ABCs of taking a cruise aboard Norwegian Star
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|||Wanda Adams' Norwegian Star diary|
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Travel Editor
Here's an A-to-Z guide to the Norwegian Star experience.
Bonnie Louise Judd Special to The Advertiser
A little pupu and a deck chair. We found that the higher fare for a balcony cabin was worth it for the privacy, the views, the extra room.
Bonnie Louise Judd Special to The Advertiser
Once you book and pay for you trip, you receive cabin assignment and a reservation number that allows you to register early, which speeds the process of embarkation. You can also sign up for shore excursions, which assures you get the ones you want. Use their printed form or register online at www.ncl.com (where it says "Booked Guests Register Here").
The Norwegian Star departs Honolulu each Sunday at 8 p.m.; boarding begins at 1 p.m. and you must be on board by 7:30 p.m. The busy times, predictably, are 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Have someone drop you off; enter Aloha Tower Marketplace from Bishop Street as the 'ewa entrance by piers 10 and 11 is closed to inbound traffic. My suggestion: Have a "boat day." Drop off your luggage (be sure to affix the luggage tags NCL send in advance, and lock all pieces.) Meet friends for lunch at Aloha Tower Marketplace (preferably with lei and cameras). Then embark at your leisure. You must have a valid passport, picture ID and a copy of your advance registration form (even if you filed it online). The embarkation process is exceptionally well-organized and moves at a brisk pace if your paperwork is in order. Lunch is available on board if you want to board early.
The Norwegian Star offers several classes of cabin: inside (windowless), window (view but no balcony), balcony, several sizes of suites and the Garden Villa, the largest stateroom afloat with multiple bedrooms. For the average traveler, a balcony cabin is ideal: The small outdoor spaces offer views and privacy and give the dorm-size cabins a roomier feeling.
A mandatory emergency drill is held at 5 p.m. Sunday with a makeup drill next day for those who weren't aboard. It's important, and reassuring, to attend.
Shore excursions range from helicopter flights ($175 and up) to bus trips ($35 and up). A guide comes with your booking package; it's also available on board. The excursion booking lines can get very long, so pre-booking is wise. If you prefer, reserve a car from aboard ship (you'll be met by a shuttle). On shore, you'll find cabs lined up, some offering tours, as well as various free shuttles (i.e. Hilo Hattie store buses) and public forms of transportation. The $5 round trip on the public bus in Hilo was a good deal, as was the free shuttle to Ka'ahumanu Center in Kahului.
F Freestyle Cruising
Norwegian Cruise Line's trademark Freestyle Cruising means, simply, that you choose when and where you eat. "Free" restaurants (those for which you've prepaid) include the lovely Versailles Room (sit-down service, linen tablecloths, great views and reliably good food), several buffet-type operations including the Market Café, a poolside spot and a couple of ethnic pubs with heavy pupu. (See R for restaurants.) Be aware that you pay for all drinks other than water, coffee or tea.
G Getting acclimated
Ship's tours are offered at 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday and are worth attending if you board early. Tours of the Mandara Spa are given throughout the afternoon with special prices if you sign up for treatments that day. Excellent pocket-size ship's maps are available in every cabin.
|Although the Norwegian Star has a fitness center, many passengers work out by swiftly walking the deck. There's also a running track.
Bonnie Louise Judd Special to The Advertiser
Rooms are made up twice daily with fresh towels if you want them; a nifty little gadget outside your room allows you to flip from "Welcome" to "Do Not Disturb" to "Make Up Room." One little note: The one thing you won't find on board are irons or ironing boards because of fire-safety concerns. Bring your own or plan to be wrinkled. Both 110-volt and 220 power sources are available.
Norwegian Cruise Lines was the first in the industry to offer remote wireless Internet access at sea in the Internet Café, always open on Deck 9. The system is very easy to use, there are multiple terminals and everyone gets an e-mail address (first initial, last name, cabin number) or you can use your own.
All this reachability costs: a one-time $3.95 activation fee and 75 cents a minute (or as low as 40 cents a minute if you purchase a 250-minute package for $100). If you use the CruiseMail address, you'll be charged $3.95 every time, plus the per-minute fee. You need WiFi software for your PC or AirPort for your Mac if you want to use your own laptop, then tap into their system to send data. Modem use is not recommended; besides the steep expense of ship-to-shore satellite phone time, the signal is unreliable.
