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Let me start by saying my group of 40 all had a terrific time! Were there problems and inadequacies with NCL, yes, did we let them ruin our vacation no! As we all collectively thought, we prefer other lines to NCL (this was my third NCL cruise, some in the group it was there first, others not)â€¦ we would not choose them over another line unless they were the only ones doing the itinerary (like this Hawaii cruise)â€¦ then we would go on them again. So here it goesâ€¦ itâ€™s all true whether you like it or agree with it!
We arrived in Honolulu two days prior, which I highly recommendâ€¦ especially for us coming from Pittsburgh and there being a 6 hour time difference. It took us a good three to four days to get used to the time difference.
We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Villageâ€¦ the resort property is fantastic with a wonderful beach area. I thought the room was average, but with the location and resort offerings, I would definitely stay there again. We were in a group and were able to negotiate the rate downâ€¦ we paid $160 per night and most of the group was upgraded to partial or ocean-view.
At 6:45 a.m. on Sunday we got the first glimpse of the NCL Star from our balcony at the Hilton Hawaiian Villageâ€¦ got us very excited.
The transfer to the ship (we used ABC Shuttle Hawaii and Lena, who were absolutely awesome!!!) was easy. We were dropped of and there was a line, but all went very smoothly and easily. We were booked in the ownerâ€™s suite and although they called the concierge (Julie) when we arrived, she was not ready to meet us after check-inâ€¦. they wanted us to wait for her 15-20 minutes so she can escort us to the cabin, but we said no big deal, we will find our way and she can meet up with us later, which she did.
Our friends had the adjoining balcony cabin to ours, cabin 10508. There were three of them in there and I must say it is extremely small. I donâ€™t think I could have made it the whole week with three people in there. There is limited storage and space and the vanity area is extremely small. They brought there hot pot and extra chair to our room, so they can have more room. The balcony was adequate, but small. When the couch was opened up it pretty much smacked up against the other bed (almost like bedding for three in one bed). You could not get to the balcony once the sofa bed was opened.
My sister and mom had a mini-suite, cabin 11002â€¦ it was larger than the balcony and had a tub instead of just shower stall and also had the real coffee pot versus hot pot. There was a curtain separating the real beds from the sofa bed. In this cabin though, the sofa bed does not open up, you sleep on the sofa! It is very small, thank goodness mom is very short and a good sport. I think you should be told that the sofa does not open up, you could not imagine this scenario unless you saw it! I would definitely book the mini-suite over the regular balcony cabins with three people.
Quick note on cabin 11616â€¦ friends in that cabin had a lot of problem with noise up above and had to be moved.
A quick note about the concierge, Julieâ€¦ in a nutshell she was useless. Anytime we called her it seemed as if we were bothering her (and we did not call very much, less than once a day). I called for restaurant reservation (in ownerâ€™s suite and supposed to get priority ones) and she could not get us in (there was 12 of us)â€¦ when I called her she immediately said, the restaurant is full without checking with them and calling me back (we wanted to eat around 7), maybe I can get you in at 10 (although thatâ€™s when they close)â€¦. I said no thanks. I then called the restaurant myself and was told they were wide open and we could come anytime, pick a time! We chose 7 p.m. and stopped by Julieâ€™s office on the way. After waiting for her to come out for about ten minutes she comes straight out and says oh there was just this big group cancellation and that is why we got in. I told her but you didnâ€™t even call themâ€¦ she said she had called just before I called for reservations for two people and couldnâ€™t get them in so she knew she couldnâ€™t get us in. I then said, if there was a just this group cancellation how does that make them wide open all night!!!! She blubbered on about miscommunication, but she was caught in a lieâ€¦ and boy was she. When I got to the restaurant where the rest of my group was waiting for me they said Julie had just called up there and they overhead the conversation and that she told them to tell me that a group canceled and that is the only way I got inâ€¦ she was having them lie to me to cover herself! Trust me this is only one snippet to my week with Julie, I could go on and on, but wonâ€™t!
Anoop, our butler, was fantastic and went above and beyond for all we needed, even helping our friends in the adjoining cabin (they tipped him too and he didnâ€™t even want to take it!).
