Villa Review’ Also titled "The Voyeur Villa" or
"Lifestyles of the pretend-to-be-rich and famous"
Preface Our first Hawaiian vacation was to be on the Norwegian Star.As many know, this ship was built exclusively to sail in
Hawaiian waters and has eleven different restaurants in which to dine
and no casino.The itinerary is
a good one in our opinion and includes in order Hilo (Hawaii), sea
day, Fanning Island (Republic of Kiribati), another day at sea,
Lahaina (Maui), Nahwiliwili (Kauai) and back to Honolulu (Oahu).
of course knew this was not the best way to see Hawaii in its’ full
grandeur, nevertheless we decided to give it a try and see what this
ship had to offer.It is no
secret this itinerary has had mixed reviews in the past.The ship began sailing in the winter of 2001, which is the most
turbulent time for wind and waves in Hawaii.Winter is when the best waves for surfing hit Hawaii and that can
spell rocky weather for a cruise ship.It just so happens we could not go until the summer and this
was probably the best time to go if one does not like uncertainty in
HiltonHawaiianVillage pre-cruise resort
We arrived two days earlier on the 12th to rest from the flight and
enjoy as much of Honolulu as possible.We stayed at the HiltonHawaiianVillage in the Ali’i
towers (booked a very reasonable Expedia rate), we ended up enjoying
the property so much and still on Arkansas time and
exhausted, we never left the property.Had we not had the children we would have forced ourselves out
but the amenities are quite extensive and we enjoyed every minute of
those not familiar with the HiltonHawaiianVillage, it is the largest
resort in Waikiki and has numerous
buildings for accommodations and multiple swimming pools, loads of
shopping and plenty of restaurants. Some of the restaurants allowed
children to dine free with an adult fare and that alone saved us quite
a bit of money so one might take that into consideration when booking
your hotel. Having heard the food and drink prices were outrageous and
expected the worst, we were actually surprised at the rates for food
and drink and thought they were inline with any good hotel or resort.
Ali’i tower has it’s own private guest reception area and
check-in, private pool (Very handy!), and other amenities that are
geared toward a business traveler.Arriving
around via taxi we found
a long line of probably 50 people slowly checking in.The separate check-in was a blessing this day though we never
saw another line as long afterward.We
particularly liked the private pool because people (as usual) started
very early to ‘save’ seating around the main pool. It is a
wonderful place to stay and well worth the extra dollars spent for a
family versus say the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel, of which we toured and
dined the last day of the trip.
a simple vacation turns into an extraordinary,
expensive, once in a
traveled with our two children and many friends and family on this
trip.Barry’s sister and her
travel companion, as well as her companion’s daughter and friend.This fact made us consider looking at possibly booking one of
the ‘Garden Villas’ instead of multiple cabins.In the end, it was a no-brainer for a once in a lifetime trip
for our friends and family.We
had to try the Garden Villas!
opulence, the space, the Garden Villa!
One of only two aboard, as NCL puts it: ‘Up on the rooftop sits our
luxuriously exclusive Garden Villas. These are the largest, most
elegant suites afloat. Each villa offers a living room, three
penthouse bedrooms, outdoor private garden with hot tub and private
rooftop terrace to create 5,350 sq. ft. of secluded spaciousness.
NCL's appointments include rich cherry-wood detailing, panoramic views
of the ocean, three elegant bathrooms, and discreet butler and
Villa sits on the highest level of the ship, the fourteenth floor
(nothing else is there but the suites), complete with keyed-access
elevator entrance, and staff that serves only the two suites.In addition, there exists a 15th floor accessible from the
Garden area that overlooks all of the ship and which is your own
private sun deck (complete with 30 or 40 lounge chairs)!This area is approximately 100 feet by 60… large enough to
have a huge gathering.
the card issuing ceremony was accomplished at the pier, we were met by
our concierge ‘Claudio’ who proceeded to escort us to our suite.A brief informal walk-through showing us the various amenities
of the suite kept everyone’s attention.He excused himself after giving us his card and his personal
direct telephone extension with instructions to telephone him at any
time day or night.
