Sailed the Norwegian Sun leaving New Orleans Dec 17, 2006 on a 7-day cruise that left out of New Orleans and ported at Costa Maya, San Tomas, Belize, and Cozumel. We are a married couple in the 30s who's sailed on 2 cruises in the past, Princess and Royal Caribbean, but never on Norwegian. Overall we had a great time but there were definitely some kinks along the way - wanted to share our experience in detail since other detailed reviews from cruisecritic.com were so helpful to us in the planning process.
Pre-trip: Booked our Norwegian tickets through an online site. Was an extremely frustrating experience since their cruise center agents on the phone are rude and rather clueless even about basic questions about the cruise and rooms. We and another couple had intentionally reserved nearby rooms near another friend's cabin on a crosslinked reservation but we called within the 24 hr reservation hold time, our friends had booked their room fine but the online site had completely lost our reservation. The online site was totally useless and could not explain how/why they lost our reservation nor could help us get it back, even after numerous calls. I would never use this site to book a cruise again. In addition, a special at the time was getting $25 cruise credit. We never received that on the ship despite confirming with the site and Norwegian ahead of time and asking on the ship.
Pre-registration before the trip: Norwegian's website is horrible for room info and pre-registration. We wanted a basic layout of the ship with the details of the floors and a bit more detail on the types of rooms, but the ncl.com site was so weak. Didn't make any sense that non-Norwegian travel websites had more info about Norwegian's ships than Norwegian's own website.
When we went online to pre-register, my pre-reg went through with my passport and contact info but the ncl.com site keep telling my wife that she had made an error even though she had filled out everything correctly and it wouldn't highlight what specifically. After trying 10 times and even trying over 5 times, we finally gave up.
Transfer from New Orleans Airport/Registration: We were going to fly in Sunday morning so we had several hours to explore New Orleans so we can register and get on board comfortably before the 5:30pm. We arrived in New Orleans airport around 10am long before the 1pm boarding start time. We didn't buy a transfer from New Orleans Airport ahead of time but happened to find the Norwegian agent at the baggage claim area and everything turned out for the best. We were able to buy an airport-to-ship transfer on site. For $15 pp one-way (or $30 roundtrip for the return leg), we joined the other Norwegian cruisers on a comfortable bus which took us to the cruise terminal around 11:30am. After getting our luggage and passing them off to the porters, we were able to do an early reg even before 1pm and before the regular crowds started coming in. This allowed us to get through pretty quickly, probably in 5 min. So by 12:30pm we were checked in, put our stuff in our rooms, and had time to walk around and get lunch in the French Quarter without having to lug our baggage around. That was most excellent.
Room: Our room was a guaranteed JJ room so the online site couldn't tell us what room when we booked it until a couple of weeks before the cruise. It turned out to be a handicapped room with a view on level 5 but it was very spacious and turned out to be better than a standard JJ. The handicapped room was no problem (I think it was even more spacious because it was designed to be a handicapped room) except for some early getting used to the shower. There is basically a shower head in the corner of the bathroom with a curtain that does not go all the way down and drainage slots on the floor surrounding the corner. But there is no ridge to keep the water in. So after your shower, your floor is all wet since not all the water goes conveniently into the drain. Was annoying at first but we learned to get extra towels to build some man made levies around the shower to keep the water from getting too much of the bathroom floor wet.
We liked our room overall except for several other annoyances: - Be careful of booking rooms on Deck 5 with views. On the Norwegian Sun, deck 6 (above deck 5) is considered the jogging/running deck so throughout the day, esp in the mornings after 7am, you hear occasional thumping from the ceiling from the joggers above. - The drain in our bathroom always made glug glug noises for a while after we used it almost as if there was someone living in it
Food: Norwegian is all about freestyle and choice so there are tons of dining options on the ship (~10 places). Although the other reviewers said there were great options if we wanted to pay an additional $12-20 to go to some of the specialty restaurants on the ship, we decided to stick with the places with no fee. This still left us with many options. We thought the food was decent overall on the ship just don't come with extremely high and picky expectations and you won't be disappointed. And there's specific places where you can find better food options even without a fee. Here's what I recommend:
Breakfast: - Las Ramblas for fresh omelettes made to order. Limited bacon, eggs, potatoes but if you want other stuff, go to the Garden Cafe for the breakfast buffet. - Pacific Choice for waffles made to order. Not much of anything else except for a couple of cold breakfast tapas items. If you want other stuff, go to the Garden Cafe for the breakfast buffet. - Garden Cafe standard buffet not great, but lots of choices. It's a buffet so you should expect lots of okay hot foods that's been sitting on the heater for a long while so can be overcooked. You can also get other standard stuff like toast/bagels, cereal, grits, etc. - Our standard breakfast was a progressive breakfast but took some time and walking: (1) get your fresh omelette from Las Ramblas, (2) go downstairs to Pacific Choice for a fresh waffle, and (3) then get whatever else you want from Garden Cafe.
