About us. 54/59 year old semi-retired professiinals. Our 28th cruises, 7th on NCL and 3rd on the Sun. Not terribly fussy, pretty laid back.
Embarkation - Port of New Orleans. This was our third sailing from the new facility and each time has been a bit more organized. They seem to finally have their staff trained. The "new" facility is in the same location as the old but they have expanded and and added an on-site 5 story parking garage. You pull into the garage, pay your $98/7 day cruise with cash or credit card and pull up to drop off luggage, if necessary, then proceed to the designated floor. Elevators are in the center and far end of the garage. If you use the far end elevators you will come out on the outside of the terminal and may have to wait in a line there, so it is best to use the central elevators which place you right where you need to be. You will show identifcation (tickets and photo i.d.) and enter the "cattle chute" toward the windows. From the time we left our car until we werein line was only a few minutes. We had preregistered online so they swiped our credit card, verified our passport, took our photos and we were off with room keys inhand. Three stations were set up for photos and 20 minutes after locking the car we were unlocking our cabin.
The Ship The Sun is one of the ships built for freestyle cruising, and so is superior to the Dream, the Sea or Majesty, which we sailed in the past. There are no real bottlenecks. The interior is done in NCL'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. She was in dry dock in November so all the paint and soft surfaces are fresh. 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 sunflowers, 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 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 station was in a separate location (Las Ramblas) and theBelgian waffle station was in Pacific Heights. 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.
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 $20-$30. If you dine at 5:30 or 6:00 there is a 50% reduction in cost.
Spa The spa, off the pool area, had a large assortment of exercise equipment. yoga, pilates and spinning classes were available for a fee; aerobics sessions were complimentary. 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. 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; but more problematic for me was their tendency to slide open as the ship rolled.
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.
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 but too smoky for me.
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. Casino 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 a balcony (BA) cabin on Deck 10. Storage was more than ample. The desk area had one electrical outlet which was the only one in the cabin. A refrigerator, TV, and four-cup coffeepot were standard. Folgers coffee was provided. 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.On previous voyages there had been DVD players in the room which have now been removed. Likewise, for the rental area onboard.
Entertainment The shows were excellent and usually 45-50 minutes in length. We did not take in any shows other than the Jean Ryan dancers but our travel partners said the comedian was very good and the female hypnotist was awful. Lounge entertainment was quite good. I felt the entertainment was better than usual.
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.
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 but I was disappointed that no Veterans meeting was scheduled this time. My husband always enjoys those.
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 lobster night they actually had decent-sized lobsters. Although we never had supper at the buffet I was told they servce identical items in the evening on the buffet. Although I doubt that includes steak and lobster!
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 round the clock with the exception of change-over pauses in service. Food was also available at times in the casino.
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.
Staff One of the friendliest staff I've enountered. They all seemed particularly adept at remembering names throughout the week — a nice touch. The only indifferent or rude folks I encountered were in the dining room where they seemed to be very understaffed at times.
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 7:28 a.m. and breezed through Customs. We exited the parking lot at 7:30. Wow!You are allowed to wait in your cabin until your group is called.
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.
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 11 a.m. on a sea day.
Drinks were of good quality and volume but the prices have really skyrocketed!
Passengers were a middle aged crowd with quite a few younger folks, but it was spring break time.Passengers were mostly U.S. citizens. There were quite a few children, all of whom were well behaved.
As for Internet access, the ship has about 10 stations available but I mostly use the more affordable shore-side outlets. Per-minute use was 75 cents and packages were available including wireless. Phone service is available from your cabin for $7.95/minute. They bill it down to the second as I found out when my mother was hospitalized and I needed to make a few calls.
The passenger talent show one night was the usual embarrassing display.
The jewelry shop onboard is a Columbian Emeralds shop.
Latitudes comps seem chintzier than in the past.
You can book onboard for future cruises. I should have taken advantage of this but couldn't get my act together this time! They were offering discounted pricing, OBCs, puny deposits and 100% refunds for cancellations.
Bar set up for our room was $43/liter of Dewars plus purchasing club soda by the can. You can do this prior to sailing through NCL.
Overall: It was a wonderful trip and I would sail the Sun again any time. My only complaint was slower service in the dining room but that certainly did not overshadow any of our vacation. The Sun will not return to N.O. after her Alaskan summer and will be replaced by the Spirit.
Free and Easy -- A Cruise on the Norwegian Sun This is a review of our vacation on the Norwegian Sun from January 23 to 28 from New Orleans. While the cruise wasn't quite "free" (especially considering the plethora of onboard charges) it was free-style -- which is NCL's trademarked approach to cruising that does away with fixed dinner seating (offering instead a broad array of options - many at extra charge) and no dress codes. Our departure from the "Big Easy" provided the remainder of my title. Because our ports of call of Cozumel and Costa Maya have been well covered in many other reviews, I will not discuss them, but will briefly talk about our experiences in New Orleans.
We're a gay couple in our 50s from San Francisco and are experienced cruisers -- this was number 17. We've cruised on all the major lines in the past 20 years and generally prefer a classic cruise experience.
In short -- it was a great time. The ship was beautiful, the service was top-notch and we loved New Orleans. Although we were apprehensive about NCL's freestyle cruising, it worked well. Ihave been on more impressive ships and had more luxurious experiences, but I believe NCL aims for a solid above-average experience without false pretense and delivers what they promise in understated and consistent style.
Pre-cruise stay in New Orleans. This was our first visit the Crescent City, but it will not be our last. We arrived on Friday night, four days before our departure on Tuesday.
I used Priceline to get a nice price for what was supposedly a 4 star hotel, the Wyndham. Although the hotel was certainly a reasonable deal for the money we paid, the experience was decidedly not four star caliber. For instance, on Monday morning, the maid knocked on our door at 10 AM asking if she could make up the room. We said that we were still getting ready, but would be out of the room in about an hour. She got upset and told us that we were her last room on the floor to clean. (Not only is that not our concern as guests, but this is in a city where the bars are open 24 hours!) I realize that staffing is a real problem in New Orleans right now, but this “service with a shrug” attitude permeated the establishment. Another example of their lack of concern for details is apparent when you see the hotel from the river. Only one letter of the hotel's name is lit and fully intact in their large sign -- and they've been reopened for over a year since November 2005. The location was good, the room was fine -- the experience just ain't what they claim.
New Orleans itself was intoxicating. One of the few cities in the US with a unique look, attitude and lifestyle -- we quickly fell in love with the place. The French Quarter was mostly untouched by Katrina as was the CBD (Central Business District) and the Garden District. I can't count how many times people thanked us for visiting -- they need the business. Unfortunately, just about half of the city has not returned yet, so some establishments are still hurting for business. (Good for restaurant reservations, not so good if you want to meet locals at a bar)
What about Katrina? Unfortunately, it appears that homes in about 60% of the residential areas of the city are still mostly unoccupied. The debris has been cleared (no small feat) and many homes have a FEMA trailer in the front yard as the house behind is undergoing or awaiting repairs. We took the highly recommended Gray Line Katrina Tour. It lasts 3 hours and takes you through most of the affected neighborhoods as well as a view of the sea walls, canals and infrastructure that failed. It was led by two long time residents who shared many personal stories. It is not ghoulish at all and you really need to see the scope of the destruction to comprehend the loss and the challenges. Fascinating and highly recommended.
