NCL PhD@Sea Cruise, Debarkation Day

Okay, first off, of all the upsides of Freestyle, and there are many, like a dozen dining choices, and open dress codes (wear a tux if you want, wear jeans if you want), the one I like best is Freestyle debarking.

Basically, if you want to carry your own luggage, you can get off as soon as they clear Customs. I saw people leaving at 7:45 this morning, and we didn't touch the pier until 7. Otherwise, you can go to the lobby the night before, and pick up luggage tags that correspond to the time YOU want to get off the ship. Those cruise lines that tell you when to get off are fighting a very perverse but basic fact of human nature...it's just a fact that all the people you ask to get off first want to hang out and relax by the pool, and all the people you put last are dying to beat the traffic home. Therefore, approximately 100% of the passengers get off the ship angry.

By letting people pick their own time, all that is avoided. Plus, they don't ask anyone to clear their stateroom until 9am, and EVERY public room is open, including the buffet and a main dining room for breakfast. Again, people who would choose to sit out by the pool, if they had a choice, will sit there and fume if they are ordered to do so. And by accomodating each individuals desired debark time, it all goes much faster. They manage to clear the entire vessel by 10 and start boarding the next bunch just after 11 (based on my embark last week, which was actually delayed a little from the norm).

So, I got tags for 9:05. At 8:20 I went to the dining room (the buffet was the usual last morning mess of people), and, apparently only a dozen of us heard the part where the dining room was open. So I had a leisurely breakfast, went up to the room at 10 minutes til 9, grabbed my little bag, and went down to the cigar bar for a quick smoke...sure enough, at 9:08, my color was called, I got in line with about 6 others, walked off the ship, down to the terminal, grabbed my bags, spent less than 5 minutes getting past Customs, and out the front door, to my car, by 9:20, and 20 minutes later I was on the 110 Freeway headed home. Seriously, ONE HOUR from the time I left the cabin, til I was on the freeway...that just doesn't seem to happen on any other cruise line, and I really like it. And I think it really helps NCL's customer satisfaction...the fact is, by the end of the cruise, most people have forgotten what Embarkation Day was like, but if they have had a good last couple days, and an easy, breezy debark, they are feeling pretty good about the whole cruise.

So, a few final housekeeping notes: To the guy who left his new Ray-Bans by the pool on Fiesta night, THANKS!!!, and I promise to take good care of them. To all the staff and crew of the Norwegian Star, THANKS for a great week. Service was, without exception, excellent, especially the Cruise Directors Staff, who were all wonderful folks (special note to Maria: Va multimesc, am avut un mare timp, si uitati-va inainti vi intilni din nou)(she doesn't believe I speak a little bit of Romanian), and the Senior Management that took time out for our class, and really gave us the benefit of their years of experience, not to mention a real personal conversation that you just can't get at a Captain's Cocktail party or some such...the difference between meeting the Captain or Hotel Director of a ship, and hanging out for an hour asking questions is huge, and would have made the whole week worthwhile by itself.

To the folks at NCL and CLIA who made this whole thing possible, THANKS...I think you made a good decision investing a little money in some real training, and I think you will see a dividend for yourselves, and your agents.

And, finally, to my classmates - nice meeting you all, and I hope our paths cross again.

OH, and you may all address me as "Dr." now. :-}

NCL PhD@Sea Cruise, Last Day at Sea

So, up bright and early for some more classes. Mostly inside stuff, pretty boring, but a lot about the new Norwegian Epic, NCL's new ship. Enough that I will be doing a seperate post about her. After class, I ducked into Bingo long enough to NOT win the Free Cruise Raffle, then to lunch and an hour by the pool, before I had to go back for the last event...the big Graduation Ceremony...Got the certificate, and a copy of our Group Photo from earlier in the week, and a very cool USB Flash Drive, shaped like a Platinum room key. Since I just got the new Netbook, and haven't gotten around to buying a memory card, it was just about the best gift I could get, really.

