We went on the cruise during the week of Thanksgiving holiday. The ship was filled with families with children and teenagers. In fact, all cruises had the same passengers profile during the same week. If you don't like children, don't go on a cruise during the week of Thanksgiving.
NCL customer service was great. We arrived at the Miami international airport the day of the cruise. There were representatives waiting at the gate to greet passengers. I mean you saw them the minute you step out of the plane. They directed passengers to the luggage claims and the shuttle bus. We didn't purchase the airport transfer from NCL because we were going to take a taxi to the pier. We asked the NCL representative about the transfer price, it was $12/person each way. Not a bad deal if your group was less than 3 people. We decided to take the shuttle instead of taxi since the price was reasonable and they took your luggage directly from the airport to your stateroom. It was a short 20 minutes ride from Miami airport to the cruise port.
The check in process was a breeze. There was no line when we arrived at the cruise port at 2:30. There was a waitress walking around with refreshing ice cold water to greet passengers at the check in room. Great service continued. It only took us 20 minutes from the time we arrived at the pier to get to our room. NCL had the usual picture taken spots for every Kodak moment by NCL photographers. At the gangway, there was a NCL staff to pass out antiseptic tissue to each passenger to clean the hands. That was a great service. And it didn't stop there, they hand out antiseptic tissue at every port when we return back to the ship. They also place the antiseptic pocket napkin at every buffet tray. In addition, there were clean wipes next to each public computer for computer users to wipe their hands before and after using the computer. NCL was germ phobia and kept things and people very clean.
Pubic Rooms The name of the ship was SUN, so the decor was red and orange throughout the ship. The atrium was toward the front of the ship rather in the middle. It was a nice atrium but not too big. There were bars everywhere and it seemed like smoking was allow in all bars because the smell of smoke was in all public areas. The main disco lounge was the Dazzle. They had most of lectures and shows in Dazzle. It was freezing cold in there. Ladies, remember to bring a sweater when you go there. The casino was good size and it always seemed to be busy with good spirit gamblers. There was a hallway parallel to the casino for none gambler to walk through. A great feature that not many ships have. There were 2 pools and 4 hot tubs on the top deck. The pools were salt water and they were drain and scrubbed every night. Another clean feature of the SUN. The pool was also a wave pool and produced big waves that splashed over onto the hot tubs and deck. Fun place to be in if you like waves with no sand. The only downside of the ship is the design of all public rooms. They were not easy to find and you had to walk up and down the stairs to get to places on the same deck. So you really need to use the map placed on all strategic point to find your way around.
Freestyle The best feature of the ship was freestyle. It really meant that you could eat at one of the several dinning rooms during their hours at anytime. There were 2 main dinning rooms, Four Season and Seven Seas. The Four Season restaurant was located on deck 5 across from the Reception Desk. It was centrally located and easy to find, also more busy than the Seven Sea. The Seven Sea restaurant was located on the same deck 5 at the back of the ship. Even though both of the restaurants were on deck 5, you had to use the stairs to go from one to the other. The Seven Sea restaurant wasn't easy to find. So it was less crowded and no wait at the first 2 nights. Slowly people found their way to the Seven Seas as the week went by. Menus were mostly the same for the 2 main restaurants. Dinning at the SUN was like going out to a restaurant. The wait wasn't long for most nights. If you didn't mind sharing a table, the wait was only a few minutes. While waiting for a table, we had appetizer at the tapas bar so the wait wasn't bad at all. The variety and quality of food were excellent. There were a lot of small tables so small groups could have their own tables. The Garden buffets restaurant open 24 hours a day. The food was very average and we only ate there when we had to. The buffet food serving stations were small and not well placed. There was always a line at breakfast. The breakfast selection was limited; pancakes and French toast were served only once on our cruise. However, they had melon carving station and fresh melons were served at all times. Desserts were similar to those served at the main dinning room. So if you want to pick out, Garden buffet was the best place to go.
Dress code for dinners were smart casual. Most of the people did dress very nicely for dinner. It was an environment that you could dress up as formal as you want or be casual and comfortable. Either way, you wouldn't feel out of place. There was a formal night at the Seven Sea restaurant so everyone dressed up. If you didn't want to dress up, you could go to the Four Season restaurant. However, most of the people prefer dressing up every night. It was an elegant scene at dinner every night. On the other hand, there was the Garden buffet and pool side buffet that open to anyone who just want to have a bite to eat and not worry about dress code. The other nice service was they put out a snack table by the casino every night. For those who missed dinner because they were so caught up with their bets, snacks were right around the corner.
Stateroom Our room was on deck 9 forward with balcony. The room was clean with plenty drawers and closet. There were 2 twin beds and a sofa bed. The sofa bed opened to a full size bed. 2-3 people would be comfortable in the room, 4 would be too crowded. It was great to have a balcony that we could walk out to get fresh air and see the port without going up to the top deck. The bathroom was small but very functional. They fitted everything in that small area. Great water pressure for the shower. The toilet was vacuum kind, like the airline ones. It was noisy to use. Do make sure you didn't clog it because one clogged toilet would affect 50 others. That was one fact that you wouldn't forget on the ship. The room attendant was great. She came and cleaned our room twice a day while we were at breakfast and dinner. Nothing better than coming back to a clean room when we left it messy. The only disappointment was we didn't have any towel animal left in our room. We heard about them but didn't see one in our room on our cruise.
The Show There were different show performed every night. These were nice productions of Broadway musicals and dances. I think they were more enjoyable by adults than children. People with children may find the lack of children's entertainment at night. But kids should be in bed by then.
Ports There were 4 ports on this cruise, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, and Cuzumel. They're many excursions for each port and they were expensive. If you want like the security of ship excursion and didn't mind spending the money, then take the ship excursion. If you were independent and want to save money, then buy the tours from the local vendor when you get onshore. Each of these 4 ports were different but they all accept U.S. dollars. No need to exchange to local currency. Just remember they didn't provide change back in the U.S. dollars so have small bills for taxi and other small purchases. It was windy throughout the curse so snorkeling wasn't good. Went to Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rio, Jamaica. Had a fun time to climb up the fall. It was suited for all ages. There were guides to take you up the falls if you needed help. Great place to spend the day in Ocho Rio. Went to Stingray City in Grand Cayman. Great opportunity to feed and touch the stingrays. Went to Chochooben (spelling?) Ruins in Costa Maya. If you went to the ruin on your own, make sure you paid a guide to show you around. There were guides at the entrance to tell and sell you their service. These were knowledgeable guides that spoke English well. You could negotiate a price and it was well worth the money. Otherwise, you were just walking around in the jungle with some pyramid ruins and didn't know the history and significance of them. Went to a beach in Cozumel. Did some shopping there. They sold typical tourist stuff, not much different than other ports. Cozumel was clean and well pointed at the water front where the ship docked.
Freestyle also applied to disembarkation. The night before, there were baskets filled with different departure time tags in the main lobby. You chose the time you want to leave the ship. Then you packed your suitcase and placed them outside your room the night before, just like other cruises. The big difference was that you didn't have to be out of your room and stayed in a lounge the day of disembarkation. You could stay in your room until it was time to leave. That was one of the many great services NCL provided.