Norwegian Sun Cruise Review by Mary Seas
- Sail Date: January 2016
- Destination: South America
- Cabin Type: Mid-Ship Balcony
WE chose to stay in Buenos Aires pre cruise and bought our own pre cruise trip to Iguazu Falls for less than the NCL package. We had only a 15 minute drive to the port with a private driver. Our hotel in Buenos Aires( Rochester M) was small with small rooms but well located with a bountiful breakfast buffet.
Overall, the staff and crew of the Norwegian Sun exceeded our expectations in courtesy, attention to detail and personal service. The food was better than expected in the main dining rooms but uninspired. The itinerary as published got sliced by omitting going around the Horn but short cutting to Ushiaia for a mixture of excuses (weather, medical ) . The communication on board from the Captain and cruise director was not consistent or reliable yet the safety drills and security appeared quite well designed. the 2001 ship launched on 9/11 shows its age in design , furniture, art work and wear and tear on the ship. Twice water stopped flowing for 10-15 minutes in our cabin.
Embarkation was chaotic at Buenos Aires taking 2 hours with delays, misinformation and general incompetence. One staff told us we would get our passports back in Antarctica where we were not headed to! That did not include luggage wait time outside as our driver put us into the inside documentation/immigration line by getting a porter to accept our luggage immediately upon arrival . We bypassed over 200 people lugging their own luggage to the drop off as our porter took it from us. Our tip was worth getting into air conditioning.
Our cabin was ready before 1:30PM so we dumped our carry on and sought lunch on this ship new to us.
We immediately avoided the garden Café that was crowded with rude pushing arrivals. The Moderna next door was a light buffet with tables and chairs. NCL uses this as the Brazilian Grill at night and as light buffet for breakfast and lunch. We had a quiet table for soup, salad and chicken or tuna spread sandwiches. Pasta and pizza also was ready
Like most cruisers we started a tour from top deck down before the ship set sail. We looked for up to date library books to borrow for the 2 weeks. None. Most of the exchange books were in German. Library books were well worn 3-10 year old tomes.
We started using our "Ultimate Beverage package" with diet Pepsi. No Coke products on NCL apparently.
Our safety drill was on time before sailaway and well managed Frail people were allowed to show up at their assigned stations , sign in and sit indoors for the duration to hear the instruction
WE chose a B6 cabin ( 10015) which is balcony midship. It proved excellent for location by the elevators and taking us to everything we needed onboard quickly with 8 elevators. We felt very little ship motion and was well sound proofed. The only disappointment was most land sites were on the Starboard side as we sat on a port balcony (glaciers, fjords, harbors) . East to West in South America get Starboard and west to East get port balconies! The cabin felt small with lots of storage but no bathroom ease. The shower was circular and minimal. Common shampoo and body wash dispensers with no hair conditioner. Adequate 110V in the room for recharging phones and computer.
Our first night we chose the Seven Seas dining room ( complimentary-traditional ) as it was isolated at the aft elevators unreachable on deck 5 from midship. It has the identical menu each night as the other main dining room the Four seasons. We found the Seven Seas uncrowded with excellent service. We had a window table most nights for two. Not once were we asked to share to make it easier for the staff. WE preferred dinner between 6 and 6:30 so did not need a reservation and were seated immediately. By the second week we had the same serving staff each night and were greeted by familiar servers knowing our preferences. We had prompt service to be able to go to the 7:30PM show if we wanted.
Starters were varied each day and our favorites were the Caesar salads with chicken variations, smoked salmon tartar and seafood such as shrimp, escargot and steamed clams. The onion soup was weak as also other soups.
The left side of the menu had classic main plates available every night We enjoyed some excellent NY strip steaks on this cruise off the left side. The daily changing main plates varied in quality and style. We chose lamb chops, prime rib, and steaks and left meatballs, spaghetti, lasagna, and peasant food for others. The fish entrees we tried were disappointing ( mahi mahi , corvina) With the NY strip as a reserve choice we did not choose to go to the specialty restaurants .
Deserts were quite varied with the European cakes and tarts well done. The opera cake was especially stunning. we had to ask for the apple pie to be warmed when served al la mode.
We chose a served dinner every night with linens and cloth napkins avoiding the Garden Café buffet.
The buffet for lunch frequently was crowded with no open seating We sought alternatives outside or in the sports bar to eat lunch. The ice cream bar had limited supplies and choices. The soft ice cream was a simple pick me up in the afternoon.
Entertainment in the main show room-Stardust Lounge- varied greatly. The best was the two shows by the Tango troupe from Buenos Aires which also taught tango on the ship between Buenos Aires and Punta Arenas. The production troupe had 18 dancers and singers with the male singers carrying a better tune. The women singers seemed shrill and over miked most of the time. The dancers were quite talented and well directed. Two special programs of cabaret singing outside the Stardust showed the weaknesses of individual singers as they tried Broadway and pop singles.
The other main show room nights included a comedian, magician, hypnotist and an over the hill middle aged woman singer "Evie Rose". The latter was the worst nights as she seemed left over from the Catskills or some long gone era. She took the stage four times to ruin our evenings.
