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radioalbany

Norwegian Star: The Novel (1)

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Hi, all:

 

We returned from Alaska on the Star yesterday. I've submitted my review,

but Cruisecritic is reporting a delay in posting them, so I'll chop it into

short segments and post it here, too. My apologies if you've already

read the review itself.

 

It did not begin auspiciously. My adult son and I were taking our first cruise. Accompanying us was my wife of nearly three decades. She was the experienced cruiser among us, having a grand total of, uh, one cruise under her belt. She had taken the same Alaskan cruise last year with her late mother on the NCL Norwegian Sun. This time, we were booked on her sister the Norwegian Star, but we were all looking forward to it.

 

 

Deborah had booked the cruise on board last year. She saved money that way, but you have to take a guess about what will be going on in your life when the cruise comes up.

 

As it turned out, the cruise was slated right in the middle of buying and moving to a new house.

 

 

Our house was filled with boxes. Anything that was not in boxes was available for packing for the cruise. Life was good.

 

 

At least, it was good until my veteran-cruiser wife couldn’t locate any of the proofs of citizenship needed – passport, expired passport or birth certificate. A late-night search ensued. We speculated about the odds that she we would be allowed on the ship. Hoping to mollify the authorities, we gathered a vast library of documents – other people’s birth certificates, her late mother’s passport, our marriage license.

 

 

5 AM came early, as it always does. We estimated her chances of being allowed to board at around 30%. Alaska Airlines from Oakland was friendly and efficient. At the Seattle airport we rented a luggage cart, only find that the distance we needed to move our bags amounted to perhaps 30 feet. At the end of that journey was uniformed NCL staff, who immediately took custody of our bags for us. The weather in Seattle was lovely, with a thin overcast but more sun than visitors have a right to expect.

 

 

While the baggage claim for the Seattle airport is in Seattle, the cruise-line bus pickup area is apparently in Portland, Oregon. We were unburdened by luggage, but it was still a fairly long hike. Summer Sunday morning in Seattle meant that a number of cruise ships were loading, so there was a good-sized crowd milling around. We were given tickets for the second bus to the Star, which entailed a wait of a half-hour or so. This was not unreasonable, but there was little seating in the area, and one had to remain nearby to hear when the proper bus was announced.

 

 

Our friendly bus driver did a nice job of narrating the 20-minute ride to the ship. Unfortunately, the previous bus was still blocking the loading area. That meant we had to drive “around the block” a phrase which, in Seattle, refers to a drive of about 10 miles and 25 minutes. Still the bus driver kept our spirits up with amusing anecdotes of Seattle life and history, so it wasn’t bad.

 

 

At length, we arrived back at Pier 66, the way now clear for us to get off the bus. We trooped to the building for check-in. The moment of truth for my wife was at hand. Would the sheaf of materials she brought along pass muster?

 

 

Since she had cruised NCL before, her “Latitudes” card had earned us a short check-in line. A freshly-scrubbed young NCL official examined our library of materials and said it would probably be fine, but that he would have to check. In only a moment, he was back to say that my wife would be allowed to travel. “In the future, though...” he began. We explained that we had already ordered new documents and that this would never, ever happen again.

 

 

It was as if a dark cloud had lifted from our little band. We finished the financial and on-ship ID formalities in a few moments. Then it was just a matter of following the arrow with the wonderful legend “TO SHIP”. We had spent perhaps 15 minutes in the boarding office – an exemplary performance by NCL, which has been savaged in these pages recently over crowd handling. Today they were in top form. It served as a reminder that an early arrival at the ship is worth getting up early for.

 

 

(continued)

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Boarding the Norwegian Star, we quickly found our mini-suite, cabin 11600. The materials explain that the cabins are “symmetrically numbered”. True enough, but it still seems like a maze to a new cruiser, and the signs that tell which numbers are in which direction were needed and welcome. Steward Luis and his assistant Marlon were just finishing up as we arrived. They were friendly and welcoming, even though this is certainly the most difficult day of the work week for them. The cabin was spotless and turned down beautifully.

