market Café (buffet). To summarize, the dining on this ship is every bit as good as Celebrity and Holland America; better than Princess, Costa and Carnival, and much, much better than Royal Caribbean. THE MEXICAN RIVIERA: A great itinerary, but I wish there was more time at the ports. This should be a 10 or 11 day cruise so stops at Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas could be 7am-12 midnight stops. They are so beautiful that 8 hours just isn’t enough! THE SHIPBOARD ENTERTAINMENT: Again, as good as any and better than most. Great cruise staff, great comedian, magician, juggler, stage shows, musicians, etc. As these performers change from cruise to cruise I won’t specifically review any single one, but suffice it to say they were all top notch. ASSORTED SECRET TIPS: 1. Don’t bother to book a specialty restaurant on the 2nd and 3rd cruise nights as the meals in the free dining rooms are extra special on those nights. 2. The health spa offers FREE usage of the indoor pool and various hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms. Just walk in. 3. Arrive early for the comedy shows in the Spinnaker Lounge. They are popular and you won’t get a good seat if you arrive at the last minute. 4. When flying into LAX, take a Prime Time Shuttle from the airport to the dock for $16 per person. You can book on line in advance of your arrival. This is much cheaper than a taxi. 5. Arrive at the Versaiiles Dining Room just as it opens and you’ll almost always get a table on the window looking out at the ocean. Or, arrive at 6:30 and tell the hostess you want to wait for a window table and you’ll get one as the early arrivals start to leave. 6. Line up early for the Chocolate Buffet or risk being at the tail end of a line of over 1,000 people. FINAL THOUGHTS: Of our 15 or so cruises, this one ranked second only to our 12 day cruise around the tip of South America aboard the Celebrity Mercury. The reason that was our favorite was the itinerary more than the ship itself. If you’ve never tried NCL Freestyle Cruising I urge you to give it a try. It far exceeded not only our expectations, but most of our other cruise experiences as well.

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Apr 21, 2005

Mexico

This was my 12th cruise, 4th with NCL. This was a vacation for three odd couples: my wife and I are in our early fifties, the second couple are in their late forties (first time cruisers) and the third couple (seasoned cruisers) are in their early thirties. Even though I am not a professional writer, I will I rate each category with my own arbitrary, yet uncreative rating system of 1 to 5: 5 being Outstanding, 4 excellent, 3 satisfactory,

2 marginal, and 1 unsatisfactory. Remember, everyone’s cruising experience differs, so I try to stick to the facts (unlike government) and let you draw your own conclusions. Embarkation: Solid 4 stars NCL has online registration that includes e-tickets. If you’ve used a computer in the last 5 years, you can use e-tickets. You just print out the materials and have them checked at the dock outside the main building. You go through one line at the dock area to hand in your pre-registration, then you move inside a building for actual key card registration, photo etc. The lines inside the building where short and fast moving, and the building was air conditioned and bathrooms are readily available. You could say it was an improvement from the standard cattle corral that we’re all familiar with at check-in. There is also a latitudes line for key card registration to facilitate repeat NCL guests –moved fast and was a nice perk. My only negative was the total “CONFUSION” surrounding 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 everybody seems to point to a different direction. I finally found the desk (that was not manned at the time – 10:00 am) and then you need to find your room number to get the correct tags, put them on your bags right then and there and then hand them to a porter – big hassle! Bottom line, NCL could easily solve the luggage tag problem, and when you’re going to Mexico for the next week, this definitely won’t ruin your vacation. Cabins: 4 stars Very nice. We had three different cabin categories assigned: Inside, Outside, and Balcony. Each cabin category appears slightly larger in size. I viewed all three cabins and was impressed. The outside cabin has a nice size picture window and the bathroom is nicely laid out. The shower had a door instead of a curtain, which was nice. Each room is equipped with a small fridge. The closet storage space was adequate and had a room safe. The only real complaint was that you could hear talking, noise and sounds from cabins next door and cabins above. On two separate occasions the banging/vacuuming above my cabin was so loud that I could hardly sleep all night, perhaps better soundproofing could have helped but it is a little late. The TV had two separate commercial channels, plus the on board channel and two movie selections, although I was rarely in my room to watch. Needless to say, I didn’t pay a couple thousand bucks to watch 5 TV channels – I got better things to do. Our cabin steward was fine, doing the basic good cleaning and a few smiles in the hallways. Dining/Food: 3 stars. Freestyle: This “Freestyle” cruising seems to be the motto with NCL, choose from a variety of restaurants in addition to the normal dining rooms; However, what you need to know is that all this “Freestyle” comes with a PRICE TAG. 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 (this is essentially the buffet area with tablecloths and chair covers sectioned off) and a Tex-Mexican style (which I did not try). You can eat free at the restaurants I just mentioned at designated times, but for a COST you can eat at four wonderful specialty restaurants that charge a minimum of $20 per person and some additional depending on what you order. So even though “Freestyle” means eating at your leisure, this comes with a price tag. There is a free restaurant/snack area that is open 24hrs – “Blue Lagoon” (which you have to order from a waiter and menu and then wait for your food) – great hot wings and fish & chips at this place! In addition, there is the free BUFFET which I had read a great deal about and how passengers where disappointed and tended to avoid it. I found that not to be the case, the buffet was excellent with a great deal of variety in the stations. Each day a different vegetarian buffet was also offered at one station and most days they also had a BBQ cookout on the pool deck in addition to the grill selections. Formal clothing is optional on most evenings, but on formal nights, 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 other, but biggest disappointment was the “FISH” dishes, which tended to be dry and oily, yet the meat dishes were excellent. To insure that my party of 6 always was seated together for dinner, time arrangements were made with the maitre d’. We were given a table and were asked to arrive at a certain time every night. The entire staff was accommodating and friendly. Our waitress “Marlyn” during the first few nights was so efficient, head and shoulders above others than served us, so 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)! Note: if you enjoy wine with dinner, be prepared for sticker shock as the wine prices are high. They offered a buy five get one free – not exactly an amazing deal by anyone’s standards – providing you saved your receipts and had the wine charged to one room. So in larger groups, put all your wine on one room charge and settle up later. Public Rooms: 3 1/2 stars here. Simply beautiful. The ship was nicely decorated and was in tip top condition. There was plenty of space to move around and the ease with which you could move around will give you the general feeling of not being crowded next to 1000+ people on one boat. The ship was designed with making the 6th and 7th decks as the main hub of activity, i.e. shops (located in the aft area), casino, lounges, photo – main traffic area. This centralized design is well thought out and everybody seemed to be having a good time. The eating snack area “Blue Lagoon,” located on deck 7, is in a bad location. The walkway has herds of people walking everywhere, and to make matters worse the snack area is divided, and the seating is extremely tight. Also, be wary of slick floors. I was very disappointed in the duty free shop on board as the prices were high in comparison to other duty free establishments, and you could get better deals on shore. Restrooms were easily marked as was each deck sign. Elevators were plentiful and were always operational. Note – internet service prices are VERY high on the ship. The Barong SPA was little used, since most believed there was a charge for use of the very nice lap pool, sauna, steam room, and tubs. Staff where very cordial and since no one under 18 is allowed, it was a haven from the kids. 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 will feature easy listening music till about 10:00pm when the popular adult Karaoke begins. At 11:30pm the Disco will start in the Carousel, but it is a VERY poor place for a disco – small dance floor and bad location. The lighting and sound are just not great – as was shown in the amount of people that actually stayed for the disco. The Spinnaker lounge featured a live band on theme party nights (the DJ would have been better for theme night parties and the theme nights need a fresh look). This same band that played at the Spinnaker also played at the pool deck. 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 well designed and seating is very comfortable (no annoying poles) 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 Cirque but too far and few in between POOR dance routines. Overall, the entertainment is a very weak area. Excursions/Ports: No rating- read my comments 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 11:00 am and depart at midnight, which is excessively long in my opinion. Your second stop is in Zihuatanejo, a wonderful small Mexican fishing town that was clean and lovely but you had to tender to get off the ship, you tender starting @7:30 am and leaving 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 PV you also tender and the ship will only allow the ship excursions to disembark first so, once again you are short on time. As for excursions, I usually opt to do my do my own excursions, and save money. However, be warned that my method of excursions tend to be on the adventurous side and not are not for everyone. On this cruise I experienced three wonderful and unique excursions that I would recommend anyone who desires a bit of adventure. In Acapulco, it was watching the cliff divers for $3.00 + a free drink and then on to Pie de la Cuesta – a wonderful beach by a lagoon, with a restaurant, horseback riding, massages, etc.. all in a peaceful beautiful beach away from the hustle and bustle. In Puerto Vallarta it was Zip line with Los Veranos Canopy Tours – my second time on this tour. In Cabo San Lucas, it was ATV and rapelling with BajaWild Adventures. All three excursions that I did on my own are with companies that I located on the web after reading comments from former passengers. 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 (Bingo on this cruise is more like a poor investment choice rather than a lighthearted numbers matching game – games start at $29 and get into the $100s to enter some games – you can have more fun at the casino for that much!). The popular not-so-newlywed game, liars club, martini tasting (best deal for $5), tequila seminars (Limited sampling), etc were all present and all good fun. The Pub Crawl was a BLAST, but too bad it was only one night. The Casino was the norm, I liked the space and the ease with which you could move around and not feel crowded in. 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 where you had no other choice but to hear about the art auctions over the loudspeaker. Overall: Despite these 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-everybody had a smile for you and was willing to help. Tipping at the end of the cruise is eliminated as each passenger is assessed a charge to their rooms bills. All the cruise message board talk about lack of service since tips are automatically charged to your room is just not true! I would also like to mention disembarkation, which has always been a major hassle on lines. It was a pleasant end to a nice cruise. NCL has developed a system where you leave when you want to depending on your connecting accommodations. You ask for a specific tag color based on your connections, then you wait in your staterooms until your colored tags are called. It was the smoothest disembarkation ever. However, everybody needs to be off the ship by 10:30 (Breakfast buffet is open till 9:00AM). Thank you NCL for this wonderful procedure. I found this to be a major improvement and a change for the better. NCL seems to be developing a niche and is promoting its Latitudes loyalty program which has some benefits (lower cost on a cruise, drink specials, a nice party, and a few giveaways) of other lines frequent cruiser programs. I think NCL is doing it right. BRAVO! But PLEASE lower your drink prices.

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Feb 17, 2005

Mexican Riviera

We traveled to the Mexican Riviera on the Norwegian Star with our two children, ages 6 and 8. The NCL Mexican Riviera cruise appealed to us because of the Kid’s Crew program, the freestyle dining concept, and the itinerary. (Our prior experience was with Costa, Royal Caribbean, and Disney. ) The embarkation went smoothly, and we were on the ship by 2pm or so on the day of departure. The ship is just lovely, extremely well-maintained

and well laid-out. We explored all the decks and even joined the crowds in the Marketplace Café for a bite of lunch. After that first meal, we never attempted to eat at the Marketplace again; in my opinion, the last thing I want to do on my vacation is stand in a cafeteria line. Why so many people do so is a mystery to me, although it is an extremely popular Café and you can see people eating there all day long. We booked a mini-suite on deck 11, and it was a terrific set-up for a family of four. We especially enjoyed the balcony, which was a perfect spot for a before –dinner cocktail, or for the children to enjoy a room service dinner before taking off for Kid’s Crew , allowing mom and dad to have some adult time at one of the specialty restaurants. They call it “freestyle cruising” ; which means that you don’t have set meal times, you can simply show up at one of the restaurants or cafes (there are 10 in all) and in most cases, you are seated at once. We dined with the kids in each of the two “main” dining rooms, Aqua and Versailles, and never had to wait for a table. Versailles was my favorite, because it is such a beautiful room, with enormous windows open to the sea. They also served breakfast and lunch in Versailles, and we always chose the dining room breakfast over the buffet line in the Market Café. The cooking light breakfast specials were, without exception, delicious. Don’t miss the apple-walnut pancakes. The Soho Room, Le Bistro and Ginza were “extra charge” restaurants where my husband and dined without children. There was a per-person coverage charge for these venues, and they were consequently much smaller, quieter and featured much better food and service. One night there were only about a dozen patrons in Soho, and we had a terrific dinner (I had the prawns, he had the surf and turf, which included two lobster tails) topped off with bananas flambe. Though we had ordered only one dessert, our waiter noticed it had vanished rather quickly, and he showed up with a second dessert, which I’m ashamed to say, we also polished off in no time! We also both enjoyed a couple of treatments at the spa, where I indulged in a body wrap and also a superb facial. The spa has a small indoor pool, and two “community” hot tubs, plus a steam room, and the staff couldn’t be nicer. We really enjoyed the facilities at the spa and would definitely recommend a visit here while on board. If you’re looking into a trip on the Star, no doubt you’ve noticed the enormous water slides for the outdoor pool. The slides were a major enticement for us, because our children are big fans of the water parks at Disney World and we knew it would occupy them for hours if they could play on the slides. So much for the best-laid plans. The slides didn’t open the first day at sea (no explanation) but on our second day, a nice hot sunny day en route to our first stop in Acapulco, the slides opened up at 10:00am. Hooray! The kids were thrilled, and took at least half a dozen spins into the pool when – the CLOSED sign went up. A couple of workmen in overalls showed up and told my kids the slides would re-open in about 15 minutes. (We heard later that a child had been injured on the slides, so they had to close them down; I don’t know for sure what happened, and we never got an “official “explanation.) Fifteen minutes stretched into hours, and finally the slides were closed for the next two days, at least, and it became a major frustration for us and for many parents who were in the same position we were in , constantly having to steer the kids to some other activity, or to the much smaller kids’ pool at the other end of the deck. We would have appreciated some effort on behalf of the crew/staff to explain the problem, or better yet, correct the problem in hours, instead of days. We didn’t make it to all of the evening shows, but among those we caught, the best was the Cirque Pacific, featuring some amazing Chinese acrobats. The children went to the Magic Show with the Kids’ Crew group, which they enjoyed, and we went as a family to the Mexican Folklore show. All the shows we attended were very enjoyable. The Stardust Theatre is very plush, and , like everywhere else on the ship, gorgeously decorated. PORTS OF CALL At the first stop, Acapulco, I booked the “Snorkeling 101” excursion. The excursion began with a boat tour to “Isla la Roqueta.” It was unnerving to say the least, to arrive at a small , dirty beach guarded by soldiers carrying machine guns. The cruisers were paraded across the beach past the not-so friendly natives, then given snorkel equipment and taken to the shore. Then things definitely improved, because the snorkeling, once we got about 20feet out, was quite enjoyable, and the guide was terrific. My children were novice snorkelers, but are good swimmers, and they had a wonderful time, and spent close to an hour in the water. We didn’t go ashore at Zihuatenejo, but at the next port of call, Puerto Vallarta, we were happy to join the crowds on the Pirate Ship Marigalante. This was a fun day, which included an entertaining pirate show, complete with swordfight and plank-walking (and a plunge into the ocean!) and open bar. The pirate ship docked at a small private beach, and the kids played in the surf, rode boogie boards and were taken on a couple of banana boat rides. The “pirates” took on the passengers in a beach volleyball tournament. After we left the island we re-boarded the Marigalante , and , ravenously hungry, were served a lunch of barbecue chicken and ribs. This was the kids’ favorite excursion of all. Finally, at Cabo San Lucas I booked us on the Lands’ End Boat and Beach Adventure. This excursion began with a 45-minute boat ride through some of the stunning rock formations of the Baja Peninsula. The boat ride was great; beautiful sunny weather, complimentary soft drinks, and best of all, we spotted two whales during the cruise. Then we were taken on a bus to the Hotel Hacienda, where we could use the beach, including beach chairs and umbrellas. Parasailing and ocean kayaking were available for an extra fee. My son and husband took out an ocean kayak, and stayed out just long enough so that we missed the bus ride back to the pier. No worries though, the walk back to the pier was about an hour long, through a marketplace loaded with shops and restaurants and lots of street vendors. It was odd to recognize a Dunkin Donuts, Dairy Queen and Chris Ruth’s steakhouse among the local restaurants. We walked through the Arts and Crafts market which was just across the street from the pier, and did some shopping there. In sum, there is a lot to recommend about this cruise ship and itinerary. On the 8 day cruise, we had excellent weather on all but the first and last days, leaving and returning to Los Angeles, when the weather was cold and windy. Cabo San Lucas is absolutely beautiful, and if you’re taking school-age children, by all means consider the Pirate Ship excursion, you can’t go wrong, and mom and dad can enjoy the complimentary rum punch or margaritas served by real pirates! This was definitely a family vacation, but my husband and I were still able to have some time alone, once the kids realized they much preferred going to the Kid’s Crew programs rather than having to dress for dinner with mom and dad. All in all, I was pleased with the cruise and will seriously consider a “freestyle” cruise next time around.

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Feb 17, 2005

Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Star-Mexican Riviera-February 17, 2005 to February 25, 2005 After giving our next vacation a considerable amount of thought, we decided that we would take our first cruise. We have considered cruises in the past, but until now had always opted to keep our feet on land. Hawaii (several times), Arizona and the Deep South are a few of the locations my family has been fortunate enough to have visited while on vacation. Neither my

husband nor I was as convinced as others that this would be our dream vacation. We were skeptical, but went into this experience with an open mind. We chose the Mexican Riviera for several reasons. My husband had been to Acapulco 16 years ago, and found it to be a beautiful city. However, despite the scenic nature of the city, his deluxe accommodations as well as the city itself were dirty (including the beach area). This, along with questionable drinking water and food, were added to the list of reasons not to stay in Acapulco again. However, a cruise would allow us to enjoy the scenery, while eating and drinking on board the ship. Other stops on this cruise also appeared to be worthwhile, particularly Cabo San Lucas. Embarkation Embarkation took place at the World Cruise Center in San Pedro, California. Though our cruise documents indicated embarkation would begin at 1:00 p.m., we arrived at the pier by 11:30 a.m. There were already many people in line waiting to check in, however, it only took 45 minutes from the time we arrived at the pier to the time we were in our stateroom. Everything was handled efficiently and quickly. I should mention that I had ensured we were preregistered and had all appropriate documents available which made the process that much quicker. Accommodations Since we were traveling with our 13-year-old son, we appreciated the extra space that the mini-suite we reserved would provide. The sliding doors to an outside balcony helped give the room a brighter appearance. The room was ready upon our arrival. It was very clean, and everything looked new. The bathroom was bright, roomy and also looked like it was new. There was plenty of storage space for all of our clothes. The safe was easy to use, and the refrigerator came in handy. A small vase of fresh flowers, a fruit basket and bathrobes were also provided. The room was cleaned twice a day, by a room steward who was exceptional in both his professionalism and demeanor. He was friendly, accommodating and eager to please. A small tear in one of our balcony chairs found it replaced with a new one the next day. Food/Restaurants We ate several times each at both Aqua and Versailles (main restaurants), as well as Endless Summer (specialty restaurant, no additional charge). The restaurants were beautiful, and the service was excellent. Though the menus led you to believe the food would be something out of the ordinary, it was not. The food was barely warm most of the time. However, I could only imagine the enormity of feeding this many people, and kept that in mind. We ate breakfast each day at the Market Café (buffet on deck 12). The buffet offered something for everyone, and was a convenient way to have some breakfast without spending a lot of time doing it. This buffet also served lunch, dinner, and desserts throughout the day. There were a number of “pay restaurants” on the Norwegian Star. From what I heard, the food was better in some of these restaurants. However, since meals were supposedly included in the cost of this “not cheap” vacation, paying additionally for dinner didn’t go over well with us. There were also several days and evenings that a barbeque was set up around the pool area. There was never any shortage of food on this ship, and in fact, I actually found the amount of food that was served to be excessive. I personally would have preferred less food but of higher quality and with better preparation. As far as freestyle dining, we liked it. This allowed us to eat when we were ready, and we never had to wait to be seated (we usually dined by 6:30). Resort casual attire suited us, and we strictly adhered to its definition. However, some people on the ship chose to ignore the resort casual dress code, yet were never denied seating. Staff Nearly every employee on this ship was friendly, hardworking and helpful. For many, their jobs include long hours doing work most of us would never consider doing, yet they always have a smile on their face. The cruise and hotel director seemed genuine in their desire for everyone on board to have a pleasant cruise experience. Workers who spent hours in the sun varnishing hand railings never missed a chance to greet you as you walked by. The captain and his crew appeared professional and serious about their work, yet were also always seen smiling. Ports of Call Acapulco is a beautiful, big city. A city tour which included the cliff divers was well worth the time and money. We were fortunate to have as our tour guide a history teacher in Acapulco. We really appreciated his insight into Mexico’s culture, as well as its’ social, economic and political issues. Though Acapulco is prosperous compared to many cities in Mexico, you didn’t have to look far to see the vast poverty that still exists. Sailing out of Acapulco in the middle of the night was worth staying up to see. The lights of the city twinkled softly as we sailed away in the dark. Zihuatanejo is a very quaint, picturesque city. The palm trees that line the beaches are contrasted by the mountains in the background. Though we didn’t get off the ship this day, we enjoyed the view from the ship anchored in the bay. Puerto Vallarta is a good place to get off the ship and do some shopping (which we did). This old city is unique and I found it to be quite lovely. Another cruise ship was already docked here, so we had to take the tenders to shore. This was done very quickly and efficiently. Last stop, Cabo San Lucas. NCL chose to use a local tender service because their boats were faster. They were quite good and again everyone was tendered ashore quickly and efficiently. The pictures I had seen of Cabo San Lucas could never capture the beauty of this community. The tour boat took us around the beautiful rock formations and secluded beaches. Sea lions and gray whales were mere feet away from the boat. It was an experience we will never forget. Though we had seen humpback whales in Hawaii, you never tire of the experience of being close to these enormous creatures. They are truly spectacular. As we left Cabo San Lucas later in the day, we watched from our balcony as many whales swam by the cruise ship. I should also mention that the shopping in Cabo San Lucas was also fun, and allowed us to pick up some last minute souvenirs to bring home. Shipboard Activities We’re not much into “activities.” Since we don’t gamble or drink much, neither the casino nor lounges were of much interest. However, we did take the opportunity to walk through these venues. Each was quite beautiful, clean and well maintained. Each day there was any number of activities including art auctions, bingo, and talent competitions. However, most of the time that we were not on shore, we spent walking the deck, lounging by the pool or on our balcony. Our 13-year-old met another boy his age on the ship, and they spent time in the pool, video arcade, card room, basketball court and teen club. There were a fair number of children on this ship, I think this was probably because for many schools in the country, this was a winter break week. We did attend most of the nightly entertainment opportunities offered in the Stardust Theater. The entertainers were talented, and enthusiastic. The productions were of a caliber that unless you live in a big city you would not routinely get the chance to enjoy. There were also a lot of older people on the ship. Many of them complained about all the children on the ship, though I didn’t find the children to be ill-mannered or otherwise behaving badly. Disembarkation I had heard this could be a nightmare, but it was not. The airline had moved up our flight time from mid-afternoon to noon. Though I was concerned we might not make it to LAX in time, we had time to spare. The ship docked at 7:00 a.m. and Immigration/Customs officials were on board immediately. After going through the Immigration/Customs process, we were still off the ship shortly after 8:30 a.m. We were at the airport we plenty of time to spare. Those who had later flights were free to lounge on the ship until 10:30 or so. Like much of the other procedures that take place on this ship, everything ran smoothly with plenty of people along the way to help you or answer questions. Overview The Norwegian Star is a beautiful ship that its employees’ appear to take great pride in maintaining. The staff is exceptional and I will never forget their cheerful smiles and sincere greetings. The ports of call were all uniquely beautiful, though except for Cabo San Lucas, visiting by cruise ship would be the only way I would ever visit them again. Even though I did find cruising to be a bit boring and probably (for me) not worth the money spent, if I were to cruise again I would certainly consider NCL.

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Jan 8, 2005

Mexican Riviera

We weren’t sure how this cruise would go after reading reviews on this site and others. It was a mixed experience, but more positive than otherwise. The embarkation at Long Beach was a brutal experience, the worst in 8 cruises including two others from this port; long, snaking lines in the rain, then another long snaking line on the ship. Then they kept insisting that the life boat drill would take place at it’s scheduled time although

several hundred people were still in line. They called the drill and those already checked in streamed out to the decks in the rain with their life vests. Then they called it off and rescheduled it to reflect a new departure time. Once we got going things got better. It’s a very comfortable, well maintained ship and easy to navigate once you get it figured out. There are conflicting reports in these reviews about the food and service. We found that the food in the main free dining rooms (Versailles and Aqua) was very good by the standards we’re used to in 15 years of cruising, service great, too. .Some have said that the absence of direct tipping of waiters (and cabin stewards) had led to a decline in the quality of their work, but we didn’t find that to be the case at all. Everyone working on the ship was as friendly, helpful and professional as we’ve ever experienced. Food in the Market Grill was as uneven as others have said, and we tried the Mexican Endless Summer which was not as good as our neighborhood taco joint. We said so to our waiter, as did folks at another table, and we were asked to fill out critiques on the spot which I did happily. I had the feeling that they knew it wasn’t good, and needed some written evidence to give to someone responsible. We spend a lot of time on the outside decks and these are well laid out, very usable and it’s easy to get away from the crowd. After dinner we try to do a mile walk around the upper deck which is very easy on this ship with a well marked quarter mile track. The cruise and itinerary were pretty good. Once we got a day south of LA the outer decks were warm enough to sit and read for long hours. The ports gave me a much better sense of Mexico that I’d been able to get in a life in which most of my Mexican experience was in the border towns in younger years. Acapulco is a big, sweaty city, but worth seeing. Our favorite excursion was the Folklorico out of Xihua because it went inland a bit and took us to real rural places where people worked hard off the land, and to a beach restaurant that seemed like a place Mexicans would go to as well as cruise passengers. Worst was the Carleta’s Hideway in Puerto Vallarta. This is John Huston’s Mexican home on Banderas Bay, but the trip seemed to be more about singing and dancing on the boat out to the place, with a ten minute comedy routine on how to use the boat’s bathroom, and incredibly loud music, but not much about Carleta’s which was not a very impressive place. All in all the cruise was great diversion and had some of the best qualities of cruising, which for me is the journey through the ocean and the sampling of new places. I recommend it. NOTE: If you are someone who needs Internet access on a regular basis while on a cruise like this you’ll need to take out a second mortgage. Access from the ship is .75 per minute which I think is basically disrespectful of NCL of its customers. We are Latitudes members, but we found that to be mostly a come –on to get us to buy more stuff, including something like 100 minutes of Internet for a reduced price of several thousand dollars (I’m exaggerating of course). If you need to use the Internet on this cruise wait until Acapulco where a shop in the cruise terminal gives you a half hour for $3, and In Cabo you can find reasonable Internet.

