Cruise Lines: Norwegian Cruise Line
Ships: Norwegian Sun
Ports: Marigot, Saint Martin
First of all, a little history on me as a cruiser. This was my 5th cruise with NCL in 14 years. I've been on 4 of their ships. I tend to travel with a large group, ages ranging from infant through 85. Before our cruise, we read the reviews and were very nervous about what we may be in store for. However, while there were some disappointments, overall I can tell you that the majority of these reviews are wildly over-reactive. Either that, or a hell-of-a-lot changed between their trip and ours. We sailed on 1.23.16.
Entertainment:This ship, like every other, had good entertainment. We missed After Midnight because it had been a hectic day with our 8 month old and we decided not to go. We found out later that night they had technical difficulties and rescheduled for another night. We still didn't go for various reasons. But we saw Million Dollar Quartet and I can't say enough good things. These guys were AMAZING. This isn't even my era of music, mind you. They were fantastic. Do not miss this show. They had the normal Bingo, port talks, dance classes, trivia, and poolside events just like every other ship. We didn't see a lot of the smaller shows, again because we had a little one, but others in our party enjoyed everything they experienced in the way of entertainment.
Food: The food was great. The quality is not as amazing as it was 14 years ago, but the cruise lines all sound like they're doing what they can to keep costs down without affecting the overall cruise experience too much. For example, breakfast buffet scrambled eggs were definitely powdered eggs. But if you ordered an omelet, they were the real thing. The buffet didn't change too much day to day but there was some variation when they had specialty nights (like seafood night). It's clear that the convenience grab-n-go foods are not as high of quality. The meals in Taste and Manhattan, however, were very good. We never had to wait for a table, we were never rushed, and we only had to reserve a table for prime dinner times if our entire group wanted to dine together. We also tried Margaritaville. We were disappointed that this was changed to Ala Carte before our trip, but it still didn't disappoint. We ordered two plates of nachos for 5 people and didn't even finish them; they were HUGE. And delicious. We also ate at Moderno, which was just as good as Moderno on the Sun and Epic.
Rooms: Our room was a family ocean-view and it was plenty big for my husband, son and me. We had space to put his pack-n-play (provided by NCL and waiting in our room upon arrival) and still walk around with ease. The only narrow spot was between the end of the bed and the wall; you had to walk sideways to get through and we had to lift the stroller up over the bed to get to the other side. But it really wasn't a big deal. There was also a nice curtain between the couch and window area and the bed. We were able to close it when our son was napping and still have the window open for light on our side during the day so we could read while he slept. The bathrooms were very nice; nice size, good water pressure, huge sink (which was nice because I was constantly washing and storing baby bottles there). And contrary to a review I saw prior to our trip, the pack-n-play was in perfect condition. They supplied a pillow and a sheet (just a regular sheet tucked around it, but it worked fine and our son moves around a lot in his sleep). Our steward was fantastic. As always with NCL, he knew our names the first day, always went out of his way to say "hello" or "have a good evening," and even spoke to our 8 month old each time, calling him "Mr. Zachary." And to be clear, we weren't easy; we had to kick him out more than once right when he was starting to clean for nap time. We felt terrible, but he always insisted we come in and that he would come back, pleasantly and with a smile on his face. He even started asking us later in the trip if we were going in for a nap when he saw us. And despite what several people have complained about, we had towel animals every night.
Public Spaces: In general, the ship was very nice. Very clean, lots to do, and contrary to what I've read in other reviews, plenty of available bathrooms and elevators in convenient locations. I didn't go on the ropes course, but the majority in my party did. They all really enjoyed it; my dad and husband went on twice. It was only crowded once and during that time there were several nervous kids on it that were sort of causing a backup. Some of the attendants on the course were a little less "friendly" but it was assumed that it's due to the nature of what they're doing; they're trying to keep everyone moving and everyone safe. The Guppies nursery was cute but we didn't use it. It seemed that they had lots of fun activities, but unfortunately, the kids could only participate if you dropped them off. That was disappointing. However, just down the hall was a room where twice a day (on sea days, once on port days) you could participate in an activity with your child. The rest of the time it was open to use at your leisure. There were toys, bean bag chairs, a radio, and the floor was covered in a soft play mat. The thing that I was most disappointed in was the lack of water play for babies. On the Epic, there was a special shaded spot with little kiddie pools and slides. I assumed that the first ship in the fleet with an itinerary special for smaller children (under 3) would have this as well. It didn't. Not only that, but the kids area that IS there, has a sign clearly stating that no children in swim diapers are allowed. Needless to say, no one followed that rule. And the security didn't try to enforce it as long as you weren't causing trouble. We only went in once though because it was set up for big kids to run around, not little guys to sit and splash. Another disappointment was how crowded this ship seemed. The Epic is almost as large and has almost as many people and we never felt crowded, so it's not just because it's a bigger ship. On the Escape, I felt like there were people everywhere. I think this is because in the ship's design, they essentially eliminated all open space. The bars outside are right next to the pool. There is no space for a cookout like on most ships. The jogging track runs around and through Margaritaville and a main walking area. The bocce is against the mini golf which is all under the ropes course. There are ceilings almost everywhere.There just didn't seem to be that open feel in as many places. The bathrooms were very cramped in the public areas. Fewer stalls than on their other ships and narrower space. There was no space for lines to form; you had to stand in front of stalls while you waited and squeeze past people to get to the sink. The lounge chairs were NOT as big of an issue as people are making them. There were plenty of times, sea and port days, where there were open chairs. Same thing in the buffet. If you were there right at lunch time, sure it was crowded and sometimes difficult to find a seat. But I never ate standing up, we always found a seat. And I generally ate with a group of at least 7. The Ultimate Beverage Package is also a GREAT deal. It covered every drink we got (and my husband got A LOT). We paid for tax on 2 or 3 drinks while in Port. Quite honestly, they didn't even charge that every time. And we never had to wait more than a moment or two for our drinks. There was never a long line at any of the bars, no matter how crowded the area was.
Staff: Every member of the cruise staff was the same as they have always been on every ship; friendly, fun, engaging and welcoming. They sang at the buffet every morning about washing your hands. They all interacted warmly with my son. My dad even made friends with the security guard that was with his group on the ship tour; he asked him how his day was, if he got good pictures, etc. every time we came back from a port.
Final thoughts: My final thoughts are this: a vacation is what you make of it and people are going to treat you how you treat them. I saw so little of what everyone has been complaining about both before and after my trip that I cannot help but wonder if they were A)looking for problems or B)inflicting some of this "pain" on themselves.
Were staff members waiting on me hand and foot non-stop? No. Did I expect them to or was I insulted by the fact that they weren't? Absolutely not; that's not their job no matter how much I paid. I'm fairly certain after seeing how some guests treat the staff, and reading the tone of these negative reviews, that many of these people are their own worst enemy.
That being said, here is my suggestion: if you like a big open ship, with a slightly relaxed pace, this isn't the ship for you. If you like the idea of doing activities with your infant, this ship has more than the others, but nothing water related, and don't expect a ton of options. If you like fast paced with lots of activities and things to keep you busy, this ship is great. Rest assured you will leave your cruise needing a day or two to relax with the pace of this one. I didn't participate in much and I felt like I rushed every day. Some of that can be attributed to travelling with a little guy, but not all. We all felt that way.
Whatever you decide, be nice to the staff, be understanding of situations that come up, and enjoy the 7 days of no cooking, cleaning or work.