Pre-cruise Booking, Check-in and Disembarkation We booked the cruise last summer with a friend who works for Travelocity. The Travelocity site is well-designed and contains a wealth of information. This particular cruise was a spectacular deal and perfectly fit our needs for schedule and itinerary.
The NCL website is lame. Evidently they believe that too many details or too much information would simply confuse their customers. Want to know about whether there is a self-service laundry aboard? You better be prepared to examine each floor of the deck plan, there is no mention of it on the site -- and forget about getting an idea of the turn-around times or pricing for laundry service. Although you are encouraged to pre-register online, it took me many attempts -- that function was out-of-commission more then it was up.
Check-in went smoothly (for us) -- luckily, we've cruised NCL before and are Lattitudes members. We were able to go to the very short Latitudes line and saved about an hour in line. The Julia Street Pier is behind the Riverwalk Marketplace adjacent to the convention center and convenient to the big tourist hotels.
Disembarkation was less smooth. Because of congestion and some later complications on the river, we arrived about 2 hours late. The crew was not responsible for the delay and they did their best to get everyone off the ship as expeditiously as possible. I did get irritated by the "express disembarkation" people who clogged everything up at the start as they wheeled their many suitcases off the ship.
Norwegian Sun -- the Ship The Norwegian Sun was built in 2001 and was all bright and shiny having completed a two week drydock in Mobile AL immediately preceding the cruise -- most likely this was the explanation for the abbreviated 5 day itinerary. Her hull was freshly painted with the new NCL signature artwork of not surprisingly, a sun! (I had originally hated these NCL hull paintings, but they're distinctive and I like ‘em for these ships.)
At 78,000 GRT, she's a mid-sized ship and can comfortably handle the Panama Canal (good thing because she's heading to Alaska in May). I had been convinced that ships were getting too big -- however cruising on the Star Princess and Voyager of the Seas demonstrated that it's not the size, it's what you do with it! Passenger flow was adequate, but limited by the galley on Deck 5 (One of those cases where you had to go up a deck and then back down if you wanted to get to the large Seven Seas Dining Room at the rear of the ship.)
There were an adequate number of public rooms and lounges. We spent most of our times in the attractive wood paneled Wheelhouse bar midships on Deck 7 or the large Observation Lounge forward on Deck 12. Additionally, there's the Dazzles disco, a sports bar, a champagne bar, coffee bar and a cigar room.
We found a problem that was new to us --seating. More specifically, there were too many chairs. It was as if an airline designer transferred a coach cabin to a lounge. Chairs are lined up cheek and jowl. (Do chairs have jowls? I know they hold cheeks!) It ‘s difficult to get to many chairs both for passengers and service staff. The crowding was exacerbated by their unusually low height. My knees started hurting, found I had little leg room and then I noticed -- the chairs in the lounges are all about 3-4 inches too low. (There are benches in Dazzles disco - compare the height to the club chairs next to it) I don't know if this is due to the Singapore-based ownership of the line or an attempt to disguise the low ceilings of most decks, but it was irritating!
The decor is understated, which can be a blessing. There is a nice atrium with the requisite glass elevators. There are just two staircases (it could use one midships) and ample elevators. There is a lot of shiny faux wood paneling with little artwork. The good news is that the incursion of "art auction crap" was limited. (On other ships, the ton-o-Tarkays on easels obliterates expensive art collections on the walls) The bad news is that the small amount of permanent artwork aboard was poor.
We had a standard outside cabin. It was "cozy." not as tiny as on our previous NCL cruise, the Norwegian Majesty, but still quite small. However, there was no problem fitting our clothes into the closets and drawers provided. The bathroom was likewise compact but OK (the shower was as tiny as on the Star Princess). The small TV featured the usual cruise channels (shopping lecture reruns, view from the bridge ) as well as CNN and channels for free movies and documentaries (including the excellent series "The Only Way to Cross" by John Maxtone Graham).
We met our cabin stewards in the halls, but there was no card with their names in the cabin and they did not introduce themselves at the start. Importantly, they kept the cabin clean, well stocked and were pleasant and helpful when we met them in the hallways. Again, they provided a high level of warm and professional service typical of the ship.
Not only was there no card with our steward's name, there was a general lack of information in the cabin. Most importantly to me, there was no deck plan. (I love deck plans!). There were cards at the Guest Relations desk with the “profile cutaway” approach with the rooms listed for each deck, but not the classic plan. In their defense, the elevator banks and stairways have clear displays with full deck plans and info.
Food and Drink - Doing it Freestyle This was essentially our first experience with freestyle dining. Our only previous NCL cruise had been on an Atlantis full-ship gay charter and the freestyle concept was just beginning to be introduced to the fleet. In contrast, by this cruise, freestyle has become the distinctive advantage of the line, and this ship had been designed especially for the approach.
We were pleasantly surprised. I had been expecting below-average food and lackluster service in the free dining rooms. That was not the case. The food was good. Some items like the dessert souffles were standouts, most easily met our expectations. Occasionally I would find an item that was well-prepared but simply not to my liking -- but I give them credit for being somewhat adventurous in their recipes. We ate almost all our meals in the Seven Seas Dining Room. One HUGE advantage of freestyle dining is that the dining rooms are configured with many tables for 2 or 4 -- so if you eat breakfast or lunch in the dining room, you won't be seated with strangers and have to go through yet another iteration of "first meeting cruise chatter" as during open seating on other lines ("Is this your first cruise?" "Where are you from?...")
On our first dinner, we had the pleasure of being served by Allan. He was superb and we requested his tables later in the cruise. Almost without exception, the service staff was friendly, eager to assist and professional.
We ate one dinner in the Le Bistro restaurant. This is an extra-charge restaurant which serves French food. Even before the freestyle concept was introduced, many NCL ships incorporated Le Bistro dining. Our experience on this cruise was far inferior to that six years ago on the Majesty. Let's start with the surcharge. There is a $15 per-person charge for dining in the venue. Unless it's $25. The "chef's special tasting menu" costs an extra $10. Now, if the special menu was truly special and featured paired wines, extra courses or even an amuse bouche, that might conform to what I would expect from a tasting menu. Instead, it appears to be another way to slip another extra fee onto the bill. For the extra charge you can select chateaubriand or rack of lamb (both for two) in lieu of the "standard" main courses on the Le Bistro menu. We ordered the lamb, and while it was good, it was nothing special. What should be a simple standout item was clueless - their specialty French onion soup. The onions and broth were fine, but it was missing the classic toasty gratinee topping. Instead, there were 3 large croutons and some grated cheese in a melted sludge at the bottom of the bowl. With small improvements in the menu and preparation and with a refinement of the service, it would easily justify a premium surcharge without silly gimmicks.