then met ‘Arnie’ our butler, who proceeded to explain his role and
the amenities he was to provide.Arnie
explained guests receive personal mobile telephones to carry with you
at all times onboard with direct extensions to your concierge who
arranges dining, shore excursions, or any special needs and his number
for in-suite requests.We used
our butler ‘Arnie’ for bartending a private party and generally
keeping us stocked with complimentary canapés, beverages, etc.We also had direct extensions to the hotel manager, and the
food and beverage manager.These
telephones are the same ones used by the staff onboard and operate
throughout the ship.You may of
course call others in your party (three are in each villa) or other
extensions from these telephones, in effect having ‘mini
walkie-talkies’ with you onboard.
villa is given a list for the guests to choose six complimentary
bottles of liquor for your bar (and several bottles of Chandon
champagne), escorted VIP reserved seating at all shows by your
concierge, and VIP tender tickets going ashore that allow boarding
tenders at any time.In
addition, villa guests receive VIP Immigration status (to be the first
in line) as well as an invitation to a VIP cocktail party hosted by
the Captain.This party was
composed of the other suite guests and the officers, around 40 people
attended due to the fact that many brought friends and family.
layout There are three bedroom suites with a fold out couch in the living
room.To get an idea of how
large and spacious these villas are try to imagine the living room of
both villas being Royal Caribbean’s entire ‘Viking Crown Lounge’
overlooking the pool.We
occupied the port side ‘Thai’ designed villa as opposed to the
starboard ‘Japanese’ villa.Very
little difference except for the pagoda designs out in the garden and
the fact that ours had a large built-in wet bar with stools and the
other villa does not.Both have
player grand pianos, dining tables for eight, laptop computer with
Internet access and printer.Standard
Internet charges apply and is sold by bundled minutes or by the
minute.The living room was a
perfect place for all of the suite guests to generally meet and be
together, watching the rest of the passengers from this unique vantage
main entrance leads into a hallway that continues to three bedroom
suites each with its’ own doorbell.Oddly
enough, the main entrance does not have a doorbell and the staff would
come in and out (announcing themselves) freely.One bedroom is near the living area and would likely be labeled
the master.All rooms have Bang
& Olufsen 27-inch televisions with built in DVD players and act as
your personal stereo.Two of
the rooms have incredible bathrooms complete with ‘digital’
showers (yes… digital thermostat, water controls, etc.).In addition, they incorporate beautiful dual glass-bowl sinks
and Jacuzzi bathtubs that have a 10-inch LCD television to watch while
you bathe.Marble floors and
walls complete the bath that overlooks the slide and pool area with
huge slanted windows.You
literally look out over the pool as you brush your teeth in the
morning!The glass is very
close to being one-way in the daytime as it is nearly impossible to
see in, however at night if the electric wooden blinds are not drawn
you will be in a fishbowl for all to see.That was always an ‘odd’ treat to watch what other
passengers were doing as you prepared for the day.
second large bedroom opens out into the garden area via sliding door,
has virtually the same bathroom amenities, and is as large in square
footage as the master.
middle bedroom is a bit smaller and incorporates sliding drapes
surrounding the bed that blocks out all light in the room.Here, the bath is smaller and is much more like regular suites
with a bathtub.This room also
is the only room that has a game table that seat four as well as a
small couch and seating area.Each
room has a bar area, refrigerator, extensive storage, seating areas
for two to four, gigantic panoramic windows that slant out over the
ocean and come complete with pants pressers in the huge closets.The Garden Villa is nothing short of incredible digs for a
cruise ship of any caliber!
is a maximum of seven people allowed in the villa by design to thwart
four couples splitting the villa.We
can see NCL’s point on one hand, but at the prices being charged,
and considering they do sail empty occasionally, we could see some
flexibility here might be in order.However,
it is a hard rule so far with no leeway.Obviously, it would be nice to throw the kids on the couch and
let adults take the bedrooms.
Garden The garden itself is an incredible space to say the least.Each morning breakfast was served outside on the large teak
table that seats eight overlooking the ocean.Additional teak seating and tables make this area capable of
catering to a very large party, and the sunning loungers are massive
teakwood with thick cushions.
garden has a private elevated hot tub covered by a pagoda that could
hold four (or more) and was the hit of the garden for us.Evenings were often spent basking in the hot water watching the
ocean roll by.Next to the tub
is a steam room and shower stocked with towels and robes and acts as a
there, you may take the stairs up to the private sunning area.Unbelievable is the only word to describe the size of this
area!We had been on the
inaugural of the ship and we entirely missed this wonderful spacious
private area.A tall opaque
wall separates this area from the other villa on the starboard side (a
door can be opened to share both villas).This was the supreme vantage point for coming into or leaving
ports or for simply watching the world go by.Many nights we found our companions relaxing on the deck in
loungers enjoying the stars of the Pacific.
