May 2016 - Norwegian Sun to Alaska - Inside Passage
I have just returned from a 7 night Alaska Inside Passage cruise (May 16 – May 23, 2016) on the Norwegian Sun.
Alaska is so incredibly beautiful and awesome that you must see it to fully grasp the majesty of it.
However, if you visit Alaska, avoid Norwegian Cruise Lines and their ship, the Norwegian Sun. I experienced the worst service ever from any cruise ship. It is an understatement to say that Norwegian Cruise Lines failed to meet my expectations and failed to meet the experience that I had purchased.
Summary list of problems experienced on the Norwegian Sun:
- Serious maintenance issues with plumbing and non-flushing toilets;
- Odor of sewage in the port aft section of the ship;
- Air conditioning and heating not functioning properly to heat and cool cabins;
- Ship seems to be understaffed to support all the passengers;
- Service was horrible ship-wide;
- Poor attitude and rudeness by the ship’s crew toward the passengers;
- Long wait times for food service and for service between course servings;
- Few menus changes for each of the restaurants, dining rooms, and buffet;
- Various dining options and the buffet opens and closes at strange hours and change daily with room
service as the only food option during portions of the day;
- Room service orders were never correct;
- Entertainment and ship activities were mediocre.
“Quality Customer Service” is a term that does not exist for the crew of the Norwegian Sun. This attitude exists from the senior officer in charge of “Hotel Services including Food Services” down to the stateroom stewardess.
The ship has numerous maintenance issues including plumbing problems and heating and air conditioning problems. We had a loss of water in our cabin bathroom for a portion of one day. There was no flushing toilets in a portion of the ship for several days. A crew member stated that it was a system-wide problem. A sewage odor permeated the port aft section of the ship for the last 4 days of the cruise.
We also had heating and cooling system problems in our cabin. We could never properly cool or heat the cabin. And we were awakened at 4:30 am one morning with the captain calling a “Code Blue” fire alert. We were later told that smoke had been reported on the ship and traced to a fire from an air conditioning belt.
In summary, visit and cruise Alaska. But not on the Norwegian Sun. The ship has too many maintenance and service issues that made for a very frustrating and disappointing cruise.
A very detailed account of our frustrating Norwegian Sun cruise experience follows below.
The first few hours of the cruise set the tone for the lack of service on the Norwegian Sun throughout the entire cruise. I had paid for the cruise for 2 guests including the unlimited beverage package and ultimate dining package and prepaid the daily gratuity charges. I also purchased a Bon Voyage package, a bottle of wine, a cheese tray, and chocolate covered strawberries to be delivered to the cabin as the cruise began. The wine was in the stateroom upon arrival. The chocolate covered strawberries were delivered about 3 hours after we set sail. The Bon Voyage package and cheese tray were never delivered. Upon my inquiry, Guest Services said they had to check with Miami. No further explanation was ever offered.
My first impression upon initially walking into the stateroom cabin was “nice, clean and spacious enough.” Upon walking onto the balcony, I saw 2 large dark colored shoe prints. Clearly, the balcony had not been cleaned or repainted prior to our embarkation to remove or cover up the shoe prints. The shoe prints remained there for the entire trip. The balcony was never cleaned by the stateroom stewardess at any time during the cruise.
Our first evening dinner was at the specialty steak restaurant, Cagney’s. Cagney’s is a small restaurant apparently designed to be secluded environment. My next indication of the service failure on this ship occurred at Cagney’s. Dinner service was slow especially between the courses although not as slow as other dining locations as I was to later discover. The quality of the filet entrée was disappointing. I have eaten much better quality steaks at Lonestar, Outback, or even Western Sizzler. I finally concluded that specialty dining on the Norwegian Sun is code for eating main dining room food in a smaller dining room. I find this disturbing because there is an additional charge for dining in the ship’s specialty restaurants or included with the purchase of the ultimate dining package.
Tuesday was a day at sea. We planned to stay in the cabin for the morning and enjoy the views from the balcony. We ordered room service for lunch. We ordered a pepperoni pizza with onions, a chicken sandwich with french fries, a Budweiser, and a diet Pepsi. The wait time for the room service delivery was 45 minutes. I was very disappointed with the meal. The pizza was cold. It had a “cardboard” crust with only cheese and pepperoni on the pizza. There was no pizza sauce. And there were no onions. The beer was in a capped bottle with no bottle opener. We pried off the bottle cap with the knife from the room service tray. The chicken sandwich was a piece of chicken with lettuce on a bun. There were no fries, no chips, and no condiments for the sandwich.