 

 

 

The mini-suite, category AF, felt amply-sized, even for three amply-sized individuals. There were two twin beds, which could be pushed together or separated, but only by a few inches. A third bed was in the form of a sofa. The room contained a safe, coffee maker and small refrigerator. A table and small work area made it feel larger than it really is. Wall treatments included wallpaper, wood and framed prints in pleasing proportions. The bath is small, with the toilet in a tiny alcove of its own. The sink is nicely laid out with good storage for toiletries. The tub, though small, is a genuine tub, and includes a handheld shower and dispensers for soap and shampoo.

 

 

 

We had lunch at the buffet. While the Market Cafe lacks the elegance of some of the other venues on board, the food was good. A vegetarian line included a number of interesting Indian dishes. The papadam and curry were both good. Among the standard cuisine, the Hungarian goulash was only lightly seasoned, but still tasty.

 

 

 

The first night seemed like a good time to try a specialty restaurant, so we made reservations at Cagney’s Steakhouse. Since many were still in the process of getting settled, the place was sparsely attended. Significantly, though, several senior officers of the ship were dining there – always a good sign.

 

 

 

One of our party had salmon, but this is certainly a restaurant one chooses for the steak. The steaks themselves were tender and succulent, and, in each case, perfectly cooked to order.

 

 

 

For those who fly on the day of embarkation, the events of the first day can be a bit exhausting, and we tumbled into bed relatively early.

 

 

 

The second day of the cruise is spent entirely at sea. Much of the time, no land is visible, an odd sensation for those of us who maritime experience is limited to small coastal vessels. It provided time for everyone to get their sea legs – no big matter since we were blessed with clear skies and minimal swell. Learning one’s way around the ship took some time. It’s comforting that, by the third day, things are easy to find, but at this early stage there was still difficulty finding a particular restaurant or activity.

 

 

 

We ate all three meals in Versailles, one of the two main restaurants, and one that boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that spread across the stern of the ship. Its low ceiling and large size – seating over 300 people – makes it somewhat noisy. Service is attentive and helpful. There’s sometimes quite a lag between ordering the food and its delivery, so we learned to order all courses at the beginning. Dining in Versailles takes a good deal longer than in the more-casual venues. Whether this is good or not is a matter of personal taste. It might not be the venue to choose when you’re in a hurry to catch an event, but the time spent is pleasant and the surroundings, for a large room, are very nice. We ate breakfast and lunch at shared tables. This is sometimes presented as an option when you enter, and you can also offer to share. It’s always worth doing.

 

 

 

I attempted to use the ship’s Internet Cafe to file daily reports, but had great difficulty getting my laptop to work over the Star’s wireless local area network. I pursued it doggedly, but never did manage to make it work. I knew, though, that the problem was in my machine, since I saw other people using their own computers successfully. Internet Cafe manager Willem was consistently helpful, even emailing the home office for advice. Eventually, though, I decided to switch to wired access using one of the ship’s own computers. This worked flawlessly, and Willem graciously shifted my account from the wireless to the wired mode. Internet access is by several plans, ranging from a straight $ .75 per minute to bulk plans where you pay in advance for minutes at lower rates. For the user accustomed to “all-you-can-eat” Internet at home, the service is expensive. One of my cruisemates in the cafe conducted an on-line class from the ship. “I’m not telling the students where I am,” he confided to me. For checking email, though, if you really feel you must do so, the Internet Cafe works fine.

 

 

 

Monday was the semi-formal night. I’m sure many people find this silly, and don’t choose to dress up at all. Others make it a point to dress in fine style – gowns for the ladies and dinner jackets for the men. We took a middle course, my wife in a nice dress and I in a suit and tie. There is something to it, we found. Having dinner (again in Versailles) with other dressed-up people really does capture the feel of formal dining in the golden age of cruising.

 

 

 

The next day, a couple we met asked which evening was formal night. “It was last night,” we told them. They were disappointed to have missed it, and asked when it had been announced. We told them that it had all been in the “Freestyle Daily” bulletin. “Who reads that?” they responded. The photography department arranges formal pictures of individuals, couples or groups. The wait for this session was long, perhaps as much as half an hour, but the waiting was made easier by complimentary champagne and hors d’ouvres while in line. You could also have your picture taken with captain Tommy Stensrud, who was gracious and obliging, though he looked far too young for his exalted position.