J Jazz and all that
We particularly enjoyed the entertainment on the Norwegian Star, which included performances by the Jean Ann Ryan Company (a song and dance troupe that performed two shows on their own and one with a Chinese acrobatic troupe), pianist Rob Ellis' mini-concerts and before-dinner entertainment (he's a dead ringer in manner for David Helfgott of "Shine" fame). It's free, the theater is lavishly appointed and the shows are well-timed to fit in before or after dinner.
We skipped "Drums of the Islands," a Polynesian show, and ran screaming from anything involving the cruise director, who seemed intent on trying to drum up "fun" of a kind we wouldn't enjoy ("Who Wants to be a Zillionaire" games, "American Idol"-type contests, etc.)
K Key cards
A computer card opens your cabin's door and serves as your charge card for all services. It's also used to keep track of your whereabouts on shore days, swiped through a laptop any time you leave or return to the ship. Makes a nifty souvenir, too.
Passengers are not allowed to bring liquor aboard; however, if you're discreet, bottles in your cabin are not confiscated. You may not BYOB to a restaurant, however. Liquor is readily available but pricey. Early on, we spent some time with the wine menu, consulted a friendly waiter, and bought several bottles to drink over our dinners; these were delivered to our room. Watch out for this newbie sting: The first day near the pool bar, someone will walk up to you and say "Aloha!" and hand you a drink. Don't take it unless you want a hideous souvenir mug and a charge of $5.50 or more for a bad tropical drink.
M Mandara Spa
The Barong Spa, part of the Bali-based Mandara chain, occupies a large space on aft Deck 11. It's one of the loveliest places to sit and laze, with a group of comfortable deck chairs looking out of screened windows and various tubs and pools in which to dip. Anyone can use these facilities.
Treatments run the gamut from hot stone massages to bizarre body-shaping techniques, facials to nail and hair services. Prices are at resort levels. We would have spent more time and money here had the sales pitch (to purchase products in addition to your treatment) been less intrusive.
The Freestyle Daily newsletter is delivered to your room; check it every day because itineraries may change, specials are offered and restaurants may open and close based on the on-board count.
O On the bridge
Public tours of the bridge are not available because of post-9-11 security concerns. We did get to tag along on a VIP tour and learn about how today's technology allows the ship to "hover" in place instead of dropping anchor, and to move sideways when it needs to get into a tight docking spot. And we got our only view of dolphins during the whole trip: two acrobats surfing the wake below the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Before you even get to the gangway, a photographer will snap your picture with a hula girl, which will appear in a gallery along the main mezzanine for you to purchase if you choose. The photographers were everywhere on excursions, at dinner, on formal night; prices began at $8. Videos of ports of call are on sale, too.
Q Quiet places
We loved the Reading Room for watching the view, writing letters, reading, dozing. Also nice are the chairs on Deck 7.
The "alternative" restaurants, for which reservations are suggested, include SoHo, an urban sophisticate fusion restaurant; Le Bistro, serving classic French food; Ginza, offering Asian fusion, sushi and teppanyaki; and Aqua, with a light, contemporary menu. All of these charge a premium of about $12.50 per person. My favorites were Versailles (free essentially a "seating" dining room without seatings) and Le Bistro, because the crew of this very European ship seemed to do best with the classic dishes served in both these places. Ginza, where sushi is sold by the piece and teppanyaki is extra, too, got pricey very fast.
Mini-menus and restaurant reservations are available in the Grand Atrium, the heart of the ship, housing the reception desk and the shore excursions office.
S Sell, sell, sell
On the Norwegian Star, every interaction is a selling opportunity. On the public address system, in the Freestyle Daily, in every discussion with a member of the crew, you'll be asked to buy something or, if you're already buying something, encouraged to buy "up" (get something a little more expensive). Get used to it and get over it or you won't have a good time. It's important to set guidelines for yourself or you can readily end up spending yet again the amount of that great discount fare you got. Be assertive and ask about prices.
T Television and movies
Cabins are equipped with small televisions with movie channels, documentaries, cartoons, sitcom reruns and (until you get too far from the satellite) CNN, ESPN and TNT. Three channels offer ship information. Movies are shown daily in the ship's theater, too.
U Up on the 'roof'
A great place to sunbathe without the noise and crowding in the pool area is Deck 13, where there's a sun deck at the aft end and hot tubs forward. A sports court (basketball, etc.) is on 14, the very top deck.
