The rumors had floated online that Norwegian Cruise Line was ready to place a ship in Tampa. But when the Norwegian Star was ticketed for Tampa in October 2011, it caught me by surprise.
I've been a fan of NCL's freestyle cruising since 2003. What's not to like about eating when you want, with whom you want, in one of 13 restaurants? And what guy wants to wear a suit on vacation? Not me. Leave it at home. Unless that's your thing. Freestyle gives you the option of "dress up" nights.
So I would have been happy with the older Spirit or Sky. Instead, Tampa gets the Norwegian Star, one of the first ships built for freestyle, and one of my favorite floating destinations.
Sailing on the Star in 2008, it was easy to see the ship has been well maintained since it set sail in 2001. The first impression of the ship is the signature NCL artwork of bright stars and ribbons on the sleek, white hull.
The Star's design follows traditional, elegant lines rather than the glitz and glass of many new ships. And the bright colors from the hull continue inside.
The capacity of 2,240 passengers seemed perfect for the 91,740-ton ship. We never felt crowded and found ourselves standing in line just once in seven days, for a ride to shore.
Getting around the ship is easy, with no dead ends to frustrate new guests. And with just 11 public decks, using the stairs is always an option, even after a long day in the sun.
Dining in five of the Star's restaurants is included in the price of a cruise. The others require a service charge from $10 per person (for Tex-Mex and Italian), to $25 (at the steak house and teppanyaki restaurant where chefs make a show of preparing your meal). There was also a jazz brunch on the final sea day.
Since we spent little on shore, we tried five specialty restaurants. The food and service were a little better than in the main dining room. But the best part was dining with new friends in small venues.
Freestyle, with passengers dining at different times throughout the night, requires more than just the standard two-show menu of entertainment. And the Star had plenty of options. Nightly karaoke provided plenty of laughs, along with some quality singing, and it was easy to find music and dancing.
Many of the nine bars sit along main corridors, which added to the open feeling onboard, while giving us a chance to meet people walking by.
The Carousel Bar sports merry-go-round horses for bar stools. The Red Lion is an English pub. There is a champagne bar if you want a little bubbly, and the Bier Garten dispenses a nice selection of suds for those who prefer mugs.
The main pool has two corkscrew slides and a selection of whirlpools. There is an indoor lap pool, and the kids have their own pool with slides and a hot tub.
NCL has separate programs for children and teens, and a video arcade for the young and young at heart.
The Star went into dry dock last month for what NCL spokeswoman Courtney Recht called "significant enhancements." She didn't want to be more specific.
Just don't take out the fun.
Kyle Kreiger can be reached at [email protected]