So, then, up to the room for a little nap, then back for the last Bingo. Kinda funny, the last blackout game - the guy who won was with this rather flamboyant young lady, with fire engine red hair, who was EVERYWHERE, singing Karaoke, dancing, doing the contests, etc. I had noticed him with her, but I never saw him say a word, or even get out of his seat for the whole week, while she was making sure everyone on board would remember her...so, guess who hit the $3000 plus jackpot? Yep...he almost smiled about it too... Afterwords I hung out listening to the piano player, cruised the casino, but couldn't bring myself to drop anymore, and then went to dinner at the Blue Lagoon...those hot wings are just addicting. Then over to the Trivia Contest which my new homegirl Maria was doing...FINALLY, I got a crappy little prize, an NCL key chain with LED light! WOO HOO!!!

I then hooked up with a group and participated in the Quest, and adult scavenger hunt type game...lot's of fun, but we came in a distant third... Then to the big final show with the Jean Ann Ryan company. They really are some of the best entertainment at seat. With a company of 16, 6 of whom are mike'd up singers (Some cruise lines are down to two, these days), a ballroom specialist couple and an aerial couple. They were all involved in this production which was basically 70's music, heavy on disco, but hitting some rock and roll stuff too, like Queen and Styx. Incredibly good production values for a cruise ship. After the show, several hundred of the staff, including all of the senior officers and cruise directors staff, as well as a goodly number of waiters, cooks, stewards, etc, came up on stage for a mutual love fest with the audience. It was nicely done, not too cheezy, and the officers hung out in the hallway afterwards, chatting up the guests. A nice ending to a good cruise.

I did check out the Toga Party, but it was kind of lame, with only DJ music, and the cruise staff was there but you could kind of tell they were ready to go home, and I can't blame them...no one should have to maintain that kind of energy 7 days a week. Anyway, I skipped out around midnight, headed down to the casino, just to say goodbye to the dealers and hostesses who were so nice to me, and then one last trip to the Blue Lagoon for one last plate of hot wings, before running upstairst to pack and go to bed. I will fill you in on the disembark, soon....stand by

Norwegian Star, PhD@Sea Cruise...Second Day at Sea

The day started with breakfast in the dining room, and then our big "behind the scenes" tour. We got a fascinating look, not just at the galleys, but all the storage, refrigeration and prep areas. We're not talking a couple of walk-in refrigerators here, but dozens, divided into fish, poultry, beef, vegetables, etc. They don't just buy steaks, or fish fillets...they get the whole animal and do the cutting and prepping on board, so each of those walk-ins is attached to a prep room with tables and sinks, etc...quite an operation. Then on to the Laundry, with washers and dryers you could stand up in. I think the guy there said the biggest washer would hold 600 pounds of linen. I am pretty sure I don't OWN 600 pounds of linen. And then there are the folding machines...very cool. Two guys feeding sheets in one end, and another guy stacking the crisply folded sheets shooting out the other end. We also went backstage at the main showroom, and to the dressing rooms. I have a whole new respect for the entertainers and their costume changes...the dressing rooms are up two short flights of stairs and down a hallway with a couple turns. So, they are not only changing those outfits and getting back on stage they are running stairs both ways, too...

Anyway, after the big tour we had a couple sessions with the staff. Rather than a bridge tour, the First and Second Officers/Navigation came in and did a brief lecture on the navigation of the ship. Then the Captain, Staff Captain, Engineer, Hotel Director and Cruise Director did a Q & A. Captain Lars is a crackup. He has, I think he said, 16 years in the cruise ship business, but 40 years as a merchant seaman, working everything from tankers and freighters to ferrys and tugboats. As he put it, he has captained everything but a canoe. He had tales of stowaways on freighters, and pirates in the Strait of Malacca, and funny with it. The Engineer described how the routine maintenance of the 4 main engines was done, and how they are totally rebuilt, on a regular basis, while the ship is working, along with all the statistics on power consumption of the floating city that is a modern cruise ship. They all agreed that cruise ships are infinitely more fun than freighters. In describing how quickly the could come to a stop, if necessary (about .2 miles), the Staff Captain called them the Ferrari of shipping. The Hotel Director and Cruise Director answered a lot of questions about staffing and turnover, and all that sort of thing. In all, it was a very interesting look at all that goes in to making cruising work. And they all seemed very enthusiastic about their jobs, and NCL.

After the session I had lunch in the buffet, and then bopped around for a bit, talking to people and getting some pictures of the ship. At 4 I did a video thing, down in the casino, which may or may not be on YouTube...we'll see. Then I got dressed for dinner, and hung out at Gatsbys listening to the piano man. He really is quite good, and I really wish NCL had a real piano bar. The lack of audience interaction/participation is something I really enjoy, and miss...too many Carnival cruises in a row, I suppose.

