Year Started: 1966
Ships in Fleet: 13
Summary: With the recent introduction of new ships the third biggest cruise company in the world. Free-style cruising, elaborate dining options and surprisingly good entertainment.
Regions:Caribbean, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. First-time Cruisers.
Regions:Bahamas, Caribbean, Eastern Seaboard
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Regions:Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Good for: Families. Seniors. Group.
Good for: Value for Money. Overall Service. Disabled Travelers.
Regions:Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Eastern Seaboard, Caribbean, Bermuda
Good for: First-time Cruisers. Value for Money. Children`s Programs.
Regions:Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean
Good for: First-time Cruisers. Value for Money. Teens.
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Caribbean, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western, Mexico
Good for: Value for Money. Children`s Programs. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean, Inland Waterways, West Coast
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Pride of America nothing for NCL to be proud about.
We were warned to look at the PofA as only a hotel to sleep and eat. Good advice. The staff was not rude but they were uncaring and more interested in their own party as a crew then in passengers. There were a few exceptions (Rashid in the Skyline restaurant!) but overall no commitment to quality or customer satisfaction that we've had on other trips. Itinerary at end. Other suggestions:
Onboard food. Eat dinners in the specialty restaurants. $10-$25 per person but worth it, especially for the filet mignon in the Jefferson bistro. The free Aloha Café buffet is average (think MCL), chaotic and one of your group will have to stay at the table to keep it from being taken. But we never had a long wait for a table at Aloha. My youngest liked the free Cadillac Diner for milkshakes (great). The free Skyline was ok when we wanted peace but food was poor. The free Liberty serves the same menu as the Skyline but is dressy. The extra cost Teppanyaki Japanese steakhouse was fun and great food.
Excursions. Organizeyour own to save over 50%. NCL would have charged $4,200+ for all the shore excursions the 5 of us wanted. We did them on our own for $1,800 even with rental car and parking expenses. Plus we had freedom to leave the ship when we wanted and go where we wanted - missing a lot of the lines. Rental car shuttles (we used Avis) were convenient, picking us up right at the dock. (Note: I can see where you might want to do excursions through NCL if you don't have time to plan or only have 1 or 2 people.)
Parking. On Maui and Kauai there is limited overnight parking. But we found a space on the road to the ship in Maui with no problem - just had to leave it by 8:00 am the next morning which fit our schedule. On Kauai quickly go to the market you see when you leave the dock area right away and buy an overnight space for $20 from Kauai Scooter. If you get in a jam Avis will let you park overnight at their facility but shuttle times are limited at night.
Rooms. Make sure you know the EXACT layout of the room/balcony you are getting, especially if you are on the deck 10. We paid the highest price to get 2 rooms with "full balcony views", but got rooms with "partially obstructed views" (balcony walls on deck 10 extend out beyond the balcony on both sides to meet the wider deck 11). When we asked about it we got multiple excuses like blaming it on the booking, etc. We had to take our own time to call the original cruise coordinator to prove them false. Eventually PofA literally told us there was nothing they would do, including any onboard credit which is the norm. They even gave us bogus numbers to call at NCL. When we did get through to NCL they told us the ship desk would have to take care of it. A complete runaround while we stared at nothing but shipping containers in every port. A several thousand dollar mistake - but they didn't care. Our AVC cruise coordinator was fantastic and said she would follow-up with NCL but I have low expectations and will most likely not use NCL again.
Onboard entertainment. Campy - picture Don Knotts doing an impression of Bill Murray's Saturday Night Live skit as the lounge singer at the Airport Sheraton. But for mellow adults the piano player in Pink's champagne lounge was very good. Only 2 people showed up for ballroom dancing. The Second City comedy troop was great, and thankfully rated their later acts as PG-13 to protect kids. The Pub Crawl crowd was fun but too many desperate women, beer belly drunks and obnoxious hosts. One host even led the crowd through a version of the lord's prayer recast as a drinking oath. Kinda funny but questionable taste. The Farewell Show was laughable - really, people were laughing when the crew sang up the PofA as our "home away from home". Magician and comic on board were ok.
So, was it bad? No, but only because our expectations were set ahead of time. Don't expect much and the PofA will deliver just that. Not much. Hawaii takes care of what's really important.
Itineray (Get reservations online for everything you can before you go and make sure you can get back to the ship on time. All the companies know the PofA's schedule so just ask):Friday. Arrived in Honolulu and had dinner at Dukes at Wakiki. Good prices, great food and beach view. Stayed at Marriott but would choose Westin next time. Saturday. Sea Life Park for pool swim with Dolphins before boarding the ship. SLP is small so don't expect Sea World. The Dolphin swim was great and they pick you up at the hotel and bring you back. Then cab to ship. Sunday (Maui). Whale watching with Maui Adventure Cruises (BEST!) Experts with smaller, faster boats so your time is all spent with the whales. Then walk/shop old Lahaina before best sunset dinner at the Plantation House restaurant (country club - beautiful and they even let us use the club to change when we ran out of time to get back to the ship before dinner. Monday (Maui). Snorkel at Molokini and Turtle Bay on the Pride of Maui. Then beach time before boarding ship. Tuesday (Hilo). Rental car to Akaka Falls, Volcano National Park, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Plantation and Candy Factory. Hilo is rainy side of island so no beach time planned. Wednesday (Kona). Beach and shopping time all right next to the dock in old Kona. Relax day. Great lunch at the FishHopper. Thursday (Kauai). Kayak and hike to Secret Falls with Kauai Kayak (Great). Bring own lunches. Then clean up right there at the marina shower house (rustic) in time for the Luau at Smith's Tropical Paradise which is next door. Smith's is MUCH better than PofA's excursion Luau. Friday (Kauai). Drive or helicopter to Waimea Canyon. Beautiful. Lunch at Shrimp Station and shaved ice at Jo-Jo's (both at base of Canyon) before boarding ship to get back to Honolulu to fly out Saturday.
