10th Cruise, 1st Cruise Review!
Finding ourselves with an extra week of use-it-or-lose-it vacation, my husband & I decided to book a last-minute cruise 2 weeks before Christmas! We initially looked at NCL's Star, but couldn't get acceptable airfare to coordinate with that itinerary, so we opted for the SUN instead.
PARK & FLY FROM INDIANAPOLIS - Despite living within a 10 minute commute to CVG, we found more affordable airfare out of Indianapolis, driving there the night prior and staying at a very convenient, CLEAN, and friendly "Microtel Inn" that offered a Park & Fly package for around $70 for the 1 night stay + 7 days of parking.
TRANSPORTATION FROM MCO to CRUISE PIER:
Disappointed in finding out that there was a 1 hr + commute from the airport to the pier, we quickly researched our transfer options and ended up renting a one-way car through Budget for about $40, driving straight to the Budget lot down the street from the cruise pier. The folks at Budget were friendly and had 5 vans shuttling people to port from their location. Not sure of the exact timing, but my guess is that it took about 40-45 minutes to get us to NCL after waiting in line at Budget, then dropping off Carnival passengers first.
Embarkation was a bit tedious and lengthy. Baggage screeners delayed entry for 5-10 minutes after finding a bullet in someone's luggage (caught via x-rays)! Turns out the bullet was just the casing that had been converted into a PEN! We were left scratching our heads as to why a passenger would feel compelled to bring such an item on board, but the fact that baggage screening actually SPOTTED the item personally upped my sense of security. With this slight delay, it took us approximately 1 hour to get through the queued lines to screen luggage and then another queue to set up credit card and get our Sailing Badges. I guess with approx 2,000 passengers to board (this was a SOLD OUT sailing), it's not unreasonable to wait 1 hour for embarking.
We received the BEST CHRISTMAS GIFT EVER once we boarded the ship... realizing we had paid for an Outside Cabin just 7 days prior but had been assigned a BALCONY CABIN on Deck 9. WOWZA !!!! What a DIFFERENCE the balcony makes !!!!! I have cruised about 10 times prior... this was hubby's 2nd cruise.... NEVER had we experienced the GIFT of the BALCONY cabin! After spending 7 GLORIOUS DAYS with our Balcony, I'm not sure we could cruise again without it! Maybe NCL's Marketing Dept count on that? Hubby & I LOVED the cabin.... we felt that NCL had GENIUSLY designed the space... we found that even after emptying 2 suitcases EACH (4 total!) we still had several unused shelves in our room.
ENTERTAINMENT: We LOVED Charles Peachock, the America's Got Talent JUGGLER! 10 stars for him! We also LOVED the Folksy Guitar Player, Cat Wells, and ended up following her around the various venues each night she played. BRAVO also for the "SHOUT: The Mod Musical" put on by the young/engergetic Production Team. We weren't as thrilled with the "Energetic Elvie" where we witnessed dozens of folks leaving the Stardust Lounge before we, too, made our exit.
BUFFETS/RESTAURANTS: Hubby & I try to watch our weight and value being "fit/in shape" and 4 of the 7 days found that we ate just 2 meals/day. In other words, we don't give a HUGE priority to food, HAPPY so long as we don't have to cook & grocery shop. With that perspective in mind, we felt that the food on the BUFFET was actually more to our liking than in the Formal Dining Rooms! WHO would have thought? We LOVED the Indian curry dishes offered at all lunch and dinner buffets and our FAVORITE dessert over the week was the hot blueberry cobbler with vanilla sauce served next to Sprinkles' Ice Cream spot.
PORTS of CALL: With the guidance of Tripadvisor Reviews, we booked our Shore Excursions on our own. We visited CHANKANAAB PARK in Cozumel ... a $10 taxi ride + $19 entrance fee (using the $2 on-line coupon) for a PHENOMENAL day of snorkeling (we brought our own snorkel gear). PLUS we were treated to a complimentary SEA LION show that lasted 30-40 minutes and was thoroughly enjoyable! We booked CAPTAIN MARVIN'S STING RAY TOUR in the Caymans, spending $35/ea for a 2 hour tour with about 20 other passengers. It involved a SIMPLE 2-3 block walk off the pier to a waiting bus. I especially respected their Customer Service when they gave us the option of cancelling our reservation b/c of "high winds." We chose NOT to cancel and we were SO glad we made that choice! OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA: It was pouring the rain in this port, and based on reports that Jamaicans constantly harrass tourists, we opted to stay on the ship this day. While most passengers were tromping through the rain, hubby & I worked out in the Fitness Room and then found the SPA, spending time in the Steam Room and Sauna before relaxing on our Balcony. GREAT STIRRUP CAY: I've not seen a more PICTURESQUE beach! Water for snorkeling seemed MUCH COLDER here, but we did get in and kick around for a few hours. Snorkeling here was best near the rocks (20-30 yards from shore). Having been SPOILED @ Chankanaab and Sting Ray Sand Bar, the snorkeling here was "okay."
CLEANLINESS: Hubby & I treasure CLEANLINESS and the SUN (AND Great Stirrup Cay) was SPOTLESS! In fact, we were AWED the entire WEEK as we witnessed scrubbing, mopping, dusting, disinfecting, sweeping, etc. In fact, we walked by an open cabin door at one point to see a Cabin Steward on his knees vacuuming the floor with the INTAKE VENT removed! IMPRESSIVE !!! I had been a victim of the Norwalk / Noro Virus on a previous Carnival cruise, so I ESPECIALLY respected the "washy washy" greeters at all restaurants and buffets on-board and the proliferation of sanitizing stands throughout the ship. THANK YOU NCL !!
ONBOARD "EXCURSION": Hubby & I took the 2 hour "Behind the Scenes" Tour of the ship offered for just $35ea. We saw the Kitchens/Galley + Food Storage areas + Crew Living Quarters + Backstage @ the Stardust Theatre + the Bridge! We were personally greeted and offered Q&A sessions with Managers in each section, each of whom couldn't have been friendlier and seemed VERY sincere. We were ESPECIALLLLLY IMPRESSED by how SPOTLESSLY CLEAN the kitchens and food storage areas were kept. WOWZA!!! The Exec Chef (who hails from India but whose name escapes me just now) seemed particularly "open" to our questions... answering even tough questions that we posed such as food costs, food waste, etc. I had seen on-line where such an "excursion" was offered at $60+ and I'm not sure I would recommend it at that cost, but for $35/person, this tour was VERY WELL WORTH IT!
We opted to carry our own luggage off the ship and perhaps would re-consider doing so next time. We waited in long lines for probably close to an hour, hefting 2 suitcases each, which proved to be particularly cumbersome on the escalators (we were actually pointed to the elevators but there were 30-40 people standing in the elevator line and we didn't want to wait). While in line, we met an elderly couple in front of us who touted just 1 small suitcase each. After asking them to share their tips & wisdom on such light packing, the gentleman explained that they wash some of their clothes in the bathroom while on board. Though I envied their light loads as we departed the ship, I think I'd rather skip doing laundry and will perhaps just consider having the cruise staff carry my luggage off the ship next time.
AND THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME !! :-)