When the servers bring out the plates for the main course, I thought the dancers from the showroom had come up to perform "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast. The waiters parade showy silver domes and then present the plates "just like in France" as they assured us. They lift the domes with a "un, deux, trois, voila!" (we somehow missed that move when we've dined in Paris). Since our rack of lamb was sitting tableside, I must admit that all that drama was a bit much for a plate with a carved potato, broiled tomato and a small bundle of beans.
Our other complaint with the experience was due to the reservations host. At the start of the cruise, we reserved a table for 8:00. A couple of days before, we realized that the production show would be the same night at 9:30, so I went to the reservations desk in the lobby to reschedule it for an earlier time. The hostess assured me that 1 hour would be sufficient in Le Bistro but humored me by moving it to 7:30 (I had actually requested 7:00). Since most items in the restaurant are cooked "a la minute," it actually takes about 2 hours. We literally had to run down the stairs from Deck 12 to 6 in order to make the show. The person who gave me confident misinformation was on duty during the entire cruise, and I wonder how many other passengers were affected. Her lack of knowledge in this area indicates a shortcoming of the NCL training for that task.
The buffet was problematic. We ate there for the welcome aboard buffet and one breakfast. The layout is confusing and there simply is not enough room in the room! On the plus side, the food was fine. ...that is except for the vanilla bread pudding. It had a dense, plastic-like consistency and bore no evidence of any bread whatsoever. Aside from that quibble, the buffet quality was on a par with most cruise ships.
One other specialty restaurant deserves mention. Las Ramblas is a tapas bar and restaurant. Unlike the other specialty restaurants, you do not need a reservation. In fact, it's a great place to stop for a pre-dinner appetizer and drink before heading to a different restaurant. We enjoyed each of the six items we selected and I especially recommend the escargot!
There are enough different bars onboard meeting to fully meet your drinking and socializing needs. As with everything else these days though, the story is increasing charges for extras, while keeping the basic fares low. I actually remember when drinks aboard were cheap. That time is long gone. They were now what I would expect to pay at a “nice” bar ashore -- but still less than at a hotel. However, they are as weak as (insert pithy comment here). Margaritas tasted only of overly-sweet mix. I'm sure there must have been some tequila in there, but you couldn't prove it by me. My partner ordered a scotch and soda and got a highball glass with soda and a slight taste of scotch. For the first time ever, I got a very rude surprise when I saw the statement at the end of the cruise. (I swear it was the extra charges, I really didn't drink THAT much. Really.)
Fun and Games – Activities and Entertainment We caught three shows, the two production shows and a variety show featuring the comedian, Bud Anderson and the singer, Chantz Powell. All were very well done. Since our previous NCL cruise was an Atlantis charter so we had never seen the acclaimed Jean Ann Ryan Dancers. (Atlantis provides their own entertainment --in our case, Deborah Harry who was so out of it, she forgot the lyrics to "Call Me")
I can see why the Jean Ann Ryan company is so well-regarded. The dancing was truly impressive and the choreography inventive. It's hard keeping the razzle-dazzle without being tacky and taking creative risks without scandalizing the audience or coming off as painfully pretentious. (Exhibit 1 - Debbie Allen) Their two shows "Que Noche" and "Cirque Pan" were much more dance-oriented than other shows I've seen -- and benefited from the emphasis.
One thing I noticed was the lack of stage tricks. All the shows had a single backdrop and very minimal movable set pieces. For much of the 90s, it seemed that ships were competing on features in their showroom stages. On the Star Princess the stage could have rivaled any Academy Award set with three elevators, a rain curtain, a huge fly space and more. However, last year on the Voyager and on this ship, the shows were done with a single set -- mostly concert-style with the band on the stage. I had first thought it was the result of changing expectations and an audience more attuned to rock concerts than Broadway shows. Now I wonder if the lines are cutting back on staging to reduce costs. (If that's the case, I'm not gonna' bitch too much - I'd rather they cut some stage effects and keep the live musicians!)
I appreciate lines with a policy of limited announcements over the ship's speakers, and thankfully, I hear less of the calls to bingo than in years past. To the Cruise Directors' credit, there were only 1-2 announcements per day of the cruise staff activities. Unfortunately, that restraint didn't extend to the onboard "Diamond Expert" or ""Future Cruise Booking Expert" and others shilling stuff under NCL's banner.
There was a good mix of shipboard activities, including some things that are often missing -- arts & crafts and lectures. We missed the craft time (I'd like to think that it's because there would be no way of packing paper poppies - but what scares me more is the knowledge that if a project went home with us, I would need to be under deep cover to dispose of it).
There were two lecturers onboard. One of them talked about the Maya. He was a nice guy and a PhD. Unfortunately, his degree was in physics, as his wife mentioned when introducing him at the first session (evidently, the speaker's agency loves PhDs because they're easy to place). He was knowledgeable enough, I'm sure but he was continually surprised by his own PowerPoint slides and had poor presentation skills. We didn't see the other one who lectured on nutrition and health. I applaud NCL for continuing to offer a lecture program -- I would hope that they do a better job of selecting the presenters.
Unfortunately, the weather was at best overcast and at worst, windy rainy and cold -- so deck and pool games were out of the question. One night, they did a Caribbean deck party which was fun (with buffet, ice sculptures and carved fruit, tropical drinks and silly drag contest) but it lacked a vital kick of energy because of the cold wind that night.
The casino was great. Perhaps that's because I made $95 on my first night Of course, I later reduced my winnings to a net $4 -- but I'll take it! It was just big enough to not be too crowded, it wasn't obnoxious and most importantly -- there were $5 blackjack tables! Personally, gambling itself isn't a big thrill for me. I enjoy playing blackjack and socializing with fellow players and the dealer. I understand that betting is the price you pay for the game. I'm perfectly willing to drop $40-60 at the table -- it's just if that money is potentially gone in three hands, it's not worth it.
A fellow cruiser praised his hot stone massage aboard in the Mandara Spa. Knowing they had been bought by Steiners a few years ago -- and Steiners' well-known reputation for aggressively pushing overpriced products, I asked him if there was any pressure to buy stuff and he said quite the opposite. I hope this is consistently the case with the Mandara division. If so, Bravo!