Staff Overall, our concierge Claudio was stupendous in his duties.For instance, we had a scuba trip cancelled and he handled
squeezing one more into a ‘sold out’ tour at the last minute (on
the morning of cancellation)!Although
we didn’t personally phone him too often he made his presence felt
daily with invitations for the VIP seating at shows, letters
concerning VIP tender tickets, information and suggestions about the
ports of call, etc.A true
wondering how the VIP seating worked, the concierge would typically
meet you and escort you to the theatre.The balconies closest to the stage were roped off with a sign
stating ‘VIP seats’.
tickets were brought to our villa that allowed boarding of any tender
at any time, thus avoiding the numbers game and the long lines to get
the tickets themselves.What we
found most valuable were the VIP immigration tickets.We would meet our concierge at a predetermined time and we were
the first people immigration clears.Combining
that treat with the tender tickets and we were really feeling golden
to be the first off having fun!We
only used the concierge for dining twice; we booked the rest ourselves
and had no problem at all getting reservations at any restaurant (and
yes… before giving them the suite number).
butler on the other hand, taking care of the duties within in the
villa left a tad bit to be desired.Although
in general he was seen many times a day and did an adequate job, we
found ourselves often asking him to fill ice buckets, pick up trays in
the living area, etc.With this
many people to take care of, we expected more from him in the
‘details’.After all, six
or seven people do not necessarily time their dining, etc. to coincide
at the same time.
were two lovely Malaysian girls that literally sit in a room off the
main hallway between the villas and do nothing but wait for the
appropriate time to come clean, provide new glasses and the like.When we asked how they liked taking care of villa guests, they
jokingly explained they always make ‘working the villas’ out to be
very difficult and not desirable to avoid losing their jobs to someone
else.In truth of course, they
say the least this is cruising at its finest if you like to be
presented our card or gave our room number we were taken well care of
in all aspects.And each and
every time we dined, either a headwaiter, Maitre d' or senior staff
member would make a point of coming over to visit and asking how we
were enjoying the villa and if there was anything they could do for
you in general. If they did not know you by name or face perhaps, the
telephones we carried with us gave it away!
are no other 14th floor guests so it is easy for staff onboard to
figure out that you are in a Garden Villa.After all, from our sailing date only around 150 people have
occupied the villas.As the
House Manager told us one day, "You know you can have just about
anything you want don’t you?”We
simply thanked him and grinned as we walked away.
only the upper staff members know much about the villas.At one point during the cruise, we invited a wonderful
bartender that was from the ‘Star Bar’ to come up, visit, and
bring a bottle of bubbly for a party we were having for our friends
sailing with us.She was
stunned at the size and opulence of the villa.Tears almost came to her eyes, as she could not believe that
this was all ‘private’ and not a public area.She explained that virtually no regular staff has seen this
area and even the maintenance workers must contact the butler or
concierge to gain access and that the staff is told when asked, simply
‘those are suites’.
the way, each villa has binoculars and a telescope to scope out the
activities below and thus the term ‘Voyeur Villa’ comes into play.We found ourselves literally watching all that goes on around
the ship.We felt like Jimmy
Stewart in ‘Rear Window’,
complete with dinner from ‘21’
served in our room by Grace Kelly (well okay… Arnie wasn’t Grace
but we’re trying our best to be funny here).
eat!Which of the eleven
do we go to tonight?
