My wife (49) and I (50) sailed on the Sun 4/13/02. Beforehand, we compiled a group of cruise critic members on the the Cruise Critic NCL board and were recognized by NCL as a "Group", which offered us a few nice perks. The best of which was the chance to meet some wonderful people on board and to make some great friends. We have cruised with NCL twice in the past, twice with RCL, once with HAL, once with Premier and once with Dolphin. We both agree of all our cruises, this was the best yet.
Embarkation: We arrived at Miami airport from Baltimore at around 10:30, left there by 11:00 for a short ride to the pier, and after a very easy embarkation process we were on board in our Superior Inside stateroom by 12:15. We went directly to lunch where the line long at the Garden Cafe, but to be expected. This was basically the only time we had to wait in line to eat.
The Room: We had booked a "L" Gty and received a 5 category upgrade. The stateroom was the largest and nicest we have had; more storage than we needed, a refrigerator which we really didn't use, a safe which I found VERY handy, normal size cruise bathroom and lots of room. This was a large stateroom! As usual the steward was very attentive.
The Ship: The ship is brand new and was wonderful. I thought the Atrium was impressive. The show lounge had decent sight lines and surprisingly never full. Lots of little bars and alcoves for meeting friends and of course many dining options. We ate mostly in the Four Seasons or Seven Seas and found the food to range from good to very good. Never bad, but never great. We've had better food on other cruises, including NCL. We ate in LeBistro once, and my wife will talk about the chocolate fondue for ever. The casino was typical, the gym was huge, four large hot tubs plus one in the kiddy area. Lots of lounge chairs on deck.
Entertainment: I think NCL has the best entertainment going and this cruise is no different. They should pay Jane Powell what ever she wants to keep her on board because she is absolutely wonderful. Do NOT miss her shows. The comedian and magician put on good shows and the dance troop (Jean Ann Ryan) were the best we've seen . Any of the lounge entertainers we stopped to listen to were excellent. Although we didn't do much of this (wore out from other activities and time spent in the casino) they all seemed to have a steady following and what we did hear was very good.
Itinerary: This is where this cruise really shines. In Grand Cayman we did Captain Marvins 3 hour trip which included Sting Ray City. If you haven't been you must! Awesome. In addition we went to two other snorkel sites which were great. In Roatan we did the Salt & Pepper trip which was very nice. It included round trip transportation to the West End, a beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas for the day, decent snorkeling off shore, and a good local lunch which included a lobster tail. In Belize we did Cave Tubing with Reggie, a local, and it was wonderful. I recommend it to all. You hike along a fairly smooth trail for about a half an hour but the hike goes at the pace of the group so I think it is passable for most. In Cozumel we tried Dzul Ha for snorkeling but found the current much to strong so we ventured to Chaakanab and although the current was strong there also, we were able to snorkel. We also had fun watching the people swim with the Dolphins. We had lunch there and although a little pricey, it was very good and it was real mexican. We also did some shopping in Cozumel. If you like the water, snorkeling, diving, beach, this is the itinerary for you.
Staff: The staff were very good. Any time we asked for something reasonable it was accommodated. The group coordinator Christina welcomed our group and the Concierge "Ray" took great care of us. From making sure we had a place to meet, to helping us with communication via notes in rooms to priority tendering services. We only needed to ask and Ray took care of the Cruise Critic Group. We met in the Tapas bar twice and each time the staff there were very attentive, put tables together for us and made us comfortable for our "gatherings"
Freestyle Cruising: I like both traditional and freestyle. I think freestyle is the rave of the future. If you prefer traditional, ask for the same waiter, same table at the same time each night and they will accommodate!! We enjoyed being able to go to dinner with newly met friends, and the option of dining when we wished. We eat early and never waited to be seated and found all of our wait staff to be attentive and competent. I personally have a distaste for dining on board at an additional fee, however after the meal in the LeBistro, I'm afraid I've been converted to the other side and will probably do it again!
In short we had a wonderful time. If you have the opportunity to join on line acquaintances for a group cruise, I can only say our experience was terrific. We dined with newly met friends and went on excursions with several of them. I've read lot's of NCL bashing on line and find it from my experience to be unfounded. I rate them even with RCL and way ahead of HAL.