Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sun
Sailing Date: October 22nd, 2006
Itinerary: Panama Canal
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Sun Cruise Review
My new husband and I had a very nice time on our honeymoon and overall really enjoyed the cruising experience, but because of some issues with the Norwegian line (mainly the disappointing food and ridiculous drink prices), the next time we cruise we will try a different line. We do, however, highly recommend most of the ports of call: Cozumel, Costa Maya, Belize City, and New Orleans were fantastic! San Tomas, Guatemala proved to be pretty scary, but I think our mistake there was not doing a shore excursion. Before going on, I would like to point out that my husband and I are not dining connoisseurs by any means, so when I speak about the food portion of the cruise I just want you to know that we did not go into this expecting outstanding cuisine. We had read reviews comparing it to regular buffet fare; I even enjoy restaurants like Golden Corral more than most people so we didn’t think it would be a problem. However, we found the food to be mostly terrible, worse in some cases than the school cafeteria we consumed a few years back…now that’s pretty sad!
The automatic $10.00 per day per passenger gratuity was fine with me, but I feel that the 15% tax added onto anything purchased was excessive. Hygiene issues were handled very well, hand sanitizer being available at all restaurants and when boarding the ship after shore excursions.
Embarkation and debarkation are both pretty easy; no terribly long lines or anything like that. Debarkation was hindered a little when we were assigned the latest debarkation time, 10:30. We hadn’t anticipated such a late time since the ship docked at 8:00, but we were able to easily trade our time in so that wasn’t an issue. Just be aware that it takes almost three hours to get everyone off the boat so if you have things to do that morning you’ll probably want to do the express debarkation.
Our stateroom was one of the least expensive, bottom deck, no windows or balcony. I highly recommend getting a balcony, our room was positively tiny and would probably have been much worse if we weren’t honeymooning. I don’t know how people with kids can stand it! Also, if we were obese at all we probably would have gotten stuck on the toilet. I’m not trying to be funny; I was truly worried for some of my fellow passengers. The bathroom was teeny and probably also really upsets claustrophobic people. The shower was way better than we had expected although I had a hard time getting cold water from it or the sink. The beds were two twins that could slide together to make a double. It wasn’t great but I’ve slept on worse. After the housekeeping staff came in they saw we had put the beds together so they put a double sheet over both beds to keep them together better and that was nice; our room steward was always very pleasant. The room had a TV, which was nice. One channel is dedicated to the available shore excursions and one to the ship’s positioning, speed, distance traveled, etc. It also got a few movie channels, Cartoon Network, and CNN. The room has a safe, coffee maker, hairdryer, and mini-bar. The min-bar’s prices are outrageous: $1.75 per soda, $1.50 for candy, almost $3.00 for a tiny can of juice and mini bottles of alcohol for $7.00--$9.00 apiece!
The actual ship is very beautiful and almost intimidating at first because it’s so large. It’s much more fun after the second or third day when you know your way around better. There’s great artwork, especially in the Java Café and on the staircases. There’s an internet café that’s part of the open atrium so it’s great for people watching or looking at the ocean out the window but the pricing is ridiculous! 75 cents a minute, although that’s better than the $6.00 a minute it costs to use the telephone! The galleria shops are ok, if I were really interested in perfume or jewelry I probably would have been more impressed. You have to walk through the casino to get to the shops, which annoyed me since the casino is the last place I would have chosen to be. The actual shops were fine and we found a few NCL souvenirs, but the people running them were awful! Not rude necessarily, but distracted, all of them, all the time. It’s got to be in the employee training video, because a couple of times they weren’t even busy! One lady got really flustered when asked about what merchandise they carried and didn’t know the difference between a Christmas ornament and a key ring. When we asked her why there were no Norwegian Sun ornaments, only ornaments for other ships like the Dawn and Majesty, she unkindly explained that the shops weren’t part of the Norwegian company. I just looked at her, thinking, “Yes, but you’re running a shop on their boat, selling products with their logo all over it, it seems like you would have an idea what you’re selling.” On several different occasions there we had salespeople simply walk off while we were still asking them questions.
