Launched in 2001, the 2,348-passenger Norwegian Star was the first NCL ship custom built for Freestyle Cruising, NCL's anti-traditionalist program that touts a plethora of dining, cabin and entertainment options.
The ship boasts 11 restaurants, including venues serving Tex-Mex, Japanese and French cuisine, and 8 bars and lounges (try the open-air Bier Garten). In line with the Freestyle mantra, public spaces range from intimate to exuberant, providing a variety of spots for activities and entertainment day and night. There are also tons of accommodation options, from standard inside cabins to the enormous 6,694-square-ft., three-bedroom Garden Villas.
Star was refurbished in February 2010 in Victoria, British Columbia. The two-week dry-dock focused mostly on cosmetic enhancements (carpets, upholstery, etc.) and engineering work, but the line also added a number of 54 cabins and suites, and enhanced Star's spaces for kids.
Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered the concept of Freestyle dining, with multiple large restaurants and intimate specialty dining venues. Passengers who prefer standard dining, same time every evening, same table and table mates, can notify the maitre d' upon boarding and arrange to do just that.
There are two main dining rooms for traditional-style dining, Aqua, located midship, and Versailles, located aft. Both are lovely, with Versailles looking very much like its namesake (lots of gold and gilt and French Renaissance flourishes), while Aqua is contemporary, calm and cool. There are several tables for two in each restaurant, or you can ask to be seated with others if you prefer.
Besides the main dining room, there are a bevvy of alternative venues.
La Cucina (Italian pasta and pizza) charges a $10-per-person cover.
Moderno Churrascaria ($20) is a Brazilian-style steakhouse that offers a expansive lineup of skewered meat, including lamb chops, filet mignon, sausage and chicken. There's also the obligatory salad bar featuring international cheeses, dried meats, olives and marinated veggies, alongside the traditional salad ingredients. Sides, including mashed potatoes, fried bananas, and rice and beans, are served with the meat.
Ginza, specializing in Asian recipes, has a teppanyaki room ($25 per person surcharge) that only seats 12 at one time, so reservations early in the trip are critical, and a sushi bar ($15, all you can eat) with a mechanical "train" that delivers a rotating array of morsels.
Le Bistro, NCL's signature French-Mediterranean restaurant ($20), specializes in Continental dining with atmosphere being almost as important as the food. Small, dark, intimate, the ambiance is quiet and romantic, making the menu choices taste all that much better. The signature dessert, a fruit and chocolate fondue, is so good that it's a shame to leave it for last.
Cagney's Steakhouse ($25) is located at the top of the ship and replicates a typical high-end steak-and-chop house, with white linens and a clubby feel. The Star Bar, located adjacent, is a quiet, dark, intimate place to sit before or after dinner, looking out at the neon palms that line the pool area.
Blue Lagoon (free), the 24-hour dining spot, is wonderful despite its limited menu. It's located on Deck 7 overlooking the atrium. It's a great place to get big, juicy chicken wings at 3 a.m. if you want them, or a bowl of chili, fish and chips, or a big burger and fries, all cooked to order and fresh.
The Bier Garten, located high above the pool deck, serves Bavarian fare (wurst, pretzels) during the afternoon. It's a lovely place to perch when it isn't too windy outside.
The Garden Cafe, the ship's buffet/cafeteria restaurant, is located on the Lido Deck aft, serving the usual breakfast and lunch fare, casual dinners, and light snacks the rest of the day and night. Omelet and waffle stations are available for breakfast, and at lunchtime, the port side becomes a vegetarian station, with fresh salads, steamed vegetables, and a variety of freshly prepared Indian and Middle East dishes.
Room service offers sandwiches, salads and such 24 hours a day, and Continental breakfast ordered with a door-hung card the night before.
Although this is a large vessel, the public areas are designed in such a way that makes many areas of the ship feel cozy and intimate. Most of the bars, lounges and restaurants are centrally located so you can just go steps from one to the other and have an immediate change in atmosphere.
The core area just slightly forward of the atrium elevators on Decks 6 and 7 is home to the Pearl Martini Bar, Gatsby's Champagne Bar, The Wine Cellar and the Star Club Casino. All of these areas lead nicely to the restaurants surrounding them and to the main showroom at the front of the ship, Stardust Theater.
The casino, which is large and well equipped, with a variety of table games and slots that range from nickel denominations to one machine at $100.
The Java Cafe is located in the middle of the Grand Atrium, serving specialty coffees at a la carte prices, along with cookies and pastries, some at no charge. The Red Lion Pub, a dark, quiet spot featuring entertainment, is located aft on the port side, just before the entrance to the Spinnaker Lounge.