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Jan 8, 2005

Mexican Riviera

The other reviews written describing this ship give a very good description of the ship's entertainment and dining venues. My review is a reflection of what my husband and I observed during our cruise. We had a balcony cabin, 10668. Very comfortable bed, easy to use safe, nice to have a small refrigerator. We like the view thru the sliding glass door which usually covers the entire outside wall of the cabin. Also being able to sit on

the balcony and have breakfast or just to look over the scene when arriving in a port. The casino is the best we've seen on a ship. The personnel were very helpful and friendly. The ports of Acapulco, Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas were all interesting and fun to visit. Shopping, especially for silver jewelry is popular. For touring Acapulco ask for Carlos, a cab driver, along the walk from the ship, who provided us with the best all day and night service we've had in a port. Tell him the couple he made reservations for at La Perla restaurant recommended him. We decided to not pay for any Specialty restaurants on this ship. We had been on the Norwegian Spirit to Alaska in 8/2004 and the food was excellent. This was not the case on this ship. It seems Norwegian now wants to serve low quality food in the free restaurants to drive people to pay for a good meal. At least this is what we felt was happening. Embarkation was a nightmare since there was a line of a least 200 people waiting outside to get on the ship to be processed to their cabin. Disembarkation was fast and efficient. Overall, other than dinner, this was an enjoyable cruise. Never had to wait to board a tender, never had to wait to enter a restaurant - had a lot of pluses.

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Dec 23, 2004

Mexican Riviera

This Review is long, but I will try to cover some areas not covered elsewhere, and I've included some special TIPS. I love cruising, and I am not a travel agent. This was our 45th cruise, but only our second NCL cruise ever (the first was the Norway in 1984, before the Latitudes frequent cruiser program even existed). Having cruised most frequently with Princess, we thought we would give NCL a try with this cruise on the Norwegian Star.

Overall impression and recommendation Having cruised so much, we are not easily impressed. We would definitely sail on this ship again in a heartbeat. The ship and all of its themed public rooms are gorgeous, with a friendly and efficient crew. Taking the right approach with the maitre 'd, the front desk, the cabin stewards, etc. definitely helps (more below). The food is excellent (other than the buffet on Deck 12), as is the freestyle dining option. Itinerary Visiting Acapulco and not Mazatlan as many other ships do in this region was probably a good choice. We don't do shore excursions anymore, preferring to do our own thing, so I have not included info on those. If you want to book shore excursions, I'd recommend checking with the Excursion Desk in the Atrium immediately when you board, in case tours are filling up. Your fellow cruisemates This is a much younger crowd than Princess. Especially at holiday, it's more noisy and boisterous, with lots of first-time cruisers. Many families with young children. There is a much more casual feel, but not as casual as Carnival. It was actually quite comfortable and fun. If you don't appreciate screaming children, don't worry. You can avoid them for just about the entire cruise (see how, below). Before We Cruised 1. We sent in our pre-cruising information to the cruise line so we could use express check-in. 2. The week before we sailed, we checked the weather in each port of call so we'd know what to pack (I use weather.yahoo.com). Keep in mind that the city where you embark (L.A.) can be freezing even though you're going to Mexico. 3. We traveled over Christmas. If you will be celebrating an occasion, plan ahead knowing you will probably need dinner reservations on that certain night. These are made a day in advance, once you board the ship. Research each restaurant online (some people have even posted menus) so you can almost make your choice before you even get on the ship. I went to images.google.com to see pictures of each restaurant (for example, check out Versailles). 4. We've cruised with this line before, so we joined Latitudes. Do not forget to bring your membership card with you. You need it for discounts in the gift shop, etc. If you can't get your card in time, stop by the front desk in the Atrium. They give you a letter and a pin to wear so you can get your discounts. 5. Bring your own clock. No ships ever include these in your cabin (as far as I've experienced). Ship's Stabilizers / Captain's Ability Norwegian Star's stabilizers are first-rate. After dozens of cruises in similar waters with much more movement, we hardly felt movement at all. Remember to avoid the front of the ship in case you are prone to sea sickness. Captain Sovdsnes was great. He always backed the ship in when docking in each port, so that when we left, we just sailed straight out. No endless turning around in the bay before we could sail away. And in Puerto Vallarta, when another ship (the Mercury) sailed in after us and anchored nearby, their anchor kept slipping up so they kept having to re-maneuver and adjust to keep their position. That ship was all over the place every time you looked at them, with their anchor in a different spot, and yet we never moved. TIP: I include this category because not every captain will be a good captain. On a Princess cruise to Ushuaia (southernmost port in the world and the reason why many, including us, booked that cruise), our captain deemed it "too windy" to dock, while the Norwegian cruise accompanying us sailed right into the port and we were forced to actually watch their passengers climb out, walk down the dock and enjoy their day in the city while our captain skipped the port and sailed away! Be aware when you cruise and the captain is too hesitant or unpracticed because he might skip ports that other ships will visit. Jot down the captain's name so that when you book your next cruise, you won't get stuck with him again and get burned twice. (We have). Embarkation We were set for express embarkation, having sent in our documents well in advance. Be aware that every three months aboard the Norwegian Star, it has to conduct a full crew immigration as well as passengers embarking and disembarking the ship, all in the same day. Unfortunately for us, December 23 was that day. We sailed through the past passenger Latitudes line only to wait for two hours to embark the ship. A major hassle, but completely unavoidable. TIP: If you embark in Los Angeles/Long Beach, and you are stuck with this every-three-month debacle, don't rush to camp out in the huge main room with all the other passengers. It looks like a shut-down airport, the noise is tremendous, everyone is sitting and lying down on the floor, and children are wailing. This is not the way to begin your cruise. At the doors to this large room is a lady who hands out your group embarkation number (the suites get #1 and so on). Grab your number as soon as possible, but instead of going in those doors, find a spot away from the din and find one of the attendants who brings you complimentary cranberry juice or water. We sat away from the din, relaxed and enjoyed ourselves (bring reading material). Occasionally, we took turns walking into the "holding area" to visit the vending machine (we were hungry) and to check to see what number was being called for boarding. There's no reason to subject yourself to the unhappy noise of over a thousand impatient passengers. We sipped our cranberry juice, munched on our chips in the amazingly quiet adjacent room, read and relaxed. Upon Embarkation Pick up a copy of the Freestyle Daily (from your cabin or the Grand Atrium). The Grand Atrium is where the front desk is, the shore excursion desk, and the specialty restaurant reservation desk. If the day after you sail is a holiday and you want dinner reservations, stand in line at the tables set up in the atrium as soon as you get on the ship. Don't get in line if you're making a reservation any more in advance than the next night. They won't let you. Know in advance what time you'll want to eat, and in what dining room. Menus were available to read while we waited in line. TIP: The more cordial, appreciative, and knowledgeable you are about what you want, the more likely you will get it. Don't forget to SMILE. If you want a window table, ask, and be willing to be flexible with your dining time so you may get one. Upon boarding, the Market Cafe buffet was still open, but we also tried the Grill outside, before the Welcome Aboard party. Plenty of tables, and you could grab hot food and eat it wherever you liked. Once the party starts, it's quite a zoo but the grill/buffet looked tasty. Restaurants/ Freestyle Cruising Dining There is no Afternoon Tea service. We did not visit any cover charge restaurants (Ginza is $12.50 pp, So Ho Room and Le Bistro are $15.00, Cagney's is $20.00, and Sushi and Teppanyaki are a la carte pricing). Versailles, Aqua, Endless Summer, La Trattoria, Red Lion Pub for fish and chips and shepherd's pie are all free). Portions were somewhat smaller (oddly, even the tables are smaller than on Princess), but we found the food to be excellent everywhere we ate. Versailles: (no cover charge) This is a stunningly beautiful dining room. We often visited for breakfast or lunch so we could enjoy the view outside. Unlike many other ships, the Star leaves the curtains open so you can enjoy the view. Breakfast menus included new items like frittatas, which were great compared to breakfast on other ships. They have "Cooking Light" options which taste just as good as if they weren't. Wow. Aqua: (no cover charge) Fantastic, from the service to the maitre d's, and the food. We like to eat early, we didn't need reservations, and not once did we ever have to wait to be seated. When the maitre d' visits your table, be sure to ask what his specialties are, where he is from, what desserts he enjoys making. Get to know the maitre d's and you will be a much happier cruiser. They really do aim to please, and they really appreciate your praise. Endless Summer: (no cover charge, make reservations 1 day earlier) Don't expect this to be your local Mexican restaurant. That would be unfair. They can't be tossing tortillas in a nearby oven or mixing tableside guacamole. You're in the middle of the ocean on a cruise with an international crew. Still, food while cruising has come a long way. We enjoyed this venue, and followed the recommendations of others who had dined here before. We loved the jumbo shrimp fajitas. We liked the guacamole/sour cream/salsa placed on each table. Ask for refills so you can include it with your entree. If you need your Mexican food fix onboard, this is it. Blue Lagoon: (no cover charge) This is casual and small, and good for those off hours when you are feeling a bit peckish. Their oriental noodle soup is good, and the shepherd's pie is worth the wait. I wouldn't recommend the potato skins. They're fine, but they're not prepared as you are probably accustomed. Market Cafe: We renamed this the Chaos Cafe. The buffet is fine, just not noteworthy. The food is ok, but not the same quality as in the dining rooms. You eat at long tables that aren't cleaned often enough. The action station chefs work extremely hard and deserve much praise. This option was popular with families who like to eat casually, teenagers, and children, who even had their own lower-height buffet tables. There are at least two separate lines, one on each side of the ship. After going through the line, you join others at long tables. The hot food was always hot and still hot when I sat down to eat it (including the soup). The first day was quite good, with delicious chicken curry and well seasoned meatloaf. Again, this is a casual dining venue. So because of the crowds, the long tables and the ordinary food, we almost always ate lunch and dinner in Versailles and Aqua. If you want to avoid noise and crowds, avoid this venue at peak hours. There are wonderful, elegant dining alternatives. TIP: If you do eat at Market Cafe, there's another dining area toward the aft stairway on the starboard side which is much quieter with far less people and more open tables. Speaking of avoiding noisy crowds If you are used to the slower pace of more elegant ships, here are some tips. Hit the public areas (especially Deck 12) early in the day, especially the mornings after Sail Away Parties. Everyone is sleeping. There's a beautiful Writing Room with a sea view, adjacent to the Library, always quiet. The indoor lounges like Spinnaker, Carousel Bar, and sometimes Java Cafe are much more quiet, and Spinnaker has the most excellent view up at the front of the ship for reading and watching as you sail along during the day (avoid Bingo if you want quiet). Also, Deck 7 outside the Blue Lagoon are some tables and chairs. This is a quiet reading spot. We spotted some seals in these waters, especially near Puerto Vallarta. Tender tickets For Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Cabo San Lucas, you'll be anchoring in the bay and tendering ashore (about a ten minute ride). The day before, numbered tender tickets are available in the ship's Library. Check the Freestyle Daily for times. Only one person from each family needs to pick up these tickets. The most efficient thing is to line up at the library's check-out desk so that when the ship's agent arrives with the tickets, you simply take your number (if there are 17 in your party, you'll need 17 tickets) and leave. The first day it was an absolute free-for-all as passengers who had just walked in the room pushed ahead of people who had been waiting up to half an hour. So the next time we all agreed to form a line and it was much faster and easier. Some ask why they don't just send these tickets to the cabins. This just ensures that the people who most want to disembark early are able to. Why give a priority tender ticket to someone who doesn't even plan on leaving the ship? In Cabo, everyone was so tired from the Sail Away party the night before that the amusing cruise director was practically begging passengers telling them they could get off the ship now, even if you had not picked up a numbered tender ticket (everyone was having breakfast and sleeping off the sail away party from the night before). There's no rush and plenty of time in these ports. Often the shops aren't open at 8 am when the ship arrives anyway. Latitudes program If you have ever sailed any Norwegian ship (even the older ones like the Norway), fax proof to the cruise line beforehand and get your Latitudes membership going. The check-in line at embarkation is much shorter, there is a special cocktail party for you onboard, a 10% discount on everything in the gift shops, a discount in the Internet cafe, and 20% off drinks in the Spinnaker lounge (at certain times on certain drinks). Princess has a better program in its Captain's Circle, because it has different levels based on how many times you've cruised. On the Star, it seemed like over half the ship had cruised before, and no special perks for more frequent cruisers. Speaking of the Galleria (gift shop), I bought some perfume at $33.00 that I found at home a week later for $50.00 plus tax. These are good deals. Taxis in all ports TIP: Never step into a taxi until you agree on the price. This is done while leaning into the cab, but not getting in. Find out beforehand what it should cost before you even get near that taxi. Ask Fiona onboard, ask the local tourist board, ask in a shop, or research it online. If it's only 10 minutes away, you should only be paying a few dollars. From every port to nearby hotels, no taxi cost more than $8.00, usually under $5.00. Drivers speak enough English to get you where you want; just be specific. It helps to quote the driver in pesos because they will almost always quote their price in pesos (50 pesos is under 5 dollars). You will not need pesos. Every place you go will take dollars. To convert you can just move the decimal one place to the left and adjust down a bit to figure out how many dollars. Lean into the taxi and ask "How Much" before you get in the cab. They may quote several dollars above the going rate, assuming you don't know the area. (But you do, because you asked the going rate before you got near the taxi). If they quote higher than what you know to be the going rate, offer what you know to be the going rate, and say "No, it's only pesos to the Hyatt hotel." If they say No, you say "No, I'll get another cab, because it should only be pesos. That's the going rate. 50 pesos, ok?" If the driver still says no, move slowly as you start to leave, and say you'll get another taxi because his rate is too much. The driver will stop you and say, "Ok, ok." and give you the fair rate you offered. The only time this may not work is when the ship has just arrived in port, and the driver hasn't had a fare yet. They are trying to get the highest rate they can for taking you around for the day and they don't want a $5.00 fare. In Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, the first driver refused the going rate, so we went with the second driver who approached us and cheerfully took the fair fare that the first refused. We had zero bad experiences with the taxi drivers. They were all extremely nice and courteous. It's understandable that they want to take you around for the day or make a few more dollars if they can. We usually tipped them so they almost made the amount they originally quoted, and they were very happy. Even if you end up paying more than the going rate, it's easy to be gracious. Think about how fortunate you are to be on a luxurious cruise ship, rather than spending your life driving a taxi in extremely hot weather on crowded streets. There but for the grace of God... The Ports This is Mexico. Don't drink the water, and remember that ice is water. Ask for cold drinks in a can or bottle. Some of the larger hotel chains, like Marriott, Hyatt, are probably fine and filter their water. More and more places it is safe to get drinks with ice but we still don't do it. Acapulco: Pretty faded from its heyday of the 70s and 80s. The ship will try to steer you towards the few expensive stores where they have pre-established arrangements made. They directed us to "Fine Bonita Jewelry," saying it was in the "heart of Acapulco." That's not true. This district was to the left when you get off the ship, and in old town. The area was awful, and totally run down, other than this one store. The store is overwhelming in its amazing selection of jewelry, but not what we wanted. The heart of Acapulco is actually in the opposite direction after you get off the ship (to the right), toward the high rise resort hotels leading up to that beautiful cross on the hill. There are many boutiques and small shopping malls in that direction. We always like to head to a nice hotel, so we went to the Hyatt Regency Acapulco, about a 15 minute drive because of traffic. These hotels are right on the Bay, with a fabulous view of the whole bay, looking back toward the ship, and a beautiful sandy beach. There are tennis courts at most of the hotels (in all the ports), and you can play for a nominal fee. First-timers to Acapulco especially love the cliff diving at the beautiful Las Brisas hotel, and I believe they still have night-time shows as well (the ship stays until about 1 am). Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa: Zihuatanejo is a charming fishing village, but Ixtapa is where the resorts are. The drive is about 50-60 pesos to the Ixtapa Hotel Zone. For quiet elegance, the most impressive hotel is Las Brisas, on your left as you sail into the harbor. Very distinctive, you can't miss it. The grounds are huge, almost like a rainforest, and steep, windy stairs lead down to the sandy beach below, where there's a casual restaurant called La Brisa, right on the sand. It's a challenge to find. You walk in the lobby to the right, pass the reception desk on your left, go left around the corner, and take an elevator near the guest rooms. Then you take a second elevator with its own distinctive elevator bank, down to the beach level. Very interesting exploring here. For exercise, you can walk up a separate path, up steep stairs to the impressive pool area and up windy tree-blanketed paths to the lobby. This hotel is quiet, serene, and breathtakingly beautiful. If you want a beautiful, quiet place to sip a drink and write your postcards, this is the place. But if you're looking for excitement, this is not it. The most boisterous, lively hotel (especially their crowded pool area) was Hotel Dorado Pacifico, also in the Hotel Zone. If you want to play a.m. tennis, their courts are an excellent choice. They are actually shaded by the hotel itself in the morning. Walk across the street to the shopping district. (All the hotels are walking distance from each other except for Las Brisas which is set apart and has its own private beach). The shopping area has many boutiques and restaurants. It's really quite pretty, and a new restaurant called "El Infierno Y La Gloria" looked fantastic! We did not have time to eat, but it was pleasantly crowded and looked great. Puerto Vallarta: The taxis are air-conditioned vans that pile you in at $3.00 per person and drop you off at, you guessed it, their pre-arranged expensive jewelry store downtown. That's fine. Pile in with your fellow cruisers and when you get downtown, just walk away to do your own shopping if you want. Check out the old church (Iglesia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, they ask that you please don't wander around inside wearing shorts unless you stay near the door, this is a holy place). The main plaza is here, and worth taking some gorgeous pictures of the unique sculptures along the waterfront with the ocean in the background. There are three Sergio Bustamante galleries here, and if you are looking for a nice gift for someone special back home (or yourself), he is still The premier jewelry artist in Mexico. He's surprisingly affordable for the quality of his work which he signs (pendants can be about $80.00 upwards). He has three galleries in P.V., and the biggest is on the third street up perpendicular to the water, to the east of the main plaza. His jewelry is quite distinctive, and when you see it, you'll see why so many other artists appear to be "copying" his work, having come from the same school of art. If you buy silver here, make sure they include their distinctive polishing cloth. They will always include a Certificate of Authenticity, naming the piece you buy. It's great fun, even if you don't buy a thing. We grabbed a taxi (always take the Nissan taxis with the yellow doors) to the Marina Zone where the fancy hotels are. This cost about 40 pesos. The Westin and the Marriott are beautiful resorts. The Westin had delicious shrimp quesadillas and a very trendy beach restaurant/bar called Nikki Beach, with white-clad servers, next to these large, round beach lounges that have puffy pillows piled up in the middle, fanning out in the shape of a star for sunbathers. Reminded us of the trendy Sand Bar atop W Hotels. Cabo San Lucas: This port town has grown. There is now a new shopping mall right on the Marina. It's a gorgeous new mall called Puerto Paraiso. When you get off the ship, keep walking right around the marina to the right. After about a ten minute walk you see the really huge building just after Plaza Bonita which is also good for shopping. Puerto Paraiso is brand new and it's first class. The second and third floors are still filling up, but already there's a full first floor including a large Sergio Bustamante gallery in case you missed him in P.V. It even has a Ruth's Chris Steak House and Johnny Rockets (this was a great respite, sitting outside with familiar comfort food and enjoying the marina view). This mall has tons of stores and even a big movie theater on the top floor, next to a growing food court. You are still very much aware you're in Mexico, so it's a lot of fun. And finally, Disembarkation The Norwegian Star is unique. They let you stay in your cabin until you're ready to disembark the ship. No endless waiting in a crowded, noisy public room tripping over other people's luggage. Just wait in your cabin enjoying your satellite CNN TV with room service and wait for your colored luggage tag to be called, then head to the gangway. They also offer Express Disembarkation, but keep in mind if you choose this option, you have to physically carry all of your earthly belongings, gifts, and luggage from your stateroom all the way off the ship, and good luck getting from Deck 11 to Deck 7 in a tiny elevator with 300 other people trying to leave at the same time. You also have to be off the ship very early for this option, and unless you have to catch an extremely early flight, it's not worth the hassle. Last Impression / Comparison with Princess Okay, so there's no afternoon tea like Princess Cruises. And the Norwegian Star's buffet was pretty plain, unlike the Horizon Court buffets on Princess ships which are phenomenal and spectacular. The past passenger benefits are definitely greater with Princess than Norwegian, and the Princess crowd is older and more traveled. Still, this was great Fun! Looking over our shoulder when we disembarked this beautiful ship, we agreed that we are definitely booking another cruise on the Star. Happy Cruising!

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Dec 7, 2004

Mexican Riviera

My wife and I sailed on the Norwegian Star and enjoyed every minute of it! Unfortunately, I’ve read more than a few negative reviews about this ship and NCL in general, and I feel that I have to submit my opinion. >From the moment we boarded we knew this would be a vacation to remember. Smiling crew, and a spotless ship greeted us as rushed to explore what would be our home for the next 8 days. The food was excellent in the

restaurants. No complaints here. We tried Le Bistro one evening and it was wonderful. I would recommend “treating” yourselves to at least one evening in a “Specialty” restaurant, but by no means are the other restaurants or buffets sub par. The Freestyle Dining experience was great; eat what you want, where you want, when you want. Our cabin was just as we had expected it..…small. We had an inside cabin that we hardly spent any waking hours in at all. (Tip: If you have an inside cabin, turn your TV on to the Bridge Cam before you go to sleep, and leave it on all night. You’ll awake to a beautiful view, just like you had a window!) Our cabin stewards were wonderful, the cabin was always clean, and turned down for nights. The pool area was great. Service around the pool was second to none. I couldn’t even put my empty Corona down without a server coming right by to offer to open another for me. (Thanks, Dendy!) They sold 6 Coronas for the price of 5 all week long. Six Coronas for $18.25, again no complaints. Make sure you read your copy of the “Freestyle Daily.” There are so many things going on and you don’t want to miss out. The entertainment was amazing; from our cruise director Kieron Buffery right to the China Star Acrobats, everyone put on a great show. If the entertainment on this ship doesn’t make you laugh, smile, sing and dance; nothing will. Our Port and Cruise Consultant on board, Fiona McKenzie, was excellent. Questions about ports? I recommend seeing her a day or two before and she’s always willing to help. All in all, our vacation was wonderful; and judging by the line up to see Fiona to book another cruise, we weren’t the only ones who though so. In the last day or so Fiona takes appointments to book future cruises….Did we book another? ….You guessed it… we are booked to sail on the NCL Jewel, December 25th, 2005. Your cruise on the Star will be what you make of it. Have fun and enjoy it, because it goes by way too quickly!

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Nov 29, 2004

Mexican Riviera

My wife and I booked are cruise on the Norwegian Star the first week of November 2004 by phone talking directly to an NCL agent. We booked a category H Cabin outside. When we received are booking conformation in the mail it had been change to a category 8 obstructed outside stateroom. When we received are documents in the mail my wife called NCL and told them that she felt uncomfortable if she would not be able view the outside. NCL responded

by telling her it was only partially obstructed and if it where a problem to let Hotel director know after we boarded the ship. When arrived at are stateroom 8582 the day of the sailing we found that the stateroom was at least 80% blocked and called the desk as instructed by NCL before we sailed, the person we talk to on the ship phone told us to wait until we sail that they could fix the problem with the stateroom at that time. 3 hours after we sailed we again called the desk and ask if they had a cabin either a higher or lower Category we could change to with an unobstructed veiw? We were told the ship was full there were no rooms available. The next day after we had sail the cruise director announced over the ship pa that they where given a upgraded cabin away to a lucky passenger as a prize at one of the activities. At this point after hearing the announcement and no effort to help us with are problem that NCL on the phone before leaving home had said (no problem we sure this can be on board ship) will I guess I that time I found out what freestyle cruise was all about, if you have a problem on board just deal with it your not going to find any one on staff to make an effort to help. So my wife did the best she could to deal with this problem. She like leaving the drapes open while we were out at sea. On the second day at sea she undressed in the stateroom to take a shower and two men working on a tender boat outside are cabin seen her in the nude and thought this to be very funny. My wife and I went to lobby and reported what had happen, the staff person said she understood that rude behavior like that was unacceptable and if they would be doing more work on the boat they would let us know it was should. Will the next morning when I awoke with the covers off both me and my wife half nude there they where again working outside are window looking in without warning, and another problem reported that went unresolved by staff. Food on the Star in the main dinning rooms is no better than what you find in a common dinner on land. The up graded restaurants dinners at Cagney's or La trattoria had excellent dinners but not better than dinners served in most main dinning rooms on most cruise ships. I believe I'm a good critic of what to except on most cruise ships my wife and I took are first cruise on the Star Dancer in 1986 and have cruised on at least 20 different ships and more than 30 cruises. I found that freestyle cruising to be a great concept as far being able to take part in the activities on the ship you wanted to take part in at the time and very good in port so that you didn't have to keep an eye on your watch so you wouldn't miss a meal board. I found the star to be a good cruise ship for families with young children. My biggest problem with this Ship was the supervising Staff I had no problems servers in the restaurants or with the way are stateroom was cared for. The pirate ship excursion in in Puerto Vallarta made for a great day off the ship. although this cruise ranks maybe one star if three stars were the average bring in some new supervising could do a lot to improve the passengers experience on the ship. this was not my greatest experience cruising, but my wife and I are still lifetime cruise I hope the next 30 will be better than this cruise and for the first timers on this cruise so many I talk to that felt this was not what they excepted try again most cruises are mush better than your experience on this cruise.

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Nov 21, 2004

Mexican Riviera

This will take awhile!! When we arrived in LAX it took me 45 minutes to find the NCL rep to locate the transportation to the ship. When we arrived at the port we waited close to 3 and 1/2 hours to be checked in. People in groups were put ahead of everyone else. We got to our cabin and it was very nice. We dropped off our luggage and went to find something to eat. After the ship sailed we decided to go to bed since we had already been up

over 20 hours. We changed the door to read "Do Not Disturb" locked the door and began to get ready for bed. A maintenance guy barged in while I was half undressed-didn't even knock! He apologized and left. We got to sleep and got a call from the desk wanting to know why he couldn't change our light bulb! The two days at sea were relaxing-except for the 600 children on the ship who were running down the halls making noise, jamming the elevators, spilling food and generally making life annoying for everyone on board except for the parents who were letting them do it! Thanksgiving night we went to the dining room to find 3 floors of people waiting to get in! This hadn't happened before. We waited 2 hours to get to the dining room only to find out that we needed to be in a group with reservations to eat!! People were actually getting in fist fights with each other and wanted to hit the staff!! About 9pm we finally got to eat! I asked if we needed to "form a group" to get reservations to eat for the rest of the cruise. We were told "NO" it wouldn't happen again--but it did-every night the rest of the cruise. So much for "Free Style" dining-you only get to eat in the dining room if you are a "Group". We felt like second class citizens behind the "groups". The day we left we had "red" tags to get off the ship early and were told to be in line at 7am. At 9am we were shifted to another deck-only to wait longer. What a disappointing Cruise!! NCL was negligent in getting the right info to people along with over booking. It was disorganized from the word go! I was glad we had traveled extensively-a first time cruiser would NEVER cruise again!

