The schedule of our 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise was changed after a shuddering malfunction in an engine reduced our speed by about half. We made it to the Bahamas, but St. Thomas and St. Maarten were replaced with the Dominican Republic and NCL's private island, Great Stirrup Cay, in order to make it back to Port Canaveral on schedule. NCL quickly organized tenders, events and shore excursions for the new ports of call, provided a few extra complimentary things on board and gave everyone $100 credit and 30% off another cruise. I understand the Sun was due to go into dry dock for maintenance in January-- maybe it needed to be a little bit sooner. The ship was clean, but starting to show some signs of basic wear. It could use a little updating and was not as stylish or impressive as the Spirit.
I was pleased with my stateroom. Kind of garish carpet and couch, but good lighting (and a variety of it, not just harsh overheads), plenty of storage, minifridge, powerful air conditioning, lots of mirrors, fine spacious balcony, and it was quiet as a tomb. The stewards-- Ramel and Nevil-- were angels and memorized us immediately-- if they saw us in another part of the ship, they greeted us by name. They worked fast, carefully, and were friendly to a fault.
The food was generally very good, and I only had a couple dishes (both chicken) that I considered mediocre. The soups were particularly delicious, as were all the seafood dishes I got. Professional plating, appropriate portions, nice variety. The Freestyle dining in the two main dining rooms usually worked well, though we did have to share larger tables with other passengers a couple times. Speedy, polite service (though I think it was markedly stronger in the first few days of the cruise). The buffet (which I only ever went to for breakfast) was, truly, too small for the volume of people trying to use it. There were simply not good paths of travel and lines tended to get confusing. It was always crowded and noisy, and I always immediately took my food outside.
The spa was well-appointed-- my manicurist was easy to talk to (about real topics, not just generic pleasantries) and nice. The entertainment (around the ship and in the theater) was good quality though, again, not as impressive as what I found aboard the Spirit. The crew talent show was a nice touch though.
Our Nassau shore excursion was delightful. We rode Segways around the island like maniacs, and everyone seemed consumed with childlike awe at learning something new and careening about on these peculiar vehicles. The tour guides were fantastic-- nice, fun people to be around as well as professional and knowledgeable. They outfitted us with plenty of safety equipment and at least 20 minutes of gentle lessons, but I still managed to fall off as a result of my own antics (as did about half the other people), but everyone hopped right back on with laughs of "Oops, my fault! I'm fine, I'm fine!" The day was beautiful and cool, the terrain rugged and a little challenging, and the sights we saw (an old fort, a botanical garden) interesting. The Segways were in great shape, the guides provided bottled water and backpacks, and everything was generally wonderful.
Samana, Dominican Republic was a little underwhelming, but better than a day at sea. Can't complain for something that NCL put together in about twelve hours. They managed to organized quite a few shore excursions, though we didn't take any. Samana is pretty rough around the edges, with lots of stray dogs (though very tame and not skin-and-bones as in some developing countries) and rather pushy vendors, but I don't regret seeing it. If you want elegant shopping, this is not your place. We had a glacially cold beer at a bar, walked along the shore, and picked up a few trinkets. The surrounding landscape was rather mountainous and dramatic, and a storm looked like it might roll in, but never did. Getting back to the tender dock, the NCL crew was waiting cheerfully with chilled towels.
Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's private island, is a naturally beautiful place. A shallow turquoise cove is protected by rings of jagged rocks, and it's ideal for swimming. I took a dip myself, and the water was tolerable even in December-- frequent complaints that the sunny, 80-degree island was "freezing" were clearly coming from very thin-blooded people. The delicate sandy beach right around there may have been artificially created because the rest of the coastline was as rocky and wild as could be without a glimpse of that white sand. Walking off away from the more populated area, there were mesmerizing, elaborate tide pools full of tiny fish and snails. NCL was in the process of improving the facilities, so there was construction going on in the background (why the cay is supposed to be closed until next fall), but it did not intrude on our experience. It wasn't noisy, though I could see plenty of activity going on over a fence and some trees. The facilities that were already there were adequate-- decent, clean restrooms, various open air shelters, and a kitchen/grilling area that provided a tasty, casual barbecue that was actually refreshing after the rich food of the cruise. There were thousands of lounge chairs and you could literally plop down anywhere with no problem. It was a very enjoyable day.
But here's where it gets unpleasant. My biggest complaint about this cruise was the company-- no fault of NCL. I was embarrassed by the way I saw some of my fellow passengers speaking to innocent crew members. The rudeness, unreasonableness, and trashy arrogance of quite a few customers left a bad taste in my mouth. The crew must have the patience of Job. I understand being disappointed by the changes, but I honestly believe some people's hysteria was put on entirely as an attempt to receive a free cruise they well knew they weren't going to get. Those Carnival passengers drifted without power for four days, but you think you should get a full refund for the daunting hardship of having to go to a private island barbecue? Cruise lines don't guarantee they'll visit their expected ports of call, and when you buy your tickets, it says so. Don't take the cruise if you don't like that possibility. If the ONLY reason you're on this vacation is to get to St. Thomas to do your Christmas shopping, then you should have flown to St. Thomas and stayed in a hotel. NCL did much more than they had to do to assuage passengers' fits of whining, but still people were spitting "YOU'LL NEVER [EXPLETIVE] SEE ME AGAIN" in the faces of smiling, apologizing staff on the way off the ship. Never see you again? Good riddance. Spoiled, loud, low class people. Not everyone-- some individuals were lovely and laid-back-- but the overall social environment was poisonous.
G8R62, if boarding took 2 hours you were, frankly, doing it wrong. I was relaxing on my balcony within 30-40 minutes, confused as to why everyone was sitting like zombies in that terminal waiting area for no clear reason. I could dine leisurely in a main dining room in 45 minutes to an hour-- there were servers everywhere with each person only covering a very few tables. I don't know how you even managed to have such a hard time, unless perhaps the waitstaff was avoiding you for a reason? If you prompted one of the (normally very professional) servers to lecture you on manners, I have no doubt you were indeed obnoxious people.
Norwegian will always be a good service for the price. Maybe more luxurious lines will be, well, more luxurious, but you will certainly pay for it. Apples and oranges, honestly.