Discover the world of cruise travel

Norwegian Star
Make the most of your cruise vacation with information from

Get ready to cruise with Cruise Wear, Accessories, Luggage & More from
The Cruise Shop

 Cruising by the Book ~ Top Picks in 
Cruise Guidebooks

The favorite of serious cruise travelers:

Cruise Travel Magazine
Cruise Travel

Have a question or a review to submit?

Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman


Norwegian Star
July 14-21, 2002 ~ Hawaii

by Armand Mantia

Of all the reviews I have written over the years, I approach this one with the greatest hesitancy for fear of coming across as too picky and too negative, but here goes.

By way of introduction, as some of you know I am a veteran of over 26 cruises on lines ranging in quality from Crystal and QE2 (Grill Class), to the late, lamented Premier and Regency, and it is no secret that my favorite line is HAL. I have sailed NCL 3 times in the past, beginning with a woefully inadequate cruise on the then Seaward, now Norwegian Sea, followed by a spectacular sailing on the Dynasty, which ranks as one of my favorite ships ever, and then a delightful time on the brand new Norwegian Sky.

I was looking forward to trying this new ship and freestyle cruising but sadly came away terribly disappointed. For those who don't want to read to the end, in brief, the Star is, in places, a spectacular ship, with some major design flaws, delivering a thoroughly underwhelming cruise, to some of the most beautiful places on earth. What follows are my opinions only, and I will gladly respect anyone who feels otherwise.

As I said, the ship is, in places, truly spectacular. She is also the largest and most densely populated ship I have ever sailed on, which was part of my problem. I simply don't like ships this large, or crowds this big. From as early as embarkation I felt that the Star simply did not absorb crowds well. I read reviews of other equally large, or larger, ships which rejoice that you never get the sense of crowding. Not so here. No matter where you were, there was always a mass of people and lines for everything.

Her interior decor is wonderful: bright and exciting without being overwhelming or overdone. Every room was tasteful and elegant, I never wondered "why did they do that?" Obvious Asian touches (thank you Star Cruises) are everywhere and public rooms are well laid out, airy and kept immaculately clean. Soft furnishings are well designed and supremely comfortable, except in the Starlight Theater, the main showroom, where the theater style seating is simply too tight and too close together. This room is used only for production shows and on one evening it is turned into the largest movie theater at sea. The Spinnaker Louge, high above the ship, is the secondary show lounge, and home to most of the daytime and evening activities. It is very comfortable, easy to negotiate with good, but not perfect, sight lines. In terms of decor, the other room worth a special mention is the Versailles Restaurant, truly one of the most magnificent dining rooms at sea, with its classical "grande decente" staircase reminiscent of the great French Line. If only the food came anywhere close to the surroundings, but more on that later. Other quiet escapes such as the library and card rooms, were welcome respites from the crowds.

Our cabin, #10516 was a standard balcony cabin forward on deck 10. It too was beautifully decorated with lots of cherry wood accents, although not as large as you would expect on a new ship. It was larger than the cabins on the Sky, but not in the same league as comparable accommodations on other ships. The balcony itself was small but perfectly adequate for the limited time it was used. There was room for a lounge chair, an upright chair and a small table.

Access to the balcony, via a sliding door, required that the beds be place across the room, instead of lengthwise to it. This resulted in a severe loss of floor space, and made for awkward movement when two people were trying to get by each other. The standard outside cabins without balcony are actually arranged much better, have considerably more movement space, and just "feel" roomier. Closet and drawer space were perfectly fine and the safe is very well located. A million "thank you's" to whichever designer finally got it right and put a real hair dryer at the dressing table in the room instead of those anemic wall mounted things in a steamy bathroom. Everything you have read about the superbly designed cabin bathrooms is entirely true. Toilet, sink and very roomy shower are each in their own sliding door compartment. The result is no shower curtain to become intimately acquainted with. An adequate selection of lotions and potions are housed in dispensers on the appropriate walls. Another very good idea the message unit outside of each room. A spinning disk replaces the usual "do not disturb" or "make up cabin" door hangers. This is also where all the flotsam which is usually placed under your door is left.