After a pretty good turkey dinner, I headed down to the casino with some friends, and played those silly penny slots (oh, the lengths I will go to, to impress a girl...) didn't get a jackpot, or even close. Then a bad turn at roullette, and an equally bad turn on the video poker. It obviously wasn't my night, so I decided to check out The War of the Sexes. Loosely based on Family Feud, with all the men on one side, and all the women on the other. Lot's of fun. You probably won't be surprised to hear the women won...it seems they usually do. After the game, I decided to call it quits, early...it's been a busy week, and more classes tomorrow, bright and early...



Norwegian Star, PhD@Sea Cruise...Puerto Vallarta

We pulled in to Puerto Vallarta around 7:300, and I was off the ship by 8, wandered out the front gate and grabbed a cab to the Malecon. A beautiful day, couple degrees cooler than Mazatlan. Stopped in to Glam for some breakfast. Quite a treat. After I ordered a guy came up to the table with a tray with bowls of roasted tomatos, peppers, onion, cilantro, etc, and proceeded to toss them into a molcajete and whip up salsa, about as fresh as it gets. Excellent. As my machaca arrived, across the street the palantla (sp) flyers started climbing their pole. So I sat in the open air cafe, soaking up the sun, while eating an outstanding Mexican breakfast, complete with fresh home-made salsa and watched them perform, and wondered how life could get any better, and then the Carnival Splendor sailed into view...yep, life is sweet.
After breakfast, I continued my walk, found a refrigerator magnet, and finally decided to head back to the ship for lunch, as it was getting a bit warm. After yesterdays hard rock cab ride, I was wondering what I might find today. Turns out I get the cabbie with Tourette's...seriously, nice enough guy, and he took me the long way, up into the jungle a bit for some scenery, but by the time we reached the dock I was twitching...
So, back on board I grabbed some wings at the Blue Lagoon, and a bowl of Won Ton Soup, then went up for a well deserved nap. About 3 or so, I wandered up to the pool, hung out with some friends, and listened to the band (Xcite from Trinidad...they are pretty good, and mix up the island sounds with some pop tunes).
I had every intention of eating in the main dining room, but as I passed the Soho room, I just decided I needed to check it out. Incredible! The Soho room is the Norwegian Stars "hip" eatery. The room itself has giant portraits of the coolest people in the world, from Sinatra, Hendrix and Jagger, to Marilyn and Farrah, to Bogey and Connery. All in false color or pixellated black and white or negative. Very nice. The food was probably just equal to Cagney's Steakhouse, but the presentations were very creative. I started with a Tuna Tartare appetizer. It was brought out on a plate with an inverted martini glass. The glass was filled with mesclun and various other greens, and on the base of the glass was a cylinder of chopped tuna with a little sour cream and red and black caviar, with chili sauces drizzled around. The waiter set the plate down, grabbed the tuna with french spoons, ran it around the base to pick up the chili, then lifted the glass so the greens sprung out, filling the plate, and set the tuna tartare right in the middle. Very slick. The Vichysoisse was served in a large bowl with three strips of smoked salmon rolled up and sitting around the shallow edge. Good combo! And the lobster was outstanding...huge, whole lobster, split and served with new potatos and shredded root veggies. I just love tearing up a whole lobster, getting all that good claw meat and coral. YUM. For dessert, I was undecided. I asked the waiter about the Tempura Chocolate Cake, and also what the flambe of the day was. Decided on the flambe, apple crepes, prepared at the table. Outstanding, and I am not really a crepe lover. As I finished them off, the waiter brought me some of the tempura chocolate cake also, and insisted I give it a try...yep...a piece of chocolate cake, battered and deep fried, then covered in chocolate and carmel sauce...took two bites, but I was really to full to appreciate it.
After dinner, back up on deck to hang out and talk, waiting for the Mexican Fiesta Sailaway Party. We pulled out about 9:30, by which time the party was in full swing. I got volunteered to help the bar staff in their mixology demonstration (there is a downside to being BFF's with the Cruise Staff). They were spinning full drink trays and juggling bottles, and then teaching some of us to shake a drink and our booties simultaneously. Fun. Then the obligatory conga line around the deck, ending with some limbo, and then some crazy group dancing which consisted of a lot of hand waving and hip thrusting. it all ended with the band singing "Jump In To The Pool", at which time, yes, the cruise staff and all the guests who cared to, jumped in the pool together. I was so sweated up from the shaking and dancing, I went for it. What a blast. Probably close to 50 people, most NOT in bathing suits. At least on wardrobe malfunction that will, I am sure, be edited out of the video. I will say, it would have been nice if they had some towels stacked around, but, alas, I finished the party in wet pants. Oh, well...
As the party was winding down, the group I was sitting with decided it was time for Karaoke, so we headed down to the Carousel lounge to finish the nite listening to the singers. About 1am, I finally had to throw in the towel. What a great day.
And now, this morning, it's back to school...actually we are starting with the behind the scenes tour of the ship and q&a with the Captain and Staff...I am really looking forward to it. One of the reasons I love cruising is that I am fascinated by the sheer mechanics of these behemoths. So...TTFN