The shipâ€¦ you could definitely tell it was heading to dry dock as many areas were lackingâ€¦ but I did expect that. Two hot tubs were broke the whole cruise and we were told they had been broke for the last three weeks. A sewage line broke and the smell was very bad in certain areas of the ship the first few days. They were running out of some things. I donâ€™t want to sound like a complainer, this is how it was, it did not make us mad or unruly or â€śruinâ€ť our vacation as I suspect some hot heads would say. Like I said we still had a great time, just want to point it all out. I donâ€™t know if they always do this (havenâ€™t seen it before) but one day by the pool they gave away free drinks! There was soda and mixed drinks as well as beer for free! They also had buy one get one drinks on the last day (wondering if it was to get rid of the alcohol for dry dock). We did hear the crew party started at 2 p.m. the day we got off and that they would have free open bar for three days too.
Freestyle dining is a great concept for a small party, but not easy when a group tries to dine together. The service is definitely not as good as fixed dining. I think it is not staffed well enough and understand it is hard for a waiter to be on appetizers with one table, main course another and dessert another. There was not always a bus person to get drinks, which made for some long waits. The best service and meals were in La Trattoria, I can not say enough about the staff and that restaurant. George was the best waiter ever and even made a banana split for one in our group upon request, even though it was not on the menu. Le Bistro was the worst serviceâ€¦ it took three hours to finish there and I find that unacceptableâ€¦ they messed up countless things, service was downright bad and although coffee was asked for upon us sitting down and several times throughout the meal, it was not brought until dessert was finishedâ€¦ I mean completely finished! We would not have stayed for coffee had they given us our bill. Dining at Aqua and Versailles was hit or miss. The food was great sometimes and not sometimes, but I donâ€™t judge my whole cruise on food nor do I let poor service ruin my time.
My niece attended the kids program, she is 6. There were very few kids on the ship so they forfeited their regular scheduled activities and also did not do the kids talent show (which she always does). She did still enjoy herself there though, but says she likes Camp Carnival the best.
I thought activities were lacking on the ship and targeted to the older generation (sorry Iâ€™m only 31!). We did do the golf putting contest and several trivia contests. We showed up for pool gamesâ€¦. It was just another trivia contest. Thatâ€™s okay we made our own fun and loved the slides in the pool areaâ€¦ it was great fun. The salsa and guacamole by the pool area each afternoon (mix them togetherâ€¦ trust me) were to die forâ€¦ luckily I did not discover this until two days left!
There was a TV call in game show one dayâ€¦ we caught it live in the pub and later on cabin TV, it was great fun! Those in the cabins would call in answers to questions and win prizes and they would take the prize to their cabin, really great fun.
The pool areas are nice, one large salt water, one smaller in between the two slides is freshwater. There is also a shallow area around each slide to sit in and cool offâ€¦ we spent most our time there. I think the pool area is one of the best Iâ€™ve seen. The kidsâ€™ pool area is also awesome, they have their own Jacuzzi and slides and water guns!
I did not go to the movie theater, others in the group did and enjoyed it. Cabin TV is very limited with NO local stations (first cruise I have encountered that!). There was CNN, ESPN (thank goodness) and TBS as well as some movie and stations showing on-board stuff.
As you know we did not make our stop in Fanning Island due to engine trouble and our itinerary was changed prior to departure. We got two days in Maui and two days in the big island of Hawaii, one day in Kauai and one day at sea. During the cruise and on the islands we heard though countless times that there really was no engine problem and that NCL just didnâ€™t want to go to Fanning (donâ€™t know how true that was) and also that they canceled the repositioning cruise because there were only like 40 cabins booked.
