Yes, the ingredients in this cruise vacation are a recipe for Awesomesauce!
We're a middle aged couple from north/central Massachusetts. A little over a year ago I noticed the value of this unusual annual repo itinerary on this sailing & so we decided to book it for the following year. NCL made raving fans of us years ago with its great food, entertainment, & people. We're seasoned cruisers, but up 'til now we've sailed mostly to the Caribbean except for once thru the Panama canal and once to Bermuda. This cruise vacation involved a 6+ hour flight from Boston to San Diego, a 10+ hour flight from Santiago, Chile to New York, and a short flight from New York to Boston. We also spent 5 nights pre-cruise in 5th floor corner-room accommodations overlooking Broadway and 4th Ave. at The U.S. Grant in the historic and very walk-able Gaslamp District in San Diego.
We absolutely loved San Diego...The charm & hospitality of the U.S. Grant (especially that shown to us by Kimber at the front desk.and Umberto & Corey in the Grant Grill) is world class and we loved our stay there...plenty of great food/nightlife in-house or just blocks away. The night we arrived we had late-night eats, drinks, & entertainment in the in-hotel Grant Grill Lounge followed by a much needed good night's sleep. On our first full day in San Diego after sleeping in, we dressed for an amazing 80 degree F. day, had amazing craft drinks at Cafe 21 on 5th Ave, lunched a few steps and an elevator ride away at Rooftop600 (poolside on the roof of the Andaz Hotel, on F Steet) including octopus & sea bass, spent our afternoon at Sea World, and freshened up at the U.S. Grant before enjoying stage-side table seating at the world famous Flamenco dinner show at Cafe Sevilla on 5th Ave. One the second full day my wife shopped at Horton Plaza Mall across the street from the Hotel while I shredded myself to bits at 24 Hour Fitness - Horton Plaza. In the afternoon we visited the San Diego Zoo. The evening kicked off at the Grant Grill in the hotel where we feel we were treated especially well (and I can't thank them enough for a wonderful fine dining experience). Then off to the Lyceum Theater (also just across the street from the hotel) for San Diego Repertory's emotionally moving production of "Disgraced", which I think will prove to be our favorite time spent in San Diego. So well written and acted ..and delivering a not-so-subtle timely message. We capped the evening with a late-night cappuccino and desserts at Bice on 4th Ave. On Day 3, we slept in again, lunched at Operacaffe on 4th Ave., visited museums at Balboa Park (San Diego Air & Space Museum, Botanical Building, and the S.D. Museum of Art), freshened up, then ate 1st & 2nd dinner courses at Allure on 4th Ave...& 3rd, 4th, 5th dinner courses at De'Medici on 5th Ave. We highly recommend the bananas foster for 2 prepared & flambéd table-side at De'Medici & suggest that it perhaps may be the best dessert in San Diego. The remainder of the evening (8 'til late) was enjoyed at "The Shout! House" (Dueling Piano Bar) on 4th Ave. where we sang all night (with the gathered Halloween crowd) between sips. Day 4 began in the gym (24 Hour Fitness - Horton Plaza,) in the AM, lunched at The Taco Stand in La Jolla (awesome cheap eats), visited the seals & sea lions all afternoon at the beach in La Jolla Cove. (For those who don't know, they're wild, but friendly for the most part...its not a zoo or themepark...its just where these cuties choose to hang out) We then headed up (literally) to George's at the Cove (overlooks the cove) for braised short ribs & blackberry mojitos on their rooftop terrace and to watch the sunset...a heavenly magical day.
The next morning, our last in San Diego (for now) was a day to sleep in, get up & pack, shave, shower and get ready to Cruise to South America. We would have loved to visit the USS Midway Museum on Harbor Drive, but we simply ran out of time. Mid-morning we said goodbye to the U.S. Grant and cabbed over to the cruise ship pier where we said hello (& embarked) the Norwegian Sun, which would be our new home-away-from-home for the next 17 nights.
Lets start with the crew, then the ship, food, entertainment, & ports of call.
NCL pioneered "freestyle" cruising and has great food and entertainment at sea for its price-point but the greatest draw for us that keeps us coming back is its people. Working longer days than most Americans do, day in & day out, they somehow remain interesting to talk to, remember our names, and are always pleasant, courteous, polite, & deferential to their guests...even the most "difficult" impossible-to-please guests. I'm always super-motivated/inspired to treat my own customers better following every NCL cruise. Nevis kept our balcony cabin on deck 9 immaculate, well stocked with ice, ran our clothes down to the laundry at strange hours, and made sure our needs were instantly met. Shrinivas and Honorio stood apart from the crowd of pool-deck bar waiters by day (& sommeliers at dinnertime). They never failed to greet us, take time to chat with us, and always seemed to be close at hand & know when our glasses were in need of a refill. Andre, the executive sous-chef on-board always took time out to see how we were doing. No matter which restaurant we chose for dinner, he was always there at some point during the meal, making his rounds, and engaging with his guests...definitely a nice touch. He also dropped by our table to see that we were well fed at the breakfast & lunch buffets when we chose to eat there...seemingly able to be everywhere, all the time.
