Length: 848 ft
Passengers (all berths): 2,400
One of the smaller but full free-style Norwegian ships - great for quick getaways and family cruisesBest For People Who Want
Lots of activities; nine restaurants; glitzy Broadway-style musicals; casual dress policy with open seating dining; sports bar with videotaped and live ESPN broadcasts; terrific programs and facilities for kids and teens.Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
Spacious cabins; not to have a lot of kids around; not to have to hear endless PA announcements.Onboard Experience
That sharp mass intake of breath you heard in 2001 may well have been inspired by Norwegian Sun's debuting with no fewer than nine restaurants, the first ship purpose built for Free-style cruising. Or maybe it was that the ship shared a glitzy dual premier ceremony in Miami with Norwegian Star; the first time a cruise line ever launched two new-builds simultaneously.
Norwegian Sun's interior is stunningly beautiful most of the time. Indeed, on entering her circular marble lobby, you'll feel your eyes going immediately to the winding stairs in the center that lead up the atrium, with its glass-enclosed elevators. Intimate sitting areas with floor-to-ceiling glass walls on two levels let you comfortably contemplate the world outside.
As is par for the NCL course, the Norwegian Sun feels spacious throughout, which isn't to deny that its public rooms can feel quite intimate when the whim takes them. No fewer than a dozen bars and lounges offer a variety of themes and decor. In the Sports Bar, CNN and taped sports events play all day. Sip a cappuccino while you check your email in the Internet Cafe, self-administer retail therapy in the large gift shop, or try to summon Lady Luck in the Sun Club Casino. There are lots of daily activities, including the inevitable bingo, aerobics classes, dance lessons, fashion shows, and make-over demonstrations. At night, there's dancing, cabaret, or pianists in three lounges, and high-kicking Broadway-style production shows in the two-deck Stardust Lounge.
The fitness-obsessed will want to avail themselves of the basketball court, the well-equipped gym, or aerobics classes. Parents can entrust their progeny to the ships' Kids' Counselors, who'll keep a close eye on them as they enjoy the Kids' Corner and disco, the video arcade or kids' pool.Decor
Norwegian Sun is a well-lit, sparkling ship with lots of light and bright colors lending it a sense of carefree, lightness of being. You can feel the warmth of the sun as you walk near her expansive windows, and rooms seem to blend into one another rather putting contrasting themes together. Most of the woods are light maple with muted colors in the fabrics.Cuisine
The nine dining venues offer a wide variety of cuisine from around the world; be forewarned that the sheer variety of the menu will entice the weak-willed to overindulge. One of the two main dining rooms, Seven Seas, aft, serves "contemporary" cuisine, while Four Seasons, amidships, serves "traditional" cuisine. Which is to say that Seas would probably grill your lobster where Four Seasons would steam it and serve it with drawn butter. Both restaurants' lamb and filet mignon are especially good, the desserts to die for. The sushi bar in the Ginza restaurant is the equal of most you'd find ashore. The French cuisine in the reservations-only Le Bistro is on a par with the desserts in the main dining room.Restaurants
Located on Atlantic Deck, with wonderful sea views through picture windows, main restaurants the Four Seasons and the Seven Seas open from 5:30 p.m. to midnight, with tables available until 10:00 p.m . The 24-hour buffet-style Garden Cafe/Great Outdoor Cafe on Pool Deck is for the more casual diner. Specialty restaurants at which no surcharge is applied include the Ginza (Japanese, featuring both teppanyaki and sushi), East Meets West (Californian, Hawaiian and Asian), Pacific Heights (light dining) and Las Ramblas (Spanish, with a mediocre tapas bar, Mexican beer, and Latin entertainment).
Reservations and a $10 charge are required at Il Adagio and Le Bistro. The elegant narrow Il Adagio has booths for two or four along a wall so that everyone has an ocean view. Le Bistro features table-side cooking, though not of everything.Service
The staff, recruited from all over the globe, is generally attentive and pleasant.Tipping
NCL automatically adds a fixed service charge of $10 to the shipboard accounts of passengers over 13 to make service personnel feel appreciated; children between three and 12 are charged $5. Those under three get off scot-free.
