July 2014 - Norwegian Star to Europe - Northern Europe
This was our first time on NCL, after 7 previous cruises on 6 other lines (we're not very loyal cruisers, are we?). The service on the Star was fine, but what really irked me was the mandatory $12/day/person gratuity charge. Where was the incentive for the service people, they'd get their gratuity no matter what?! I wish NCL would just build in that gratuity in the price, or better yet, pay their employees what they're worth to begin with. I was also a bit irked with the constant efforts to squeeze more money out of us - the obnoxious photo-taking (only $20 a picture!), the spa treatments, the shops, the specialty restaurants, etc.etc. I took note of a poster down on the 4th deck from which we always left the boat for shore. I don't think this poster was supposed to be seen by us passengers: it was a list of the 4 "tenets" of NCL and number one was, in essence, generate revenue; number 2 is the guests (passengers). Our comfort and experience rates below them making more money! OK, I get it, that's what they are all about, but please, don't make it so in-our-face with that poster!!
The food was fine, although we avoided the Market Place (buffet) for dinner; breakfast was chaotic enough with lots of people jostling, etc. I thought the food for breakfast was just fine, lots of fresh fruit including a favorite of mine, watermelon. I always had fruit and pastries/bread, so I can't comment on any of the other foods they offered, but they seemed to look fine. The coffee isn't very good but if you add milk and sugar it suffices. The coffee cups are pretty small, compared to what I'm used to so I had to make multiple trips to refill. We ate dinner at either the Versailles (nice, calm, quiet, but they ask for a slightly more "nice" dress style, which you can ignore, of course) or the Aqua rooms (same food, same good service, more casual dress expectations, but much louder room). We never ate at any of the specialty restaurants on principle - didn't want to give NCL more of our money just to eat when we could eat for "free" in the other places. The food was fine, not exceptional but good to eat, prepared nicely, served politely.
We didn't buy any of NCL's shore excursions with the exception of booking the Hop On Hop Off bus in Helsinki and Stockholm, so we'd be sure that bus would take us directly from and back to the ship. In Warnemunde (Germany) we had the most delightful day touring the area with Friends of Dave tours. He's an ex-pat, has lived there 15 years, very personable, fun, knowledgeable. The bus only holds 19 tourists and we didn't quite fill the bus so the group was a great size. Note: he doesn't always offer tours for every day a ship is in port. In St. Petersburg we had another very delightful tour with SPb Tours (they also do tours of some of the other port cities). Our guide was Tatiana and she showed us, however briefly due to the enormity of this town and our limited 2 days there, not only her city and it's treasures but also that Russians are people just like us. In the other ports, with "Top 10" guides in hand, we winged it on our own and had a fine time. Here's another annoyance with NCL - the information about each port was scant on the daily sheets they put in our cabins. It would have been nice to have a map, local info etc. given to us each day as we've received on other cruise lines.
Overall, we did have a good trip, but may not choose NCL in the future.