The ship is smaller than most of the NCL ships we've sailed on, but has almost everything their larger ships do for entertainment & dining venues, albeit slightly smaller in scale. Still, they seem no more crowded since the number of guests and crew are proportionate to the size of the ship. I had my second ever massage (& first ever at sea) on the 2nd full sea day...Esperanza's talented fingers (& elbow) melted my worldly cares away. I didn't realize how "un-relaxed" I was before until during & after the massage...(Ahhhhhh) My wife played in the casino a few times and I heard no complaints, 'tho I never set foot in it this time around. The gym was well apportioned with free-weights & decent cardio and weight machines but lacked a simple tower station to do pull ups, dips, & leglifts. There was a seperate adjacent yoga/TRX room too. Bogden, the in-house personal trainer certainly looked like he knew what he was doing 'tho we didn't personally take advantage of his experience. Overall I was happy with the gym and spent a couple hours there every other morning. The pool deck was where we spend most sea day afternoons and it seemed more than adequate in size & scale for the number of people there. The stardust theater was smaller than on the bigger ships and wasn't set up to have aerialists dangling & bungeeiing above the seated attendees (like the newer ships). That said, the venue was able to comfortably accommodate several world class performances during this cruise and we took in the shows almost every night. There were several other seated venues, with bars/barstaff, 2 with dancefloors, to enjoy DJ, live musical & comic performances, trivia & "game-shows", lectures, movies, etc... There's also a whiskey bar, champagne bar, & sports bar, atrium bar, coffee bar...whatever your choice for liquid libation.
The food...well nobody goes hungry on a cruise ship. We frequented the several specialty restaurants aboard....Le Bistro (french gourmet) 3 times, Cagney's Steakhouse (traditional steakhouse) twice, Moderno Churrascaria (Brazilian-style steakhouse) twice, La Cucina (Italian) 3 times, Teppanyaki once. We ate dinner twice in the main dining room and 4 nights at the buffet (mostly after port days). We alternated between the buffet and main dining rooms (depending on our whims & how things fell into place) for breakfast everyday and for lunch on sea days. The food and service was consistently exceptional everywhere. We have nothing but great things to say, & I'm a foodie and my wife's worked in mid to high end f&b hospitality her whole life.
Everyone I spoke to raved about the entertainment aboard. We loved it all. The main-stage performances spanned several decades & genres of music & styles. In the stardust theater they had The Las Vegas Tenors on a couple different nights (excellent), a Divas (duo) show also out of Vegas, Jeri Sager (Broadway) excellent, a couple nights of Greg Gleason (Magician) really loved his first show with the up close card tricks, several full length live singing/dancing performances with "the Cast" of the Norwegian Sun (sexy broadwayesque variety), & there was a comedian, a piano showman, and a Russian female violinist/comedian, whose names I don't remember. One of our 2 favorite musical acts aboard were a group from Russia called Colibri, They could play anything from the old standards to modern day hits to Spanish songs...a beautiful female singer who sang in English & Spanish equally well, accompanied by an accomplished jazz drummer & keyboardist & a guitar player who sounded just like Carlos Santana (excellent). They improvised every song and made the their own playing sets on the pool deck, in the atrium, and in the observation lounge throughout the cruise. Our other favorite was a female string trio from Poland (violin, viola, cello) playing mostly (but not exclusively) classical music...They could also be found daily in the atrium and observation lounge, and had performances one night on the main-stage in the Stardust Theater...Loved them. There was also a pop/old-top-40ish group called Blue Notes that played mostly the pool deck and Dazzel's Lounge, and a guitar troubadour who played and sang (and people sang along at times) in the atrium and the whiskey bar. There was a piano player who played mostly in the whiskey bar, but we really didn't gel with his particular peculiar style and tended not to stick around there when he was on, 'tho he seemed to have his own following...to each their own, as they say. There were also countless dance classes, yoga classes, painting workshops, game-shows, art raffles, trivia contests, ballroom dancing, and DJ events throughout the cruise running concurrently in the many venues.
