Norwegian Star underwent a refurbishment in summer 2018 during which it received the Sky High Bar (which replaced the Bier Garten), the Bliss Ultra Lounge (which replaced Spinnaker Lounge) and the adults-only Spice H2O. Additionally, all cabins and suites were outfitted with USB charging ports.
Launched in 2001, the 2,348-passenger Norwegian Star was the first Norwegian ship custom-built for Freestyle Cruising, NCL's anti-traditionalist program that touts a plethora of dining, cabin and entertainment options.
The ship boasts more than 10 restaurants, including venues serving Tex-Mex, Japanese and French cuisine, and nearly 10 bars and lounges. In line with the Freestyle mantra, public spaces range from intimate to exuberant, providing a variety of spots for activities and entertainment day and night. There are also tons of accommodation options, from standard inside cabins to the enormous 6,694-square-ft., three-bedroom Garden Villas.
Daytime: Casual, casual, casual.
Evening: There is one voluntary formal night for those who want to dress up, but most choose to leave their jewels and tuxes at home. The fancier restaurants (Le Bistro, Cagney's) do lend themselves to cocktail attire, but the other dining spots only require resort casual.
Not permitted: No shorts, swimsuits or tank tops are allowed in the restaurants after 5 p.m.
As usual on an NCL ship, the entertainment shines brightly. The main entertainment venue is the Stardust Theater - a 1,100-seat venue inspired by classic European opera houses and spanning three decks (5, 6, and 7). Nightly shows include magicians, comedians, lavish Broadway-style production numbers and a Cirque du Soleil-type of gravity-defying extravaganza. During the day the space is transformed into a cinema.
Daytimes (and sea days) are made enjoyable with the many contests and activities available on almost all of the public decks, including movies in the Deck 12 theatre, enrichment lectures highlighting the history and cultures of the region, golf chipping contests, and hairy legs contests at the pool (men only, please).
The ship also has scattered around its sundry bars and lounges a host of talented individual performers who add greatly to the ambience of relaxation. Whether it's jazzy piano cocktail music, boogie-woogie and 1940's standards, the Beatles, calypso and reggae, salsa or classical, you can find it aboard Norwegian Star.
5 O' Clock Somewhere Bar (Deck 7): This bar – the first on the Norwegian fleet – replaces The Red Lion Pub. It retains the same shape, acting as a link between Bliss Ultra Lounge to the lobby, but the décor and vibe is completely different. The whole look and feel is ersatz Caribbean/South Florida, with surfboards stuck to the wall, multi-coloured deck chairs and a long bar packed at the back with rums and tequilas. It's worth noting that this is not a Margaritaville – which debuts on Norwegian Escape – as this is booze only, no food. We felt there could have been more Caribbean/South Florida décor, personally, such as a parrot hanging from the ceiling, but it tries hard with what it's got and there is even a small area for live music. Cocktails such as the 5 O' Clock Somewhere (Margaritaville Silver & Spiced rums, passion fruit) start at $9.95. Open: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. on sea days and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. when in port.
Sugarcane Mojito Bar (Deck 13, midships): This replaces the Star Bar, but shares the space with Moderno Churrascaria, which takes up the vast majority of this room. The bar is just that – a bar with a few stools, surrounded by dining tables. It's hard to imagine what the designers were thinking of here: there's no view or vibe, and it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to perch here other than waiting for their table to come free. The drinks selection is, as you would expect, centered on various interpretations of mojito cocktails from $10.95. Open: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day.
The Bier Garten (Deck 14): Located high above the pool deck, this outdoors was replaced by the Sky High Bar in summer 2018.
This ship is so long that it only takes three and a half laps on the Deck 13 walking and jogging track to make a mile. The view from here is great, too, looking down on the pool and the gallery that rises above it at the forward end. And when you're done with your jog, you can flop into one of the chaises which are close at hand.
The big pool is flanked on the aft end by a pair of twisty slides, and at each end with hot tubs. If there are too many people in the main pool for you to feel comfortable swimming laps, not to worry: There is an indoor lap pool in the Barong Spa, 40 feet long and 13 feet wide.
The well-equipped fitness centre is open 24 hours and has a large variety of weight training and cardiovascular equipment, all situated at the aft of Deck 12 looking over the stern's wake.
