SUMMARY: We have sailed on Princess once and Carnival twice. Overall, we slightly preferred NCL. We always choose anytime dinning, so NCL's freestyle concept fit us well (you can request to have the same server and table mates if you want though). The crew was quite friendly and the cruise staff was very involved and energetic. Cabin steward did an ok job, but nothing outstanding. Same goes for service in the dinning rooms. Some servers were good, but others were horrible. We ended up adjusting the gratuities on the last day (NCL only lets you adjust on the LAST day,). The food was very good. The Sun is a nice ship, but there are a few areas that could use more attention/maintenance. I enjoyed the understated decor. Other ships are so gaudy. The full promenade deck is a nice feature. We enjoyed most of the ports of call. We would definitely sail with NCL again and I would recommend the Sun.
PRE-CRUISE: We stayed at the La Quinta Inn Miami Airport East the night before. They have a free shuttle from the airport and a free shuttle to the cruise terminal! This was a big plus and saved us over $40. Hotel is older but ok. Not much to do around the hotel, so you might want to rent a car. The Port of Miami is pretty nice. We were one of the first 100 in line. Security screening and check-in were delayed due to computer problems, but we were on the ship by 12:30 or so. Cabins were ready around 1. They will hold your carryon bags for you until your cabin is ready.
FOOD: Overall very good
Buffet: The buffet had quite a range of cuisines and dishes. We ate breakfast and lunch here. Breakfast was good, but didn't vary from day to day. It is small with dated decor, but wasn't usually crowded with two stations. There is a third and sometimes fourth station outside that isn't as busy. They did a BBQ on deck some days that had chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers and some sort of stir fry Also outside is a soft serve ice cream machine that has decent ice cream and a few toppings. Inside is an ice cream shop that has hard ice cream and soft serve. At night they have crepes and a chocolate fountain. The crepes were fantastic! Other deserts were just ok. Go to one of the main dinning rooms for better deserts.
Main Dinning Rooms: We preferred the Seven Seas aft dinning room and it was also closer to our cabin, so we usually ate dinner there. Service was spotty at best. This was disappointing. The food, however, was excellent. One side of the menu changes everyday and the other side is always the same. We almost always found something on the daily menu to try. Good selection and quality. The cheesecake is awesome. We never had to wait more than 15 minutes for a table for two by the window. We only ate lunch here once. The lunch menu does not change.
Other Dinning: We loved the Sports Bar that is open 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. It was nice to go here for some wings and chicken tenders late at night. We didn't eat at any of the specialty restaurants. Why pay extra for nearly the same food you can get in the main dinning rooms for free? The Observation Lounge had BOGO happy hour daily from 4 - 6 p.m., a first for us on a cruise. Two well drinks, domestic beer, or house wine for under $7. They also have snack mix at the bars.
We had a "family balcony" cabin. I think these are the same size as normal balcony cabins, but have a fold out sofa that sleeps two more. The cabin seemed similar in size to balcony cabins on Princess and Carnival (some people say they are larger). There was plenty of room and the balcony was a decent size. Plenty of storage space too (bring some extra hangers). Restroom seems smaller and the shower is tight. Cabin steward did an OK job, but we only got three towel animals on an 11 night cruise. Also, the mattress pad was stained and we asked him to replace it, which he did. Beds are quite comfortable.
There was a major show in the Stardust theater every night. The production cast and band were very talented. Way better than what we have seen on other cruises. We were disappointed with their night club. The DJ always played the same music and didn't do a lot of top 40 or club music. After talking with one of the cruise staff, it sounds like NCL does not fund the DJ to purchase music and equipment. I think they need to spend some more money here and less on the other entertainment. This was a big negative for us.
We didn't care for the cruise director, JC. He seemed annoying and not very professional. The rest of his staff were great! They were involved in everything from hosting activities throughout the day to dancing in the disco at night. They were very personable and energetic. We really felt like we got to know several of them. The rest of the staff on board seemed friendly.
The fitness center was pretty small compared to other ships, but I always found an open machine. I checked a book out from the library and you can also borrow board games. Gift shops were nice, but expensive as usual. Casino is large and has penny slots, which I haven't seen on Carnival. There are only two pools and four hot tubs, all right next to each other. I prefer separate pool spaces so they are not so crowded. Photographers were not in your face all the time, which was nice. You go to them vs. them coming to you. Pictures didn't look very professional and they are expensive. Public restrooms are too small and hard to find.
We don't do any shore excursions, just shopping and sightseeing, so the port reviews are brief.
Cartagena, Colombia: Do not go outside of the terminal. You will have a hundred cab drivers harassing you. The little park at the terminal is nice.
Aruba: Town is smaller but easily accessible from the ship and quite nice.
Curacao: Larger town with lots of walking potential. Floating pontoon bridge is neat. Nice side of town on opposite side of bridge.
St. Maarten: Take the water taxi to town ($7 pp round trip). Nice beach front path and main street a block over. We went in the ocean here. No need to rent a beach chair etc., just bring your beach towel from the ship.
St. Thomas: Not impressed. Reminded us of a not-so-nice Hawaii. Lots of people seem to like it though.