The pools and hot tubs are nice, although they are in the middle of the ship all in the same area, so everyone who wants to swim or sunbathe are all fighting for the same lounge chairs and tables around the pool. At sea days it is way too hard to find a good place, if you want an afternoon to sunbathe you should do it on a day the boat is docked, unless you don’t care about being near the pool. There are two bars on either side of the pool area so drinks are plentiful (and expensive!) We ended up paying $9.00 a drink for drinks in souvenir cups and then $7.00 a drink after that. The staff peddling them is very nice, but once you have a drink in hand, especially an empty one, you will be plagued by server after server after server trying to sell you another one. A couple can spend $100.00 in one sitting, easily, without getting drunk. The best time we found to visit the hot tubs is at night, when everyone else is at dinner. There was a children’s pool around the side of the deck that looked cute, and it had lots of little colorful lounge chairs around it.
My husband enjoyed the Havana Club Cigar Club, which is attached to the Windjammer Bar. We usually went there after dinner and it gets pretty smoky in there but is still nice. A very enjoyable piano player was usually there and there’s a great drink selection, although still very expensive. My husband also really liked the Champagne Bar because you can smoke there, as you can in all of the bars on the ship. The Windjammer Bar and Cigar Club are on the interior of the ship, both very dark. The Champagne Bar is part of the atrium, so the view of each floor and the ocean out of all the windows is fabulous. Also, the bartender Mr. Abraham was great and my husband’s buddy on the nights I didn’t feel like accompanying him to smoke. I don’t smoke but the smell doesn’t bother me…however, for people that it does bother, you will be pretty upset by the end of the cruise if it’s a longer one. Ours was seven nights and by about the fifth or sixth day you could really smell the smoke in all of the places smoking was allowed, like the bars, casino, and even the atrium (which meant the coffee shop, internet café, and reception desks.)
Although we didn’t check anything out, we did stop by the library and while browsing I found several favorites; the selection is quite good. We did not go to either of the art auctions, but supposedly there was free champagne. We also did not try the spa but there are discounts in the daily newsletters given out, so I would wait to see what’s offered, unless you just really have your heart set on a certain treatment. There are also specials on jewelry, precious stones, Bingo, and other things in the daily newsletter. The second to last day there was a huge sale on all the alcohol and tobacco products, which there are a lot of.
There is a photography area on the ships where all photos taken on the cruise are put on display and can be purchased. We bought one set for about $15.00, overpriced but we hardly had any pictures of us together. Be aware that the embarkation pictures are taken down for a day or two and replaced with formal night photos but will be put back up eventually. It can get pretty crowded in there sometimes. We didn’t see much of Dazzles Disco; you have to go through it to get to the cigar club. Truthfully, it was pretty embarrassing sober when everyone else had obviously been drinking quite a bit, although it was also fun to watch the people dancing. Also, once I had to make my husband wait until “My Sharona” finished, the music would have probably been more fun with a group of girlfriends.
Up until now I haven’t had anything terribly negative to say about the cruise, and if it weren’t for the food we would probably be cruising with Norwegian again…but the food was terrible, and that’s too bad. We ate quite a bit at the Garden Café and the Great Outdoor Café because it was easier when we were rushing in the mornings plus I don’t normally like getting dressed up. The Garden Café is cute and has great views but is usually crowded; sometimes so much that we couldn’t get a table. It’s also cold but we didn’t like eating outside, it was normally too windy or hot. Both the Garden Café and the Great Outdoor Café are buffets and I will say this for them: they always had a good variety of desserts and they were pretty good for the most part, especially the Mexican chocolate cake. However, several times the selection and/or food was absolutely terrible. One night the Garden Café had what it called chicken pot pie…this was gravy, peas, and parts of chicken, bones and all. The scrambled eggs at breakfast were horrendous, and I’ve been known to like cafeteria eggs—it’s pretty hard to mess those up but the Norwegian Sun succeeded. The bread selection was always good but some biscuits would have been nice in the morning. My husband was also upset that there were no grits and that the sweet tea wasn’t sweet enough. I guess you can tell we’re Southern. The Garden Café does different themed nights; American, Italian, and so on. We went to those two plus Mexican and Oriental. Mexican was great, really good taco bar and desserts although not a huge selection. American night was a complete joke (that was the chicken pot pie incident; we ended up ordering room service instead.) Italian night and Oriental night were both big letdowns as well, there was not a strand of pasta to be found anywhere on Italian night! Oriental night was pretty much the same thing that had been served every other night, just with teriyaki sauce on it. My husband, who loves Chinese buffets, was very disappointed. The Great Outdoor Café has good fries, ok burgers and hotdogs. My husband didn’t like the buns at all and wouldn’t eat his. Mine were kind of dry but I don’t normally discriminate when it comes to bread products. One major complaint is the beverage selection. In the morning it’s juice, water, or milk served in a tiny glass that holds maybe four or six ounces. The other two meals it’s water, milk, or iced tea, none of which I care for. Sodas are $1.75 each unless you want to buy the $42.00 soft drink pass. I did not want to buy the pass, I simply drank more water than I like to and ended up getting dehydrated in Mexico anyway. As small a thing as soda is, those prices are one of the things that will keep me from cruising on Norwegian again; I think they seriously need to rethink that, as well as revamp some of their meals and recipes. Anyway, back to the food. I ended up having fries from the Sports Bar on Oriental night; they’re great but take about ten minutes to cook. The burgers there are ok and it has really nice views.
