For our first ever cruise, Norwegian Sun seemed like a good choice. We liked the Freestyle concept and of course the itinerary was exactly what we wanted. Fortunately we where travelling with some seasoned cruisers and the tips they gave us not only saved us a lot of money. It also helped get the most from the experience.
Embarkation: We arrived a bit earlier than advised in our documents. This ended up being a good thing as we where near the head of the queue and on the ship quickly I think we where on one of the first transfer buses from customs.. The customs process for us was smooth and the check-in efficient. We where on the ship having a look around and drinking beers on the back deck in less than an hour. Seeing the Garden Café Buffet in it's pristine form for that first lunch was nice and never to be seen that way again. Exploring the ship was fun and seeing how it gradually filled up during the afternoon was kind of interesting. Our cabin was ready just after 1pm which we where quite excited to see. We splurged on a balcony cabin. Given the nature of the cruise I am glad we did. Thanks to previous Cruise Critic reviews we had a starboard cabin which was perfect for the glacier watching.
The Cabin: The size and comfort of the cabin was amazing for first timers like us. It was so clean and the bathroom was spotless. The pressure from the shower was fantastic and the soap products provided where very nice. Our cabin stewards, Wayan and Clarke where very pleasant and always up for a chat, though unlike what I had read about constant attention, we only had the room serviced once a day and a turn down service if we wanted. I did hear that due to the downturn fewer stewards now had more cabins to service. We pre-paid our gratuities but still left a cash tip for the guys.
The Ship: The whole ship was clean, the restaurants inviting and staff friendly. If I thought really hard I may be able to find things to pick at, but I don't want to think that hard. It was so nice as a whole.
Food: Wow so much and the quality was so good. Up front I will say that I thought the surcharges of the specialty restaurants were over the top. Especially the Teppanyaki at US$25 each, we pay that for a good one in Sydney. The French Restaurant (Le Bistro US$15) was our favorite and we celebrated 2 birthdays there. IL Adagio (Italian US$10) next, had 2 meals there. East Meets West at US$20 each was nice but a bit steep. Plus they all had special items on the menu that also incurred and addition charge of US$10-20. We only dined in the Garden Café (or mess hall we called it) twice. Getting a table was just too hard and when the meals in the 7 Seas restaurant where so good and brought to you, why fight at a buffet. Breakfast in 7 Seas was unhurried with so many choices of egg dish you could have something different everyday. We used room service for breakfast on two shore days. It was cold but being delivered to the cabin at 6:15 am (with a warning call) made it easier to get going for the day. One night after a show and some dancing, we ordered a pizza. It showed up 45 minutes later stone cold. The Great Outdoor Café was good for burgers if lunch was missed. Pacific heights also had good Pizza and Pasta at lunchtime. On the last day of the cruise (which was sunny at last) they had a barbeque on the back deck which some notice or announcements about would have been nice. We found it during the dying stages and just got some nice steaks before they packed up In regard to the Garden Café table availability. We noticed many people seemed to set up camp there for the day. I guess if I had an inside cabin it would be a nice place to sit, so was the observation lounge which was usually near empty. During primary meal times, they should try and prioritize tables in the Garden Cafe for people actually eating. The food in all the restaurants was amazingly fresh given how long it had to be stored for. Sadly the wine list was so expensive we did not enjoy as much wine with the meals as we would have liked. As an example, Annies Lane AUD$12.99 was US$36 on the ship and one of the lower priced wines. It worked out better to but good wine on shore and pay the US$15 corkage, rather than the hyper inflated wine prices on the ship.
Bars: Other than the first and last days it was too cold and windy to really enjoy the outdoor bars. But the sports bar and the Observation lounge gave great views and brilliant service. The staff got to know us and always made our group feel special. The enthusiasm to get us drinks did get tedious sometimes, especially where the staff did not know us. It was like a constant mission to sell and get the subsequent tip.
While talking about tips, or gratuity, we supposedly prepaid, but when it comes to the "Autogratuity" for drinks, it seems that does not come under the all gratuities umbrella. All gratuities is only the cabin, not the bar which seems an odd definition of all and I am still working on that. But from what I can see the 15% "Autogratuity" is actually a drinks surcharge which you pay no matter how good or bad the service is (we had no bad service). Americans may be used to this sort of rip off, but it certainly rubbed us the wrong way.
Entertainment: The shows in the Theatre that we saw where very good, though the design of the theatre leaves a bit to be desired. The supporting pylons downstairs wipe out the few for large chunks of seating. Bands where good, on the last night we found the Sun band in the Observation lounge played from 7:30 till 9:00 what a waste having them up there all alone during dinner time. There seemed to be a huge focus on trying to get people to play Bingo. We went once, but after seeing the pathetic prizes offered for a winning ticket (US$80 to US$120) we gave it a miss from then on. I am a non smoker and nearly died when I went into the casino. So that was out for me. I had to cover my mouth and get through fast every time we went through there. We did wine tastings, which where fun and at $15 let us sample a bunch of wines that we may not otherwise have tried. Not the expensive ones either.
Shore Excursions: The shore excursion prices with NCL seemed a bit steep for us. So we took our chances on our own all but twice and where very happy with the results and the savings. Walking out of the port areas there where always taxis happy to negotiate a tour and a competitive rate and most of the followed the equivalent NCL tour.
In Puerto Chacabuco we took an NCL tour (we had some doubt about the availability of port transport) that was very good though at US$100 each was an expensive one. The quality of the guide, Michelle and the lunch they gave us softened the sting of the high price. When we got back, some intrepid soles told us how the got a local bus to the same places we went for US$7 odd, just no guide and no lunch.
In Puerto Montt we joined Jeremy and a bunch of other CC people for a brilliant tour of Puerto Veras guided by Jamie from PatagoniaShorex http://www.patagoniashorex.com/. Jeremy lined this up before the cruise and we where lucky enough to get some seats at the CC meet and greet at the start of the cruise. Toured the lakes district and had lunch at a small local restaurant. Thanks for organizing this Jeremy.
Itinerary: It seems we where blessed with the weather. Only 1 rainy day at Puerto Montt, slight to moderate seas and comfortable temperatures. Even Cape Horn though windy was relatively calm it seems. We visited every port, including Stanley on the Falkland Islands (If the fish and chips at the Globe Tavern are the best on the Islands then either they are the only ones who do fish and chips, or the rest are really bad). The Museum and National trust houses are worth the walk too. I won't bang on too much about the other ports. They all had great things to see and do. More time in Ushuaia would have been better value than the long day spent in Punta Arenas (to cater for the outrageously expensive Arctic Flight???).
Photos: For our first cruise, we had to buy the embarkation photo. But after that at US$20 a pop or US$25 for the digital file I could not justify anymore. Going by the thousands still on the wall on the last day, not many others could either. What a waste.. Surely sensibly priced prints, files or cruise packages would see people happy to buy the photos. Not waste the resources as is done currently and make NCL more money than they would have to be making now??
Disembarkation: There was no express option at Valparaiso so we chilled out and waited for our color to be called. It all worked well.
You can read about our pre and post cruise hotels at Trip Advisor
I do want to mention Hector from Hector Travel Service http://www.infohub.com/travel_company/17748.html. We found him after we had arranged transfers but after doing a couple of tours with him and his associates, I wish we had arranged the whole Valparaiso / Santiago end with him. It would have been more time and cost effective to look around and stay in Valpo for a night then move to Santiago for a look around. Hector could have arranged that for us.
Hope this helps you future cruisers. Overall happy with the Sun.