Norwegian Star, PhD@Sea Cruise...Mazatlan

Busy day in Mazatlan...up early to watch as we pulled into port, got off early and wandered around the market for a bit
before taking a cab to the Zona Dorada. Sad to see the old Senor Frogs (site of more than one youthful indiscretion, and a
big part of the reason I no longer drink) is gone. They have relocated to El Cid Hotel. Did a little shopping. Amazingly
difficult to find a counterfit Louis Vuitton belt. I even had one vendor look shocked and tell me such things would be
against the law! I am not an expert on these things, but his stack of designer bags looked less than perfect to me...Finally
tracked one down from an, apparently, less scrupulous shopkeeper.
When I got everything on my list I went over to one of the hotel restaurants and had a cold drink and stared at the ocean for
a while. It was getting hot, and I decided to head home. Got in an open air cab and told the driver to take me back to the
ship. we headed out, and he asked me if I would like to listen to some music. Expecting Banda or Ranchero or something, I
hesitantly said "Sure", and he hit the button, and out comes George Thorogood and the Destroyers, "Bad to the Bone" from
speakers that took up the whole passenger side of the front floor! Awesome! When "Sweet Home Alabama" came on, I decided to
ask the driver, Luis, to take me on a little tour. So we headed downtown to the Cathedral, then out to the lighthouse, all
the while enjoying the wind in my face and classic rock and roll...this just might be the best cab ride I have ever had.
Got back to the ship just in time to lose a Trivia Contest and not earn a crappy prize (NCL's term, not mine). Had lunch in
the dining room and hung out by the pool listening to the band, until we sailed away at 4. Went down for yet another futile
session of Bingo. Back to the Aqua for dinner. Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Tomato Bisque and Sea Scallops on a bed of cheese
grits...all, quite frankly, forgettable. Not bad, just not worth writing home about. I spent an hour after dinner at the
piano bar. This guy is quite good, alternating between piano and guitar, but the setup on the NCL Star, with the piano up on
a little stage, makes any audience interaction nearly impossible, and nowhere near as fun as a real piano bar.
Over to the casino, to deliver the belt to Rinna. Had a nice little run at roulette. Donna, one of the Hostesses bought me
a drink, and we talked about Manchester, where she was born, and Namibia, where she currently lives, between contracts. In
the meantime my numbers just kept hitting. Finally decided it was time to quit. Went up to the Spinnaker Lounge to watch
the NCL Idol auditions. Singers ranged from near professional to truly awful. On a trip down to the cabin I found yet
another tray of chocolate dipped strawberries, so I took them up to Candy, Kat and Maria - I have gone from NBF to FFL!
Candy told me they were her second favorite thing in the world. I am pretty sure I know what is her first favorite...
The actual competition for the NCL Idol was excellent...after winnowing out the goofs at the auditions, the singers who made
the cut were all excellent and a lot of fun to listen too.
After that, one more stop at the Casino, but I wasn't feeling it, so I left at midnite or so, with most of my earlier
winnings intact. Decided it was time for beddy-bye. Early (and long) port call in Puerto Vallarta...
And as I type this I am listening to cadets at the Mexican Navy Base running and singing in cadence...time to go!!!


