February 2016 - 7 Night Western Caribbean (Tampa Roundtrip) Cruise on Norwegian Star
My husband and I are experienced travellers and frequent cruisers. We have been passengers on RCI, Disney, Carnival, but this was our first Norwegian Cruise. It was a “last minute” and also our first time using a travel agent, Tracy of Adventures by Tracy of Knox, IN. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and received great value for our money.
The check in process in Tampa was a very positive experience. It was well organized and the staff were professional, friendly and knowledgeable. They were well versed in how to handle the $15.00 corkage fee for our two bottles of wine in a friendly, non aggressive manner. First impressions of the Norwegian Star were also very positive, with helpful and smiling staff members readily available for all the usual “newbie” questions. Lunch in the Market Cafe was pleasant and our cabin was ready very early.
Our window cabin on deck 5 was clean, bright and cheerful and there was lots of room for our clothes and luggage. The most pleasant surprise was the large shower in the bathroom…big enough to bend down and pick up the soap! The cabin did not have a couch or easy chair, but this was offset by the comfortable bathroom facilities. The desk, small table and two chairs were sufficient for our needs. Irene, our cabin steward was friendly, helpful and instantly responded to anything we asked of her. Thanks Irene.
We had the usual problems orienting ourselves to the ship and finding the way to the Versailles dining room remained a conundrum for the full voyage. This was our first experience with Freestyle Dining and we definitely prefer the set dining room times of the other cruise lines. This is a personal preference which may be a positive one for other folks. Versailles is a lovely venue and the food at dinner time was good to excellent. Unfortunately, dining room service over the 7 days was inconsistent. We had some excellent waiters, but also some less than professional ones. My husband was not pleased to have a waiter tell him that coffee was not readily available because he wanted it at the beginning of the meal instead of at dessert time! Also, someone should find a solution to the messy, dish clearing/serving bars right next to some of the dining room tables. They are definitely a noisy distraction.
O’Sheehan’s became our favourite spot to “hang out” on the Norwegian Star. The food was excellent and the wait staff were quick, efficient, knowledgeable and friendly. The black and blue burger is the best! We spent some pleasant evenings in O’Sheehan’s just sitting at a table listening to the excellent musicians playing in the Grand Atrium. Overall, we enjoyed the many musical groups playing in various venues on the Star. They were talented and not “over the top” as is sometimes the case. The only negative was the ear splitting atmosphere in the 5 o’clock somewhere bar, which we unfortunately had to travel through on several occasions to get to Versailles. Perhaps turning off the karaoke machine at busy dinner times could be an option.
The shows in the Stardust Theatre were the best….ever! The quality of the various entertainers was top drawer and the Norwegian Star Production Cast dancers and singers are second to none! The dancers were spectacularly amazing and the Marambola Show and Yuri’s strength were absolutely jaw dropping. We thoroughly enjoyed Fred Bevill enough on Thursday’s Showtime to uncharacteristically attend his delightful 11:00 pm show on Saturday. Hypnotist Terence B was also excellent. The technical cast is to be congratulated for their expertise. Well done everyone!!
Our biggest negative on Norwegian was the feeling that we were being “nickel and dimed” continuously. We prefer cruising because we consider it a nearly all inclusive vacation. We enjoy a beer and glass of wine on occasion and don’t mind paying for our alcohol, but we are not big drinkers. After a few days on the Star, we realized that a lot of our fellow passengers had booked the all inclusive drink packages and I guess the rest of us had to pick up the slack by being overcharged for drinks. Come on…$9.00 for the cheapest 4 oz glass of wine (plus 18% gratuity) and the same for draft beer….that’s a little much! One was expected to find a way to one of the bars for a drink and bar staff (other than behind an actual bar) was practically non existent. There seemed to be nearly a total absence of bar staff around the pool and hot tub areas and general pool crew was non existent….or perhaps hiding. There were a lot of children on this cruise….which is not a problem….however, there were a large number 7 to 12 year old unsupervised youngsters clogging the adult only hot tubs, eating ice cream while there and generally being belligerent. Skeleton pool staff members were not able….or perhaps didn’t wish to…deal with this major issue on all 7 days of our cruise. There were many upset passengers who took matters into their own hands…good thing there were some retired teachers aboard! Finally on Friday, much to our disgust, the problem was partially solved by removing the adult only signs off all but 1 of the hot tubs. With March school breaks coming up, this is a major issue which needs to be discussed at senior management levels and fixed!
The other “nickel and diming” concern is in the specialty restaurants. Guess it’s OK to up charge for special food choices and extra service, but a la carte? That’s really messing with cruise traditions and descending into “cheap” territory. Charging $7.95 for room service is something we have never seen before…what’s next? $25.00 surcharge for each suitcase one carries aboard?
Here is a list of other minor annoyances which should be easy to fix:
1) It is very hard to find the price of drinks at bars or anywhere else for that matter…..it’s annoying to have to ask every time
2) the drink of the day ($7.95+18% gratuity) supposedly $10.95 regularly, was served in the world’s cheapest plastic glass. It was so cheap it practically collapsed when one picked it up! Also, I think someone just waved the alcohol over the top.
3) Please have someone proof read your signage. There were spelling mistakes everywhere, especially on the bulletin board in the Grand Atrium describing the next port. It looks unprofessional and sloppy.
4) In this day and age, one’s cruise accounts should be continuously available on a TV channel in the guest cabins.
5) the view from the bridge and channel which showed where we were, were horribly distorted and fuzzy. Anyone up there heard of HD cameras???
6) Update your shore excursion videos. They were old, poor quality and some of them were not even relevant to our cruise. It sure stopped us from making inquiries at the desk. When we asked about shore excursions, someone just handed us the black and white order form which explains absolutely nothing, but does let one know the times and big prices. We ended up making our own arrangements off the ship….which was not our preference.
7) the guest bathrooms off the public corridors near the theatre and bars were sometimes very messy. There’s nothing more off-putting than a dirty bathroom, even if it’s only once in a while. Staff need to check more often during busy times.
8) Staff also need to be firm about chair “hoggers”, especially in the Grand Atrium, Great Gatsby and other entertainment areas. It’s annoying to see the same shirts, jackets, towels, sitting on chairs for more than an hour, while other folks are standing up.
9) Please, please, don’t have crew members flog tickets in the theatre before every Showtime. It’s probably embarrassing and demeaning for the cruise director and his staff.
There, now that all the “constructive” criticism is out of the way, we have to complement staff again on the disembarkation program. The handout that came with our Day 7 Freestyle Daily was very well produced and helped make the disembarking process easy. We chose to take carry our own luggage and the friendly staff goodbyes on our way out were appreciated. The only glitch was the elevator in the Tampa cruise terminal, which was so efficient, it kept closing and going to the next floor before all the passengers and their luggage were able to get off on their intended floor. Perhaps a Norwegian or cruise terminal staff member could hold the door on each of the floors during the busy times.
On the whole, we really enjoyed our time on this cruise and as we said before, it was great value for the money. Our week in the Western Caribbean was a positive experience and we would probably sail Norwegian again in the future.