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Tuesday noon brought us to Juneau. The state capitol of Alaska, Juneau can be reached only by sea or by air – there is no road connecting it. Within the area there are cars and buses, but they only travel locally, and must be shipped in by barge. Some excursions require you to be ferried ashore (or “tendered”), but ours was late enough that we could wait until the ship was docked.

 

 

 

We had signed up for the whale-watching and wildlife quest (JNU-012). This is a two-part event. A bus tour to Mendenhall Glacier leaves one with time to explore and see the visitor center and to snap a few photos, perhaps of the hardy Alaskan children swimming in the 38-degree water. Then it’s back on the bus to board a 50-passenger boat. The boat ride yielded a whale nearly at once – a juvenile humpback that obligingly played, even jumping fully out of the water, for some time as we watched, delighted. Then the boat ran for some time as the on-board naturalist talked about the whales, bald eagle, bear and other wildlife, as well as about the history of huge Admiralty Island as we passed it. We found several more whales, including some pods of three or four, but none was more satisfying than the first one.

 

 

 

Another treat on this trip was a view on Admiralty of a Bald Eagle nest that had been spotted before. One of the adult eagles was on the nest tending at least one gray chick. This was an experience not to be missed. The crew of the boat served complimentary fruit juice and pastries, and sandwiches were available for reasonable prices as well.

 

 

 

The downside of all this excursion activity was that our party really had no time to explore Juneau itself. We consoled ourselves that we would do so on our next voyage.

 

 

 

Juneau to Skagway is not far, so it wasn’t entirely astonishing to wake and find ourselves already tied up at the Skagway Ore Dock. It’s a convenient location; only about a 10 minute walk to downtown Skagway. A shuttle bus is available, but $1.50 each way seemed a bit steep for so short a ride.

 

 

 

The Ore Dock is located just across the quay from a busy heliport. This was convenient for those taking helicopter-based trips, but made for a noisy day for the rest of us. Skagway has no hospital, and two ill people who were taken from the ship had to be flown out for further medical attention.

 

 

 

Skagway’s downtown has been carefully preserved, and many of the shops strive to look much as the area did during the gold rush of 1898. Nearly half the visitors who come here take the three-hour, 40 mile round trip on the White Pass and Yukon railway (Various excursion numbers). The ride features spectacular scenery and photographers crowd the platforms at end of the old-fashioned cars to snap pictures of the area. Recommended.

 

 

 

One member of our group also signed up for the Dyea Valley Bicycle Adventure (SGY-023). This is a leisurely ride through flat country in beautiful surroundings. By choosing a late-afternoon train trip, we were all able to enjoy it without conflicting with the earlier bike trip. It includes a visit to the site of Dyea, now abandoned but a gold-rush city of 10,000. I asked the guides (there were two for 12 riders) if people who booked this trip ever found themselves unable to make the ride. Yes, they told me, it happens all the time. If you haven’t ridden a bike in, say, 30 years, it would be good to brush up a bit before this excursion. While flat, the ride does have some portions along forest trails and muddy, rutted roads, so some off-road biking experience is helpful. Still, our group included adults and children of many ages, and all did fine. Recommended.

 

 

 

We returned to the ship just in time for the 8 PM sailing. We had made dinner reservations at the Ginza, which charges an additional $12.50 per person. The restaurant was practically empty. We had noticed earlier in the week that it never seemed very busy. One reason, we found out quickly, is that the grossly over-amplified lounge singer at Gatsby’s cabaret downstairs also filled all of Ginza with ear-splitting sound. The effect was, at best, incongruous and, at worst, jarring.

 

 

 

Some of Ginza’s food, notably the duck and the desserts, were excellent; Service was only fair, and particularly disappointing for a restaurant with an added cover charge and few patrons. Of all the venues we had tried on the ship, this was the only one that we firmly resolved not to re-visit.