I'm not sure if this is a Star Cruise innovation or not, but the service crew on deck, and in cabins and dining rooms, is overwhelmingly Eastern European women, principally Romanian and Ukranian and Asian men. There are very few of the traditional Caribbean and South American staff who NCL once used almost exclusively. With some notable excellent exceptions, most performed their jobs adequately, at best. While they all understood the "letter" of their job, few really understood the "spirit" of it. Your food order was taken and delivered, and if you wanted a drink, you got a drink, but rarely did it come with a smile or any indication that the server was doing anything more than performing a job. Perhaps knowing that they were already guaranteed tips caused this.

Speaking of drinks, I have never been on a ship that hawked more variations of the "souvenir glass" then this one did. Morning to night, day in and day out, on ship and on shore, you always had the opportunity to sign for something colorful in a different shaped container, be it an official NCL tankard, tumbler, champagne flute, sports cup, daquiri glass, Margarita glass, yard of beer glass, etc. NCL must have a contract with every container company on earth. At some point in the future, someone will make a fortune on e-bay unloading the entire collection!

There is no more personal part of any cruise than the quality of the food. This is one area where 5 people can have 5 different opinions and everyone is right. That being said, I found the food on the ship to be wildly, and maddeningly, uneven. To my taste, the "free" dining rooms (Versailles, Aqua and Market Café Buffet) were poor, both in menu selections and quality of ingredients. Appetizers, soups and salads were the best bets, entrees were at best, fair, and better not to mention desserts. The "pay" dining rooms ranged from very good (Endless Summer, no charge but reservations required), to excellent (Soho, $12.p.p. with ala carte items as well, and Ginza, $10 p.p. ) to awesome (Le Bistro, $12.50 p.p. also with ala carte items as well). It seemed that the more you paid, the better the food. Make of that what you will. I speak here only of dinner, the specialty rooms are not open for breakfast or lunch. We did not try Blue Lagoon-the 24 hour "diner" or Trattoria, the Italian restaurant. Las Ramblas, the Spanish tapas bar, is a magical place for pre-dinner drinks and wonderful hors d'ouvres (free). This bar makes one terrific pitcher of sangria, and the happy hour prices ( usually 6-8 p.m.) can't be beat. It is very easy to make a light dinner out of the various food offerings here, which change nightly.

The brochure seems to tell you that you have the option of making reservations or just showing up at all dining venues. Wrong. When the ship is full, the specialty places are booked solid one day in advance, unless you are willing to eat at 5:00 or after 9:00. Also, it is very difficult to dine with parties of 6 or more, each restaurant having only two or three tables which can accommodate that many. There is a table set up in the main atrium each day beginning at 9:00 a.m. for reservations. The line frequently wrapped itself around the atrium by 9:15, so if there is something you really want, get there early and reserve. This is one of my biggest problems with this freestyle concept. In theory you are supposed to have greater freedom, in practice, it requires you to decide on Monday morning where and when you want to eat on Tuesday night! Should you decide not to decide, you are consigned to the regular dining rooms with (IMO) seriously inferior food. Where is the freedom here? The brochure also states that Aqua serves a "lighter more contemporary menu" than the Versailles. Wrong. Because of overcrowding in Versailles, both rooms now use the very same menu. On the positive side, on Captains Night, lobster tails are available in all the restaurants, whether on their regular menu or not, and there is no Baked Alaska parade.

On our sailing, few took advantage of the one formal night in Versailles, and the captain simply stands in the atrium to casually meet passengers, rather than in the showroom with a formal introduction of officers.