One small disappointment was the White Hot Party that we had looked forward to. The DJ really catered to the Spanish speaking crowd and most of the club music played at the party was in Spanish and were songs we didn't know. There was a spattering of songs in English, but it was mostly at the beginning and there was less and less as the night went on. It was very noticeable how the non Spanish-speaking crowd cleared out early on. I have nothing against the Latin culture...just think that we personally would have enjoyed NCL's signature party more if more songs we knew (and lyrics we could understand) had been included in the mix.
A few things that that I thought the Cruise director's staff did especially well as far as entertainment goes was the Q & A with the Captain, Chief Engineer, & Hotel Director, & their ballroom dancing activities (we are not ballroom dancers ourselves). They had one event that was just ballroom dancing in Dazzle's lounge where some of the Cruise Director's staff kept pulling people out onto the floor...and on another night they had a hilarious mock "DWTS"-type show.
Lastly, there's Ports of Call still to discuss. One of the great strengths of this sailing's itinerary for us was that it was so different from previous cruises we've been on. There were a lots of new places to explore/experience that we had never visited before. We've already discussed San Diego, the port of embarkation. After that...:
Hualtulco: it was a fine day, a mighty fine day. ..had to be in the 90s...water temperature too...the ocean was like bath water...we chartered a little boat with some friends we made on the ship, another couple, living in San Diego, but originally from Mexico...They're fluent in Spanish & they made sure we were not treated like gringos. Our boat tour brought us around some of the 9 picturesque bays of Huatulco (not sure how many...wasn't really counting..) and then to a beach with great sand where we started at a restaurant's shaded tables before they set up chairs & an umbrella for us on the beach, served us guacamole and let us drink all the bottled boat drinks we bought at the package/variety store earlier. Rolando, our "seaboat captain" had provided the cooler & ice for those drinks. After several hours on the beautiful beach, Rolando came back for us & we hopped back aboard his boat to return to the ship.
Puerto Chiapas: another gorgeous day in the 90's. Everyone else aboard ship was heading into town (Tapachula, a bustling traffic ridden city about 40 minutes away) or to the nearby Mayan ruins (which aren't known to be too amazing, as Mayan ruins go)...We grabbed a 15 dollar taxi to Playa Linda, the beach (planned months ago). There was this little restaurant/bar on the beach (the kind with a thatched roof & no walls). The proprietor filled his cooler for us with cervezas & ice (for 7 bucks) and he had the teenage waiter deliver it to a shaded picnic table across the very long beach. we kicked back, put on some tunes, had a few beers and walked the beach. At first, we were the only ones here ...CRAZY!! ...a mucho caliente day, and a huge, empty, beautiful beach (except for a few piles of trash heaped here & there from the weekend (apparently, trash cans have not been invented yet...no trash near the water 'tho). We spent several hours here, and each hour that went by, another couple would show up (none from the cruise ship that we were aware of). I asked one couple where everyone else was on a day like today (as I knew from my research that this is the only beach around) & they told me that it is a workday and people come mostly on the weekends...Hmm??. When the afternoon was drawing to an end, we headed back to the restaurant/bar to drop off their cooler & bottle opener, sat down, had another few cervezas each (5 more dollars), they pulled out this big speaker, hooked it up, & put on some music (in Spanish) for us...And when we were going to hail a taxi, the proprietor of the restaurant offered us a ride back to the ship in his nice Nissan (for free...12 kilometers...I'm as baffeled by that as as you are)...He didn't speak a word of English, and we, not more than a word or two of Spanish, yet he and we managed to carry on a conversation all the way back into port. I handed him a ten-spot when we got back (despite his polite protest) and he seemed rather grateful. Very nice people there. Lots of love to them. We took the road less traveled, & it made all the difference.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala: our 3rd port of call (of 8, not including San Diego). We took a tour bus (our only shore excursion arranged through the ship) to Auto Safari Chapin, and throughout the 1.25 hour ride each way, were were educated about Guatemala, its history, culture, customs, population, volcanoes, agriculture, languages & dialects, imports, exports, religions, indigenous people, & lifestyles. Our guide was an excellent teacher & very passionate about her work & her country. We spent a few hours at the drive-thru safari, with lions, giraffes, monkeys, emus, ostriches, & many other colorful characters walking right up to the vehicle to check us out...At the end was an hour for us to go off and explore the walk-through parts on our own or to grab a bite in their restaurant. However, we had different plans (becoming a pattern lately). We (quietly) asked our guide to hook us up with someone at the safari (who works there) to tell them that I'm an American with money to spend, and my wife would like to feed the giraffes. Less than 5 minutes & ten dollars later, the two of us and a zookeeper were in a vehicle headed back to "Africa", yummy big leafy branches for the giraffes in hand. We spent our last hour socializing with & feeding these tall beauties in an intimate setting. My wife is all about giraffes...so, needless to say, this was another great day.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica: We hopped off the ship and hopped into a taxi 10+ kilometers to the all inclusive Double Tree Puntarenas Resort for the day (breakfast, lunch, pools, games, beach, & all the frozen (& non-frozen) drinks one can imagine...Scorcher of a day...had to be well into the 90s...another beauty...Hadn't yet seen a drop of rain this vacation except for the afternoon of the day we went to the zoo in San Diego.
