January 2014 - Norwegian Sun to Caribbean
This was our 14th cruise, but our first on NCL. Our last three cruises were on newer Celebrity ships, but, at the start, we tried to be objective about this cruise. Parking in Miami was a nightmare, but that's a different review.
Embarkation: Embarkation went smoothly. I wear leg braces, and the terminal worker let me bypass the long line and go straight to a check-in person. The gangway onto the ship was midship, but the actual entrance onto the ship was aft, so it was still a long walk to get inside the ship. The atrium was nice but not awe-inspiring. Upon entering the ship, we were told our staterooms would not be ready until 2 PM. This was about 12:30 PM when we boarded. They were serving lunch, so we just walked around the ship for awhile and finally settled in the sports bar to wait for our room. We had to yell several times at the bartender to get a drink. He actually ignored one customer, who left and went somewhere else. Had something to eat and, by then, our room was ready.
Stateroom: Another first for us was having an inside stateroom. It was an accessible room, since I have trouble showering without my braces on. The room can only be described as drab. The carpeting looked old. The one lounging chair looked old and dirty. They had made the twin beds into a queen, but it was so close to the wall, we couldn't walk on that side of the bed. Immediately called the room steward to have it moved. Our steward didn't come, but an officer came and just pushed it farther from the wall. There was one picture on the wall. One plastic chair at the desk. No stationary, no menu's on the specialty restaurants, no small drawer for papers and documents. There were three drawers for clothes, one cabinet with three shelves (one for the safe), and the closet. The closet was spacious, and we had enough room for all our clothes. There were no latches on any of the doors, so when were at sea and the ship was rocking, if you didn't close the doors, they would bang against the walls and the desk. The only other furniture were two small end tables by the bed. Most disappointing was the bathroom. There was only one small shelf below the mirror for our toiletries. We had to keep most of them on the nightstands by the bed. The bed and the pillows were okay.
The Ship: There isn't much I can say positive about the ship. It was built in 2001 and refurbished in 2011. From what I could see, I think most of the refurbishment went into the specialty restaurants. The only venue in the bow of the ship was the observation lounge. Our room was in the bow, so it was a lot of walking to get to the lounges, the buffets, and the specialty restaurants. Also a long way back to the room if you forgot something. The pools were salt water and not heated, which someone had posted that they were. One item about the pools that I personally did not like. There is a wide wooden bench that goes completely around both pools and the hot tubs. In order to use the hot tubs, I had to take off my braces and use a cane. I had to sit on the bench and swing my legs over the bench in order to get to the hot tubs. This may not sound difficult to some, but it was for me. Throughout the ship, the bathrooms were, in some cases, extremely hard to find. They seemed to be pushed into corners to make room for other venues. The anytime dining may seem wonderful to some, but it was hard to keep track of which one's were open, how long they were open, where do I go if the one I wanted was closed. There was one area I didn't see open the whole cruise. You always had to have a copy of the daily paper with you. Lastly, for a small ship, it seemed very difficult to find somewhere quiet. It seemed like something was going on in all the venues all the time.
Entertainment: We only went to one theater show, which was okay. Most of the lounge acts were typical cruise musicians. There was one singer, who was outstanding. He was from Brazil. My wife bought his CD even though most of it was in Portuguese.
Cruise staff: We didn't interact with the cruise staff very much. As I previously stated, there seemed to be something going on all the time. Sometimes there were 3 or 4 things at the same time, so it became difficut to decide which one you wanted to see. It seemed like there was bingo three or four times per day.