Our second evening dinner was at the specialty Italian restaurant, La Cucina. This meal was an arduous long ordeal that took one hour and thirty minutes but seemed much longer.
We were seated right away. But the waitress must have been on a break since it took 10 minutes for her to come to the table after being seated. We ordered cocktails. There was a long wait to get the drinks. I thought that the waitress had forgotten about our drinks. We received our drinks just as I had decided to ask someone about it. We then ordered our meal. When the salads arrived, I received the wrong salad. I received a Caesar salad instead of the tomato salad that I had ordered.
I ordered chicken parmesan for my entrée since it is one of my favorite dishes. I was very disappointed in the entrée as it had very little flavor. Salt and black pepper help to flavor it enough to eat it. We decided to order additional drinks. I had to stop the waitress as she walked passed the table to order them since she never returned to the table during the entrée portion of the meal. And again a long wait to receive the drinks. Finally, dessert was “macadamia ice cream” which is a dish of vanilla ice cream with a few macadamia nuts mixed in.
We were awakened at 4:30 am on Wednesday morning with the captain calling a “Code Blue” Deck 5. We were later told that the alert was for smoke reported on Deck 5 of the ship that was traced to a fire from an air conditioning belt on Deck 9. He said that there was never any danger.
We ate breakfast in the Seven Seas main dining room. We ordered the “Express Breakfast” which was scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, and orange juice. Again we experienced a long wait time to receive the “Express Breakfast”. The scrambled eggs tasted so bad that I could not eat them. I think the eggs were really from a mix and not real eggs. The orange juice was served in a small glass. The waitress never offered a refill. Luckily, I had a glass of water.
Wednesday was the first port stop at Juneau. The ship arrived early. The ship anchored off shore and passengers were tendered to the dock. Passengers had to get numbered tender boat tickets to get off the ship. We had pre-booked a whale watching excursion through Norwegian so we were originally told that the excursion ticket served as our tender boat ticket. Everyone with excursions were told to meet in the Stardust Lounge at 1:30 pm to go to the tender. Meanwhile other passengers were getting tender tickets and getting off the ship. Passengers with excursions had to wait for 2 more hours on the ship before we could leave the ship.
I asked Guest Services if we could get off the ship and just meet the excursion on shore at the appropriate meeting time. I was told that we could leave the ship but would need a tender ticket. I was also told that we would have to return to the ship by 1:30 pm to meet in the Stardust Lounge to get off the ship for the excursions. This sounded very strange and irrational. I went to the tender ticket desk to inquire. There I was told that I could not leave the ship and that I should wait with the excursion passengers in the Stardust Lounge until 1:30 pm. This was a total breakdown in communication and direction by the ship to the passengers.
So we waited in the Stardust Lounge losing 2 hours of time that could have been used to visit Juneau. At 1:30 pm, we all were escorted to a crew area of the ship and down metal “crew stairs” to the tender boats. We boarded the tender boat for the short ride to the dock.
Upon arriving at the dock, we easily found our excursion tour greeter waiting for the group to assemble. He was in plain view and we could have easily found the excursion had we been allowed to exit the ship earlier.
The Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest excursion was terrific. Whales were everywhere. We also saw sea lions and bald eagles. This is a fantastic excursion that I highly recommend!
We walked around Juneau after we returned from the excursion. Downtown Juneau is a picturesque locale and we enjoyed our walk around town. Our last stop before returning to the tender boat was the Red Dog Saloon. We had dinner and drinks and listened to a talented country singer playing an acoustic guitar. This is an interesting tourist stop, and I recommend everyone should stop in there while in Juneau.
A short walk took us back to the dock and a very long line of people waiting for the tender boats for the return ride to the ship. We waited for over 20 minutes before we got on a tender boat to return to the ship.
Our next port stop was Skagway on Thursday. Thankfully, we docked at Skagway so tender boats were not needed. There was no information given on where to disembark the ship for Skagway. I asked a crew member and was told to go to deck 6.
We were greeted on Deck 6 with a long line of passengers that span around the atrium. People were getting somewhat impatient to get off the ship waiting in a line that was not moving. Several people were overheard talking about how slow the service on the ship had been.
Skagway was a gorgeous and quaint little town. The sky was blue and the sun shined with prominence. We were told that the weather was unusually good because it rains in Skagway about 300 days out of the year. We explored the town and had a tasty lunch at Bonanza Bar & Grill. I recommend that you stop there while in Skagway. We then then rode the White Pass & Yukon Route train as our next excursion which we purchased at the train station. The views from the train were very nice but the train ride got to be too long.
