We booked this trip nearly 16 months in advance to insure that my wife and I and three other couples had our choice of staterooms and deck preference well in advance. We all prefer balcony staterooms in as close to the mid ships as possible for the best cruising without feeling significant movement of the ship during rough seas. Our group ranges in age from 56-64 and we are definitely not cruise and booze people, but we do have a real good time when we are out and about. Our primary purpose was to transit the Panama Canal and see the cliff divers in Acapulco, not to mention have a great vacation. The 17 day cruise started April 23, 2006 and was completed May 10, 2006.
In a word "awful" because the Norwegian Sun was supposed to go out of New Orleans, the accommodations in Miami were make shift at best. There were (5) other ships there on our sailing day and they were embarking on their cruises as well, so they had the good accommodations. When we arrived at the dock we were given tags for the luggage by the porter and the only thing we needed to put on the tag was our cabin number. We were then herded into a serpentine line by an NCL employee and we could see the line would eventually take us into a good sized tent. What we didn't know was that once in the tent there were two Miami Harbor Patrol people in there checking cruise documents against passports or other ID. We stood in the hot sun for over an hour before getting into the air conditioned FIRST tent. This had to be especially hard on the majority of the older passengers all above 70 years old by our guess. NCL employees came out often to give us cups of water.
Once inside we were checked by one of the two patrol people that I really believed wanted to be a comedian as he made some sort of joke or comment about each person he checked. If he would have been in the blazing Florida sun like us I'm sure he would have hurried. This situation was out of NCL's hands and the Miami authorities had complete control of the check in station.
After the first tent there was a walk half the length of the ship where a "comfort tent" to keep you out of the sun for a few minutes had been erected. We then proceeded half the length of the ship to another "comfort tent" to stand waiting to enter a large tent where the medal detector was checking carry on luggage and people as they walked through. We then were sent to the registration area in the tent where U.S. citizens and non citizen lines were set up for registration. The non citizen line was at least twice as long as the US citizen line and getting through registration and the metal detector took no more than 15 minutes. We found out later that there were less than a thousand U.S. passengers on board and over fifteen hundred International passengers.
With our cabin keys in hand we proceeded on the ship through the check in and hand cleaning stations. We took an elevator to the Viking Deck #8 and proceeded to our cabin. Unfortunately, the door keys didn't work. We put our carry on luggage in one of our groups cabins and proceed to the Garden Cafe on deck #12. Had a real nice lunch there with the food being very tasty and a real nice selection.
After lunch, I went down to the reception area on deck #5 and received new keys which worked just fine. Shortly after getting in the cabin we met our cabin steward Donnie and asked for one additional pillow and a foam mattress pat. We had read about the pads in a previous review. Donnie had no problem accommodating our request that evening when he made up our room.
We did have a problem initially with the air conditioning in our room and one request to Donnie for help and the problem was solved by maintenance. Don't get me wrong, the AC won't freeze you out of the room, but was comfortable for sleeping. Other than that problem the room was excellent with plenty of storage and even through rough seas due to its mid ship location on deck #8 we felt very little rocking or rolling of the ship.
At Sea Days
There were many activities to occupy your time while at sea including all the traditional cruise ship venues. We chose to go to the pools early usually around 8:00 a.m. and there usually was no one there. We noticed the pool area filled up around 11:00 which was in the full heat of the day and way too hot for us. There were ample pool lounge chairs and small round tables for various items. The pools were at 77 degrees and the 4 jacuzzi's were at 100 degrees.
Port of Call Willemstad, Curacao
We took a "Beach Express Tour" snorkeling excursion. It was the first time most of us snorkeled and after getting several goggle and mouth fulls of salt water we all got the hang of it. It was a short ride to the beach area and our guide and driver were a lot of fun in their old school bus. The island itself was formed by volcanic eruptions and the areas in the sea are full of coral which i found when I lost my balance and skinned my knee on some. It was nice to be able to stand up on the bottom when you got tired as well as clean out your mask and tube (LOL). The tour and beach fun were very much worth the $78/couple cost of the excursion.
Port of Call Oranjestad, Aruba
The excursion we chose in Aruba was a glass windowed boat exploring a ship wreck from World War II off the coast and then a tour of the island including the Natural Bridge in their wildlife refuge was similar to a state park in the U.S. This tour was in an air conditioned bus and again very much worth the $114/couple cost. Our first phase was the glass windowed boat. We boarded a power boat at the Holiday Inn and went out into the sea and transfer to the glass windowed boat. Even though the boat was air condition, the climb down stairs to the bottom of the boat and the close proximity of the passengers might make you feel a little sea sick. You are actually only 5' underwater, but the 20% magnification of the window glass makes everything closer. We were fortunate that the sun was coming out of the clouds during our tour giving us some incredible pictures and film of the wreck.