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Thursday dawned colder, but still clear and beautiful. Two naturalists from Glacier Bay National Park boarded the ship at dawn to provide commentary for our visit. Of all the spectacular geography of the trip, none is more impressive than Glacier Bay. The naturalists explained the different types of glaciers, and pointed out examples of each kind. Their delivery was somewhat stilted and seemed scripted. Still, it was worth paying attention, because knowledge of glaciers adds a lot to the experience of viewing them. We chose to view the passing scene from the Spinnaker bar. Directly above the bridge, the Spinnaker spans the width of the Star, allowing easy viewing of marvels on either side. Binoculars add a great deal to the viewing. While they can be purchased on board, you can undoubtedly obtain better values at home before departure. While not a serious photographer, I often wished for a camera with a longer lens for taking pictures of whales in the distance. Many electronic cameras have lenses rated in “35-millimeter equivalents”. I’d like a lens that zoomed to at least 300 mm equivalence for this job.

 

 

We were fortunate to see a number of “calvings,” where huge chunks ice fell into the sea from the face of Margerie Glacier. The naturalists reported that we had seen more calving than usual, and we felt glad to have to have done so. As noted above, we started viewing from Spinnaker, but quickly realized that it was better to be out on deck. Calving is often preceded by loud cracks from the glacier, so it’s good to be able to hear it as well as see it.

 

 

Humpback whale-spotting had become almost routine by now, but one member of our party was excited to finally spot two Orcas swimming in close formation nearby.

 

 

Thursday was the day we chose to visit the other large restaurant aboard, Aqua. This room features lighter food than Versailles. The service was good, but lacks the high staffing Versailles enjoys, and we had to wait from time to time to have our glasses refilled. A word here about soups: At both restaurants, a cold soup is always on the menu. It usually features an unusual fruit and vegetable combination. This evening, the soup was blueberry/pear, and it was quite good. These chilled soups are always worth a try. The menu was widely varied, and two members of our band wished for two entrees, which one diner at an adjacent table actually ordered and enjoyed. He and his three companions also downed a total of six desserts, so you CAN eat that way every day if you so choose.

 

 

Two evening shows were very good. Singer Jane L. Powell, a high-energy lounge entertainer, was winning in the Starlight Theater. Like all shows aboard, her set was fairly short, but she packed a lot of music into it. The Norwegian Star Show Band, which we had seen earlier, was in fine form. She finished with Lee *****’s hyper-patriotic rouser “God Bless the USA”. Our group didn’t care for this choice, but it was popular with most of the audience. She pulled four willing men from the audience to join her in “Under the Boardwalk,” which was a high point of the show. Recommended.

 

 

A late evening performance by comedian Fred Klett in the Spinnaker lounge was quite enjoyable. He’s funny, and his routine had a number of good bits. Several members of the audience were convulsed with laughter, and the fun was contagious. A member of our group that had seen him earlier in the week said he had been even better on that occasion. Recommended.

 

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Friday morning came early in Ketchikan. The ship docked around 5 AM. There’s no whistle-blowing or other showing off, which was good. Throughout the week, the Captain Stensrud’s ship handling has been superb. He often performed complicated maneuvers with tugs standing by, but without needing to use them. In a brief chat earlier in the week, he revealed that he had served on diesel-electric submarines in the Norwegian Navy before joining NCL. The technically inclined will note that this is fundamentally the same technology used aboard the Star, whose azipod-mounted engines are actually electric motors powered from diesel generators inboard. Previous posts had noted that problems with the azipods had forced an unscheduled dry-docking of the Star. In combination with the bow thrusters, they allow pinpoint control of the ship, which was always in evidence.

 

 

Alaska’s weather finally caught up with us, and it was raining as we arrived at the dock. The scheduling of our trip meant that we were only in town for about six hours, so it was a morning to set a wake-up call and be sure to be ready for any shore activity one had planned. By the time the gangway was rigged, the rain had stopped, so our weather good fortune continues.

