Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sun
Sailing Date: June 3rd, 2006
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Sun Cruise Review
Just completed the June 3rd
Alaska Cruise on the Norwegian Sun. Overall I would rate this experience as
excellent. I shared this experience with my family of four which includes a 10
and 17 year old.
A. Some items of interest for economic travelers. We were looking for the best deal we could find to see Alaska, so we traveled the most economic way possible. Quite frankly, having read several of the previous reviews about NCL Alaska cruises, I was very concerned about what to expect. Before the cruise, I contented myself with the idea that I was getting a competitive price for a family of four to see Alaska, and that the ship was just transportation to get us there including a room and meals. I was not expecting the extravagance of a voyage on the QE II. Having completed the cruise, I can now say it was an enjoyable and fun experience which I would gladly recommend.
1. We chose an inside stateroom (no outside view). The inside deluxe was more than adequate for a family of four. We had six suitcases full of clothes and all of it fit into the closets, drawers and cubbies in the room. The suitcases easily stored under the bed out of the way. I did bring a dozen thin wire hangers and used them all to supplement the wooden hangers provided in the one full and one half size closets. There is a king size bed in the room plus a couch that expands into a double bed and a full size bunk that comes down over the couch. We did not mind having a room without a view since when the main sights came along such as cruising the Inside Passage and going into Tracy Arm, almost everybody was either on deck or lounging at the window seats at the various dining areas and lounges to get the full effect of these sights happening all around the ship. Also, sunrise up North is 3:50 AM and sunset is around 10:00 PM, having a stateroom without a window may have been an advantage to keep the room dark during normal sleeping hours.
2. We did not partake in any of the specialty restaurants offered with freestyle cruising. Each time you opt for a specialty restaurant it costs $20 per person extra so for a family of four that’s $80 and with kids with simple tastes it’s not worth it. So we used the surcharge free dining at the Garden Café, Great Outdoor Café, Seven Seas Dining Room, Four Seasons Dining Room and the various lounges such as Los Ramblas and Pacific Heights. Also, room service is free 24 hours per day. The room service menu is limited to continental style breakfast and the lunch/dinner menu includes sandwiches, drinks and some dessert items. In addition, all drinks except iced tea, water from the dispenser, coffee, hot tea and cappuccino (dining rooms only) cost extra including bottled water and lemonade. A can of soda was $1.75 plus a 15% surcharge, a glass of soda was $1.25 plus surcharge. Specialty drinks were over $5.00 each plus that surcharge. We ordered drinks a few times, but mostly settled for the free stuff. We also brought some of those single serving lemonade packets which you add to a glass of water if we were in the mood for lemonade. We also packed about a dozen mini-sized bottled waters and bought a few more when we visited ports.
3. Gratuities - Keep in mind that you pay a $10 per adult, $5 per child (3-12), per day gratuity which is added to your ship account. In addition, there's a 15% gratuity charge on everything you order. There is no requirement or obligation to provide any other tips. For exceptional service there is a line on every bill that says, "additional tip,” so you can leave extra for the server that provides you exceptional service.
4. We made our own airline arrangements to get to Seattle not depending upon NCL to do this for us. Made several weeks in advance we felt we got the best deal and had total control over our flight schedule (no unnecessary delays or layovers). Also, we chose to come a day early and rented a car. This allowed us to get acclimated from the East Coast to West Coast time change and relax before starting the cruise. A modestly priced hotel in the city allowed us to spend some time at Pike’s Market and be near the pier where the Sun would arrive. Several of the car rental agencies have downtown offices so after dropping off the family and luggage at the pier, I drove a short distance to drop off the car and they gave me a quick ride back to the pier. Call first, directly to the local rental car office to find their location, car drop off procedure and policy on dropping you off at the pier.