While further tipping is not compulsory, NCL recommends a 15 percent gratuity for bar service and urges the beneficiaries of concierge or butler services to come up with a little something extra. All else is at the passenger's discretion.Entertainment
The Sun's resident theatrical troupe, the venerable Jean Ann Ryan dance company, offers two spectacular staged Broadway-style musicals in the Stardust Lounge, the front of whose balcony you should avoid unless you want to watch the show through a railing.Cabins
When Norwegian Sun's original design was adapted for Freestyle Cruising, cabins were enlarged and more storage space was added. 67 percent have an ocean view, 432 in all. Insides range from 147 to 191 sq. ft. and ocean view from 145 to 170 sq. ft. All but a few outside cabins on Viking, Fjord, and Norway decks have balconies measuring 150 to 173 sq. ft. plus a 48 sq. ft. balcony.
The four suite categories start with mini-suites of 267 sq. ft., and range up to the three-room Owner's Suite, 829 sq. ft., complete with private hot tub on the balcony. Suite guests enjoy the ministrations of a dedicated concierge and hot breakfast options, including eggs, bacon, sausage and oatmeal. Moreover, they can order lunch and dinner off of the main dining room menus during dining times.
Each pleasantly decorated cabin has a small sitting area, TV/radio, telephone, modem connection, refrigerator, safe, and individual thermostat. A daily movie program is available on the TV, plus CNN and another satellite channel. The surprisingly spacious standard balcony is covered with a bright blue filigreed rubber mat. There's a small table and two attractive, very uncomfortable cafe-style chairs.
The pre-molded bathrooms in standard guestrooms are clinical-looking, but very functional, though nobody looks very good in bright fluorescent light.Fitness/Spa
Forward on the Pool Deck, the Body Waves fitness center has one room filled with up-to-date equipment and a view, and another for aerobics classes. The equipment feels sort of crammed in, and there's enough room in the free weight area for only one bulked-up worker-out. The Steiner Body Waves Spa includes massage and steam rooms and full service beauty salon. Treatment prices may at first seem exorbitant, but there are always specials, especially on port days. Two pools and four hot tubs on the Pool Deck are sheltered from the elements. One deck up on Sports Deck, kiddies will find a children's splash pool while Mom and Pop enjoy the hot tub located forward, the full-size basketball/volleyball court, a golf driving net, batting cage, shuffleboard, and a jogging track.Children's Facilities
NCL prides itself on its parent-and-kids activities, a great children's program and even group babysitting until very late. Located forward on Deck 7, the Kid's Corner is a series of three rooms with age-appropriate activities in each. Fretful or doting parents can watch their little darlings through portholes.Attire
Those who prefer to have everyone dressed up at the same time, or who are likely to be discombobulated by others' slovenliness, should think twice before booking this ship. Passengers can wear pretty much what they please at night, provided they don't want to wear T-shirts and bathing suits.
NCL just hasn't got it right yet when it allows smoking on balconies.
We were on the "Sun" for 10 day cruise and couldn't go out and enjoy our mini suite balcony because of chain smokers on either side of us. Whenever we opened our balcony door our room filled with second hand smoke. My wife suffers with ASMA and the smoke was very hard on her, also my nose ran a lot along with the sneezing. We first noticed a smoke smell the first day in the hall leading to our room ( 1211 ). Quite a surprise!
If you don't smoke don't book a balcony cabin with this cruise line as you will regret spending the money for a balcony that you can't sit on and enjoy the fresh air and the sea.
We will be spending our cruising dollars with ships that have a no smoking policy on their balconies.
About us. 57/62 year old semi-retired professionals. Our 36th cruises, 12th on NCL and 4th on the Sun. This was our second cruise to the Baltic, the first being on the NCL Dream in 2004. Not terribly fussy, pretty laid back. We were travelling with 10 friends, some of my review may reference their critique of events we missed.
Embarkation - Port of Dover This was our second sailing from Dover and they have a new terminal since our 2004 sailing. The terminal is modern and well laid out. The staff was very friendly and efficient. From the time we entered the door to key card in hand was about 20 minutes. Boarding began at 11:40 although rooms were not ready. In the past a bag check area was available for dropping your carry ons but it was not available this time. Lunch was served in the buffet and the Seven Seas dining room opened at 12:30, which we chose and had a nice relaxing start to our cruise. About the time we were finishing up our coffee it was announced that rooms were ready.
