A few days ago we returned from a totally unique experience: we boarded the massive, beautiful Norwegian Star ship and embarked on an 8-day cruise out of San Pedro, California (LA harbor) to the so-called Mexican Riviera. Our ports of call were Acapulco, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, and also on board were my LA-based parents (who are cruise experts: this was their 17th cruise by their count) and my sister and brother-in-law, who flew down from Alaska for the journey. [My sister has a blog too, btw: art dolls.info] In the interest of retaining our sanity, Linda and I booked two adjoining cabins on Deck 5, one for the kids and one for us. At least, theoretically. One further cabin over was my parents, who didn’t realize they were setting themselves up to hear the late-night cries of the wee one when we arranged everything!
Grand Atrium, Norwegian Star
Deck 5 is pretty low on the ship but we found that a benefit because the ship was more stable and we experienced less sway and motion than my sister did up on Deck 11, where their fancy cabin with a deck was located. We didn’t have a deck — too dangerous with K-, our 3yo! — but we did instead have a very large window in each room, about 6×5 or so. Plenty big enough for sightseeing!
The ship was amazing, with more large, open space than I ever imagined was possible. To the right is a photograph of the Grand Atrium, looking down on the Deck 7 from Deck 12: The open space in the middle is where a four-player group played pleasant muzak every evening. I found it a bit hard to listen to their pablum covers of ABBA, the Beatles, and more, but everyone else in my party thought they were very good. What do I know about music? 🙂
As I said, the ship was amazingly large, sufficiently so that their jogging track on Deck 13 is marked to inform that four times around the track is one mile in length, that is, the ship is a quarter-mile around or roughly 1/8 mile in length. No kidding.
In addition to the twelve restaurants, there was a library, reading room, two game/card rooms, conference facilities, a 300 person movie theater and the Stardust Theater, a beautiful venue that must have seated at least 800 people, spanning Decks 6 and 7, and the site of a variety of short musical and dance productions on different nights. What else. There’s a large store with jewelry, clothes, toys for the kids, sweets, and various trinkets and souvenirs. We managed to only buy lanyards for the kids to keep their cabin keys, a few shot glasses (we collect ’em in a rather informal manner), and I think that’s it.
One of the things we most enjoyed about being on the ship was that every single meal was prepared by their pleasant crew. Surrounded by rather chic restaurants offering cuisine ranging from sushi and teppanyaki to Tex-Mex and a steak house we actually ate almost all of our meals at the Garden Cafe buffet. But the buffet was better than you may think: mornings included cooked-to-order omelets, fresh waffles, and a wide variety of traditional breakfast foods. I typically eat oatmeal and fruit, both available each and every morning.
Water slide at the Oasis Pool, Norwegian Star
Lunch we more often than not ate at The Grill, basic hamburgers and hotdogs served poolside by the main Oasis pool on Deck 12. Rather to our surprise the kids ate and enjoyed beef hotdogs with cheese and ketchup on a bun, the kind of food we rarely get them to eat at home. Must have been that invigorating sea air!
Dinner was back at the buffet again, and we were again impressed with the fare. From turkey breast and lamb to custom stir-fry with the vegetables of your choice to fresh dessert crepes, there was always something delicious to eat, and being a buffet, as much as you wanted to eat. Yes, everything I’d heard about cruises being pigfests proved true, and there were a lot of seriously obese people really piling it on, meal after meal. I think we managed to show some restraint!
An eight-day cruise and three, no, four days of it are “at sea” days as you travel from port to port. The longest haul was the beginning, it takes three days to travel from San Pedro to Acapulco, meaning departure day plus two “at sea” days. Boring? Not at all, not with a children’s pool complex at the back (aft) of the ship and the larger adult-scale Oasis pool complex midship. Both had fun waterslides and K- especially just loved ’em and couldn’t get enough, which surprised and delighted me. She’s only just 3, but was definitely a girl on the move, zooming down the big slide laughing the entire way, then zipping up the stairs and waiting her turn with all the big kids.