B. Some basic Information about the Ship and NCL experience:
1. Embarkation – The literature says boarding starts at 1:00 PM, in fact it is 11:30 AM. By a fluke, we arrived around 11:00 AM and found we could check in our luggage and get checked in (set up a shipboard account and get our room key cards). There was no one in line when we got there. At 11:30 AM there was a 20 minute long line to board primarily since you are passing through security (metal detectors and carry –on item scanners) just like at the airport. We were in no hurry, but for info it took about an hour for the luggage to get to the room. A simple lunch (sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs) was available when we got on board at the Garden Cafe and Great Outdoor Café.
2. Food – This is Free Style Dining and as I stated before we did not use the specialty restaurants since we did not wish to pay the extra per person surcharge. In several of the previous cruise reviews I saw mixed emotions about the food especially for the no surcharge dining. Perhaps my family and I have simple tastes, but we thought the food was very good.
a. The Garden Cafe and Great Outdoor Café is buffet style. People spoke of long lines at these locations, but I never once waited in a line longer than a few people. First, the dining hours are very long; breakfast is 6:00 AM to 10:30 AM, lunch is 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM, dinner is 5:30 PM to 10:00 PM. We easily found times when there was no waiting whatsoever. The food was not fancy, and I won’t say that everything was to my taste because we all have our likes and dislikes, but it was plentiful and varied enough to find something that I enjoyed. Your basic buffet style food included a beef carving station, fruit station, salad station (including Cesar salad made to order), cheese and cold cuts, soup station (not always to my taste), bread station with a variety of breads offered, dessert station including sugar free choices, and the ice cream bar with regular, yogurt and sugar free ice cream. There was pasta made to order (the best is in Pacific Heights with various sauces offered), hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, Caesar salad and desserts (Great Outdoor Café), and pizza (Pacific Heights). Again, not fancy, but we always found something we liked, dress is casual, and the view is great from the Garden and Great Outdoor Cafes.
b. Seven Seas and Four Seasons Dining Rooms are your usual served food dining experience with one big exception, you can pick your time to eat within the established dining hours and if you time it right you can always get a window table. Dress is casual for breakfast and lunch, no jeans or flip-flops for dinner (no jacket and tie were required). The breakfast menu was the full assortment including omelets, eggs to order, various meats, cereals (hot and cold), etc. We didn’t do lunch here, but the dinner menu had recurring items always available such as salmon, chicken, and steak, a good kids menu with the usual chicken nuggets, hot dogs, pizza, etc. and then about four or five daily specials, appetizers (choose as many as you want), soup, salad and a choice of desserts. Also, here’s where you get the free cappuccino.
c. On mornings when we entering port early (7:00 AM) many people have shore excursions starting at 7:30 AM. From previous reviews I heard that breakfast time were quite busy on these days at the various eating locations since people had early shore excursion to get to. So unless you are an early riser and wish to eat between 5:30 AM and 6:30 AM, we ordered room service on these days. It says the earliest you can order room service breakfast is 6:30 AM, but you can request an earlier time if your wish. We had no problem receiving our breakfast order on time even on these supposed busy days.
3. Activities – There were many activities on the ship and we did not participate in all of them, but here are some comments about the ones we attended.
a. Shows – There were Broadway style shows on board which were very enjoyable. There were also guest entertainers which apparently change for each voyage. A special show at Skagway just before leaving port with a local entertainer who told the “Alaska story” in stories and song was excellent.
b. Lounges – There is live music during the evening hours in all of the lounges. You do not have to buy a drink to sit in a lounge and enjoy the entertainment. The only restriction was after 11:30 PM only 18 years or over could be in the Disco. The karaoke was a hoot in the Observation Lounge and beside the usual less talented attempts (which were done for fun), there were also some really talented passengers on-board.