Other items that have always been extra charge such as bingo and photos have gotten absurdly priced. If it's not awful, we usually purchase the boarding photo. (It's also the best time to peruse the photos for other gay couples) The nagging lack of information surfaces again -- there were no prices posted, I asked the cost and was told that I could get the photo in an album for $20. I asked what the photo itself cost without the album and I was told that the photo with extra wallet photos was $14.95 -- I said that was still too much and only then did she volunteer that the single photo was $12.95. (This isn't Mexico and I shouldn't have to barter to get to the price!) Likewise, the bingo has turned from an innocuous and cheap way to while away an hour to a grinding revenue center that can cost the unwary $30-50 for a single session.
We're In the Same Boat -- Passengers and Crew I can't fully review the experience without discussing the demographics of the passengers and crew. Since so many of our cruises depart from cities which draw passengers from across the country, I forget that other cruises draw from the immediate area. (On a Bermuda cruise on the Zenith in '98, passengers from NY, NJ and PA were commenting on how far we had traveled for the cruise).
On this cruise, there were a large number of passengers who had driven to the cruise from AL, MS, TX, LA, TN and FL. We were in the minority of passengers with "northern accents." The largest group aboard were 300 members of a Mississippi church group. As on every cruise I've experienced, people were interested in having a good time and were polite to one another -- but as a gay, liberal San Franciscan, I had to bite my tongue a couple of times. (Those who know me will claim that that's not necessarily a bad thing!) I must, however share a couple of observations I was surprised to see how Coca Cola is an appropriate accompaniment to all meals (The reflective red thermos cup was as garish as the Versace charger beside it in Le Bistro) and I was unaware that "yes" can be pronounced with at least 2 syllables.
That leads to the inevitable question I get from fellow "friends of Dorothy" (in case you were wondering what that's about in the daily cruise schedule, it's real old-time slang for "gay') Is there a problem being a gay passenger on a "straight" cruise? Of course not. Everybody treated us with respect as we treated them likewise. We also ultimately met over a dozen other gay cruisers so we had people to "hang with."
Finally -- as with my trip to Manila last September, I was charmed and impressed by the hard-working and genuinely friendly spirit of the many Filipino staff aboard. Salamat! (Thank you)
Summary It was a wonderful cruise. We received great value for the money and will probably cruise NCL again in the future. It wasn't perfect, and yes, we may prefer other ships and lines, but I feel that NCL delivers on their Freestyle promises with a consistent, quality product. In the past I've recommended the line for people deterred by the formalities of traditional cruising. I'm grateful to report that the freestyle experience can be accomplished without compromise.
We are a couple in our fifties, and we live in South America. This was our sixth cruise, and we weren't very sure about it because of bad reviews about NCL we found in Internet. But the itinerary and the prices were good, and we decided to take the risk. We chose a balcony cabin.
Embarkation: It was the most swift embarkation process of all the cruises we have done. We arrived at the dock at 11.30 A.M, and at 12.10 P.M we were in our room, that was already cleaned and ready for us.
Luggage delivery: It came at 1.PM (obviously, very fast).
Maintenance: The ship seemed to be cleaned and well maintained. It is new (christened in 2001). The room also was clean and well equipped, with plenty of room. The bathroom was smaller than others, and the same happened with the terrace. But the room itself seemed to be bigger, and the window was ceiling to floor , and wall to wall.
Housekeeping was very good.
Food: NCL has two kinds of restaurant: 2 main restaurants, and the so called specialty restaurant. In the latter you have to pay a nominalfee (20 or 15 dollars per person). We decided to try first the main restaurants, and in the first and the second days food was good. But in the following days, quality of food in these restaurants dropped completely, and was below average. So we decided to try others: Le Bistrot and Il Addagio, paying the extra. Both were excellent. In the last day we discovered another specialty restaurant, in which you don’t have to pay extra: Pacific Heights, with lighter meals. It was extremely good.
Sitting: NCL works with the system called Free Style. You don’t have a fixed time to lunch or dinner. You go when you want (obviously, in the specialty restaurant a reservation is highly recommended), and you dress as you like. When we heard about that system, we didn't think it was going to be fine. But after seeing it in action before in a Princess cruise and now in NCL, we have to accept it: it really works. As we said, there was a big difference in the food of the main restaurants and the others, but in all of them service was outstanding, with well trained and very nice employees. We always had a perfect attention, and got very good tables. One remarkable thing is that the ship has a lot of tables for two persons, and it is not difficult to be alone with your couple if you don't want to share part of your vacation with other persons. And that is not all: the tables for two were very well placed, close to the windows, so you could watch the sea while having lunch or dinner. For lunch, we went to the buffet Garden Café. The food was only average, but is was good to control weight. Our "real meal" was dinner.
We like to up dress, and in the called formal night we found a lot of people well dressed (dark suites and ties, and dresses, though no tuxedos). But we found that even in smart casual way, people was properly dressed.
We saw a lot of children, but practically all of them were well behaved. Some babies were always crying (we can't understand parents who take a cruise with babies). The atmosphere was relaxed and quiet, and during the night the ship was silent.
Tips: In what seems to be a universal rule in cruises nowadays, NCL charges you $ 10 per person and per day, for tipping. We don't like this practice, more similar to a tax than to a tip. But we have to accept that, in this cruise, everybody made his job in order to deserve it.
Entertainment: There was a company of dancers and singers that performed three times. For us were the best shows we have seen in Caribbean cruises for many years. Other points of entertainment were good, but we found that there were not properly placed. For instance, there was a good pianist but placed in a miserable corner in the Atrium , close to the Reception and Information desk, with a lot of people and noise. We found another pianist and singer placed close to the pub, so any time the connecting door opened, the noise of the pub came and you couldn't listen to him. We missed the string quartet found in other cruises.
Internet: Any time we could, we went to cybercafes in the port of calls But we also bought a card for $ 55, allowing you 110 minutes from the computers of the ship cybercafe. In this ship, and for the same fee, you could connect our own computer from your cabin. The connection was fast.
Ports of call:
- Samana, Dominican Republic. It is a new destination. The only tour attractive for us was to Cayo Levantado, a beach with good reputation. But the tour was unavailable. So we wander in the waterfront, went to a market and to a cybercafe to keep in touch. This place didn't seem to be completely safe, though in a few years can be a real fine destination (we know another beaches of the Dominican Republic, and for us are among the best of the world).
Tortola: Wonderful destination. A sleepy town , a very nice island, and a superb beach (Cane Garden).
St. Thomas. Well, its good reputation is well deserved. This was our third time here, so we only did some shopping, went to Paradise Point (a high point reached through a tramway, similar to the one used in sky resorts, giving you the best view of the harbor and the cruises docking there), and went to a beach we didn't yet know (Morningstar beach), that was outstanding.
Stirrup Key: is a private NCL island, similar to the ones owned by other cruises lines. Excellent water and fine beach.
The schedule: In Samana the ship arrived with a two hours delay. But in the rest of the trip, it was always juston time (a strange thing in cruises according to our experience so far).
Disembark: Very well organized and swift. It took us half an hour since we were called.