Norwegian Star, PhD@Sea Cruise...Cabo San Lucas

I have never had a stateroom directly above the boats used for tendering. Quite a treat standing on the balcony watching the tenders slide out, one literally five feet below me, get wenched down and launched. So, an interesting start to the day in Cabo.
Tendered ashore, took a stroll around the waterfront. Made it all the way to Mango to watch some NFL Game Day Final, and catch up on the scores and highlights from Sunday. On the way back I ran into some friends from the ship and spent an hour tourist watching and munching on chips and guac. Saw lots of marlin being carted about, but pretty small. Decided against fishing. Also was told the whale watching was not too good, yet. So I settled for buying a refrigerator magnet. I have to say, for the first time in years, the drug dealers were really getting on my nerves. Walking the strand in Cabo is worse than Jamaica. I was offered the best weed in all of Mejico at least ten times in a mile. Oh, well.
Back on board I took in another session of bingo, to no avail, and then decided to eat dinner at Cagney's Steakhouse...Oh...my...God...! It was the best meal I have had on a cruise ship in years. sTarting out with a shrimp cocktail with four shrimp, each as big as the lobster tail from the night before. Then a lobster bisque that was perfect. And on to a perfectly cooked 16oz T-Bone. Juicy, tender and flavorful, with Cagney's Fries (french fries drizzled with White Truffle Oil, and sprinkled with fresh grated Parmesan cheese), and creamed spinach (made with actual fresh spinach) on the side. Desert was a raspberry Creme Brulee that was excellent as well. Truly - the way cruise ship food used to be, before cruise ships got so damn big it is impossible to maintain quality. The service was, likewise, superb. It appeared that each waiter/busboy combo only has eight, or maybe twelve people, rather than the 30 or so they are assigned in the main dining rooms. Honestly, I don't do the premium restaurants, because, as a confirmed tightwad, I just hate to pay for anything that's so widely available for free. But the $25 surcharge is a pittance when compared to the food and service. From my home, I would have to drive `100 miles to Los Angeles, or 200 miles to Las Vegas to find a comparable restaurant, and a meal like I had would be 3 times that surcharge. My only complaint is that I ate way too much. I am getting too old for this kind of power eating. Oh, well, I will take it easy tomorrow.
After dinner, I mosied on down to the Casino, wehre Rinna from the Phillipines earned a new belt for hitting my 32 on the roulette wheel, not once, but twice...in a row. So, she is on my Mazatlan shopping list. I then went up to the Spinnaker Lounge for NCL's version of Dancing With The Stars. My other NBF's from Bingo, Candy the Asst Cruise Director, Kat, and the Transylvanian Princess Herself, Maria all told me I had to go, and, really, how could I resist? Especially from Maria with that Romanian accent. (I tried to get her to say "Ve've been expectink you, Misted-d Bond", but she didn't get it...apparently not a James Bond fan). It was a lot of fun, with crewmembers, mostly pros from the Entertainment staff paired up with passengers in a ten couple dance off. As expected, they ranged from the quite good, to the truly drunk, and a good time was had by all.
A final stop in the Casino resulted in finally breaking even for the day...and, tomorrow, Mazatlan. I haven't bothered to get off in Mazatlan my last few trips down, but I have quite a shopping list, so....Oh, and I think I will try to find a WiFi hotspot. This netbook thing is working great...type it all up, head down to the lobby, or the pool, and log on to the ships wireless. So far, total connection time under ten minutes, rather than the 20-30 mins/day I have had to burn on previous cruises. However, it's time to get caught up on email, update the Fantasy teams, etc...
Manana, mi amigos!