The only bad weather (and really not that bad) was first day in Hilo, started off great and then rainâ€¦ but no biggie. We went to the volcano and liked it, we went on the NCL tour, glad they took care of driving etcâ€¦ and thought it was a good tour overall. You can definitely do it on your own, but we like the â€śwe have no responsibility root.â€ť
My husband and I chose to stay on the ship in Kona and Lahaina (the two tender stops) and make our own relaxing sea days, which we enjoyed immensely! I know, youâ€™re in Hawaiiâ€¦ but we really loved staying on the ship while everyone else was off! My sister and mom loved Lahaina and the shopping area off the pier and told us it is the place to get all your souvenirs. There are free shuttles to Hilo Hattie and Wal Marts at many stops ( I can not fathom going to Wal Mart while on vacation though, sorry).
We did the Kaanapali Beach Break in Kahalui, Maui there were really rough waves that day (about 10 feet high)! The sign entering the beach area (they take you to the Sheraton) said: serous injury, paralysis or possible death likely due to high tidal conditions! I did not get in the water, but my husband and friends did and they had a blast, but were very beat up by the waves. My mom was knocked over and drank some saltwater, my sister lost her sunglasses. They were the biggest waves we ever saw! I liked the tour and would recommend it, sometimes itâ€™s just nice being driven and not having to worry about anything. The tour includes a beach chair and one drink. We rented an umbrella for $15 and bought nachos for $10 (but they were worth it and great!) This tour is available from both Lahaina and Kahalui (it is much closer to Lahaina).
Our catamaran tour in Kauai was canceled (they said due to lack of interest, but there was at least 25 of us plus Iâ€™m sure someone else had to book in on the ship and at $159 a person, youâ€™d think they have enough money to take it out, oh well). Instead we took two mini-van cabs (10 of us and two kids) to Poipu Beach ( I researched and heard it was much nicer than the beach the free shuttle takes you too). It cost us a total of $70 per van round trip and was worth it. It was a beautiful beach and had great snorkeling too. There were some waves, but pretty calm. There were picnic tables and covered areas and a snack store and restaurant and bathrooms. I highly recommend this beach! There were lots of wild chickens in the area here though, but they were not bothersome. By the way when we contacted our concierge Julie about what to do since our tour was canceled, she was less than helpful and after pestering if there were anyway she could get me some phone numbers to call around for other catamaran tours she offered a book (out of date by several years with many of the numbers not correct).
I hope my information helps. I would love to answer any questions you may have. Overall we had a great time, but have found other ships/cruise lines to be better overall.
Sorry I missed the cruise critic meeting Monday, but it was very hectic for me, we had a group cocktail party and other commitments; wish I would have made it though, hopefully on another cruise!
Thanks for this review. I am glad you had a good trip and sorry for some of the frustrations you had. We had them, too, on the 04/04/04 cruise. You expressed so clearly what I keep trying to say here -- we had a great time, but some aspects of NCLs service just didn't live up to expectations. Not NCL bashing, just stating an opinion! But wasn't Hawaii just perfect??????
Are you having a hard time getting back to reality? I'm a month later and I still am in la-la land.
RCCI Legend of the Seas to Alaska 8/02
NCL Star to Hawaii 04/04
Thanks for your balanced review. Nice to hear the good and the bad. Sorry to hear the ship looked worn in some areas. I sailed on her maiden voyage and it was tip top...I think I'd be let down if I cruised her again. I'd want it all to be back like it was!
Before reading your detailed reveiw...I have been gearing toward the Star for our 2005 Alaska trip. But now.....I'm not so sure!! Would you sail on her again?? Maybe I'll go back over to RCCL and see what they have to offer.
I would only sail NCL again if it were the only choice (on itinerary, like Hawaii was)... I have been on 23 crusiess and it's just not my preferance. I went to Alaska twice, once NCL (in 2000) and once Carnival (2003) and I prefered the Carnival. The Carnival Spirit is a beatiful ship and we had a group of 60 people on that one ranging in age from 4-80+ and had not one complaint. They did a super job and I enjoyed the naturalist on board and also you can get regular balcony cabins onthe back of the ship (for a nice 180 view) where most ships those are higher end cabins. When doing Alaska, do a balcony and try to get a cabin on the very back so you have the full view and won't miss the wildlife/glaciers because they aren't on your side of the ship. A friend of mine is planning an Alaska group for next year too... I think they are doing Princess or RCCL. I am not sure what your age is, but take in consideration that Alaska does get a much older crowd. On our first trip to Alaska on NCL, the average age was about 80 (no kidding), on the second Carnival trip there was much more diverstiy and much more activity for ALL age groups where the NCL definitely geared more toward the older crowd. We also could not get over how nice the ship and service were on the Carnival... I think Carnival's new ships are a lot more high end. Good luck you will love Alaska, it is my absolute favorite... we're going back again in 2006!