Upon returning to the ship, we had dinner at Seven Sea main dining room. I ordered the chicken parmesan again to compare it to the chicken parmesan from the La Cucina specialty restaurant. I was disappointed to discover the chicken parmesan recipe is the same as La Cucina adding support to my belief that specialty dining on the Norwegian Sun is code for eating main dining room food in a smaller dining room. We experienced the same very slow service especially between courses. I ordered the apple pie for dessert as it is one of my favorite desserts. I had never tasted an apple pie that was not good. At least until the Norwegian Sun! The pie was so bad that I only ate two bites of it.
We went to the Stardust Lounge for the evening Showtime Entertainment after dinner. We stopped at the restroom near the Stardust. The ladies toilets would not flush. A nearby crew member was alerted to the problem. He replied that “It is a system-wide problem!”
The odor of sewage in port aft section of the ship was very prominent on the following day and remained throughout the remainder of the cruise.
Friday was “Glacier Day”. We were scheduled to go to Sawyer Glacier. However, we were told that we would be going to Dawes Glacier instead. The announcement stated that the change was due to icy conditions in the narrow passageway to Sawyer Glacier. We were excited nonetheless.
My Friday morning began with a shower. The shower water was running fine, then turned cold, and then the water stopped! I was in the shower with shampoo in my hair and no water!! I had to retrieve the liter bottle of water from the mini bar service to rinse out the shampoo, brush my teeth, and shave.
The water was back on within an hour. But the water was BLACK, then later was BROWN, and eventually became clear again. But I never trusted the bathroom water supply again. I continued to hear in my mind what the crew person said the evening before, “It is a system-wide problem!”
Dawes Glacier was breath taking. The ship’s captain did a great job maneuvering the ship close to the glacier and then rotating the ship in front of the glacier giving everyone an opportunity to get a great view of it.
Later in the day, the cabin stewardess came to the cabin to replace the bottled water that I had used to rinse the shampoo from my hair. She said that there was a room charge for the water. I checked my account with the Norwegian phone ap and found a $6.45 charge for the liter bottle of water. I immediately called Guest Services. It took 3 phone conversations that day with Guest Services to get the charge removed from the account.
We planned to attend the 7:00 pm comedy show at the Stardust Lounge. I got our two seats near the front of the auditorium. Susan had stopped to get drinks for us and was to join me. However, she tripped on a step as she was entering the seating area where I was sitting and fell face forward. The carpet was all the same color and design and she did not see the step down.
Several passengers near her and a couple of crew members ask her if she was alright. I ran over and helped her stand up. A crew member ask her to sit in seat near the back of the auditorium. I asked for a doctor to examine her since she is in pain and her ankle and foot had begun to swell. I was told by a crew member that a doctor was on the way. I looked at my watch and the time was 6:55 pm. So we waited. At 7:05 pm, I was told that a nurse was on the way. So we waited. At 7:15 pm, I was told that someone with a wheelchair was on the way. So we waited. At 7:25 pm (30 minutes after the fall), someone with a wheelchair arrives to take her back to her cabin! I demanded that she be seen by the ship doctor.
We arrived on Deck 3 at the medical facility. She was examined by the ship’s doctor and x-rays were taken. Fortunately, she did not have a fracture. Her ankle was sprained and she had strained a tendon. The doctor supplied her with a foot and ankle support, a walking cane, and medication for pain and inflammation. She was also given an alcohol breath test as part of the procedure. She had not been drinking and the test result was 00. The doctor said there were no charge for the medical services since this was an incident on the ship.
(As a brief aside while at the medical facility, we were told that Susan was lucky not to be injured more severely. We were told that a lady had fallen getting on the tender boat at Juneau. That lady injured her leg and required 24 stitches).
I was asked to show a security crew member the location where Susan fell so he could complete an incident report. I did so while Susan was taken by wheelchair to the cabin.
Our next port stop was at Ketchikan on Saturday. We walked around the town briefly but Susan still had significant pain and swollen ankle and foot.
Sunday was a day at sea. I had purchased a noon time lunch murder mystery play on the first day of the cruise. The luncheon was held at Cagney’s specialty dining restaurant. We were all seating at tables of 8 people. Each person at the table was given a character booklet for the role that we were to portray. We all were looking at the character booklets when the host crew person told everyone to close the booklets. I was still reading my character part when the crew person rudely shouted at me to close the booklet. I was stunned and outraged to have a crew person shout at me at an event that I had paid extra to attend. Also, there was no reason for a member of the ship’s crew to shout or be rude to a paying passenger. I quickly shouted back that he at no right to shout at me and he should never speak to me or any guest in that manner again.