Balance: We liked the cruise. We are not sure we would repeat it, because of the food. It is not fair to make you pay more if you want to eat well. But if price and itinerary are good, perhaps we would chose NCL again, accepting from the beginning that we will have to pay an extra for the good restaurants. With that exception, the rest of the many things you have in a cruise were fine for us, if we considered what we paid for them. Roberto and Graciela.
Just got back from a cruise on the Norwegian Sun; first-time cruise for me and 2nd for my wife. We took our 3 kids as well and they had a great time although they didn't have many (any) friends to play with that were their age. The average age on our cruise was 67 years old (demographics supplied by ship staff) but this didn't really matter too much to my wife and I as we noted that everybody seemed to be having a great time.
Our arrival went smoothly and our luggage was received w/o any problem. Our cabin stewards were great and did a wonderful job all week long.
The food in the dining rooms was great and the freestyle dining setup was nice. My wife commented that it would have been nice for a formal evening where everybody dressed up but we set our formal nights with our family and everything worked out great. The staff were very good at what they do and we didn't have a complaint about the service. The food in the buffet wasn't so good but you didn't have to eat there ifyou didn't want to so it wasn't a big deal. Drinks were good and the prices were what we paid at the restaurants in Vancouver so were weren't shocked. Even the beers (5.50 for a 16 oz glass) were tasty and not overly priced. (Go to a Sacramento Kings game and order one of their 10 oz budweisers for 8.00 and you'll appreciate the brew on the cruise)
The ship was well maintained and nicely appointed. The entertainment on board was great and there was something going on every night. Shuffleboard, ping pong, hoops and volleyball free of charge. No rock climbing wall or other neat stuff but considering the age of the guests it wasn't much of an issue.
Dance lessons were AWESOME, Free and great fun for all. The only thing that could have been done better would be to have a dance night after the lesson so we could have tried out our new moves. The instructors were very nice and lots of fun.
The Fitness Center staff were terrible. They offered yoga classes and the guy teaching the class had no clue at all. Awful and they charged 10.00/class.
They also were pushing a detox program where you sit in a lecture for 40 minutes and they tell you why you need to detoxify your liver and then try to sell a bodyfat composition test ($30.00 for an electrode based test similar to the testing performed by the newer high tech bathroom scales available at Costco) upon which the results acquired will determine your needs for an algae supplement to detox your liver and colon. Of course, the supplements are what are really going to cost you the $$$ (6-month supply, I didn't stick around to find out how much). The women's instructor was a former gymnast who had no qualifications whatsoever for pushing the stuff they were trying to sell. Quite possibly the BIGGEST RIP OFF I'VE SEEN. SHAME ON YOU, NCL!!!!!!! At least back up the presentation with some citations from legit medical studies (there are some of us on board with medical backgrounds, do they think all passengers are complete idiots?) They prey on the older clientele promising better health and flatter abs (another class based on shaky incorrect science trying to sell the bodyfat compostion test). Very bad indeed and most people we talked to were very disappointed. However, the gym and fitness equipment were very nice.
The casino odds were pretty skewed but that was expected. I think I won 3 or 4 hands at blackjack and blew $100.00 at 5.00/hand in about 20 minutes. Nobody's fault but mine.
Internet access was a ripoff also but I didn't need to use it so it didn't affect me that much (75 cents/minute) WHOA!
Video arcade should have been free for the kids (IMHO)
Not too many other complaints that really stick out, so all in all the trip was definitely a 2 thumbs up!
My husband and I went on this cruise 3/11 – 3/18. This was our 4th cruise, 1st with NCL. We have previously been on Carnival Imagination in 2001, RCCL Grandeur in 2003 and Carnival Miracle in May, 2006. Overall, I would consider this cruise incredibly…. average.
This was the first time we have been to the new NOLA terminal and things went very smoothly. We drove in from Alabama on Sunday morning, about a 4 ½ hour trip, parked in the deck and got in line for the metal detectors then in line for check in. We were in line about 15 minutes, took the mandatory embarkation photo and were on board by 1:30 p.m. We had an outside room on Deck 4 and were a little disappointed with it. On the Miracle, we had been upgraded to a balcony room, which was very nice, and though we knew a standard outside room would not be exactly the same, the room was a good bit smaller than expected. Décor was the standard cruise type so we did not love or hate it. Bathroom was adequate and hubby loved the shower. Alwayslots of hot water and plenty of water pressure. Our cabin stewardess Minnie was lovely. We tend to be pretty low maintenance, only needing fresh towels and the bed straightened and she kept us happy in those regards. It was spring break week and lots of students on board. I'm sure their rooms were in need of a bit more attention!
I decided to try NCL because of the "Freestyle" dining and the experience was OK. On previous cruises, hubby and I usually just eat the buffet all week because we don't like sitting with people we don't know (daughter says we're anti-social, I say we're just shy). I like being able to eat when and where we want, but the food, in general was just OK. We didn't starve, but weren't very excited either. The main restaurants were nice, but served the same menus every night. Also, one night we didn't get dessert. Our server picked up our dinner plates and never came back. We sat about 10 minutes then left. The buffet was good for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast was the same stuff every day, but several options so you didn't have to eat eggs and bacon every day. Waffles were good. They are served in the Pacific Heights restaurant so you have to look for them. There was an omelet station somewhere, but we never found it. Lunch was typical buffet stuff and the outdoor café served hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, etc. They always seemed to be out of hamburgers though. Pretty popular I guess. Buffet dinner was not good, not much variety of entrees. Salad bar was good though and we ate lots of salads!
Entertainment was pretty good. I agree with several others I've read on here, the Jean Ann Ryan dance Company was wonderful. Their production of Cirque Pan was amazing! Didn't see the hypnotist or comedian. Chantz Powell is a good entertainer. Hard to believe he's only 19! The talent show on the last night was fun.
Now to the part we really didn't like – onboard activities. Since we've been on 3 previous Western Caribbean routes, we've done Costa Maya, Cozumel, Belize before. On Tuesday we stopped in Costa Maya, where we've been 3 times before so we decided to stay on the ship. On previous cruises, there are lots of things going on poolside even on port days. Not on the Sun! No band, no hairy chest contest, no ice sculptures, nothing but servers hocking helmets of beer and drinks of the day! Most of the Costa Maya day NCL workers were around the pool deck grinding rust off of hand rails! Very disturbing. More of the same in Guatemala. I wasn't feeling well that day (allergy attack/sinus infection I'm still fighting with) so we stayed on the ship and played cards inside (I couldn't listen to the grinding anymore). Once we got to Belize, though we didn't have an excursion booked, we went onshore just to get off that boring ship for a while. Here you'll find the standard tourist area but everything was nice and clean and unlike Mexico and Jamaica, there weren't people every 3 feet screaming at you to buy something. We stopped at the Iguana Rana for fish & chips and a couple of Belkin beers (made locally). Hubby said the beer was good, but I'm not a beer drinker so I took his word for it. Last port was Cozumel and we spent the day at Playa Mia. Fairly crowded but a pretty nice day. Lots of activities, parasailing, jet skis, etc. We booked the excursion on the ship so we had use of non-motorized toys, lunch buffet and the most important part – open bar. Good pina coladas and bottled water was nice. We got a couple of extra bottles to take back on the ship. Lunch was pretty good and it was an overall nice day. I would definitely recommend going to Playa Mia if you just want a day to relax or if you enjoy lots of water activities. Good excursion for the whole family.