b. Casino – To play any game you need a obtain a casino card which you can get at the casino. For you slot lovers they had nickel, quarter, dollar and five dollar slots. You put your card into the slot and then insert dollar bills into the slot to play. If you win, “points” are tracked on your card. At the end of the cruise you can redeem it in for cash (if you have 25 points or more) or apply it to pay against your shipboard account. There was a slot machine contest that you could enter as well as a Black Jack and Texas hold 'em poker contest. There was a fee to enter the various contests. My wife and I tried the slots and did not see enough of a pay off to keep us interested. Frequently we would pass by the casino and see very few people playing the slots so I don’t think we were the only ones that felt the machines were not paying off very well.
d. Craft Making – If you enjoy crafts, they do offer some on board. Both the cruise directors staff and there were volunteers with NCL that had four classes during the trip. Crafts were easy for both adults and children.
4. Tracy Arm is a very narrow passageway (fiord) and we were amazed how a ship this size could get in and out (nice job Captain). In May and early June if there are too many icebergs the ship, for safety reasons, cannot navigate the full length of the passage. I understand the first few cruises of the season did not even get inside Tracy Arm at all. On our cruise we got within sight of the glacier, but no where near it due to ice. It was still a great trip in and out of the Tracy Arm, but if you are expecting to get right along side a glacier you may be disappointed unless you catch a cruise later in the season.
5. Debarkation – If you can carry your own luggage off the ship you can depart the ship at 7:30 AM. We were able to do this and breezed off the ship including passing through Customs in about 10 minutes. If you need help getting your luggage off then your area of the ship departs at an assigned time schedule which is provided to you the night before. The last area off is called at 9:00 AM. There are cabs available at the pier. If you are renting a car it looked like Thrifty was the only one near the pier. We used Hertz and they paid our cab fair to their downtown office to get our car. Again, call first directly to the local rental car office to find their location, car pick-up procedure and policy on coming to get you at the pier.
C. Weather, Ports and Shore Excursions – From the start it was my expectation that getting off the ship, seeing the sights and experiencing what Alaska and Canada has to offer would be the primary goal. With the exception of cruising the Inside Passage and Tracy Arm, I couldn’t wait to get ashore. My aim was not to spend a great deal of time at the pier side souvenir shops, but to get out into the countryside and see the wildlife and scenery. Also, at Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau there were at least four to five cruise ships in town simultaneously, so things could be pretty crowded along the waterfront.
1. Alaska, even in June, can be cold (45-65 degrees F). With the ship in motion you can have a wind-chill that will drop this into the 30+ degree range. We did spend a lot of time out on deck nonetheless. This is not a Caribbean cruise though some people dressed like it. First consideration is location, the Great Outdoor Café for instance is on the stern so it is less windy here and on sunny days it was warm enough to eat out here and enjoy the view with a jacket on. Also, the pools are heated to 80+ degrees, hot tubs to 100 degrees and kids pool to 70+ degrees. Many people did use the pools on the nicer (60+ degree) days. For the colder days and more exposed areas of the ship (such as the forward observation deck), we brought jackets, sweat shirts, sweaters, gloves, regular shoes with warm socks, jeans and pull over hats. We used them all. Alaska is known for its rain so prepare for it and it won’t affect your plans. For instance, in Ketchikan it rained, but we brought small compact umbrellas and used them. We also had ponchos, but didn’t use them. When going into Tracy Arm which is full of icebergs and a glacier, it was cold, even with the ship moving at a crawl. Thankfully, it was not raining or overly windy, but the place to be was on deck to appreciate this exceptional experience and I would estimate the temperature was in the 40’s. In Juneau we opted for a whale watching boat excursion. The boat had a warm and cozy interior cabin with free coffee, tea and cocoa, but the place to be when looking at the whales and other wild life is on deck where the temperature was in the 40 degree range.
2. In Ketchikan we had to anchor out and take tenders to get ashore. This does not happen all the time, but it can happen. You need to get a boarding pass to get on the tender (no charge of course) which is handed out in the Disco. The ship has six tenders each capable of handling 100 people which are constantly coming and going (it’s a trip of 10 minutes). Nobody knew any of this, so there was an initial rush to get passes. People with shore excursions to catch at a certain time get on first, but I can tell you we were able to get on the second tender and be ashore by 7:45AM.
