Owen & Connie Gaede
Age: 59 - 56
Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sun
Sailing Date: December 18th, 2004
Itinerary: Exotic Western Caribbean
Let me begin by saying that reading some of these reviews was very helpful to us in selecting this cruise, which was our first. As first time cruisers, we were a little wary. My wife and I have traveled a lot in Europe, Africa, Central America, and South America, but we’ve always been very independent travelers, usually renting cars so that we could go when and where we wanted. I was concerned I might feel “trapped” on a ship, and since I really don’t like crowds at all (especially crowds populated by many unruly children), I thought we might end of hating a cruise…but we didn’t.
We selected the Norwegian Sun for several reasons: (1) it seemed to have larger staterooms that the competition, (2) we wanted a balcony and on the Sun there were plenty to choose from, and (3) the sailing dates and port of embarkation (Miami) was convenient.
Now if you don’t want to read a lot, I can summarize everything here by saying the Norwegian Sun surpassed our expectations in every category. It is a well run ship, clean, comfortable, and generally well planned (with a few exceptions noted below).
For those who want more detail, let me start at the beginning.
Our departure from Miami went very smoothly. Our daughter and son-in-law dropped us off at the dock where our suitcases were taken by a porter. We arrived at the dock a few minutes after noon. We had three fairly large suitcases, and tipped the porter $5, and he seemed to be pleased with that. We then went into a check-in line, and it only took a minute or two before they took our tickets, passenger information forms, and took our photograph for their on-board database. Because we had a mini-suite (stateroom 1005), we were given the VIP treatment and were personally ushered into a special area where we met the concierge, were given our stateroom keys, and were guided to the front of the line to pass through security. Security is similar to what you would find at an airport.
In less than 20 minutes we were on the ship, having passed by the picture taking operation. (We just said “no, thanks.” No high pressure to be photographed.)
Our stateroom was one of the better class cabins on the ship, classified as a mini-suite, up on the 11th deck near the front of the ship. I did not see any of the lower staterooms, so I don’t know what ours had that others didn’t, but as I recall our mini-suite was only 10-15% more money than the lower categories, and it was very much worth the price difference.
Anyway, the stateroom was larger than I had imagined, although I had the measurements ahead of time. What pleased us most was the well-designed storage and European-style lighting. The “dressing room” off the bathroom was also well designed, with plenty of closet space, a small dressing table and drawers as well. The balcony was quite adequate, and we spent a lot of time during the cruise sitting on our own balcony, especially when we wanted to get away from the crowds. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the cruise half as much without a private balcony.
I was pleased to find that all of our empty luggage could fit easily under the bed. I was a bit worried about storage space for luggage, but they have thought about that. The beds were comfortable and there were wonderful reading lights. The TV/desk area was very nice, and we had a mini-refrigerator, but the only thing it was used for was to store cream for the morning coffee. We probably would not have missed it if it weren’t there. I think we only had the TV on for an hour or two over the course of the entire week, but it worked fine and they did have some interesting programs on about ports of call and other ship information. CNN was available, but we made a point of not watching it.
One thing I should mention about the TV is that is has a set of video and audio input jacks on the front, which we really appreciated as we were able to plug our digital camera and video camera into those jacks to look at the photos/video we had taken. So be sure to bring the cable that connects your cameras to video/audio input jacks!
My wife commented on how nicely the cabin was decorated. All in all, it was very comfortable, and we probably spent 30% of the cruise (not counting sleeping time) in our cabin or on our balcony because it was so comfortable. We received fresh fruit and ice in our ice bucket in our cabin each day.
Now a two negative things about the stateroom:
(1) We never could get the thermostat set just right. There are no numbers on the thermostat…just arrows to indicate hotter or cooler. We’d get cold and set the thermostat higher and then soon we would be hot and move it to the blue area. Then we’d be cold and set it back to the red area… It seemed like there was a considerable lag between setting the thermostat and getting a temperature change, so it was very hard to get it “just right.” How nice it would be to have a digital thermostat that just held a specific temperature.