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Oct 19, 2004

Mexico

>My wife and I took the NCL Star relocating cruise from Ensenada to Hawaii on Dec 12, 2001. During the cruise we were disappointed in the quality of the food. Most of the time the food was cold or they had ran out. The crew was not very helpful, but we attributed this to it being a new CREW on a new SHIP. Even though we were disappointed, we decided to try the Norwegian Star once more because there were things we did like about this ship,

such as the decor and entertainment. We recently returned from an 8-night cruise to the Mexican Riviera on the Norwegian Star and we have vowed not to cruise with NCL again. We were disappointed once more! The food in the two main dining restaurants was not much better. It got to the point where we had to eat in the specialty restaurants for the last 5 days of the cruise. We also had to eat in the Blue Lagoon on many occasions just to have warm/tasty food. On the 3rd day, we asked for a hot dog in the Blue Lagoon and found they had ran out. Such poor planning!! Many parents depended on this type of food for their children as a main meal. We just could not understand how they would run out of hot dogs. Please note below the following, which were very disappointing to others and us: · Market Place/Buffet: Food always COLD and no creativity with the menu (especially during the breakfast portion). The theme should have been geared towards “Mexican Delights”. After all, this was the cruise venture. WAS IT NOT??? · Not happy with the automatic tip deduction from our onboard account. This should have been optional and not mandatory. We feel that we should tip accordingly to the service we receive (housekeeping/cabin stewards and dinning room waiters). THEY ARE THE ONES THAT WORK EXTREMELY HARD TO PROVIDE US WITH THE SERVICE THAT MAKES US HAPPY! · Duty Free Alcohol should be delivered to the room on the last day at sea before disembarking. This service always been provided by other cruise lines such as Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, etc. (staff stated that this was a NCL policy). Just imagine seeing senior citizens standing on line to retrieve their request. JUST SOMETHING HEARD OF!! · The quality of the food, once again was undesirable (3 years later). Imagine your breakfast corn-beef- hash was soupy/watery. Who is this CHEF??? · Finally, the managerial crew was not very cordial and they supervise their employees with a heavy hand. This is not a good sign, because this creates a big turnover of staff. I know that everything is about numbers and money, BUT if the crew are not happy or have to pretend that they are, then this becomes very noticeable. On the other hand, let me point out on the things that we felt we were very happy with: · Our cabin service, which we gave additional tip to the cabin stewards who took care of our needs. · The sanitary stations at all food lines were a welcome idea. · The disembarking process. This went very smoothly. I’m very sorry to say that we would not recommend this SHIP or the NCL line to anyone. As I stated previously, (if three years ago it still remains with most of the same problems) it truly reflects that NCL does not CARE due to the fact that the company feels it’s okay to LOSE some customers because there will always be NEW ones!

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Sep 25, 2004

Mexican Riviera

My family booked a penthouse on deck 11 for this cruise, the Star's first trip to the Mexican Riviera. Two days into the cruise, we were offered the chance to upgrade to the Garden Villa on deck 14, a 6,000 square foot suite which normally goes for $26,000 for eight days. While this suite was exceptional in space and design, we were stunned by certain things during this cruise: 1. The food was TERRIBLE. Carnival is several notches higher

than the garbage served on this ship. The main dining rooms are awful, as it is obviously the intent of the company to push people toward the pay restaurants, where the food is still very inconsistent. And because you pay for tips ahead of time and don't ever have the same waiter, there is no incentive to receive decent service. Passengers everywhere were seen complaining about the food, which should be a highlight of any cruise. Believe me folks, it was everything from burned bagels to mystery meat to running out of lobster in the specialty restaurants after paying the additional fees to eat it. And the buffets? Made me long for the horrible high school cafeteria food I ate twenty years ago. Everything, I mean everything, was stale/cold/low quality. It was awful...and I am not exaggerating one bit. The whole free-style cruise concept has evolved into a scam, and you can tell that the staff knows it. 2. If you are looking for an upbeat cruise with activities, forget it. During the sail-away party, the ship could have been mistaken for a morgue. 3. When you book a penthouse or higher, you are told you will have a butler who will cater to your every whim. The Garden Villa even comes with its own private butler. Be prepared to be frustrated by sighs and complaints when you try to order room service from a specialty restaurant (even though you will be paying extra despite already shelling out $26,000) or if you call him while he is out drinking with this crewmates. If Carnival Cruises get a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10, NCL should get a 0.

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Sep 18, 2004

Repositioning Vancouver-Los Angeles

Don’t you hate it when you’ve been really looking forward to something, and then you get let down – badly? Well, sad to say, this is exactly what happened on our cruise on the Norwegian Star. We’d previously cruised on the Norwegian Spirit, in her old incarnation as the SuperStar Leo, and had had a great time. Having said this, that particular cruise was only about half-full, so we had the feeling we had the ship to ourselves.

A staff member on board admitted that when the ship was full, you had to queue for everything. A truer word was never spoken, as our repositioning cruise on her near-identical sister, the Star, was less than pleasant. The cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles had an excellent itinerary, taking in Victoria BC, Seattle, Astoria, San Francisco, and Monterey. We were fully expecting to have to organise our own shore trips, being a repositioning cruise, and the shore tours mentioned in the NCL brochure and website were minimal. We’d gone to the trouble of organising – and prepaying for - a hire car in Seattle for some sightseeing, and were dismayed to find on embarkation in Vancouver that there were in fact shore tours available that would’ve met our needs. More on the ports of call shortly. Checkin at Canada Place was somewhat disorganised. We’d disembarked from a Holland-America cruise from Alaska that morning, and killed an hour or so in the downstairs lobby of the Pan-Pacific hotel. We were able to get rid of our suitcases by around 10am, so could then join the actual checkin queue. There were two HAL ships, and two NCL ships leaving that day, and they were all fully booked, so there was plenty of noise and confusion. Interestingly, the only cruise representative around was from Holland-America, and he was kind enough to answer people’s questions as best he could – NCL should give him a few bucks, as they didn’t seem overly inclined to have any of their own staff available. We were eventually allowed through security to the checkin desk, and that’s where the fun began. The poor girl behind the counter wasn’t at all well trained – I think it was her first day – and she had to constantly consult with her overworked supervisor in order to check us in. Our passports were then given to the purser to input whatever information he needed onto his laptop. He had them for a good 10 minutes, then had to be asked before he reluctantly handed them over. (Incredibly, about two hours later, we received a phone call from the front desk, asking for my partner’s passport number!!). Anyway, once on board we were escorted to our cabin by a staff member. She seemed quite friendly at the time – this was obviously just for show, as she was pretty surly for the rest of the cruise. As it turned out, she had plenty of company in this regard. The cabin (we’d parted with the extra funds for a balcony – our first!) was quite nice; as we’d previously travelled on the Leo, we weren’t surprised by the somewhat eye-searing décor. There wasn’t much counter space for our bits and pieces, and there was only one bedside table. The bed, however, was very comfortable. The balcony was excellent, and has spoiled us for all time, I believe!! It was nice having a fridge in the cabin, though we could have done with more closet and drawer space. The bathroom was a mixture of good and bad – very clean and modern, but not much counter space once again. The shower was ok, though the water pressure wasn’t all that good. The toilet was in its own cubicle off the bathroom, and had a door. This may seem a good idea in theory, but the design was such that it wasn’t a very comfortable arrangement – the door was very narrow, and distance between the front of the commode and the bathroom wall was about 18 inches. There were some seriously large people on the cruise, and I really don’t know how they’d manage to get in and out of the toilet cubicles in their cabins – maybe other cabins have a better layout in this regard. The cabin itself had quite poor soundproofing – we could hear the people next door talking, watching TV etc, while you could hear almost every footfall from the cabin above. This was a real surprise to us, as we’ve never had this problem on any ship we’ve ever travelled on. In this respect, newer is definitely not better! Many others on board made this comment as well. Our two cabin attendants were fabulous, and couldn’t have done enough for us. They were completely unobtrusive, and had that magical ability of somehow knowing when you are or aren’t in your cabin. As it turns out, not everyone had such a great experience in this regard – I heard a number of negative comments about the cabin staff during this cruise. Now for the bad news. Firstly, if you want to iron your own clothes, tough luck. You have to pay to have it done, and if you want your laundry back the same day, you have to pay double. This is the first time we’ve encountered this particular form of blackmail, and let me tell you, we weren’t exactly cheering. The next unpleasant surprise was the endless stream of announcements on the P.A. system. For some reason, the P.A. system throughout the ship was at an unbelieveably high volume, so that you could quite clearly hear every word being broadcast from the speakers in the corridor, even when out on the balcony! Heaven help you if you were actually in the corridor at the time – it was nothing to see my fellow passengers scurrying along the hallway with their fingers in their ears. The cruise director seemed to be in love with the sound of his own voice, and amused himself by reciting the entire day’s program over the P.A. twice a day, despite such information being readily available on the daily newsletter delivered to the cabin. As a supreme irony, the P.A. system at our lifeboat station was out of order, so we couldn’t hear a thing during the lifeboat demonstration. This, of course, was the one vital bit of information we would have liked to have heard….. Moving right along, while the concept of “freestyle dining” sounds great in theory, in practice it didn’t seem quite so good - especially with a full ship. The main buffet was a complete zoo at mealtimes – I kept having flashbacks to my primary school cafeteria – with the food being pretty average, and passengers and crew doing their best not to collide with one another. The crew seemed to be there just for decoration, and only seemed to smile at one another – not to the passengers. We tried the Versailles, Aqua and Endless Summer restaurants. The Versailles restaurant wasn’t too bad – it wasn’t too fantastic, either, though we encountered two of the better waiters on board the ship there – while the Aqua was a joke. The food was lukewarm, and the service slow and indifferent. We tried the Endless Summer restaurant on the last night; it had a Tex-Mex theme, and the food was easily the best we had all week – wish we’d gone there sooner! The waitress was fantastic – why couldn’t all of her colleagues been like her? We also tried out the Blue Lagoon café for lunch a couple of times. The good news: they served the freshest, tastiest hamburgers I’ve ever tasted. The bad news: the waitresses were nothing short of appalling. It was a real shame, as the chefs behind the grill were very friendly. For various reasons, we didn’t sample the cabaret entertainment. According to various friends we made on board, we didn’t miss much. We spent a grand total of 5 minutes and zero dollars on bingo, which we normally attend. Would you believe 29 bucks a throw? You’d have more fun tossing dollar bills over the stern and watching them being chopped up by the propellors. In case you hadn’t noticed, we were pretty underwhelmed by the service on board. The vast majority of the waiters just didn’t give a damn, and this was particularly noticeable amongst the eastern European ones. The word “surly” comes to mind. I’m not sure why this was so – we did a Princess cruise last January, and our two waitresses were Polish and Rumanian respectively – they were both brilliant. The front counter staff were shocking – I couldn’t believe their attitudes. When faced with a question they couldn’t answer easily, it was the hardest thing in the world for them to ask a supervisor – and even then the information was often wrong. The ports of call were good. We’d both been to Victoria BC before, so didn’t feel the need to do Butchart Gardens again – having said that, it’s well worth a look, even on a rainy day. One of the shore tours offered was High Tea at the Empress Hotel; apparently it was grossly overbooked, and the people off the ship wound up in a basement area, after having to wait over an hour. I don’t know whose fault this was, but it certainly didn’t sound much fun. We visited the Royal BC Museum – highly recommended. Seattle was great fun, and the weather was warm and sunny. Being an aviation nut, I checked out both the Boeing Factory Tour, as well as the Museum of Flight. Both get top marks. Pike Place Market, which was quite close to where the ship was docked, is a must – great for strolling around and people-watching. Astoria was very pretty, and the Maritime Museum is well worth a look. The whole thing was spoilt by a band who played at the dockside the entire time the ship was there – you couldn’t hear yourself think within half a mile of them. (Do I really need to hear a rendition of “Achey Breaky Heart) at 150dB when I’m on vacation?) San Francisco was everything we’d hoped for. We did a late afternoon bus tour, organised through the shore tours desk. This was excellent, especially as our good luck with the weather still held. It’s a place we’ll definitely be back to. Monterey was just delightful. We hadn’t a prayer of getting into their famous Aquarium – the queues were out the door and down the street – but we didn’t feel like we’d missed out, as there were any number of seals, sea lions and otters frolicking by the oceanfront. The arrival into Los Angeles wasn’t too impressive. We were supposed to be docked by 7am, with the first passengers off by 7.30. As it turned out, we were docked by 7.15 – but the first passengers weren’t off until 9am. The terminal isn’t exactly in the most salubrious part of town, though luckily there were plenty of taxis. One tip if you are catching a taxi there – you don’t queue as you normally would. There’s a lady from the taxi company by the kerbside – you give her your name and destination which she writes on a clipboard, then she tells you which taxi is yours. She wasn’t exactly advertising this fact, so there were a lot of people standing around looking bewildered. All in all, I doubt very much we’ll be cruising with NCL again. The ship was big but very noisy, the food mostly average, and the overall impression of the service was one of indifference. Having just left a Holland-America cruise, where the below-par crew member is rare, it was a bit of a shock to find the exact opposite on NCL. This was our fifth cruise, and it was the first time we’ve ever looked forward to it being over.

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Aug 21, 2004

Alaska

Introduction: Even though I have been on over 30 cruises, I was looking forward to my first Alaska cruise. As a former school teacher from the Midwest, I was always reluctant to give up any of my vacation time to go anywhere that did not offer sun and warm temperatures. Now that I have retired and can travel more leisurely to warm climes anytime of the year, I was more than ready for an Alaska adventure. My flight from Cleveland to