The spa itself, aft on Deck 11, is a Mandara Spa run by Steiner Leisure. It's lovely, with the lap pool, a whirlpool and a special hydrotherapy pool, steam and sauna, plus an aft-facing solarium with comfy wicker chaises and a terrific view. There is a charge to use the lap pool, Jacuzzi and Hydropool. There are several treatment rooms where you can get facials and massages, and a salon for hair and nails. Check the Freestyle Daily for specials.
Elsewhere on the ship, there are two golf cages, basketball, volleyball, horseshoes and Ping-Pong.
Although this is a large vessel, the public areas are designed in such a way that makes many areas of the ship feel cosy and intimate. Most of the bars, lounges and restaurants are centrally located so you can just go steps from one to the other and have an immediate change in atmosphere.
The core area just slightly forward of the atrium elevators on Decks 6 and 7 is home to the Gatsby's Champagne Bar and the Star Club Casino, both of which lead nicely to the restaurants surrounding them and to the main showroom at the front of the ship, Stardust Theater.
The casino, which is large and well equipped, with a variety of table games and slots that range from nickel denominations to one machine at $100.
The Atrium Cafe & Bar is located in the middle of the Grand Atrium, serving speciality coffees at a la carte prices, along with cookies and pastries.
The Galleria Shops, located on Deck 7 forward near the theatre, carry everything from logo items and toys to the shipboard equivalent of haute couture.
The teen and children's centres are at the aft of the ship, as is the Mandara Spa and Fitness Center.
The Internet Center onboard Norwegian Star is located in a mezzanine perched above the Grand Atrium and is only accessible via two doorways located on Deck 9. It's a hard-to-find space but once there, it is quite nice, separated from the activity but allowing you to witness the goings-on in the atrium lobby. Internet packages are available. Wireless Internet is available bow-to-stern.
Almost all of the ship is wheelchair-accessible, although some of the locations and entertainment venues seem to require a round-about means of arriving. Elevators have buttons that are reachable by guests in wheelchairs and they "ding" before they arrive so sight-impaired guests can find the one that is opening; deck numbers are listed in Braille.
Smoking is limited to the port side on outside decks, to the casino, and to certain areas of bars and lounges. There is no smoking in the Grand Atrium, in any of the restaurants, or in the Stardust Theater.
Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered the concept of Freestyle dining, with multiple large restaurants and intimate speciality dining venues. Passengers who prefer standard dining, same time every evening, same table and table mates, can notify the maitre d' upon boarding and arrange to do just that.
There are two main dining rooms for traditional-style dining, Aqua, located midship, and Versailles, located aft. Both are lovely, with Versailles looking very much like its namesake (lots of gold and gilt and French Renaissance flourishes), while Aqua is contemporary, calm and cool. There are several tables for two in each restaurant, or you can ask to be seated with others if you prefer.
Besides the main dining room, there are a bevvy of alternative venues.
Ginza (Deck 7): This free-of-charge restaurant specializing in Asian recipes has a teppanyaki room that only seats 12 at one time, so reservations early in the trip are critical, and a sushi bar with a mechanical "train" that delivers a rotating array of morsels.
O' Sheehan's Bar & Grill (Deck 8): If you've cruised on this ship before you could be forgiven for not knowing where you are when you walk up the stairs from the Grand Lobby – the whole space where Blue Lagoon Restaurant and Moderno Churrascaria were has been now given over to a huge O'Sheehan's. The area comprises a small central bar and then all around it, tiered seating overlooking the atrium. It's a space rather than a room, with plenty of windows overlooking the ocean and lots of chunky wooden tables and chairs. Yet despite its size and openness, there's a sense of intimacy and character, and it will almost certainly become the pre-and post-dinner meeting place. The only thing missing from this O' Sheehan's is a bowling alley. It serves the typical assortment of simple classic fare that is so popular across the fleet: mac ‘n' cheese, burgers, fries and nachos. Open: 24 hours.
The Garden Cafe (Deck 12): The ship's buffet/cafeteria restaurant serving the usual breakfast and lunch fare, casual dinners, and light snacks the rest of the day and night. Omelet and waffle stations are available for breakfast, and at lunchtime, the port side becomes a vegetarian station, with fresh salads, steamed vegetables, and a variety of freshly prepared dishes.
La Cucina (Deck 6); a la carte: Italian eatery serving all the usual pasta and pizza favourites.