 

 

The ship spends only the morning in Ketchikan, so advance planning for one’s visit is important. We selected the 3-1/2 hour Ketchikan Explorer by Land & Sea (KTN-008). This involves a wildlife-watching small boat trip, a tour of a historic cannery and a brief visit to the wonderful totem poles of Saxman Village.

 

 

The trip started from the adjacent dock to the one Star used, so it was a quick stroll to the 50-passenger boat. A knowledgeable naturalist was on board to explain what we were seeing. Here, bald eagles got the lion’s share of attention, but we also viewed seals and even starfish along the way. In one of those “Small World” coincidences, one of our party turned out to have gone to high school with the mother of our naturalist. As always, it pays to strike up conversations with people!

 

 

The boat dropped us at the historic Libby Cannery. This was interesting as a window into the salmon canning industry. A short video and audience-participation demonstration of retrieving a purse-seine net were enlightening. A walk to the bus gave a chance to see the rainforest from the inside, and our guide spoke about various plants and their uses, both modern and traditional.

 

 

One of our party had visited Saxman Village previously, and recommended it highly. This tour gave only a brief stop of 15 minutes, long enough to photograph some of the totem poles (mostly modern recreations). A longer visit would have been nice, especially providing enough time for longer narration of the stories told by poles and for a visit to the shop where master carvers work on new poles every day.

 

 

On the bus trip back to the ship, our driver detoured through downtown Ketchikan to view Creek Street, now filled with shops but once filled with brothels. The tour was a good one that shoehorned a lot of activity into the time available. Recommended.

 

 

The ship sailed shortly after we returned. Again, we opted for Versailles and to share a table. This has been consistently fun. The people on these cruises are from a wide cross-section of society and from many different places, so there’s always something to talk about.

 

 

Friday night had a widespread feeling that the end of the cruise was approaching. It was difficult or impossible to make reservations at some of the specialty restaurants – a good argument for trying them earlier in the week, when they are often nearly empty.

 

 

Two of our group attended the Cirque Asia show in the Stardust Theater. A small band of Chinese acrobats performed amazing feats. The Jean Ann Ryan dancers, who performed unevenly previously as singers, acquitted themselves much better in a pure dance role. The show was very entertaining. A brief word here about courtesy: The show room was full. A couple arrived a full twenty minutes into the show, climbed over eight people to reach their seats, and then talked to one another throughout. Even though the music for this show was a recorded soundtrack, hearing it was important to enjoying the show. It is rude to the performers and to the audience members who arrived on-time to clamber over them in mid-performance. In a show like this one, with only brief blackouts between numbers, late-comers should not be seated.

 

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Later Friday evening, we attended the “Liars Club,” a faux game show where a panel tries to fool the audience about the definition of decidedly obscure words, many with double entendres. It was all in good fun, with Cruise Director Kieron Buffery in entertaining form, as usual. Comedian Fred Klett was extremely funny, as he has been consistently. This event dovetails with the much-vaunted “Chocoholics’ Buffet”, which began at 11:30 PM. Guests who tried to leave the Spinnaker Lounge early to stake a spot in the chocolate line were mercilessly attacked by the panel. You have been warned! Recommended.

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The Chocoholics’ Buffet had been highly touted even before the cruise. It claimed to have everything made of chocolate, and in abundance. The line was the longest of the voyage for any event, and those who expected the late hour to weed out the competition for places in line were disappointed.

 

 

Sadly, our group was disappointed, too, when we finally reached the front of the long line in Versailles. There were a number of sculptures in both chocolate and ice that were quite fine and good examples of the arts. The food itself disappointed us. The majority of items offered were small cakes and cookies. Maddeningly, most were not labeled, so guests had to make an estimate of what each one was. Many of the cakes had different icing patterns on the top, but these did not inform about the contents. Near the end of the line were stations for chocolate-dipped fruits. Ice cream with sauces was also available.

 

 

I’m not sure what we expected from this event, but it left us unsatisfied. The variety might have been good among the cakes, but one could not really say. In overall range, the foods offered seemed limited and largely traditional. The artisans we praised earlier for their chilled soups could have made a contribution here.