Lunch: - Didn't eat lunch much on the ship due to excursions, etc. but you can have formal dining in the standard dining rooms like Four Seasons and Seven Seas with a different menu everyday if you want something more sit down and formal. - Garden Cafe for the standard buffet lunch same comment as above not great, but lots of choices and lots of foods overcooked and hard sitting on the heater for a long time. However, you can get a freshly made Caesar Salad, decent vegetarian Indian food with freshly made small pieces of Indian roti/bread (I am an Indian food fan), and standard other buffet items - There is also a Pizza Station and Pasta Station open with all you can eat pizza and pasta in the Pacific Heights cafe at certain times. Check out the Freestyle Daily newsletter when that is open.
Dinner: - Our group chose to do formal dining every night in the Seven Seas or Four Seasons restaurants (without fee but no shorts/jeans). We found the menu to have a decent continental selection of options and it was so much better than the food in the buffet since your food is served relatively fresh and not sitting there for a long time. - Some nights it was great, some nights it was so-so. The nice thing is that you can order as many appetizers, salads/soups, entrees, and desserts as you like. Some nights there were 3-4 appetizers/salads/soups we wanted to try so we did that along with our entree and desserts. Other nights we had multiple entrees and desserts. And other nights we had multiples of everything just expect a VERY LONG dinner if you are going to have 6 courses! - Another key thing is to find a waiter/waitress and assistant that you like a lot and stick with them. On the first 2 nights, the servers we had were impersonal, a bit cocky, and didn't provide enjoyable service even when we weren't asking them for anything out of the standard. Then we found a fantastic duo (CiChi and Ramona in Seven Seas) who were so friendly and provided such great service that we booked a table with them every night. Then just made our overall dining and cruise experience that much better and more fun. Otherwise I think dining service rates MUCH MUCH lower than the dining service we have had on other cruises like Princess. - There is also free tapas in the Las Ramblas bar we checked it out the first night but it didn't meet the hype and expectations of past reviewers. It may make a good snack but not a full dinner.
Snacks: - Anytime you are hungry, the outdoor grill in the back (Great Outdoor cafe) is usually open and there are 2 sides to the Great Outdoor Cafe. You can expect hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage pieces, hot condiments like onions and mushrooms, and a bunch of different desserts. The desserts look better than they taste. - During lunch and dinner usually there is an ice cream station open where you can get ice cream and frozen yogurt in bowls and cones as much as you like. You just need to endure the line. - We didn't try the night time snack buffet but there is one.
Chocolate buffet: - On Friday night from 11pm-12am in Four Seasons, there was a chocolate buffet. It was a nice treat for cruisers, but at such a random late time. My guess is that they do the late time to keep costs down so not everyone in the trip can make it so late. I wish they did this 9-10pm or 10-11pm at latest. - Nonetheless there was a huge line when we got there at 11:30pm. We waited for about 10 minutes and piled our plates high with great looking desserts (i.e. chocolate strawberries, chocolate cakes, cream puffs, etc). Sad thing was that the desserts looked a lot better than they tasted and you went to sleep with a big bellyache when the desserts weren't even that great. So I would rate the chocolate buffet as overrated.
Entertainment: The overall entertainment on the ship was fantastic and a definite highlight. The cruise uses a dance company called the Jean Ann Ryan dance company and they have such phenomenally talented singers and dancers who have such a wide range of skills. The Jean Ann Ryan dance company did several shows: the first night kickoff show, Mr. Producer a Broadway-like show, Que Noche a latin dance show, Cirque Pan a Cirque du Soleil-like show, and an extra Christmas show. All of these were incredible and you would be wowed. Definite professional quality entertainment. Was so impressed, esp compared to the shows we saw a couple of months ago on Princess those were definitely not Broadway/true professional caliber. If you like Broadway shows, don't miss Mr. Producer which features a sampling from many Broadway shows like Phantom, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Oklahoma, etc. Que Noche was really good if you like dancing. Cirque Pan was great if you like Cirque du Soleil. Then on the last night there was a special Christmas show. My two favorites were Mr. Producer and Cirque Pan.