Excursions: We only took one excursion through the cruise line. That was in Cartegana, Columbia. It was a tour on a party bus. I don't usually start drinking at 10 AM, but we had a lot of fun. Toured the city, did some shopping, stopped to do some dancing, and, of course, drank rum and cokes, and beer the whole time. Quite entertaining. As previously stated, this was our 14th cruise. On those cruises, the itinerary was always based on island time. For some unknown reason, Norwegian scheduled our stop in Aruba on ship's time rather than island time. We docked at 1 PM ship's time but 2 PM island time. We had scheduled a tour with a company not associated with the ship. We didn't know anything about the time change until just before we debarked. Needless to say, my wife and I were quiite upset, to say the least. It worked out okay, since the company knew of the change and had made appropriate arrangements. I was never given a reasonable answer to why the itinerary was ship time instead of island time. One thing I almost forgot. When debarking the ship, the ramps were always at a very steep angle. Again, wearing braces made this even more difficult. Usually there were two ramps, one for exiting the ship and one for entering through security. A couple of times I had to that ramp because it was longer and not a steep. For a industry that should specialize in passenger safety, twice when I exited the ship, there wasn't a single staff person attending the ramps. I couldn't believe it. I can't remember get off a ship without someone there to assist you if necessary.
Food: For starters, we never used the dining room for breakfast or lunch. The breakfast buffets were adequate, with nice rosette waffles as somewhat of a specialty. For me personally, I like regular hash browns for breakfast. Not to be found on this cruise. We don't eat lunch too often, usually saving our appetites for dinner. The few times we did eat lunch, it was mostly disappointing. The hamburges and hot dogs were precooked and just setting under a heat lamp. Dry and overdone. The pizza was good, but not outstanding. The last day of the cruise they roasted a pig, but they didn't let anybody know about it ahead of time. You just had to be there. I had joined a couple at the bar for a drink and they were the one's who told me about it. Prior to the cruise, I had read several posts about how good the wings in the sports bar were. We had them one time. They were dry and looked like they had been setting around all day. The next time we were in the sports bar, I told them explicitly that I want hot french fries. They were delivered cold. I have to add that every time we were in the sports bar, we had to go find someone to wait on us. We ate in two specialty restaurants, Le Bistro and Il Adagio. Both meals and service were very good. For Il Adagio, you enter on deck 6, but the restaurant is on deck 5. You have to go down a flight of stairs to get there. For the handicapped in wheelchairs, you have to get there through the Seven Seas dining room. Now to the dining rooms. The worst I have ever had. No imagination, no taste, no variety. The only thing that changed on the dessert menu in 12 nights was the sherbet. One night the chef special was "catfish". I don't go on cruises to eat catfish. The last night we ate in the buffet, and it was actually better than the dining rooms. I realize that people go on cruises for many different reasons, but, for me, if you like to eat good food, try some other cruise line.
Crew: The crew, for the most part, did a very good job. As usual, the bartenders were especially attentive. It did appear to me that there were times when the wait staff only wanted to do exactly what they were expected to do. I say this because there were times when glasses weren't picked up, spilled food was left on the floor, paper and cups were blowing around by the pool and nobody would pick them up. We were espcially disappointed in our room steward. He was not friendly, took no interest at all in wanting to start a conversation, and never once asked if everything was okay in our stateroom. There were towel animals on the bed each night, but I'm not sure he had anything to do with it. In talking to other passengers, their stewards took a lot of pride in it and tried to make it very special. Also, the custom form for debarkation was supoose to be in our daily paper, but we had to go down to guest services to get ours. Again, we were told about this from other passengers.
Debarkation: This starts with another example of this ship's lack of information. They do not deliver your luggage tags to your stateroom for debarkation. You have to go to the atrium and pick them up yourself. Again, we were told about this from other passengers. The actual debarkation actually went very smoothly. On exiting the ship, a terminal worker directed me to the elevator, so I could avoid standing in the long line and go directly to the luggage area. With the help of a porter we were out of the terminal very quickly. I have to say that the terminal staff did a wonderful job and made my experience as good as possible.
Finally, I met a lot of passengers who have cruised only on NCL, and some who have cruised almost exclusively on the Norwegian Sun, and they love it. That is probably what makes cruising so special. I can only add that for handicapped passengers, and passengers who really love good food, this is not the ship for you.