The Ship The interior is done inNCL's typical understated style and is filled with bronze colored woods, brass and bronzy colored granite. In places the interior seemed somewhat stark but overall it is a sleek and elegant ship no glitz or neon. The atrium area is a bit on the small side and the panoramic elevators are oddly shaped (kind of keyhole shaped, narrow at the entrance, ballooning out toward the rear), which made for difficulty in loading and offloading.There are a lot of elevators on this ship and they seemed to run more quickly than on most. The central staircases are of the typical spiral type, making attractive places for photos. Several bars, the Internet cafe and customer service areas all rim the atrium. Hallways are nearly devoid of artwork; the artworks in the stairways were large florals, with a different flower for each floor (if it's poppies, I must be near the cabin!).
Dining There are two main dining rooms, appointed primarily with two- and four-person tables. They are easily rearranged for larger groups. The Seven Seas dining room is on the stern, so it has windows on three sides allowing for many window tables. There were no booths, just tables (although some tables had unusual center legs, making it difficult to cross your legs). The Four Seasons dining room is also on deck 5 and more central. The menu is the same in each dining room.
The buffet was well laid out and only the beverage area was weird. The ice dispenser was in the center rather than at the beginning near the glassware. The omelet and waffle stations were in a separate location - Pacific Heights which is on the opposite side of the elevators from the buffet. Pacific Heights is a much less crowded area for breakfast but the only serve the above items, along with coffee, tea and o.j. If you want other items for breakfast you can walk over to the buffet and return with them. It is necessary to wear a shirt and shoes in the buffet. An outside buffet area serves nearly identical fare, plus hot dogs and hamburgers. Its seating area was on the stern - a very pleasant spot where you could dine in your bathing suit. You do need to pass through the indoor buffet to get there, but you didn't need to be fully dressed if you were just passing through. There is a complimentary ice cream bar off the pool area which was open most of the time. The ice cream bar, Sprinkles, has soft ice cream in vanilla and chocolate and scoop ice cream in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry as well as a sherbet which varies each day. They only serve cones, so if you want a dish of ice cream grab a cup from the nearby drink station and they will put it in that.
Several specialty restaurants were available such as a tapas bar, sushi bar, Japanese, Italian, and French restaurant and a steak house. All but the tapas bar and Pacific Heights required an additional fee. Pacific Heights is a lighter fare/health conscious restaurant and no additional cost applies. The "pay" restaurants require reservations and the cost is from $15-$30. There was no 50% reduction for early dining on this sailing. On the two final sea days there were specialty lunches. An Indian cuisine and a jazz brunch. Both were $15 and well worth it.
Spa The spa, off the pool area, had a large assortment of exercise equipment. Several exercise classes were available for a fee. The spa is operated by the Mandara company, and thus operates much like those on other lines. The steam room and saunas were small but free, which is a pleasant return as they had been charging for the steam and sauna. The showers in the spa were much more spacious than the cabin showers and had liquid soap and shampoo available. The showers had transparent doors which might give bashful folks a problem. For those who find the cabin showers too confining, go to the spa.
The spa offers the usual spa treatments along with acupuncture and tooth whitening.
Entertainment The theater seats were high-backed, which created a bit of a problem for short people like me who had to crane a bit to see above the back. Seating down front was much more comfortable. There were two levels to the theater, and several poles created partial obstructions.
I thought the music was lacking on this cruise. There was a pianist who played nightly in one of the lounges. In the Observation Lounge there was a rotation of a DJ, a Latin singing group and the Sun Orchestra for dancing at various times. The main band played a wide variety of musical styles but most of it was geared to a much younger crowd than us so we didn't hang around long for them. On previous cruises there was usually a couple who did nice mellow music for dancing or easy conversation and there was no such couple on this cruise.