The next stop was a big rock some chose to climb, but we elected to walk through the gift shop and then get back on the bus in the air conditioning the outside temperature was about 90 with 98% humidity and I mean to tell you it was HOT!. We then went to the natural bridge which we found out on the way had collapsed in September 2005. The smaller bridge was still there, however, so that worked out ok. The coast line in the northern end of the island is very rugged in comparison to the white sandy beaches of the touristy town area.
Port of Call Port Lemon, Costa Rica
This city was one of the most poverty stricken cities I've seen in my travels abroad and absolutely filthy with garbage and trash strewn everywhere. We chose a pontoon trip on the Black River to view wildlife. Again, we were on a nice air conditioned bus that took us through the heart of this poverty stricken city and country. The tour was for 4 hours of which two and half of it was driving to and from the river. The trip appeared to be no more than about 20 miles, but because the road was so full of potholes we crawled most of the way. If the road would have been in good repair it might have taken no more than forty minutes each way.
The pontoon boat had a leaking pontoon on the port side and on the way back under power it began plowing through the water getting the people on that side of the boat wet feet and some even got some of their belongings wet. It felt pretty good while we were moving, but when he stopped to look at animals it was really hot. On the trip we saw sloth's, monkeys, and several species of birds. The wildlife and the fresh fruit after the pontoon ride were nice, but at $138/couple in the heat and humidity we wouldn't recommend it.
Transiting the Panama Canal
Transiting the canal and six locks is by far the highlight of the trip. To be on this huge ship with only 24 inches to spare on each side from hitting the sides of the lock is unbelievable. The co-ordination of the six toy locomotives that pull the ship into each lock and then steady the ship in the lock while the water is either raising or lowering is something you must witness to truly appreciate. There are a total of six locks in the Panama Canal with the first three at the Atlantic side. The fourth lock is about the three quarter point of the journey and the last two are at the Pacific end of the canal. It takes the whole day to make the transit.
There are many places within the canal that two huge ships like ours I doubt could even pass. The co-ordination of the passing is all done at the locks and is timed flawlessly. We saw two crocodiles during the transit and number of species of birds. We heard holler monkeys, but they were to far away for us to see.
Another thing that gives one an appreciation for the engineering of the canal and locks is the control buildings at each lock base. The last one at the Pacific side was so close to the ship that we could just about touch it. It couldn't have been more than six feet from our balcony.
Initially, we intended to get to the front of the ship on the observation deck to watch the transit, but they were standing six deep there. We went to the back of the ship on deck #11 where we were able to get refreshments and food at the Out door Cafe and really see first hand how the locks and the entire system operated.
Port of Call Puntarenas, Costa Rica
When we left Port Lemon we were told by our guide that on the Pacific side of Costa Rica was the well to do side and seeing shacks and cardboard houses was only on the Atlantic side. WRONG! The area looked identical to Port Lemon with garbage and trash everywhere, burned out houses and empty lots covered in trash. The beach area was absolutely pitiful with garbage, trash and even an old toilet seat laying on the beach. The one and half hour bus trip into the mountains had trash all the way along the roadway which we informed by our guide is one of the principal roadways in his country. The road was a two lane truck route that was in poor repair and in our view very dangerous to pass on.
They got us on this excursion, it was no more than a long bus ride to buy souvenirs that were probably the same as we saw around the dock area. We were taken to a "tourist trap". The high light of the trap I mean trip was the fresh fruit and cookies provided at the Sargi cart makers shop. Cost of this excursion was $80/couple and again is not recommended.
Huatulco, Mexico City and La Guelaguetza Show Excursion
We boarded our air conditioned bus for a ride around this small town in southern Mexico. The temperature was over 90 and humidity was about 96% the day of our tour. In other words it was really hot. The trip around this small city included a stop at their very old Catholic Church where three cute little Mexican kids sold us some hand made jewelry and the girls each bought a fold up fan to help with the heat.
The last part of the tour was at an outdoor theater where it had to be over 100 degrees in side with very little air movement causing most people to leave the very long dancing performance soaking wet. We did receive refreshments there and on a scale of 1 to 10 we might rate it a 5. Cost of the tour was $116/couple.
The highlight of Acapulco was of course the cliff divers. We took a bus tour around the city and stopped at several places, but the cliff divers are what Acapulco is all about. There is a hotel just adjacent to the cliff where the divers perform and that is the base used by all the tours., There is an excellent view from there, but your are a good 250' away from where they actually dive.
