We cruised with NCL in 2018 on the Spirit and had a stellar experience. This year on the Star, we were a little disappointed for a few reasons.
The ship was recently refurbished and we appreciated it - it was like brand new in many aspects. We really appreciated the updated staterooms (particularly the USB ports next to each side of the bed and the real hairdryer!). However, the layout of the ship is not intuitive and just didn't feel like a home in some ways.
First, each stairway/elevator should be a vertical path to access ALL floors, but this was not the case on the Star and it was confusing.
Second, NCL could put signs at each elevator/stairway to show which side is Port or Starboard, since the colored doors aren't visible on each floor.
Third, there is NOT ENOUGH seating for the buffet and it was a huge problem. Too many 4-tops mean wasted seats. NCL needs more 2-tops, more seating in general, and it was disappointing there was no outdoor seating for the buffet (unless you wanted to walk all the way to Spice H2O).
Finally, we were very disappointed there is no forward viewing lounge inside.
As for the crew - the stateroom stewards and bar/restaurant staff were great on the Star, but the Shore Excursion staff were not knowledgeable about the details of their tours. In particular, one of the ShoreEx managers was rude and condescending to us, to other guests, and to fellow crew members.
In addition, we interacted with numerous people on the Guest Services desk and on EVERY occasion, they either did not know the answer to simple questions, or they gave us incorrect information. or they gave us conflicting information. It was VERY frustrating and makes NCL look incompetent and unprofessional.
Finally, the Upgrade Advantage program is VERY frustrating. NCL absolutely must be more clear and transparent about how the program and process works. We got conflicting information every time we called or emailed NCL, and their website doesn't provide enough clarity. It caused A LOT of frustration and angst beginning at 3 months before our cruise, up to 48 hours before our cruise, which was NOT enjoyable. If we could've gotten more accurate information about the process from their website or call center, it would've been better.
I'm sure many people complained to NCL that the embarkation process at Tarragona was an absolute disaster. I'm VERY upset we had to rearrange our plans AND PAY for the cost to travel from Barcelona down to Tarragona, only to deal with the mess of an embarkation day.
I'm not sure what the solution is, but it would be nice if there was a better process to tender, other than having to wait in a line for 3 hours to get tender tickets (guests started queueing at 7am for 10am ticket distribution for Santorini). That's not a relaxing vacation.
The WiFi on the ship was also a disaster. We paid $350 for the unlimited package and it only worked about half the time, and when it did work, it was horribly slow. I get it that we're at sea, but NCL shouldn't ask their guests to pay that much for a sub-par product. Fortunately, the Internet Manager realized the issue and gave us a small credit to our account, which we were happy with.
Overall, we still enjoyed our cruise and we do plan to cruise with NCL again next year. This was an absolutely fabulous itinerary, visiting so many amazing ports.
1 out of 5
The cruise being moved from embarking in Barcelona to Tarragona was an awful decision on NCL's part. It was a huge inconvenience to have to get down to Tarragona from Barcelona, and the port was completely unprepared and disorganized. It made for a chaotic and stressful embarkation day.
Food and Dining
4 out of 5
The food in the main buffet was just fine, but the seating for the buffet on the Star is inadequate. We didn't go to any of the other restaurants as the reservations were always sold out.
4 out of 5
The theatre-type seating area around the pool allows for many sun chairs, which is very nice. We didn't attend any of the other activities as we were more interested in visiting the ports and then getting a good night's sleep.
We were not interested in attending any of the shows.
We have no kids.
Service and Staff
4 out of 5
The cabin stewards and restaurant staff were all stellar. The Guest Services and ShoreEx team weren't as great. On numerous occasions, we got conflicting or incorrect information, or they didn't follow through with promises to us - it was very frustrating, and it made the crew look unprofessional and like they didn't know what they were doing.
4 out of 5
The Star has recently been renovated, so the ship felt brand new in many ways. I appreciated the refreshed stateroom decor - especially the real hairdryer and the USB ports next to each side of the bed. However, the layout of the ship wasn't always intuitive. Each of the three stairways did not access each deck, so they didn't provide seamless/complete vertical access, which was frustrating. Also, the main buffet has no outdoor seating area, and there weren't enough seats - so this created a problem. There's also no forward indoor lounge for enjoying the view. The pool area was nice, though, as was the atrium. The Mandara Spa was nice, but we noticed the Thermal Spa area wasn't as updated as the images they showed in marketing videos/photos for the other ships, so it's a shame it's not as nice.
Cabin / Stateroom
4 out of 5
The use of space in the room is good, it's always surprising how much "stuff" can fit. I didn't care for the shortened closet, though, as there wasn't enough space for hanging clothes. Some of the space is taken by the sitting vanity, which could've been created under the TV where the now useless "shelf" is, if they'd have put the mirror and the stool there instead. Otherwise, I really appreciated the USB ports under the lamp on each side of the bed, and the real hairdryer at the vanity.
We found that most of the places we went to frequently were in the aft of the ship, so our forward/mid-ship room wasn't actually as convenient as you'd expect. In retrospect, I would've picked a room aft/mid-ship or just aft.
It's SO FAR from the port to the city, so making the trek into the city takes so much of your day. And Rome itself is SO crowded. But, we still made the best of it with a private "Angels and Demons" tour that was fun.
Last year at this same time, Santorini was our worst port due to crowding and numerous ships in port. This year, it was our best port due to no crowds and very few ships in port. We self-guided by taking the speed boat directly from the old port of Skala to Ammoudi Bay below Oia and enjoyed a wonderfully uncrowded few hours in Oia. By the time we needed to take the cablecar down to the port from Fira, the other cruise ships had gone, so there was no line - it was wonderful. Favorite place ever!
We self-guided here and went into Monastiraki and Plaka to visit friends and wander around. There was no line in the security hall when we returned, so it was an easy port this time compared to previous years.
We self-guided in this port. The shuttle bus NCL provided from the port to the main village was helpful. Unfortunately, Myknonos-Town was much dirtier than what we had experienced last year, so we didn't enjoy it as much.
The excursions offered by NCL weren't of interest to us, so we booked a private tour and got an amazing overview of the island in just 4 hours. The island is gorgeous, with sweeping views over mountains and the sea, with beautiful beaches, vineyards, forests, and more. This island is much less crowded than others, and being able to dock with no tenders made this a simple port. Would love to return.
We anchored way too far away from the old town, the tendering process took way too long (20 min boat ride one way!). The NCL excursion was excellent, though, and left us some free time to explore the lovely old town before the long tender ride back to the ship. The sail in/out of the Bay of Kotor is gorgeous and not to be missed!
We self-guided in this port. We chose not to take the shuttle NCL provided (for a fee) from the port to the Old Town, and instead jumped in a cab for the quick 15-20 minute ride (15EUR one way, or about 100HRK if you have Croatian Kuna). We enjoyed the very short 5 hours in this port (which is NOT enough - would be nice if they could figure out a way to be here longer), and took a cab back to port.
We stayed in Venice 2 days after the cruise ended to explore the city. It's massively crowded, but there are still some lovely things to see and do.
2 out of 5
We were told we were not allowed to self-disembark due to a Venice port "rule", and were forced to leave our bags in the hallway at night. The next morning, they announced that people could start self-disembarking - just another bit of misinformation we received on the cruise (and yes, we realize it may have been due to exactly where we ported, as the methods of disembarkation differ. It was still frustrating). So, we had to sit with all the people in the common areas, where there's not enough seats, and wait for our color tag to be called. Then we had to follow the masses and try to locate our bags in the baggage hall. We would've much preferred to self-disembark.
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