(2) We were a little surprised that the more expensive staterooms were placed right under the Observation Lounge. It was very quiet during the day, but between 9:30 pm and about midnight each night, we could hear the music from the lounge above. We happen to be people who go to bed early and get up before dawn, so the music when we were trying to sleep was annoying. However, I usually carry foam earplugs when I travel, and they came to the rescue several times. Since the noise stopped usually about midnight, I really can’t complain too much, but I felt sorry for the people who had paid for the “owner’s suites” which are directly below where the band upstairs set up.
We only expected “mediocre” food on the Sun because of some of the reviews we had read. All I can say is, I don’t know where people who complained about the food normally eat, but we found every meal to be just outstanding. In fact, we had planned to eat in a few of the “premium” restaurants, but we were so pleased with the Seven Seas that we never did.
When we got on the ship Saturday, we had a quick lunch in the Garden Café buffet. That night we ate in the Pacific Heights restaurant (reservation required, but no extra charge). From that point on, we ate in the Seven Seas every meal, with about two exceptions. We were very satisfied with the variety, quality, and service. We never had to wait for a table—not once--and we always ate at a table for two (our choice). The food was generally served promptly, and it normally took us less than an hour to eat, including the starter, soup, main course, dessert, and coffee.
Apparently from the ship’s statistics 90% of the meals on-board are served at the Garden Café buffet. Each to their own… We found the quality of food in the Seven Seas to be excellent. It was also more pleasant for us to sit down and have good table service and not have to go through a buffet line. The Garden Café makes sense if you are in a hurry, or if you prefer buffet dining. We ate there one morning when we had an early shore excursion in Belize, and the breakfast was fine with a lot of variety, but not nearly as elegant as in the main dining room. Why be in a hurry on a cruise? Enjoy lingering over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For us, it was one of the highlights of the cruise.
Another thing is that we really didn’t want to gain a lot of weight, and there is a temptation going through a buffet line to pile your plate higher with food than you should—and then you feel some obligation to eat it. (Yes, Grandma—I’ll clean my plate.) The portions in the Seven Seas were just about right. We always could order more, if we wanted, but generally were satisfied with what they served. In fact, I noted that I had no compulsion to snack late at night. I knew there was food out there waiting for me, but I never went out to get any. (PS We still gained weight)
Some have said the standard $10 a day per person they charge you automatically for tips discourages good service, but we only encountered good service everywhere we went on the ship. There was never a surly person. We really enjoyed chatting to some of the crew. There are young people on the crew (particularly in the service areas) from over 50 nations. We met quite a few from Romania and the Philippines. All very nice young people, and well trained.
A word about “Freestyle:” It was perfect for us, as we could eat whenever we felt like eating. I can’t imagine any other way.
Tip: We bought the “all you can drink” soft drink cards for about $28.00 a person. I don’t think I’d do that if I had to do it again. At $1.50 a can, for the same price we could have purchased about 5.5 cans of coke a day and kept them in our mini-refrigerator. That probably would have been enough and would be much more convenient. It was a hassle to have to go to the closest bar to “fill up.” If you do get the beverage card, when you go to fill up, tell them “no ice” or you’ll get a container that is half ice with about 6 ounces of coke. You always have ice in your stateroom to add.
Well, I said earlier that we tend to go to bed early and get up early, so we did not go to many of the evening shows. We did go to a couple near the end and were sorry that we did not discover Colin, the cruise director, earlier. He is from Scotland and is a natural comic. After we first saw him, I made a point to go to anything he was doing. He gave a little talk on disembarkation on the last day of the cruise. You wouldn’t think such a talk would be entertaining, but we laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks. He is great. What a find they have in him. Best advice I can give: go to a presentation Colin is giving on your first day on the ship. You won’t regret it.
We enjoyed the shows that we did attend and there was a wide variety. The Christmas Show was fantastic. The Youth directors had organized the ship’s children to sing a few songs which was wonderful for the parents.. However, for us the major entertainment was the sound of the ocean outside our stateroom and the stars above…and of course, we did enjoy Colin.