 

 

On the earlier Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Sun that one of us took, the Chocoholics’ Buffet was in mid afternoon, and that seems like a better time for it. In particular, late Friday night was a poor choice, since many guests had arisen early for shore excursions in Ketchikan. Guests also “lose” an hour in time-zone change tonight.

 

 

Saturday was a day of “final” events aboard. Again, the day was beautiful, warm and clear. Two of us attended the “Close-Up Magic” show with Shawn Farquhar. This show was entirely sleight-of-hand card tricks. Connossieurs of magic say this is among the most difficult kinds of magic to perform. It has a reputation, though, of not working well in large venues, and this performance, unfortunately, was no exception. The use of large-screen video from an on-stage handheld camera made the tricks at least visible, but their power is largely lost in the translation. We missed Mr. Farquhar’s performances earlier in the week, which was unfortunate, because he is a winning and pleasant performer.

 

 

Two of our band had at least passing interests in the art auctions. One of them was interested in some Beatles art, the other in some animation cels. Because of scheduling, it fell to the third member of our group to actually attend and bid on their behalves. In the end, we purchased a small cel from “Yellow Submarine.” Our representative was rewarded for his diligence by winning a Peter Max lithograph in a drawing – likely the only one we will ever own. The auctions consistently ran long, and it appeared to us that more pieces could have been sold with less talking in-between.

 

 

The weather continued perfect as we arrived in Victoria, BC. Two of our group elected to stay on-board, while the other chose the “Craigdarroch Castle & Victorian Highlights” (VIC-005). After passing through customs, one finds one’s bus. It’s about a 10 minute drive to the Castle. There’s about a 2-1/2 block uphill walk after getting off. The “tour” was a brief introductory speech, then self-guided with a provided map. The castle is fairly small, about like a small mansion or large house. The bus driver was friendly and knowledgeable, but we would not take this excursion again.

 

 

There is a briefing by the entertaining Keiron Buffery about disembarkation procedures. You need the information from it. However, if you are unable to attend, the event is played back over the ship’s video system later in the day.

 

 

NCL had gotten low marks for crowd control and baggage handling from other reviewers, but did well by us. Each passenger was delivered color-coded baggage tags based on the time of their outgoing flights or other connections. Groups were called by tag color. We were in the earliest group, and disembarkation actually began a bit early – about ten minutes before our scheduled time. Again, it appears that NCL listened to earlier complaints and responded well to the crowd control issues others had raised.

 

 

My cruise-veteran wife was allowed back into the U.S. even lacking her proof of citizenship, as before. The formalities at the dock were mercifully brief. We went from cabin to airport bus in about 45 minutes – a good performance with 2,500 or so passengers to manage.

 

 

All too soon, the airport bus dropped us at Sea-Tac, marking the close of our trip. Buses arrive at a large tent, and many airlines (Alaska, in our case) have check-in and baggage check in the tent. It saves lugging one’s bags a long way, so it’s a great help if your airline has this system. Among other airlines we saw in the tent were United and Continental, though there might have been others we missed.

 

 

Would we do this cruise again? Absolutely. Indeed, we booked a cruise for Summer 2006 while on this cruise. There’s a discount for doing so on board. We chose an 11-day Alaska cruise that is not offered yet. The additional days are used to visit Sitka and Anchorage, which are on the mainland, not on the Inside Passage. We had to book the cruise for 2005, knowing that we would later change the reservation to 2006, because NCL had not firmed up which vessel would be sailing this cruise in 2006. Likely it will be the Norwegian Dream, a smaller ship than the Star. Apparently, the largest ships will not fit into the docking facilities in Anchorage. This seeming deception was the suggestion of the NCL staff, so it’s all above-board.

 

 

Miscellany:

 

 

One member of our group had bought $38 card that entitles one to unlimited soft drinks during this cruise. The policy has changed on this program. Formerly, the buyer had to declare at the time of purchase which kind of drink, Coke, Sprite or whatever, he or she wanted, and only drinks of that type were covered. This was clearly a silly procedure, and the program now includes all the normal soft drinks. Sadly, word of the change had not reached all the staff. Twice, different staff members in Versailles told our son that the program did not include root beer, his drink of choice. We believe NCL needs to do a bit more work on training on the program so all servers understand how it works now.