Moderno Churrascaria (Deck 13, midships); $24.95: Moderno Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse, takes up pretty well all the space where the Star Bar once was. The décor is neutral and restrained, and there is lots of space between tables to allow for a private dinner. A small area is given over to the Sugarcane Mojito Bar.
Le Bistro (Deck 6); a la carte: Le Bistro is Norwegian's signature French-Mediterranean restaurant, specializing in Continental dining with an atmosphere that's almost as important as the food. Small, dark, intimate, the ambience is quiet and romantic, making the menu choices taste all that much better. The signature dessert, a fruit and chocolate fondue, is so good that it's a shame to leave it for last.
Cagney's Steakhouse (Deck 13); a la carte: Cagney's Steakhouse eatery is located at the top of the ship and replicates a typical high-end steak-and-chop house, with white linens and a clubby feel.
Teppanyaki (Deck 7); $29.95: The ship's Japanese hibachi joint.
Room service offers sandwiches, salads, drinks a few hot items and such 24 hours a day, for a $9.95 fee per order; morning coffee and Continental breakfast remain free. Suite and Haven passengers do not pay a room service fee.
Norwegian Star has a wide variety of cabin types that range from standard insides to the two whoppingly huge and elaborate Garden Villas perched atop the stern.
The standard rooms (all of them, except for those designated as "suites"), are designed with colourful nautical-inspired prints on the carpeting, rich cherry-stained furnishings, a seating area that can be converted (in most rooms) into another bed, and a "split bathroom" configuration that has a small sink in the middle, toilet on one side, and a nice-sized stall shower on the other, each closed off by a sliding glass door. Amenities in standard and mini-suite bathrooms include pump bottles of both soap and shampoo in the shower and hand soap at the sink. No hair conditioner is provided.
Note: The move to the pump bottles for soap and shampoo has made some guests feel that NCL is cheapening their experience. In fact, the move was made for waste conservation, and the quality of the products is very good. We had misgivings, but although it isn't labelled, the shampoo is actually terrific and is probably a generic version of Herbal Essences.
Suite guests (Penthouse and higher) get Elemis bath products.
Standard cabins also have plenty of closet space and drawers, a mirrored vanity, a writing table, a television and a mini-fridge. Oddly, the only 110-volt plug is located at the vanity area, which also has a nice salon-style hairdryer to use. If you intend to bring a laptop, bring a set of converter plugs too, so you can plug into the 220-volt outlets located by the writing tables.
Balconies on those cabins which have them are spacious and furnished with comfortable cloth-mesh recliners. The Deck 11 mini-suite balconies are a little bit deeper than those located on lower floors, as are the balconies of the eight standard balcony cabins located here. The rooms at the forward end and at the aft of the Lido Deck overhang on this deck have a portion of the balcony that is uncovered, adding to the sunshine quotient.
Mini-suites have a large, elegant bathroom with a tub, a larger seating area, and elegant drapes, spreads and carpeting. The full pull-across drape separating the seating area from the sleeping area is double-lined, shutting out almost all light, and welcomed by those who have alternate sleeping and waking schedules.
Hint: The closet in the mini-suites is located adjacent to the bed, facing the centre of the room. The configuration requires reaching sideways to access the shelving since there is not a door that opens to that part of the closet. It isn't an ideal design but is made much easier when you discover that there is, indeed, a light in the closet. It's hidden: Almost at eye-level, there is a little button at the back. Press it and presto! Light! The button is visible in the dark since it emits a soft glow, but if you don't know it's there, it makes the closet difficult to use.
Of the 36 suites on Star, two are the aforementioned Garden Villas, 5,700 square ft. of opulent lifestyle, complete with private gardens, saunas, hot tubs, three bedrooms, a living area, a pantry and butler service. The others range from forward-facing Owner's Suites with 740 square ft. of living space to a variety of Penthouse suites, the ones at the aft corners having enormous wrap-around verandahs. All of the suites (except mini-suites) have whirlpool bathtubs. We particularly like the Penthouse suites located on the sides of Deck 11, with a floor-to-ceiling one-way window in the bath next to a whirlpool tub.
Guests in suites have a concierge at their service; guests in Penthouse suites have the added advantage of butler service.
The 20 wheelchair-accessible rooms are available as insides, or outsides with balcony.