We enjoyed our escape-from-Thanksgiving cruise on the Norwegian Sun. We arrived a couple of days early to enjoy Miami and had the world's fastest embarcation at around 2pm - no waiting at any point along the way, from dropping bags to getting set up with the credit card, to being onboard and finding our room ready and the ship awaiting our exploration. Loved that!
The Sun is a bit oddly laid out for the NCL freestyle setup. We have sailed a couple of times on the NCL Star, which was designed better, with lounge areas giving off to multiple restaurants, and generally making the alternative venues attractive and visible. On the Sun, it was as if you were venturing down unknown passenger cabin corridors to find the venue or bar in question. Same with the shops, which were all concentrated in one area and you had to cross the casino to get to them. I think this strange layout is because of the age of the ship and the retrofitting over the years. That being said, it's a nice small ship and it's easy to walk from one end to the other and our cabin was conveniently located forward and port, so we could enjoy the sound of crashing waves from the balcony and generally bask in the vastness that for me is the major attraction of cruising - our little balcony perch on the ocean.
The EXOTIQUE band in Dazzles was the best on any of the dozen-plus cruises we've been on. The other entertainment was OK - we didn't go see any of the shows. We went to a weigh-loss hypnosis presentation that was basically a guy with his powerpoint, but since the cruise I have bought pedometers and we are on our way to the 10000 steps he recommended. So I guess his powers of suggestion are fairly strong. However we haven't yet lost any weight! A common problem, I'm sure, in the cruise community!!
We found the service to be friendly and competent, but there is a big difference with the NCL freestyle thing as compared to the more traditional arrangements: it seems like you have much less consistent contact with staff, and therefore the cruise experience is more impersonal. This is also emphasized by the fact that you don't have consistent table companions, etc. However, when we have done the "anytime" options on Celebrity and other lines, the anytime dining room has similar staff, and so we had nightly contact with some of the same people. It made a difference to us, but we've sailed on various lines and our decisions are made by the dates, price, destinations - all those convergent factors. And the fact that HAL and Princess both have balconies that are mostly overlooked and/or overlooking other people - don't like that.
This Southern Caribbean itinerary was great - 5 destinations and 5 days at sea - perfect! Cartagena was enjoyable as a walk-around-the-colonial-center destination. Aruba was surprisingly small, but the beach was gorgeous - we should have done a beach day rather than the tour of desert scrub. Cura'ao was very enjoyable - don't miss the Kura Holanda hotel/museum complex. The oldest synagogue in constant use in the Western Hemisphere was also interesting. We had a nice lunch at a Columbian-creole fast-food cafeteria place, and just strolled about. St. Maartin had 5 or 6 ships in port - crazy tourist assembly line! St. Thomas is really gorgeous, and we enjoyed an island tour that offered lots of beautiful vistas. Beyond that we lazed about and enjoyed the ship, which wasn't too crowded.
I appreciated the Cruise Director Jamie (Canadian) - her humor was always very upbeat and good-natured. Not a lot of screaming and mayhem - a relief. However I would say that the "parties" that they would throw in the Dazzles disco pretty much pushed the guests off the dance floor and made the guests watch the staff dance, rather than letting the guests keep enjoying the band and dancing on their own.
Food was fine - nothing spectacular - but all of good quality. The dinners in the main dining rooms did take a while - but we would stroll in late, and weren't on a schedule to see a show, so it didn't really matter to us. We ate often in the buffet, which had a long and odd layout, but at the aft had a lovely outdoor eating area. The selections were consistent and for the most part tasty. The volume of food they have to put on on these cruises is staggering - I don't know how they do it, but they do. Sometimes it's not stellar - but there were other selections, so one isn't limited to the occasional mediocre item.
Service was good overall, but it seems like the cruise line may be cutting down on staff in certain service areas. The main DR waiter had no assistant when we were there, and it seemed like our room steward (very nice) worked on her own. I felt bad for her - she had caught the flu on the last day and had to do the whole room-turnover job while sick. Who knows how that affects the next passengers? (Who knows how many crew are sick in their jobs in food prep, etc - it's a miracle we all survive.)
All in all - I tell people if I ever complain, to slap me - how can you complain about a long Caribbean cruise where you are generally pampered and don't need to lift a finger to do anything other than eat and sleep? Coming home is such a come-down! Looking forward to the next cruise. Don't yet have it planned, because I don't know when the next big chunk of time off work will be. Happy cruising, everyone!