Both Four Seasons and Seven Seas are nice restaurants but nothing spectacular. We had breakfast at Seven Seas and the menu had a fair amount of choices. The French toast was good and the service was excellent. I’m sure the views are nice if you’re not docked in Guatemala. This restaurant is hard to find though, you have to go up one floor extra and then down the stairs, it’s confusing, so I don’t recommend looking for it when you’re very hungry. We had dinner twice at the Four Seasons, once it was fairly good and the second it was terrible. The menu is fairly unimpressive, I ended up having to order the grilled chicken both times and it was ok. The first time we dined there was my husband’s favorite dining experience on the ship but the second time, our last night on the boat; his steak wasn’t nearly as good. Also, our service the first night was great and we had a beautiful view of the ocean but our on second dining experience the waitress was terrible, completely uncaring. You could just tell the whole wait staff was ready for it to all be over and that they didn’t care anymore at all. We tried Pacific Heights for lunch on one of the days, the pizza tasted homemade and was very good but the pasta was not. The restaurant is very beautiful though and has awesome views. We didn’t try any of the other specialty restaurants but they looked very nice. Room service was nice to have around. It’s 24 hours and although the selection isn’t wonderful it’s sufficient. The departure BBQ from New Orleans was ok, good potato salad but the main dishes were barbequed chicken and kielbasa, nothing impressive.
That night everyone on the boat (except us, I guess) got completely trashed and stumbled about on deck, greeting each other like long-lost relatives. One poor man my husband ran into on the elevator had his rum confiscated, but obviously not before he had consumed most of it.
The Chocoholic buffet was a complete and total disappointment. This was one of the things I was most looking forward to, and I didn’t even get to go because it began at 11:00, only lasted an hour, and was in one of the restaurants you have to be dressed up at night to go to. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling up to it after our Cozumel adventure and the cruise directors were hoping for that, because chocolate is expensive…but that small thing is another reason we won’t cruise with Norwegian again. Cutting corners is evident everywhere. We had a boxed lunch prepared by the ship for our Tulum excursion and everyone complained about it. The cookies, fruit cup, granola bar and pound cake were all fine but the sandwich was disgusting, tuna fish without the mayonnaise. How hard is a turkey sandwich??
The last part of this review is about the shore excursions, and so it will be incredibly positive. I think that’s fitting, considering overall we had a great time and my husband even lost weight instead of gaining it they way most people do! In Costa Maya, Mexico we visited Bacalar and the Seven Color Lagoon, which was our very favorite shore excursion. Our guide was Jesus and he was absolutely great; our driver Victor was also very good. We visited a Spanish fort and saw pirate bones, then had lunch at a cute thatch-roofed hut on stilts over the water. The water is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, just Google pictures of it and you’ll see what I mean. After lunch we were able to swim in that clear blue-green water with no fear of sharks because it’s freshwater. We highly recommend doing this excursion!
In Guatemala we didn’t do a shore excursion, deciding to check out the town on our own. Don’t do this. Book an excursion or chill by the pool while it’s not crowded, which is what we did after getting freaked out on the streets of San Tomas. Definitely shop for gifts in the small market right beside the pier and barter like crazy, you can normally get things for about half of the initial asking price. Don’t try to go to “that pretty grassy area” you can see off the boat, it happens to be a naval base guarded by men with machine guns.