Seattle the night before the cruise was smooth and uneventful. In fact, despite the poor visibility and rainy conditions, we arrived at Sea-Tac Airport 15 minutes ahead of schedule. My friend, Pat, was flying in from Oakland and we planned to meet at the airport. Unfortunately, her flight on Alaska Air was delayed by about 45 minutes, so we never got to our hotel until after 9:30 pm. Having both been to Seattle before, for convenience we chose to stay at the Clarion by the airport. Although I was tired from my flight and my body clock was still on Eastern Standard Time, we felt a light meal and a welcome cocktail was in order. Someone I had met on my travels that day had recommended “13 Coins” which was near our hotel. We were very pleased with the suggestion. The entertainment was quite good and the food was excellent!! Embarkation: I awoke early the next morning to gloomy, gray skies, but didn’t allow it to dampen my spirits. This was, after all, the beginning of an Alaskan adventure, not a Caribbean holiday. I had made reservations with Seattle Express the night before for an 11:15 am hotel pick-up ($10 per person). The van arrived right on schedule and within 20 minutes had delivered us to our ship. The Norwegian Star was docked in a prime location at Pier 66. Although we had pier pick-up of our documents, the entire embarkation process was swift and efficient. We were already settled in our cabin by 12:30 pm. Of course, I have made this sound quite painless, but in actuality getting to our cabin was a bit of a challenge. However, this was not the fault of NCL or their boarding process, but rather a kind of equipment failure. You see, Pat’s wheelchair had somehow developed 2 flat tires. There was no one available to escort us onto the ship, so we were forced to trudge up the ramp on our own. Now, if you have never tried to push a wheelchair with flat tires, I can attest to the fact that it requires a great amount of effort. Couple that with a somewhat steep ramp to get to the ship and the added burden of dragging my carry-on luggage behind me and I think you get the picture. Once we arrived at the top we were asked to show our Sign and Sail card in order to board the vessel. Well, surprise, surprise! Somewhere along our short trek I had managed to lose my card! I left Pat at the top and retraced my steps. Fortunately, it had been found and turned in to a security officer who was scanning luggage. Once on board, a Norwegian Star staff member took over and escorted us to our cabin; but not before we had stopped at reception to get some assistance with our wheelchair dilemma. First Impressions: Norwegian Star's Grand Atrium The Norwegian Star was the first ship in NCL’s fleet that was designed specifically for “Freestyle Dining”. Having sailed on NCL’s older ships (the Sea, the Dream and the Wind), I was anxious to experience a cruise on one of their ships that was actually built for this new concept. It was obvious the moment I stepped on board that this would be a much different experience than my previous NCL cruises. I was immediately impressed with the Grand Atrium. A fountain surrounded by flowers and suspended geese is the focal point of this expanse of space. Dual spiral staircases and decorative glass elevators act as a backdrop to an attractive coffee bar. My Cabin: We occupied inside Cabin #10661 Midship. At only 142 sq. ft the space proved to be a bit cramped for two, particularly since there were bars under the beds that did not allow for storage of all our luggage. Thus, tripping over suitcases at the foot of the beds became a daily occurrence for us. Other than that minor complaint, the cabin was sufficient. The two twin beds sat along a cherry wood paneling back wall that was divided by a small mirror. The bedspreads and carpeting maintained the “Star” theme with colorful stars scattered on a blue background. Two very small functional end tables with two shelves, but no drawers sat between the beds. A light was mounted above each bed. At the foot of one bed was a small desk and chair. The telephone was mounted on the wall above the desk and an open shelf above the desk housed the TV. On the opposite wall, at the foot of the other bed, was a small angular dressing table with a stool. A very powerful and efficient hair dryer was mounted on the wall. A small mirror was provided above the dressing table and a couple drawers sat below. (Drawer space was definitely minimal). The lighting in this area was not the best and make-up is best applied in the bathroom. There was also a small refrigerator along this wall and a safe was provided. The cherry wood closets were ample and also housed additional shelves for storage. Be careful with the closet doors. The hall between the closet and bathroom is relatively narrow and it is impossible to open the bathroom door when the closet door is open. The bathroom was small (I know I have used that word to describe most of the amenities of this room, but it is applicable), but efficient. One of the best features was the sliding glass doors on the shower. No more clinging shower curtain – Yahoo! Water pressure and lighting were both excellent. Once again shelving was sparse, but we managed to make do on this one week cruise. I would suggest if there is more than one person occupying this cabin that you invest in a hanging shoe caddy and use that to store all your toiletries, etc. The Since dining is such an important aspect of the “freestyle experience, as I describe the layout of the ship I will do so in two parts. First, I will describe all of the public areas of the ship, minus the dining venues. Then, I will devote a separate section to a description of the various dining options. Only cabins and the Medical Center are located on Deck 4, the lowest public deck on the ship. The only facility on Deck 5, other than more cabins, is the main floor and stage of the tri-level Stardust Theater. Deck 6 is one of the main thoroughfares. It is on this deck that you will find the main dining rooms, Le Bistro and the SoHo Room. Just outside the entrances to Le Bistro and the SoHo Room, Midship, were The Wine Cellar, the Havana Club and Gatsby’s Champagne Bar. The Wine Cellar The Wine Cellar was a small area adjoining Le Bistro, and was sometimes used as an overflow for Le Bistro Dining. Opposite the Wine Cellar was Gatsby’s. It was a great spot to meet for pre-dinner cocktails. A baby grand piano sat between these two lounge areas, and two very talented piano players took turns performing there nightly at both pre-dinner and late night sessions. Adjacent to Gatsby’s and the Wine Cellar was the Havana Club. This stylish, enclosed area was the cigar lounge. Moving forward is a nice size casino. While the Star was cruising in Hawaii this space was Dazzles Nightclub. It has been converted into a full service casino with a large bank of slot machines. This area proved to be quite popular on this cruise. From here the starboard hallway leads to the main entrance of the Stardust Theater. This tri-level main showroom is functional but is rather stark in comparison to the ornate theaters ordaining many ships today. Valances of red and gold draperies are about the only decorative touch I noticed. From the theater we can move to Deck 7, the balcony level of the showroom. Be aware that the sight lines are excellent from any seat on the main floor, but visibility in many areas of the balcony is poor. As we depart from the balcony level of the theater and move aft, we enter the Carousel Nightclub. Carousel horses are used for bar stools and the overall décor is circus themed. It was a little too over the top for my taste, but it was a popular spot and was one of the more active lounges on the ship. A small annex along the port side of the Carousel Nightclub was the Martini Bar. Tucked away in a corner this space was overlooked by many and rarely used. Moving aft on the starboard hall we pass through the Photo Gallery and the entrances to Ginza and the Teppanyaki Room. From this point we find ourselves Midship and in the Grand Atrium. This area was always a hub of activity. The Java Cafe A small set of stairs in the center of the Atrium led to the Java Café, a great coffee bar that also served as an additional lounge. The open seating made this a perfect place to do some serious people watching. The Capella and Port of Call Shops, as well as Guest Services and the Shore Excursion desk are on the outer periphery of the Atrium. Continuing aft, on the starboard side is the Blue Lagoon Snack Bar and on the portside is The Red Lion Pub. The Red Lion Pub The Red Lion Pub is an authentic English Pub, even down to the traditional fish and chips pub grub. The dark woods and banquette style seating was quite appealing and the space exuded a lively and friendly ambiance. It was one of my favorite public areas of the ship. A large screen TV occupied the back wall and was frequently tuned to one of the many baseball games being televised that week. Continuing aft led to one of the largest galleria shopping areas I have seen on a ship. Staterooms occupy Decks 8, 9, 10 and 11, with the exception of the Endless Summer Restaurant on Deck 8, a great Internet Café on Deck 9 and the Barong Spa on Deck 11. The spa has a full service hair and beauty salon, separate men and women’s steam rooms and saunas and numerous treatment rooms. But, a large indoor lap pool, hydrobath and Jacuzzi were the highlights of the tasteful and stylish Barong Spa. I did not sample any of the spa treatments on this cruise, but those of our group that did were more than satisfied. The Children's Pool Area Directly above the spa on Deck 12 was the Barong Spa Fitness Center complete with a large Juice Bar, a Video Arcade and the Children’s Pool. Moving forward from the Fitness Center was the Market Café, La Trattoria and the Kid’s Café (more about that in the next section). The Oasis Pool From here we move to the Oasis Pool area on the open deck. Here you will find an expanse of tiered lounging space, two slides, four Jacuzzis and the pool. Adjacent to the pool was Topsiders Bar, Sprinkles Ice Cream Bar and The Grill. Although there appeared to be a sufficient number of lounge chairs on the multiple levels to accommodate large crowds, the area directly around the pool and Jacuzzis was cramped and crowded (and this was on an Alaska cruise). Continuing forward from the pool area was the location of numerous meeting rooms, the card room, a reading room, the library and a lifestyles room (whatever that is – I’m still not sure). The cinema, a chapel and the Spinnaker Lounge are in the most forward section of Deck 12. The Spinnaker Lounge is a comfortable lounge decorated in vibrant colors. There is a raised bar, a sunken dance floor and expansive windows that provide tremendous views of the passing scenery. Above the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 13 is a sun deck and another Jacuzzi. It is from this deck that you also gain access to the BierGarten on Deck 14. The jogging track is on Deck 13, as is the helipad and Planet Kids, the children’s area. Midship on Deck 13 is Cagney’s Steakhouse and the Star Bar. We attempted to visit the Star Bar a few times during the cruise, but on each occasion it was closed. Garden Villa Suites, the Sports Court and BierGarten occupy Deck 14. The BierGarten serves hot pretzels and sausages for appetizers to accompany your Bavarian beer. Dining Experience: There are 10 restaurants on the Norwegian Star; the first of the ship’s designed specifically for “Freestyle Dining”. I was looking forward to trying as many of the venues as possible on my 7 night cruise. First, let’s look at the dining options that do not require a reservation nor an additional cover charge. The Versailles Dining Room There were two main dining rooms on the Star: The Versailles and Aqua. Of the two main restaurants, The Versailles is much more ornate than the modern and minimalist décor of the Aqua Restaurant. Ornate red walls and a stunning crystal chandelier are reminiscent of the palace it is named after. Unfortunately, I did not find the quality of the food or service to be as princely. In fact, it was a disappointment. We dined there for dinner only one evening and the food was mediocre with service to match. We ate there specifically because it was surf and turf night. The “surf”, although a very small portion, was much better than my “turf”, which was tough and too well done. The wait staff was slow and customer satisfaction was obviously not a priority for them. I will say that when we ate there for lunch the service and food was much better. Before moving on, let me make another comment regarding the physical aspects of the Versailles. For dinner we were seated near the entrance on the starboard side. It was extremely chilly, to the point of being uncomfortable and may have contributed to my opinion of the dining experience. For lunch we were seated in the center near the rear of the dining room. The temperature was acceptable, but it was exceptionally noisy in this area. I cannot comment on the Aqua as we did not have the opportunity to eat there. Others from our group that did had mixed reviews, but overall were not impressed. The Market Café is the traditional buffet area and offered the traditional buffet fare with a few additional perks. In addition to the main buffet lines, there were stations scattered throughout the café that provided pleasant alternatives. At breakfast I would recommend the omelets, eggs cooked to order and the waffle station. At lunch there was a separate fruit station providing an array of fresh fruits daily which was quite good. TIP: There is a buffet line portside in the very rear of the café that never had a line, but offered exactly the same food. In my opinion, one of the nicest additions was the separate Kid’s Café. “Kid size” tables and chairs occupied one corner of the café. A buffet at child eye level offered hot dogs, hamburgers and such. What a great idea! The Blue Lagoon is labeled as the 24 hour snack bar. Personally, I preferred this over the Market Café for lunch or light meals and believe it qualifies for more than just a snack bar. Chicken wings, burgers, fish and chips, salads, soup and Asian noodle and rice dishes could be ordered here. It also offered take-out service. It was often crowded, but I found ordering take-out and finding another location to dine was a good solution. Of course, I find this kind of fare appeals to my taste preferences and was a nice alternative to the full course meals I was consuming for dinner. Now for the Specialty Restaurants and optional dining venues that require reservations: La Trattoria serves typical Italian cuisine, and although reservations are required, there is no additional cover charge. This is actually a section of the Market Café that is converted into an Italian eatery in the evening. I had wanted to try this venue during our cruise, but was unable to get reservations on the one night that we had chosen to dine there. Everyone I spoke with that had dined there was quite pleased. They found the service and the selections to be well above average. It may explain why this was a very popular dining choice. Make sure to make reservations for this restaurant very early in the cruise. Endless Summer, another restaurant that requires reservations but no cover, offers Tex-Mex cuisine. This was one of the more interesting restaurants from a décor perspective. Overlooking the Grand Atrium, I found the space to be exceptionally appealing; but unfortunately, the cuisine did not appeal to my taste. Nor did it appeal to my traveling companions, so we did not take the opportunity to dine there. Apparently there were many people onboard who agreed with me because I never saw this dining venue busy. The SoHo was superb! Decorated in Andy Warhol fashion, it serves a rather eclectic Pacific Rim cuisine. We dined there twice during the cruise and enjoyed both visits immensely. They serve lobster, but it did not compare to the outstanding tiger prawns. (Make sure to save room for the tempura chocolate cake with caramel fudge sauce). The wait staff there receives some of the highest marks of the crew for their attention to customers needs. In addition to the excellent food, they certainly aided in making these dining experiences memorable. This restaurant is most definitely worth the $15 cover charge. The caviar served as an appetizer is worth the cover alone. Le Bistro Restaurant LeBistro is a cozy and very inviting restaurant serving French and Mediterranean cuisine. Rich woods and fabrics, low lighting and banquette seating make this the most romantic and intimate of the dining choices. Food preparation and service on our visit was impeccable. I enjoyed my filet mignon with béarnaise sauce prepared exactly as ordered. To complement my main entrée, I savored every tasty escargot and sumptuously delighted in the forest mushroom soup. Salad was prepared tableside. LeBistro also offers an extensive and very interesting wine list. I would most assuredly recommend you pay the extra $15 pp cover and dine here at least once. Cagney’s Steakhouse was a classic on par with Ruth Chris’s. The room is attractive and comfortable. It reminded me of a traditional “Chicago Style” steakhouse. Although Cagney’s is the most expensive of the alternative dining choices ($20 cover), it is definitely warranted. I could have dined here nightly and gladly paid the additional cover. My filet mignon was perfection! It was perhaps the most tender filet I have ever had and veritably melted in my mouth. The waiter was attentive and personable making the dining experience that much more enjoyable. Dining here was a real treat and I delighted in every moment. The Ginza Sushi Bar Ginza, the last of the dining options is really three venues in one. Serving Asian-Fusion cuisine, we did not dine at Ginza for dinner, but did have lunch there a few times. Reservations are not required for lunch, but there is a $12.50 cover charge. Now, I am not a fan of this kind of food, so I did not actually sample the fare here, but my dining companions did and absolutely loved it!! (While they dined I enjoyed a glass of wine and the company and then made a quick visit to the Blue Lagoon for take-out). I found the atmosphere to be appealing at lunch and the service was friendly, but a bit sporadic. No reservation is required at the revolving Sushi Bar, but a la carte pricing is in effect. For lunch, on days at sea, a special “All you can eat” at the Sushi Bar was featured for $10. The Teppanyaki Room is a private “Benihana style” dining room that is tucked in a corner of the Ginza. Private dining for 12 is a real event here. The entire meal is choreographed and timed, thus reservations are made based on a pre-fixed schedule. Our group enjoyed a 9:00 PM dining experience that was award-winning. A la carte pricing is in effect and I went for the full fare of scallops, shrimp and filet. All were excellent and this is another venue I would highly recommend. So, there you have it! Cruising on NCL is all about the “freestyle experience” and I have concluded that the best way to enjoy this alternative dining style is to commit to spending the extra money for the specialty restaurants. Those from our group that chose to eat only at the venues that were included in the cruise price were disappointed and unhappy with the food on the Star. For me, and those of us who chose to sample the alternatives, the dining experience was outstanding. In this case, the old adage: “You get what you pay for” is apropos. The Norwegian Star in Alaska The Cruise: I would like to preface the details of my cruise by explaining that I planned to take two back-to-back Alaska cruises, this being the first. You may notice that as I describe the week’s events that I do not mention many of the usual activities one experiences on an Alaska cruise. Since my friend Pat was accompanying me on the first cruise and she was somewhat limited as to her mobility, I had decided to reserve the more adventurous excursions for week two. Sunday, Day 1: (Seattle sail-away) While waiting for our wheelchair situation to be resolved, we decided to head to the Market Café for the luncheon buffet. It wasn’t until after we had eaten that we discovered that lunch was also being served in the Aqua Restaurant. We were looking forward to dining in the alternative restaurants; so, after lunch I made a trip to the reservations table in the Grand Atrium. Reservations cannot be made more than one day in advance, so I made reservations for the SoHo Room for this evening and LeBistro tomorrow night. Before we had time to settle into cruise mode, it was time for the mandatory emergency boat drill. Our cabin seemed miles away from our assigned station and we decided that in a real emergency there was no way we would ever make it here successfully. It was nothing, however, to the time it took to weave through the crowds to return to our cabin after the drill. While Pat got herself organized in the cabin, I went poolside to check out the SailAway party. It was my first opportunity to hear Ironics, a very talented dance band. Upon my return, I discovered that all luggage had been delivered to the cabins, but mine was mysteriously missing. When I called reception, I was informed that my luggage had been confiscated because it contained “illegal contraband”. HUH???? Well, my illegal goods were actually 3 bottles of wine I had brought for my personal consumption in the cabin. That is now a definite “No-No” on NCL. I had to go downstairs, claim my luggage and receive a receipt for my wine. I would be permitted to pick it up on Sunday morning before departing the ship. I was not alone, and the line of other criminals was rather lengthy. I use the term, criminals, because I believe NCL handled the situation poorly and did little to nurture a positive passenger outlook. By the time my luggage was delivered, I was running late for the Hosted Cocktail Party scheduled for our group. Although a bit tardy, it was nice to gather with others from our group. After the cocktail party, a group of us continued the party with a wonderful dinner at the SoHo Room. My tiger prawns accompanied by tortellini was outstanding, as was the service. Lively conversation ensued and our group managed to close the restaurant that evening. Although we were the last ones to vacate the restaurant, the wait staff was extremely gracious about allowing us to linger and never once indicated that they were waiting on us to close. (Although the truth is they were!) By now it was getting late, but Pat and I enjoyed one final nightcap at Gatsby’s Champagne Bar before retiring. After all, we needed a good night’s sleep to be ready for our morning seminar scheduled the next day. Monday, Day 2: (Cruising the Inside Passage) We had ordered coffee from room service to jump start our morning and then made our way to the Aqua Restaurant for our 9:00 AM seminar. It was an excellent seminar and time passed quickly. At noon our seminar concluded and a group of us chose to dine on sushi for lunch at Ginza. Well, let me be honest! I joined a group while they dined on sushi and sashimi. I chose not to partake, but enjoyed their company over a glass of wine. After lunch, I made a quick trip to the Blue Lagoon snack bar for a light bite. As the weather was a relatively mild 70 degrees with partly cloudy conditions, I made my way to the pool deck to enjoy the passing scenery of the inside passage. Well, I am not quite sure what I expected, but I will tell you I saw lots and lots of trees! I had brought my binoculars and spent some time scouting for wildlife in the dense woods, but was unsuccessful. I did, however, catch a glimpse of a few whales near the ship. This was an optional formal night and also Pat’s birthday, so we decided to don our formals. We had a private birthday celebration, and then joined others from our group for pre-dinner cocktails. We weren’t keeping good track of time; and by the time we did arrive at LeBistro, we were over half hour late for our reservation. Although they had given our table away, the restaurant was still very accommodating and it was only a matter of a few minutes before we were seated. This evening I enjoyed a filet mignon with béarnaise sauce. Having dined at Le Bistro on other NCL ships, I can tell you this is definitely one of their signature dishes. Well, once again we entertained ourselves with scintillating conversation, lingered over coffee and missed the Jean Ann Ryan production show of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Music of the Night”. As a Broadway musical buff and fan of Andrew Lloyd Weber, I was a tiny bit disappointed, but this was after all Pat’s birthday and it was her night. After dinner, we thought briefly about going to the comedy show but realized we were even too late for that. Oh well! We weren’t too late to participate in the New Year’s Eve party at 11:30 PM in the Spinnaker Lounge, however. We enjoyed the Ironics Band, danced a bit and had great fun participating in the countdown to midnight. We wandered the ship trying to decide where to enjoy a final nightcap and ultimately ended our evening at the Carousel Nightclub. It turned into a rather late night, but one that was thoroughly enjoyable. Juneau, Alaska Tuesday, Day 3: (Juneau) We arrived in the port area about noon, but another NCL ship was presently occupying our berth. So, from noon until about 2:00 PM, guests were tendered ashore, until the dock space was vacated. Pat was planning to use her wheelchair, so we decided just to stay onboard until the ship actually docked. For me, this turned out to be a bonus! It was a beautiful sunny day in the mid 70’s. As we anchored at the foot of Mount Roberts, I enjoyed a Jacuzzi afternoon and the BBQ Luncheon being served poolside. Lounging in the sun, with the spectacular mountain scenery as a backdrop, was a surreal experience that will remain a special memory. It was 3:00 PM before we actually made it ashore. The Star was docked quite a way from the center of town and complimentary bus shuttle service was being offered. Since it was such a beautiful day we decided to walk. Mendenhall Glacier We took a Mendenhall Glacier public bus ($10 round trip) for the 20 minute ride to the park. Once there, we left Pat at the visitor’s center and took a vigorous hike to the glacier waterfall. I had been anticipating this view for a long time and was thoroughly impressed. The massive glacier with its blue aura was an awesome sight to behold. Upon our return to town, we took a self-guided walking tour. Our exploration took us to the waterfront area where many of the seaplanes depart. We found “The Hanger”, a local waterfront restaurant that offered exceptional views of the harbor. It was such a beautiful day, we decided to take a refreshment break and admire the view. Juneau's Red Dog Saloon From there we made our requisite trip to the Red Dog Saloon. For years I had heard about this place, but the reality was a huge disappointment. It seems that the piano player, who is an institution, was not there that day, and the duo that were his replacement were a poor substitute. Apparently, my feelings were shared by many as it was relatively quiet and not very crowded. We had a quick brew and then did a bit of window shopping as we leisurely strolled back to the ship. By the time we got back onboard, we had just enough time for a short rest before preparing for dinner. We had made reservations at Cagney’s Steakhouse that evening and did not want to repeat last night’s late arrival. Arriving on time for our 9:00 PM dinner we were seated immediately. This was by far my favorite dining experience of the cruise. I dined on a filet mignon that was perfection. Although this is the most expensive alternative restaurant ($20 per person cover), it was worth every penny! Impeccable service matched a most delectable meal. Once again, we found ourselves the last to leave the restaurant. Hmmm, I see a pattern developing here. We made our way to the Spinnaker Lounge this evening for the Disco Groove Party. Since it began at 10:30 and we did not arrive until after 11:00, things were already starting to wind down. Apparently last nights revelry was a fluke, as this was definitely not a “disco” crowd and dancing was not going to be a high point of this cruise. Pat and I had a final cocktail at the Red Lion Pub and called it an evening. Downtown Skagway Wednesday, Day 4: (Skagway) I awoke to another mild and pleasant day. To this point the weather was being quite cooperative for my first visit to Alaska. I enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Market Café before meeting others from our group for a hike to Lower Dewey Lake. Skagway was picturesque and obviously becoming quite popular as a tourist destination. The streets were lined with boutiques, souvenir shops and galleries. Old store fronts and buildings have been restored and look much like they did in the 1890’s when it was a gold rush boomtown. Lower Dewey Lake We joined another of our hiking party at the Starbucks in town and headed off in the direction of Dewey Lake. The hike was quite enjoyable, although there were some rather steep inclines that we were required to traverse as we made our way to Lower Dewey Lake. Wow! The hike was definitely worth the effort! The lake’s pristine beauty was simply spectacular. I could easily have spent hours in silent reverie here. Pat had stayed onboard while we partook of our morning walk, so we returned to the ship to gather her and return to the town for more exploration. Well, her idea of exploring (having been to Skagway a number of times) was to visit the Red Onion Saloon. Skagway's Red Onion Saloon This former bordello was another of those infamous bars on the Alaska circuit, but once again was a huge disappointment. A jazz combo was performing but there sound was overpowering this small bar and we couldn’t wait to vacate the premises. From here we thought we would attempt a pub crawl with intermittent shopping stops through town. Well, nearing the end of the cruising season, there were bargains everywhere, but the pub crawl was not as successful. We did venture into a few local spots, but heavy cigarette smoke drove us out of them rather quickly. By the time we tried a few local spots, we decided to call it quits and head back to the ship. Of course, “the criminal” who attempted to bring contraband aboard was caught once again. I mentioned that there were great bargains to be had, so I took advantage of the situation and purchased some ulu knife gift sets for Christmas presents. Well, this is another “no-no” according to NCL and now these were confiscated and I was given a receipt to collect these on Sunday before disembarking! Hmm, I guess I will need to plan to get up very early that morning in order to reclaim all my possessions. Having missed lunch, we made a quick stop at the Red Lion Pub to sample the tasty fish and chips they serve as a pub snack. We then returned to our cabin for a short rest before preparing for dinner. This evening was surf and turf night in the main dining rooms so we planned to dine in the Versailles that evening. Huge mistake. The food was mediocre and the service was slow. Perhaps the worst part of the dining experience was the temperature of the dining room. It was freezing and I was not wearing a winter coat. As I looked around the room, it was obvious others had eaten here before, because most were wearing light jackets or wraps. Well, so much for the main dining experience. I was unimpressed with the decor of the Aqua Restaurant (the other main dining venue), so I would be dining in the alternative choices for the duration of the cruise. (Of course, in all honesty I probably would have anyhow as it was my goal to experience as many of the dining venues as possible). Tonight the “Ship n Males” All Adult Male Revue was the highlight! Scheduled for midnight, ladies don’t miss this one!! This official girls night out is worth staying up for. Day 5: (Cruising Glacier Bay) This morning our weather began to turn and it was rainy and chilly for our cruising of Glacier Bay. We entered Glacier Bay National Park very early in the morning and at approximately 8:00 AM park rangers began a running commentary of our journey through the park. The presentation broadcast via the ships P.A. system was quite informative. After spending a portion of the morning on deck, I met others from our group to enjoy the impressive view from the Ginza Room, as they enjoyed another sushi lunch. Having risen early for our passage, I opted to return to the cabin after lunch for a pleasant nap. One thing that can be said for an inside cabin is that they are perfect for daytime naps. (Something to consider when cruising during the long summer days.) I awoke refreshed and opted for a late afternoon Jacuzzi session. From that vantage point I spotted more whales. Time passed quickly and it was time to prepare for dinner. One of the members of our travel group had been able to reserve the Teppanyaki Room at 9:00 P.M. for 10 of us. We gathered for pre-dinner cocktails at 8:00 pm at Gatsby’s and then proceeded to the private dining area of Ginza. Not having been personally impressed with the fare offered at Ginza, I was not overly excited about dinner. What a surprise! My meal was excellent and the experience was wonderful! I dined on scallops, shrimp and filet, plus all the accoutrements. A feast would be an understatement in describing tonight’s banquet of food. Not wishing to call it a night, after dinner the group moved to the Carousel Nightclub. It was karaoke night, and although none of us participated, we enjoyed listening to others. Day 6: (Ketchikan) The morning began as a dreary, rainy and chilly (50°) day, but became more promising as the morning progressed. Although the skies were still changeable, it cleared up enough for us to venture ashore. We were being tendered to shore and by the time we decided to head off, it was open tendering. The salmon were running, so we walked to Creek Street to observe the phenomenon. Ketchikan's Creek Street The Creek Street Bridge was a perfect vantage point for watching this spectacle of nature. From there we visited the Salmon Fish Hatchery where I learned every detail of the unfortunate life cycle of the salmon. Ketchikan's Heritage Park We did a bit of shopping and sightseeing as we made our way back to catch the 1:00 pm tender to the ship. Unfortunately, it had begun to rain again and as we approached the tender station, discovered a huge line of like minded passengers were ahead of us. The Port of Ketchikan's Shops Not wishing to stand in the pelting rain without shelter, we inquired as to the nearest bar to wait it out. We were directed around the corner to the Arctic Bar. What a find! Not only was it a slice of local flavor, the patio conveniently overlooked the tenders. The bar quickly filled with others from the Star that had the same idea we did. The crew operating the tenders instructed us to stay put and they would be happy to yell up to us when the last tender was ready to go. Finally, about 2:30 we were instructed to make our way down. The entire tender was occupied by the Arctic Bar patrons. So, as the Arctic Bar Tender made its way to the Star, someone from the large contingency suggested the party not end just yet and we should all meet in the Red Lion Pub for an Arctic Bar toast. Well, I had been partying all afternoon so it sounded like a good idea to me and I joined the festivities. A good time was had by all. I did feel bad that my roommate Pat had decided not to go ashore, because this certainly turned out to be her kind of day. Well after a fun-filled afternoon, I needed to take a nap in order to be ready for our travel group picture which was scheduled at 7 pm in the Grand Atrium. We had hoped to dine at La Trattoria that evening, but were unable to garner a convenient reservation time. The only other alternative restaurant we had not sampled was Endless Summer, but as none of us were in the mood for Tex-Mex, we made reservations for dinner at the SoHo Room again. This evening I sampled the veal chop. Although it was not as tasty as my prawns on the previous visit, it was a satisfying meal. From there we caught the end of the passenger talent show. One of the members of our group was singing and we were hoping to make it there in time to support him. Unfortunately, we were moments too late. After the talent show, a group of us attended Cirque Asia. This excellent Jean Ann Ryan Production show was fashioned after the Cirque de Soleil performances and was a bit of a diversion from the standard cruise production fare. Following the show, I called it a night; but Pat decided to enjoy the jazz that was being performed in the Red Lion Pub that evening. Day 7: (Victoria, B.C.) I enjoyed the morning seminar in the Aqua Restaurant, scheduled from 9 AM until noon. After the seminar, a number of us chose to continue our “shop talk” over lunch at the Versailles. It was quite a lively discussion and we all lingered over an extra cup of coffee before going our separate ways. We were not scheduled to arrive in Vancouver until 6:00 PM, so I spent the afternoon taking a final tour of the ship gathering pictures for this review. Along the Way to Victoria in Victoria Park Our seminar leader assured a group of us that it was a very short walk from the port into Victoria proper, and foolishly we believed him. So, off the group of us went, with our seminar leader in control. Well, granted the walk was quite beautiful and the scenery lovely, but SHORT it was not. Victoria Park Pond Usually this would not be an issue for me, but based on his assurance I had chosen to wear style shoes, not smile shoes. As I grumbled my way through the park, up hills and over rocky terrain we finally arrived at our destination, the Empress Hotel. What a fabulous property. We found an ideal spot to share some wine and the picture perfect sunset on the patio of the Empress Hotel. As the sun set, the air took on a slight chill and the staff of the Empress provided blankets for our comfort while finishing our wine. What service! This was a great way to end my Alaska cruise. With my feet rested and ready to proceed we walked back to the ship, albeit via a less circuitous route. The Famous Empress Hotel, Victoria, Canada We had planned to dine in Vancouver, but found ourselves transfixed on the Empress patio and missed dinner. So, upon returning to the ship we dined casually on fish and chips in the Red Lion Pub. They were no longer serving in the Pub, but we were able to place a take-out order at the Blue Lagoon and they delivered it to our table in the Pub. This is a fine example of the many extra services the staff of the Star graciously and willingly performed. It seems to negate the fear that pre-paid gratuities automatically mean poor service. That was certainly not the case on the Star. Well, this was the last evening and now the dreaded task of packing could no longer be avoided. Pat and I made our way to our cabin to tackle our chore. Disembarkation: Well, hectic and stressful could probably best describe my morning. First, I had to rise early to claim all of my “illegal contraband”, then figure out how I was going to pack it last minute. Fortunately (and unfortunately as you will shortly discover), I had decided not to put out my luggage the night before, but was going to carry it all off myself. No problem! Well, I was in the process of gathering everything together to make the transition from cabin to dockside when I discovered a major problem. The luggage strap that links my pieces together was missing! Now what? There was no way that I could carry three large pieces of luggage from the ship by myself in one trip. I completely unpacked all of my suitcases in an attempt to find the missing strap. No luck! Getting off the ship was becoming as much of a hassle as it was getting on. As I sat on the floor assessing my options, fortunately a friend came to the rescue. I was planning to grab a taxi to the airport with another member of our group and they were able to assist me in getting my luggage off the ship. Friends certainly are a valued commodity. As for the disembarkation process itself, it was a smooth and efficient operation. I arrived at the Seattle airport before 10:00 AM. Overall Impression: The Star was certainly a huge improvement over the other NCL ships I had sailed. She is a beautiful vessel and has much to offer. In order to maximize your enjoyment of this cruise, I think it is imperative to spend the extra money to dine in the alternative restaurants (or at least be aware that your experience will not be as positive if you choose not to). Overall, I found the staff and service to be very good. There are a number of exceptional aspects of a Star cruise, but there are also some shortcomings. Would I sail her again? Definitely! After all, I still have a few restaurants to test and I would like to appreciate first-hand some of the outstanding shows that I missed.

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May 29, 2004

Alaska

This was our first cruise and we loved it. We chose this line because it had the longest time in port, due to the freestyle dining. We loved the concept of freestyle dining. You do not have to be back on the ship to eat, because all 10 restaurants are open to 10 p.m., and room service is 24/7. The food was fabulous. I had room service in am, but my husband ate a full breakfast everyday. We had lunches that would have cost $50.00 per meal

in Atlanta. I liked the fact they include $10.00/day for tips per person on your ship bill, but we tipped every meal, room service, excursions, etc. Many people did not and it was very rude. $10.day is not enough for the service you get. And of course shore excursions were not included in that, but people did not tip anyway. We went to glacier bay, Juneau, Skagway, Ketchican and Victora, BC. All were great. The best excursion was the float plane to Taku Lodge over glaciers, then they fed us a feast of salmon at ther lodge. My husband rock climbed and loved it. The White Pass railroad is a must. We booked evrything through the ship, and paid $99 pp for the White Pass, but some people went for $30.00 just through the train depot - same trip. The sport fishing in Ketchican was a bomb. 12 boats with 4 people each out fishing and no one caught a thing, because it was not fishing season. It cost $179.00 and was the nmost expensive nap I ever took. Do not go unless you talk to a local who is not selling the trip. You can easily go through a local fisherman and do not have to pay ship prices also. We took the Victoria Craighborn Castle and city excursion in a double decker bus and loved it. The most beautiful city have ever seen. AS FAR AS THE SHIP GOES, IT WAS GREAT. wE HAD A ROOM WITH A BALCONY AND THE BALCONY WAS WORTH THE EXTRA BUCKS. THE WEATHER WAS GORGEOUS, and sitting on the balcony was wonderful. My husband liked the running track on the top deck and I used the spa twice for massages and it was greta. We played lots of games and won great prizes; free drinks, bottle of champagne, a spa treatment, cups, cards, all kinds of stuff. One lady won a free cruise for 2 for up to 17 days in Bingo. Alot of people won cash prizes up to $1300. Ypu could dress up for special dinners with the captain, but we did not want to bother. The service was impeccable. The CABIN WAS ADEQUATE IN SPACE. I LIKED THE FACT THE TOILET WAS IN A SEPARATE ROOM, AND THE SHOWER HAD A HAND HELD SPRAYER AND was plenty big enough. We will choose NCL again because the freestyle dining gave you so much freedom and the service was great. The entertainment was all good too. The cruise director was everywhere, and he was funny and friendly.

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Dec 14, 2003

Hawaii

Relaxing and wonderful time. Very nice staff. In fact, even on disembarkment morning our breakfast room service came as ordered. Very nice cabin with roomy bathroom - immaculately kept. Very comfortable and cozy bed, chocolate on the turned down bed. Freestyle meals were very convenient and quite an array of dishes. Entertainment very enjoyable.

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Nov 9, 2003

Hawaii

The cruise was great, however, it was disappointing that there were no laundry facilities, irons, or ironing boards for the passengers. You better make sure you press your clothes well before you board otherwise you would have to pay for these services unlike Carnival. These services were very expensive and I thought it was a bit tacky for Norwegian to take advantage of the guests this way. It was very expensive to press your clothes or

have them laundered.

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Oct 4, 2003

Hawaii

This was our first cruise and we were highly impressed with Norwegian, specifically the Star. Check-in was a little tedious maybe, but everyone was very helpful and quick to point where we were to go for various things. Our room was always kept neat and clean, always turned down nicely in the evening while we were at dinner. And the laundry service was wonderful, after spilling barbeque sauce all over a sleeve of a sweater the first night!

They got the stain out! The meals were superb, and we couldn't imagine a cruise without freestyle dining. Only once did we have to sit at a table with other passengers, and that was on an excursion at Turtle Bay. Even the last morning at Versailles we only had to wait 10 minutes for a private table. The food selections were unbelievable, something for everyone. And I was pleased to see that those dressed inappropriately were turned away. We were fortunate to have Maria V. as one of our wait staff at least twice, she was a true pleasure. We really enjoyed the shows, from the Jean Ann Ryan Company to the individual entertainers. And even though the waitresses came around frequently asking if we wanted to purchase drinks, they didn't seem offended each time we said no thank you. There was never a shortage of wait staff if you wanted a drink anywhere on the ship. The walk to Napali Beach was a little far for the person I was traveling with, but a resident on the island provided her with a wheelchair so she could get to the beach. Except for one shore excursion in Honolulu (the driver Tony went way overboard on the history of the most trivial things and because of his lengthy lectures, we missed the Dole Plantation and Ward Center), we thoroughly enjoyed each excursion we chose. I would have to recommend this cruise to my friends. For our first cruise experience, we were delighted. Thank you!!

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Sep 20, 2003

Hawaii

Honestly, I was very concerned that doing a cruise to Hawaii would leave us with the feeling we missed almost everything...well, we were wrong! Of course, in 7 days one can hardly touch the vastness of Hawaii. All of the islands are so lovely and have such different features. But during our 7 days, we experienced a lovely ship of beautiful amenities...nice rooms (though I have seen bigger...they were very nice-balcony 10th deck); great

food (utilized the main dining room and two of the other dining options-great food), the service was excellent. Our room was well taken care of, the waiters and waitresses were always close at hand, and we had too much fun in the Bier Garten...with our favorite waitress, Brenda! Actually, if one tried to do ALL of Hawaii in 7 days...even if staying on land...it would be totally exhausting. This cruise gave a sweet taste of the pleasures available and provide an excellent way to know what areas to explore during a longer stay. The upcoming Hawaiian cruise itineraries that provide 2 nights at port will be awesome! To be able to wander the Hawaiian beaches and streets at night will be so awesome and still to be able to be on ship and look at at the island splendor at night. I have to admit....coming and going from the ports and looking upon all the beauty of the islands is very awesome...something one can not view if staying on the island for the entire stay. There are many awful reviews of this cruise...and well, I think they are just a bunch of "looking for the bad' kind of folks and need to relax and just smell the fresh air for a while and put away the notebook.

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Aug 2, 2003

Hawaii

I am so happy that I did not let the negative reviews of the Norwegian Star stop me from traveling on this cruise line. I was very close to canceling my trip because I did not want to have a terrible time with my two girls who are 20 and 14 years old. I had not been on a real vacation in about 4 years and I really wanted this one to be special. All I can say is that the ship is beautiful and so well tended to. It was absolutely spotless.

All of the crew were very polite and courteous. We did have a small problem in our cabin when the safe would not work, they had someone there to fix it two minutes after I called - now that is service!! The food was very good and all the restaurants we went to were nice. The shows were great also. We really liked the comedian!!! I only wished to have more time on the islands. It did seem a little rushed. To anyone reading these reviews - take them all for what they are - other peoples opinions. Go and you will have a great time, I am sure of it!!

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Jul 12, 2003

Hawaii

The Star is a beautiful ship. We felt the food in the main dining room was very good -- no need to pay extra for the other restaurants. The Versailles was elegant and the service great. We ate all our dinners there and had no wait probably because we ate about 6:30. One evening we enjoyed a late dinner after the show which was very romantic eating at that time. We were asked if we wished to share and most times we did and met some interesting

people. We enjoy doing this very much. This trip included Fanning Island which made us very happy because we enjoy "sea" days and an opportunity to see this island before it becomes "modern". Hawaiian islands were beautiful -- Waikiki Beach and surrounding area was so clean - no litter anywhere. A couple of comments -- we found the pool area and wait to get ice cream very crowded. Pool area is spoiled by the huge slides -- a pool view while sitting enjoying a drink was missed! Another thing which I just found out (we are getting ready to do the New England/Canada trip on the Dream) and accidentally found out that no-smoking rooms are available -- no one has ever told us about this and our balcony sitting was marred by cigar smoke coming up from below -- the corridor smelled strongly of smoke. Why is NCL not asking when you make a reservation if you want non-smoking???? Next time I will make sure I ask.

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Jul 5, 2003

Hawaii

Embarkation: This process went very smoothly. There is lots of security measures we went through, but we arrived at a slow time so everything was relatively quick. Once on board we were on our own to find or cabin. The other cruise ships we've been on always had someone there to meet you when you got off the elevator to assist you in finding your cabin. The We had an inside cabin, which compared to our other cruises, was very small.