The entertainment staff are very fond of game shows on this ship and that's about it. They had the Newlywed game, Family Feud, Weakest Link and a Jeopardy style game. Of course, they strongly encouraged visiting the bars and shoved Bingo down your throat. The bands on board were, what little we saw of them, not the greatest. One reggae band that played by the pool only played for a couple of hours on sea days. The other club band was not that good either. Hubby and I enjoy sitting back listening to some music but we just couldn't cut these folks.
As I said, I tried NCL because of the Freestyle thing, which is a good concept, but not well organized on this ship. I don't think we'll be cruising NCL again, definitely not the Sun again.
Just got back from the sun. It was me and 3 other girls. Overall had a good time. The ship seemed a bit older. A Little wear and tare hear and there. Food and Service on the ship was great. one girl even comented she would lick her plate if no one was looking!! We did go to le bistro one night, was good but not great like it was on the jewel. Desserts were scrumptious!!! mmmmm! never saw my room stewart but that was fine with me, my room was always clean and stocked well. Very friendly staff. A couple of issues ....
Whats up with all the smoking?? Was it just more noticeable because the ship is smaller? There is a smoking area in the main atrium and the casino is located just off the main atrium so the combination of the two just billows through there. Plus one of the main dinning areas is off the main atrium so if you sit close to the front of the restraunt you might as well say you are in a smoking section. YUCK!
The other main complaint was thedays at sea, they set up tables in the hallways of photo gallery , main atrium, and not only were they selling gifts/jewelry/purses, but also crakets and the sellers were pushy and loud like those found on the streets of cozumel.... "Hey madam come look at my jewelry....madam come over here and look at the purses, ...madam dont you want to buy some crakets for a chance of winning a cruise" litterally yelling at you in the hall. How tacky is that??! We never saw that on the jewel? Is it a ship management thing? I sure hope so!
Went to costa maya and cozumel.
The chochoban ruins in costamaya were neat. in a jungle. that was cool. Snorkeling/playa mia beach in cozumel was a bust. there was hardly anything left of the reef i guess from the hurricane. been to passion island in cozumel before ...Much prettier!!! Buffet at playa mia was just okay.
It was a neat experience doing this without my family and just the girls. We found out alot about each other thats for sure!!! LOL
Me and my husband and daughter are suppose to go back on the sun in april.....but I'm real uncomfortable bringing my 5yr old to such a smokey ship. Trying to get it changed to the pearl. Yet I know there will be smoke on anyship...but maybe the smoking wont be as noticeable if its not in the atrium?
As most of you know I am an NCL loyalist but try to be objective at the same time. As in everything in life things look different from one person to the other and my experience on the Sun is no exception.
As is usually the case with NCL embarkation was a breeze. After spending the night in Miami my daugter and I got to the port about 11:15am and were in our cabin by noon. We dropped off our carry on items and headed to the buffet.
The choices were not as elaborate as on some lines but what was offered was tasty and pleasantly prepared. It is always wonderful to savor that first meal on any ship while soaking up a few sun rays. Speaking of rays, we finished our lunch, headed back to our cabin and jumped into our swim wear so we could soak up a few more before the crowds arrived. I have often heard the waiters push drinks too hard: this was not our experience. Sure, they tried to sell us on the fancy drinks, but that is their job; never did we feel pressured.this was our experience throughout the week, never did we feel the staff overdid it with the drinks.
After spending about an hour in the sun and prior to the life boat drill we headed for the atruim area where we reserved our times for the specialty dining throuhout the week. I recommend everyone do this as soon as possible as the most desired times do fill up fast. The life boat drill was just like any other, something you wish you could just forget but you know must be done. It was really pretty painless and only lasted about 10 minutes.
Following the drill we headed to the observation lounge to meet with a group of people we had contacted via the net. After downing a couple of drinks my daughter and I moved on to dinner in the main dining room or one of them.
Now I am on the subject of food I will elaborate about our experiences. All the specialty restaurants were as good as we had expected or perhaps better. I am not certain I would eat at East meet West again, yes, the food was wonderful: I indulged in the Lobster while my daughter choose a steak. Why would we not return (and I am not saying I would not, but may not) the atmosphere left so much to be desired and the service was good, but not outstanding. Our favorite specialty restaurant still is Le Bistro: great service, friendly staff and the food is outstanding. My daughter loved the habachi table, I too thought the food was great while the cooks entertained us for about 90 minutes. The inter acting with the others eating at the same can determine the true success; we didn't have the most outgoing group at our seating. One of the fun nights for us was simply enjoying the early part of the evening sipping wine and eating tapas at Las Ramblas followed by fish and chips in the sports bar much later. Overall we had no complaints about the food; I wasn't as crazy about the breakfast buffet set up as my daughter was as she thought just going to Las Ramblas for omelettes each morning was fine: I like a litte more variety. We did manage not morning to eat in the dining room: I had to experience the eggs benedict. They were worth waiting for: as good as any I have ever had. The first night we choose Prime Rib for dinner in the main dining room and the last I had beef strogonof while my daughter choose fish. Yes, the strogonof is made with beets and yes, that is the correct way to make this Russian dish: different, yep and yet I really enjoyed it after I got over the shock. The shrimp cocktails that have been criticized by so many were, again, prepared the way they are supposed to be: yes, with shredded lettuce. No, the baby shrimp is not out of a can, it is just what it says, baby shrimp: small but with lots of flavor. I do wish they had added a little more cocktail sause. overall, like most lines, the quality and size of the portions have gone down hill in the past 5 years, but never did we feel the meal was below par and certainly not horrible as some have indicated. Again, this is my opinion only.
The ports a call were mixed. We would have prefered not to even get off the ship in Samana but we did, we walked around town, purchaged nothing and enjoyed the rest of the day by the pool. Tortola, as usually was wonderful, but very hot and St Thomas is always good for shopping if nothing else. Our last stop was the private island. I felt like I was back in high school, attending a summer beach picnic. After a 10 minute tender ride we walked up a short ramp to heaven with the smells of bar b que everywhere, kids playing volleyball, people laying in the sun or enjoying the crystal clear water and couples just walking around and enjoying the day. I would recommend you take an early tender. We choose to wait and it was packed by the time we got there.
