We sailed on the NCL Sun on Spring Break from March 15-22. Reviews are subjective and to a large extent depend upon one's expectations. My expectations are based, in part, upon having sailed previously on Carnival (Valor, Conquest, and Miracle), Princess (Caribbean Princess) and RCCL (Sovereign of the Seas). We are a family of five (adults mid forties, kids 14, 12 and 8). On the whole, I don't think I fit the target market for NCL and am unlikely to sail them again. But, a cruise vacation is better than none and I found some things on the NCL Sun that I really liked.
Normally, we fly in the night before in case there are any flight delays but we couldn't swing that this time so we opted for the early 6am flight to Miami. We arrived as scheduled and had breakfast in the airport. After waiting a while we went out to the taxi stand and picked out a taxi that could accommodate 5 + luggage. The fare was $25 to the Port of Miami. We arrived around 11am and immediately checked in (5 minutes in line). Then, we walked upstairs and sat in the waiting lounge for close to an hour before they opened up the ship.
The ship is clean and well maintained. She looks great from the outside with the painted sun and other decorations. NCL designed the inside to be unobjectionable. Unfortunately, it's also completely uninteresting. On every ship I've sailed on to date we explore the ship and take pictures in front on interesting sculptures, stained glass, old steering wheels or impressionist paintings. I didn't find a single spot for a nice picture on the Sun. It looks like a Marriott. Here's me standing in front of an elevator? I think not. If you don't spend a lot of time in hotels or if you are turned off by anything "over the top" then the Sun is probably fine. Otherwise, the Sun is about as interesting as a conference hotel.
We booked two inside cabins category JJ on deck 4. I tried to get a promotional upgrade after I booked but they wouldn't let me cancel and rebook at that rate. Fortunately, I found that we really liked the JJ cabin as it makes very efficient use of the available space (178sq feet). We had plenty of space for our clothes and didn't feel cramped with the 3 person cabin. There wasn't a long corridor to enter the cabin as the bathroom is small, but the cabin is wide enough to fit three beds side-by-side with sufficient space.
The room includes a sofa which doubles as a bed for the third person in the cabin (the back cushions are taken off by the steward). I'm thankful I didn't have to sleep on the sofa bed as it is hard as a rock. For some reason NCL Sun doesn't give it's customers a way to directly contact their cabin stewards. There is no phone number for housekeeping in the directory and no "contact note" provided by the steward. I left a note for the steward asking him if there was anything that he could provide that would offer more cushioning for the bed, i.e., a foam pad or any type of "topper" for the bed. He didn't respond so I finally called up the Reception Desk and they relayed my question to housekeeping. Housekeeping did not call me but showed up after 11pm with……a sheet.
I gained weight on this cruise but the food on the NCL Sun was remarkably lower in quality, presentation, and choice than on any of the Carnival, Princess or RCCL cruises that I've been on. I know that food is extremely subjective so I'll try to make my comments as objective as possible. First, we only ate at the "free" dining rooms and buffet. In any case, if you eat at the premium dining rooms you should only compare the food with the cover charge dining rooms on other ships.
Buffet - there's nothing particularly wrong with the food. It's just ok. On Carnival and Princess the buffets offer (my guess) three to four times the variety and options.
Dining Rooms - We ate dinner every night in one of the two main dining rooms. We were fortunate to get tables with great views. The food, however, was uninspired. I would say the quality and presentation is similar to what one might find at a diner. In contrast, the Carnival and Princess cruises provide a dining experience similar to what I've had at very nice restaurants (not 4-5 star places but you don't expect haute cuisine on these lines anyway). The NCL Sun offers lower quality ingredients. For example, NCL uses miniature salad shrimp instead of medium prawns for its shrimp cocktail. The best steak offered was a NY strip but it was dry and tasteless. The "any day" sirloin on Carnival was vastly superior in taste. But Carnival also has a filet during their Captains Dinner. The presentation of the food on the Sun was also just so-so. There doesn't seem to have been much thought put into the combination of the sides with the main item (chicken, pork fish or beef). Quite frankly I've had some better meals on an International Business Class flight. My wife did, however, thoroughly enjoy the Rock Lobster.
I can't remember a single dessert that I ate on the Sun. Most, I didn't finish. It just wasn't worth eating. Believe me, that's a first. It's been a year since I've been on Carnival but I can still remember the chocolate melting cake.
Food can vary from ship to ship and even during the year as the cooks are changed. But, the food was so consistently "meh" that I'm not confident of getting anything better on NCL.
A real mixed bag. We go to all of the scheduled shows on all of the ships and visit all of the singers/piano players at the night clubs.
The Jean Ann Ryan (spelling?) troupe was superb. Their shows were far better than I've seen on the other ships. The troupe consisted of two ballroom dancers, a ballet pair (Sasha and Katarina from the Ukraine), an acrobat and the assorted dancers and singers that you usually expect. All of them were excellent. Even the regular dancers were in better shape and danced better than the ones I've seen on Carnival and Princess. While all shows were good, "Producer Producer" and especially "Cirque de Pan" are not to be missed.
Other than the Caribbean band out at the pool the other entertainers on the ship were less interesting. The comedian was so-so. The singer had a nice voice but put me to sleep. The piano player had a hard time getting an audience to listen to him play. The folk singer was okay but worthwhile watching only if there was nothing better to do. The Amadeus band was okay but I've seen too many Filipino lounge bands in Asia and they all start to sound alike.
Ports of Call
I like the Western Caribbean schedule but tendering caused some problems for us. The visit to Great Stirrup Cay was cancelled due to winds and tendering to Belize was postponed and substantially delayed due to winds. NCL Sun added Nassau in place of Great Stirrup Cay but a short visit to Nassau on a relatively cool day was a waste of time IMO. Most stores were closed because it was good Friday. The delay on Belize would not have been a problem if we had booked an excursion through NCL as they gave priority to their customers. We, however, did not get onto land until well after 11am and missed our excursion. We didn't lose any money but I feel bad for the tour operator.
I think most lines do a good job with the younger ages. My 8 year old was in the 6-9 group and was able to find friends and engage in fun activities. But for Spring Break there were relatively few (370+) under the age of 18. My 12 year old hated that he couldn't sign himself in and out of the club. Carnival allows that option starting at age 9. The teen group didn't really have a meeting area as the 10-12 year olds took over their assigned space.
We always hear that "a cruise is what you make of it". I can't say that the cruise was bad or I wish we hadn't gone. But, I've enjoyed other cruises more. So, next cruise will be on a different line.