Hope this is helpful. Aloha (couldn't resist).
Avoid booking your flight through this cruise line. We were overcharged, treated rudely, and given a ridiculous, non-refundable flight. Who would take a cruise out of Miami with a return flight from Ft. Lauderdale, via Texas to North Carolina? That is what NCL air travel booked for us. We could have driven home faster! What a lousy way to end your cruise experience. We could have gotten a direct flight home for less money if we had booked it ourselves. Beware these package programs and check to see what type of flight and transportation you can get on your own. Chances are you will pay less and get a better itinerary.
Once through passport control, diesel buses carried passengers to the ship, weaving under cranes and through stacks of cargo containers. Reaching the gangway at last, we entered the ship on Deck 5 and faced a very long line in the Four Seasons dining room, where room cards were being issued. As suite guests, my spouse and I were pulled from this queue and separately checked in by staff in the lobby area of the Il Adagio restaurant. After taking photos, we were led to an adjoining room for a one-on-one talk with ship concierge Karin, who asked if there was anything she could arrange for us as we settled in. The one request I had – to reserve a spot in the thermal suite in the spa – was for naught…despite web postings to the contrary, there is no thermal suite on board. As Karin explained, "This is an older ship, and it does not have the amenities you might expect on newer, larger ships." Indeed.
Ship: The Norwegian Sun, built in 2001, is a smaller vessel that feels somewhat dated and out-of-touch even though it is relatively new (perhaps this explainsa planned dry-dock scheduled for fall 2010.) Public areas are small and a bit on the claustrophobic side, and the awkward deck layout, which is configured around a giant central kitchen area on deck 5, prevents easy walking from venues located at opposite ends of the ship. The atrium features four "Panoramic Elevators" that, after leaving decks 5, 6 and 7, travel the remainder of their journey inside a white tube – hardly "panoramic" at all. There are many rust spots all over the exterior decks of the vessel that are in need of painting, and plastic flowers and Papier Mache rocks abound – no fresh flowers were to be seen. The daily newsletter is laughable – frequent misspellings, incorrect information, and page after page devoted to getting you to spend money on jewels, artwork, massages and excursions. I know these elements are part of the cruise line revenue stream, but honestly, NCL goes above and beyond any acceptable levels of advertising when 6 front-and-back insert pages are spent trying to pry your money from your pocket. Separately, the passenger composition on this South American itinerary was largely comprised of travelers from France, Germany and Latin America, and as a result, I observed willful disregard for the rule against smoking in individual cabins and public areas despite admonishments from the crew. Indeed, when walking down the halls of decks 9 and 10, the cigarette smoke coming from cabins was so thick that it would make me cough out loud. I saw several cases of plumbing problems – for example, on embarkation day inside cabins 0129 and 0329 were flooded so badly with sewage that carpets were pulled up, odorizer was sprinkled on floors and giant fans were in place for at least 2 straight days.
Serious customer service issues exist on this ship. Bartenders and bar staff are competent and friendly (especially Marvin in the Observation Lounge), but much of the food service team seems to be preoccupied with socializing with each other – when interrupted from this pastime they are often surly and occasionally downright rude. When we got up to take a look at a breakfast fruit buffet in the Four Seasons main dining room, one server admonished us to sit down immediately and barked, "Let us do our job and you do yours!" During the mandatory lifeboat muster, our station leader - an onboard entertainer named Alan - practiced his dance steps while the drill took place. At the same time his station partner informed us, "Remember you are at Muster Station R. You know what Station R stands for? R is for rich. Like you." (Presumably because this station is a meeting point for suite guests.)
On a positive note about the crew, Concierge Karin is a very hard worker who aims to please. I've read complaints online that "she is never at her desk," but in reality this is because she is constantly in motion, running all over the ship to take care of guests. She is extremely accommodating and courteous, and the majority of this crew would do well to model their behavior after hers.
Cabin: We were booked in Cabin 0265, a Penthouse Suite located aft on the Norway Deck. This cabin is spacious (the photos of the living room area on the NCL website really do not do the size of it justice) and generally well maintained. The bathroom is large, with a separate glassed-in toilet closet (like many cruise ship WCs, this one has a slight smell of sewage), a double-door-enclosed shower, and a Jacuzzi tub that is large enough for a 6-foot tall adult to lie down in. The bathroom has only one sink, however, so washing up and shaving are a one-person-at-a-time affair. Lighting is good in the bathroom, but one minor annoyance: you cannot turn on just one light, say only over the sink - you must turn on all 12 recessed spotlights or none at all (kind of disruptive if you have to get up in the middle of the night). In addition, it sometimes took as long as 15 minutes to get hot water in the bathroom, so if you are in a hurry, plan on a cold shower.
Closet space in this cabin is not as generous as one would expect, especially for a 2-week itinerary. There are lots of drawers, though, and a separate make-up table area in the pass-through closet space between the bathroom and bedroom. The bedroom is nicely-sized, with a very soft marshmallow mattress and a separate set of glass doors that open onto the best thing about this cabin - the generous wrap-around aft balcony, which features room enough for two chaise lounges as well as a table and three regular-size chairs. Watching the world go by on calm sea days makes the investment in this suite worthwhile.
