This was our first cruise. We decided on a repositioning voyage, as it offered a good price during the time I could get away from work. Before we left, we went through the reviews on cruisecritic.com. Needless to say they ran the gambit from great to poor. Talk about trepidation.. So below is our critique of the cruise:
1. Because of traffic in Vancouver, we were one of the last to board. The kiosks were being taken apart, and there was some confusion as to where we should go. Because we were late, getting through customs was quick and we were on the boat within 15 minutes of our arrival.
2. My luggage was left on the tarmac in Seattle. The airline (Alaska) had the bag on the next flight. The bag made the boat before sailing. After returning from dinner, we found the bag outside our cabin. I would have preferred that it be put in my cabin, as I did have some valuables in it.
3. The "Welcome Aboard Bar-B-Q" was slated to begin at 4 pm. Because our first flight left so early, we had not had an opportunity to eat all day. At 4 we went up on deck to eat. We were told that the food would not be ready until 4:30. We were hungry and asked if anything was open. We were told the "Garden Cafe" (buffet) was open. It wasn't. We were told that the "Open Air" buffet was open. It wasn't, but after a few of us showed up, the curtains were raised and we ate. While it was just hamburgers, hot dogs and salads fixing's, it was really good.
4. We had read about poor service if you didn't drink. This is true, as we don't drink. However, it was easy to get coffee, tea, water or milk at anytime. We did not find this a hindrance at all. That is really all the negative points we have....
5. Our cabin was spacious, well kept and very clean. We had booked a larger stateroom with balcony and only the suites were larger. This room was designed for those with handicaps, so the doors and access points were all larger. There were two spacious closets in our cabin, one with a interior light. The "head" shower did not have the typical lip to keep the water from splashing all over the floor. However, we did have extra towels to keep the floor dry, again this was not an issue for us. We would have liked additional 110 volt plugs. There was one in the cabin and one in the head. There were euro 220 plugs as well. We would suggest to bring a converter or extension type cord/socket for computers/games etc.
6. On Monday we moored at Astoria. The ship used it's own tenders to ferry passengers to shore. During the afternoon the tide in the river was fast flowing, but the crew handled it exceptionally well (having some nautical experience, I can appreciate good seamanship). We did not take advantage of any excursion packages, though there plenty of options. Mt. St. Helens might have been a great tour as the mountain was closed the following day. Astoria is a pleasant town and we had a nice stroll downtown shopping and sightseeing.
7. Monday evening we dined at "East Meets West". We had an absolutely wonderful meal. Our server "Nick" could not have been better. The meal cost $30 (again we do not drink), and we left a substantial tip. Our only complaint was the lighting. It was bright. Softer lighting would have made the experience perfect.
8. We took all of our breakfast and lunch meals as the "Garden Cafe". We found the meals wonderful, with a nice variety. We did not have to wait or share a table and usually sat by the large windows. Try the canned Apples for breakfast...they are wonderful as are the waffles! Lunches were varied and very good. The deserts were all great, but we really liked the cobblers.
9. Tuesday night we enjoyed dinner at "Le Bistro". Our server was Rey and like Nick the night before could not have been better. Either one would have been at home at any five star restaurant! Again our meal cost $30 and again we left a very healthy tip.
10. About tipping. The "freestyle" part of the cruise means that a automatic tip is added to any item brought by staff (like a cappuccino or coke), plus a $10 a day add on. You have the option to add to the tip if you wish, as we did every time. Some have criticized this, but we didn't have a problem with it. Those that deserved extra, got it...those that didn't...didn't. Ok, 15% was the add on, but we feel that 20% is ok for exceptional service (more when the meal only costs $30).
11. My wife took advantage of the spa. Kelly was wonderful and my wife looked radiant after her facial. She did decide to purchase some of the facial products. There was not an over pressure sales pitch for this, as we have seen elsewhere (try Nordstrom's if you want high pressure sales). The costs were reasonable and well in line with most good cosmetics.
12. We spent a few afternoons in the observation lounge. We had one special server, Sylvia, who was a delight. We did have coffee or soda and she was attentive, considerate and a real joy.
13. Our shore excursion to San Francisco was great. Getting on/off the boat is easy (as it was in Astoria) and the dock is next to pier 39 and just a couple of blocks from the cable cars. The ship was docked for 14 or so hours, so there was plenty of time to shop/eat, come back take a nap, shop/eat and see the lights of the "city" before the ship sailed.
14. The ship uses color coded tags when disembarking. Each tag represents the time you leave, based on your flight times or other arrangements. We were off the boat and in the bus in 10 minutes. I can't think how this could be done any faster.
Overall, our experience was first rate. We didn't avail ourselves to all the activities that the ship offered. There was an art auction, bingo, trivia, dancing, gaming, shows (we did see the juggler and he was really good), painting, and on and on.... There were several children on the boat (shouldn't they be in school???), but we never saw or were disturbed by them. Either they were very well behaved or the ship had some good activities for them. Getting on and off the boat was simple, with the exception of our first night. We found, without exception, the staff to be excellent. They were pleasant, helpful, considerate and a joy. As flight attendants often say, "there are many cruise lines to choose from and we are glad you chose us". The Sun's crew really lived up to that billing. Would we go on the Sun again....absolutely!