The crew person later apologized privately to me and said that he was trying to be “funny”. Outrageous in my opinion!! A cruise ship staff person should NEVER be rude and shout at a paying passenger guest.
We ate our lunch meal and played the murder mystery game. Everyone at the table seemed to enjoy the role playing.
I then received the check for the lunch. I was being charged for the lunch, drinks and gratuity. I challenged the waiter about the charges since I had already purchased the murder mystery lunch and had prepaid gratuity charges. The waiter refused to do anything about it.
So another encounter with Guest Services for me. By this time, I was totally fed up with the Norwegian Sun and its crew since the service had been so bad for so long in so many aspects. I told the person at Guest Services about all of the problems from the first day onboard. It was like talking to the wall. I then demanded to speak with the senior officer in charge of hotel and food services. (He and several of the other ship senior officers had been paraded before us on several different evenings prior the entertainment performance at the Stardust Lounge).
Surprisingly, I received a phone call in my cabin later in the day that the senior officer was available to meet with me. We met with him and I explained all of the problems that we had encountered on the Norwegian Sun.
I explained that my purpose to meet with him was not to complain or seek anything in return. I explained that I manage a large number of people that touch my customers. My employees set the experience and tone for my customers. I am generally not aware if my customers have a bad experience unless someone tells me about it. My purpose was to make him aware of problems in his area of responsibility and hopefully make a better experience for the next cruisers.
He listened and apologized several times for the issues that we had experienced. He said that “some of the things should not have happened.” (I wonder what he thought was acceptable)!! He offered us a free meal at Cagney’s to appease us. I thanked him for the gesture. But I told him that I had the ultimate dining package, had already eaten at Cagney’s and planned to eat at the Four Seasons main dining room for dinner. He said that he would inform the restaurant staff and that we should have a better experience.
I truly think that the meeting was a waste of time and nothing meaningful will change for future cruisers. I think that the ship is understaffed and the importance of customer service is not stressed from the senior officers down to all the crew. So nothing will change until staffing and attitudes toward the passengers change.
We received a nice table for two by the window at the Four Seasons main dining room. I was surprised when the senior officer came up to the table and greeted us and stated that he hoped we enjoyed the meal. Cudos for the nice gesture but that does nothing to solve the ship’s multiple problems.
Our food service was much faster than we had experienced at any other time on the ship. Our order was taken quickly and food brought to us quickly. However, the couple at the table next to us ordered at about the same time from the same menu. We ordered very similar entrées. Their service was very slow. In fact, we have finished eating our entrées when their food was first delivered.
We went to bingo after dinner. I paid $35 for 3 games of bingo. The first game was bingo in any direction. The second game was bingo for all corners. The third game was cover the card.
We were told that the bingo games were for prize money and a free Caribbean cruise on Norwegian. Then, at some point in the third game long before anyone had bingo at that game, the crew person calling the game stated that some amount of numbers had been called with no winner. Therefore, the grand prize of $5,000 was no longer available. I challenged the person about the statement because I never heard those rules and was never mentioned at the time I purchased the bingo cards. His response was “well I said it before the game.” I thought this was just another example of the poor service and the rip-off and uncaring poor attitude exhibited so many times during the past week.
On Monday morning we arrived back at Vancouver. We had decided to disembark with our luggage since I had no confidence that Norwegian could properly offload the luggage. Disembarkation was announced and we went to the Deck 6 as indicated in the disembarkation instruction for the first time on the cruise.
We were on the crowded elevator to Deck 6 to disembark. As the door opened for Deck 6, someone said that disembarkation was on Deck 5. Nevertheless, we got off the elevator on Deck 6. There were no signs or directions where to exit the ship. My thought was “there they go again. The instruction said Deck 6 but it is really Deck 5.” But before going down to Deck 5, I walked about Deck 6 and found 1 crew person who said “This way.” So we exited the ship on Deck 6 and made our way to the dock.
I was never so happy to be off of that dysfunctional ship, the Norwegian Sun, and say a final and forever goodbye to Norwegian Cruise Lines.
We took a taxi to the Vancouver airport for our flight home. We saw and talked a number of people at the airport from the cruise ship. We heard many complaints. The most egregious was from a couple who stated that their cabin had no flushing toilet for two days and no one on the ship cared or did anything about it.
So, fellow cruisers, beware of Norwegian Cruise Lines and especially BEWARE OF THE NORWEGIAN SUN.