Date of Trip: November 2007
We just got back from taking the Norwegian (NCL) Star and going on the Mexican Riviera itinerary. Sailing date was November 24th. I am sure this is going to seem like a long review, but I have a lot to say about it. I will cut to the immediate chase however for those who do not want specifics. 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. It was a very nice place with friendly staff. Our room, which was a “deluxe” room over looked the Bay of Long Beach and the surrounding area which has a lot of attractions, beautiful condo’s and hotels, and also the Queen Mary. We did go to the Pacific Aquarium there in Long Beach,. It was difficult for me to enjoy it fully as it was the day after Thanksgiving and I had not thought about people bring kids by the car loads to the Aquarium since the kids were out of school for the holiday. If you can go when it is not crowded, I am sure it would be a worthwhile adventure. We did have a great lunch right across the street at a place called Bubba Gumps. I recommend it very highly. Great staff, nice prices and great food. We had dinner on Friday night and breakfast Saturday morning at the Coast Hotel and enjoyed both. 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 earn 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 GOD 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.