October 16, 2005
Embarkation - Port of Houston I have sailed from here once before and at that time things went much more smoothly. On the day of our sailing, it was particularly disorganized but this was the Sun's first sailing ever from there; it arrived in port two hours late, so that, coupled with a changeover of 300 or so crew, may have contributed to the poor communications evident during boarding. But once we got inside the building, we were onboard in 80 minutes. From the time the lines opened, it took about 25 minutes. Boarding began at 12:20 p.m. Parking is $7 a day in the lot adjacent to the pier.
The walkway to the ship is very long and steep in places, so if you have difficulty walking inclines I suggest you get a wheelchair.
The greeting onboard was chaotic, probably due to new staff.
The Ship The Sun is one of the ships built for freestyle cruising, and so is superior to the Dream or Majesty, which we sailed in the past. There are no real bottlenecks. The interior is done in NCL's typical understated style and is filled with bronze colored woods, brass and bronzy colored granite. In places the interior seemed somewhat stark and a bit claustrophobic but overall it is a sleek and elegant ship -- no glitz or neon here. The atrium area is a bit on the small side and the panoramic elevators are oddly shaped (kind of keyhole shaped, narrow at the entrance, ballooning out toward the rear), which made for difficulty in loading and offloading. The central staircases are of the typical spiral type, making attractive places for photos. Several bars, the Internet cafe and customer service areas all rim the atrium. Hallways are nearly devoid of artwork; the artworks in the stairways were large florals, with a different flower for each floor (if it's poppies, I must be near the casino!). Hallways were carpeted in brick-dust red with buttery yellow walls. Common areas had blue carpet. All carpet and wall surfaces were in excellent repair.
There are two main dining rooms, appointed primarily with two- and four-person tables. They are easily rearranged for larger groups. The Seven Seas dining room is on the stern, so it has windows on three sides allowing for many window tables. There were no booths, just tables (although some tables had unusual center legs, making it difficult to cross your legs).
The buffet was well laid out and only the beverage area was weird. The ice dispenser was in the center rather than at the beginning near the glassware. An omelet station was off to the side, as was a separate Belgian waffle station. It is necessary to wear a shirt and shoes in the buffet. An outside buffet area serves nearly identical fare, plus hot dogs and hamburgers. Its seating area was on the stern -- a very pleasant spot where you could dine in your bathing suit. You do need to pass through the indoor buffet to get there, but you didn't need to be fully dressed if you were just passing through. There is a complimentary ice cream bar off the pool area, which was open most of the time. At lunch and dinner, the waffle station became the dessert station and the omelet island was stir fry or Indian cuisine. Several specialty restaurants were available such as a tapas bar, sushi bar, Italian restaurant and steak house. All but the tapas bar required an additional fee. On formal night the fee for the steak house was reduced from $10 to $5.
Spa The spa, off the pool area, had a large assortment of exercise equipment. Yoga and Pilates classes were available for a fee; aerobics sessions were complimentary. The spa is operated by the Mandara company, and thus operates much like those on other lines. The steam room and saunas were small but free. The showers in the spa were much more spacious than the cabin showers and had liquid soap and shampoo available. The showers had cute little transparent doors which might give bashful folks a problem; but more problematic for me was their tendency to slide open as the ship rolled.
The theater seats were high-backed, which created a bit of a problem for short people like me who had to crane a bit to see above the back. Seating down front was much more comfortable. There were two levels to the theater, and several poles created partial obstructions.
There were several lounges, and the Observation Lounge on Deck 12 at the bow and provides a beautiful, sweeping view. It is a nice place to hide away during the day and read, as it did not seem to be used much. It is nicely appointed with rattan furniture and a medium size dance floor. Dazzles is more centrally located and has a larger dance floor and many activities -- e.g. game shows, art auctions and bingo -- were held there. A champagne bar adjoins the atrium as does a coffee bar. The Sports Bar on Deck 12 had many TV screens and served 22 types of beer.
The pool area has two pools divided by a raised area of four Jacuzzis. The pool water is salt water. Walking decks are the promenade, with 3-1/2 laps per mile and festive murals all the way around; and the sports deck,, which has a padded walking surface but requires something like 12 laps to the mile. The promenade deck is the boat deck so it is covered walking while the sports deck is sunny.
The casino is well laid out and has the usual variety of slots, video poker and table games. There are 10 penny machines, 18 nickels, a goodly number of quarter and the balance are 50 cents through $5. There are four $1 video poker machines, four quarter poker machines and eight progressive quarter machines. They are connected to other machines in the fleet. Table games are craps, blackjack, roulette, Let it Ride, Caribbean Stud, Baccarat and Texas Hold-em. Casino service was prompt and courteous. There are wireless video casino machines available for rent; I don't understand them but they were available outside the casino and in the sports bar.