Negatives about Suite 0265: no coffee maker or kettle (let alone the cappuccino machine advertised in most NCL literature describing Penthouse Suite amenities), no in-room Wi-Fi, no extra blankets or pillows without making a special request, and large tube-style Panasonic televisions that are well past their prime, to the point of being nearly unwatchable. A Sony DVD player with surround-sound is outfitted in the living room, but I can't imagine blasting the speakers while watching a movie from the onboard library. A connecting door to the smaller balcony room next door would make this an ideal suite for sharing with kids or another couple, but in our case our neighbor used it for eavesdropping (as he made clear while we were out on the balcony, when he leaned over the dividing barrier and asked about things that had been discussed in private). Beware: noise (and the odd piece of toast flying off a plate) is also sometimes an issue from the Great Outdoors Café located on the deck above - diners frequently drag their chairs (and tables) as they jockey for position alongside the rails. One saving grace during our cruise was that the cafe space above this cabin is unusable in cold or inclement weather, so the noise factor wasn't as bad as it could have been.
The Penthouse Suite comes with Butler Service - ours was a rather shy man named Orlando. In addition to bringing ice (and unpacking your clothes if you ask), the butler brings complimentary canapés in the late afternoon and also delivers room service orders (room service in this suite is a complicated affair in which you call the room service number, they hang up, locate your butler, and he calls you back to take the order and subsequently deliver it). I had but one request of Orlando - to supply a bottle of whiskey for evening drinks. I told him I understood that I would have to pay extra for the alcohol, but he gave me a funny look and informed me that I would have to pay for each shot in the bottle individually! When I asked how that could be possible, given that guests can purchase a dozen bottles of wine from NCL without a "per-sip" surcharge. He just shrugged his shoulders and later I received an explanation from the Concierge: It is supposedly a (newly-introduced) fleet wide NCL policy that guests cannot purchase a bottle of liquor onboard, even if they are willing to pay an exorbitant amount for it - apparently because some guests cannot be trusted not to drink it all at once (how this gets around being able to drink a whole bottle of wine at once is beyond me). In any event, it is nonsensical that a suite guest cannot request a bar setup with a single bottle of liquor for the duration of a two-week cruise.
Our Cabin Steward Fidel was perhaps the best we have ever had on any cruise – he visited several times a day and our suite was kept immaculate at all times.
Food: Overall, the food served on the NCL Sun is consistently mediocre – poorly prepared, sloppily presented and more often than not, reheated from a frozen state. Interestingly, during a casual conversation with the Food & Beverage manager, he revealed that (despite an itinerary with close proximity to some of the best meat and seafood on the planet) none of the protein served on the Sun is fresh. That's right - all steaks, poultry and seafood items are shipped frozen to the ship from Miami because of potential labor strikes from dockworkers and other food providers in South American ports. It's unsurprising then that the resulting meals are less than spectacular. One thing to remember when dining on this ship – the service staff has been indoctrinated with a set order in which to deliver food, and any deviations or special requests (like a pre-dinner cocktail or an extra piece of bread with your meal) cause confusion and turmoil. Service staff is also not very competent, often mixing up orders and dropping food and utensils - the crashing of plates, silverware and glassware onto the floor is a constant in nearly every dining venue on the Sun. The "Freestyle" concept really is kind of a joke – if you don't plan ahead, you really cannot eat "whenever, wherever" – walk-up to the desk of a specialty restaurant without a reservation and you will get a blank stare and a "No!" Here then, is a rundown of each of the restaurants onboard:
Concierge Lounge: Our first dining experience on the Sun was lunch in the Concierge Lounge, set up in the Il Adagio specialty restaurant. Warning signs that a bad meal was forthcoming appeared right away: our waiter was shuffling his feet and singing to himself, even while taking our order, and the tablecloth was stained with food from a breakfast that had been served earlier that morning. I asked for a Diet Coke and 20 minutes later received a Beck's Beer in a bottle. I asked again for a Diet Coke, and this time received a Pepsi in a can. After my third request for a Diet Coke, our server informed me that they only have Pepsi on NCL (first time anyone ever told me), so I said "Okay, let me have a Diet Pepsi then." 42 minutes and $2.24 later, I received the one and only soda that I had onboard. My lunch consisted of a Caesar Salad that would be best described as a few leaves of Romaine lettuce floating in two cups of salad dressing, followed by cold and inedible hamburger "sliders" and French fries that were still partially frozen. I skipped it.
Breakfast is offered in this venue as an amenity for suite guests, and the service was admittedly better than this first meal, but you have to know how to order. If you want a regular amount of cheese on your omelet, specify "extra cheese," otherwise the omelet arrives dry. If you want your English muffin toasted, you must specifically ask for it to be done.
Teppanyaki: During the check-in process, Concierge Karin encouraged us to make a reservation for the Teppanyaki specialty restaurant, because "once everyone on the ship hears about how good it is, you won't be able to get a reservation." We took her advice and made a booking for our first night on ship. After our party of four was seated at the 12-person grill, we placed an order for cocktails. A couple of the requests (a gin martini, a blended margarita) seemed to vex the waiter - a hunch that was proven true when the drinks did not appear until 52 minutes later. After being served soybeans, soup and a salad, our two teppanyaki chefs appeared - making nervous jokes and fumbling a bit as they started juggling knives and spatulas over the steaming hot grill. I had just remarked to my brother-in-law that "This can only end badly..." when one of the chefs lost his grip on a twirling spatula and it sailed across the grill and hit my spouse square in the chest, covering him in food and sauce. After he excused himself from the table amid gasps from our fellow diners, the chefs proceeded to juggle raw eggs, which they also dropped with splats onto the floor. Everyone at the grill grew visibly agitated at becoming the next victim, and I said, "Maybe we should stop the juggling and proceed with the cooking." No one laughed. Neither did I when my spouse returned and the maître d' failed to compensate him for the $25 meal surcharge - instead she offered a complimentary t-shirt cleaning (even though he was wearing a dress shirt and dress slacks). The evening was ruined, as you can imagine, but admittedly the food was fairly tasty (if diners can manage to avoid wearing it).