Boy....do we think alike or what !!! The Aft Balcony is just what I had in mind. Carnival was my first choice as well, but their Wed departures just don't work for us. "Freestyle" was appealing to DH, especially with the rather odd hours in port. Do you have any experience with NCL Sun? I will definately continue looking at other lines. I appreciate your sharing your wealth of knowledge!
PS..we're in the 50ish crowd. Not too old...but young enough to want a good time!!
I am not a fan of the Sun, it is a sister ship to the Sky and the cabins are even smaller than the Star! I was on the NCL Star, Sky and Dawn. The activities just not there on NCL. As far as dining I can tell you that they do change dining time according to some port time and if you have early dinner and miss it, they will take you at late (if not sold out ship) and vice verse... we actually have done that before. When we were on the Sky Alaska cruise (and I am not making this up) the activities of the day were napkin folding and luggage tag making! Not that you have a lot of time for shipboard activity though when in Alaska as you stay very busy in port and are exhausted upon return to the ship (or at lease we were). Once you book your trip feel free to let me know if you have any tour questions etc... (firstname.lastname@example.org). Good luck with your plans!
We sailed Princess in Alaska and it was great! Why not try them - the personal choice dining allows the flexibility to schedule your own dining time, the food is great, and the entertainment is superb!
Cunard Princess'83 - Caribbean
Royal Cruise Line '86 - Asia
Disney Magic Millenium Cruise
Sun Princess '00 Alaska
Grand Princess '02 W Caribbean
Grand Princess '02 E Caribbean
Mercury '03 Ca. Coastal
Constellation '03 Baltic Sea
Disney Magic '04 W. Caribbean
I've noticed that Princess has a great reputation on these boards. 2005 info is not out yet and if I go according to 2004 schedules, the Sapphire is the only one with a Sun depart (important to us due to work schedules). However, she did not appear to have a stop in Skagway. DH's uncle was mayor or police chief or something there back in the 60's and that is probably the most important port to him. I'm holding a little hope that maybe the itinerary will change for 2005..but I doubt it. I'm not making any decision until I see what Princess has for next year. Extensive research today with all CLs gave me only 3 that meet our requirements of Sun depart & Skag..NCL, RCCL & HAL. I'm afraid with HAL I'd have to lower the category of cabin to afford Capt Larry & the other excursions and I'm not sure if I'm willing to do that. Hopefully some sales will come out later in the year. Someone suggested picking one now with a "no cancellation fee TA" (since I'm rather specific in the cabin type I want) and then watching for changes later. Sounds like excellent advise.
Thanks for everyone's input! I'm learning more and more everyday. I never dreamed there would be so many decision to make with an Alaskan cruise.
Boy...I stand corrected! I Went back to Princess website & the Sapphire DOES stop in Skagway. (I guess I was having a moment!!) The only difference would be foregoing Glacier Bay for Tracy Arms....but having never been...what difference would I know! Definately doable....and will definately await their 2005 prices.
We also were one the last Star sailing in hawaii. Like you, we did not allow the shortcomings of the "fire sale" menatlity ruin our vacation. I will be posting the complete review later, but some snippets: The CC get together was atttempted, but with the rainy conditions on Monday, the Bier Garten was closing/closed, so we met in the hall way. Did have another couple show up. We did experience the same kinds of smells in the hallways on Deck 9 for the first few days, and some cabins had "ppressure" problems in their bathrooms. Like you we found service in the Dining rooms haphazard. Did find an exceptional Waiter in David in the Versailles, and went to his station every night after a disaster in the Aqua.
The extra ports were tremendous and gave us more time to explore.
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