The bars had a good piano player with wide repertoire, average classical trio strings, and a guitarist who sang folk/country. A Spanish duo sang in the bars to poor reception. A pop group never seemed to be where we were except at sail-aways and lunch by the pool. The best night in the bars came with the Sun Show band doing Dixieland.
we did not do the day time sports activities for points and prizes at the end of the 2 weeks. We also did not attend the dance classes. We enjoyed the live entertainment at Sail-away. The best sail-away on embarkation we had ever seen with staff dancing and singing around the pool. the last night the hotel officers and chefs did a sing along in the atrium lining the stairway and that was a great and appropriate ending.
We did most of our tours and excursions independently as the cost of NCL seemed high. As we had short time in Puerto Chacabuco and tenders, we took a NCL shore excursion which was well managed We were guaranteed our tender ticket with an NCL excursion. the local company in this rural port with few resources delivered as promised.
The port speaker Peter Croyle was accessible and strongly prepared. He had some misinformation but generally steered us to good inexpensive options to excursions. WE enjoyed the inexpensive shuttle to the Gypsy Cove penguin reserve in Port Stanley. We also walked many cities without tours. Peter has been doing this for years He appears to not tolerate fools who do not listen and then asks questions. But he is worth listening to on the TV as he is rather repetitive.
We sought independent tours in Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt. Punta Arenas was to see the penguin colony at Marguerite island and the sea lions on Marta island. The tour for $88 was simple ( bus to boat to island and return ) and allowed us over 60 minutes to walk through thousands of penguins Puerto Mont was scheduled with other Cruise Critic travelers for 8 hours to see volcano, lakes, Puerta Varas and cultural moments. At $70 it was a great day out on the road. Both independent shore excursion worked hard to get us back with time to spare.
Disembarkation was well handled and we cleared into Valparaiso in minutes Crew line the atrium to say goodbye.
Then our ( expensive) post cruise tour to Easter island was to start. A man with a sign directed us to the bus line up. But there was chaos in the Valparaiso port parking lot about which bus we would be on. Back and forth they argued to finally load us. No one came forward as our tour guide as stated in our documents. The tour guide for an excursion of Valparaiso stated he was annoyed that we had no tour guide. He did nothing to introduce the group to each other or anything to create a group out of 25 people. Soon we had a problem.
The excursion company sent a bus for 50 people with one guide .The bus could not go into many Valparaiso streets so the guide started leading the mature over 55 age group up and down hills in humid 90 degree weather. He would demand us march up 5 blocks to get our tour. He made no adaptations for those walking with canes. or with limited stamina. One woman at the back of the group was left behind and got mugged on the street in Valparaiso while on tour. The excursion guide Javiar did not want to report her assault to the police or to help her. She insisted.
We couldn't understand why and how we had a full day tour of Valparaiso including two museums but no tour of the wineries, Vina del Mar or other sites on the way to Santiago. Our "lunch" was a snack of an empanada and a Pisco Sour ( or alternative) DEhydration was an issue for many. Climbing the five flights of stairs in the former home of author Neruda was tough. Not worth the effort. We left for Santiago going on 4PM. We arrived in Santiago at about 5PM. Tired and wrung out. The Santiago Intercontinental was a great respite. The excursion guide dropped us off to return at 7:30AM for our flight to Easter Island.
LAN flew us into Easter Island after 5 hours of flying. Poor food. We arrived hungry. A new excursion guide, Sabrina, met us at the airport complaining that we had no tour guide. NCL had bought 2 excursions and 2 dinners from her company Rapa Nui tours. Our Program was laid out by her company in the 2 days we had on Easter Island and did not include a half day tour to 5 of the 13 Moa platforms or a visit to the only town on the island. No alteration of the excursions would be made. Vouchers were used for our dinners by the tour company. At no time did Sabrina do anything to bring us together and meet each other.
On Easter island there are no big buses so the tour company piled us into two vans with one guide between the two vans. Too many people. The other companies limited their tours to 10 people. e.g. Overseas International Adventures had 6 clients with one guide. We got to know them as we met them on the plane and at several sites including our 1 hour at a Pacific beach. Their guide knew all their names on the plane going to Easter island!
Upon arrival at the hotel we had 45 minutes to change/clean up to go out on our half day tour. WE had this prepaid excursion planned upon arrival after being on the road from 7:30AM. WE got back in the vans at 3:45PM . WE had 2.5 hours of bumpy road on the van to learn the history of the Polynesians on the island. We saw no Moa. We walked up and down hills to see where there had been a village ( Orana) and such. The visit to the volcano crater was disappointing as it is the water supply for the island and is covered with deep green algae. Nothing was encouraging. Walking up the wall of the caldera in the heat to see green goo was disappointing. Looking at pictures of the Bird Man myth-celebration in the visitor center. Exhausted we return at 6PM to the Iorana hotel. Excursion over. Guide leaves.