Once we got over the close quarters we did find that the room had lots of amenities and many hidden places to stow things. There are hair dryers in all cabins, a nice size magnifying mirror, along with the regular mirror, in the bathroom. There is a shampoo and soap dispenser in the shower. The room steward always kept the ice bucket full. This ship was the largest we've been on, and it took a few to discover all of it's features. The store and the show theater were the largest we've seen on a ship. The ship was very clean a real delight to anyone's eyes. There are 3 pools that we saw. One was exclusively for kids, the main pool, and a heated pool in the spa. There were several hot tubs located throughout the ship. Food: There are two main dining rooms and about five specialty restaurants. The specialty restaurants all have a cover charge anywhere from $10 to $12.50 per person, except the Trottoria which is free. All must have reservations. Every time we tried to make a reservation they were booked up. Go early to reserve. We were successful in landing one night at the Le Bistro. The food in the specialty restaurants is excellent. The food in the main dining rooms was good, but not up to the quality one expects from a cruise ship. We ate most of or breakfasts in the Market Cafe. They have a nice variety. We ate one dinner there, the night of the seafood buffet. Very disappointing! Don't bother. They didn't even have shrimp. What's up with that? Staff: The staff gets an A+. They are extremely hard working and very friendly. They were also so neatly dressed and had a polished appearance. We discovered that the wait staff works 12 hours a day 7 days a week, 10 months a year. Imagine what you would look like if you worked those hours. Ports: Fanning Island was a great experience. The people there are friendly and have a nice welcoming for you. We suspect that the day the ship comes in is always an island holiday. The cruise line puts on a real nice picnic and the staff works hard to keep the area clean. Maui was very dry. The hills were brown instead green like we expected. The cruise line touts the town of Lahaina as a must see. It was nothing but a tourist trap with tons of shops, very disappointing. Maybe we should have gone east off the ship instead of west. The Maui that everyone talks about might have been that way, it certainly wasn't west. Hawaii's main claim to fame is it's volcanoes. The day we arrived it was raining and the volcanoes were socked in by clouds. We did see the lava fields which were vast and covered many miles. There is not enough time allotted to see much of this island. Kauai. Ah yes at last Hawaii as you always dreamed it would be. If we ever go back this is the island where we would stay. This island is clean, plush, beautiful beaches, lots of flowers. Waimea Canyon is awesome. Even from the first lookout point the view is breathtaking. You are even above the helicopters. Visit the fern grotto. It was here where they filmed much of Blue Hawaii and Raiders of the Lost Arc. This was not crowded at all and the boat ride was very enjoyable. A must see. Oahu. Here we visited Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, The Dole Plantation, and the Polynesian Cultural Center. Get to Pearl Harbor early. as the wait can be quite lengthy as the day goes on. The shop at the Dole Plantation is nice. Try the pineapple whip a specialty. If you have time you might like to try your hand at the Pineapple maze. Don't take the train through the pineapple fields. Not worth the $7.50. You see the same stuff driving down the road. At the Polynesian Cultural Center make sure you catch the Samoa show the best in the place. We bought our tickets off the internet for a substantial savings. The lulu is not like the lulu one imagines. It is just a big buffet. The evening closing show is nice. Honolulu is way to hectic and crowed for our taste. Too many people, hotels and cars. Stay outside the city if possible. Summary: We would probably sail with NCL again. The ship and crew were very nice. However, we weren't too fond of the freestyle dining with the additional charge for the specialty restaurants. There was just not enough time to explore the islands. We were told that next year Fanning Island will not be on the docket for the 7 day cruise. That should give people a lot more time to explore the other islands. Would we ever go back to Hawaii? Only if we win a trip, and we would push to stay in Kauai.

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Jun 21, 2003

Oahu, Hawaii, Fanning Island, Maui, Kauai

My wife and I have been on several cruises. We booked our cruise on the Norwegian Star because we wanted to do a cruise in Hawaii and we were intrigued about seeing Fanning Island. We are also Latitudes members, having sailed with Norwegian before. I had read many reviews and found that there were about as many different opinions about this ship as there were reviews. We did enjoy this cruise, but it is not one that we would do again.

Embarkation: Embarkation on the Star was a breeze, especially being Latitudes members. We arrived at the Aloha Tower at about 12:30 P.M.. There were porters waiting outside the terminal, ready to take our checked luggage onboard. Make sure you have your NCL tags attached to your luggage. There was a short line when we got inside the terminal, but we went straight to an NCL representative at the Latitudes counter. At check-in, they look at your documents, take a digital photograph of you, and take your credit card information for your onboard account. You are issued an ID card that looks like a credit card. It has your name, ship name, and the date you will be disembarking. Along with your photo ID, you use this ID card to leave the ship and re board again. Each time you go on or off the ship, a crew member swipes your ID card on a laptop computer terminal. It shows the crew member your picture and logs you in or out. A very efficient way to keep track of the passengers. One thing we noted when we entered the terminal was the presence of a sign stating that you are not allowed to bring your own alcohol onboard. Any unopened alcohol purchased on the ship, or alcohol purchased on shore, is held for you and returned to you when you disembark at the end of the cruise. This rule, however, did not keep us from bringing our own liquor with us. We had a bottle of champagne we wanted to drink as we sailed. We also prefer to mix one cocktail a night in our stateroom. I had some liquor I packaged in small club soda bottles and the bottle of champagne packed in my locked, checked suitcase. The suitcase was delivered to our stateroom, still locked and still containing our alcohol. NCL apparently doesn't worry too much about alcohol that is "smuggled" onboard. We placed the champagne in the refrigerator in our stateroom and ended up drinking it the night we sailed for Fanning Island. Our cabin steward didn't seem to mind that it was there. Since the ship doesn't sail from Honolulu until 8:00 P.M., we had plenty of time to shop at the shopping center next to the cruise ship terminal. Be aware that, even though it is easy to get off the ship after checking in, it is not so easy to get back onboard if you choose a time when a lot of other passengers are just checking in. We decided to get back onboard at about 3:30 P.M.. There was a long line outside the terminal. We had to stand in line with all the other passengers because there is only the one line into the terminal. Once we got inside the terminal, we bypassed check-in and went back onboard. Onboard prior to sailing: NCL tells you that you must be onboard before 7:30 P.M. for the 8:00 P.M. sailing. There is a mandatory life boat drill held on board at 5:00 P.M.. I read another review that suggested not being on board at 5:00 P.M., so as to avoid the drill. We noted that several passengers were being paged while we were at sea the following day for the make-up life boat drill. The life boat drill was not that bad, and would be helpful in case there was a real emergency. At about 4:45 P.M., my wife and I carried our life vests to our designated life boat station. Once there, we put on the life vests. You stand there for about a half hour and then you're done. Ports of call and excursions: Our cruise was right on schedule, except for our arrival at the port on Maui. We were about an hour late docking, but we left on time. This resulted in one hour less to explore Maui. The itinerary for this cruise was very nice. We enjoyed each port of call. We saw a lot of beautiful scenery and learned a lot from the tour guides. I would especially like to go back and spend more time exploring Kauai. The major disadvantage of the ship's itinerary is the short amount of available time. What should probably be a 10-day cruise is being squeezed into seven days. There simply isn't enough time to explore each island in the six to eight hours that you are there. Fanning Island was the only port where the amount of time spent there was just right. We spent three hours ashore, which allowed us to see what we wanted to see. If you stay on the ship and don't take any excursions, you'd probably find that seven days is about right. We had excursions booked at each of the ports, except Fanning Island. We felt rushed on each of these excursions, because the tour guides were always talking about needing to get back to the ship at a certain time. This was especially frustrating when we took the tour that drove around the northwest coast of Maui. The Maui tour started in Kahalui, where the ship was docked. We drove around the northwest side to Lahaina, arriving at about 7:00 P.M.. The last shuttle back to the ship was scheduled to depart Lahaina at 8:00 P.M.. We ran through shops for about 25 minutes and caught the 7:30 P.M. shuttle. We had hoped to eat dinner in Lahaina, but this was not possible because the ship was one hour late arriving at Maui. Freestyle cruising: This was our first cruise experience with Freestyle cruising. Both my wife and I decided we would prefer something other than Freestyle on the next cruise. On the Norwegian Star, your tips are automatic. On your shipboard account, you are charged $10 per day per person. All bar bills include a 15% gratuity. NCL describes this format as much easier on passengers, as you don't have to scramble for cash for tips at the end of the cruise. I think there are other, easier ways to give tips. Royal Caribbean lets you give vouchers to the people you want to tip, which are charged to your shipboard account. I don't like being forced to tip. We had one waiter on two of the nights and he was the only restaurant worker that I believed was deserving of a tip. In fact, you are offered the chance to tip more on several occasions. This waiter was the only person we tipped, in addition to the automatic amounts. Service at other times was good, but not excellent. One aspect of Freestyle cruising that made us feel rushed was determining where to eat each night. There are no set seating times. Some of the restaurants require reservations, and some have cover charges. We found the food was good at Versailles and Aqua, which didn't require reservations. These two restaurants usually opened for dinner at 5:30 or 6:00 P.M.. We got there early and did not have to wait long for a table. Making reservations proved to be an interesting experience. You can only make reservations on the day or the day before you want to eat. We got reservations for Le Bistro one night. Very good food, but I'm not sure the $12.50 per person cover charge was worth it. We wanted to try Endless Summer, but found that it was booked each day we tried to make reservations. When you're on a cruise, you should not have to be concerned with running down to the Grand Atrium first thing in the morning to make reservations for the next day's dinner, before packing up and heading out for an excursion that leaves at about the same time. We found ourselves laughing because, even though we could not get reservations at Endless Summer, we almost always saw empty tables when we walked by at dinner time. We did not try to get in without a reservation, but talked to other passengers who tried without a reservation and were refused. The night we got back from Maui at about 8:45 P.M., we did not have time to eat in Lahaina and did not have a reservation onboard. We tried to get some fish & chips at the Red Lion Pub, but they only serve fish & chips for two hours, from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M.. We checked out the Blue Lagoon Cafe and found two seats at one table. However, as we were preparing to sit, another passenger stopped us and said that she was saving the seats for someone in her family. We noticed there was a lot of that "saving" going on. Probably because there really isn't enough space to provide service in all restaurants to the 2,480 passengers we had on our sailing. We missed dining with other couples on board, as is usually the case on a cruise. Since there is no assigned seating with Freestyle cruising, you walk to the host or hostess, tell them how many in your party and they take you to a table. More than once we asked to be seated with at least one other couple. We got several funny looks from the hosts/hostesses. We were asked on two occasions if we would care to sit with another couple. Only once did we actually get to sit with others. We also did not get to know the restaurant staff as you would with assigned seating. We had the same waiter only twice during the cruise. He did an excellent job, which is probably why we remember him so well. I really missed being greeted by a waiter or waitress who knew our names, got to know our likes and dislikes, and a wine steward who knew what kind of wine we like. It felt like we were just going to a restaurant each night. I think you get the point. We didn't like Freestyle cruising. The ship: The Norwegian Star is a beautiful ship. It is also a huge ship. After being on it for a week, I was still taking wrong turns to find things I'd seen before. The three banks of elevators were slow to respond and usually busy. We got a lot of exercise climbing stairs. Except for the Polynesian decorations in the stairwells, and the few Polynesian shows, the ship lacks the feeling of being in Hawaii and Polynesia. I've noted that other reviews described the accommodations as small. I would tend to agree. We had a mini suite on Deck 11, which had its own balcony. The balcony was small, with partitions separating your balcony from your neighbor's balcony. The partition on one side of our balcony kept swinging open. I had to prop a chair against it to keep it closed. The small size of the balcony gave the feeling of limited privacy. The stateroom was nicely decorated with lots of wood. The bathroom has a combination tub and shower. We had asked for one bed and got two twin beds made up separately and then pushed together. We've been on other ships that made the two beds into one, which I would have preferred. I liked the information wheel outside the cabin door. It has the choice of "Welcome,” "Make up cabin,” "Turn down cabin,” and "Do not disturb.” You simply set it to what is appropriate. This was much better than something hanging on the door handle. For the most part, our cabin stewards did very well. We could never really tell who was our cabin steward because there are so many of them working in the same area. I like to use ice during the day. There was always a bucket of ice in the refrigerator after the cabin was made up in the morning. Apparently that ice was meant to last all day because we never got any more than the one bucket a day. I really noticed this on the days sailing to and from Fanning Island, when I didn’t feel like trying to find someone to get more. We had seas that were calm to 5 feet during the trip to and from Fanning Island. The ship must travel at a fast pace in order to make the trip in the available time. This results in some additional motion felt by the passengers. I would imagine that the motion is even greater when the seas are more unsettled. I read one review about the Star that stated the ship doesn't have stabilizers. The ship does indeed have stabilizers. However, when the sea gets rough, any ship will move around, especially when it is the size of the Norwegian Star and is traveling at 24 knots. The 1,000+ crew members meant that you were more likely to get service if you wanted it. Rarely did I see tables in the Market Cafe with dirty dishes on them for long. The negative side of this many crew members is that it was not often that we saw the same person twice. Entertainment: As cruise ship entertainment goes, I considered the entertainment on the Norwegian Star to be average. We enjoyed the gentleman who sang in the Spinnaker Lounge before the Polynesian shows we saw. The Polynesian shows featured a troupe of entertainers who did dances from different parts of Polynesia. Their shows were good, but I have seen better shows in Hawaii and Tahiti. We watched one show in the Stardust Theater, which was a Las Vegas-style song and dance show. It was not quite up to par with what you would see in Las Vegas. I had hoped to see the Chinese acrobats, but we missed them because they performed on the night we were at Maui. This was very poor scheduling on NCL's part. Why scheduled a show that is unique to the ship at a time when many of the passengers are returning from shore? Disembarking: This is where NCL gets a gold star from me. We received our colored luggage tags the night before disembarking, as with any other cruise line. However, NCL allows you to wait in your stateroom until your color is called. They also do not call a lot of colors all at once. Our color was called at 8:45 A.M. and we were off the ship in 15 minutes. I've been on other cruise ships that tell all the passengers to vacate their staterooms by 8:00 A.M., requiring everyone to wait in a public area of the ship. Then you must stand in long lines to get off the ship because several luggage tag colors were called at the same time. Not so with NCL. NCL offers a service to store your luggage at the terminal if you want to spend some extra time there, before going to your next destination. If you have a late flight going home on the day you disembark, there are excursions available on Oahu that you can schedule. We were scheduled to stay overnight in Honolulu after we disembarked. Our flight the following day was a late one. I hadn't considered that you can reserve a day room at many hotels. In retrospect, I would probably have reserved a day room on the day we disembarked and then caught the late flight that evening. Summary: My wife and I are glad we took this cruise. Being able to visit Fanning Island was worth the whole trip. However, we would probably not book again with NCL if they only offer Freestyle cruising. We would also be more careful considering things like the length of time for the itinerary and the total number of passengers on the ship. A more leisurely cruise makes you feel refreshed at the end. Unfortunately, we felt more tired at the end of this cruise than we did at the beginning.

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May 24, 2003

Hawaii

Overview: People have opined herein that there is no way to have a good time on this boat. I read that criticism with a grain of salt. Your expectations of what kind of cruise you will have will determine what kind of cruise you will have. We had a marvelous time on this boat. We enjoyed ourselves. Although there were glitches and problems, we would recommend this boat, and we believe you will have an excellent time if you remember that

“the last of a person’s freedoms is their ability to choose their reaction to a given set of circumstances.” If you choose to kick back, relax, and enjoy yourself, you will enjoy the Norwegian Star. If “Freestyle Cruising” is for you, then you will enjoy your time on the Norwegian Star and you will want to go with this ship when it moves up to Alaska next year. Even if you aren’t much in favor of freestyle, as we weren’t, you’ll still find plenty to do on this beautiful boat. The staff is by and large attentive and professional. The cruise director and her entertainment minions are professional and entertaining – we did not have a single bad show. The ports come quickly and do not seem to last long enough, but time in Paradise is never long enough. All in all, the Star rates a solid B+, with certain standouts as mentioned below. Pre-Cruise NCL allows you to register on line. I booked through a travel agency and then filled out my online registration. When I called NCL to verify that my online registration was complete and received, I was met with “you’ll have to go through your travel agent sir.” When I explained I didn’t actually require any real customer service, but only wanted to verify that they had my information, the NCL customer service rep grudgingly admitted they did. NCL needs to get a clue about telephone courtesy and customer service. NCL should not refuse to provide information to people who booked through agencies. Its rude and unprofessional. We traveled to Hawaii on frequent flyer airline miles and avoided the entire airline debacle. We arrived on Saturday before the Sunday departure and stayed at the Alana Doubletree Waikiki. This hotel, a block away from the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel has access to all the Hawaiian Village amenities and costs about one third as much. Booking on the internet we paid $116 per night. On Sunday we caught a cab to the dock to check in. Check In Okay, the last time I stood in lines this long and this slow moving, I was in a military uniform. Supposedly Latitudes members and suite customers get preferential treatment, but there are only three agents to take their number, and there were lots of them. There were some Latitudes members who arrived before us who checked into the ship after us. Worse, there was no air conditioning in the terminal, and a 45 minute wait in sweltering heat nearly caused my wife to pass out. This was an inauspicious start, and was about to get worse. After waiting so long, the clerk was warm and friendly, processed us quickly, and we had our cards and were on our way to the ship five minutes after reaching the desk. Boarding We boarded the Star, took the elevator to the 11th Floor, and out porter escorted us to our room and opened the door. Immediately the lights on the entire ship went out completely. This made the cabin seem exactly like the terminal building: hot, stuffy, and now completely dark (inside cabin). So we left our room and wandered down to the atrium to wait. Within minutes a disembodied voice announced that this was an “annual test” that occurred once a year (imagine that – an annual test occurring once a year) and now that the test was over they would have the electricity back on and the air conditioners back running rather quickly. This seemed rather comical given the fact that the power went off with people in the elevators and without any warning whatsoever, and stayed off for five minutes. It would seem that a test would be announced to minimize inconvenience and prevent panic. Thus no one believed this cover story, least of all any of us who had any experience in public relations. But we had a good laugh at their expense, and chalked it up to someone’s attempt to prevent a panic by admitting that someone had kicked off a circuit breaker or something. We went to the room, picked up our life jackets, and went topside for the fire drill. Upon completion we went to the cabin to shower. The only problem was, there was nothing but hot water. In other words, no cold water. You could have steamed a lobster in our shower. Thank God we had no children with us who would have climbed in and turned on the shower. We called the cabin steward who assured us this was a minor problem on this floor only and that it would be fixed in fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes later I went to the front desk and complained, and they called the plumber. By 7:30 p.m. the problem was finally fixed (after multiple trips up by the plumber) and we showered and went to dinner in Versailles. Okay, we were a little ticked off, but we were on vacation, so we decided that if that was the worst they could throw at us, we were in good shape. It turned out to be the worst we’d have to deal with. Versailles Dining Room In Versailles you have the option of sitting by yourself as a couple, or with others. The first night we chose to sit by ourselves, and we had a good meal and went to bed. We ate in the Versailles Dining Room for lunch three times, but on no other dinner occasions. We found the food to be of fair quality and reasonably portioned. The desserts were good. The wait staff was generally good, although we did have one waiter (Paul) who was surly and intemperate at lunch. Aqua Dining Room Aqua is closed for lunch and breakfast. We ate two dinner meals there. Both meals were of good quality, with fair portions. The food was almost as good as Princess Cruise Lines, and generally on par with Carnival in terms of quality. However, Carnival and Princess both have better selection and more options for dessert. Market Café (Breakfast) We ate breakfast most every day in the Market Café. We had omelets made to order and they were wonderful. The pancakes could have been used for Frisbees ® but other than that, the food was quite good for buffet type food. Freestyle Dining Rooms On the Star you have the option of the two main dining rooms (Versailles and Aqua) and two restaurants that are no cover charge (Endless Summer and La Tratoria). The Market Café, Blue Lagoon, and the Grill on Deck 12 are also open at meal times and serve fast food as does the Red Lion Pub. In addition, there are several other restaurants that serve excellent food with a small cover charge. We enjoyed meals in three of the specialty restaurants: two with a cover charge, one without. Ginza: There is a cover charge for this restaurant that serves Japanese food. It is wonderful food. We had Sukiyaki, Dim Sum, and Seared Ahi Tuna as well as Sushi. The Dim Sum was wonderful, and the sushi was to die for. The sukiyaki was the best I have ever eaten. I would recommend this place to anyone. It was well worth the cover charge. But, be forewarned. The Seared Ahi Tuna is served with a wasabi paste that is made with mango. I did not know this. I am allergic to Mango and spent the next two days itching like a mad man. I would suggest they disclose this on the menu. Teppanyaki: This is Japanese food cooked to order Benihana of Tokyo style. It too is wonderful, but the room is small, seats but a few, and requires you to make reservations early and long in advance. We got a 9:00 seating, and it was a very late meal. Worse, by then, the room had been occupied and the grill on for several hours. It was like eating in a blast furnace without ventilation. We were too hot to eat and while the food was great, I would recommend being the first on the list and not the last. Endless Summer: Best place on the boat. No question. Have the beef ribs Hawaiian style. I had the Mahi Mahi and it was wonderful. The ribs are what my wife had and I was jealous for the next week. The food here is terrific. The stained glass ceiling of Endless Summer Entertainment: Music of the Night: This is a medley of all of Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber’s music and it features Phantom, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and some of his other works. It was wonderful. The Jean Ann Ryan company performs and you will enjoy this presentation. Comedian: David Naster. I don’t know if he will be on the boat when you are, but he was a terrific comic who made me laugh with clean jokes. Acrobats: The Chinese Acrobats performed and threw up big ceramic pots that they caught on their heads. How they avoided killing themselves from the concussion is beyond me. They had a girl who put her butt on her head and her feet on the floor in front of her head. Awesome! Activities: We did not play Bingo, but they gave away serious money ($7,000) and they sold lots of their scratchers tickets. We avoided these. We played Trivia and won twice. You can’t win as much, but you don’t have to buy anything to play either! There is a Karaoke bar with private rooms where you can do your own private show. That is kind of nice for shy people. They originally thought they had the Norwalk virus on my cruise until they realized that I had performed at Karaoke, and we reached an accord whereby I agreed not to do that again if they agreed not to bill me for all the Compazine they had to dispense. Note to Garth Brooks: it wasn’t my fault… no one would sing along. Ports: Hilo: We did the Vocanoes National Park Odyssey. It was a good tour that took us to a number of good places, including a bonus stop at Rainbow Falls in Hilo. It was a good tour and we enjoyed it. We have lots of pictures of the Thurston Lava Tube and the Hanamaumau Fire Pit. Hula dancers greet the boat in Hilo Hanamaumau Fire Pit in Volcanoes National Park Rainbow Falls, Hilo, Hawaii Fanning Island (Republic of Kiribati). The Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Keer uh bas) is part of the Gilbert Islands and is across the date line. You actually sail across the date line and get an 8 day cruise if you want to think about it that way. It takes a solid day to get there and get back, and both going and coming it rained all day. But it was nice the day we were on the island. Fanning Island Photo Safari: I took the Photo Safari with the ship’s photographer (Marcell Puzsar). It cost $50 and was well worth it. You got a free 36 exposure roll of film, free processing, and a free 8 x 10, which more that made up the cost of the outing. If you were using digital media, you got free printing and a free enlargement. The photographers took you to places others did not see, to shoot things others did not see. I got some pictures of the boat and other things that I know others did not get. This was the single most important part of the cruise for me. It was the single best thing I did for me. I learned some interesting and important tips from the professionals (and I am an experienced amateur who reads the popular photography magazines cover to cover every month). There were some rank amateurs who got even more out of the experience. If you take a camera on this cruise, you owe it to yourself to look up Marcell in the photo lab and set yourself up for this experience because you will not be disappointed. You get a 1 hour lecture (or longer if need be) before you get to the Island, up to 2 hours shooting with the pros on the island, and a critique after the photos are back that lasts another 2 hours or more. For me, this was the most valuable, because there were some other very good amateurs in the bunch who went, and seeing things through their eyes really helped me. This WWII wreck was something the photographers took us to photograph We were able to get up close and personal with the flowers on Fanning because of the Photographer’s knowledge of the area. Maui: We did the Catamaran Sunset Sail through the Pacific Whale Foundation. It was a wonderful trip that featured dinner on the catamaran and a chance to see a Maui sunset without impediment from the land. It was wonderful. We shot some wonderful sunset photos with our digital camera. I would recommend this tour to anyone. My wife, Ginger, lays out in the trampoline aboard the Catamaran I doubt you will ever see a prettier sunset than on Maui Kauai: We did the Mountain Safari Adventure. We had a great guide, and did a terrific tour to Waimea Canyon and on land that few people get to see. It was terrific, but it was too long. Worse, it was seven hours in a 4 x 4 van over roads just barely passable. Imagine being tied up and put in a duffel bag and beaten with a ball bat. That’s how we felt after the tour! But I would not have passed it up for anything. We saw so much, and learned a great deal about the island. Our guide was wonderful, and I recommend this tour for the young and those without back problems. For anyone over 40, be careful. Waimea Canyon is wonderful Honolulu: We did the Grand Circle Island Tour, which is what NCL arranges if you have a flight after 7. We were not leaving that day, so we took the tour and then got our bus to take us to the rental counter at the airport when it dropped off all the other passengers for their planes. We saw the famous “blow hole” and ate lunch at Turtle Bay on the North Shore. We saw Pipeline, Sunset Beach, Sandy Beach, Chinaman’s Hat, and the Dole Pineapple Plantation. It was a good tour and we enjoyed our trip a great deal. Just one of many vistas seen on the Grand Circle Island Tour Cabin Steward: Hapless. This guy couldn’t clean up a water spot. I wound up scrubbing my own toilet one day because this guy just couldn’t get it done. If you leave your room signal on “do not disturb” even if he sees you leave the room he won’t clean it. We were a bit disappointed in the guy, but we figure he might have been new. Front Desk Staff: A good group of people. Whenever I had a problem, they were able to help me out. They were very capable, and very friendly. Tips: Buy a soda card. When you get to Fanning Island, your sodas cost $5.95. If you buy a soda card for $25 each to begin the trip, you will pay for your soda card with one day on Fanning Island. You can get them at any bar, and you get unlimited sodas plus a nice insulated drink container to drink them out of. They put a sticker on your room key and you can show that if you don’t have your insulated mug. It’s a good deal. Disembarkation: A piece of cake due to the fact that we had the tour. No hitches at all. Freestyle Cruising: My wife and I have concluded that we do not like freestyle. We like the assigned seating and assigned dinner time, and the camaraderie that comes with having table mates that you get to know and like. We like having waiters and dining room staff that get to know you and what you want and what you like. We think that Carnival’s waiters put more effort into making you happy than NCL’s do, principally because Carnival’s waiters know their gratuity is riding on your happiness. The same can be said for Princess. We do not like NCL’s freestyle, while we do like a choice of restaurants, the trade off is not an even one, and we would prefer to cruise on a line that had assigned seating. For future cruises, if we have a choice, it will be with a non-freestyle line.

