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B. Brookin

Age: 50


Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Sun

Sailing Date: January 8th, 2006

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

The Sun is a beautiful ship that was being continuously maintained during the cruise. Our cabin was efficiently laid out and very pleasant. The balcony is a must – it enhanced the cruise experience during fair conditions and rough. It also offered a place for us to dry wet clothing, which was helpful, and made the cabin feel larger.

The cruise itinerary and line were somewhat problematic from the onset. We originally booked this cruise – our first - to sail out of New Orleans because we wanted the home port to be a featured port of call. Of course, poor New Orleans got trashed, and the home port was moved to Houston – not a city I have ever looked forward to visiting. Then another hurricane trashed Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, and we were told that those ports would also be off the itinerary. This left us with only two of the original five places we wanted to see. We asked to change our cruise date, but Norwegian was inflexible on this. Granted, it isn’t there fault a hurricane trashed the city, but it wasn’t ours, either and we were very disappointed.

Cozumel was eventually left on the itinerary (which changed four times from initial booking to the date of the cruise). We were given a total of $100 shipboard credit in compensation and another $24 reimbursement while on the cruise for port fees that were not incurred. Lesson 1 for first time cruisers: the cruise line completely controls the itinerary, and can change it for any reason with no recourse to the traveler.

However, we made lemonade from lemons by booking our flight into San Antonio instead and driving to Houston on the day of the cruise. It was well worth doing, as San Antonio was wonderful. We turned in our rental car at the airport and checked in for the shuttle bus to the ship. There was some problem, however, and we ended up spending over 2 hours in line for the bus to arrive.

After a 45-minute bus ride we arrived at the dock, where we were offered another chance to get to know our fellow passengers by waiting in line for 30+ minutes to be checked in. Once we passed through security, it was another 30 minutes before we were actually onboard.

Our cabin exceeded our expectations. It was small but efficiently laid out and we had no problems stowing all our stuff. Granted, we are very light packers (one bag each, carry-on), but we had plenty of room. The bed was so-so for comfort, but the nature of the accommodations demand flexibility and it was sufficient if not cushy.

Our luggage arrived promptly at our cabin, but my luggage cart (which I’d just purchased in San Antonio) was missing. I brought this to the attention of the gentleman handling our luggage, and he assured us that it would be found and returned.

We went to the top deck to join the sail-away party. There was a good barbecue offered, the reggae/party music band we good, and our first experience aboard a large, moving ship was very positive. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening’s activities. We explored the ship, which was clean and attractive, and enjoyed our initial contact with the staff, who were all very personable and outgoing. Our housekeeper – Mary Grace - was terrific and went out of her way to greet us by name throughout the cruise.

The next day was at sea, and the sea was quite rough (12’ swells and high winds). We signed up for shore excursions – which we hadn’t done prior to boarding due to the fluid itinerary – and had no difficulty getting what we wanted. There was a two-for-one offer at one of the specialty restaurants, so we made reservations for a steak dinner that night.

Overall, we found food on the ship to be average, but we are decent cooks and are surrounded by excellent restaurants at home so could be more critical than other people. The morning buffets were sufficient and usually offered smoked salmon, fruit, and the usual breakfast fare. There were waffle and omelet stations, both of which were fine. The hamburger at the lunch buffet was inedible –hamburgers should never be crunchy.

One example of excellent food was the sushi bar. This is a specialty restaurant that charged $2 per piece. A piece, in this case, is a whole roll, and the quality was excellent. Lesson 2: Don’t be shy about asking for to have your wants met! For instance, the waffles were done a touch too light for our preference, but the cook left a couple in for a bit longer on request, and the chef graciously made a type of sushi for us that was not on the menu.

The first day we went to a couple of scheduled seminars – one at the spa, the other on what to expect for shopping at each port. The first was an attempt to sell us a particular spa treatment, and the second was a pitch for shops that sold nothing I couldn’t buy from the comfort of my computer at home for considerably less money and irritation. The shopping expert was offered on the ship’s TV channel for the rest of the voyage, so making a special effort to attend the show in person was a waste of time. The ongoing sales pitches – photos, gift shop stuff, drinks in carved coconuts so huge that they would be a problem to pack – became so annoying that we reacted by buying less on this vacation than we had ever done on any vacation previously. This initial experience with seminars also colored our expectations of what the rest of the ship’s activities would offer.

We had chosen Beginning Scuba Diving for our Cozumel excursion. Each excursion has a set time, so sleeping in wasn’t an option. We met to board the tender by 8:50 and had the opportunity to stand in line again. However, we had a great time on the dive, the instructor was good, and we learned something new, which is something we enjoy more than just about anything else.