My wife talked me into going down the 146 stairs to an observation area right across from the divers probably no more than 60' from the actual cliff. The walk down in the 96 degree heat wasn't to bad, but the walk up wasn't easy. All in all this was by far the best place to watch them dive. The observation area was about 20' up from the water and for taking pictures especially movies it was perfect. I even got a picture with my wife and two of the divers because this area is where they walk down to and then after the dive they come back up those same 146 stairs. Oh by the way, I made it up too soaking wet with perspiration.
Cabo San Lucas
We took a bus tour to a small town named Todos Santos about 50 miles up the Baha to have an authentic Mexican lunch and tour the city. One of the main attractions is The Hotel California made popular from a song by The Eagles. We also toured Cabo San Lucas mostly from the bus and can see that it is one of the up and coming tourist areas of Mexico.
Entertainment was very diverse in the Stardust lounge located on decks 6 & 7 aft. There was excellent entertainment from singers, magicians, comedians, jugglers and even a hypnotist that hypnotized my sister-in-law. We always went to the early show so that we could have dinner in the Seven Seas restaurant on deck 5 aft. Obviously, the proximity of the restaurant and lounge made it very convenient. The highlight for us of the entertainment provided was the three productions by the Jean Ann Ryan singers and dancers. These young people that have been brought together are from all over the world and were absolutely outstanding and provided great entertainment. They did two totally different show during the cruise and are a can't miss.
There were many other entertainment opportunities, but we chose to basically relax and not partake in them. However, a lot of the passengers did and appeared to be having a great time.
NCL of course is free style dining which we prefer ever since our first cruise on Princess. There is no restriction on when or where you eat except with in the confines of the regular dining hours.
During lunch on our third day in the Seven Seas we had a young lady from Romania, Mihaela, and her assistant from the Philippines, Anicia, wait on us. These two girls had three tables they were working with twelve people and they were absolutely excellent. They never left us waiting for anything from keeping our glasses full to cleaning crumbs off the table.
At dinner that evening I asked the Maitre'd if we could be seated in their section. The maitre'd gave me a kind of questioning look, but asked us to wait a few minutes to be seated. The wait was no more than two minutes and we were led to a table for eight, our party size, which was not in the area we had eaten lunch in. I pointed this out to the maitre'd and was told it would be all right. Within a few minutes Mihaela and Anicia came to the table and got us started with drinks and appetizers and through out the evening showed us the same great service that they had done at lunch.
Well, the next night I again asked for Mihaela and Anicia and again we were led to the same table and within a few minutes both girls were there to wait on us. This was our regular routine at dinner for the remaining 12 days on the cruise. As it turned out, even on the first night when I asked for them they were not even working in that dinning room, but were in the cafe on the eleventh deck working. The staff at the Seven Seas brought them down to wait on us and us only every evening what ever time we arrived. I don't think you can get any better service from NCL than that. Thus, free style dining can also be assigned seating if you play your cards right. We rewarded both girls well at the end of the cruise.
First, we are not connoisseurs of gourmet food. But if you see us, you know we like to eat. We ate all of our evening meals in the Seven Seas and about half of our breakfasts and lunches. We ate in the buffet only on shore days and ate in the outdoor cafe when the taste was for hamburgers and the like. My wife had Italian food in for lunch the La Bistro and I had sandwiches a few times in The Las Rambles and they were great.
We were very satisfied with all the food in the Seven Seas dining room and felt the Garden buffet was as good as any other buffet we have had. In other reviews we have seen a few that criticized the food especially in the buffets, but my goodness people its just as the name implies one step above a cafeteria. If you wanted better food go to the main dining rooms and quit belly aching!
Absolute chaos thanks to the United States government! U.S. Customs was to be on the ship at 7:00 a.m. to begin the customs procedure in the Observatory Lounge. We were waiting in lounge chairs on Deck 11 and witnessed them finally showing up in the parking lot at 8:21 a.m. By the time they got on board and the process started it was almost 9:00 a.m. When the wife and I went through the Customs agent did nothing more than stamp our form without even reading it just as he did for those in front and in back of us.
The procedure to disembark was to be by color code of your bag tags. The first two colors were called and the process started about 9:40 a.m. Then about twenty minutes later we heard that everyone that had been through customs could exit the ship. We headed for the stairwell only to find the entire stairwell jammed with people. We made it to deck 7 when the jam up stopped us cold in our tracks on our way to deck 3 to disembark.
By 10:20 we were off the ship and headed for our bag color code area. We got the bags and left the area to our hotel via cab.
This chaos would have been completely avoided if our illustrious government workers would have showed up at the ship on time rather than an hour and twenty minutes late!
We highly recommend this ship and this cruise. The ports of call are good, but the Panama Canal experience is a once in a life time experience. The staff of the Norwegian Sun were all the friendliest we have seen always saying hello no matter where you might see one and they are extremely helpful. We will definitely sail on NCL in the future.