3. As stated before, with a family of four we opted for economy so we purchased only one shore excursion package which was the whale watching out of Juneau. This still cost over $400+ so this was going to be our one big paid excursion. We saw four or five whales and one (an infant) did jump a couple of times and made it worth our money. We also saw some eagles, seals and some distant, but readily seen, glaciers. Again, dress warm. You are on the water on an open deck taking pictures. We were once again lucky that it was not raining, but it was overcast and cold. We had about two hours to go when we returned from the whale watching with time to get a table at the famous Red Dog Saloon. Not surprising, it was crowded, but because we came later we didn’t wait more than 10 minutes to get a table. With $8.00 for a hamburger, about all you’ll want is a quick drink and a few photos just to say you’ve been there.
4. To avoid the high cost of additional shore excursions, in Ketchikan and Skagway we rented a car. This has the advantage that you can go anywhere and do anything you want.
a. In Skagway for instance, the scenic train ride would have cost my family over $400. My car rental for the entire time with gas ($3.15 per gallon) cost less than $100 and we followed the same basic route as the railroad through White Pass and continued for 75 miles into Canada all the way to the Yukon Territory and the town of Carcross. Remember, you are crossing the U.S. border into Canada and you will need your picture I.D. the same as you will need on the port stop at Prince Rupert, Canada. We stopped whenever we wanted to take pictures and enjoyed the scenery along the way. In Carcross we shopped for souvenirs, caught a quick lunch and made a stop at the local convenience store for bottled water, soda and snacks to take back to the ship. On the return trip we took the usual photos at the “Welcome to Alaska” sign as we crossed back over the border, there was still a small amount of snow along the road as we hit the 3000+ ft elevation of White Pass, and we stopped at the Gold Rush Cemetery to view the infamous grave sites of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith and Frank Reid (both died in a gunfight) and to see Reid Falls. We got back three hours before the ship left and still had time to enjoy the shops and sites in Skagway.
b. In Ketchikan, we rented a car
and drove north out of town all the way to the end of the highway (16 miles).
Along the way we stopped at Settlers Cove Picnic and Campgrounds and walked into
an old growth forest and viewed Lunch Falls, visited Salmon Falls Resort and
viewed Salmon Falls (we were too early for lunch in the waterfront restaurant),
Totem Bight State Park (no charge) and saw the totems and clan house, stopped
along the way to take pictures whenever we wanted including the view at Ward
Lake, and hit the best souvenir stop in Ketchikan, the Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had
every souvenir you could buy near the waterfront including shirts, jackets,
Christmas ornaments, knickknacks, refrigerator magnets, post cards, etc at less
than half the price. We could have continued south of the town to visit Saxman
Totem Park and enjoy more scenery, but it was a rainy day and we had already
seen the totems at Totem Bight so we decided to turn in the car and spend an
hour walking the main tourist area and visit Creek Street. Total cost for a
rental car and gas was less than $70 (the distances are a lot shorter in
5. Prince Rupert is the last stop on this cruise and is a very pretty town which we enjoyed. We were the only cruise ship here and I expect it is because it’s all they can handle at one time. It is only a 4 ½ hour stop and with so little time most people by this point were shopped out after three previous port stops and got back to the ship early. It seemed to me we just killing time at slow speed getting to Prince Rupert and then all day Friday heading back to Seattle. I recommended to NCL that instead of heading to Prince Rupert, that after Skagway on Wednesday they head to Glacier Bay for a Thursday morning viewing and they would still have 1 ½ days to make the 600 miles back to Seattle.
D. In summary, my family and I were pleased with this cruise. The best judge of any experience is how you feel when it’s coming to the end, and I can say we wish it were just starting instead of ending.