Lounges There were several lounges, and the Observation Lounge on Deck 12 at the bow provides a beautiful, sweeping view. It is a nice place to hide away during the day and read, as it did not seem to be used much. It is nicely appointed with rattan furniture and a medium size dance floor. Dazzles is more centrally located and has a larger dance floor and many activities e.g. game shows, art auctions were held there. A champagne bar adjoins the atrium as does a coffee bar. The Sports Bar on Deck 12 had many TV screens and served 22 types of beer. It is a great place to view the world and serves complimentary chips and salsa and guacamole each evening. It is open from 5P to 5AM for pizza and pasta.
The pool area has two pools divided by a raised area of four Jacuzzis. The pool water is salt water. Walking decks are the promenade, with 3-1/2 laps per mile and festive murals all the way around; and the sports deck, which has a padded walking surface but requires something like 12 laps to the mile. The promenade deck is the boat deck so it is covered walking while the sports deck is sunny.
Casino The casino is well laid out and has the usual variety of slots, video poker and table games. There are quite a few penny and nickel machines, a goodly number of quarter and the balance are 50 cents through $5. There are video poker machines ranging from penny to $1. Table games are craps, blackjack, roulette, Let it Ride, Caribbean Stud, Baccarat and Texas Hold-em. There is also a separate poker room for Texas Holdem. Service was prompt and courteous. The usual blackjack and slots tournaments were held throughout the cruise and I believe there was a poker tourney too but I'm not positive. The slots now use paper tickets so I found that to be a welcomed change.
Cabin Ours was an interior II cabin on Deck 9. Storage was more than ample. The desk area had one electrical outlet which was the only one in the cabin. A refrigerator, TV, were standard. The bathroom has a circular shower with a curtain held snugly in place by vertical rods in the curtain. Six storage shelves were provided. There is a real toilet paper holder (so the tissue does not fly off the holder with use), a wall mounted hair dryer, and an outlet for electric razors. The shower has normal single handle controls and an adjustable-height shower head. Liquid soap and shampoo dispensers were in the shower. The bedding is the typical NCL duvet and quality cotton. Robes and coffee makers have been removed from interior cabins but as we were gold members I had requested them prior to cruising and they were there on arrival.
Our cabin was 9311, an interior due to budget limitations on this sailing, plus the itinerary did not make it seem as though a balcony would be money well spent. The white nights also bother my husband a bit, so a nice dark inside cabin was perfect for those 10 PM sunsets and 5 AM sunrises. Our cabin was next to an A/C Room which meant we had no neighbors on one side and it was very quiet.
Entertainment We did not take in any shows other than the Celtic flutist who was fabulous and one of the production shows, Cirque something, which was not to our liking and we left before it was over. We had seen a Cirque production on another ship but this one lacked any true acrobatics and the music and costuming seemed very thrown together. Our travelling companions went to quite a few of the shows and found them okay, but nothing to rave about. Being such a long cruise, many of the evenings were filled with cruiser participation shows such as talent, dancing with the stars and an employee talent show.
The usual game shows, bingo and poolside activities were offered. The ship also has a mesh enclosed basketball court, ping-pong area, and golf driving range and shuffleboard.
In the library the usual board games were available for checkout, and bridge gatherings were held. Friends of Bill and Friends of Dorothy had regurlarly posted meetings. A Veterans meeting was scheduled this time which my husband always enjoys.
Food The quality was a bit better than most other ships, but that is such a matter of personal taste that it is hard to judge. The menus seem to have been revamped along with the new "Whatever" advertising program. In the past I've thought menu descriptions a bit confusing and this time they were a bit abbreviated but the food quality had improved considerably since our trip last October on the Star. We had dinner at the buffet one evening when we were too pooped to read a menu. I always enjoy the chilled soups and only one disappointed me.
Aside from the jazz brunch we did not eat in any of the specialty restaurants that required additional costs. We enjoyed tapas in Las Ramblas, and the menu changed each night. Pacific Heights has the same menu each night and does require reservations even though it is free. An Indian meal was offered for lunch on one of the sea days for $15. One of our friends went and said it was very good.
Wine service was handled by the waiters and went smoothly. There was no wine program available unless you are a Latitudes member; then you could buy five and get one free.