The Galleria Shops, located on Deck 7 forward near the theater, carry everything from logo items and toys to the shipboard equivalent of haute couture.
The teen and children's centers are at the aft of the ship, as is the Barong Spa and Fitness Center.
The Internet Center onboard Norwegian Star is located in a mezzanine perched above the Grand Atrium and is only accessible via two doorways located on Deck 9. It's a hard-to-find space but once there, it is quite nice, separated from the activity but allowing you to witness the goings-on in the atrium lobby. Packages can bring the Internet rate down to as low as .35 cents per minute, with a $3.95 start-up charge. Wireless Internet is available bow-to-stern. Passengers can rent a laptop from the computer center.
Almost all of the ship is wheelchair-accessible, although some of the locations and entertainment venues seem to require a round-about means of arriving. Elevators have buttons that are reachable by guests in wheelchairs and they "ding" before they arrive so sight-impaired guests can find the one that is opening; deck numbers are listed in Braille.
Smoking is limited to the port side on outside decks, to the casino, and to certain areas of bars and lounges. There is no smoking in the Grand Atrium, in any of the restaurants, or in the Stardust Theater.
Norwegian Star has a wide variety of cabin types that range from standard insides to the two whoppingly huge and elaborate Garden Villas perched atop the stern.
The standard rooms (all of them, except for those designated as "suites"), are designed with colorful nautical-inspired prints on the carpeting, rich cherry-stained furnishings, a seating area that can be converted (in most rooms) into another bed, and a "split bathroom" configuration that has a small sink in the middle, toilet on one side, and a nice-sized stall shower on the other, each closed off by a sliding glass door. Amenities in standard and mini-suite bathrooms include pump bottles of both soap and shampoo in the shower and hand soap at the sink. No hair conditioner is provided.
Note: The move to the pump bottles for soap and shampoo has made some guests feel that NCL is cheapening their experience. In fact, the move was made for waste conservation, and the quality of the products is very good. We had misgivings, but although it isn't labeled, the shampoo is actually terrific and is probably a generic version of Herbal Essences.
Suite guests (Penthouse and higher) get Elemis bath products.
Standard cabins also have plenty of closet space and drawers, a mirrored vanity, a writing table, a television and a mini-fridge. Oddly, the only 110-volt plug is located at the vanity area, which also has a nice salon-style hairdryer to use. If you intend to bring a laptop, bring a set of converter plugs too, so you can plug into the 220-volt outlets located by the writing tables.
Balconies on those cabins which have them are spacious and furnished with comfortable cloth-mesh recliners. The Deck 11 mini-suite balconies are a little bit deeper than those located on lower floors, as are the balconies of the eight standard balcony cabins located here. The rooms at the forward end and at the aft of the Lido Deck overhang on this deck have a portion of balcony that is uncovered, adding to the sunshine quotient.
Mini-suites have a large, elegant bathroom with tub, a larger seating area, and elegant drapes, spreads and carpeting. The full pull-across drape separating the seating area from the sleeping area is double-lined, shutting out almost all light, and welcomed by those who have alternate sleeping and waking schedules.
Hint: The closet in the mini-suites is located adjacent to the bed, facing the center of the room. The configuration requires reaching sideways to access the shelving since there is not a door that opens to that part of the closet. It isn't an ideal design, but is made much easier when you discover that there is, indeed, a light in the closet. It's hidden: Almost at eye-level, there is a little button at the back. Press it and presto! Light! The button is visible in the dark since it emits a soft glow, but if you don't know it's there, it makes the closet difficult to use.
Guests in mini-suites and above have a concierge at their service; guests in Penthouse suites have the added advantage of butler service.
Of the 36 suites on Star, two are the aforementioned Garden Villas, 5,700 square ft. of opulent lifestyle, complete with private gardens, saunas, hot tubs, three bedrooms, a living area, a pantry and butler service. The others range from forward-facing Owner's Suites with 740 square ft. of living space to a variety of Penthouse suites, the ones at the aft corners having enormous wrap-around verandahs. All of the suites (except mini-suites) have whirlpool bathtubs. We particularly like the Penthouse suites located on the sides of Deck 11, with a floor-to-ceiling one-way window in the bath next to a whirlpool tub.
The 20 wheelchair-accessible rooms are available as insides, or outsides with balcony.