Four Seasons: Our group of four encountered mediocre food and very surly service in this main dining room (in fact we had a running debate over whether the service is worse in the Four Seasons or the Seven Seas - food is from the same kitchen, and only the serving staff distinguishes the two main dining room venues). Bland dishes like chicken breast with instant mashed potatoes and frozen vegetables abound. On the accident front, I had a shrimp cocktail spilled all over the table in front of me one evening by a sloppy server.
Il Adagio: Dinner is reasonably good at this venue, which specializes in Italian dishes. Order the simple things, like an artichoke pizza, which is crisp and delicious. Service is sloppy, however: it took more than 15 minutes for a server to appear on one busy evening, and an additional 30 minutes to get glasses of water to the table. The reason, according to our server: "We have to go and find more water."
Le Bistro: Food and service were a bit above average in this venue. The cassoulet was decently prepared, with slightly overcooked but flavorful duck. The chocolate fondue was cold, runny and inedible, and although the menu advertises Crepes Suzette "prepared tableside," they are not, obviously for safety reasons (but then why offer it in writing?). If you order selections from the "International Cheese Trolley" for dessert, you'll receive a few slices of American, Swiss and Bleu served along with a plastic-covered packet of saltine crackers. Beware the extra charges for certain menu items that are in addition to the restaurant's $20 cover charge.
East Meets West Steakhouse: Food quality is slightly above average here, with fairly attentive service (although we were turned away in our first attempt to "dine whenever" at 7:30 pm despite the fact that only two of the more than 35 tables were occupied). Jumbo shrimp cocktails with a spicy sauce are a pleasure, and the wedge salad is a classic that was enjoyable. Not so great: gummy lobster bisque and defrosted steaks that were tough and overcooked despite a request for "medium rare." On another evening, to avoid the frozen steak, I ordered rotisserie chicken, which was dry and tough. Again, beware of the extra charges beyond the $25 cover – it's $10 more if you want that frozen lobster tail with your frozen filet mignon.
Sushi Bar: If you like sushi this is actually one of the better dining venues aboard the Sun. Although the fish isn't fresh, the hand rolls are well prepared and suitably spicy. Service staff are attentive and pleasant, a rarity on this ship.
Pacific Heights: Perhaps the worst of the specialty restaurants. After a conversation with the Food & Beverage Manager, I was under the assumption that this venue had been closed – but what he really meant to tell me was that its partnership with the food magazine ‘Cooking Light" has been terminated. And with good reason: the Tomato Soup is like a can of Campbell's with a spoonful of Cayenne Pepper thrown in, and the Mushroom Quesadilla, seemingly filled with instant guacamole and slimy canned mushrooms, is perhaps the vilest thing I have ever attempted to eat. After ordering drinks, our server told us that the 40-minute delay in their delivery was because "The bartender is in the bathroom." When he finally returned to our table 20 minutes later with appetizers, the waiter looked at us and scornfully said, "You switched places on me!" We had not.
Buffet: Typical mediocre cruise-line buffet fare - nothing is great, nothing is horrid. Some tips: you don't have to form a single queue – go to the station that you want (there will be howls of protest, but the reality is, this was set up for diners to pick-and-choose from salads, entrees and desserts rather than follow one singular line). During peak lunch times, head out to the rear Great Outdoors area, which has a separate buffet queue featuring salads, burgers, and desserts. As part of the buffet breakfast in the Garden Cafe, waffles are cooked to order in the Pacific Heights venue, and there is virtually no waiting – probably because it is not advertised and you have to exit out of the buffet, head towards the Sports Bar and make a right to get there. You can also find freshly baked pizza (that is quite good) at Pacific Heights during the lunchtime buffet service.
Entertainment: Live shows: The "Gaucho de la Plata" performance was awkward and uncomfortable - the male "Gaucho" performer became winded after his first bolo dance, then proceeded to make several homophobic jokes in a row. Separately, the "Jean Ann Ryan Dancers" are actually fairly talented...unfortunately the material they are tasked with performing (especially choreography during the Broadway-themed "Encore!" show) is clunky and uninspired. Their "Cirque du Pan" show, a faux "Cirque du Soliel" retelling of "Peter Pan" is the best performance of the lot – fun costumes, cute sets and some impressive gymnastics and aerial acrobatics.
Bingo: The offering of every big cash prize came with an asterix: "$5000 Jackpot! *If you cover your card in 46 numbers or less." Isn't this a very low statistical possibility? Not even one guaranteed cash Bingo jackpot during a two-week cruise?
Casino: Slot machines are like vacuum cleaners - 20 dollars on a 25-cent machine disappears in a flash. Tables were often empty, with dealers staring blankly and singing to themselves. The casino is closed while in Chilean waters (a significant portion of this itinerary), and it seemed to be primarily used as a indoor smoking lounge during inclement weather - the smoke is extremely heavy, with little or no ventilation.
Shop: Despite a sign that excitedly proclaims "We have everything you need! Toothpaste, Mouthwash, Toothbrushes!" - the first two on that list were not stocked during the entire 14-day cruise. When asked, a shop assistant shrugged and said, "We don't carry toothpaste." Separately, several days before the end of the cruise, the store manager encouraged me to take advantage of the "Buy 2, Get 1 Free" port-themed t-shirt offer, because "They will not be available for remainder of the cruise." The shirts were observed on offer long after - in fact, all the way to the shop closing on the final night.
Spa: I am an avid spa-goer, but having experienced the customer service levels throughout the rest of the ship, I opted not to partake of any spa treatments offered by the Mandara Spa. I do have one anecdote regarding the staff, however. My spouse approached the spa reception desk and inquired about getting a moustache trim in the salon (a service advertised on the salon menu). The receptionist told him "No, we don't do that." He walked away in frustration. A few moments later, I approached the desk and asked if it were possible to get my moustache trimmed. "Sure," the receptionist said, "when would you like to schedule an appointment?"