Let me get the schedule…"
is a good idea to plan all your possible restaurants on the day of
embarkation and make the reservations early.Most complaints we heard about reservations involved people who
wanted to dine at peak hours and waited to ask for reservations until
that afternoon.However, we did
not have any problem at all on the last night booking last minute
reservations for six at one of the most popular restaurants.
restaurants we favored most were the ‘Soho’ Pacific Rim
Cuisine for their Rice Wine marinated sea scallops, Sautéed Jumbo
Tiger shrimp and Szechwan encrusted beef
exemplary and the food is simply outstanding in our opinion.
the ‘Le Bistro’ French cuisine restaurant had very nice escargot,
cream of forest mushroom soup and a wonderful Mille-Feuille of Seabass
and mushroom duxcelles. The Filet Mignon was excellent served with a
very fresh béarnaise sauce.The
best afloat?No, but wonderful
and definitely worth the price of admission.
heard from our friends that the ‘Aqua’ contemporary cuisine
restaurant was fabulous and we missed the chance to dine there.Indeed, the last night we looked over the menu after dinner and
regretted not going there instead of our choice the ‘Ginza’ for Asian
Fusion cuisine.It is almost
impossible to dine at all the restaurants. Perhaps if you throw out
the Sushi bar and really tried it might be possible to cram in all of
them in one week.
will not comment on every restaurant, because they all have something
to offer just about anyone onboard.We
did not try the main restaurant and had heard in conversation with
others that the food and service was very good.Honestly we were thrilled to be going to the other restaurants
and it rarely crossed our minds to deviate and go to the main dining
room.After all, in our opinion
one of the main reasons to book the ‘Star’ is the many choices in
yes, the rest of the ship... you mean there is more?
she perfect?Hardly.It is true there is not a lot of space to sit in the shade by
the pool as the slides do take up a large amount of space.This particularly is a problem when they serve a huge barbecue
outside and people are wandering around looking for a place to sit and
eat.We loved the barbecue
though and it was a nice treat from the regular poolside grill on most
ships serving lamb, ribs, burgers, brats, etc. We did not notice
crowding at all in most places onboard, except in the shore excursion
area where a lot of people line up to book anything they can.We had the impression they did not pre-plan and were shocked
that tours were sold out.Plan
ahead early for most excursions.
shows were decent, well prepared and rehearsed, though not good enough
to make us stay through the entire show (we are not big show people).The comedian(s) were funny but not a must see.Adding to the fact there is no casino and we were thrilled to
be watching the world go by in and out of the villa and going to sleep
early.The piano bar was fun
but we tired of the concept rather quickly.Karaoke is not our thing so we abandoned that, though others
loved it and seemed to be having a great time.Overall there is plenty to do, though the locations of the bars
are a bit odd and by far the best is the German ‘Bier Garten’
overlooking the pool.On
several occasions during the week, they served great Bratwursts and
all the trimmings.
far as the décor goes, there are a million pictures of the ship
interiors on the Internet and elsewhere so, we will not go into
details.We thought the ship décor
was nicely appointed and well thought out.
dreaded Fanning island!
We enjoy sea days and the trip to FanningIsland let us enjoy real
tropical cruising.We had heard
the comments about this ‘fly ridden, middle of nowhere waste of
my-good-Hawaii-time’ island and we were anxious to see for ourselves
what it was truly like.We
encountered that very statement from a young couple coming off the
tender from Fanning.Literally,
she said "too many flies, nothing to see, it’s a great place to
get off, buy some trinkets and get back to the ship ASAP!"
taking the tender over, you first notice it is a beautiful group of
islands.The dock is well
covered to keep the line of people out of the sun as they wait to
board for the return trip.As
we came on shore the group of Kiribati people sitting under a tree in
the shade singing really did make us want to sit down and join their
song.They truly do seem very
happy to see you, not just putting on a show for the ‘tourista’s’.
the beginning, we were not impressed.We
saw hoards of people in the murky water close to the tender swimming
at the beach.We thought to
ourselves "this is IT?"No
one seemed to be having a great time… almost putting up with the bad
beach, crowds, and sun.
first priority was finding where to book the private beach ‘tour’
via boat.We had a very
difficult time finding it, as there were no signs pointing people here
and there.After finally
finding an NCL employee behind a wooden ‘desk’ and inquired about
the trip we were told the last boat had left and there was no way to
get there unless we wanted to ride the ‘potty boat’.Then she said, "you really don’t want to do that"
(they apparently haul people back and forth to do their business in a
small fishing boat).We asked
if there was any other place to simply snorkel and enjoy the beach and
she nonchalantly said ‘not really’.
this point, we were ready to get back in line to the tender.Fighting the urge, we instead wandered behind the craft selling
area on a dirt path (about a three-minute walk) and what did we find?One of the most pristine, beautiful beaches we have ever seen.A total of five or six people were swimming or enjoying the sun
here, and we could not believe our eyes!It was total nirvana for hours.We drifted in perfect water temperatures, comparing the feel of
the sand to that of Bermuda.Smooth, soft, wonderful one-degree-off-the-equator island
paradise sand.Just like in the
they keep this to themselves.No,
not the Fanning people… the NCL staff!We were soon sunning and swimming with the waiters and busboys
and maybe one or two guests who happened onto this beautiful stretch
of beach.As far as the eye
could see, there was unspoiled beach to roam.It is a shame because it really did remain that way all day.Part of us wanted to run to the other side and yell "Hey!