Thankfully, there was no nightly entertainment by dancing waiters, and the dress code was enforced. The Sun now allows nice jeans in the dining room but I saw a few people turned away for shorts and no ball caps were visible either. Buffet food was the usual fare, of good quality and available from about 6 am to midnight. Food was also available at times in the casino. Room service is available 24 hours and is free but you should tip the waiter.
Cleanliness The ship was the cleanest I've ever been on. Hand sanitizing was strictly enforced at embarkations and at all buffet lines and restaurant entrances. They've even added one to the glass elevators, which seemed ridiculous, especially since the kids who "lived" in the elevators had a good time triggering the dispenser and making a puddle on the floor.
Although this ship is due for dry dock in January, it does not look as though it's been years since refurbishment. With very few exceptions the ship is in excellent shape.
Staff One of the friendliest staff I've encountered. They all seemed particularly adept at remembering names throughout the week - a nice touch. I cannot say I encountered a single rude or indifferent staff member.
Disembarking NCL has an express system whereby if you carry all your luggage off yourself, you can be in the first group off the ship. Quite a few people seemed to opt for this. We were off the ship by 6:05 a.m. Unlike the US, there is no immigration or customs at the pier - just walk off and you're done. Those guests with luggage were assigned a color by their flight times. You could wait in your cabin until your color was called, although they did ask that you vacate your cabin by 9:00 a.m.
This and That Tips are added to your account automatically unless you request otherwise.
Security was very good. They seem to have gotten absolutely rabid about liquor smuggling as well as irons, so attempt it at your own risk.
You can request an iron and ironing board from the reception desk. You are allowed to keep it 3 hours.
Photographers: Almost invisible! The photography staff was available for formal photos and as always at the pier, but they were not in your face every time you turned around.
Announcements were kept to a minimum.
There was no captain's party for everyone. Just a Latitude's party which was at 1 pm on a sea day. There was a separate captain's party for silver, gold and platinum members. There were only 12 people in attendance so we had a senior officer per person! It was held in Las Ramblas and billed as wine and cheese but you could order whatever beverage you liked.
Drinks were of good quality and volume but the prices are that of a high end hotel/restaurant.
Passengers were a middle aged crowd with quite a few younger folks. There were 900 children on board, according to one of the officers, but it did not seem as though there were that many since they were pretty well behaved. I did notice that the TechStyles room (near the internet cafe) had a sign on it for families with children 2 and under. There was an assortment of toys for younger children in a nice indoor play area. It was hard to judge the ethnic mix of the cruisers but I'd say 50% of the cruisers were anglo. There were quite a few Spaniards and Romanians Announcements were made in English, German, Spanish and French. During the muster drill another language was used but I cannot remember what it was.
It is no longer necessary to bring your life vest to the muster drill.
Movies on the TV were available in multiple languages. Several entertainment and cultural programs were done in Spanish as well as English.
Money exchange is available but the rates are not good, so you are better off even at the airport! A local ATM is actually your bet bet. We found that Euros and US dollars worked everywhere.
As for Internet access, the ship has about 10 stations available.. Per-minute use was 75 cents and packages were available including wireless. Phone service is available from your cabin for $7.95/minute.
The jewelry shop onboard is a Columbian Emeralds shop.
There is no longer creamer on the tables in the dining rooms - it is milk. If you want cream, ask for it and they will bring you a pile of single serving creamer. This is a pet peeve of mine since I use a lot of cream and it looks so tacky, not to mention they were difficult to open.
You can buy a future cruise certificate which is a good deal if you plan to cruise in the next 4 years. You pay $250 for a certificate which will act as your deposit for the entire cabin (unless you are in suites or above)when you book a cruise within 4 years. As an incentive you are given an immediate $100 OBC.
Ports of Call We arranged our own tours for all but one port, but I will provide what information I have based on others reports. Copenhagen - we docked in Free Port, which is the further port from downtown. It is about a 20 minute walk to the other pier. Both Hoho lines pick up at the pier. We used City Sightseeing and found that contrary to reports on CM, the buses do not accept credit cards, only euros. I have forgotten how much it was, but you can find that information on their website. We got off downtown, walked around and did a canal tour with Nette (?) tours for $3/person. He took US, euros, pounds - whatever you had. The tour was an hour and very informative. A great deal in our opinion. Be sure to have a few small denomination dollars or euros in case you need to use a public restroom. The attendant will give you change if you have small denominations.