Enrichment Lectures: Presented by Assistant Cruise Director "Szolt the Bolt," these featured sixth-grade level Power Point presentations on such topics and the indigenous peoples and the geology/geography of South America. He was unprepared to give the scheduled talk on whales and wildlife, so he showed a video about Alaskan whales instead.
Excursions: Here are details on excursions offered by NCL:
The Lagoon Bluff: Based on rave reviews, our party of four reserved this Falkland Island penguin rookery excursion via the NCL website more than six months in advance. Once aboard, we discovered that the Excursion Desk staff had switched two of us to a tour time that departed more than 30 minutes later. When I politely asked for the new time to be switched back so we could travel together, the manager of the Excursion Desk told me, "You can either take the tour separately, or give me the tickets back…we have plenty of people who want to take this tour." I told him that this was unacceptable and to make it right. He eventually did, but every time I saw him in the hallway, he averted his eyes and would not speak to me.
Torres del Paine: A very long day that begins in Punta Arenas and includes a bus ride to the airport, a flight in a rickety Cessna plane (the windshield de-icers did not work and the pilot flew blind for more than 15 minutes of the 40-minute trip), a three-hour bus ride around the national park, a great Chilean lunch overlooking a stunning vista at a lake, and a repeat flight on said rickety Cessna. Embarrassingly expensive at just over $1000 per person – NCL should be ashamed at the premium charged for this tour, which ought to cost $500 tops. All that being said, the beauty of Torres del Paine cannot be overstated. Torres is a must-see destination that would be one of the high points of any visit to Chile.
Lake Esmeralda and Petrohue Falls: A scenic excursion as advertised, but expect to share your catamaran ride on Lake Esmeralda with 400 other guests, and just try to get a solitary moment (let alone walk on the trail) at the falls as 7 to 8 buses release their passengers simultaneously. Lunch, served at an estancia, was very good, and featured as an entree some of the best salmon I have ever tasted.
In Buenos Aires, Peninsula Valdes, Ushuaia and Valparaiso / Santiago we used private tour guides that were friendly, informative and significantly cheaper than NCL excursions. If you are interested in contact information, please send me a private message and I will be happy to share details.
Bottom Line: Our 14-day cruise around South America on the Norwegian Sun was a memorable one – the vibrancy of Buenos Aires and Santiago are thrilling, and the natural beauty of Patagonia is incomparable. Despite obtaining a significantly discounted rate by booking via the NCL website more than a year in advance, the nickel-and-diming that we experienced on the Norwegian Sun made this the most expensive cruise we have ever taken (yes, surpassing even a trip on the luxury line Crystal Cruises). And unfortunately, our memories of the ship are plagued by visions of incompetency and ineptitude that would be laughable if they hadn't cost us a considerable amount of money to experience.
"Do you have any money left? No? Ha ha!" - Cruise Director Pedro Cera, emceeing the final show of our cruise in the Stardust Theater.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Pat Panama Canal January 16, 2010
We were very disappointed in the quality of the food in the main dining rooms. The service was inconsistent in all the dining establishments and non existent in the bar areas. Rarely were we served at the pool area & found ourselves ordering and serving ourselves at the bars most of the time. The entertainment was sub standard and not at all catered to the majority "over 50 crowd". The shore excursion staff were not acquainted with the excursions they sold and less than enthusiastic in assisting customers. My elderly parents selected this ship for the itinerary. I had sailed with NCL on the Spirit 20 years ago and the Norway 12 years ago.I was appalled at the changes. I will never sail with NCL again.
Norwegian Cruise Lines Sun, January cruse 2011 to the Caribbean a filthy, cockroach infested, fake food, stains on the sheets, no heat, rude cruise, cruise. Want the time of your life then don't step foot on the NCL Sun.
When we arrived on deck 5 to our full window berth I could not believe they expected us to sleep between the stains on the white bed spread and mystery stains on the sheets and pillow cases. After informing the guest services of this several people appeared and we got clean bedding the next morning.
We complained 3 times as did others on our deck, that there was no heat on our floor. I received several written responses that everything was 'Normal'. We received a frayed and torn twin bed blanked for the two of us who would sleep in our clothing all but the last night. After turning a deaf ear to our heat problem on the 5th morning my wife smelt a burning smell in the bathroom enclosure. Wondering if I should call 911 for the suspected electrical fire I called guest services who sent some on in a grey jacketthat examined the bath room and said yes there was something burning in the wall. He placed a call from our room phone and disappeared. I waited what seemed like forever with the door open others passing buy the room commenting they also smelt something burning.
Finally as a lay person thinking it might be a big deal, I returned to guest services where the person at the desk told me yes we have your new complaint that there is no heat in your cabin. So, other could hear me I told them the guy who left thought something in the wall was burning, that turned a few heads and a technician arrived who also agreed it smelt like an electrical problem in the wall. First he removed the wall filter by hand to show a filthy filter with what looked to be cotton on both sides. The walls of the heater were covered in lint and dust and apparently according to him it had caused the fan to stop spinning thus the burring smell from a very hot fan motor. I have included the photos for is tearing the wall out and the filter. I purchased allergy pills (for the snorkeling day to stay dry) on this ship the dust caused a reaction not only with me, but later in an elevator discussing the trip another passenger told me his allergies were real bad also. I told him to pull out his filter and if it was as filthy as mine to demand they change it.