One note: the Stardust Lounge is on two levels (floors 6 and 7). The seating on the first floor on Stardust Lounge is less than optimal so arrive early to get the best seats on the first level in the front or the front part of the balcony on the second level of the Lounge. Otherwise the seats in the back of the first level are not elevated and very hard to see from. Also if you can, go to the 2nd showings at 9pm or 9:30pm since they are typically less crowded.
In between nights of the Jean Ann Ryan performances, there were: - a super funny comedian hypnotist who got some cruise volunteers to do some hilarious things on stage. - an amazing 19-yr old Sammy-Davis-and-Louie-Armstrong-in-a-box called Chantz. He was a one-man singer, dancer, performer. He did blues songs, Sammy Davis and Louie songs not quite my standard music but amazing to watch him perform non-stop for an hour.
The comedian on board, Bud Anderson, was okay but I have seen much much better. He was horrible for the first half of one of the shows and we couldn't shake that off.
The entertainment was definitely one of the highlights of the cruise.
Ports: Costa Maya a small emerging port in Mexico (only 1 hotel in all of Costa Maya). There are some shops at the port but you need to take a taxi anywhere since the port is not walking distance. Majahual is supposedly a cute little town but it's a short cab ride there (10 min, $5 pp). We went to Chaccoben to see Mayan ruins we booked the excursion through the ship and it was $70 for 4 hours. The tour was narrated the whole way on the 1 hr bus ride there and the 2 hr tour of the ruins. Was definitely interesting but you don't get to climb up any ruins. After also going on a Mayan ruins tour to Lamanai in Belize later in the cruise where you got to see much taller pyramids and being able to climb up 1000 feet, I would recommend that one (Lamanai in Belize) definitely over Chaccoben. Also the lady who was the guide was nice but her English was very hard to understand.
Santo Tomas, Guatemala definitely not a pretty docking area. The ship docks next to a heavy industrial area with lots and lots of shipping containers. From a distance it wasn't clear where there is a walking path to the city, so we took the advice of the other reviewers (who said going it alone was a bit scary) and booked an excursion through the ship. We booked the Horse Riding Adventure at the Amatique resort, which is supposedly the only 5-star resort on that side of the Caribbean. We enjoyed it since we weren't interested in the other excursions for one reason or another. However, we would NOT recommend this horse back ride because: (1) the horse ride company was highly disorganized we took a boat to the resort from the dock but we were left standing waiting for anyone from the horse ranch for 15 min. We also had to wait 15 min after the ride for a truck back to the resort, (2) the company was not professional and lacked safety precautions the people running the operation seemed like amateurs. They did not provide any guidance into how to properly mount and ride a horse (although they did offer helmets). It was only halfway into the ride that some of the guides told some ppl individually they were holding the reins wrong. Also they did not do a good job of fitting people with the right horse. I'm a 200 lb guy and they gave me a small horse that was struggling with my weight and tired but they did not have any bigger horse available (3) many of the horses did not look healthy - they looked malnourished and were not given water/food between their rides, (4) the ride was nothing special and there was no narration you saw trees and plants along the resort but the horses were just following the service road for the resort and we had to pull to the right for cars to pass many times. The only mini highlight was the resort afterwards there are some comfy hammocks along the beach that we laid on. The resort itself may be 5-stars for Guatemala, but from 5-star American standards, it definitely looked more like 3-stars.
Others in our group did the full day Beach Day excursion at the Amatique Resort (5 hrs, $59pp). They enjoyed it although the BBQ lunch was not so good. I read good things about the Las Escobas Waterfall but did not try it. We thought about the Quirigua Mayan City and Dulce River Explorer which was a 9 hr excursion for $119, but the cruise excursion ppl highly discouraged it because it was way too long.
Belize City, Belize Belize was my favorite stop. There were so many different cool excursions to choose from Mayan ruins, cave tubing, ziplining, snorkeling, diving, etc. Apparently Belize has a huge coral reef so we had to tender to get to the dock. We did the Lamanai Mayan Ruins & New River Safari which was a 7+ hr excursion for $90 pp (booked through the ship) and liked it a lot. First we went on a 1 hr bus ride through Belize and other neighboring towns northward. This was narrated and our guide Mario was pretty good. Then we took a 21 mile boatride to Lamanai up the New River. It was a nice boatride but far from a safari since all we saw were a 5 inch baby crocodile, 5 bats, 1 bird (the Jesus bird), and a couple of random birds. This was the only disappointing part. We did hear from others from the other boat that they saw a couple of crocodiles. Once we got to Lamanai, we had lunch. The homemade Mexican lunch (bread, cole slaw, Mexican rice, chicken, Coke/water) was pretty good especially the authentic sauces they had. Then it was off to the ruins through a mini-Jungle area the best part. Lamanai has many ruins and we got to climb to the top of a 1000 ft pyramid-like structure, which was the highlight. It was easy going up but a bit scary going down. However, it was easier going down than thought as there was a rope along the stairs and you can climb down any way, even sitting down the steps one by one. We also got to see a huge mask structure from 450 AD and another huge pyramid-like ruin too. Be careful you wear hiking shoes and not just flipflops since you can easily get stuck in the mud during the hike, esp after the rain.
