Mike and I had very different motivations for taking our Baltic cruise. I was all about the “Baltic” angle, spending months beforehand researching the best bakeries in Copenhagen and the sights in Helsinki. Mike, on the other hand, was more excited about the “cruise” aspect, memorizing all kinds of technical facts about the ship and eagerly anticipating the breakfast buffet. But by the the end of the cruise, Mike was just as excited about sightseeing as I was, and I enjoyed the dining and activities on board our ship much more than I anticipated.
We chose Norwegian Cruise Lines primarily based on the itinerary and cost, but Norwegian’s freestyle dining policy also appealed to us. As introverts, we aren’t crazy about the idea of assigned seating with tablemates, and we also prefer a flexible rather than fixed dining time and a casual dress code. Overall, we were pleased our experience aboard the Norwegian Star and are planning on cruising via Norwegian in the future.
Although our ship had several specialty restaurants for an additional cover charge, we stuck to the complimentary options: the Market Café buffet, Aqua and Versailles main dining rooms, and room service (we didn’t try it due to the lack of vegetarian options, but there is also a complimentary 24-hour casual restaurant, the Blue Lagoon, serving a short menu of American-style appetizers, sandwiches, and salads).
- The most popular breakfast option is the Market Café buffet, stocked with a wide variety of standard American breakfast foods: fresh fruit, cold and hot cereals, yogurt, toast, bagels, pastries (unfortunately, these always seemed stale), scrambled eggs, hash browns, corn beef hash, waffles, French toast, pancakes, sausage, bacon, a build-your-own omelet station, and my personal favorite, lox.
- When we wantd to get an early start, we ordered room service. You place your order the night before via a card hung your stateroom doorknob. Options are limited to continental breakfast items: pastries, cold cereal, yogurt, and fruit. Portions are small, so if you like a hearty breakfast be sure to order lots of food (I usually got two orders each of cereal and fruit).
- If you have the time for a sit-down breakfast, the Versailles dining room has the best breakfast options. Most of the standard breakfast items you can get at the buffet are available, but there are also a few specialty items: eggs Benedict, biscuits and sausage with gravy, Scottish kippers, a waffle with banana compote, and pancakes with blueberry syrup. The salmon eggs Benedict, with lox, spinach, and a dill Hollandaise sauce, was the most delicious breakfast I had on board.
- Since we spent most of our days in port, we only ate lunch on board on our embarkation and two at sea days. On all three occasions, we opted for the Market Café buffet, which offers a wide variety of food for just about any diet. There are many vegetarian options: a salad bar with cold cooked beans to make a protein-rich salad; a hot potato dish, such as mashed or au gratin potatoes; at least two types of cooked vegetables, such as beets, broccoli, zucchini with tomatoes, or ratatouille vegetables; a meatless hearty salad, such as Moroccan chickpea salad, lentil salad, or tabbouleh; a vegetarian main dish, such as vegetable lo mein or a spinach and cheese calzone; at least one vegetarian Indian entree, such as dal or sautéed tofu with spinach; cheese and vegetable pizza by the slice; and a pasta station with some meatless sauces. The quality of the food was adequate, but not memorable. The exception was the bread, which was fabulous--my favorites were the mini pretzel rolls and Indian roti.
- Weather permitting, there is a grill buffet by the pool. For vegetarians, there is grilled corn and veggie burgers upon request.
- Dinner in the main dining rooms was the culinary highlight of our cruise: the food was beautifully plated and delicious, and the service was excellent. There are two main dining rooms, Aqua and Versailles, serving identical menus but with different atmospheres. Aqua has a resort casual dress code, with upscale contemporary decor. Versailles is the fancier option, decked out like a French palace and featuring a piano player and a "no shorts" dress code (although jeans are permitted, most people tend to dress in business casual attire).
- As a bread lover, I appreciated the bread basket, which featured three types of bread that changed nightly. Over the course of our cruise we had at least ten different types of wonderfully fresh bread, including French bread, whole wheat rolls with pumpkin seeds, cracked wheat bread, olive bread, cheese rolls, and cranberry-walnut rolls.
- The nightly menu had about eight starters: French onion soup, a mixed green salad, and Norwegian smoked salmon tartare were always on the menu, along with nightly changing selections that included another soup and salad, a vegetarian option, and a few meat starters. Favorites were the smoked salmon tartare, a mixture of minced smoked salmon, mashed avocado, and cucumber, garnished with mixed greens and a toast point; the Asian rice noodle salad, with a light dressing, shrimp, and wasabi; and the Mediterranean grilled vegetables.
- For entrees, there was a "classic" menu offered every night, as well as about six nightly specials. There were two vegetarian options each night, the vegetable lasagna roll up from the "classic" menu as well as a nightly special, such as dal curry, mushroom stroganoff, potato pot pie, or a spinach beignet. The vegetable lasagna roll up was most the vegetable-focused vegetarian entree, packed with spinach, mushrooms, and zucchini, with a tasty fresh tomato sauce. Since most of the other vegetarian entrees tended to feature heavy cream sauces, I ate a lot of seafood. Anything with salmon or shrimp is a good bet--they were always grilled to perfection.
- For dessert (the most important part of the meal), there were about six options. One was always the marvelous chocolate volcano, a rich molten chocolate cake served with strawberry compote and a scoop of stracciatella gelato; it's big enough to split, although you won't want to. The nightly specials often included crème brulees—I tried the pistachio and Nutella versions—that were creamy perfection, served in shallow ramekins that increased the caramelized surface area. Other favorite desserts were an apple and pear tartin served with vanilla gelato and caramel sauce; a dense, fudgy Mexican brownie with a layer of dulce de leche; and a rich Nutella pot de crème.
- The Market Café dinner buffet follows the same format as the lunch buffet, with the addition of a few themed items. Some of the themes included vegetarian options (Oriental, Russian, and chocolate lover’s desserts), while others didn’t (prime rib, seafood, pub food, and German). For dessert, there was a crepe station and chocolate fountain in addition to the cakes, single serving pies and tarts, and soft serve ice cream also served for dessert during the lunch buffet.
- The Red Lion Pub has a popcorn machine—for this popcorn addict, enough said.
- For a $5 surcharge, you can have a pizza delivered to your stateroom or the pool deck. According to Mike, who has a high tolerance for cheap pizza, it's not worth it. His pepperoni pizza was dripping with so much grease it was almost inedible, with a bland sauce reminiscent of a Lunchable.
Other Norwegian Star tips:
- The only toiletries provided are liquid soap and shampoo, so if you want bar soap or conditioner, bring some from home.
- The ship’s library has a decent selection of fiction and non-fiction available. However, checkout hours are very limited and during the day, so check out your books for the trip on your first sea day.
- There is a wide variety of entertainment and activities on board, from glitzy production shows and magic acts to digital photo scavenger hunts and craft classes. However, we were most fascinated by the Q&A sessions with crew members and officers, for a behind-the-scenes, fairly uncensored take on what it’s like to work and live on board a cruise ship.