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May 17, 2003

Hawaii

After sailing on the Norwegian Star May 18-25 2003, I have discovered that I will neither sail on nor refer this cruise line again. After sailing with Orient Lines and having a wonderful time, I am in disbelief that Norwegian is affiliated with them in any way. We chose Norwegian based on our past experiences with Orient. What an expensive mistake we’d made. -Our first day on board, we were told we could board at noon and were in our

rooms by 12:15 which went very smoothly. We were reassured that our luggage would be at our room by 1:00. However our luggage did not arrive until 5:00 and we were forced to wander around with no clothes to workout or suits to utilize the pool/jacuzzi. -We were scheduled to arrive in Hilo at 6 a.m. but were not hoarded off the ship until 9:00. We were then rushed through our excursion, which really should have been scheduled earlier. -Our days at sea were very long and mind-numbing. There was not much to do for a thirty something crowd to do, and I hate to break it you but we’ve got much more traveling to do and should be a target population as far as marketing. Bingo, art auctions, napkin folding and learning how to book a future cruise aren’t our idea of entertainment. Entertainment at the pool barely existed. Watching a bunch of hairy old guys in the game show, “Who’s got the hairiest back?” got old real quick. Not to mention trying to get service anywhere other than a few feet from the bar was also frustrating. When the wait staff did show up they were like telemarketers trying to get me to buy souvenir glasses or T-shirts. This closely resembled the nightlife on the ship, monotonous and harassing. -Fanning Island, which was my most anticipated destination, was almost non-existent. Though we should have been there by 9 a.m. we arrived at 12:15 off the tender and were hustled off the beach at 2:00 for a 2:15 tender. Though I understand there was an emergency at sea, spending less than half of our scheduled time in a port should have been reflected on our room charge. Our charge for the beach was cut in half ($10) but should have been non-existent considering the circumstances. We were encouraged to purchase $3.00 bottles of water before dis-embarking as there was no clean water on land. However, it was just another marketing ploy, water was provided on land free of charge, for those who booked an excursion. -For some reason we were also late in Maui and after calling the reception I was told that this also reflected the medical emergency. The Fanning port I can understand, but not when I was rushed off the beach on time should we have been late in Maui. Instead of 1:00, we were herded off at 3:30 for a 5-½ hour snorkeling excursion, which brought us back to the boat at 8:00, and again we were rushed back. We missed 1 1/2 hours on our excursion along with an additional hour to do any other sightseeing on Maui. -After all of this aggravation, one would think that the reception and staff would be going out of their way as often is done in the service industry. The wait staff at the buffet was never smiling let alone making small talk. They moved in slow motion and moped around. After the hassle of trying to get a reservation, I would have been better off getting an assigned mealtime. If you were not in line waiting first thing in the morning, you were stuck at Versailles or Aqua. Both were very good and we enjoyed two wonderful wait staff (Wondo and Julio). There were a few nights we didn’t care for what was on the menu and did not have a reservation so we were forced to eat at the buffet. For some reason we had been taken advantage of again and noticed both of these restaurants have the same menu! -Soon the best part of the cruise was approaching, check out. Due to seeing my cabin steward twice all week and finding our room less than expected, I cancelled all of the tips on my credit and gave him what I felt he deserved. The servers who I hunted down for a Coke, kept the auto gratuity. The above mentioned servers from Aqua who were the highlight of the trip were also taken care of. As we were waiting an hour and twenty minutes to pay our bill along with the rest of the angry mob, I noticed that the four useless young ladies behind the counter were very inexperienced with dealing with the public in any way. They often couldn’t give you a straight answer, but they were very good at group work such as talking amongst each other. One man was responsible for checking everyone out. So we spent our last night much like our first day, waiting around. -I approached the desk to ask where someone from management was and why no one returned my call after I had called twice during the week regarding different issues. There reply was nothing could be done by the ship and to write to their corporate address. Not one person on the ship could be reached for comment, which was like another slap in the face. However, we were able to meet many new friends all of which agreed their time spent on board was also very disappointing. The stories we heard make us wonder how they even stay afloat. Our taxi drivers and a few bartenders from the airport in Honolulu said they hear complaints on a weekly basis. I wish I spoke to them before I booked. One good thing did come out of this experience. I am now positively sure that I will never give Norwegian another sale. Vacations are too delicate to just throw away. I may never have the opportunity to visit Hawaii again but I will have the opportunity to discourage others from making the same expensive mistake I did. Christine and Jeff Jackson

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May 3, 2003

Hawaii

I can’t imagine anyone having anything good to say about this miserable cruise ship other than to justify the enormous amount of money they threw away on it! I have never spent this much money and been so disappointed with my purchase. I will never make the mistake of using Norwegian (NCL) again, and am writing this in hopes that others won’t make the same mistake. Everything about this ship is 2nd class. Dates: 5-4-2003 Thru 5-11-2003

Cabin 10661 Hawaiian Cruise. Forget about seeing Hawaii okay. 85% of what you’ll be seeing is the inside of this cruise ship. This is in order to accommodate the jam-packed itinerary Norwegian has designed to cram in a stop at Fanning Island. You’ll be rushed off the ship, through your excursion, and back onto the ship just in time to listen to the captain painfully blunder through the English dictionary as he attempts to explain travel plans. You’re guaranteed to be as confused as he is, but you’ll be especially annoyed at the cruise director’s horrible Phil Hartman impersonation, which he feels compelled to do every time he opens his mouth. The most popular pastime is Bingo and eating, so if you’re under 90, you’ll be spending a lot of time eating, which is a chore because the food is very bland. Hamburgers are cooked to the point that they’re folding up on the ends, and fly’s are apparently very clean here because the staff doesn’t mind them swarming all over the food. Different restaurants have identical menus, and you’ll be sending back a lot of dishes. If you like wine, it starts at $24 a bottle, not bad if you like Boones Farm or Mad Dog 20/20. If you buy 5 bottles during the trip you get the sixth free, but you’ll need to set aside about an hour and a half for the full audit they’ll be performing on your room account to make sure you’ve really bought 5 bottles. It took the waiter and 2 restaurant managers to get me my free bottle. You can buy buckets of beer too. 5 bottles domestic for $15.95 and you get the 6th bottle free. I wasn’t stupid enough to fall for this, so I can’t comment on the difficulty in obtaining that 6th bottle. The mixed drinks are awful. If you like water you’ll be paying $3.00 for a bottle of it. If you like soda, you’ll be paying $1.50 for a can of it. Norwegian automatically ads 15 percent gratuity to all drinks, on top of the $10 per day per person rule, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not the service was decent. Note: Norwegian ups the cost of a soda to $5.95 on Fanning Island. The onboard entertainment is sub-par. The lounge musicians are okay, but for the most part you’ve seen more talent at a Six Flags presentation. The crew speaks perfect English unless you’re having a problem. The room stewards are great. You’ll never come back to a dirty room even if you’re only gone 15 minutes. Don’t get sick! It will cost you $40.00 just to talk to a nurse during working hours, and $100.00 during non-working hours. Don’t get hurt either. No Surgeons or Doctors. The hot tubs are always Luke-warm, and the swimming pools are designed for children complete with huge water slides, which leave little or no room for real swimming. The Pacific is rough so bring your patches as this ship has no stabilizers and you can feel the motion constantly. Let me say that again. You will feel a good amount of motion on this ship 100% of the time regardless of weather conditions. In conclusion, if you are the type of person who expects premium prices to yield superior service than Norwegian is not for you. However, if you’re the type of person who thinks a quality nights rest can be had at a Motel 8, than you just might be the sucker Norwegian is looking for.

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Apr 26, 2003

Hawaii

This was our 4th cruise and our first time to Hawaii. We thought that by cruising to 4 of the islands we would get a real taste for our 51st state. Hawaii was as beautiful as we expected and one island was more beautiful than the next. We arrived on Fri. and stayed in Honolulu until Sun. when we boarded the Star. We found our room #9598 and were amazed at how big the bathroom was. We have never been on a ship with an actual shower stall

with a door instead of a curtain. The room was a nice size but creaked something terrible when we were at sea. It must be some kind of design flaw because everyone had the same complaint. The noise would actually wake you up when the sea was rough. The ship is huge and we had a great time exploring the many bars and restaurants. This was our first time on Norwegian Cruise lines and our first time with Free Style Cruising. It was nice being able to eat whenever you want but we missed the assigned seating and having the same waiter. The dinning experience is very important on a cruise and we enjoy getting to know the waiters and busboys. The extra attention you get makes the experience seem special. We also resented the fact that you had to pay for dinner in several restaurants on the ship. We just stayed in the Versailles restaurants without a charge and enjoyed sitting by the window overlooking the ocean. I don’t think that the food quality was up to Celebrity’s standards but it was good and the service was excellent. I don’t think we will be cruising with Free Style cruising again. There are so many bars on board that its tough making a decision as to which one to go to. We enjoyed dancing in Dazzles Lounge and listening to Karaoke. We also enjoyed having a drink before dinner in Gatsby’s lounge. We went up to the Star bar and listened to a piano player one night and had a great time. We went to the show 5 out of the six nights and the shows were excellent The best we have ever seen aboard ship. (there is no show the first night because everyone who just arrived has jet lag and go to bed early) . There are so many things to do that you need another 5 days to get it all in. The pool deck was fun with two slides and 4 hot tubs. The lunch buffet was great with a wide selection, from barbeque beef and chicken to an assortment of lunch regulars. You could eat indoors or out and the service was wonderful. The best kept secret on board was the spa at the rear of the ship. There is a lap pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, etc. and lounge chairs facing a glass wall looking out the back of the ship. The place is usually empty and we thought it was nicer than any spa we have ever seen on land. The fitness center was adequate but could have used a few more tread mills. It would have been nice to be able to look out over the ocean. The ports of call….Probably the main complaint from everyone is the trip to Fanning Island. For no other reason than it limits your time in Hilo and Maui. Its not Norwegian’s fault. Hawaii has this stupid law that you must visit a foreign port in order to cruise the other islands. It makes no sense and just cost them money but you have no choice. We actually didn’t mind, we both enjoy the time at sea without having to run out and do something. We could have used more time in port but we made the best of the little time we had. Overall we had a wonderful time. Aside from the freestyle dinning and the creaky room we had a fantastic vacation. The ship was beautiful and the service was excellent. Everyone was very friendly and always seemed happy to help in any way. The time in port is limited but it gives you enough time to get a feel for Hawaii.

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Mar 9, 2003

Hawaii

I write this in the hopes that you can share this information with co-workers, supervisors and the cruise line itself so that no one ever need experience the disaster that was our cruise again. We sailed on the Norwegian Star from Honolulu on Sunday March 9th. Our cruise began well, the ship was lovely, our room was large, and the staff was excellent. Personally I could have done without the cruise’s continuous persistence on spending

money such as offering Evian water at dinner at $3.00 a bottle, charging for soft drinks at the restaurant, cover charges at some of the restaurants and the constant urging to buy “Krak-It’s” during Bingo. There was also the constant reminder of art auctions going on aboard the ship, of specials on jewelry for sale, and the reminder notices to sign up early for the next cruise. The Freestyle Daily which would gave us our itinerary would average 6 to 8 pages in length, two of which were actual itinerary, the rest being advertisements. This of course pales in comparison to what I am going to now narrate, but I thought it best that we dispense with the minor inconveniences first. Our first 2 days on the cruise went as expected. We arrived at Hilo, took a nice excursion and spent the next day at sea. Our troubles began on Wednesday March 12th when we arrived to Fanning Island. My wife and I were one of the first aboard the tenders (i.e. motorized shuttles) going to shore. We were only preceded by some of the crew who were setting up for the island luau and a prearranged shore excursion. We stayed on the island for about 45 minutes and my wife wanted to leave after it began to rain. We then got in line at the dock to board one of the tenders. Two other tenders were waiting to unload incoming travelers. On the tender behind the craft we were boarding was a crewman who we would later come to know as Percival. He was standing, his back to us, on the outside of the railings. I did not see the first part of the accident but was alerted to the situation when I heard the sounds of screaming coming from the water. At the same time people were yelling: “cut the motor! Cut the motor!” The sounds of screaming women could not muffle Percival’s screams, which were inhuman. Apparently the vessel’s pilot had quickly gunned the motor to keep stable. This knocked Percival into the water and under the ship where the rotors shredded his legs. He popped back up out of the water because of his life jacket. I saw him bobbing in the water and soon he stopped moving. He had gone into shock. An islander swam to his aid, and later a passenger. He floated in the water for what seemed like 5 minutes before the first Norwegian crewman came to his aid. The crewman was on an inflatable launch and he tried to fish Percival out of the water with a hook the way one scoops leaves out of pool. We were then ushered into our tender and were whisked away, mercifully not having to see the condition of his lower body before he was pulled to safety. I should add that I am a vocational counselor. My job is to assist those that have been injured to seek employment within their capabilities. I therefore am well aware of the safety procedures of various businesses. I don’t know if Percival should have been standing outside the ship as he was at the time of injury, but if that was his post, I don’t understand why he was not tethered to the vessel. This would have prevented him from going overboard. Also, the water was fairly calm and his vessel could not go forward until ours had left, so I don’t know why the tender captain gunned his motor. Lastly, I could not believe that Percival was not attended to by a Norwegian crewman until a full 5 minutes after the accident. Clearly there were other crewman in each of the three tenders near the dock, and yet his rescuers were an island native and a passenger. Upon getting back to the ship, an announcement was made that we were leaving as soon as all the other vessels had returned. A few minutes after that, another announcement came requesting anyone with medical experience, specifically surgeons, to report to the medical bay; a few minutes after that, an announcement requesting blood donors with O negative blood. I do not know my blood type, but I offered to donate. Amazingly the ship does not have a way to test blood. They were asking for O negative because that is the universal donor type. The Norwegian Star was administering blood to a crewman on the faith that the donors were certain of their blood type and that the blood was not tainted. The ship took off so quickly, that it left a passenger behind on Fanning Island, necessitating the ship to stop and send a tender to pick up the stranded passenger. Also there was the rumor, which I cannot substantiate in person that a boy nearly drowned on the beach that same day, again only to be saved by the island natives. Once the ship was fully loaded, the Captain, Tommy Stensur announced that he would be going at top speed back toward the Hawaiian Islands. He estimated that in about 8 hours he would be close enough for a helicopter to pick up the wounded crewman and take him to safety. It was under this assumption that we went to sleep that night. The next morning, I awoke and went to breakfast. I met a passenger named Pam who said that the ship had turned around last night after 8 hours of travel and was heading back towards The Fanning Islands. She explained that a helicopter had reached The Norwegian Star, but that the waters were too choppy, and therefore a rescue too risky. The rescue was aborted and now the ship was headed to Christmas Island, which had a landing strip. A plane would be waiting on the island to fly Percival to a hospital. By this point, he had been under the ships medical care for 24 hours. I didn’t believe Pam at first, but sure enough, a full hour later, Captain Stensur confirmed everything Pam said; with the exception of one crucial detail: Pam explained that Christmas Island is 4 hours away from Fanning Island. I was flabbergasted. Why hadn’t Captain Stensur headed for Christmas Island in the first place? That decision could have cost Percival his life, and cost us ever seeing Kauai. What should have been a total of 2 days at sea turned out to be almost four. We were at sea on Tuesday, most of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Friday came the announcement that Percival had survived the ordeal and his legs did not need to be amputated. The ship’s Cruise Director proudly announced that the right thing had been done and had it been any of us, they would have done the same thing; that life is simply “just too precious.” How Norwegian has the audacity to make such sanctimonious self-congratulatory remark is beyond me. Percival is alive despite the numerous errors by the crew and its staff. It was the passengers that he owes his life to. I can’t fathom that a multi-million dollar vessel whose passengers average over the age of 50 do not have adequate medical provisions for blood donation, a large enough medical staff, safety procedures for their crew or adequate contingency plans for emergencies. To add insult to injury they offered to take off $200 from our ship’s tab for our “inconvenience.” This was not requested and quite frankly insulting. It’s now Saturday. We arrive at Maui a day late. Our excursion is moved from 2:15 pm to 3:15. Coincidentally, I ran into Pam again that morning and she tells me with no hesitation that the shore excursions will be canceled in Maui that afternoon. That there is no way the ship will dock on time. Stupidly, I don’t believe her. That afternoon we convene at the meeting area to go on our excursion. We are kept waiting for 45 minutes before the announcement comes, canceling all but 2 shore excursions. Pam had told me this a full 8 hours before it happened, and if she knew it, Norwegian knew it. They herded us like cattle with the false hope that we would have our excursion and then stole that away as well. In total we spent from around 4:30 pm to 8 pm on shore. Although the ship did not sail until midnight it was ludicrous to stay out any later. It got dark at six, shops were closing at eight, and the last shuttle from Lahaina to the boat left at nine. On the last day of our cruise arriving back at Oahu, we left for our second excursion. We were led to the buses and informed that our luggage would be placed in the bus and would accompany us on the tour until we got to the airport. Fortunately, we asked around first and were then informed that we had to get our own luggage, load it on the bus and then take the tour. Had we not asked, our luggage would still be in Hawaii. There’s not much more to tell, other than we spent a total of around 12 hours on land. Norwegian cost us ever seeing Kauai, prevented us from hardly spending any time in Maui, insulted us with a pathetic “reimbursement” for our inconvenience and then patted themselves on the back for a job well done. I strongly urge you in the future to advise your customers against ever setting sail with Norwegian. Speaking personally, this was the first vacation we had taken in nearly 8 years and I don’t know when we will have the opportunity to take another. I can regale you with the sad stories I heard from others who traveled 10, 15 hours or more, who saved for years for “the vacation of a lifetime,” but I think you get the picture. It’s certainly a vacation I won’t forget in my lifetime. Mario Mendez

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Jan 5, 2003

Hawaii

My partner and I took the 7-day cruise on Norwegian Caribbean Lines’ “Norwegian Star” in early January 2003. This was our first cruise on NCL. The Star is an attractive new ship; we had a great time, and are glad we went. However, we probably won’t be back on NCL anytime soon. Read on to see if this cruise is for you. We’re a gay couple from the West coast, both around 40 years old. We travel to relax first and to see new sights

second. We’ve cruised on Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and now Norwegian. We’re both very partial to Celebrity, and I’ll try to make comparisons when appropriate to help you understand where we’re coming from. As I said, we had a great time, and the things that we did not enjoy might not matter to you. Everyone has different tastes, which is why there are different cruise lines. I’ll try to break this review up by subject, rather than a day-by-day description. First, the itinerary. As you should already be aware if you’re considering this cruise, you shouldn’t expect to get a real sense of the Hawaiian islands from this cruise. The port stops are even shorter than usual for a cruise, due to the need to sail 1,200 miles south to the Fanning Islands and back in order to comply with US shipping law. I understand that NCL is trying to get an exception from this law, which would significantly change the experience of this cruise. My partner and I particularly enjoy days at sea, so we didn’t mind at all, but others complained about spending so much time in transit. Until the law changes, if you really want to see Hawaii, plan to spend some time in the islands before or after the cruise. Pre-cruise: We arrived a day in advance, as is recommended for any cruise. There’s a bus transfer from the airport to all Waikiki hotels for only $7 per person, which runs every half hour. A taxi to Waikiki would be about $35-40. Just walk across to the middle island from the baggage claim carousel, and ask one of the attendants. You can pay on the bus, and there’s a savings of a dollar or so if you pay for a roundtrip. We used it at the beginning and the end, it was on time, and the drivers were both very professional and efficient. Plus, you get a little tour of Waikiki as they drop off other guests. We stayed at the Marriott on Waikiki, which is almost at the far east end of the beach. We were there because my partner works for Marriott and could get a good deal, but it’s actually a nice hotel in a good location. Because it’s at the end of the “strip” the beach and the streets around it aren’t as crowded as they are further west. It’s only a block from a lovely park, which includes the Honolulu zoo, so it might be of special interest to families with children. There are several restaurants, including a roofdeck bar/restaurant overlooking the beach that had good live music. There are two pools and lots of sunning space. The hotel has two towers, and we were in the taller one set back behind the front one. It appears that the rear tower is actually newer and nicer and the upper level rooms all have balconies with views. We had a gorgeous view of Diamond Head from our room. We relaxed after our flight, walked along the beach as they lit the gas “tiki” torches, and had a cocktail while we watched the orange sunset. What a romantic welcome to Hawaii! The next morning, we were up early due to the time difference, breakfasted on our balcony, and went to workout. There’s a 24 Hour Fitness gym on the second story of a building overlooking the beach in the middle of the “strip”. It’s a great place to workout and watch the surf (and the passing crowds). I’m a member of the chain, but I think a day pass is $15, and less if your hotel has an arrangement with them. Boarding: We figure that the ship is the main destination on a cruise, so we try to board as early as possible in order to check it out, have lunch, and be the first ones at the pool or reading a book on the promenade deck. We took a taxi to the terminal ($25 – it’s not that close to Waikiki) and were at the terminal before noon. The baggage checkin was efficient, and the lines weren’t too bad. After verifying our information and getting our cruise cards, we were up the escalator, had our picture taken and were on the gangway within half an hour of arriving. Comparison: Both NCL and Celebrity have special lines during check-in for their return guests, “Latitude” for NCL and “Captain’s Club” for Celebrity. It makes a difference in speed and treatment on Celebrity. I couldn’t tell whether the Latitude guests were moving faster, as there were so few of us checking in at the time. Boarding the ship itself was our first introduction to NCL’s inefficient people-moving process. I’ve read similar comments on other reviews, and we experienced it occasionally during our cruise. It appeared that no one was in charge, and after our cards were “swiped” on the computer we were standing in the lobby area for about ten minutes with a growing crowd. We were told someone would be coming to escort us, but I finally asked if we could just go on, as I knew where our cabins were. Comparison: Celebrity has white-gloved staff lined up waiting to escort you to the cabin. They take you all the way to the cabin and make sure your card works in the door. Cabin: We had a handicapped balcony cabin on the 9th deck, port side, aft. Neither of us is handicapped, but we booked a balcony cabin only a few weeks before the cruise, and this is what we were assigned. When I realized what had happened, I talked to our travel agent because I didn’t want to prevent someone who really needed the cabin from being able to reserve it. He laughed and just told us to enjoy it. When we walked in we understood what he meant: in order to accommodate wheelchair users, the handicapped cabins are larger than normal. The bathrooms are also much larger, and have a large shower. We ended up with a cabin the size of a mini-suite for the price of a normal outside cabin. Like all the cabins on the Star, ours had nice, cherry-look paneling, matching furniture with metal legs which reminded me a lot of grade-school tables and chairs. Unlike most cruise ship cabins, the refrigerator and TV aren’t built in, but are just stacked in a corner. The refrigerator was empty – whatever happened to the idea of a mini-bar? I thought they could make money that way, and also make it more convenient for guests. The desk, closet and shelves are built in. The bathroom had a sink rather than a vanity, although I don’t know if that was only for our handicapped cabin. There were only a few narrow glass shelves. As a result, there weren’t enough flat surfaces to put our things on, and we don’t have THAT many toiletries! Also, a small point, but there were drinking glasses in the bathroom that don’t fit the holders, so I was always afraid they’d end up falling on the tile floor and shattering. The carpet and bedspread are very bright colors, but otherwise it’s a nicely decorated cabin. The balcony was wider than those of other cabins, to match the cabin, but no deeper. Still, it had two plastic chairs, one reclining, and a cocktail table. Comparison: Celebrity also uses a wood-look paneling in most of their cabins. The colors are generally more subtle, and there’s more of a sense of finish, with a small loveseat in all cabins, glass cocktail table, and the TV and refrigerator are all built-in. Also, Celebrity provides terry cloth robes in all cabins, which I have never seen on other cruiselines. We had a bowl of fresh fruit and a nice bottle of wine from our travel agent – thanks Stan! (aka “Stan the Cruise Man”) Décor: As I mentioned above, I think of the ship as the destination on a cruise, and the décor partly sets the tone for the week. Here, we found NCL Star was a little glitzier than our taste, but it was generally pretty well done. Probably the most garish area was the pool, with giant twin yellow plastic slides into the pool and towering green plastic palm trees that were lit from within at night. As I mentioned, the cabins have bright carpeting and bedspreads to offset wood paneling. The atrium lobby has a good deal of shiny brass and tracer lights, with marble floors and plants. Think of an upscale shopping mall. The theme restaurants are all decorated differently to correspond to their theme, and generally well done (more on the restaurants later). The stair wells had some interesting modern pieces in the landings and the use of wood paneling tied everything together pretty well. Probably the nicest space on the ship is the two-story Gatsby’s lounge outside the Bistro and Soho specialty restaurants and below the Ginza restaurant: It had an art-deco theme, with a set of bronze panels depicting modes of travel through the ages, and several oversized deco-style paintings of cosmopolitan partiers. We usually ended up there every night for a drink and to listen to the piano player. Restaurants: NCL has moved entirely to a dine-when-you-want-where you want policy they call “Freestyle Dining”. On the Star, they have 10 places to dine, and we tried all of the nicer ones through the course of the week. My partner is vegetarian, and we’re not burgers and fries-type people anyway, so we didn’t try the poolside grill, the 50’s diner style Blue Lagoon, or the Italian style La Trattoria, which is really a section of the buffet which is sectioned off at night and has red checkered tablecloths and candles. We also didn’t try Ginza, since Japanese food seldom has vegetarian options, although the space looked very elegant and they were busy most nights. In general, we found the food was average to good, but the service was mostly just average. Several points: there are no sommeliers, except in the Bistro French restaurant. The wait staff doesn’t appear to know wines at all, and we were reduced to giving the waiter the number off the wine list to get the wine we wanted. Also, the wait staff seemed to assume we were in a hurry, and kept our courses coming with no break. We figured this out after a couple of meals and learned to tell the waitperson as we were being seated that we prefer to linger and not to be rushed. We never had a problem getting a table for two in the non-reservation restaurants, even at peak times. The host would tell us there would be a 15 minute wait for two and would ask if we’d be willing to join others at a larger table. We’d decline and say we’d prefer to wait for a table for two, and we were then seated immediately. Now I’ll give my impressions of the various restaurants in which we dined. Market Café (Buffet) Deck 12 aft: We only ate in the buffet for lunch, so we can’t speak to either breakfast or dinner service there. The buffet is large and has good traffic flow, with entrances from both the rear and mid-ship elevators. There is plenty of seating and we never had trouble finding a table near the floor to ceiling windows. There is a good variety of food, including salads, hot and cold dishes including fish and other “healthy” choices, but the deserts were a little lacking (think Jello) Celebrity has a variety of fresh pastries, along with cakes and pies. We were impressed to see that NCL had an entire section of the buffet that is vegetarian, with pastas, Indian dishes, and different steamed or grilled vegetables. My partner is vegetarian and we are happy if there are one or two choices. Here, they had a whole section. We also learned that it was easier to find a seat near the vegetarian section as most guests were going for the normal food. Comparison: NCL puts out food in big colored plastic bowls that look like Tupperware ® which weren’t refilled right away. Celebrity uses polished stainless steel trays and bowls that are artfully garnished and are refreshed frequently. On NCL you picked up your own tray, cutlery, and a napkin; on Celebrity a waiter puts a linen cloth on a tray, with a roll of cutlery and a cloth napkin, and hands it to you. You get the idea. Versailles Main Restaurant - Deck 6 aft: We ate in the Versailles for dinner on the first night of our cruise, once for lunch and for breakfast on two mornings. NCL was going for a pseudo-French look that could more easily be called English Country House, with wood paneling and fabric on the walls and gilt on the railings and the high ceiling. There were lots of tables for two and four. There are large windows in the back and in a portion of the sides. There are also raised areas with tables that allow diners seated in the middle to enjoy the views even though they’re seated away from the windows. On the first night we asked to be seated in the back of the room right against the large windows overlooking the stern so we could see the sail-away. The rumble of the propellers and the movement as the ship pushes away is always a dramatic moment. Due to the waiter rushing dinner (see above) we were having desert and coffee before the ship had sailed, so we literally had to sip coffee for a half hour until we could watch Honolulu disappear in the distance. The wait was worth it for the view. The food was fine, well presented, but brought out too quickly by a waiter who was distracted. NCL always had one vegetarian option on all their restaurants’ menus. Celebrity, by contrast, creates a separate vegetarian menu each night with several choices not on the main menu. We were impressed with breakfast the two days we ate in Versailles: a wide variety of choices served well. Breakfast is a meal that I don’t mind having served quickly! The breakfast waitstaff was also very good about refreshing coffee and juice, and offering more toast. A design note: there’s no where to stand when you’re waiting to be seated in the Versailles, as the hostess stand is on the landing in the middle of a flight of stairs. People were sometimes backed up the stairs, holding the railings as the ship moved, which was probably not comfortable for the many older people on board. Aqua Main Restaurant – Deck 6 midship: The other main no-reservation restaurant seemed to have the same menu as Versailles, but was contemporary in design. Unfortunately, it’s a large, low-ceiling room and the predominant color is white, so it can feel a little institutional. Still, we ate dinner there twice. Design note: there’s a large window into the kitchen, which in many restaurants we’ve been in is used to display the chefs at work. We made a special request to be seated near the window one night, and realized that you have a view of where they stack the plastic plate covers before the dishes go out. Why doesn’t NCL take advantage of the possibilities of their design? Le Bistro French Restaurant – Deck 6 mid-ship: One of the reservation-only, extra charge restaurants, Le Bistro was the only restaurant in which we felt we had truly professional service. We had a knowledgeable waiter who didn’t rush us, a friendly host, and a sommelier. We probably spent the longest at dinner here, and truly felt that it was worth the extra charge. The restaurant itself is not large, and is appropriately quiet and softly lit, but the restaurant has windows onto the brightly-lit hallway through which people are passing from the show lounge. NCL has painted “French” looking scenes in the hallway and put “French” style globe streetlights in the hall to try to soften the transition. The Soho Room – Deck 6 mid-ship: NCL’s “trendy” reservation-only, extra charge restaurant. We ate here for dinner twice, as the food and its presentation was probably the best of all the restaurants, and the setting is good, with large pop-art paintings, an aquarium in one wall, and large windows to the outside. There’s also some separation between the tables, the lighting is subdued and the music is quiet. Although the service did not quite match the setting, we recommend this for anyone who enjoys fresh California-fusion style food. Endless Summer – Deck 8 mid-ship: reservations required, but no extra charge. A big disappointment. Both the food and the service were less than average. The restaurant overlooks the atrium, where a band plays every night. We didn’t enjoy the band that much, but at least we got a few laughs about it. You couldn’t avoid the band since the tables are arranged in small, curved sections with glass railings that are terraced down toward the lower level. Perhaps because the sections are curving, the tables for two are pretty small and our waiter had trouble fitting all the plates, glasses, etc. on the table. The restaurant is billed as being “authentic Hawaiian”, but we couldn’t figure out what items on the menu were supposed to be Hawaiian. They should just serve the same food as in Aqua and Versailles and not try to be different. Our waiter appeared to be learning his job. If you’re going to eat there at least check which band is playing first! Room service: we usually get room service breakfast so we can have coffee and breakfast before going to work out in the gym. On the Star, room service was always on time and got the orders correct, and they normally called when they were on their way. However, the Star uses plastic plates and mugs, instead of china as on Celebrity. We never ordered room service any other time than breakfast so we can’t speak to the quality or the choices. Entertainment: Most nights we ended up in Gatsby’s, the piano bar in between Le Bistro and The Soho Room. Mark was the piano player during our cruise, and he’s got the ability to play requests, chat with people, learn everyone’s name by the second night, and generally make everyone happy. We only went to the large production shows in the Stardust theater, and were impressed by the singers and dancers, as those things go. We learned later in the week that one of the female singers had been sick, which explained some obvious doubling up of singing parts. We watched a movie in the cinema one night, which has good seats, but there was something wrong with the video projector and we were missing part of the picture. The screen also washes out every time the doors are opened. We attended the “Polynesian” cultural show one evening, which combined some actual cultural lessons about Hawaii, Fiji, and the Philippines with a little wink-wink joking about the women in grass skirts and the hunky men with the mostly elderly audience. There were two bands that alternated in the lobby, neither of which was very impressive. There is a great dance band that plays in the Dazzles nightclub. As you should know if you’re reading these reviews, there is no casino on the Star, due to Hawaii’s laws. Not quite in the category of “entertainment”, but we spent a good deal of time during days at sea playing Scrabble in the cardroom and reading in the quiet “writing” room. Both of these rooms have floor to ceiling windows and are lovely places to hide out. During the cruise I finished three books from the small but well-stocked library. Exercise facilities: We work out every day, so a ship’s gym is pretty important to us. The gym on board is a good example of the odd design choices on the Star: it’s a pretty nice gym as ships go, but it has almost no windows and is poorly lit to boot, making it dark and kind of depressing even though you’re cruising in the middle of the sunny Pacific. The only windows are right in front of the exercise bicycles, which look directly out on where overweight people line up to get ice cream. No comment. There were even a few lights that were burned out the entire week of the cruise, which were never replaced. The gym has eight bicycles, treadmills, Stair-steppers, two elliptical trainers, several selectorized weight machines and dumbbells up to 50 lbs. There’s an aerobics area that’s about 20 by 40 feet. By comparison, Celebrity puts its brightly lit gyms at the front of its ships, with a wall of windows all across the front of the ship. The 10 treadmills face windows, and I remember jogging on the treadmill in the Caribbean as the Millennium was surrounded by a school of dolphins leaping out of the water. On the Star, the ship could be surrounded by dancing whales and you’d never know about it if you were in the dark, sunless gym. There’s a walking/running path on the top deck that is separated by a glass wall from the sun loungers above the pool. This is a great idea for joggers, but be careful if you’re just strolling and you accidentally enter the path, as you can’t get out! There’s also a half basketball court between the Garden villas and the funnel that I saw being used occasionally. Port stops: Obviously, your experience in a port will depend on the excursions you choose, so I’ll just describe the ones we took. Hilo: On the Big Island, we took the tour to the observatories at the top of Moana Kea instead of visiting the Volcano national park. The observatories are at 14,000 feet, so high that you have to stop part way to acclimatize to the thin air. We left the ship at sea level, in warm sunshine, and drove in a van up to 9,000 feet. The guide described the fascinating landscape as we drove, showing us how to tell the difference between the several kinds of lava fields we saw. At 9,000 feet there is a visitors’ center with some exhibits, a gift shop, and a small garden with native plants. Our guide fed us some juice, water and cookies, and basically made sure we all felt OK. After almost an hour, we drove on up to 14,000. At that altitude, there are no plants, no life at all. Moonscape is a good word to describe it. Once at the top, you can see the eight or ten different observatories. You actually go inside the Keck observatory, which is air conditioned to match the temperature of the nighttime air so the delicate machinery isn’t affected by any changes in temperature. Even with the hour-long pause at 9,000 feet, we still felt a little light-headed up that high. The air is amazingly pure and clear, and we could see all the way back down to our ship in Hilo, down the other side to Kona, and across the water to Maui. Fanning Island: OK, I admit, we didn’t actually get off the ship. The stop itself is pretty short, about five hours, and we’re not beach people anyway. As they need to tender guests ashore, it took over an hour to get everyone off. So we just took advantage of the empty ship by lounging by the pool and eating lunch in one of the restaurants. We could see a palm-fringed atoll with white sand beaches that looked picture perfect, but I’m afraid you’ll have to read actual descriptions on other reviews. Maui: As we were planning to return to Maui after the cruise, we debated even taking a tour at all. We finally decided to take a whale-watching trip, and were glad we did. There are LOTS of whale-watching trips on Maui, but NCL arranges its tours with the Pacific Whale Foundation, a non-profit group that is staffed by wildlife biologists and others who love the animals and enjoy telling you about them. This is not a booze cruise, and will be appreciated by those who actually want to learn about the whales’ habits. We saw a number of spouts and a few tail flips, but no full breaches. Still, we learned a lot during two hours. Kauai: We took a bicycle/snorkel excursion along the Poipu coast. We were actually disappointed in the bike ride, as we never even worked up a sweat. But it was beautiful, and amazing to see how relatively undeveloped Kauai is. We bought some “fish food” while we were suiting up with mask, fins and snorkel, and we became very popular with the fish. If you don’t scare easily, I recommend it, as you’ll be surrounded by a cloud of multicolored, and apparently very hungry, fish. The trick is to release the food and then back up right away. Ship Design: There are a number of odd design features on the Star that you notice and wonder “why did they do that?” Some of them have to do with designs that block light and views. The dark and windowless gym I’ve mentioned above. The shops are hidden in the back of Deck 7, and it’s all just one big brightly-lit room, like a K-Mart. Not a bad analogy, in fact. Every other ship I’ve been on strives to make the various shops feel like fine boutiques, and puts them where you have to walk past them to get through the ship. Not NCL. The Spinnaker Lounge at the fore of deck 12 has a prime location at the front of the ship with a wall of windows all around could be a prime viewing spot for whales and Islands, but for the heavy black curtains they’ve put behind the stage that blocks out the middle third of the view. Celebrity also puts a lounge at the top, front of the ship, but maximizes the view from all the seats in the lounge which makes them very popular spots all day and all evening. I’ve mentioned the lack of a place to wait to be seated at the Versailles restaurant, and the same is true for Aqua. In addition, neither of them have a bar at the entrance, unlike Celebrity, which puts a champagne/martini bar right at the entrance to the dining rooms. Those bars become popular meeting spots for groups of friends before dinner. The pool deck is terraced up so that all the seats have a great view of the hideous yellow water slides. Also, the ship creaks as it rolls from side to side in open water to the point that we woke up almost every night. We’re experienced cruisers, so it wasn’t just first-timer’s nerves. Summary: You may be asking why I said that my partner and I wouldn’t be cruising on NCL again when I’ve said so many good things about the ship. Basically, the things that are most important to us, fine food and service, a good gym, and a younger and more cosmopolitan crowd, were lacking. The ship is quite beautiful in some ways, and we made our own fun. Watching the waves, reading a good book, and spending quality time with the one you love can make any cruise a pleasure. Happy cruising!