Oh…the captain can be entertaining, too—and I’m sure he knows Colin makes many jokes about him. (oops…maybe I shouldn’t have said that.)
Ports of Call
We decided to stay on the ship. We anchored out in the bay and the seas were quite rough. We didn’t feel like riding a tender boat into shore to walk around in an area that didn’t look very interesting from the ship. So we enjoyed the day on the ship with fewer people around. There is plenty to do with so many facilities and services available to use.
We took this cruise mostly to relax, so we only went on two shore excursions. In Roatan we booked the “Dolphin Encounter.” It was just about the most expensive shore excursion at $120 pp, but it was worth it. We had a good 30 minutes in the water with the dolphins, which was longer than advertised. Yes, you do get to touch, hold, caress, and kiss (yuk!) the dolphins. You are not allowed to use your own camera for the first 20 or so minutes, because they have (of course) their own photographers taking photos of you during that time. The trainers are giving you information about the dolphins and having your camera would be a distraction. However you can use your own camera during the last 10 minutes or so, and can take good photos during that time. I was afraid to bring my mini video camera, as I wasn’t sure that there would be a place to put it when I was in the water, but there was. So, if you do this, I would recommend you take your cameras along. At the end, they offer you copies of the photos they’ve taken at $10 each or $40 for a CD-ROM with all of them. We splurged on the CD-ROM and got 16 photos of about 5 megapixel quality.
The only negative I’d mention about this shore excursion was that the guide who took us from the ship to the resort where they have the dolphins (on the other side of the island) was not really very good. He did not keep the group well informed as to what the schedule was, what was happening, etc. I didn’t think much about it until the next day when we had a truly outstanding guide. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the guide on the dolphin encounter. I should add it really doesn’t matter that much that he wasn’t very good as the important part is handled by the resort staff and dolphin trainers. The “guide” just leads you to the bus, from the bus to the resort, etc.
At Belize, we booked the “Lamanai & the New River Safari.” This was an all-day excursion that included lunch. The guide we had (“Mario”) was excellent. He went the extra mile to keep everyone informed about all the details along the way. You take a bus about 50 miles inland to the New River, get on a motor launch and go up the river. Mario captained the boat and did an excellent job of spotting and pointing out wildlife along the way. We had lunch when we got to the boat landing by the ruins, and it was very tasty food prepared by local people. We really enjoyed lunch. After lunch we walked to the ruins, which are very interesting in many ways. I won’t tell you about them here. If you go, hopefully you’ll have Mario, and he’ll explain all.
The ship docked at Cozumel most of the day and we got off for a while and walked through the shopping area (tourist trap) around the dock, but didn’t buy much. My wife bought a $2 onyx dolphin and I bought a $5 bottle of rum. The rest of the day we spent on the ship and enjoyed relative quiet. We actually were able to swim in the pool—my wife was the only one in the pool for a while, and I think there was only about a dozen people on the whole pool deck.
Getting off the ship took longer than getting on the ship, but it was pretty well organized and I can’t complain. Any delay was caused by customs officers, which obviously is not with the control of NCL. Luggage was picked up promptly in the evening the night before returning, it was there where they said it would be, we got off the ship within 10 minutes of when we were scheduled to do so, the transportation to the Miami airport went smoothly. We had booked 3:15 pm flights, but were at the airport by 11:15, so we had a long wait. In the future I’d book a flight around 1:00 pm
In summary, we enjoyed it very much and thought we really got our money’s worth. We were pleased with the quality of food, the quality of the stateroom, and the level of service. My overall impression is that the ship is well organized and run. Even thought there were 2200 passengers on the cruise (about 700 of which were children) and 900 crew, only once or twice did I feel “crowded.” We did avoid the pool area, which was generally packed from 10 am until dinner time, except on port days. Only on occasion did we see kids running about unsupervised. Our stateroom was always quiet during the day and generally at night (with the exception of the music from the Observation Lounge noted earlier).
I have a feeling we may have been spoiled having our first cruise on this ship. I suppose if we paid twice as much, we might find even better quality, but I was very satisfied with the whole experience and am now starting to shop around for my next cruise.