Belize City is great, although I’ve read that you shouldn’t go off on your own here either. There’s about a 45 minute speedboat tender ride to the pier and the shops are very nice, clean, air conditioned, etc. Also, English is spoken everywhere, which makes things easier. My husband and I did a shore excursion into the jungle to ride a “jungle buggy” and visit a Mayan cave. The actual shore excursion, although pretty neat in its own right, was our least favorite of the trip. The jungle was pretty but hard to get to; the bus ride was long and bumpy. The jungle was hot and had bugs the size of Cadillacs flying around, and the cave was fairly unimpressive. It was big enough and we got to see some bats and a weird spider up-close, but there was the most annoying of all children in our group and I was constantly being pushed past so one parent or the other could chase her into the darkness. Lunch provided there was so-so but everyone was very nice and Gilbert, our guide, was the best! He’s funny and engaging and very genuine all at the same time…if the tour sounds appealing to you definitely request his group! He is a reggae musician in Belize—call him Mr. Program and ask him to sing for you; the political song was my favorite. Wish I’d bought it in a Belize shop; I’ve been searching the internet for it since.
Cozumel was another amazing experience in life; we saw the Mayan ruins at Tulum. After the ship docked we had to wait on a ferry for over an hour in the hot sun (and then short rain shower) while we waited on another cruise ship that was running late. I recommend taking a book on all shore excursions, and Dramamine. Those buses get really bumpy…I got sick and I’ve never been carsick before. The boat ride to the mainland took about 45 minutes and was nice. Our guide Lily was also very nice but not as personally engaging as Gilbert or Jesus. We learned a lot from her though, and we were able to stop at an indoor Mayan market for souvenirs before we got to the ruins. The ruins are absolutely fabulous, the most gorgeous views of temple and then the bluest ocean you’ve ever seen in your life. There are iguanas everywhere and pretty trees and flowers but the sun was so intense I thought I was going to die. Definitely take a hat for this trip, I never wear them but wish I had worn one. Also, take sunglasses, water, sunscreen, and bug repellant…and take a bathing suit! We had asked the shore excursion desk if we would be able to swim on the excursion and they said no, but we took our suits just in case and we did have about an hour free time after the tour, which we used for the ocean. It was perfect, swimming in the clear water and looking up at Mayan ruins…probably the best thing we’ve ever done. We definitely recommend this excursion as well! However, be aware that when we visited the men’s bathroom had no roof, and construction workers were hanging around where the roof should have been…my husband ended up changing in the bushes and the mosquitoes were huge! I don’t recommend doing that.
New Orleans was very nice, although there is still quite a bit of storm damage in some areas. We accidentally wandered into a slightly rough neighborhood while looking for Lafayette Cemetery #1 and the destruction was devastating. I couldn’t help crying after seeing row after row of abandoned houses, a moldy doll in the middle of a deserted street, a frilly white baby bed in a gutter. It was sad but all the residents were very pleasant, and eventually we found the cemetery, which was really interesting and pretty. Wear bug spray. We also visited New Orleans #1, other cemetery, and that was great too. Both times we went on our own although people are advised to take a tour and not go alone. We didn’t have any issues at all except for one crazy man on Bourbon Street, and even he wasn’t that bad. We went to Bourbon Street on a Sunday and it was disgusting, trash everywhere and standing smelly water from the parties the night before. Jackson Square was beautiful though, as was the Garden District houses. The Trolley Stop Café on St. Charles and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in the French Quarter were both superb, Bacco was good but not great.
Our hotel, the Avenue Garden on St.
Charles, left quite a bit to be desired. So, all in all, the trip was great but
the actual cruise ship could have been better and I do recommend shopping around
there. If you’ve already booked on Norwegian I recommend looking for a place to
dine when you’re just a little hungry, not starving, because it may take a while
to find something good. Be prepared to dress up for dinner if you want a fairly
nice experience, but even then don’t count on it. I don’t know if bringing
snacks on the ship is allowed, I know bringing alcohol on isn’t, but if it is I
recommend bringing them, and sodas if you drink a lot. I don’t even want to know
what we spent on that kind of stuff during our trip! Be prepared to be flexible,
I ended up ordering room service on two different nights and that was ok.
Definitely book shore excursions ahead of time. It was really easy and when we
arrived our tickets were waiting for us on the bed. Expect to spend a ton of
money on alcohol, even if you only drink moderately. We will certainly cruise
again, the experience is amazing, but next time I will research the cruise lines
more thoroughly. I hope this has been of some help!