Having cruised several itineraries and cruise lines, this was our first Freestyle cruise with NCL. We had always enjoyed our late seating dinner (8:30PM) and after experiencing "Freestyle" it grew on us rather quickly and we settled right into the different dining venues and quickly wondered how we made it through late seating in the past.
We always fly into the port city the day prior to departure and Miami was no different. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Miami Springs right near the airport. The hotel had shown it's age through the years, but the current renovation is underway and did not affect us where our room was. The staff is very attentive and genuinely interested in service to their customers. The free shuttle from the airport and then the Port of Miami is very convenient.
What can I say about the Sun, she is a bit old, but I must say that once onboard she was clean. The public areas were no worse for the wear and every time I turned around crew members were either cleaning or maintaining her at some level. At 70,000 tons give or take I chose the Sun for her 11 day itinerary on this relatively small ship according to todays ship sizes. That being said, no crowds, easy to get around, not rushed and easy on and easy off at every port of call. She handled herself in the water exceptionally well as she is a solid ship.
There were plenty of activities onboard for all walks of life and the Sun had everything covered. The Freestyle Daily was our guide to do things or not. We aren't picky and spent most days by the pool. I'm a creature of habit and enjoy my afternoon workouts. The fitness center was ok. The Sun did provide strength training equipment for all basic exercises and muscle groups. The treadmills were plentiful as were the other cardio equipment. One thing that would probably benefit the fitness center would be strength training equipment replacement as it is showing it's age and there is better equipment out there. The center was always busy, but not busy where you couldn't work out. So whether you wanted to play trivia, art auctions, shuffle board, or what have you, you could be kept busy morning, noon and night.
Service. What can I say about the crew aboard the Sun. I have always said, "The crew makes or breaks the ship." The crew definitely made her the best I have been on and I have been on plenty. I can't tell you how many times I saw a smile on each and every crew member as I made my way around on a daily basis. There were so interested in serving you and going the extra mile. We don't ask for much and nor are we picky when it come to most things, but it brought smiles to our faces and the faces of most guest on board when they encountered a crew member. The dining staff from the bus persons to the servers to the management were aces! We were always asked if our meals were prepared to our liking and if there was anything else that they could do to make our meal more enjoyable. Kudos to those folks. The bar staff in all the venues were on their game. I'm not a big drinker but it was pleasant when I had the same bar servers knowing what I wanted when I wanted it with out being pushy on deck by the pool. I have to say they picked up on the majority of everyone indulgences and when they wanted them with out having to get up or wave someone down. The biggest thing was that they would remember your name from one venue to the other and always with a smile. What else can I say? OK....once again, "This crew made the ship and the cruise."
We did our own shore excursions as we rarely purchase them on board. NCL does charge a pretty penny for them and we find it best to fend for ourselves. Cartagena is a wonderful city with it's rich history and architecture. The walled city is were we go to walk about and enjoy all of the old buildings. Aruba was ok and after being there several times it is getting a little rough around the edges. The element of crime was evident as more and more homeless and begging was about with no sight of police patrol and this was on the main drag a well traveled area for tourists. Curacao on the other hand was fabulous. Just like Aruba, it was better suited and was clean robust with a vibrant downtown area and water front, so don't be afraid to explore. St. Marten was exceptional. This port was solely fro Maho Beach and the Sunset Bar and Grill. Right at the threshold of the SXM airport you can't miss the planes landing from overseas and the US. A great time and good photos. St. Thomas was ok, a nice beach day at the beach. Clean and quiet as there are many beaches to be had with out the crowds.
Embarkation I have to say was a mess. This was not the fault of NCL. The Coast Guard inspection was priority as this was the Sun's first sailing out of Miami for the season and it was required. It delayed getting on the ship, but if the Coast Guard wants....it gets.
We had a balcony cabin (9220) forward on the starboard side. It was 220 sqft. and was just right. Plenty of room, clean and a great view. Our room steward was perfect and there was never anything out of place and quite frankly, we never saw him. The bathroom was well, small. They are all small so nothing new there. The bottom line it was clean and did not smell musty or old and was the perfect retreat for the afternoon nap with the balcony door open and the ocean breeze filling the room.
The dining was well, adequate. The main dining areas were run like a fine tuned machine. The staff professional and courteous. The menu was mundane and never changed. The nightly special was jerk chicken or something jerk. There was no imagination or regional specialties offered. East Meets West Steakhouse was ok. The cuts of beef were marginal at best and to my surprise warm not hot upon serving. The cesear salad was the same I would have been served in the main dining room, warm and soggy. This venue was not worth the $30.00 cover as I could have had a better meal downstairs. The Japanese steak house was also disappointing as the meal was sub par fro the money. I did not enjoy the egg tossed in my direction and breaking on the counter into my 9.00 glass of wine. Il Adigio was like going to Olive Garden and 'nuff said there. Don't get me wrong, I have been to other pay restaurants on other lines and I have to say that they have set the bar high and was worth every penny. Note to NCL, service goes far, but skimping on quality of food will stop you dead in your tracks and this area is a must fix if you want to get your covers.
The entertainment was ok at best and I'll leave it at that. I know the onboard entertainment crew works hard, but some of the shows need work. The cruise director and his staff are on the money and press the right buttons enough to wake the dead so that even they could have a great time. Kudos to Richard Matic and his crew.
Over all, I was impressed on this cruise with NCL. The Sun is fabulous and don't scrap her just yet, she has many years left and is well suited fro the long cruises simply because of her size, just right. Her crew loves her and the guests that sail on her.