Cozumel still had considerable damage from the storms. There was reconstruction and demolition throughout the port. After the dive, we walked through some of the shops. Mike was looking for a good leather belt, and I was looking for locally made goods and unusual earrings. We found only one small ceramic piece that met our expectations.

The next day we met at 8:00 a.m. to stand in line for the tender into Belize. These little boats were quick – powered by 3 200-HP outboards! Once on shore, we waited in line for another 15 – 20 minutes to board the bus for the cave tubing experience.

The cave tubing was one of the outstanding experiences of the entire cruise. Although the bus ride took about an hour, the time went quickly because of our guides. One of these guides, Ken, clearly loved his country and explained various sites as we passed, offered cultural and historical background, and answered questions. On arrival, we rented wet shoes – they wanted $10 with $5 to be refunded on return of the shoes - grabbed an inner tube and followed our guides the jungle. The walk was very pleasant and the guides informative.

When we arrived at the river, we had the choice of jumping in from about 6’ or backing directly into our inner tubes. We chose the latter. The water was about 77 degrees and not at all uncomfortable. I’m slightly claustrophobic and felt no discomfort at all in the caves. Most of us turned off our headlamps (worn around the neck) and enjoyed the low lighting. We paddled/drifted down the river through the caves in kind of lazy version of bumper cars for over an hour – it was fantastic. Once back at camp, we had a very tasty lunch, changed into our dry gear, and boarded the bus back to port.

We wandered about a little in the port shops, but most of them were carbon copies of the ones in Cozumel so we bought nothing. Once back on board, I notified the reception desk about my lost luggage cart as it not been returned and no one had contacted us. The woman at the desk assured us that they would contact us about the missing wheels, but the look she gave us was more like “What do you want us to do about it?”

The next day we woke to find ourselves already tied up at the dock in Roatan. Our excursion didn’t begin until 9:20, so we were able to start the day in a more leisurely way. We had to wait for 45 minutes on dock before being transported to the site of the dolphin encounter. Lesson 3 for newly cruisers: If you don’t like lines and schedules, you might rethink the idea of cruising.

This was another great excursion. We were in groups of eight with a dolphin and her trainer. Our group was great and we had a lot of fun. The staff takes photos of everyone with the dolphin that can be purchased at the gift shop as individual shots or all of them on a CD for $40. This was actually a pretty good value, as it saved us from diverting our attention from actually interacting with the dolphin.

Once again, there was little in the port shops to engage our attention, although we did buy a bottle of rum that is difficult to get in the U.S. Mostly, goods in the ports were overpriced and imported. The rum was checked in as we went onboard.

We had two days at sea after Roatan. The seas were rough – 12’ to 18’ swells – but it was fun. We joined some really terrific people for drinks and dinners during this time and had a lot of fun with them. We availed ourselves of the small library (free!!) and relaxed in our cabin.

Our final day on board we once again notified the front desk of our missing luggage cart, as no one had contacted us. This time we spoke with more senior staff, and it was clear no one had previously made any effort to deal with our missing cart. We still had the receipt for the cart, so Monica reimbursed us in the form of a credit on our bill once the receipt was photocopied. Lesson 4: Don’t assume that the staff will automatically do the right thing – be persistent.

We met a concierge onboard during our final days who was an absolute joy – Anka. While other ship board staff were beginning to show the wear of being at work for 7 days, Anka was enthusiastic, professional and helpful. She encouraged us to ask shipboard personnel for advice about where they dined while at port, something I’d liked to have known earlier in the cruise. We found no restaurant ashore that tempted us with lovely smells, which is how we usually great new places to eat while traveling. We’ll take Anka’s advice in the future.

Overall, the experience was positive, but I’m not sure we’ll make a habit of cruising. The good thing about it is that your hotel is floating about with you, so packing and unpacking every day is not necessary. Also, I felt completely cut off from my regular life – calling home and internet access were fairly pricey, so we didn’t do it. This was a good thing for us, and assured we didn’t spend our vacation doing regular business.

I think that future cruise choices may be more spontaneous to avoid the itinerary disappointments we had. NCL’s freestyle dining, while a little bland, was still very much more accommodating to our preferences than more traditional, formal cruise dining choices.

Prior to disembarking the cruise director pressed everyone (via intercom) to please fill out their cruise evaluations and promised that each category that wasn’t rated “excellent” would result in a phone call. To date, we’ve received no such phone call. I’m sure there’s a lesson there, too.

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