As for the entertainment, the 3 shows we saw rated high on our list, the day time activities were fun, especially the martini clinic. it was amazing how a group of strangers can get together, drink a few martinis and suddenly be sharing their life story with each other. The casino was busy most of the time, but not too many were winning enough to pay for their cruises, that I can assure you!!LOL.
The service was great with the exception of a few times in the dining room. We would notice our water glasses not being refilled, but so what, we are quite capable of asking for more water if we want it. Of course as always the crew was very friendly and helpful.
There certainly were a few disappointments: the new Art Auctioneers are awful in our opinion, as I said there were times when the dining room service lacked a little and of course the price of drinks is still shocking but really no more if as much as on Celebrity or in the major cities here in the states. It's just a shock. We did get busted with our 2 bottles of wine when we boarded. My 2 buck Chuck became 17 buck Chuck. The other bottle was a very good wine so I didn't mind spending the $15 cockage. Our 3 liter box went through with no trouble.
I really can't find too much negative to write and am more than glad to answer any quetions you may have. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are a couple in our 50s, and we live in South America. This was our sixth cruise, and we weren't very sure about it at first because of some bad reviews of NCL we found on the Internet. But the itinerary and the prices were good, and we decided to take the risk. We chose a balcony cabin.
Embarkation This was the fastest embarkation of all the cruises we have done. We arrived at the dock at 11.30 a.m. and at 12.10 p.m. we were in our room, which was cleaned and ready for us. Luggage delivery came at 1 p.m. (obviously, very fast).
Maintenance The ship seemed to be clean and well maintained. It is a relatively new vessel (christened in 2001). The room also was clean and well equipped, with plenty of space. The bathroom was smaller than others, and the same was true of the balcony. But the room itself seemed to be bigger, and the window was ceiling to floor, and wall to wall.
Housekeeping was very good.
Food NCL has two kinds of dining: two main restaurants, and the so-called specialty restaurants. In the latter youhave to pay a nominal fee ($15-20 per person). We decided to try first the main restaurants, and on the first and the second days food was good. But in the following days, the quality of food in these restaurants dropped, and was below average. So we decided to try others -- Le Bistro and Il Addagio -- paying the extra. Both were excellent.
On the last day we discovered another specialty restaurant, where you don’t have to pay extra: Pacific Heights, with lighter meals. It was extremely good.
NCL has a system called FreeStyle: You don’t have a fixed time for lunch or dinner. You go when you want (obviously, in the specialty restaurant a reservation is highly recommended), and you dress as you like. When we heard about that system, we didn't think it was going to be so good. But after seeing it in action -- before on a Princess cruise and now on NCL -- we have found that it really works. As we said, there was a big difference between the food of the main restaurants and the others, but in all of them service was outstanding, with well-trained and very nice employees. We always had perfect attention from them, and got very good tables. The ship has a lot of tables for two persons, and it is not difficult to be alone as a couple if you don't want to share part of your vacation with others. The tables for two were very well placed, close to the windows, so you could watch the sea while having lunch or dinner.
For lunch, we went to the buffet Garden Café. The food was only average, but is good to control weight. Our “real meal” was dinner.
On-board atmosphere We like to dress up, and on the formal night we found a lot of people well dressed (dark suits and ties, dresses, but no tuxedos). But we found that even in a "smart casual"way, people were properly dressed.
We saw a lot of children, but practically all of them were well behaved. Some babies were always crying (we can't understand why parents take a cruise with babies). The atmosphere was relaxed and quiet, and during the night the ship was silent.
Tips In what seems to be a universal rule nowadays, NCL charges you $10 per person per day for tipping. We don't like this practice, more similar to a tax than to a tip. But we have to accept that on this cruise, everybody did his job well and deserved it.
Entertainment There was a company of dancers and singers that performed three times. For us, these were the best shows we have seen on Caribbean cruises for many years. Other forms of entertainment were good, but we found that they were not always properly placed. For instance, there was a good pianist, but he was in a miserable corner in the Atrium , close to the Reception and Information Desk, with a lot of people and noise. We found another pianist and singer placed close to the pub, so any time the connecting door opened, the noise of the pub came out and you couldn't hear him. We missed the string quartet found in other cruises.
Internet Any time we could, we went to cyber cafes in the port of calls But we also bought a card for $55 that allows you 110 minutes of access on the computers of the ship's cyber cafe. On this ship (and for the same fee), you could also connect your own computer from your cabin. The connection was fast.
Ports of callSamana, Dominican Republic. This is a new destination. The only tour attractive to us was to Cayo Levantado, a beach with a good reputation. But the tour was unavailable. So we wandered the waterfront, went to a market and to a cyber cafe. This place didn't seem to be completely safe, though in a few years it can be a really fine destination (we know other beaches of the Dominican Republic, and for us they are among the best in the world). Tortola: Wonderful destination. A sleepy town, a very nice island, and a superb beach (Cane Garden Bay). St. Thomas. Its good reputation is well deserved. This was our third time here, so we only did some shopping, went to Paradise Point -- a high point reached by a tramway, giving you the best view of the harbor and the cruise ships docking there -- and went to a beach we didn't yet know (Morningstar Beach), which was outstanding. Stirrup Key: This is a private NCL island, similar to the ones owned by other cruises lines. Excellent water and fine beach. Disembarkation was very well organized and swift. It took us half an hour after we were called.
Summing Up We liked this cruise. We are not sure we would repeat it, because of the food. It is not fair to make you pay more if you want to eat well. But if the price and itinerary are good, perhaps we would chose NCL again, accepting from the beginning that we will have to pay extra for the good restaurants. With that exception, the rest of the many things you have in a cruise were fine for us, considering what we paid for them.
This was our third cruise together as a couple and my fourth cruise total. I am 42 and my partner is 34. I have been on the Carnival Inspiration, the Radisson Diamond, Royal Caribbean's Grandure of the Sea and now NCL's Sun. (I will never, if there is a god, take another Carnival cruise). I must admit, I had like some of the formality of the Radisson and Royal Caribbean's cruise. Dressing for dinner, etc. So when I kept hearing about NCL's freestyle, I was very apprehensive. I honestly kept thinking it would be a lot of ill behaved young people, college students, etc. I was very surprised and very pleased.
Departure - The only truly negative memory I have about the entire cruise was the departure. We always get a suite and enjoy the "perk" of having priority boarding. After we went through the line to show our travel documentation, we were sent to the area where you get your cabin key. They did not have ours for some reason. No big deal. Things happen. So we had to go have our cabin keys made. After that, they tried toseat us in the general boarding area. I tried to advise the gentleman that was directing people where to sit that we had a suite and I had been told by NCL that included priority boarding. He asked me which suite we had. I told him the Penthouse Suite, which is the least of all of NCL Sun's full suites. He looked at me and told me that I didn't have the Penthouse Suite, that the Penthouse cost 10,000.00 a night. I tried to explain to NCL's own employee that it wasn't a "penthouse" suite, that it was a Penthouse Suite.. He still didn't get it, and actually inferred that I could not afford a Penthouse Suite.