 

 

While we were just a big smug about our paying attention to the daily, we also missed eating breakfast in Versailles one morning. Because of a late port-day, the scheduled meal time had been changed, and we hadn’t noticed the switch in the bulletin. It really is important to pay attention each night to the plans for tomorrow.

 

 

The Photo department, ably headed by Carlos, did a wonderful job. They were everywhere during the cruise and captured fine pictures, both posed and candid. The prices seemed reasonable for the caliber of work they did.

 

 

The Cruise staff was excellent throughout. Director Buffery’s people were consistently upbeat and helpful, and they really sweated to see that people had fun on the cruise.

 

 

One member of our party spent quite a bit of time at the Casino. She liked the variety of slot machines, which included some that operated on pennies. The equipment was modern and well-maintained. Sometimes, though, the service in the Casino was a bit slow. More than once, she won a jackpot that exceeded what the machine held. Getting an attendant required her to leave her machine to seek assistance. Also, she noted that beverages in the Casino are not complimentary, as they are in most Nevada establishments.

 

 

Bingo was widely promoted, and there was an opportunity to win a free cruise by playing it. None of our group played, so we cannot report on it.

 

 

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Radioalbany,

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. It is very delightful to read! We are going on this cruise in August and I'm enjoying every minute of this. I feel almost like I'm along for the ride with you!

 

One quick question - what time did you arrive in Juneau?

 

Just can't wait for our trip!

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Didan,

 

Thanks for your kind words.

 

We arrived at Juneau at noon Monday. (This time includes a one-hour

-earlier time change overnight.)

 

People with early excursions had to be tendered ashore. Excursions slated

for 2 PM or later, as ours was, were post-docking, so we just walked ashore.

 

Enjoy your cruise!

 

Andy Ellis

RadioAlbany

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Thanks for the answer. The new schedule has the ship arriving in Juneau at 9 vs the originally itinerary of 2. However, it appears the true time lies inbetween. Glad you had a great time. We plan to also - hope the weather at the end of August cooperates as nicely as it did for you!:D

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Two quick questions~~

 

Was Shawn, the magician, a young gentleman? If so, he may have been the one to have won the Star Search competition on The Star last year.

 

Can you purchase smoothies on the Soda Card?

 

Great Review!!

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DivineMsM:

 

Thanks for your appreciation.

 

He is, indeed, quite young. In the billing, I believe he was referred to as

a "two-time World Champion Magician." Like many others, I had not realized

that magic was so competitive! He did have a good personality, and did well

as a panelist in the "Liars Club" event, though he was somewhat overshadowed

by Fred Klett there.

 

Smoothies, oh noooooo. As noted, you can sometimes barely get root beer,

much less smoothies. The card is no bargain at $38, but if one inhales soda, as our son does, it's still a saving. Beverages, in general, are quite expensive. We

generally stuck to the (free) iced tea. My wife's occaisional brandy-and-sodas

cost around $5.

 

Hope you enjoy your cruise!

 

Andy Ellis

Radioalbany

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WOW - great "novel" - it makes me want to go on an Alaskan cruise and I am a die-hard caribbean cruiser.

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Zeno,

 

Thanks for your note. There were a number of Canadians on board, both

among the passengers and on the crew.

 

At the disembarkation briefing, Kieron Buffery talked about the limits for

bringing back duty-free goods. The Canadian limit, I think, was C$750.

"Or," he added "in American Dollars, about $4.25."

 

Regards,

 

Andy Ellis

radioalbany

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Thanks Radioalbany!

 

We just returned from our Star cruise a few weeks ago and I appreciated "re-living" it through your review! I am jealous that you had Fred Klett, and we didn't.:p We had the pleasure of having him on our last Sun cruise, and he was HILARIOUS! I didn't enjoy our comedian a few weeks ago anywhere near as much, but I guess I am spoiled now.:)

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radioalbany: Very good review!! Did you try any other alternative restaurants besides Ginza and Cagney's? You can only bring in 4.25 worth of goods duty free from Canada? I want to clarify this. Seems really small if this is true. Thanks.