Trujillo, Peru: We negotiated a taxi fare for the day & spent most of our time in port at the pre-Mayan Moche Temples: Huaca del Sol & Huaca de La Luna & the pre-Inca Chimu ciudadelas of Chan Chan (UNESCO Heritage Site), stopping briefly at the colonial center of Trujillo for some photos and a break between dig sites,
Lima: We spent the day in the Miraflores District of Lima walking along the Malecon De Miraflores (miles of beautified "boardwalk" along the cliffs overlooking the beaches & ocean) in the "nice" part of Lima. We started with a cab ride to Cafe Haiti where we had cappuccinos & pastries and then checked out Parque Central & Parque Kennedy where all the protected & publicly fed homeless cats live. We then walked to the Larcomar Mall built into the cliffs along the Malecon where we lunched and sipped Pisco Sours, the national drink, al fresco at Tanta with a beautiful cliff-side ocean view. We promenaded along the beautiful gardened Malecon for several miles before stopping at Amorelado for gelato & cappachino before cabbing back to the port.
Arica, Chile: Another awesome beach day at Playa Laucho, a 2 minute cab ride from the ship. Nice beach with a restaurant/bar with music and service out on the beach ...We imbibed berry/passionfruit mojitos & soaked up the sun spending every available minute on the beach not knowing if the weather further south (on the port days to come) would be "beachy" or not.
Coquimbo Chile: The morning and early afternoon was overcast but the sun was supposed to come out. We grabbed a cab to the beach where we walked for miles...stopped, had a Coke & a smile...walked back along the beach for miles...stopped & had good eats & drinks at a local beach restaurant...the sun finally showed itself and burned away the haze, but we had to start heading back to the ship. On our way, we said hello to some wild sea lions that were sunning themselves beside the sidewalk as people just walked by them. We hopped back aboard the ship, freshened up, had more food & Vino at Le Bistro, checked out the Russian violinist/comedian's show in the Stardust Theater, watched the last sunset we'd see this cruise from our balcony, packed our bags, & got some sleep.
Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, & Santiago, Chile: We disembarked the Ship at 7:45 AM on the last day and met up with our guide who we had pre-arranged a tour with through Tours by Locals. We chose him based on his ratings and reviews. His name is Leoncio Carrasco and we recommend him. He was knowledgeable, personable, interesting, bilingual, had a large beautiful vehicle, & cared for our safety and the safety of our belongings and luggage. We toured Valparaiso in the morning, partly by vehicle, mostly on foot (with Leon guiding us)...We stopped in an artsy cafe for coffee & tea, walked the beautiful mural walled hills, rode a funicular to the top of one of the hills, shopped at some street vendors and other shops, and the we hopped back in the SUV to visit the seals, sea lions, sea wolves, and pellicans who hang out in mass at the fish market on the ocean...From there we kept the reservations Leon made for us & lunched on the terrace of a very reasonably priced restaurant with excellent food & drinks and a view overlooking the hills of Valparaiso and the ocean. We then proceeded to Vina Del Mar, the high end ocean resort city/town where we visited a Moai from Easter Island, a living working clock made of flowers, and the beach...by noon the sun came out in force and it had turned into a warm beautiful day. We hung out at a beach restaurant and sipped drinks for a while, practicing out terrible Spanish, and cherished the sun knowing how cold Massachusetts would be the following day when we arrived back home. Leon then showed us a smidge of the mountains and vineyards on our way from Vina del Mar to the airport in Santiago, stopping for coffee, tea, & pastries at an excellent countryside cafe on the way. He dropped us off at the airport around 7:30/8:00 or so where we went through security and headed to the VIP lounge to await our 11 PM 10+ hour flight. Another great day....a great last day.
If you can't tell, we loved our vacation. We recommend to all: our pre-cruise hotel the U.S. Grant in San Diego, NCL Cruiseline, this particular repositioning itinerary aboard the Norwegian Sun, our chosen "shore excursions"/in-port activities, and our guide in Valparaiso. Thank you for reading...Cheers! Read Less