The Iorana is NOT a four star hotel. Barely a 3 star. Our room had deficient air conditioning. The entrance had a blown out light bulb upon our arrival. The staff would not replace as " you did something to make them stop working". Attitude at the front desk was annoying. The locks did not work for the three days we were there. Electronic system was "jammed". Refrigerator did not cool. No ice. "Water not drinkable" and bottles of local water were $2 each from the hotel. Wifi was only available in the lobby with no AC. The beds sagged towards the floor and were not comfortable as lumpy and overused. Amenities in the bath were soap and shampoo. This hotel is 2 miles to town. There were many hotels close to town with newer construction. The views from the hotel were wonderful but this was a primitive hotel. View from our room was great but we needed to close the drapes as people walked around at night in the open yard.
Each evening we were left to get our dinner at the hotel or catch the bus to the selected restaurant with a driver. No tour guide.
The dinners NCL bought at our hotel the Iorana and the downtown Pea restaurant were mediocre with inedible meat. The servers at the Iorana were rude with many people and displayed annoyance that we were 25 people at one time. The food served us appeared quite different/inferior from the independent travelers at the next table. Only beverage included was water or watermelon juice. Salad was grated carrots and other hard root vegetables. The surprise meat was not eaten by most
The Pea restaurant was ill prepared with slow service. The sunroom chosen was hot in blazing late day sun. The guests moved the tables out of the sun( 6 feet away from the window ) in the very large unused room. The only food worth eating was the very large breaded tuna steak. The steak entrée was inedible and the vegetables distasteful.
The full day tour of Easter island was a standard excursion with two vans and one guide. Rounding up 25 people proved tiring. Climbing the hills started to tire some of the older guests. Finally by mid day, we saw our first platform of standing Moas! WE used our long range lenses to get some Moas. The quarry visit was the major event of the day. We saw all the sites on the program including one hour at the Anakena beach. Some did not want to go to the beach but had no options. We chose not to go into the ocean .Everything had a charge at the beach: toilet, changing rooms before/after. Our tour included nothing. WE found that carrying pesos( about 5000 pesos) was wise as they overcharged for American dollars on everything
The last morning had nothing planned. "You are on your own". NCL had not scheduled the other half day tour which includes 5 of the 13 sites on the island. The other groups and packages include 2 half day tours and the full day tour. We were short changed by the NCL planners in Miami. We could not schedule this 1/2 day tour on the island as the guides were too busy. We could pay for a taxi to town. Some did spend the $16 to go to town and visit the museum . This was the only way to see the only Moa with coral eyes.
BY 12:30PM all of the guests were lined up ready to leave. Few had praise for their Easter Island tour company. All felt it a special opportunity to get to Easter island but felt scammed by NCL to miss 5/13 of the experience. None spoke of ever returning as this was their once in a lifetime to go to Easter island. So we flew 2500 miles back to Santiago.
Arriving at midnight at the Intercontinental Santiago we were treated well by staff who retrieved our luggage. Staff had our reservations prepared and off we went to bed.
Our final excursion was a 4 hour tour of Santiago. There was an imbalance as we had 75 minutes at the small pre-Columbian museum and 5 minutes at the Cathedral of Santiago. Way too much time for the museum Not enough of Santiago and its great plaza and awesome Cathedral. WE got the scheduled program and returned to the hotel. We had transfers by three groups to the airport.
Luckily the Intercontinental allowed late check out until out shuttle time so we had time to cool down . We had 5 hours on our own in Santiago before departure at 7:15PM. We were happy to be free of our excursion guide .
Summary: We felt NCL has worked hard to upgrade its cruising experience on the small NCL SUN with excellent service, courteous staff and crew, visibility of its officers, and dining improvements. The ports were the reason for the cruise and lived up to our expectations. Communication from the leadership on the ship was deficient.
The NCL 5 day post-cruise experience for Easter Island which cost as much as the 14 day cruise from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso was disappointing. It was 25 people on a vouchered excursion with similar reservations. No leadership and no cohesion of the parts. NCL did not arrange for all of the tours on Easter Island to cover all the sites as expected. We saw 8/13 of the sites although we had adequate time to do all of Easter island. We would not recommend trusting NCL with your pre cruise or post cruise dollars We had arranged our pre cruise to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls for less than NCL's offering ( about 1/2 their cost) and did not miss anything.
NCL has problems with communication to its customers on board and in its packages.
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The cabin was smaller than our previous HAL experience. Storage worked Luggage under the bed. Refrigerator did not work to cool. But our steward Clint kept us supplied with ice for drinks. Ou rlocation near 8 mid ship elevators was great We avoided the congestion of the four aft elevators for shows and dining. Amenities were few. no fresh fruit, no hair conditioner. The hand soap dispenser ran out of its nice soap. we had adequate 120 v to recharge our iphones and cameras. Shower was small and tight. Grab bar made it possible to stay in the shower and turn. Laundry could not dry in the small damp bathroom bad weather made it hard at times to dry laundry in the cabin. Outdoor chairs worked best for drying.
The balcony was private with no one visible or heard except occasional scraping chairs. No smoke came into our cabin or balcony from smokers near by. Our steward provide prompt service. Our evening towel animals were pleasant NCL gave each bed/guest their own daily schedule in the evening which is better than other lines.
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