Each passenger is automatically billed $12 per day, which supports an incentive program for the service staff. Passenger who prefer to tip individually can fill out a form at reception. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to fitness classes and bar drinks or 18 percent in the spa. For passengers using concierge and butler service, NCL recommends a gratuity "commensurate with the services rendered." The bill can be paid in cash or with credit cards or traveler's checks.
|Fitness and Recreation|
This ship is so long that it only takes three and a half laps on the Deck 13 walking and jogging track to make a mile. The view from here is great, too, looking down on the pool and the gallery that rises above it at the forward end. And when you're done with your jog, you can flop into one of the chaises which are close at hand.
The big pool is flanked on the aft end by a pair of twisty slides, and at each end with hot tubs. If there are too many people in the main pool for you to feel comfortable swimming laps, not to worry: There is an indoor lap pool in the Barong Spa, 40 feet long and 13 feet wide.
The well-equipped fitness center is open 24 hours, and has a large variety of weight training and cardiovascular equipment, all situated at the aft of Deck 12 looking over the stern's wake.
The spa itself, aft on Deck 11, is a Mandara Spa run by Steiner Leisure. It's lovely, with the lap pool, a whirlpool and a special hydrotherapy pool, steam and sauna, plus an aft-facing solarium with comfy wicker chaises and a terrific view. There is a charge to use the lap pool, Jacuzzi and Hydropool. There are several treatment rooms where you can get facials and massages, and a salon for hair and nails. Check the Freestyle Daily for specials.
Elsewhere on the ship there are two golf cages, basketball, volleyball, horseshoes and Ping-Pong.
This is a ship that is designed for families in mind. On Deck 13, aft, is Planet Kids, with activities for for children ages 2 to 12, including a movie cinema and a large jungle gym. Kids are welcomed from 6 months old, and if they aren't yet potty-trained, the parents will be issued a beeper so they can be called when it's time to change a diaper.
Note: No diapers of any kind, "swim" diapers, are allowed in any of the pools.
On Deck 12 next to the cafe is the teen-only area, complete with a dance floor, jukebox, air hockey table, several computer stations and a "living room" space for mingling. Just across from this space is the Video Zone, with several high-tech (and loud) video games.
Behind the Barong Fitness Center is the hugely popular Splash Down Kid's Pool, with two rocket-shaped slides, a wading pool and a kid-sized hot tub. This area isn't limited to the children in the Kid's Crew program; it's accessible to all, excluding adults.
Since meal times are flexible with Freestyle dining, and there are so many activities on the ship for everyone, children of all ages can be happily accommodated. Mom and dad can have some alone time, too, with Mom and Dad's Night Out, and group babysitting is offered for a small hourly charge (plan on $6 per child).
NCL's passengers run the broad spectrum of families with young kids to retirees who want a casual cruise experience at a reasonable cost. The average age of guests on the Star's eight-day Mexican Riviera cruise is mid-40's, but when the cruise starts on a Friday or Saturday, the number of children on board increases. The ship is ideal for families wanting to experience an Alaska itinerary, especially since it sails roundtrip from Seattle.
Casual, casual, casual. There is one voluntary formal night for those who want to dress up, but most choose to leave their jewels and tuxes at home. The fancier restaurants (Bistro, SoHo Room) do lend themselves to cocktail attire, but the other dining spots only require resort casual. No shorts, swimsuits or tank tops are allowed in the restaurants after 5 p.m.
As usual on an NCL ship, the entertainment shines brightly. There is "the usual" -- bingo, art auctions, karaoke -- and production shows at night in the Stardust Theater. The nightly shows include magicians, comedians, production numbers and a Cirque du Soleil-type of gravity-defying extravaganza.
But the ship also has, scattered around its sundry bars and lounges, a host of talented individual performers who add greatly to the ambiance of relaxation. Whether it's jazzy piano cocktail music, boogie-woogie and 1940's standards, the Beatles, calypso and reggae, salsa or classical, you can find it aboard Norwegian Star. On its Mexican Riviera sailings, the Antonio Remirez Folkloric Festival comes onboard during the ship's lengthy stop in Acapulco.
Daytimes (and sea days) are made enjoyable with the many contests and activities available on almost all of the public decks, including movies in the Deck 12 theater, enrichment lectures highlighting the history and cultures of the region, golf chipping contests, and hairy legs contests at the pool (men only, please).
NCL has a "Star Search"/"American Idol"-type program that allows guests to strut their stuff and possibly win a cruise or a chance to appear as a performer onboard one of the company's vessels.
The Ship 'N Males Review, which features service personnel strip-teasing a la Chippendale's, is a fun and funny night out, especially for the ladies. The best, though, is the staff and crew show, which showcases the talents of the multinational employees with acts that highlight their national heritage (on our cruise crew members represented 64 different nationalities). Bring a hanky. Bring two.
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