Life on the ship

Since we are now going to be spending an inordinate amount of time on the ship due to one of its azipods going out, it is a great opportunity to talk about shipboard life!

The Star is a smaller ship than most of the new mega ships.  That is just fine with me.  I don’t need all of the bells and whistles in order to enjoy my cruise.  The ship can carry 2300 passengers, give or take.  This cruise has about 2000 passengers, the majority of whom are from China.  There are also many Europeans; Americans are definitely in the minority.  Unlike our previous two legs, there are many families on board (over 300 children).  On the first two leg, most of the people seemed to be in the 50+ category.  On this leg, there are many more couples in their twenties and thirties.

We will start our tour with my favorite topic: food.  There are multiple places you can choose to eat.  There are two main dining rooms, Versailles and Aqua.  We eat in Versailles because it has windows.  It is especially enjoyable to be seated at the very back of the dining room because of the floor to ceiling windows. Aqua is located in the interior of the ship.  We have walked by and peeked in.  The décor is more modern than Versailles and the color scheme, amazingly enough, seems to be shades of aqua and blue.  The menus are identical at the two restaurants.  Versailles is open for breakfast and lunch daily; Aqua is only open for dinner.

Another great choice of places to eat is O’Sheehans.  We had read that the service here can be slow but in our 50+ days on the ship, we never experienced that.  We love eating breakfast there on port days.  The buffet is hectic and noisy, but O’Sheehans is quiet and the service is really fast.  They have quite a few choices for a hearty breakfast.  Even though it is not on the menu, you can request a tropical fruit bowl (this is found on the menu for Versailles).  The lunch and dinner menus are identical.  The food is typical diner food – burgers, sandwiches, fajitas (the steak fajita is delicious) as well as the chicken wings that they are famous for.  We have not eaten there, but Ginza is also a free dining choice.

The buffet is quite good (though very noisy at times).  One thing in particular that I lik about the buffet on this ship is that there are themed nights that incorporated the food from the places we have cruised – Mediterranean buffet, Arabian buffet, etc.  The food is consistently good.  I was worried about getting bored with the same choices over and over again since we were cruising for 53 days, but that was not been an issue at all.  Now that we are at sea for many consecutive days, they are rotating the themes from past ports of call.

We are Platinum with NCL so get two free dinners (with a bottle of wine) at either Le Bistro or La Cucina.  We have tried both.  The filet mignon at Le Bistro is quite tasty, as are the roquefort scalloped potatoes it is served with.  I liked the Osso Bucco at La Cucina; the polenta it was served with was cheesy, creamy perfection.  The tiramisu for dessert wasn’t too shabby, either!

We tried Moderno for dinner last night.  We don’t eat much meat normally, so this probably wasn’t the best restaurant for us!  We left before trying all of the different varieties; I think the meat-carving guy was a little offended.  He was concerned because we left early.  The food was good; the salad bar was spectacular.  We will try Cagney’s tonight and Teppenyaki another night.

We do not do the Unlimited Beverage Package since we don’t drink much, but I never saw any line-ups for those seeking drinks.

Captain Bengttson has an excellent grasp of English and a very minimal accent.  Of all the ships captains that we have heard, he is easily the most understandable.  He gives an update on sea conditions daily around noon.  He also gives an extensive amount of information regarding each port before we disembark the ship.  After he completes his travelogue, the cruise director, Mark, gives the all-clear from immigration that we can leave the ship.  There is also a port lecturer, Peter, that gives historical and practical information about each port.  He lectures on sea days (obviously).  He does not sell shore excursions; he gives information for those that choose not to take the ship’s excursions, or simply want more background on the places we are visiting.

Backtracking a bit to the check-in process, I think it really depends on where you are checking in as to how well it goes.  Check-in went really smoothly for us in Civitavecchia, but it was a real nightmare for those checking in here in Singapore.  Even the suite passengers had up to a 2-hour wait to check in.  For everyone else, the wait was up to 6 hours.  There are around 300 children on board right now.  Many of those people endured a 14-hour flight with their little ones and then had to survive another 6 hours just to get on the ship.  I can’t imagine how awful that must have been for them.  The wait was so long, a woman fainted while waiting to check in.  After that, they brought out sandwiches for those still waiting.

