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“Disclosure #1) For anyone who already has a booking on...”


written by on 16/02/2010

Disclosure #1) For anyone who already has a booking on this ship or cruise line, you may not want to read anymore of this review because it is not positive.
Disclosure #2) While my wife and I are not longtime cruisers, we have traveled extensively and know good service and business practices from what was experienced on the cruise.
Disclosure #3) These are our experiences, views, observations, and feelings. Everyone's different.

My wife and I are a young 64 years old, have only been on 2 previous cruises. The 1st was Holland America and a 7-day repositioning cruise with ocean view, from Vancouver to Puerto Vallarta about 7 years ago. The second was a 10-day around the Hawaiian Islands and on to Tahiti on the Princess Cruise line with and inside cabin. Both were fantastic experiences and left us wanting for more. I have always said that our next cruise will be with a balcony.

This was a 5-day cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line's, Norwegian Star and also a repositioning cruise from Vancouver to LA. with a stop in SF. Seems kind of stupid since we live the SF Bay Area but since it has always been one of my favorite cities in the world, I have always wanted to cruise into and out of the Golden Gate. We booked a junior suite this time and that is the only thing that saved this cruise for us.

Let me start with a few positives, there will be plenty of the negatives later. The room really is fantastic with a fridge, safe and more room than I would have expected. The bath is 3 separate compartments with a toilet with sliding door, sink area and a bathtub with a shower and sliding glass door. Not enough closet space to live with but plenty for a week or two. Our cabin boy, Michael, was fantastic. Everything taken care of and he's never in the way.

Since what this cruise line promotes is "Freestyle" dining I guess it is the 1st thing I should review. The main dining room is the Venetian. It is an attempted throwback to the grand dining rooms of yesteryear. The food is fair-to good, but it is obvious from the beginning that they want you in one of their "for pay" dining rooms. I'm not going to review them all but they run from the cheapest one at $10 each to $25 with a $10 upgrade above that for the restaurants' signature dishes.

So if you go to Cagnie's and get a signature meal and a bottle of wine, we're talking an easy $125 tab for 2. So I guess freestyle really means they are free to charge you as much as they can and still get away with it. The sad thing is that if you want a decent cruise type of experience that you can get free on other cruise lines, you're forced to pay here.

One of the 1st and most obvious misses is the wait staff in the Venetian. Minimal training, minimal manners, and minimal mastery of the English language. Early on you can see that this room is where the new hires are placed to learn their skills. A much better choice for dining is Aqua which is also free, serves only dinner, and even though the food is the same as the Venetian, it tastes better because of the ambiance and the servers.

"Everyone loves to buy but no one wants to be sold". That's one of the oldest axioms in sales but one this company has to learn if it is going to remain in business. This ship is like being on a beach in Mexico where peddlers are constantly bothering you to buy something or maybe going to an Amway convention on your own. The moment you step on board you are herded into a room with all of the features that will be offered (sold) to you. From the up sell of the restaurants, to the tours, to the exorbitant internet fees - $.75 a minute!?!?!?!!? Are they kidding me? There's reasonable and then there's gauging. There is no fine line with this cruise line.

Plus you'd better get used to being sold on going to a pay-for-dining place because they will hit you up. While you're trying to relax with a cocktail or even when you're having breakfast in the cafeteria, someone will approach you "inviting" you to a restaurant or an event that costs. There are constant announcements about the art auction, the bingo game, the slot tournament, the Texas Hold'em tournament, or any and all of the other ways they can ring you out.

The ship itself is coming off of a season of sailing to Alaska. I cannot imagine a ship less suited for that cruise than this one. The pool seems to have been "designed" for the Caribbean with stadium style seating with lounge chair seating on levels going from the pool up to the beer garden 1 floor above. On both sides of the pool, at pool level, are tables and chairs. These 2 sides are the only shaded areas in the pool area, which means you cannot lounge by the pool in the shade, only set at tables. If you wish to use a lounge chair you will be in the sun, maybe okay if you're 15 years old. There are also 2 huge UGLY water slides and with the well worn fake palm trees the area has the look and feel of a tired and outdated Las Vegas hotel on the outskirts of town.

Remember too that with all of the "Freestyle" restaurants taking up floor space and only open in the evening there are very limited public areas on this ship and those that are there on cruise days, will have one of the money making events going on. The Library was always full because again, it was one of the few places to get some peace and quiet. As mentioned before, our room became the best place to relax. I pitied the people with the inside rooms.

If you're planning on taking alcohol on board, your bags will be x-rayed, your bag/bags quarantined and you will be forced to go down at the designated hour, stand in line with all of the other naughty/embarrassed passengers, to let the crew search your luggage, take out the counter band (that would cut into their profits) and place it into storage until the end of your cruise. From experience I can tell you that it is not a great way to start your cruise (and for the prices paid for the cruise, I feel a shame to treat people like they were going to the prom).

I could go on and on but suffice to say, you have been warned. It was the only cruise that we have been on that we literally could not wait to get off of. I would not travel on NCL again if they gave me a free cruise. In fact they may very well have cured my desire to cruise completely - on any carrier.

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