We also learned after a few days to get new books from the library. They had about 50 kids books, which is ridiculously few for a land-based library, but plenty to keep all three happy with new reading materials. A secret: the library also has games, so we also checked out a Yahtzee game that we kept in the room for the duration of the cruise, offering a nice alternative to the games we’d brought, Uno and Rat-a-Tat Cat.
A pair of typical cruise ship passengers on the Norwegian Star
I’ll write about our shore excursions in a different posting, and then a separate note about the weirdness of embarkation and disembarkation and how the Norwegian Cruise Line’s complete and pathetic inability to manage crowds getting on and off the ship left a terribly sour note in our mouths and left Linda saying “If that’s what it’s always like getting off a cruise ship, I’ll never go on another cruise in my life.”
For now, however, I’ll stick with positive stuff and tips.
Here’s one: of an evening, we’d pop our head into The Spinnaker Lounge and get a few bags of popcorn for in-cabin munchies. Dunno if our cabin attendant appreciated the cleanup every morning, but it was good popcorn and the kids, esp. 10yo A-, joined me in munching away while reading books or playing games. The Lounge also featured a four-piece rock combo that played a wide variety of contemporary and classic rock music, sometimes with some verve and other times, well, let’s just say that a jukebox isn’t always something to shun. 🙂
Nonetheless, they were entertaining and the kids just loved experiencing so much live music, which there was no shortage of during the cruise. In one of the lounges we enjoyed a female folk singer with her obligatory guitar too, I think she might have been the most talented musician of the crew. When we were in Acapulco, a splendid Mariachi band came on board and performed at the Oasis Pool.
A few quick numbers. As I said, the ship’s about 1/8th mile long and has cabin space for 2,200 passengers. To service them, the ship also holds 1,100 crew, and if you can visualize the below-waterline decks, that’s mostly where they sleep and live when they’re not working, though plenty of them also eat at the Garden Cafe and mingle with the passengers, especially on shore excursions. I chatted with and was befriended by many of the international crew, including chaps from Australia, St. Lucia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and mostly from the Philippines. All were pleasant, and all talked candidly about how many hours they work (a lot), how much time they get off (precious little) and how much they’re enjoying their work anyway (just about all of them).
Most amazing to me was that I didn’t touch a computer the entire cruise and lived to tell the tale. Yes, 8 days with no email, no blogging, no news, nada. Just playing with the kids, relaxing on deck, and wandering around Mexico. Great fun and really, given that I can’t remember the last time I went offline for more than a day or two, probably critically good for my mental health too.
Well, that’s enough for this first entry on our cruise adventure. I hope you enjoy the pictures I’ve included too! Have you been on a cruise with your family? How was it?
Continued in Part II: Food, Norovirus and Excursions and Part III: The Terrible Experience of Embarkation and Disembarkation.
Funnily enough I was on that same cruise. I have to agree about the disorganization getting on and off the ship. They herded my husband and I right past the customs desks and we had to circle around and get in line again! Horrible – added another 20 minutes to the hour and a half we were already in line. But the rest of the cruise made up for it.
Did you notice that skinny people were piling it on at the buffet too? My husband being one of them. Plus all the little kids with the sugar feeding frenzies. I know one person who wasn’t too happy with the availability of pastries, ice creams, and other sweets. (smile) But you have to admit the whole extended family got hooked on that bread pudding!
Also by strange coincidence my wife and I were also on the same cruise and had the experience of being in acabin next to a very strong lunged vocal young lady who liked to serenade her fellow passengers. This was our second trip on the Norwegian Star and also our 5th Norwegian Line cruise. You didn’t mention the Freestyle Dining which is NCL’s strongest attraction. Eat dinner at any time from 5 to 11 pm, no fixed table mates meaning that you can sit with different people every night and get to know your fellow passengers. And only one (optional) formal night–no tuxedos or evening dresses unless you wanted to dress up. No tank tops, shorts etc allowed in any of the major restaurants in the evenings.