Now, I dress causal, but in nice clothes. I was not in a shirt and tie with slacks. I realize this guy was in Miami and I am from Texas, but in Texas we don't judge a book by its cover. You can be talking to someone for an hour and not even realize they are worth $50,000,000. Until later you learn who they are. Believe me.. I have done that before. So I thought that was tacky of him to judge me like that. We finally got someone to half way listen to what we were saying and they finally bestowed upon us the honor of sitting with the Latitude Members which I believe gets second priority boarding. Not trying to dish the Latitude Members or anything like that, it's just I wish I could have found someone to listen to what I was trying to tell them, or at least take a look at my ticket so I could have been directed to the appropriate place. Six employees' and they were all too busy to listen.
Every thing else I have to say about the cruise, staff and ship is wonderful. Our cabin steward was terrific as was our butler. Our Cabin Steward always had us fresh beach towel ready every day we were in port; we never had to wait in line for a towel. Our suite came with two butlers but we never met the second one. This was our first suite that had a Concierge and a Butler. We had read online that several cruisers recommended tipping the butler at the beginning and at the end of the cruise. ½ of what you budget for his/her tip at the beginning and ½ at the end. We had budgeted to tip both butlers, but, as I say, never met the second one.
Our cabin was wonderful. It had a living room with a sofa and two chairs, a table, bar, mini fridge, beautiful wood paneling. French doors separated the bedroom that had closets in the bedroom. There was a dressing area between the bedroom and bathroom and it had closets as well. The bathroom had a huge vanity area, a jetted tub with a shower head and a separate shower. The toilet was in its own room. The balcony was enormous. It wrapped around the back of the ship to the side of the ship. It had at least four lounge chairs and four deck chairs and two tables and there was still plenty of room. Now I said I wasn't going to say anything else negative, but I did just think of this. Nothing major, but still worth mentioning. Our cabin was on the back of the ship, on the deck right below the outdoor grill where they have the great burgers, etc. Every morning we would wake up to trash, banana peels, etc, that had been thrown down or blown down from the outdoor café. If I were to book on this ship again, I believe I might try for a cabin on the front of the ship.
Ports of call were Samana, Dominican Republic. It is a new destination. The only tour attractive for us was to Cayo Levantado. This beach is fantastic. It was well worth whatever the cost was. The next port of call was Tortola. Very beautiful place. We took the Virgin Gorda Highlights Tour. This takes you to the Baths, an incredibly beautiful place. I have been to St. Thomas five or six times, actually staying there one time for 8 days. So at St. Thomas we actually took the tour that went over to St. Johns., I believe it is their beach escape. Probably the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. It at least tie's in my book with Aruba's beaches. And of course we went to NCL's private island as the last port of call. I really enjoyed their private island. It was amazing to me how many people had to be on that little stretch of island and yet there were still plenty of chairs, picnic tables, etc. All of the excursions we took were well worth the money.
The casino. We were in the casino almost every moment it was opened. We did actually hit several jackpots, but, as fun as the casino was, I can tell you this. What we paid for a suite for two was a lot less than what we spent in the casino. Probably 1/3 to ¼ what we spent in the casino. The casino's staff was very friendly and always there when I needed them for something. We were able to draw up to $2,000.00 a day from the cashier using our room key. I think anyone can do that. It sure is better than having to travel with a lot of cash. If I had one concern about the casino, it was that there was this one group of four elderly people that would hang around someone on a slot machine and wait for them to put in a ton of money, then as soon as that person got up, they would get on the machine to see if they could win what had just been put in the machine. Now there is nothing that can be done about people coming up after you and playing your machine. However I wish the casino staff had kept them from sitting around you like vultures and not playing a slot machine while sitting there. Funny enough, that is what every one in the casino started calling them.. The Vulture gang.
Of the cruises I have been on, I have to say that overall , this was the best. Loved the staff, loved the ship, and loved our cabin. Would take this exact same cruise again with no hesitation.
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean: Miami, St. Thomas, Tortola, Dominican Republic, and Great Stirrup Cay, in the Bahamas.
CRUISERS BEWARE!! Cutbacks are happening even in the cruise industry. This cruise was less than glamorous. I have never been on such a low quality cruise in my life. We cruised Norwegian as recent as last year and at that time it was still nice. This year it's like a different company has taken over.
Here is how our cruise went: We boarded the ship, and no welcome aboard drink. No biggie, we were sure this was just a small change. So we went for lunch in the only dining available, the buffet. How about this? No trays. Here you are in a cafeteria style line. You have a salad, a plate of food and a drink, and no tray. This is absolutely ridiculous. They said they are trying to cut back on some small things. What is a person supposed to do? Balance it on their head? OK, we moved on. We decided to try the free style dining. Well this is where it went down hill. The tables were set with minimal silverware,no flower, no candle. Well no biggie the food will still be great. Surprise again. The menus are horrible. Almost every evening was a list of unappealing meals. There are a few appetizers, one soup and one salad choice. Your choice is do you want it or not? Also, there is no more dessert tray to choose from.
This is the cruise company's way of getting you to spend more money and eat at the special dining which has a fee per person. They feed you bad food and try to squeeze more money from you by forcing you to pay. We were so hungry that we thought we would try the specialty dining. Well guess again! You couldn't get a reservation. So now we had to eat really bad food. Even the buffet had strange eastern food most of the time. The desserts looked great but no taste, only high calories. Oh yea and how about this, no more fruit punch or lemonade, only ice tea. But if you wish, you can buy coke for the week at $42.00 a person. (crazy, isn't it?) Alcohol is at a very high price too. You can get a drink for $4.50, but it's served in a juice glass. The decent size ones are $8.50. Coke is $1.75 a can and tasted like water. It looked like a coke can but…. No taste at all.
The least they could do is post the menus for the week so you could decide if you want to try making reservations elseware.
One of our stops was a private island. Here they even botched a picnic lunch. Although the dogs and hamburgers were OK, they were served on stale rolls. And the fruit salad must have been made up well in advance, it was extremely slimy.
The breakfast wasn't bad. Most of the food was traditional and eat up in the morning, there wasn't much to look forward to after that.
There is less help in the dining rooms also. The poor waiters have to run their legs off for several tables with little help. Then the Danish waitress just stands around and doesn't replenish her supply until it's about empty.
On the positive side: I must admit though, there was a pasta bar and it was excellent, (thank God). We loaded up on Carbs every day for lunch. (or starve). The staterooms are the nicest I've seen on the cruise ships. They are spacious and very nicely equipped. The pools were nice and 4 hot tubs were available. The fantail now has a canopy covering it so it was really nice for sitting.
Most people go to enjoy fine dining and you won't get it here.
If this is how all Norwegian is heading don't even consider sailing with them try Princess, Celebrity, or Royal Caribbean.