On the second day of the voyager my wife and I went up to the pool deck to get some sun. When she took off her shoe a cockroach wandered out. I captured it in a napkin and returned to guest services with it and quietly explained what had occurred. They sent the 'pest team' who went over the cabin with a small flash light and left. Later that evening after falling asleep the phone rang ( we had arrived on the red eye New Year's evening to Florida from California and with the time changes and flight were tired) guest services wanted to let us know the bug team had determined "that the cockroach was not theirs" . I got up and since I went to bed in my clothing checked my shoes and went to the desk no one knew who placed that call.
The next morning a knock at the door was Christopher in a white uniform who pleasantly enough explained what she had meant was that the bug crew had not found any more cockroaches in the cabin. Funny that night no one knew who called and after time to fix it they had an answer. I was to get another of the many "sorry" as the solution for the problem. He then asked if there was anything else he could do for us. I told him you are big on hand sanitizer but on arrival I had noticed a sticky looking substance on the glass elevator dripping from the roof so could you tell someone to clean it off? As I was to learn they are very good at pretending to listen or care but in one ear and out the other. On the next to the last day I took the hotel manager to the elevator and pointed out what had been there for at least 6 days.
So, filthy air to breath and cockroaches in your personal possession's a great start to a trip of a life time you have PAID FOR WELL IN ADVANCE.
What about what goes inside of you their food? Let's start with the oblivious I also have photos of the long black hair in our morning fruit bowl from room service. How long does it take to pull them out of if they were looking? My wife is blond and I have short brown hair the room guys had short black hair it was quite long and obvious on the green melon chunks. But what goes to the intent of their business model of NCL is that they label the juice dispenser "orange juice" but what they pour into the fountain clearly states orange drink cocktail on the containers. When questioned the dinning staff stated (as Royal Caribbean juices them in front of you) is you can get orange juice for additional cost. Why not say what it is orange drink. Please if your poring fake orange juice call it what it is so we can choose. As it sits at the table it separates into water on top and the food coloring to the bottom. Something seemed wrong with the coffee they brew and again things are not what it seems as the large stainless steel coffee makers are giant instant coffee dispensers. Again we found out that for an additional charge you could have normal coffee where water passes over the grinds.
The buffet always seemed like someone should take a rag and clean it up (photos). Having the buffets in the back of the ship closed caused a jam up at meal times. The first meal I tried on arrival was a mock hamburger. I called it mock as I work for a school and see trays of pre marked hamburgers steamed for the kids, guess what NCL served them the same way trays from the oven sitting in water. As I was adding the condiments the curtain actually hit my hand and I was told by a young man that I would need to go get into another line as he was closing this station. A man in the chief hat watch this so I walked over and explained I was on vacation and did not take orders from the help. I left the plate and went to the fan tail where I was approached by a guy in a white uniform who asked if he could do anything I said "yes, get away from me". We went exploring around noon on another day and found the included Spanish dining area on the Sun. Here are olives, some cheese and a few lunch meats including Baloney and salami with no pepper corns, who goes on a once in a life time Caribbean cruise hoping for a baloney sandwich on white bread.
Dinners were lacking in the prepaid venues and the staff was once again rude. We tried to make reservations for two and were told just come on down "two is no problem". So, that evening after determining many in front of us were in large parties I approached the desk and told her two. She told me "go get back in line". We went out the dining hall and around to the bar where I watch other pairs loiter by the entrance where it would become clear later she was calling out "2" from time to time from her podium. Not knowing if the couples were joining others I needed to wait to be seated to see them finishing before we got our water. Guess the solution NCL staff offered after walking away from the table to tell the head waiter of this, "sorry".
The meals themselfs were time and again a disgrace. On the last night I received the roast beef lunch meat I had avoided with gravy along with one table spoon of canned peas with two baby carrots as the roast beef dinner. If you read roasted potatoes would you expect more than four slices from a single potato? Yes, you can request all the plates or dinners you want. The shrimp cocktail had a very strong taste as if they were old. One night I received 3 thin slices of a steak only Jesus could feed more on a steak than NCL. A note on this cruise the head chief was Indian and it had an influence on the spicing of every thing from fried potatoes, rice with chunks of fish blended in, to the cold cherry soup that was quite good.
Let's go explore the islands with NCL partners, the excursions desk set me up with a power snorkel adventure, where a machine would pull you through the ocean included was an open bar with snacks it was listed as 4 ½ hours on the card provided by NCL staff. The photo of the machines at NCL's website look like machines from James Bond in fact the fans were 10 inches thick with the battery in the handle. Once away I asked for a beer where I was told no beer, wine or spirits but on the way back we could have some rum punch. Off we went to "Turtle Island" for the day among the turtles of course. As we approached an Island the skipper told us how much more fun it would be to dive at a ship wreck. We parked between 10 to 12 other boats with 40 to 60 people each and several scuba diver ships and were informed it was better here than where we had paid to go ( it was also closer to the ship). You could have booked the ship wreck tour for ½ of what we paid for Turtle Island snorkel adventure. When I asked for a snack I was told to have a warm coke as no ice was on board the Jolly Mon. After a written complaints about the power snorkels not having been charged as they quit 10 minutes into the adventure ( I swam back holding one in each arm as my wife is a novice swimmer) no beer or open bar, no snacks, and the crew who must have thought we did not want the last hour on the catamaran and returned 60 minutes early, NCL refunded 50% to those who had signed on to the original letter. I was to find out later the others who had also had dead power snorkels paid the full price to NCL even though they knew the facts about the group's problems.
After the electrical fire I went to the guest services desk where I informed them I had had enough and wanted to speak with someone with "stars or bars" on their shoulders. We met with the hotel manager who I was to believe genuinely was as shocked as we were (or had he done this a thousand times before).The air conditioning person told us this ship has to heat water and send it through the heating pipes but was not fired up, oil cost money that we had given them our money a long time ago. The Sun's hotel manager asked for some time to review the matter and we found $300 ships credit for a ruined trip on the last full day. That took care of the mandatory tipping and the $19.95 photos and a souvenir from the gift shop. Not a refund to our charge card mind you but a credit for ship board retail.