To return to the ship you need to transfer to a line not shown on the internet map - the blue line. The main lines of the Hoho's drop you at the area near the mermaid statue (who is currently vacationing in China) and then the blue bus takes you back to the ship. The blue bus is not marked and does not look like the standard hoho, which picked you up at the pier so you will need to ask various bus drivers if they are the blue line driver. Two of our group did a segway tour and had a blast. They highly recommend it. You can find them on the internet.
Warnemunde. We took the train to Rostock and had a fabulous day walking about. We lucked in to a choral presentation at the huge church with the astronomical clock and it was indeed a treat. We dined at the market on sausage and apple streudel and had a grand meal on the cheap. We took the ferry back to Rostock and since there was a huge boat festival that day we sailed amidst tall sailing ships, pirate ships, Chinese junks, and boats of all flavors. What a treat. Half our group did a tour to Berlin and found the 12 hour day long but enjoyed their trip. The 3 hour each way drive did not seem like fun to me.
Tallin. There is no need to do a tour here. The walk from the ship to old town is about 15 minutes. The reception desk will give you maps of town if you need them (this was true of Rostock too). We used Rick Steve's book and walking guide, which has always served us well. The streets here are very rocky and steep so if you have mobility issues it could be a problem. Second to St. Petersburg, Tallin was everyone's favorite port.St. Petersburg. We arranged for a private tour with Anastasia Tours and had a spectacular time. There was no comparison to our previous visit when we used ship excursions. An articulate, educated guide, nice quick dining, complete flexibility and topped off the first day with a canal tour, champagne and chocolate. The tour per person for both days total came to $5 less than one day on a ship's tour. I cannot recommend this option highly enough to you.
The weather was very warm, the news said it was the highest temps in 1,000 years, and since none of the buildings are air conditioned it got pretty warm. But even on our previous trip I would remind people about the a/c and advise you to leave your heavier clothes on the bus. The palaces and Hermitage get very warm with all those people in them. You are not allowed to bring back packs or water into the palaces or museums. You can take photos but in the Hermitage you cannot use a flash. Local merchants would take USDs except in gift shops in the churches. Our guide had rubles she would swap for our purchases there.
Helsinki. The only place we did a ship's tour to PourVoo (pronounced PourVoe) It was a nice ride in the countryside to a cute little town, with a cute little church and then to see a few of the more popular sites in town but not worth $160. Although, lunch was very, very nice.
Stockholm. We anchored at Nynsham and as we had been to Stockholm before and were tired we decided to stay onboard. A delightfully, relaxing day. They use the life boats for tenders and it takes 10 minutes to reach shore. The drive into Stockholm is one hour if you have an excursion. I got mixed answers on why NCL has chosen to dock this far out and finally got the bottom line from one of the officers who said, they really don't know. It is a corporate office decision and they do not tell them why - just where. Everyone I talked to enjoyed their visit to Stockholm but felt they were terribly rushed and quite frustrated with the experience since some of them had only 45 minutes at the Vasa and 30 minutes to shop or eat or whatever.
Next year NCL is doing this sailing out of Copenhagen rather than Dover and maybe it will allow more time in Stockholm.
London. We arrived three days early to tour London. One of our group is a Brit and gave us the insiders tour. Fortunately we were there on a Sunday which allowed us to go to the Chelsey Street Flower Market, which was absolutely fabulous. Then off to Curry Lane (I think it was called) - block after block of Indian food vendors and restaurants. We had a grand Indian meal. We got to take in choral evensong at Westminster, which was breath taking. On the way to Dover, our private bus stopped at Canterbury Cathedral so we could go to 8 am mass and tour the church. Spectacular.
We had arranged for First Choice Minibus to pick us up at LHR, take us to the Holiday Inn Express Victoria. On Tuesday he transferred us to the port via Canterbury then fetched us at disembarking at whisked us off to LHR. Very curteous and much cheaper than the NCL transfers. Not the cheapest way to travel, by far, but with a group it made it quite affordable. With 12 people all transportation came to $94/per person.
Overall: I would gladly recommend this cruise and ship to anyone.
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.