"Freestyle Cruising” began as Norwegian Cruise Line’s “dine when
you want with whomever you choose” concept, and has expanded to
cover nearly every aspect of the NCL cruise experience, from dress
code to debarkation. I experienced it for myself on an eight-day
Norwegian Star cruise in March. Our destination the Mexican Riviera
has been a cruise industry mainstay for decades. But, this season
was NCL’s first foray into the popular run. My roundtrip cruise
from Los Angeles called at Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta
and Cabo San Lucas. It also included three full sea days, which
translates into lots of free time for freestyling.
Fortunately, the Star rose to the occasion, in a number of ways.
Our sailing, in early March, was full. Yet, I never once
encountered a traffic jam, or found myself gripped with
claustrophobia in public spaces, as I often have on other ships.
There’s a seemingly endless array of places to hang out on the
Star, each offering a change of pace and decor that made boredom
unthinkable. If I were a drinker, I’m sure I would have joined the
happy folks at the Red Lion Pub, Gatsby’s Champagne Bar or the
Pearl Martini Lounge. But, my primary vice is caffeine, so the Java
Cafe in the middle of the Grand Atrium on Deck 7 was my preferred
spot for enjoying espresso drinks. And, the people-watching was
great there too.
My fellow passengers included multi-generational family groups
and more couples in their twenties and thirties than I would have
expected. Most surprising of all was the number of Europeans
onboard. The weak dollar, it seems, has made North American cruise
lines a relative bargain. I also encountered many faithful NCL
devotees eager to try an alternative to the Caribbean.
“We’ve never done Mexico before, because NCL didn’t go there,”
noted one young couple from Colorado.
Brand loyalty, I’ve noticed, is particularly strong when it
comes to NCL.
Loyalty is something the line tries hard to maintain. On the
Mexican Riviera itinerary, they’ve gone out of their way to provide
unique options, especially when it comes to shore excursions. Steve
Robin, the shore excursion manager, prides himself on the exclusive
offerings he’s arranged for guests, such as the chance to drive a
Baja 1000 racecar, a visit to a cooking school in Puerto Vallarta,
or to a sea turtle rescue center near Acapulco.
My favorite excursion was called “Panoramic Views and Ancient
Petroglyphs,” which involved a steep climb up an Acapulco
mountainside, to a site laden with mysterious, 2,000-year-old
carvings on rocks and inside caves. Archaeologists believe the Yope
Indians left behind the petroglyphs. I, on the other hand, imagined
that they were messages left by time travelers or alien life forms.
But, then, there’s been a void in my life since “The X-Files” went
off the air.
The Star remained overnight in Acapulco, the only cruise ship to
do so. That left enough time to catch an evening performance at
Fort San Diego, first used by the Spaniards as a trading post in
the New World. Back onboard, a Mariachi trio entertained guests
enjoying a Mexican buffet under the stars.
Dining is where the freestyle cruising concept really shines.
The Star has 10 restaurants, and it’s hard to frequent all of them.
Most of the time, guests find a favorite early on, and decide to
forego the others for another cruise. The Star has two dining
rooms: the sleek Aqua, and the elegant Versailles. I didn’t
frequent them much, because I, too, quickly found other favorites.
Sushi plucked from a conveyer belt at the specialty restaurant,
Ginza, was at the top of my list, as was the aged Angus beef filets
at Cagney’s Steakhouse. Le Bistro, the line’s signature restaurant,
is a “must-do” for fancy French classics. The Soho Room, an Asian
fusion restaurant, is the only restaurant at sea with a live
lobster tank. It’s known for a special desert, called “East meets
West,” which is a tempura-battered and deep-fried chocolate cake.
With so many dining choices, it seemed amazing that anyone could be
hungry between meals. But the ocean air worked its magic, so that
the Blue Lagoon, the ship’s 24-hour “diner at sea,” was never
Thankfully, the ship’s Barong Fitness Center Gym was enormous,
nicely equipped and open around the clock. But I also enjoyed some
outdoor exercise, on the Star’s promenade, one of the most
user-friendly at sea. Like its sister ship, the Norwegian Dawn, the
deck is decorated with a colorful mural. Every time I walked
around, I tried to discover another detail. A ballerina here. A
circus performer there. Before I knew it, I’d logged a few
When our sea days grew a bit chilly, I was happy to check out
one of the ship’s onboard lectures. A multi-part digital camera
seminar by Sarah and Bradley Weber was highly attended, and
extremely informative. The Carousel Bar on Deck 7, with its vivid
blue, red and green carousel-shaped bar and animal prints on the
chairs, made the nicest classroom I’ve ever been in.
The Star’s large boardroom and complex of meeting rooms also
makes it a great place for business groups. Early on in the cruise,
I started using the conference rooms as my private office. The
ship’s wireless Internet service worked there, so I spent time
reading my e-mails, and catching up on my writing. Outside, the
breathtaking Los Arcos rock formations of Cabo San Lucas marked the
point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez. Small
fishing boats and pleasure craft bobbed in the waters around
Zihuatanejo. And, the double bays of Acapulco beckoned. I’d be out
enjoying them soon enough. But, first, I had work to be done and
there was no “office” on land that could compare to this.
It was freestyle cruising, my way.
Size: 91,740 tons
Capacity: 2,240 double
Year Built: 2001
Staterooms have 110 volt outlets, so you don’t need to bring an
adapter. There’s an Internet cafe, as well as wireless Internet
access in various “hot spots” throughout the ship.
Norwegian Star resumes its eight-day Mexican Riviera runs on Sept.
30, after spending the summer in Alaska.
Cost: Starting at
$1,741.16 for an inside cabin, per person, double occupancy.
depending on productivity.
Hits: Rooftop garden
villas feature living room, dining room, three bedrooms, each with
separate bath, private “garden” with hot tub.
Concierge service in categories from
“Mini Suite” and above. Butler and Concierge service in categories
Penthouse and above.
Chocoholic Buffet is worth breaking
your diet for.
art auction announcements are “jump out of your chair” loud.
Internet cafe above the atrium is
blasted with distracting canned music.