Mexican Riviera Pacific coastal cruise is a huge success for Norwegian Cruise Line

Going on a cruise is like stepping into a period of suspended reality, where your dreams do indeed come true. Our trip into fantasyland took us to The Mexican Riviera, the latest itinerary being offered by Norwegian Cruise Lines aboard the elegant Norwegian Star. The Star divides her time between the Mexican Riviera in the late fall and winter; and Alaska during the spring, summer and early fall.

The Mexican Riviera is an ideal cruise for people who want to try a different warm weather location than the Caribbean. Cruisers have been very enthusiastic, and Hotel Director, Frank Hasenwinkel noted that sales have exceeded the company’s initial expectations.

Departing from Los Angeles, we began our 8 day cruise with two days at sea while we sailed south to Acapulco, before retracing our route along the Mexican Riviera, making port in such exotic places as Zihautanejo (pronounced Zee-what-en-eh-ho), Xtapa, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. Our cruise ended with a relaxing day at sea before returning to the City of Angels.

The Star is a beautiful ship, launched in 2001 to sail in the Hawaiian Islands. At 91,000 tons, she is one of NCL’s largest and fastest vessels. However, this is not one of the mega-ships that many people find just too big. There are intimate dining rooms, cozy reading rooms, and small bars where it’s easy to strike up a conversation with your neighbour. Passenger capacity is 2,240, with a crew of 1100 coming from 65 different countries. It’s a veritable floating United Nations, and the officers and crew are rightfully proud of how so many nationalities and cultures work and live together.

Norwegian continues to be an industry leader with Freestyle Cruising, a concept that features no pre-determined dining times, and a choice of 10 different restaurants onboard The Star. This means that you dine when and where you want. You’re free to try different dining rooms. Beverley and I sometimes had dinner in one restaurant, went to the evening show, and then tried another restaurant for dessert and coffee after the performance. Only four specialty restaurants have a modest surcharge, ranging from $12.50 to $20 per person. While the menus and service in the main restaurants are excellent, we like to treat ourselves once or twice during a cruise, and we find the intimacy and style of the specialty restaurants well worth the extra fee.

Our favorites are The Bistro, a French restaurant found onboard all NCL ships, and Cagney’s, a terrific steakhouse on The Star, and sister ships; The Dawn and The Spirit. You can also choose The Soho Room, featuring a fusion of California and Asian cuisine; Ginza, offering a Thai/Japanese/Chinese menu and a novel all-you-can-eat Sushi conveyer belt.

Guests have many dining options offered as part of the cruise package, including the elegant Versailles Dining Room; Aqua (where the pastry and dessert preparation is open for view from the dining room); La Trattoria for Italian food aficionados; The Market Café for sumptuous breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets; The Blue Lagoon, open 24 hours for burgers, fish & chips, pot pies, and wok fast dishes; and Endless Summer, a beautiful dining room that opens on to The Atrium, and features a Tex-Mex menu., including enchiladas, black bean soup, tamales, back ribs and Mexican chocolate cheesecake.

The Versailles Dining Room is an elegant French-style restaurant located at the aft of the ship with a huge wall of windows looking out over the phosphorescent wake of The Star. It is also the scene for The Chocoholic Buffet, a signature event for Norwegian Cruise Line. Fully 500 pounds of chocolate are used in this extravaganza, 350 lbs. of regular chocolate, and 150 lbs of white – and believe me – most of it goes!

It really is a fantastic presentation; with huge ice sculptures prepared on deck during the afternoon, three and four foot chocolate replicas of The Eiffel Tower, Bald Eagles, and Pirate Ships – all providing a backdrop for more ways of preparing chocolate than you can imagine.

Cakes, fruit fondu, squares, mousse, ice cream, it just goes on and on! Almost a quarter pound per passenger – and that doesn’t include the other ingredients. Sure it’s excessive – but remember, reality has been suspended for the duration of your cruise – so go for it and enjoy!

After all this food, you’ll be pleased to know that The Star has a fully equipped fitness centre with all the machines, weights and free weights that you could possibly need. Classes are available, and Beverley and I find that an excellent way to start the day is a light room service breakfast (we eat a little less that way), followed by a trip to the gym. You don’t need fancy sports clothing to enjoy the fitness centre. People of all ages, shapes and varying degrees of fitness use the centre.

The Barong Spa is a luxurious treat. I enjoyed using the indoor lap pool, which happens to be the longest indoor lap pool onboard any cruise ship in world, at 40 feet long and 13 feet wide. In the same room you have a whirlpool, and hydrotherapy pool. All this with a floor-to-ceiling view of the Pacific Ocean.

All of the public areas have been designed to provide a sense of intimacy. For example, the largest of the 10 different restaurants seats just 392 guests. The Red Lion, an authentic British pub serving a variety of beers, has a capacity of 92. There is a cozy and well-stocked library, and a comfortable reading room. Card enthusiasts will enjoy the opportunity to join fellow guests for a game of bridge in a room dedicated to card games. There is also a room set up for informative lectures and presentations. Perhaps you might be interested in some investment guidance, a history of the Mexican Riviera, or a talk about the stars that shine so brilliantly over the Pacific Ocean. One of my favourite locales is the Java Café, located on the Atrium. This is the hub of activity on the ship, and an excellent place to enjoy an espresso or café-au-lait while watching the unfolding scenes of life at sea.

The Star has a brand new 10,000 square foot casino with all the latest slots, a large number of tables for Blackjack, Baccarat, Roulette, 3 card poker, Caribbean Stud Poker, and Craps – the latter with odds paying out 3, 4, and 5 times to 1. So if you feel that Lady Luck is on your side, you’ll enjoy yourself in The Star Club Casino.

There is accommodation for a variety of budgets. Cabins with balconies are very popular and The Star has 372 standard staterooms with balconies, 36 suites, and 107 mini-suites with private balconies. The Star has 20 cabins for people with disabilities. There are a variety of options for family accommodations. Most cabins have a sofa bed for a third or fourth person.

Also, there are suites that include a separate bedroom and bathroom, which is ideal for children or teenagers! All staterooms were nicely appointed with rich cherry wood. Also, each is equipped with a small fridge and coffee maker.

If you’re in high cotton, you might be interested in one of the Garden Villas, complete with private garden hot tub, terrace, lounge and dining area. Each 5,350 square foot villa has a large living room (large enough for a baby grand piano!) a dining room, and three separate bedroom suites, each with their own complete bathroom ensuite.

You don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy a cruise onboard the Norwegian Star. Freestyle cruising means a relaxed dress code, with resort casual (no jeans or shorts after 6 pm) being the dress for most evenings. There is an optional formal evening, usually the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Reception. We saw instances where one group dressed in tuxedos and cocktail dresses would be adjacent to another group in slacks and golf shirts; and no one felt out of place.

Excursions are a major part of any cruise, an opportunity to experience the local scenery, culture, or sports activities. The waters off the Mexican Riviera are the breeding grounds for over 2,000 humpback whales, making this an excellent location for whale watching. We saw whales and dolphins from our ship balcony. There are detailed explanations of all the excursions, and the Shore Excursion Manager and his staff are available to help you select those that match your interests. There is enough variety that you could do this cruise a few times, and still have new discoveries to make.

Los Angeles is the home of Hollywood, movie sets and stars, and the cruise line has a variety of pre and post cruise packages available. In keeping with our theme of suspended reality – we recommend that you take a couple of days to explore Los Angeles and Hollywood – the home of make-believe.

You may want to visit the Norwegian Cruise Line website for more information about The Norwegian Star, The Mexican Riviera, and Alaska. Bon Voyage!

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