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4.25 worth of goods duty free from Canada? I want to clarify this. Seems really small if this is true. Thanks.

 

Alonzo ~ he is making a joke about the bad exchange rate and poor canadian dollar :D

 

750.00 CDN = $4.25US (not true) LOL ~ just feels that way.

 

it is about $565.00USD

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Divine MsM --

 

 

Your question about smoothie cards makes me wonder if you might want to look into the teen passport program. It is basically a coupon book, good for 20 smoothies, that cost a little less than $40 (forget exact amount). Even though my two young adults were over the age of 18, and didn't qualify for the actual "teen program", we were able to buy the coupon books without any problems.

 

We didn't know anything about it on our January cruise, and I learned about it while reading these boards. The coupons are good for either smoothies or "virgin" cocktails. They can't be applied toward any alcholic drinks.

 

The NCL smoothies are wonderful, and if you're into that kind of drink, the coupon books make them much more affordable.

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Thanks for the great rev iew. My husband, adult daughter and myself are sailing on the Star this Sunday. Your review was so positive and informative. It was greatly appreciated.

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Your review was quite informative. The person I travel with is not a drinker but does enjoy smoothies and virgin coctails so this card will be a great idea on our upcoming cruise. We were also glad to find out that they do have some penny slots. It will be a good way to enjoy some time in the casino without losing too much money at one time, of course you sure aren't going to win much either.

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Thanks Utefan! With fifteen days without seeing dry land..l may look into it. Cheaper than a nightcap every evening.:D

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Alonzo14 -

 

Thanks for your comment. I hadn't put the joke about the Canadian

dollar in my original review because it really is just an inside joke aimed

at Canadians. Sorry it confused you, but DivineMsM explained it well.

 

Indeed, Ginza and Cagney's were the only specialty restaurants we tried.

 

We skipped Endless Summer and La Trattoria because both of them take

over space used for buffet line at other times of the day. The surroundings

just didn't seem appealing to us.

 

No excuse for not checking out Soho and Le Bisto -- we just didn't.

 

My wife offers a good theory about why Ginza was poorly attended throughout: It's actually three restaurants in one;

Ginza itself, a Teppanyaki bar and a Sushi bar. Ginza has a cover charge, but then all items on the menu are covered. The other two both have a la carte

menus, and it's not clear to me whether they also have a cover charge

or not. Deborah thinks people are confused by this three-in-one

arrangement and so avoid the whole place.

 

One more note about food that I missed earlier: Hamburgers, hot dogs

and fries are available in wide hours in a special kids area of the buffet.

It also includes low tables nearby for easy kid-dining. It was a big hit.

 

Regards,

 

Andy & Deborah Ellis

RadioAlbany

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That review needs to be posted all over. Why not put it on www.cruisemates.com, www.cruisereviews.com, www.seacruisereviews.com an others. Very informative and a great feel for writing. Are you a professional?!?!

 

We, too, will be on the Star this Sunday. It's our 18th cruise, but our first to Alaska and we are really looking forward to the experience. You have made our anticipation even more intense! We are FIRED UP NOW!!!!

 

Greetings to franzi56. Very informal CC meeting at the Bier Garten right after muster, weather permitting. That's the highest outdoor viewing area on the ship and should be good for viewing Seattle as we sail away. Join us if you'd like! Darn shame our friend rumncoke isn't here to make those classic suitable for framing nametags!

 

We are with our two adult daughters aged 21 and 18 as well as my spry but elderly mom. Look forward to meeting some nice folks and having a great family vacation.

 

"NORTH - TO ALASKA, UP WITH THE ESKIMOOOOOOOOZZZ....."

 

MrTractor<-------------is trying to remember that old 1950s song............

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Thanks for your kind words. I'm not a professional, but my

college degree in journalism kind of makes it come easily, I guess.

 

I'm jealous that my cruise is over and yours is about to begin! Hope

you have a wonderful time, and Franzi does, too. Please write and

let everyone know how it went!

 

Regards,

 

Andy & Deborah Ellis

RadioAlbany

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