Norwegian Star, PhD@Sea Cruise...First Day at Sea

Started the day with breakfast in the buffet. Almost had a traditional English breakfast, but for some reason there were no
fried tomatoes to be had...so I had to settle for eggs, beans, mushrooms and authentic English bangers. Authentic in the
sense that they look like tasty little sausages. and have pretty much no flavor whatsoever.
The morning was taken up with classes, and I shant bore you with the details. After they cut us loose at 1 I went to the
Blue Lagoon restaurant, NCL's casual "comfort food" diner. On the recommendation of one of the Hosts, I tried the Hot Wings.
Now, speaking as a guy who once devoted a year of his life (while I was a traveling salesman) to finding the perfect hot
wing, I can tell you: Maybe not World Class, but a lot better than I expected on a cruise ship.
After lunch I decided to veg out by the pool for a bit, as the weather is fabulous (about 80 degrees and sunny). At 4 I went
down to the Bingo. Got a $50 package, and won a $50 jackpot, so that was fun. Then back up to the balcony for some more
vegging, without the calypso band, and all the people. I must say, the Star's pool area is really well designed to handle
all the people on Sea Days, with adequate seating, and chairs/loungers going up in three tiers from the pool, so everyone can
see everything that's going on without the crowding you get on some ships. Me and the neighbors did spot a couple pods of
grey whales, and saw one breech...not spectacular, but a good omen for the whale watching is Cabo.
So, as I was dressing for our Group Dinner, I had a half-dozen chocolate dipped strawberries delivered (last night was a
plate of Canapes), part of the whole VIP thing. Not big on chocolate covered strawberries, personally, but they came in
handy when I finally got home at 1am and wolfed them down before bed.
Our whole group assembled on the staircase by the Soho restaurant to take a group photo. By the time we all got arranged to
the photographers satisfaction we had attracted quite a crowd of onlookers, wondering what the heck we were doing. Then off
for a group dinner. One of the reasons for the group dinner was to demonstrate that NCL's Freestyle thing works for groups.
It does. They reserved about 10 table (with agents, guests, and hosts we are about 80 people) in the Aqua Dining Room. I
assume they recommended some other guests to go to the Renaissance or something, because even with our group reservation,
there was no line of people waiting to get in. I started with some kind of asparagus salad thing which was unremarkable, and
then the Pumpkin with Ginger soup taht was to die for. Almost ordered another. For the entree I agonized over the Lobster
and Grouper combo or the Crispy Duck. Finally went with the lobster...bad call. Not that it was bad, but several of my
table mates had the duck, and they were all "oohing" and "aahing".
After dinner a bunch of us went to the show, a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber "Music of the Night". Excellent performers,
and remarkably high production values. As most of you know I am not a big fan of cruise ship shows, but I was pleasantly
surprised, and may just have to hit the showroom again at some point.
After the show, I had to pop in to the Casino, where I parlayed my $50 voucher from the Bingo into a couple hundred...pretty
good night, and finally to bed at 1.
As I write this Captain Lars is announcing a one hour extension of our Cabo port call, from 5:30 to 6:30 - so the day is
starting well...no particular plans for Cabo, maybe take a whale watching boat..but I will let you know how it turns out!