Cabin Ours was an inside cabin on Deck 10. It was the most spacious interior cabin we ever had. Storage was more than ample, with one large closet and a short closet in another cabinet with three drawers. The desk area had three large drawers below and one above, and also held the safe. On the opposite side was a ceiling-to-floor set of six shelves about 10 inches wide. A refrigerator, TV, DVD player and four-cup coffeepot were standard. Folgers coffee was provided. There is one electrical outlet. The bathroom has a circular shower with a curtain held snugly in place by vertical rods in the curtain. Six storage shelves were provided. There is a real toilet paper holder (so the tissue does not fly off the holder with use), a wall mounted hair dryer, and an outlet for electric razors. The shower has normal single handle controls and an adjustable-height shower head. The bedding is the typical NCL duvet and quality cotton.
Entertainment The shows were excellent and usually 45-50 minutes in length. The comedian was of the Bill Cosby squeaky-clean-but-funny variety -- very refreshing. Lounge entertainment was all excellent. There was a great show band, a terrific combo who had both been with MoTown groups in earlier lives, a very talented pianist in the piano bar, and the usual poolside Caribbean combo, who were better than usual. To my taste, all the entertainment was better than the norm.
The usual game shows, bingo and poolside activities were offered. The ship also has a mesh enclosed basketball court, ping-pong area, and golf driving range.
In the library the usual board games were available for checkout, and bridge gatherings were held. DVDs were available for rent.
Many groups held meetings on board -- Friends of Bill, Friends of Dorothy, veterans, red hat ladies, medical professionals and some others I know I've forgotten.
Food The quality was a bit better than most other ships, but that is such a matter of personal taste that it is hard to judge. I did find the menus ridiculous in their descriptions, though. There were times I honestly could not wade through the fru-fru descriptions and it became quite the joke with many passengers about whether some of the items were soups, desserts or the names of facial cleansers. On lobster night they actually had decent-sized lobsters.
Wine service was handled by the waiters and went smoothly. There was no wine program available unless you are a Latitudes member; then you could buy five and get one free.
Thankfully, there was no nightly entertainment by dancing waiters, and the dress code was enforced for the most part.
Buffet food was the usual fare, of good quality and available round the clock with the exception of change-over pauses in service. Food was also available at times in the casino.
Cleanliness The ship was the cleanest I've ever been on. Hand sanitizing was strictly enforced at embarkations and at all buffet lines and restaurant entrances. A sign at the captain's party noted that hand-shaking was discouraged.
Staff Even though many were brand new to the ship, they all seemed genuinely interested in helping. They all seemed particularly adept at remembering names throughout the week -- a nice touch. I cannot think of a single staff member who was rude or even indifferent.
Disembarking NCL has an express system whereby if you carry all your luggage off yourself, you can be in the first group off the ship. Quite a few people seemed to opt for this. We were off the ship by 7:20 a.m. and breezed through Customs. We exited the parking lot at 7:30. Wow! You are allowed to wait in your cabin until your group is called.
Tips are added to your account automatically unless you request otherwise.
Security was very good. They were not shy about intervening to subdue unruly passengers. One man raised quite a fuss in the casino, throwing chips about and being your basic obnoxious drunk. He went on to dinner, where security came and politely removed him from his table, took him to the office and restricted his onboard account to non-alcoholic beverages only. He was also warned that should he be a problem again he would be put off the ship or placed in the brig. Another idiot decided to beat up on the elevator controls while yelling at his new bride. Security tracked him down and placed him in the brig until he sobered up and they determined he was not a threat to his wife. I heard he was also fined for the damage he did to the elevator.
This and That
Photographers: Almost invisible! The photography staff was available for formal photos and as always at the pier, but they were not in your face every time you turned around.
Announcements were kept to a minimum.
Drinks were of good quality and the prices seemed reasonable.
Passengers were a middle aged-and-older, subdued crowd, but not ready for the morgue. It was not a party crowd but there were lots of dancers and well behaved people. Passengers were mostly U.S. citizens. There were not many children, but school was in session.
As for Internet access, the ship has about 10 stations available but I always use the more affordable shore-side outlets. Per-minute use was 75 cents and packages were available including wireless.
The passenger talent show one night was the usual embarrassing display.
The jewelry shop onboard is a Columbian Emeralds shop.
Latitudes comps seem chintzier than in the past.
Overall: I'd do it again in a minute - and I plan to next fall, when she returns to New Orleans.