The very best thing about this cruise for an Islander is the opportunity to see Hawai'i from a different perspective. Be sure to position yourself to watch the various islands go by. Best times are early morning as the ship slips into port.
W Web site
Find out more at www.ncl.com.
X Exiting (OK, I cheated)
Disembarkation begins Saturday when colored luggage tags are delivered to your room along with the dreaded account statement (Did we really buy that many extras?). Leave your packed, locked and tagged luggage outside the door by midnight, retaining a carry-on for the last of your things. Each color code indicates a time between 8:15 a.m. and 10 a.m. when you are called to leave the ship, as well as a location in the terminal where you'll find your bags. Breakfast is served if you want to eat before you leave. Airport shuttles are available.
Y Yearn to return?
Information on future cruises and membership in Norwegian Cruise Lines' Latitudes Club is available on board. Discounts are offered if you book your next cruise while on board.
Z Zen cruising
During our cruise, a mechanical problem made it impossible for us to voyage to Fanning Island as planned. At first, we were disappointed, but then we adopted a "zen" attitude choosing to accept whatever came. This paid off in a lack of stress and an itinerary that included amazing views of parts of the Islands where the Star does not normally go. Go with the flow.
The Norwegian Star isn't the only cruise ship sailing Hawaiian waters, but it is the only one with weekly departures that sail to and from Honolulu, making it very convenient for Hawai'i-based cruisers, who needn't make any long flights either to start or end their cruise (check www.ncl.com). It's also one of the most reasonably priced, known for balancing amenities with value. The Crystal Harmony periodically sails from and back to Honolulu on 10-day cruises with an itinerary that includes Honolulu, Kaua'i, Kona, two days at sea, Christmas Island, two days at sea, Hilo, Lahaina and then back to Honolulu. Three such itineraries will be offered in February (check www.cruisecrystal.com). Other lines that touch in Honolulu: The Clipper line occasionally offers 16-day runs from Honolulu to Tahiti with visits to Neighbor Islands, several South Pacific atolls, Bora Bora and Moorea about its Clipper Odyssey. The next one is in September. Carnival's Carnival Spirit offers 12-day cruises that begin in Vancouver and end in Honolulu. Celebrity's Infinity offers a similar Vancouver-Honolulu itinerary. Radisson's Seven Seas Mariner does a 26-day run from San Francisco to Tahiti via Hawai'i. Princess Lines' new Pacific Princess offers an 18-day cruise from San Francisco to Tahiti through Hawai'i. The Royal Caribbean Lines' Vision of the Seas, Legend of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas touch here on 11-day cruises with routes that include Honolulu/Vancouver or Vancouver/Honolulu and Ensenada, Mexico/Honolulu or Honolulu/Ensenada.
The Norwegian Star isn't the only cruise ship sailing Hawaiian waters, but it is the only one with weekly departures that sail to and from Honolulu, making it very convenient for Hawai'i-based cruisers, who needn't make any long flights either to start or end their cruise (check www.ncl.com). It's also one of the most reasonably priced, known for balancing amenities with value.
The Crystal Harmony periodically sails from and back to Honolulu on 10-day cruises with an itinerary that includes Honolulu, Kaua'i, Kona, two days at sea, Christmas Island, two days at sea, Hilo, Lahaina and then back to Honolulu. Three such itineraries will be offered in February (check www.cruisecrystal.com).
Other lines that touch in Honolulu:
The Clipper line occasionally offers 16-day runs from Honolulu to Tahiti with visits to Neighbor Islands, several South Pacific atolls, Bora Bora and Moorea about its Clipper Odyssey. The next one is in September.
Carnival's Carnival Spirit offers 12-day cruises that begin in Vancouver and end in Honolulu.
Celebrity's Infinity offers a similar Vancouver-Honolulu itinerary.
Radisson's Seven Seas Mariner does a 26-day run from San Francisco to Tahiti via Hawai'i.
Princess Lines' new Pacific Princess offers an 18-day cruise from San Francisco to Tahiti through Hawai'i.
The Royal Caribbean Lines' Vision of the Seas, Legend of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas touch here on 11-day cruises with routes that include Honolulu/Vancouver or Vancouver/Honolulu and Ensenada, Mexico/Honolulu or Honolulu/Ensenada.