NCL is not considered to be in the top tier of cruise lines but we have enjoyed all of our NCL cruises (which is why we keep going with them.) Having travelled on Princess, Royal Caribbean and Holland America we have a good idea of what we like and are comfortable with. The embarkation and disembarkation were a shambles but remember there were 2,250 passengers to handle.
We are glad that your overall experience was positive but would have liked you to mention how much you enjoyed the two nights your parents and sister and brother-in-law babysat so that you and your lovely wife could sit down and enjoy a peaceful meal without the kids.
We would do it again anytime even with our nocturnal serenades.
Wow, that comment about “obese people really piling it on, meal after meal” was really, really hypocritical and over the top. I could not even enjoy the rest of the article after reading that. We are going on this same cruise soon, it’s our 3rd and have seen plenty of skinny people “really piling it on too”(we plan to be some of them) after all you don’t go on a cruise to eat lettuce leaves. You must have enjoyed the food to some degree, because you actually mention that “there is always something delicious to eat”. It is amazing that people can go on vacation and actually watch and judge what other people are doing, amazing.
Thank you for pointing that out. I am getting ready to take this ship to bermuda and it is my first cruise and I was so excited to read this and after that comment I cant even trust what is being sad.
Not a problem, you’re reading my commentary on our cruise experience and if something’s offensive to you, well, perhaps it’s good that we weren’t on the cruise together! 🙂 I also commented that there were skinny people eating huge amounts of food too…
We’re scheduled (family of 5; kids 10, 7, 5) for the same cruise in early April. Excitement is building but I’m a consumate pessimist…anything to avoid other than the disembarkment (which won’t be easy)?
David, don’t be a pessimist. It’s really fun and you’ll all have a great time (esp since your youngest is 5, not 3!!) In terms of disembarking, just make sure you don’t have a flight or anywhere you need to be before 3pm or so, and I’m sure you’ll be fine. The people who were really stressing were the people who expected we’d dock at 7am: we didn’t actually tie-on until about 10.30am which meant that people with 11am flights were totally hosed.
What was the weather like when you were at sea, I am worried it might be cold? Thanks! I am leaving early April for the same cruise.
Most new cruisers really don’t know what to expect. Y’all must remember: cruising, as with all travel, is an ADVENTURE. Be prepared to enjoy what you can and overlook most of the unpleasantries. You’ll be so much happier at the end. I know! I’ve traveled the world – and most cruise lines…there is something to enjoy in all of them. And try not to be in such a hurry…take your time…plan ahead and give yourself more time than you will probably need. Enjoy!
I enjoyed your article very much but wondered about the formal children’s program on the Star. Our family is considering either taking the NCL or Carnival Mexican Riviera cruise this winter. Our son, now 7, loved the children’s program on Carnival two years ago and a side benefit to us was that they fed the children dinner so he didn’t have to sit through a long meal. What was your experience with the NCL children’s program? Thanks for your input.
Can you talk a little bit about the costs? I would like to be a first time cruiser (with a 12yo son), but I’m a little nervous about the expenses. TIA-
This was the worst cruise experience. My fifth cruise and I was terribly disappointed. I have cruised with Celebrity and Holland America. I will NEVER cruise with NCL again. The ship was damaged and it ruined our leaving on time. They changed the itinerary. Never got to see Alcapulco. And it was Christmas time. The ship is not kept up well. Compared to Celebrity, I would say it is the “Ghetto Star”.
Great and very informative piece on the Star. I will be on the Star in May with my wife and 2 kids, 1 and 3 years. We are in a room on deck 5 with a large window. However, I am unsure what the quad sleeping arrangements will be. I am hoping that there will a double bed will in the room/or set up in the room (ie moving two singles together). Can anyone comment on what the bed arrangements likely will be. Should I make any requests/changes to helpa accomodate the 1 year olds sleeping needs ie crib or with us in the same bed. Thanks!