Waiting to meet with him we were able to hear a constant stream of cruisers wondering about this charge or that. A few of the favorite were the man who liking his bartender had given him a tip to only find out that all transactions at the bar had a 15% gratuity charged to them, so a tip on the tip he had given. Another woman wondered about the two 6 dollar charges on her bill. She was informed she had grabbed two small waters on the way to an island, the kind that are 6 for a $1 in a store. NCL has a strict policy of no water or soda being brought on board the charge for a soda card was $60 per person. At the pier locals sell cold water for a dollar a bottle; I wonder if NCL knew this.
In conclusion, if you are still reading the Carnival Dream which we shadowed the trip had 24 hour free Sushi bar with more than California rolls, Pizza and pasta bars, BBQ on the decks and more included in the meals, which the people on St Thomas informed us were very good as we talked at a pulled pork stand eating our first good meal in days. Just to think, at Trip Advisor we had read of a sewage smell from a poster on the Dream and changes to NCL from that fact alone. Yes, they said it was true from time to time there was that smell. On the Sun we went to the 4th floor by accident after a show and it smelled bad, asking someone in the hall about the smell they said it was that way each day. The man also told me there was a banging sound in his wall. Seems the crew had put the gang plank away wrong and something big and metal was striking his cabin wall with each wave. Guest services had told him nothing could be done until we unloaded in 2 more days.
All goes to the business model for NCL, where you certainly do not get what you paid for from fake juice and stained sheets in a room with roaches, to shore excursion that are not what was represented in writing. I have included photos of much of what I have written. Do yourself a favor and explore your options in cruising, sometimes you get far less than what you are paying for and they pocket your money as profits.
When you intentional don't get what you paid for and speak to the 2nd in command all that is left is to warn others in words with large format photos. So, don't do it, there are other cruise lines that you can sail on, our trip was ruined day after day by NCL's, sanitation, food and several rude people. Finally there is always something good to say about anything and talking to others regarding our interactions with the Sun and staff we were able to make some new friends who also were discussed by the treatment to passengers. In the 7 days 3 sets of passengers would travel on her again the overwhelming majority were sick they had book on the NCL Sun and would not do it again.
Anyone who books with NCL has made a mistake. Nothing with this cruise line warrants a repeat trip. The staff were rude and couldn't care less about your vacation, especially in the restaurants. The ship was a like a traveling Wal-Mart where you are constantly hounded to spend money on over proceed jewelry, t- shirts, photos, etc. Deck 7 was so crowded with junk you couldn't get to the restaurants where the food was mediocre at best. The only person that smiled and said thank you was the one insisting you applied hand sanitizer before entering. Many of the excursions are over priced misrepresentations. Travel 2500 miles and spend $1000's of dollars to be told by the tour guide that you are not on vacation, your on his time. Want a chair on the private island. Be prepared to pay $30. This cruise line could apply for a role in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Beware of Norwegian Cruise Line customer relations. I had a bad experience with a shore excursion and NCL customer relations refused to make it right by compensating me for the $60 of service that I did NOT receive from their subcontracted shore excursion company. What's more is that the shore excursion management team and customer relations department handled my polite request to rectify the issue with an absolute lack of professionalism. They care not about the satisfaction of their patrons--only their bottom line. Too bad, this experience ruined an otherwise mediocre cruise experience.
Embarkation: On the ship in 20-25 minutes
Disembarkation: Of the ship in 20-25 minutes
Housekeeping: The ship and my stateroom were showing there age. Stains, cigarette burns, leaks in hallway ceilings, etc.
Entertainment: Very good. Good stage shows. Jose and Patti were fantastic!
Food: The absolute worst I have ever eaten on a ship.(12 cruises). If you don't pay a surcharge you don't get edible food.
Casino: 6 to 5 payoff on Blackjack is a ripoff. $10 minimum on craps is ridiculous.
Overall: Never cruise NCL again.
Thought if anyone else reads these for a little insight this might be helpful. We managed to only spend $250 on alcohol, but I heard a lot of horror stories on disembark about bill running thousands. Stick to the buckets of beer, good value. KEEP your receipt, you'll need it to get the 5 bucks back deposit on the helmut bucket. If you want wine with dinner, consider buying the package at the start.
Food: Head chef is Indian. The curry dishes are amazing, dont be scared of the vegetarian dishes even at the Palace and Crossings. The fresh fruit is the 2nd best part of the main buffet. Going to buffet at peak times is like Hometown Buffet meets Denny's. Use as last resort. Desserts are worth the calories. Secret: Il Adagio (the pay extra italian place at the back of ship opposite the buffet) has an omlette and waffle station for breakfast and pasta and pizza for lunch FREE. Tables are plentiful and if you want extras go get them at the Great Outdoor cafe (the "mini buffet").
If you have a day at sea get a lounge chair early(think 9am). Best quiet place - outside the Outrigger Lounge, theres a "hidden" door to the left of the entrance that takes u outside. The bartender there will also give you hints on how to win the Resort Quest contest on the last nite, so hang out by the bar until you get your number.
The entertainment was the best part of the cruise! Go see the shows. Also, we made the mistake of thinking that the luggage we set outside by midnight per instructions the last night wouldn't be seen again until the airport, not so. You will get it back before you head to airport, so if you need to put some stuff back in there that can't be checked you can.