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Jul 20, 2002

Hawaii

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. SUGGESTIONS 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!

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Jun 29, 2002

Oahu, Hawaii, Fanning Is., Maui, Kauai, Oahu

This was our 5th cruise, the first on NCL. We are both middle aged, and left the kids at home this time. We spent 3 days before and 3 days after the cruise in Oahu. We had the top inside cabin, category [ii], deck 11. We booked cruise only, no fly or stay packages with NCL. EMBARKATION This embarkation was the smoothest ever. Check-in is supposed to start at 1pm at the Aloha Tower, and we drove by at 11:30 to see what was up. There

was a bit of a line, about 20 yards long, which was not moving because the doors were not open yet. But luggage reception was open, so we parked and got rid of our luggage, which is just across a sidewalk from the car, into the terminal door, and they take it right there. Then we left to turn the car in. When we got back by cab at 12:00 the line was about 30 yards long but the doors were open and it was moving. So we looked around the shops till 12:30, when there were only a few people in the line, and then went in. NCL staff have trays of juice drinks if you are thirsty, a nice touch. Check-in was fast, getting our ship cards and going through security, and we were on the ship in about 15-20 minutes with a gorgeous orchid lei. At 1pm there was no line at all. We had some lunch on the ship in the Market Café buffet, and then left the ship to do some more things. If you are off the ship at 5pm you miss the hot and boring fire drill. All aboard call is 7:30 for 8pm sailing. There is a baggage holding service there which will hold your luggage for $5 per bag until 7:30pm. There is no reason to use them if boarding, just give the ship your luggage, but it might be useful if staying in Honolulu for the afternoon after your cruise. THE SHIP The Star is beautiful and well maintained. The cabins are a bit smaller than CCL, more the size of Celeb, with cherry/redwood trim, lots of mirrors and chrome, a great shower with a door instead of a clingy curtain, and enough storage space with luggage under one of the beds. It would have been a classier cabin without the sailor knots bedspread, and the loud carpet. Bring a power bar for the one outlet on the vanity, and you might want a clock to wake you up in port. The hairdryer was good. Outside the door is a cool disc you can turn on the wall indicating "Don't Disturb", "Make up Cabin", "Turn Down Cabin", "Welcome", a nice improvement over the door knob cards that fall off all the time. The ice bucket fits in the fridge, keeping it cold longer. Free soap and shampoo in the shower, and a clothesline in the shower. Our only cabin complaint was the thin walls, as other reviewers have noted. If your neighbors raise their voice you can hear them talking through the walls. This was ok with us, except our neighbors on one side ran their TV night and day, and we could easily tell which show they were watching, and a lot of the dialogue. Several nights after midnight we got the ship to ask them to turn it down. We don't really fault our neighbors, just the thin walls. We hardly ever heard the people on the other side. And the ship is creaky out in the ocean when we got into the swells, it sounded like someone was walking on a squeaky floor in the next room, and another noise was a patter like a raccoon running across the roof. This didn't bother us, but if you like it quiet when you're sleeping you might bring earplugs. The Market Café was the deck above us, so we heard lots of restaurant noises when they shutting down at night and gearing up in the morning. We also agreed with other reviewers that the 2 large yellow waterslides make the pool look more like Disneyland than a cruise ship. Pool lounge chairs were hard to find between 10 and 4, as on all the ships we've been on, but there are lots of other areas with chairs to relax and tan. The gym was a bit smaller than on the CCL and Celeb ships, and it would have been nice if the treadmills faced the ocean instead of the atrium. The jogging track was good, not slippery when wet, but it narrowed on each side of the ship so you had to squeeze past people. There was no water fountain at any point on the track like other ships had. The ship has an internet café (coffee only), which charges 75 cents a minute, or package deals for about $50 and another for about $100. If you wait to use it until the first day at sea you get a first logon credit of $3.95. All passengers automatically get an email account as you'll see on your cruise ticket, but you could just surf to your web email and use that. To check a couple messages and write short replies ate up between $3 and $4, which we did a few times. We joked with the webmaster that we were his stingiest accounts. There were about 12-15 stations, and always lots of room, not very busy. THE RESTAURANTS The ship was sold out, so to alleviate congestion they turned 2 pay restaurants into free ones, the Endless Summer (Hawaiian) and the Trattoria (Italian). The 2 other free ones are the Aqua and the Versailles, and the meals were fine in both of them, lots of choice, and equivalent to an upscale city restaurant. The Aqua is more casual, and the Versailles is formal, modeled after a European chateau. The most dramatic table locations in the Versailles are by the side or rear windows, with a view of the ocean as you dine. You can't reserve at the Versailles, so to be sure to get a view table you have to arrive when they open at 5:30. Later you could get one if people are leaving as you arrive, or you could tell the maitre d’ you'll wait for one. The menus in the pay restaurants (about $10 pp) are the same every day. The Trattoria has pizza, lasagna, chicken parmagana, and sirloin steak. The Endless Summer has ribs, tuna, rock cod, and coconut chicken. The Bistro (French) has filet done 2 ways, salmon, chicken w/ cognac, sea bass, and a veggie dish. In the Ginza (Asian Fusion) you can choose 2 entrees from a list of 11. The SoHo (Pacific Rim cuisine) has monkfish, tiger shrimp, steak, lamb rack, cider veal, and a veggie dish. I haven't listed all the sauces/creams or how they cook the dishes, or the other courses with the meals … appetizers, starters, soups, salads. The Blue Lagoon is a 24 hour snack bar with free wings, potato skins, fish and chips, etc, but milkshakes are $2.50. The Market Café is the main ship buffet, open for all meals. It's great for breakfast or lunch, but better to have dinner elsewhere. Every day at the pool they do a rib, chicken, and steak b'b'cue with salads and fruit, very good. Free water and ice tea, all other drinks are billed to your cabin. The only pay meal we had was in the Bistro because it's a lovely romantic setting, and the food was fine. We tried getting into the Endless Summer, but it was usually booked solid. You can book the pay restaurants a day ahead. Only large groups can book the Aqua or Versailles. We had a booking for the Endless Summer one night, but when we saw things we liked better in the menu posted outside the Versailles, we cancelled the Endless Summer reservation and went to the Versailles. ENTERTAINMENT The entertainment was fine, good song and dance shows, good comedians, and very good Asian acrobats. The pool band rocked, and all the bars had some type of live entertainment. Karaoke was popular, and hot dance lessons in the disco were too, line dancing, etc. Swing music by the ship band in another dance lounge. A fun Asian rock bank at the pool. Something for everyone. Plus various ship activities, games, bingo, pool contests, etc. It's got as much action as a Carnival cruise. PORTS Oahu/Honolulu If you boarded in Maui you'll have the whole day in Oahu, and if you board in Honolulu you could embark at noon, have lunch in the Market Garden café, and be off the ship by 2 to see the sights. It's tempting to stay on board and check out the ship, but there are several interesting things to do in the port area that can easily be done before the all-aboard call at 7:30 or 8pm sailing. And you would miss the hot and boring fire drill with your lifejacket on, at 5pm. We spent 3 days before and 3 days after the cruise in Waikiki. Waikiki Beach is a quick $15 cab ride from the ship, and it's always hopping. The main drag running along the beach is Kalahaua Ave, with tons of people strolling along, shops of every kind, from Gucci to an International Market of stall vendors, hotels, bars, and it's beautiful and clean. Have your cabbie drop you off around Kalahaua and Lewers St., and then stroll east on Kalahaua towards the Diamond Head crater/mountain. After several blocks the beach gets too close to the road for any more hotels on the beach side, and you are walking right along the edge of the beach. The action runs out a few blocks further along where the hotels end at a park. Then you can walk back to the Lewers area on the other side of Kalahaua, or lay around the beach (if you can find a spot to sit) for awhile and watch the surfers. Another interesting sight is to take a cab up to Diamond Head, perhaps a $10 ride from the beach. You drive through a tunnel into the Diamond Head crater, where there is a parking lot, and you can stroll around the crater, perhaps a mile across. You can pay $1 to enter a path that goes up to the crater summit, a half hour walk and climb. There are stairs and rocky switchbacks, and you shouldn't do this if you are out of shape, but a granny and grandpa made it up by taking their time, and there are lots of rest benches. The view from the top is amazing, you can see all the way to Honolulu, and east up the coast. Another quick and interesting sight is a 15 minute drive up hwy 61 into the mountains to the famous Pali lookout. Then if you had time (and a rental car) you could take the longer 40 minute drive back to Waikiki around the coast on hwy 72, lots of great viewing spots along that route. Another sight is the Pearl Harbor memorials, a short drive from the port. Another fun activity is to take one of the catamaran cruises along the coast. There are 2 that leave Waikiki beach every hour or so. Each operator has a clock at his docking spot showing when the next cruise leaves. And there's one that leaves from the marina near the ship at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm … it appears to be bigger than the Waikiki ones. The cruises are about $20. It would be cheaper and more convenient than cabs to get a rented car at $30 a day to do some of these. And the rent-a-car companies have great maps on every island, better than the Visitor's Bureaus, lots of detail, notes on exits, food places, etc, at least Alamo did, and I would think the rest would too. When you debark at each island there are staff helping you get through the terminal, just ask where the rental car shuttles are and they will tell you. If you have some extra time to spend in Oahu and want info on kayaking, walking/hiking, local art displays, surfing lessons, or driving directions just email us. You can order a free Tourist Bureau vacation planner online at: www.visit-oahu.com (1-877-525-OAHU). Hilo, Hawaii The next port is Hilo. In the Hawaiian ports you have three main choices for tours … chopper, bus, or car rental. The people who took chopper rides had a good time, but we just preferred to be on the ground close to the sights. The bus tours cost about $60-80 pp, and the people who took them said they stopped at too many shops, and too many bathrooms, and there are some sights the bus can't get into due to size. Car rentals were about $25-40/day, depending on size, and if you booked ahead on the net. We used Alamo, who rent a full size for $34 on the net on any island. When you leave the ship, walk into the terminal, turn right and walk along the yellow fence to the right hand side of the terminal, and that's where the rental car shuttles are. Alamo has a rep at this port with a cell phone, and he lets you know when the next shuttle is coming, and checks your name on his clipboard. Our name wasn't on it, but he wasn't concerned when we showed him our res number, and the office had a car for us (whew!). All the car rental companies had shuttles at each port which ran every 10 minutes or so, but when you're anxious to get going on your sight-seeing it seems like hours to wait, and some reviewers jumped in a $6 cab to the rental site, but we waited and tapped our feet. We didn't hear of anyone who reserved a car who didn't get one. We docked at 6:45. On this island the main attraction is Volcanoes National Park, and it's truly amazing. It's a 40 minute drive straight up hwy 11 into the 4000 foot mountains, 4 lanes most of the way. Turn left into the park entrance, pay $10/car and they will hand you a great map of the park. No need to stop at the visitor's center a bit further on unless you want to talk to a ranger about something. Then you take Crater Rim Drive, several miles, around Kilauea Caldera, an area containing various volcano craters, stem vents, dead lava flows, sulpher deposits, and volcanic landscapes. There are view stops every couple minutes, and it will take your breath away to stand on the edge of these craters, half a mile to a mile wide, looking 100's of feet down at swirls of dead lava and colored deposits, imagining them blowing sky high. Most of them blew between 1950 and 1980s. If pressed for time you might skip the first stop, the steam vents, where rain gets in, is heated by the magma way below, and comes out as steam. But don't miss any other stops, each crater has it's own character. They aren't currently active, and to see lava flowing you have to drive down the Chain of Craters road to the coast, which branches off this Rim road about three quarters of the way around. Then drive a short way along the coast to the East Rift Zone, where Kilauea has been active since '83, and the road is destroyed by recent lava flows. Then you hike into the lava flows. We compared notes before we left with other drivers, and there was no way we could fit that into the time available. We had time to go down the Chain of Craters Road about halfway, I think we got to Mau Loa Manuna Ulu before we were at our midpoint in time and had to turn back. Back on the Rim Drive you come to the Thurstone Lave Tube, a tunnel carved in rock by lava, which you can walk through. It's in a beautiful fern grotto. Then one more stop, Kilauea Iki Overlook, and you're back at the park entrance. We figured we had to leave the park by 11am to make it back to Alamo by 11:40, and get the Alamo shuttle to the ship by 12:15, which we did. All aboard call is 12:30 for 1pm departure. If for some reason you aren't up to doing the volcanoes, there is a short drive to 2 pretty falls near the ship, the Rainbow Falls and the Akaka Falls, and the Panaewa Rain Forest zoo is near, and the Lava Tree State Park with beaches nearby off hwy 137. Fanning Island Fanning Island is an atoll of 3 islands, each about 10 miles long and half a mile wide. There is no electricity, plumbing, or phones. The one road is a sandy 2-track path used by the 1 pickup truck on the island. The islanders live in grass roof huts, unchanged for the past 100 years. NCL built a school, a warehouse style building, in exchange for beach rights. There is no doctor or dentist on the island. There are pictures and descriptions at the Pacific Island Relief Org site: www.interpac.net/~fanning/ Passengers are tendered ashore, and tender tickets are handed out on a first come basis starting at 8am the day before Fanning. We went at 10am and got tender # 12. On Fanning day they call 2 tender tickets at a time, and we were called at 9:15. There is no need to get up early for a lower tender ticket, everyone gets ashore by 10am, and the last tender back is 2:30pm, enough time to do everything. If you miss your tender they let you on a later one. The tender ride is about 10 minutes over a rolling sea. Oh, one tender tip, don't take the red/white enclosed tender from the midship gangway, it's stifling hot because the breeze can't get to the passengers, and everyone gets off panting, a bad start to an already hot island. Take the larger blue/white open air tender from the forward gangway, and you'll feel a nice breeze all the way in. When you step off the pier, the islanders village and their craft area are to the left, and to the right is the NCL area for passengers with 3 or 4 small sandy beaches, with beach chairs, and several b'b'cue areas for the free lunch. Go to the last beach for the most space. Drinks are charged to your cabin, but there is free cold water behind the second beach. Also behind the second or third beach is a pavilion where the islanders put on a dance show, lots of action and energy. On the left of the dock the craft area has perhaps 50 tables set up. The islanders are rather shy, and will not approach you to sell anything, a big change from places like Jamaica and Mexico. They know enough English to tell you how much things cost, but that's about it, although a few have better English. They will smile and say hello if spoken to. There are a few flies buzzing around as noted by other reviewers, but no biting insects that we found. Most of the crafts appear home-made, with 2 exceptions that we saw. There are T-shirts for $15, which are 3/$10 on any other island. And they sold those conical shells that have a scene carved in the top, on a pink background, as if the shell coating has been peeled away to reveal a pink underlayer, and then a scene carved in it. Those are sold at every tourist trap we saw on the cruise. So some stuff is getting imported. We took gifts for the island kids, a dozen finger puppets for the 3-6 year olds, and 50 cent frisbees for the 7-11 y. olds, and gum. We were trying to take things that were easy to pack and carry. When my wife came across a 3-4 y. old at the craft area, or near the huts, or on one of the paths, she would squat down beside the child and show him/her a finger puppet. The kids don't seem afraid, but are cautious and curious. None of them knew what to do with the puppet, probably had never seen one before, so Wendy showed them how it worked on her finger, then asked them to stick out their finger, and put it on for them. Then we put one on our fingers, and wiggled the puppets and did some little puppet conversations. They stared in amazement, then with more coaxing and puppet noises they would move their fingers and smile a bit. Some of the older kids knew what to do with the frisbees, but we had to show others, who then quickly ran off to find a friend to practice with. Almost all of them said thank you, and if a mom was near she reminded them. We heard the school was desperately in need of supplies, and I'm in education, so we took a few things, colored chalk, stickers, pencils, etc. We got chatting with one of the dads at the craft area who spoke good English, we gave him a Canadian flag clothing pin to wear which put a big smile on his face [he'll probably trade it for something later], and when we asked him if we could meet a teacher he told his son to take us to find one of the teachers in the village. He found one of the teachers, Tara, on one of the paths, and we gave him a frisbee which produced a big smile, and he was gone. We told Tara what we had brought, and she took up back to her hut, and we sat down at a table outside the door, and had a good visit. She spoke good English, which she learned at a high school on another island. She got a piece of paper and wrote down what we brought and what it was for, to show the headmaster. I don't think she'd ever seen stickers or clothing pins. We gave her a pin saying "Kids First" with an apple on top, and she asked why the apple. We told her about the North American custom of kids trying to please the teacher by bringing her an apple for a snack, which seemed strange to her. Maybe she didn't know what apples were … we were told most of the islanders have seen nothing of the outside world, being isolated in the central Pacific. We had to show her how to put the clothing pin on, and she was careful to figure out how the squeeze-clasp behind it worked. She said paper is scarce, and the kids do their schoolwork on hand-held chalk boards, like in No. American about 100 years ago. We got thinking later that they could perhaps use some acetate boards, the kind you write on with a no-ink pen, and erase it by pulling up the clear acetate cover sheet. Perhaps they would rather have some scribblers or notepads, but we tried to think of gifts that would be easy for us to pack and transport. The height of the island is 10 feet above sea level, which would be completely underwater from the tidal surge if a hurricane hit. We asked Tara about that and she just said they'd never had a hurricane, just storms. I don't think she really understood the power of a hurricane. If the one that destroyed 70% of Kauai in 1992 hit them I don't know how any of them would survive, they're too isolated for an evacuation. So we took some pictures and said our good-byes, and strolled further down the path along the beach, coming across a few more craft tables, and an empty primary "school" under a large thatched roof, the teacher's name on a log beam, and the kids mats in rows. We were reluctant to walk through their hut areas, that seemed to be their personal space and it felt like we were in someone's back yard. After a bit we went back to the lunch area, feeling a bit embarrassed at the excess of food there, when the islanders live on coconut, breadfruit, and fish. NCL rents bikes for $10, but there is no reason to do that, there is nowhere to get in a hurry, and it just works up a bigger sweat. Also, the path has puddles and the wheels throw up sand and water on the riders backs (no fenders). We read a couple reviews by people who where "disgusted" at being taken to a scene of such poverty. If you think this would bother you, you should probably just stay to the right of the dock in the b'b'cue/beach area. MAUI Maui was a heartbreaker because of time constraints. We knew we arrived at 1pm, but not that everyone had to go through customs before debarking. First, about 10am find a chair on the starboard side of the ship somewhere and you can watch some nice scenery as the ship approaches Maui. The captain will announce which islands you're passing. After clearing customs (first US port after Fanning) we debarked at 2:30 and were in our rented car by 3:15. The 2 awesome sights too see in Maui are Haleakala National Park and Iao Valley State Park and the Iao Needle, where they shot many movies such as Jurassic Park and Indy Jones. Iao is a valley with amazing vertical carved walls and cliffs on each side, and the famous Iao Needle is a pointed mountain. Waterfalls and streams wind through the valley. Haleakala Park is an erosion crater carved into a volcano 10 thousand feet high. Newer volcanic activity has added cinder cones and lava flows, which give a variety of colors and scenery. Their site is www.haleakala.national-park.com which describes some nice short 10-15 minute hikes/walks at the top. And there is another site which describes in detail how to get there, how long each segment takes, and what you will see … http://alternative-hawaii.com/hnp.htm Sunset is about 7:15pm, after which it's too dark to see any sights. From the ship it takes about 3 hours to do Haleakala, and about 45 minutes to do Iao. So at 3:15 it was decision time, and we decided we couldn't do both places, so we gave up on Haleakala and went to Iao. The top deck cabins clear customs first, and Americans clear before non-US, so some lucky Yanks were off by 2pm, and would have had time to do both places. After seeing Iao we drove across the island to Lahaina, where the ship used to stop. It's a scenic drive along the coast most of the way. Lahaina is a pretty bay, and a tourist town with tons of shops and people walking along the strip. We didn't come to Hawaii to do tourist traps, so we got ice creams and drove out of town further up hwy 30 to Napili, where they shoot the famous sunsets. Around 7pm we found a good viewpoint between Napili and Kahana, and got some nice shots of the sun setting over the angular edge of a mountain, golden reflection in the water, beach and trees in the foreground. Then we drove back to the ship for dinner. The Maui Visitors Bureau vacation planner had the best map of all the planners we got from the islands, almost as good as the car rental map. You can order one at www.visitmaui.com KAUAI Finally a port where there is enough time to do everything! The big attraction is the famous Waimea Canyon, similar to the Grand Canyon. It's a mile wide and 3600 feet deep, and has amazing colors. It's about a 40 minute drive from the ship to the first main lookout, with lesser lookouts before that. Regarding weather, the rule of thumb is that if you have bad weather when you reach the first main lookout, there is no point in driving another half hour to see the other lookouts further down the ridge road, it will not get any better. But if you have good weather, drive further down the canyon to the Puu Hinahina lookout, and then the Kalalau lookout, and Puu o Kila lookout at the end of the road. Then you can drive back on hwy 50 past the ship to the Wailua Falls up hwy 583, and Opaekaa Falls up 580, which feed the Wailua River. Then go back to hwy 56, turn back south on 56 for a few hundred feet, and turn right into the Fern Grotto tours place, I forget the name. There are other smaller vendors selling grotto tours, but the main one has a big parking lot, restaurant, etc. Tours are $15 and last 1.5 hours. The ship price is $45. The tour goes up the Wailua river, lots of great scenery, to a fern grotto where the locals put on a bit of a show. Then you can drive back to hwy 56 and check out the beaches along the coast. Waipouli Beach in Wailua Bay at the junction of hwy 56 and 580 has some nice big breakers to watch. Lydgate Beach, a mile south, is better for small kids, it's calm and has lifeguards, and good snorkeling. There's a beach every couple miles on this coast. You can order the Visitor's Bureau travel planner online at www.kauaivisitorsbureau.com DEBARKATION Debarkation was very smooth, very few lineups. As with all cruises, your luggage goes out in the hall before Sat. midnight, so the crew can take it. Your bill is delivered to your cabin in the wee hours Sunday morning, and if you find errors they ask you to come to the desk by 7:30am to correct them. There were lineups of people, but our bill was fine. Luggage is color coded and was easy to find in the terminal, and the cabs are right outside the terminal door, not way down the sidewalk like in Tampa. Thanks to all the Cruise Critic web site people who helped us with info before we left … Chuck, Glenda, Kris, Bryan, Patti, Narda and Max, and Joanne. [Cruise Critic members meet in the Beer Garten at 6pm on Mondays of each cruise, and get a tour of the garden villa if possible, and some nice perks and freebees.] The crew on board said you were all a pain in the butt, so we pretended we didn't know you ;-} If anyone wants to ask a question send us an email. THE END Bob & Wendy Evans Bob7REMOVETHISPART@canoemail.com