When the ship first entered service, there was a major problem of everyone showing up to eat at the same time with resulting massive delays. To solve this, they increased the evening entertainment choices and spread them out at unusual times to stagger the crowds in the dining rooms. Great in theory, lousy in practice. As an example, lets pretend that on Monday morning you have already made your Tuesday dinner reservation for, say, 8:00 p.m. On Monday evening you return to your cabin and read Tuesday's program only to find out that the main show is performing at 7:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Rather than giving you more choice, freestyle has actually given you fewer. You can have dinner OR see the show, not both, because by this time, you cannot change your dinner reservation; truly maddening.

I mentioned earlier about design flaws with the ship. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the pool deck. The main pool is far too small for the number of passengers, and open space is further reduced by the presence of a massive water slide, a natural magnet for small children even though they have their own at the aft end of the ship. Shaded poolside seating is very limited, and really used more as a dining area for the outdoor buffet and the daily barbecue. The terraced sun decks are completely exposed and considering that this itinerary takes you to within 210 miles of the equator, this is really silly and dangerous unless you have sunscreen spf 300 with you. There is a full open promenade which encircles the ship on deck 7, with very few lounge chairs here.

Please accept my apologies if this has been too negative so far, because there really are some wonderful aspects to this cruise and ship.

First among the onboard positives is the Polynesian program. One of the major complaints upon entering service was the almost total lack of cultural activities for this itinerary. This has been completely changed. There is a "Hawaiian Ambassador" onboard, a gracious, beautiful woman passionately devoted to her heritage, and before you leave, you will be too. Her arts and crafts program each day draws literally hundreds of people. She is in charge of a troupe of Polynesian dancers onboard who perform two shows that are simply superb. They also run a program of Hula lessons for those interested. Even if you don't take the lessons, do not miss the "graduation ceremony" for those who did. Bring your camera, a very open mind, and sit close. I'll leave the rest up to you.

The greatest positive however, is the itinerary. Because of the required jaunt to Fanning Island, much has been debated about the lack of time in Hawaii itself. It is true that the American Hawaii and United States Lines itineraries were far superior and gave you much more time on the islands, but since they are no longer an option, and since many don't have the time or money for the longer HAL, RCCL or Celebrity cruises from the West Coast, this is really the best you can do. After all, any time in Hawaii is better than no time at all.

NCL has always excelled in its shore/sports programs and here they really outdo themselves. Because of the limited time in port, their shore excursions are superb and comprehensive. I found them to be very fairly priced and expertly run. They really make the most of your limited time. It is true that you have time to sightsee OR shop but not both. You will definitely not feel that you have been immersed in Hawaii, but rather you get a little taste of what to return to later. NCL's tweaking of the itinerary a while back put them in a catch-22 situation. By moving to Hilo and Kahului instead of Kona and Lahina they gained a dock with no tendering headaches, but those really are commercial ports located a great distance away from anything interesting. They are not places where you can walk off the ship and be in the middle of it all. You really need to take an excursion to see what you came for. The port on Kauai suffers the same problem, although here at least there is a beautiful resort hotel and public beach within walking distance to the pier.

Their pre-cruise package in Honolulu was wonderful, the Radisson Prince Kuhio Hotel was perfectly located and convenient to everything. Transfers and baggage handling was excellent. I imagine the post-cruise option would be just as good. Beware however of the "orientation breakfast" they will advertise. Having been warned by others we ignored this, but it is no more than a pre-dawn wake up to be taken to a convention center for cold coffee and stale rolls, where tour companies will try to sell you various Oahu tours. This is not an NCL sponsored event, but run by the shoreside host company.

Thanks for staying with me for all this. Again, I'm sorry I don't have better things to say about freestyle cruising; I guess I'm a traditionalist at heart. Hawaii, and Fanning Island is beautiful and I'm thrilled I had the opportunity to go back to some of my favorite places. I will certainly return again, and probably on a ship, but sadly, not on NCL again until they make some major changes.

Photo Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

The Norwegian Sun & Norwegian Star Shine in Miami - Photo Story of Norwegian Cruise Line's Historic Dual Christening Ceremony 

Norwegian Cruise Line - Cruise Reviews