Cozumel we decided to have a lazy day in Cozumel and not do any official excursion. Cozumel is so pretty with strikingly blue water and there are tons of shops and restaurants right off the port (Punta Lagosta). We asked the desk about where to go to the beach and they recommended Chankannab Park which was a $10 cab ride away. Apparently if you want to go to the beach in Cozumel, many of the places charge an entrance fee - .Chankannab charges $16 pp. However when we talked to our taxi driver, she told us about Paradise Beach which was a $13 cab ride away from the port but no entrance fee so we decided to try that out. It was great, right next to the beach, there was a bar and restaurant there with lots of chairs. So you can lay out and get drinks/food whenever you want. And looked like you can ride kayaks too. However, it was a bit crowded. If you want a secluded experience, this is not for you. Then we took a $13 cab ride back and headed back for shopping close to the dock. Carlos and Charlie's (next to Senor Frogs) was a lively restaurant with good drinks and decent food. The place was loud and crazy more like a spring break place for college kids but we liked it and had a seat overlooking the street where we could people-watch.
New Orleans definitely check out the French Quarter for the little shops and grab some gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp poboy at a restaurant. And you have to do the obligatory visit to Café du Monde for their famous beignets with lots of powered sugar. If you don't get a chance to go to the French Quarter, I highly recommend you check out a place in the Riverwalk mall connected to the cruise ship terminal on the way to or from the ship that we happened to chance upon: Creole Delicacies Gourmet Shop and Cooking School (Riverwalk, New Orleans, LA 70112, (800) 523-6425) is a fantastic and very friendly place to find cool creole foods, spices, gifts and even get a delicious homecooked creole meal in the hidden restaurant in the back of the store overlooking the Mississippi River. They have some very cool creole foods, mixes, and gifts - anything from jambalaya mixes to hot sauces to new orleans pralines to their famous mardi gras mix (their best-selling item - a cool chip/cracker dip with a nice creole kick). The secret restaurant in the back is no frills - basic tables and chairs and food is served on plastic plates and utensils but they had some delicious homestyle gumbo, pretty good jambalaya, great red beans and rice, and awesome crawfish pasta. Never would have thought to find such a hidden gem in a large mall like Riverwalk. And they are super friendly.
Couple of useful hints: -Norwegian only gives liquid soap and shampoo from dispensers for whatever reason. If you dislike showering with liquid soap like me, bring your own bar of soap or ask the steward for bar soap. -Our room had a slightly bothersome smell like the smell from a senior citizen's center. Think the smell was in the walls, carpets, mattress, etc. I got used to it over time, but bringing some Febreze or air freshener can be key. -There is only 1 electrical outlet (standard 110-volt or 220 volt) which wasn't a problem for me, but others have recommended bringing a power strip which I can see to be very handy for those who have extra hairdryers, irons, camera chargers, etc. - Norwegian and other cruiselines will gouge you even on things like Coke and bottled water (at least $2 per bottle). Stop by a grocery store, drug store, or convenience store (there's a Walgreens in the French Quarter) and buy a case of bottled water and soda and bring it on the ship, especially if you are used to drinking a lot of that. Will save you lots of money. Don't try to sneak on alcohol because they apparently confiscate that until the end of the cruise. - Sure you are on vacation and don't want to worry about time. But if you are the type to feel more comfortable having a clock around so you know what time it is when you wake up, when to meet others and be on time for excursions and activities, bring an alarm clock with a visible time. Otherwise all the rooms do not come equipped with any clocks/alarm clocks. - If you are traveling with a group who will be roaming around the ship and you need to contact them, consider bringing walkie talkies so it's easier to find each other. Bring ones with good range since the ship is huge and signals may be hard to receive from inside the rooms.
If you found my detailed review helpful (which I tried to be), do send me a note to email@example.com. :)