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May 18, 2002

Hawaii

My sister and I took this cruise to see how we liked Freestyle Cruising. The check in went very smoothly and overall, the staff everywhere were efficient and friendly. The ship is beautiful. We had fun exploring it. We had an inside cabin on deck 8 which was very quiet and not subject to much movement. We had plenty of storage room; there are plenty of hangers, lots of shelves, plenty of storage in the bathroom, a safe and a small

refrigerator. I especially liked the temperature control in the shower and the one in the room. There is a light in the closet which we did not find until the last day - it was hidden behind the rod . We loved the idea of being able to eat when and where we wanted and if we did not want to sit with anybody, we didn't have to. The times we did, we met some nice people. We weren't aware that any place other than the Market Cafe was open that first day for lunch and I would not recommend eating there unless you like a cafeteria atmosphere. Like other reviewers, I thought the wall paper in there was a bit weird considering that things in the rest of the ship were so beautifully done. Elect to eat in the Versailles restaurant instead. In fact, that's where we ate most of our breakfasts - the atmosphere was so nice and the room was beautiful. We never ate the German food at the Bier Garten but did indulge in the pretzels in the afternoon and popcorn from the Red Lion Pub was a staple snack. Cookies were always available in the Blue Lagoon and the Java Cafe. Free ice cream is available at the juice bar by the fitness center. We ate dinner at Versailles, the Aqua Room, Le Bistro, Blue Lagoon and Endless Summer. The food was excellent at all but Endless Summer. It was good but not excellent. Endless Summer did have the prettiest setting. Food was always being prepared by the pool so all in all, there was something to appeal to everybody. If you can't stay up for the Chocoholic Buffet on Thursday night, some of the desserts will be out the next day in the Market Cafe. We would highly recommend the shows Music of the Night on Monday and Cirque Asia on Saturday. Get there early cause it does fill up. Take a light jacket if you get cold cause each seat has an air conditioning vent behind it. The theater is one of the prettiest settings for shows on a ship and the shows were outstanding, There is music everywhere on this ship so it's hard not to be entertained. There are arts and crafts demonstrations and if you've even wanted to make a lei, here is your chance. The spa is wonderful. Take the tour on Sunday and be sure to watch for demonstrations of certain treatments in the Gatsby Lounge. There will be special pricing after the demonstrations so take advantage of that. We each did the reflexology massage and the hot rock massage. That was the best money I have ever spent. There is a very nice relaxation area in the spa that is free so take advantage of that. The fitness center is nice and there is a decent selection of machines and free weights. It was a challenge to run on a treadmill when the ship would move! We found that we did most of our walking on the promenade deck early in the mornings. We had been to Maui and Kauai and were anxious to see the big island. We prebooked a tour on NCL's web site to the Volcano National Park. In hind sight, I wish we had known that a taxi shared with another couple would cost just about the same cause we were forever being held up by laggers. It was a wonderful experience to actually be on a volcano and to go from bleak landscape to lush rain forest in a matter of minutes. The highlight of that trip was walking through a lava tube. The trip to Fanning Island does take a long time but we played cards one of the nice card rooms or sat on the deck and read. After talking to several people, Fanning Island is a place that people hated or loved. We loved it. The scenery is beautiful and it was so nice to visit a place that is not all about condos and golf courses. Yes, flies are a problem but we wore Skin So Soft with bug repellant and sunscreen and were not bothered by them. We bought stamps and postcards - there are some very unique stamps there and you can have your postcards mailed with a Fanning Island postmark. Food is brought to the island and there is fresh fruit, burgers, hot dogs, ribs, chicken, pizza and things of fresh water if you don't want to buy a drink. Until the Jones Act is repealed, Fanning is a nice choice. The charm and nothingness of it won't appeal to everybody so if you want condos and golf courses, stay on the ship that day. Do be aware that security is tight so each time you reboard, you will have to show an ID and your things will be looked through. It does take time but be patient and don't take a huge bag of stuff off if you don't need to. Overall, I would do this cruise again. The staff could not have been nicer. I guess the only thing that disappointed me was that I had to leave!

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May 18, 2002

Hawaii

We arrived at the pier on Sunday around 12:30. Staff was there taking bags. Here you show your tickets and ID. There was no line for check in and this went very smoothly. Be prepared to go thru a security line much like the airport-metal detector and all. This is a somewhat slow process but a necessary one. Once we passed through security, we went up to the walkway and were greeted by representatives with leis. We had our picture taken and there

is good signage indicating which way to board depending on the stateroom. Once our boarding card was swiped in the computer we were immediately met and escorted to our cabin. We chose to have an inside mid ship cabin on deck 8. Our room was beautifully decorated and we found ample storage space for all our clothes and luggage. We had booked our trip through Travelocity and they had sent a welcome bottle of wine which was waiting in our cabin. We immediately went to explore the Star. First of all the signage here is excellent. It was very easy to see where you were and these signs were everywhere. We were very close to the elevator and stair landing and also on the level of The Endless Summer Restaurant. This has a gorgeous stained glass ceiling and is one of the prettiest rooms I have ever seen on a ship. It overlooks the Grand Atrium. The Grand Atrium is awesome. The glassed in elevators, waterfalls (for lack of better description), soaring birds and lighting are just breathtaking. Every time I passed through it, I found something else to be amazed about. We were greeted in The Grand Atrium by staff from the spa. They offered tours and this is a must. Besides the services offered, there are the relaxation rooms that are free with the lap pool and jacuzzi that was very used. If you do not take the tour, you are not aware you are able to avail yourself of these free things. My sister and I booked a foot (reflexology) massage and the hot rock massage done on our days at sea. The hot rock massage was worth every penny. Look for the spa staff to have demonstrations in Gatsby's Lounge with special pricing. Pool-we had read many reviews about how disappointing the pool was on the Star If you go on a cruise only for the pool, you might be disappointed. Yes it is small and the setting is a bit funky but when you get used to it, it is fun and there is always something going on there. There was always food being cooked, music, etc. There is a super tiered deck plus if you keep walking towards the front of the ship, there are all sorts of nooks and crannies with lounge chairs and the helipad also has lots of them set up. Check out the pool at night when the palm tree lights are on. Bars-we did not see all of them but there are lots to choose from. The Red Lion Pub behind the main desk always has popcorn for snacking. Restaurants-again we did not eat in them all but the ones we tried were all good. The Market Café is the buffet and while they had a good variety of food I did not care for the atmosphere. We ate there for breakfast once and for lunch once and the food was good. Our favorite restaurant was the Versailles. This is such a pretty room. We ate there for breakfast and lunch several times. The food was superb. Try the Cooking Light selections and the cold soups. Aqua was also another beautiful room. The one night we ate there the food was very good. We also liked the Blue Lagoon which is a very tiny place behind the main desk to the left. They had wonderful soup and great stir fry. There were always cookies and sweet breads to grab on the way through. We ate at Le Bistro with friends one night. The only disappointment was our group was large and we were seated in the wine cellar which is outside the restaurant so we never saw what it looked like. The food was excellent and expect to have very European type service-not rushed. We just mentioned the lobster the other restaurants were having and our waiter brought us some. We also just mentioned we had no room for the chocolate fondue but heard about it and he brought us the fruit with the chocolate! So we were spoiled here. The other restaurants we saw on our exploration of the ship were some we will just have to make a return trip for! As far as the Freestyle-we liked this very much. We never waited for a table, we could either eat by ourselves or with others. We were never made to feel like we were asking too much if we wanted to eat by ourselves. The times we ate with others we had a delightful time. We liked the choice of eating when we wanted and where we wanted. It was also so nice to be able to dress casual if we felt like it. Shows-the shows we saw were excellent. The theater is also outstanding. It is a tiered setting and each chair has an AC vent on the back so take a light jacket as it tended to get chilly. Ports of Call-as luck would have it, Mother Nature was very generous as we had beautiful weather. We always seemed to be early in the ports with the exception of Maui. Hilo was our first stop. My sister and I had not been here and opted to do the Volcano Tour which we prebooked on NCL's website. This was unreal to see the lava, the steaming vents, the beautiful rain forest and the lava tube. I could have skipped the Moana Macadamia Nut shopping stop however. Next day was at sea for our stop at Fanning Island. Now people will either love or hate this island. To us it was so charming. The water was absolutely gorgeous and clear. The people were friendly and it was just very relaxing. Yes, there are flies but Norwegian brings food which tends to attract them. Buy some Avon Skin So Soft sunscreen with bug repellant-that helps a lot. Spend time to wander and see some of the island-don't just hang around the beach area. Tendering was quick and they are always available. It was interesting to watch the ships tenders being hoisted back up before we left here. Next port was Maui after another day at sea We arrived on time but unfortunately there was a barge in the harbor that needed to be moved so the captain had to slow us down. Oh-before the ship gets to Maui there is a mandatory customs and immigration check. This is well advertised in the daily newsletter plus announced. The ship cannot be cleared until everyone has done this. We were also held up in Maui because of several people who had not done this. This is a very quick process so don't hold everyone else up by being the ones they have to hunt down. My sister and I had also been to Maui so we opted for the shuttle to Lahaina and to one of our favorite restaurants. We shopped and wandered in Lahaina. We did talk to people who had tours and they were able to make them despite the fact we were held up. Next port was Kauai. We have also been here and this is our favorite of the Hawaiian islands. If you do nothing else here, we would recommend either renting a car and seeing Waimea Canyon or doing a helicopter tour. We did the Fern Grotto tour and it was okay but nothing I would do again. We had time to shop and eat a nice lunch at one of the shopping areas. Crew-everyone we encountered was professional and friendly. We were able to personally meet our captain and we truly enjoyed listening to him. With the exception of The Blue Lagoon, every sit down restaurant had two wait people and we had some super ones. Overall I would highly recommend this cruise. Just keep in mind that the cruise is your trip-not the islands and you will not be disappointed in the small amount of time you have to spend on them. The ship is beautiful and take the time to wander the promenade deck to see the murals painted on the sides. This ship is full of surprises art wise too. If I did not fill you in on something you think is important, please feel free to email me. Oh please be prepared to go through a fairly intense security check at every port. They will go through bags, purses and packages so allow time for this after your tours. This is necessary so take it in stride. All too soon this cruise was over and I would not hesitate to do it again. Happy Sailing!

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May 16, 2002

Hawaii

Boarding in MAUI: We were told and it was on our tickets, we would be embarking in Lahaina, Maui, we even went so far as to call NCL before we left because we knew the port sometimes does change and it was confirmed, Lahaina. The port was actually in Kahului, 5 minutes from the airport. We were told our travel agent should have informed us of the change but when we told them NCL told us the same thing three days before departure they gave us

a credit of 38.50 for the shuttle trip to Lahaina. We were told they would be using this port from now on because there is no tendering and is so close to the airport. The port changes were a real disappointment to us as they has just had the emergency with the crew member being injured and stayed in Maui for two days instead of just one. We had already been in Maui for 2 days. This was a real bonus for those who had boarded in Honolulu since they had also had two days in Kauai and no trip to Fanning Island, we did not get to go to Kauai, this was the most bitter disappointment for me as I had booked a helicopter trip there not with NCL and was the most looked forward to part of our trip The embarkation went very smoothly as there were only about 200 to board and not the 2000+ who embarked in Honolulu. Debarkation: This was a nightmare because when we arrived back in Lahaina there was a barge at the port and there is only room for one ship so there was a two hour delay then more delays to clear the port and two sick passengers to off board before it was our turn. When we went though for the final swipe of our card they would not allow us to leave because they said we had not cleared all of our charges and would have to report to the front desk to clear up this matter. After struggling back thru 1000 or more other passengers also trying to disembark for excursions he finally reached the front desk only to be told all was in order and they did not know why we were had been detained, we now had 45 minutes to reach the airport. No luggage, I though we would loose it for sure then! More waiting. Trucks came with the luggage which then had to be sorted by tag colors before you were allowed to look for your luggage. We put bright yellow bows on the handles of our bags which really helped to spot them. We took a cab, $8.00 not the shuttle which would have been free, and arrived at our gate while the plane was boarding. I don't know if any of this could have been prevented by NCL it was all just circumstances except for the card thing. Now for the bright side! PROS: FREESTYLE: We loved freestyle, very conformable. No need to pack fancy clothes unless that is your style and there were those that did. I packed a suit and tie for my husband but he never put it on. I wore my basic long black dress and he wore a nice shirt and we went to all the different restaurants and it was perfect. I would say you could wear anything but shorts. Max even got into the tradition of wearing Hawaiian shirts and shell or puka(?) bead necklace, a real first for him! We enjoyed the wonderful variety of food offered in the specialty restaurants and did pay for that privilege and felt it was truly worth it! We do feel they need to find a way not to have to charge for this as it seems to offend many passengers and therefore some lines were long for the free restaurants during peek hours, we never experienced this but others complained of this. We made reservations and never waited ever. Do allow time for a real dining experience, each meal lasted about two hours and the time just flew by. We normally made our reservation for 7 PM and were always out of time for the show at 9, try 6:30. The Ginza was our favorite and so we chose it for our last. The others were also divine, be sure to go to Endless Summer and Aqua wonderful and FREE. In all of the specialty restaurants you have two servers and they were so efficient, charming, sociable and friendly all with very interesting backgrounds and came from many different countries. We did not go to LeBistro only because there were so many options and we wanted to experience the more unusual foods. No, we did not mind the prearrange tipping. I am sure there are those who excel but all seemed to work very hard to please even the smallest request and always with a smile. TOURS: Hilo, because we did not get to go to Kauai and wanted to take one helicopter tour we took the "Circle of Fire", trip over the volcano, this was an awesome experience for us. I would defiantly recommend this but if you can only do one helicopter trip do the one in Maui or Kauai. After that we still had some time so we took the free shuttle to Hilo Hatties, a very commercial venture, just a souvenir shop but we did buy things to take home there. Honolulu, our first trip to Hawaii, we felt the need to go to the Arizona Memorial so we took the "Historic/Cultural Honolulu" excursion which was very interesting, informative and moving. Fanning Island: Well, after reading the many negative comments written on the web, I had decided not to disembark but my husband said after traveling that far he wanted to at least get off and check it out. Yes, it is very primitive and we did pay $10. each to go to the private side...., rafts were provided free, small sailboats and paddle boats were also there for renting. The weather was perfect, the water crystal clear, the beach snow white, the palm trees magnificent, we loved it! We did not go to the free side as we were tired and hot and just wanted to get back but out friends, we met them onboard, did. They got some very primitive and wonderful things all hand made and very inexpensive. We were able to get a few shell bracelets, only $1. & $2. each on our side but $5. on the other side. They did say the flies were terrible, also a few on our side but not many. Rental Cars: I would arrange for these in advance, we did and only paid $24. in Maui through Budget for an economy car. We also shared a car with another couple when we found out we would be in Maui for additional day, a convertible, $80. a day. We spent that day snorkeling, something you definitely want to do at every opportunity. Beautiful, beautiful, just like being in an aquarium. Overall, we will be going back to Hawaii but at our own pace, we will stay in Maui and will also go to Kauai, I am not sure a cruise is the way to see this tropical paradise with its overwhelming beauty, both above and below the surface, but for a taste of its scenery and the luxury of this ship, it was worth every penny. If you can think of anything I have missed just ask and I will try to give you my best information and send you a link to the album after I have restored my energy. Please share your experience with us when you return so we can cruise again with you. Attend all the cultural interest things to do onboard with June, meeting her is a really wonderful Hawaiian experience. June also taught the Hula classes and lei making classes. The Hula graduation ceremony was a real hoot especially the men, this took real courage. The entertainment was 1st rate, go to all the big shows either at 7 or 9 and the Hawaiian Dancers on Thursday night at 10:15. There was so much to do it would take another week to see it all. Have a wonderful vacation, watch out for the Jet Lag a real killer for us. Aloha, Narda & Max Barber lakearts@aol.com

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May 11, 2002

Hawaii

Kathy Coker This was our first cruise, and we weren’t sure if we’d like cruising! Now we’ve decided it’s the only way to go. We left May 12 on the Norwegian Star from Honolulu to cruise the islands. The food was wonderful and Le Bistro is definitely worth the $12.50 cover charge. If you didn’t like the fare in any of the 10 restaurants, every day, steaks and ribs are grilled poolside with all the trimmings. The Stardust

Theater shows were outstanding, although we could have lived without the magic show.....the tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber was WONDERFUL. The service and crew were outstanding. especially Jelly Bean Julie! The asst. activity directors were EVERYWHERE making sure everyone had a great time. The trip to Fanning Island was cancelled halfway there, as a crew member was injured. Nobody complained, because that gave us an extra day in Kona, Hawaii. My only complaints? Too many waiters trying to sell you $6.00 drinks constantly, and bingo is too expensive for the prizes given. Other than that, the ship is beautiful, the food is wonderful, the crew is amazing, and you’ll have the time of your life. Plan shore excursions, but not too many. We got tired of buses. Save "exploring on your own" time for some of the ports. We did this in Kona and had a great time. NCL has a sister ship to the Norwegian Star sailing to Alaska, and we hope to do that cruise next year. By the way, contrary to other reviews, there were travelers of all ages on this cruise. Everyone was friendly, and we were like one big, happy family.

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Apr 27, 2002

Hawaii

Honolulu to Honolulu 7 day I hope to make this as helpful as possible. I read the boards for nine months before our trip. I tried to use everything I learned to make it easier when we arrived. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me directly. My husband and I took this trip (no children.) He’s 39 and I’m 37. I’d been to Hawaii 3 times (including 2 cruises on the SS Independence), cruised 4 times prior to this.

This was his first trip to Hawaii and his second cruise. The last cruise we took was in December of 2000 when we sailed on the Norway. We flew in 2 days early (Friday) to get accustomed to the time change. I had specifically planned for this. Having been to Hawaii before, I was well aware of the jet lag and fatigue and didn’t want to miss anything! We were on a non-stop flight from St. Louis, which was 9 hours. I didn’t want to change planes and have to hope my luggage made it. The fare went down after I booked so I got a voucher for future use. I had arranged a rental car prior to the trip. (I used different rental agencies for each island based on the agency with the cheapest rate.) The car rental station was feet from the luggage carousel, making it quite convenient. We stayed at the J.W. Marriott I’hilani resort in Ko’ Olina, which is about 20 miles outside of Honolulu. It took about 40 minutes to get there. The I’hilani is a beautiful resort far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. We had an ocean view room and loved it. The room has an elaborate telephone that controls all the lights, the ceiling fan, and the room temperature. We ate dinner that evening at the hotel. The hotel has a torch-lighting ritual that begins with a conch shell call and features hula dancers, which was a nice welcome. We went to bed early. We were up early again on Saturday and had breakfast at the hotel before heading to Pearl Harbor. Remember that no purses or camera bags are allowed inside. We put everything in the trunk and noticed security truck patrolling the parking lot. We arrived at 8:00 and were given tickets for the 9:00 tour. We left at about 10:30. We did some exploring for the remainder of the day. Found some new shopping centers and an outlet mall. Nothing you can’t find on the mainland. We drove up the coast on H-1 (which is the highway we took to Ko’ Olina). If you stay here, don’t bother with this highway as there’s not much to see before it ends. Sunday we got up early and walked around for some final pictures before heading to the ship. We returned the rental car and took the shuttle back to the airport. We were dropped off at the taxi stand with no problem. Within minutes we were on our way. We asked for a cab but were fortunate enough to get a limo. The rate is the same. If you request a limo, the rate is $55.00. Our fare to Pier 10 was $16.95. I gave the driver a $20.00. (I have no idea if we tipped these people adequately. My husband had gone to the bank before we left to get five-dollar bills and singles for tipping the bell hop and airport staff. Somewhere I recall reading $1 dollar per bag. That’s sort of the guide I used for handling the luggage.) We saw the Aloha tower and some of their shops before checking in at the pier at 11:30. Our passports were checked 4 times before we made it through all the checkpoints. After 10 minutes, we were directed to our suite and found it with no problem. The muster drill was at 5:00 p.m. This is a problem because all of the passengers cannot participate. Because some people are onboard or in port having embarked in Maui, the list isn’t complete and it’s difficult for the staff to track everyone. We stayed in cabin #9732. This was an AE category suite on the 9th deck aft. The balcony looked out over the back of the ship. A note here: the diagram on the deck plan shows a wrap-around balcony. The balcony does wrap around but there is a divider prohibiting you from utilizing it. This was the corner cabin but not the corner of the ship. There was a storage room right next to us. We thought it was odd that they didn’t give the suite visibility of the back as well as the side of the ship. It could have been so much better (and commanded a higher fare.) We were off the main hallway and had very little outside noise. (The suite next to ours was decorated differently and we didn’t like it as much. The fixtures were darker, making the room seem smaller.) There was far more storage than we needed. The closet opened on both sides making it easily accessible. There was a dressing table area and the bathroom had a full sized tub – no Jacuzzi, though. We had a loveseat and chair with a small glass table. There was also a good-sized table with four chairs. We had a large television and a minibar with a lighted glass cabinet overhead and a few more amenities than other cabins. The cabin did creak and moan as others had mentioned but it was mostly the sliding door. My husband propped the door open with a chair at night so we could hear the ocean. That stopped the creaking! We were very pleased. We had arrived early enough that my husband got some great photos of the public areas that with no passengers in view. We ate dinner at Le Bistro. They have a promotion for a ½ price cover charge on Sunday between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. I had the filet mignon and my husband had the salmon. Both were excellent. (After this, I lost track of what we ate. Food was in abundance!) Monday was Hilo. We had arranged a plane flight over the Volcano. However, it was raining so heavily that visibility was very poor. We missed it. Instead, we took the free shuttle to Hilo Hattie’s. There was a Wal-Mart and Roth’s nearby that had a separate free shuttle. We were quite disappointed with the day. Sometimes the sun burns off the clouds by mid-afternoon. So a longer stay on the island may have been better but probably not. It was raining quite hard. I went to the spa in the afternoon. Tuesday we were at sea. We got some sun from the lounge chairs on our balcony but it was relatively overcast in the afternoon. We checked out deck 12 with all its meeting rooms and the library and the reading room and the cinema and we went to a Latitude’s party in the Spinnaker Lounge. My husband and I had a “massage for two” at the spa. The spa is beautiful. The specia