I enjoy art, architecture, museums, big cities, old palaces, new cultures, and meeting new people. My wife likes the laid-back aspects of cruising--long, carefree days at sea with absolutely nothing to do but the little she really wants to do--she's a bingo addict. She also enjoys culinary demonstrations. We both like fine dining, dressing for dinner, posing for photos, live entertainment and saving money. Transatlantic to the Baltic and all the capitals of northern Europe was a perfect vacation in fulfilling all these needs--believe it or not, even the part about saving money.
First we spent three days driving from southeastern Ohio to Cocoa, Florida, where we found a Days Inn just off I-95 offering free parking for up to 30 days (their biggest selling point). It wasn't the fanciest place in the area but one of the cheapest. It was adequate. We stayed two nights before the cruise and one upon returning by plane to Orlando. We built an extra day into the schedule to take in the Kennedy Space Center about 15 miles northeast of Cocoa (not to be confused with Cocoa Beach on the coast).
The Days Inn provided a free shuttle to Port Canaveral getting us there around eleven. Check-in was painless and the wait to board was maybe a half-hour or so. We were on the ship by noon. In checking out our cabin location, we found, to our surprise, that it was already ready, so we moved in carry-on bag and baggage.
A little about our cabin--we booked a handicapped accessible ocean-view on deck five just off the forward elevators and barely a few steps from the Atrium. My wife, while not wheelchair bound, has had both knees replaced and several back surgeries. She has difficulties climbing steps and is somewhat walking adverse. It was a perfect location and the perfect room for a 22-day cruise. The bathroom, shower, and storage were quite spacious. The room was also about a third larger than most cabins in our class (OE). Way to go NCL!
We followed the parade to the Garden Cafe on Deck 11. The Norwegian Sun is laid out in such a way as to require forward cabin guests to trek through either the casino/shopping area on Deck 7 or through two bars and a photo gallery on Deck 6 to get to the aft elevators and the Garden Cafe. Or, you can stroll past the pools and spas in hair-mussing wind on Deck 11. Given the storms and gales of our crossing, we most always chose Deck 6. It's a minor, probably unavoidable inconvenience.
The Garden Cafe was like all such Lido eating venues, always too busy. You went in and grabbed a table first, then worried about what to eat later. Despite this, by the end of the cruise, we were starting to prefer it to the dining rooms. Quite often we grabbed a quick lunch there. The food? Good, nothing to write home about, though. The pizza was mediocre but the ice cream bar (often featuring crepes) more than made up for that.
Down below, on Deck five, separated by the galley (I hate it when ships do that) was the Seven Seas Restaurant (stern) and the Four Seasons (amid ship). The latter was supposedly less formal but I, for one, couldn't see much difference in dress or the menu. The Seven Seas had more windows overlooking the ship's wake (and the late afternoon sun) so we more often ate there. It's one of the best kept secrets of cruising that these main dining rooms are also excellent for a leisurely (sea day) breakfast. Be aware, the menus DO repeat on back-to-back cruises. The food was well-prepared, well-served, and mostly quite good. Deserts were somewhat lackluster. Portions were modest, never the gut-busters of coastal Florida. If you overate on this cruise, it was your own fault.
The Norwegian Sun is a medium-size ship. Coming off our last cruise on board Royal Caribbean's giant Oasis of the Seas, it seemed small, though never cramped. It was barely half full on the crossing leg. There were almost more staff than guests. There were a grand total of six kids aboard. For the Baltic leg, this number closed in on a hundred and the total passenger count doubled. It seemed like a whole different ship. There were easily a half-dozen different languages spoken.
I love trivia games. The Sun had movie trivia, TV theme song trivia, music trivia, even trivia trivia. I accumulated enough participation points to garner a t-shirt, a deck of cards, and a nice ballpoint pen all heavily laden with NCL logos. Hey, our trivia group even won a good number of contests. My wife played (and lost) at bingo, again and again coming within one number of winning some substantial prizes. There was a caricature artist (free) on board and his wife, who did oriental name posters. In the evening there was karaoke, twist contests, "Who Wants to be a Hundredaire," "Deal or No Deal" and other such TV knock-off games. Every afternoon featured a recent movie in the Stardust Lounge. (Don't you just love digital projectors?) Between times, I enjoyed my favorite cruise activity--napping.
By and large, the entertainment aboard the Sun was excellent. The classical pianist, Claire Maiden, who played a tremendous variety of music, was easily the entertainment highlight of the cruise. Greg London, a musical impersonator was also excellent as was the hilarious singer/comedienne Judy Kolba, The magic act, Kripton & Renate Illusions, was okay if you like magicians. There was also a juggler, a tenor singer, and two or three other imported talents who were less memorable. The Sun show band was great though the NCL-produced production shows were uneven, to say the least. Their choice of songs gave the impression they were quite watchful in keeping the cost of music royalties to a minimum. The performers were exceptional, especially given the handicap of working on the quite rough high seas. We had 12-15 foot waves most of the way across the Atlantic. Jamie (no last name) the cruise director exuded charm and charisma, intelligence and good humor from every pore just as all good cruise directors should.
Service in all departments aboard the Sun was impeccable. Not once was I disappointed in their knowing and doing their jobs. By the end of the transatlantic leg, they often knew us by name. I think NCL must have a computer profile on all their guest, past and present, which helps out in this regard.
Finally, a port not listed below:
The Azores--it rains somewhere on Sao Miguel every day. The hot springs were interesting but other than the first off-the-ship exercise in six days, this port is picturesque but falls well short of being exciting. Our YouTube video can be see at: http://youtu.be/AGL_RUnKOso
Disembarkation was a breeze. We bought transfer tickets to the Copenhagen airport on board for (I think) $30 each. We flew back to Dulles on SAS in just under nine hours. I hate flying but this was at least tolerable. Why are foreign airlines seemingly so much more pleasant that American carriers? Our trip from Dulles back to Orlando was delayed by customs. A two-hour layover was too short. We got to the plane just as they were buttoning it up. After some negotiations, United Airlines gave us a coupon for a considerable discount at the nearby Hilton. We were delayed 24 hours.
Transatlantic cruises have two things going for them, economy and peace and quiet. Also there's a likelihood of at least SOME rough weather along the way. The Baltic is a great trip for those jaded by the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. A surprising number of cruisers today fit that description.