I really enjoyed the ship i went with some friends in the March 23-29 2008 cruise I thought the ship was great I loved the ports of call especially Puerto Vallarta and Ixtapa I really expected more from Acapulco, but i guess some areas were really nice like the princess hotel. Overall I loved the service and i room was always nice and clean I thought the crew were really friendly who ever went to the same cruise in the same week just write here that cool you know how somebody you dont even know was there too and i want to know how did you think the cruise
I think the cruise business is a thing of the past. I took the cruise to Alaska on the “Star” and was I ever disappointed. The first day at sea had nothing planned to do –ie no MOVIES, NO SHOWS NOTHING,,,,,,,, what a bummer. Yes they had movies but had no postings as to what they were showing and what times they were to be on. Boy was I disappointed!!!!!!! I spent that day watching the scenery and reading in the beautiful library. I have been on several cruises and boy was let down on this one. I expected the first meal to be their best (Wrong again).
The comic was funny, I must admit, but when he did his last show and said well I have 2 minutes left –well I was disappointed. VERY UNPRORFESSIONAL. I HATED THE FACT that tips were taken per day for the service didn’t rate itWHAT A RIP-OFF. I had to MOVE DISHES several times (and I didn’t get a tip). They seem to have lots of bodies doing NOTHING. I saw many “bosses” telling someone waht to do–boy what a waste of labor. What they should have had is a multi-task operation rather then a dictorship situation.
Would I take them ????????? only if they remove the tipping deal for that is a real rip of.
Now a word of wise upon entering a port if u buy liquor the boat will take your booze and give it back to you at the end of the cruise and I think the reason is they cannot charge the big bucks for drinks so a word of wise ===HIDE THE BOOZE!!!!!!!!!
One last comment about the food it was Ok and no shrimp or lobster.At all………Yes I was GREATLY DISAPPOINTED
Heading on the Star in January – hope to have a great trip to Mexico!! Only cruised with Princess once and loved the cruise. Trying NCL just to try Free Style and the bargain coming from Seattle was hard to pass up. Will post when return!!
do they sell ‘pop’ or drink cards and how much are they. are the specialty coffees at the coffee bar included?
this was the funis cruse i have ever been on!! every thing you can think of doing you can do on this cruse!! me new people and get to see new things!!!
Hello to Author of this post:
We just got back from Our Mexican Rivera Cruise December 19-26 2009 onboard Norwegian Star. Our embarkation was horrible too. Our Diembarkation was even worse for same reasons you already mentioned…but it goes further…Those Decrees(?) they call them that you are supose to have by housekeeping placed in your cabins before you leave the ship-they never gave us ours. We were stopped by port security and made to complete the stupid thing before moving onwards out of the pier. They wouldn’t let us say by to our newly made friends on the cruise. Our cabin was torn apart by the past guests. I don’t know who Archie is perhaps he was so bad they may have fired him since your 2007 cruise. We had a Hammish I think is his name he is a Jamaican Cruise Director. He is fantastic. I would love to find a way to get ahold of NCL and let them know how great he is for his 6 month review before he leaves on his two month break. His assitant cruise director Mark is so so. He was really heavilly invilved with gaming (I don’t gamble as a Berean). But the food and the cruise was great!!! We went to Cabo San Lucas, Mazalan, and Peurto Varlarta ports.
The first port we were held up first something to do with tides someone told me-but then more pleasantly by five humpback whales swimming around the ship along with dolphins (a blessing and good sailing for landlocked people).
Yes we are standing by NCL. We love them and feel they have their problems for the youngest cruiseline on the planet. To expect excellance like Holland America whose been around since the 1880’s give or take a decade-but long. Or Princess whose been around what 30 40 years like Carnival or Royal Caribean-Celebrity (the same company for those who don’t know). NCL has had their problems for a new line. The NCL America use to do surveys of what worked and what does not so they can improve. I didn’t get an e-mail survey or one onboard the International (NCL Star is a registerred Bahamas (international-only Hawaii is the NCL America). Coinsedence or not so is the Holland America registerred to Bahamas or international.
Ok that may be all anyone responding to my post please also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. I may never find this site again-Don’t know how I found it this time.
And Norwegian you just really need to work on your embarkations and disembarkations more OK?