Over here!"However, of
cours we did not.It was the
only place where we could sit on an overturned fishing boat in the
shade, looking over the clear topaz waters and have almost total
silence except for the sound of the breeze through the palms above.Moreover, most importantly… no flies!Apparently they are totally attracted to the main area and the
food and drink that are everywhere along the beach.
the way back, we noticed a small wooden handwritten sign that said
simply ‘beach’ and an arrow.If
only they knew.Less than 60
feet further and the crowds would take back a totally different view
of Fanning we thought.Today we
think it was definitely one of the best beaches we have been to…
period.Simply go through the
craft area down the dirt path and look left.
far as the craft area goes, the Fanning people have not yet learned to
be rude and bother you with endless chatter trying to hawk their
wares.They simply sit quietly,
wait for you to approach, and help when you want to buy something.The Hotel Manager told us when NCL first started coming there
the natives would sell hats, straw goods, etc. for $1.00 or so, which
of course goes a long way in the Republic of Kiribati. Now they are up
to 5’s and more for this and that.Still
a great deal for goodies.After
all, when do you have another chance to travel back in time?The children are really cute and we wanted to adopt one right then and there!Many people brought candy or some small change to give to the
yes, we almost forgot about…Hawaii!
As for the ports of call, we offer these comments as constructive
criticism short and sweet.First,
we might like it better if they reversed the trip entirely.Meaning, give us Kauai first and work it
backwards because if you are active, there is so much to see and do,
you wear yourself out the day before you disembark.On the other hand resting for the first few days has its merit
so the jury is still out on that topic.
Hilo was the first
port of call and we opted to take the Blue Hawaiian ‘Circle of
Fire’ helicopter tour.Norwegian
Cruise Line uses Blue Hawaiian Helicopter tours for their bookings,
however we booked direct on the Internet and saved a substantial
amount of money due to their online discounts.A five minute, five dollar cab ride is easy to obtain right on
the pier.The flight is
unbelievable and well worth every penny!Save your money for this trip as you tour the most geologically
active environment on earth, with emphasis on the most current areas
of volcanic activity.
a sea day and FanningIsland we had a fabulous
day on Maui.One can truly begin to appreciate the Hawaiian Islands and all they have
to offer.This is the longest
day you have on any of the islands and the only evening stay until
last stop was Kauai, the most exotic
of the larger islands.We
decided to take the NapaliCoast tour booked
through Norwegian.The 3 to 4
thousand foot high cliffs of the world famous NapaliCoast are truly one of
nature's most brilliant masterpieces.Hollywood has used these
magnificent cliffs and valleys as backdrops in movies such as JurassicPark, 6 days 7 nights,
and many others.
five hours of the most spectacular scenery awaits you; however, be
forewarned this trip is not for those who are incapable of handling a
bumpy ride.In fact, most of
the group ends up on small 15 foot Zodiacs while we (because of the
kids) were placed on a 35 foot Zodiac that had a head and other
amenities the others did not enjoy.In
addition to the scenery, we were treated to hundreds of dolphins doing
flips beside us and chasing our boat.The
boat operators take the Zodiacs inside caves and under waterfalls as
well.We thought Norwegian did
a fine job of organizing the tour and it was a trip well worth the
the end, it seemed that this cruise experience was one of the most
fleeting weeks for a vacation.Although
we had two days prior and a full seven days onboard, we left wanting
Hawaii is truly the
jewel of America and enjoying it
from NCL’s Garden Villa was definitely a once in a lifetime
experience.Next time the ole'
family reunion is coming up for discussion, whether it’s small or
large… if at all possible, drag your friends and family into the
Garden Villa for a week of total spacious pampering that cannot be
fantastic photos, visit the Skyscraper
Tours web site.
Ahhh... those sunsets!!!