After 5 NCL cruises we have stricken NCL from our cruise line list. We cruise fairly frequently, at least 2x per year and have had about 20 cruises. Our NCL ship, the Spirit, was leaving New Orleans the night of Jan 10, 2010 for Western Carribean. Instead of enjoying the exciting night departure, we were below decks standing in line for an hour and then having our suspicious luggage searched for alcohol under the pretense of a security search looking for weapons! Clearly, the crew, who fondled through our clothing and personal items, pulling out clothing, my tuxedo, etc., were searching for alcohol. Their sensor equipment apparently identified container-looking items and the bags, ours and others, were marked with the suspected items -- "alcohol," was marked on bags everywhere. My wife and I always bring fine wines to enjoy with our dining room meals on cruises. We pay the usual corking fee in the dining room, just as we do when we take wine to land-based restaurant. We have collected wine for years and usually look forward to cruising in order to enjoy some special labels at dinner. From my observation watchingothers' bags being opened, and my own, and rifled through, at least half the suspicious alcohol containers were discovered to be other items. In our case, one of the containers had Zatarins spice purchased in New Orleans.
This rather crude welcoming really set the tone for the rest of the trip. After pulling our bag apart, the foreign baggage handler found one bottle of wine and gave me the choice in broken English of paying the corking fee then and there, or having the bottle confiscated, to be picked up at the end of the trip. If there were no corking fee involved, of course, you didn't have the choice. I paid then and there my $15.00. Those many who chose to pick up their bottles of wine or alcohol later, were made to stand in line again at the end of the cruise to pull their bottles from a box and be signed out.
After over an hour in line then being searched, missing the sendoff, we were finally left to carry our own baggage up to your room. Just unbelievable! I refused and insisted the ship's personnel bring the bags, for which we had contracted, but they would not do so before 8:00 p.m., I was grudgingly told. (My wife later complained to ships personnel, so we did get our bags earlier than 8:00 p.m. and had time to dress for dinner.)
This episode was fairly typical of the loss of quality experience on this ship that we had previously been accustomed with NCL. It had been one of our favorite lines, but now is crossed off the list. Ships crew were generally unfriendly and seldom a smile or glance when passing in the hallway, quite different from our entire past cruising experiences. It seemed something was amiss. NCL has become the Denny's of cruising, appealing to the less experienced masses; not a way to spend a future vacation when there are other really fine lines available for the same or less cost.
Other observations: no enrichment lectures. All classes and enrichment talks were focused on selling products, and emphasized drinking liquor or wine, or expensive alternative restaurants.
The dining experience was lacking, without personal interraction with the waiters, etc., due to the open dining -- no assigned tables. NCL has become sort of a Wal Mart experience, and you can expect, at least on this ship, to be treated as though a dollar mark is inscribed on your back. Moreover, the standards for dress in the dining room were abominable, with men wearing caps and T-shirts to evening dinner, as well as excessivsly loud borish drunks carrying on in the dining room.
And forget about formal night. Aint any such thing on NCL. It is not even announced in the daily guide, and ship's staff were uncertain when we inquired. I did wear my tux once -- for my wife's sake -- but I was out of place amongst the casual dressers and T-shirts.
I hope this is not the direction of the entire cruise industry, but represents only one ship or cruise line. We had sailed the Spirit out of New York three years ago and found it a decidedly different and positive experience. For our cruise dollar, currently Princess seems to deliver a lot, which will be our future direction. We have also enjoyed Celebrity and Holland America, as well as others.
Food Generally I liked it. Wife calls me the "human garbage disposal." Wife had a lot of complaints, but I call her a "professional complainer.". I thought the fish was always excellent and had it every meal where possible. NCL serves steamed kippers for breakfast and this was always excellent. Wife didn't like thin cuts of beef, and there seemed to be less willingness or ability to have meats cooked to order. I recall she thought her lamb was excellent, cooked exactly medium rare. Beef is always sub-par on cruises (we've been on many lines), so I don't hold it against NCL that the beef wasn't always like a fine steak house. My partiality is seafood, and this was uniformally excellent for my taste.
Room smallest we've ever experienced (20 or so prior cruises on various lines). Had to take turns standing up in the cabin. I would stay on the bed while spouse dressed, and so on. Showers, by contrast, were roomy. Go figure.
On board activities Poor. As noted in my comments above, all ship seminars were centered around generating income to the ship. Nothing was offered that might be considered cultural. Seminar on destination cultures were absent, other than the shopping talks, and those focused on where to buy jewelry or other junk. NCL did not yield of itself a second in time that was not directed toward ship's income. It caused me to wonder if this cruise line was in financial trouble.
Excursions It's hearsay, but I was told by a person who sailed NCL last year that a person had been bitten by a poisonous snake in the cave expedition where you float through on inner tubes. Allegedly she was airlifted home asap. I don't put much stock in this since it was second hand, but needless to say, we did not go on the float trips. People who did go -- no reports of snake bites! -- just said they were cold in the water.
About our trip See longer comments at beginning. Won't ever again sail NCL. We had been Latitude members and this was our fifth cruise on NCL -- varying from 7 -- 14 days. We noticed on our 4th trip, second on the Spirit, that NCL seemed to be marketing to the lower rungs of cruising ilk. Not that we are stuck up, and I hope we are not, but like the democratizing of the airlines, many people you have to rub shoulders with have no manners, breeding, or a sense of how to act in public or with respect for others. It was especially bad three years ago out of New York, and whereas the behavior was not as bad aboard this trip, there were a lot of low life wearing cutoffs and T-shirts in the dining room at night, stumbling drunk and cursing loudly (in a dining room of all places). If you are used to any sort of refinement at all, you may not be happy spending a week on NCL. We long for the older days of course when NCL was my wife's favorite line. Anyway, you don't have to sail NCL if you prefer a little refinement at a reasonable cost; we've had good experiences on Celebrity, Princess and Holland America, and there areothers, I'm sure.