Norwegian Star, PhD@Sea Cruise...Boarding Say

So far, so good. I got to the port early, and from listening to others - good thing! There were three ships in San Pedro yesterday, the Norwegian Star, and the Sapphire and Coral Princess. So, we were in "the tent" (the inflatable building at the end of everything). Personally, I dropped my luggage at 10:45, parked and got into the terminal right at 11, waltzed thru the VIP check-in, and was called to board at 11:30, so no problem there. I did hear grumbling from some who boarded later, that the process was a little chaotic and too lengthy.
Once on board I took a stroll around the ship - beautiful!!! There are several water features in the Lobby, as well as some flying sculptures. The pool deck is very cool, with palm tree lights, and two slides in to the pool. I will upload some photos to give you a better idea, but let's just say it's very kitschy and cool. As you come out to the pool area, on boarding day, there are tables set up in "the Expo", from all the different departments on board, to pitch their products.
They were all very laid back about it, answering questions when asked, but not pushing at all. At that expo you can, if you want, program your entire cruise, from spa appointments, to shore excursions, to reservations at the premium restaurants and wine packages. I talked to a few of the folks, but I am a little too spontaneous to make reservations like that. One of my memories from the Hawaiian cruise with NCLA was being asked about a hundred times if I wanted to purchase a soda card...nothing like that here. The soda card guy was there, happy to talk, but not bugging anyone. I like that.
I ducked into the buffet and had a nice, freshly tossed ceasar salad - the buffet has a half-dozen "action stations", and the layout is completely different than the Pride of Hawaii, the Norwegian Stars near-sister ship I sailed in Hawaii a couple years back. This flows much better, though there seems to be a lack of beverage stations, and NONE outside by the grill, causing some back up as people come from the burger grill outside to the inside for drinks. AFter lunch, I continued my little tour, heading down to all the public rooms on Deck 6 and 7. There are a dozen restaurants and 10 bars/lounges, as well as the main show lounge. The hallways meander, which gives each venue it's own space, and the design and decor is very different for each one. The Red Lion Pub looks very British (except for the big screen, don't recall any of those in England), Ginza, the Teppanyaki and sushi joint looks very Asian, and Le Bistro very elegant and Continental.
I was impressed. The Norwegian Star is heading into drydock (this cruise was actually added recently, as her drydock appointment was delayed, thus the tent in San Pedro, and having to tender in Puerto Vallarta, instead of docking). Sometimes that last little bit before dry dock maintenance slips, and also the cruise lines sometimes start major repairs, closing off some areas. I didn't see any of that, and the Star is definitely "ship shape".
At 1:15 or so, there was an announcement that the staterooms were ready, so I headed up to check mine out. Pretty standard. Average size balcony, with two pretty comfortable loungers and a small table. Inside is a couch which appears to be a piece of plywood with some fabric over it...definitely hard and uncomfortable. The bed is fine, not too hard, not too soft. One REALLY nice touch is the in-room coffee maker. My less addicted friends probably don't appreciate how nice it is to have coffee in the room. Sorry, but sometimes you just don't want to wait for room service! Closet space is adequate. The bathroom is very nice. As you walk in, the sink is straight ahead, with a shower to the left and the toilet to the right, each with a sliding glass door. I love a real glass shower door, and a shower big enough to turn around with out hitting a cold wall! While I was in the room my Stewardess, Crystaly, came by and introduce herself, and made sure everything was okay.
I had a little work to do, tracking down all my fellow PhD'ers' staterooms and delivering a letter, and by the time I did that, it was time for the boat drill. This was done quite efficiently, about 15 minutes total. I would give you more details, but I was meditating on my balcony. Luggage was delivered right after the boat drill, so I got myself unpacked and settled in.
I then headed up for the Sailaway Party and BBQ - one of NCL's nicer touches. A buffet line set up by the pool, with grills going, serving up roasted corn on the cob, chicken, various sausages, potatos, cole slaw, etc. The smell of the BBQ's, with the Calypso band playing, and the whole party vibe is great. Our actual sail away, scheduled for 4 was delayed a bit. On the upside, Captain Lars got on the PA to announce the delay and did about 10 minutes of stand-up comedy/weather report. By the time we actually left the dock I was back on my balcony, talking to the neighbors, and watching the sunset over the Palos Verdes Peninsula as we pulled out and headed South for Mexico.
I then headed up for a Welcome Reception and Cocktail Party for my group. They had some hot Hors d'oeuvres, and drinks. Nice to find and talk to some of the people I have been chatting with on the NCLU Forum. After that, the Casino was open, so I went a played a little video poker where I turned $100 into $100 in just under an hour, and, feeling lucky, went over to the Roullete wheel where I turned that same $100 into $0 in ten minutes...oh, well.
I decided on "Aqua" for dinner. There are two main dining rooms, Aqua, which is contemporary and cool, and Renaissance, more formal and traditional. Started with a smoked salmon appetizer, which had about a half a pound of salmon, garnished with capers and a honey dijon creme fraische, and topped with various weeds. Quite tasty. Followed that with what they call a Rich Onion Broth - basically French Onion soup with a beef ravioli in lieu of the crouton/gruyere cheese, and also flavored, I think, with Worcestershire - almost an Oxtail soup taste. Don't know that I would order it again, but it was interesting. For the main course I had a roast leg of lamb on a white bean ragout that was excellent, the lamb tender and NOT overcooked. Since this was my fourth meal of the day, I decided to exercise some restraint and skip dessert. Apparently I got up too fast, as the Maitre d' followed me out to make sure everything was okay, and I wasn't leaving mad. Funny. I assured him the only problem was too much food in one day, and he seemed relieved. After dinner I cruised some of the lounges, found a pretty good guitar player down in the pub, but, frankly, I was feeling about worn out, so, sadly, I turned in at 11pm. In fact, I only stayed up that late because there was a raffle in the casino at 10:30. Didn't win anything. So, back home and to bed, and popped out at 5:30 feeling rested and refreshed. Amazing what a night of smelling the sea air, and listening to the ocean slip past the hull can do for the spirits. I really never sleep as well on land as I do in a nice balcony cabin at sea.
Now, it is 6:30, and time to find some breakfast.
Stay tuned tomorrow, to see how the first sea Day goes!