We've just returned from the Sun's Western Caribbean tour. This trip was a wonderful experience. As with any cruise or other vacation, there were some minor annoyances, but we had an overall great time. My three previous cruises were on a smaller ship from a now defunct line, RCI's Grandeur, and Celebrity's Zenith.
The ship is lovely, not eye-popping, but a pretty lady. Our oceanview stateroom with picture window was adequate, the deck seven location - very convenient. We used the stairs more than the many elevators to justify all that extra eating. The kid in me still had to ride the atrium's glass elevators once in a while.
The staff is attentive, efficient, and personable. Strangely enough the least friendly and helpful people I encountered were manning the reception counter! When being served by countless staff members, finding two or three who are less than enthusiastic about their jobs is nothing to get too upset about.
Embarkation day is always the worst for me. My recommendation is to spend the night before in your port if you have the time and budget to do this. For those of us who flew in that day (arising at 4:00 a.m.) those lines we faced were not pleasant. Travel-weary passengers are stressed, hungry, tired, and cranky and just want to get on the ship. Non-U.S. citizens were on the ship in no time at all, Latitudes members next, while the remainder of us U.S. citizens suffered through horrendous lines. NCL needs to improve this system.
After finally getting checked in we made our way to the welcome aboard luncheon buffet. My thinking ability was numb from exhaustion and when the luscious tropical drinks were shoved in our hands with a bright, cheery "Welcome aboard!" I thought they were complimentary. Wrong! Turns out we needed these drinks as we had another interminable line to wait in for lunch. We had plenty of time to meet and commiserate with some wonderful fellow passengers. by the end of the week, after meeting many new people of all ages, we felt we had sailed with an exceptionally great group of people.
After showering and booking the excursions we didn't want to miss, it was soon time to eat our first dinner aboard. Much has been made of freestyle versus traditional cruise style dining. It's really a matter of personal preference. I enjoy both and see advantages and disadvantages to both. I missed having the same two servers who become familiar with your tastes. Traditional serving also usually has a more seamless flow between courses. Freestyle had a wait time between courses similar to what you'd find in a busy restaurant. Not such a bad thing, but with so much to do on the ship you don't want to spend too much time dining. As the week progressed I noticed this timing improve considerably. A big advantage to freestyle is not being locked in to the same time (and don't be late!) each night. It's nice not having to clock watch toward evening to be sure to be ready in time. I also liked not having the same tablemates for the whole cruise and could get a table for two if desired. Sometimes there was a wait for a table and sometimes not. We chose to eat two dinners in each of the two main dining rooms and the other three nights ate at the Garden Cafe buffet. We didn't try the alternative restaurants as we couldn't see paying an extra charge when there was perfectly acceptable food elsewhere. In fact we enjoyed all our meals on this ship. Be sure not to miss the stations if you eat at the buffet. The fresh fruit carving station is a nice touch at breakfast as is the pasta station at lunch. I recommend trying Las Ramblas, nestled in the corner of deck 12 aft for some appetizers before dinner.
On Sunday night, the Welcome Party/Captain's Gala Dinner night, I estimate 95% of the passengers dressed in formal wear. It was great fun milling around the Atrium Lobby on decks 5, 6, and 7 people-watching everyone in their beautiful clothes. This night had the longest wait for a table in the main dining rooms because so many enjoyed the champagne party and ate late. We skipped dessert that night to make room for the midnight Chocoholic Buffet. Dessert lovers like me are in heaven here. My feet had had enough of high heels, so I changed back into comfortable clothes before this indulgence. O.K., so I needed more waist room too.
We chose this particular cruise because it had the combination of a new ship and an itinerary that appealed to us. We only signed up for two shore excursions, but they both exceeded our expectations. On Monday in Grand Cayman, our first port of call, we did Stingray City where these graceful creatures swam around us and brushed against our legs like cats wanting attention. Quite a sensation. We were actually able to briefly hold a few for pictures occasionally with more than a little help from our guides. The water was clear and warm and the young tour boat operators who brought us out to the sandbar were a lot of fun and very knowledgeable. Our next adventure was the dolphin encounter in Roatan, Honduras, on Tuesday. We were assigned in groups of six to work with a trainer and his/her dolphin to interact with these magnificent animals. This was an experience we'll be remembering and talking about for a long time. Even the taxi ride to the resort was an education.
The excursion booklet NCL sent with our tickets didn't describe anything of interest to us in Belize. After hearing the ship's warning about not exploring the "city" on your own except in a group, I decided to just shop for some souvenirs in the stores around the boat tenders area Wednesday morning. I was impressed by the clean, modern restrooms there. In the afternoon it was relaxing to enjoy the Sun's pools with so many passengers in port. These can be the only times to find an available chair.
Our final stop, Cozumel, has grown since I was there many years ago. Be prepared for aggressive shopkeepers who expect you to bargain with them. But there are also fine, upscale stores in this bustling shopping district. Of course, we purchased silver and t-shirts. After lunch we took a taxi to Chankanab Park. While this is a very nice park, don't expect to find a sandy beach here. Many were snorkeling and diving, but for waders and non-swimmers like me, the entries to the water were steps built between treacherous rocks with dangerous looking surf sloshing in. Not very inviting for a cool dip. If I go to Coz again, I'll book a shore excursion.
Throughout the week we tried to make good use of all the ship has to offer. We thoroughly enjoyed a galley tour and a bridge tour, something not offered on any of my previous cruises. A song and dance company on this cruise offers different musical production shows and we caught three of them. These were fabulous. We also saw the final show featuring a comedian and then a singer, both also excellent, and wished we had seen the other shows they had been in. For me entertainment is important on a cruise and Norwegian didn't disappoint.
I will not hesitate to recommend this cruise, this ship, and this line to my friends. I can only hope they have as much fun as we did!