I am curious how many people have left the ship due to the azipod problem.  At dinner tonight, we chatted with a couple that had seen multiple people leaving the ship with their suitcases this morning.  The captain said that if you chose to leave you would not receive the 100% refund and 50% future cruise credit.  I can only assume that these folks had travel insurance and planned to submit a claim.  My cheap nature gets the best of me; I will happily float for the next 10 days and take the cruise line’s generous offer.

Entertainment on the ship is a mixed bag, which is probably true for most cruise ships.  We enjoy the Melodic Trio which is a group of 3 brothers that play guitar and sing in the Atrium every night for a couple of hours.  They have been on the Star for 11 years and with NCL for 17 years.  There is also a jazz combo (Jazz Cats) that plays from time to time that is pretty good.  There is a pianist that plays in the Atrium as well as various other venues around the ship and a pair of lovely young ladies that play classical music (violin and cello).

We really enjoy seeing good magicians and hypnotists.  Perhaps we were there on off nights, but didn’t really enjoy either the magician or the hypnotist shows.  We are not big fans of production shows so can’t speak to the quality of those.  Other passengers have said that they enjoyed the production shows (except for the Burt Bacharach tribute).  Actually, the first two legs of the cruise were so port-intensive that we often preferred to listen to music in the evening rather than going to a show.  I tried out karaoke, which takes place nightly in the 5-o’clock Somewhere Bar from 7 (or 7:30) to 9 pm.  Some ships have karaoke starting at 10 pm, so I appreciate of the early times for this event.

I toured the gym on our first day on the ship.  It looked nice, but I have not darkened its doorstep since!  We work out regularly at home, but I just can’t make myself do so while cruising.  I will get back on the exercise bandwagon when we return home but with all of the touring we have done, there is no way I could have worked out with any regularity on board. I am also not a “spa pass” person.  I toured the spa as well and it looked nice, but the cost compared to the length of our cruise was ridiculous.

Our cabin is a mid-ship mini-suite.  We usually book a mid-ship balcony, but since we were going to be on board for so long, decided to splurge a bit for a slightly larger cabin.  All of the mini-suites are on deck 11 which is located right under the pool deck and buffet.  In my opinion, not a great location!  I carefully selected our cabin so that there was nothing directly overhead and it has been very, very quiet.  Others that we know that were in minis had complained about cleaning noise (chairs scraping, vacuuming, etc.) in the middle of the night.  A mini-suite is really nothing like a full suite; it simply has a little more square footage, a larger balcony, and a bathtub.  We also were given a bar of soap and body lotion (lemongrass scented); the regular cabins do not receive these.  The couch is awfully uncomfortable but is full-sized (unlike the tiny couches in the regular balcony cabins).  It has been nice having a bathtub.  Our cabin steward, Jaime Malazarte, is the best we have ever had.  He is always cheerful and very attentive to our needs.  If you cruise the Star and have him as your cabin steward, tell him Mrs. Heather said hello!  And, tell Arizel (washy, washy, happy, happy at the buffet) hello from Mr. Clayton!

Shopping on board is pretty typical.  There is a shop called Tides that sells jewelry located in the Atrium.  They always have specials going on watches and jewelry items (gold by the inch, anyone?).  The gift shop (clothing, NCL items) is located mid-ship on deck 7 as well as the duty-free shop.  Though the prices were ridiculous, the duty-free had a pretty decent selection of medications and toiletries (much better than we found on the NCL Spirit last fall).

The pools seem quite popular, but since I have had issues with skin cancer, I avoid laying out in the sun, so don’t spend any time there.  I didn’t see too many people actually in the pool (and none on the water slides except for kids), but plenty were baking themselves on the pool chairs.  There was also a grill set up by the pool and a daily paella was cooked and served at lunch as well.

The ship is now decorated for Christmas.  There are Christmas trees, garlands, and poinsettias in the Atrium; it is quite lovely.

What else would you like to know?  Please leave a comment and I will try to address your question!