My husband and I just returned from an 18 day Repositioning/Panama Canal cruise on NCL's Sun. This is our fifth cruise, but first with NCL. We have previously sailed with Carnival, RCI and Princess. We chose this cruise for the ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from an 18 day Repositioning/Panama Canal cruise on NCL's Sun. This is our fifth cruise, but first with NCL. We have previously sailed with Carnival, RCI and Princess. We chose this cruise for the itinerary - a lot of new and interesting ports for us. I will break this review down to categories to make it easier to follow.
Embarkation: An absolute nightmare and the worse experience we have ever had so far. The Sun was not scheduled to depart from San Diego until Midnight. Due to the late sailing, we tried to determine when we could board prior to the cruise and received various answers from NCL, ranging from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM. No one at NCL seemed to have a clue. When we arrived at the port at about 2:00 PM, we were told that there would be a delay due to the fact that another line's ship was in the Sun's space and we would have to wait until it departed first (at about 4:00 PM). NCL had provided shuttles for guests to use to go shopping. We did this for a couple of hours and then returned to the port. When we returned, we were given a number for boarding. At about 7:00 PM, they started calling the numbers which turned out to be group numbers. They then stopped boarding and explained that there was a delay due to problems with the key cards. When they did resume, they simply called out the boarding numbers in loud voices - no PA or overhead signs. Given the mass of people in the waiting areas, they could not be heard. We did not get onboard until 10:00 PM and by that time, we were so tired, we just went to our cabin and slept. NCL still charged us the $10.00/day/guest service charge for that day! I understand that problems do occur on occasion, but just a little suggestion to NCL - invest in a couple of small chalkboards so that the boarding numbers can be displayed overhead so guests can see when their boarding number is called. Also, don't charge people a full day's service charge for 2 hours of sleeping.
Ship: The Sun is spotless and pretty in an understated sort of way. A little difficult to navigate around the decks. On more than one occasion, we would find ourselves heading in the wrong direction and turn around only to find a fellow guest laughing due to the fact they had just done the same thing.
Crew: In general, the staff was friendly and helpful. I say in general due to a couple of bad experiences. On one occasion, I decided to go to the Sports Bar for a late night snack - the only place you can find something to eat after 11:00 PM. When I entered, there were two customers having drinks and one staff member. I looked at the menu and approached the staff member to place an order to bring back to my cabin. He told me rather curtly that I would have to take a seat first. OK - I'm willing to play by the rules. I took a seat and than was totally ignored. Without so much as a "someone will be with you in a minute to take your order", I gave up after waiting 15 minutes. Possibly due to the late hour and the fact I was rather hungry, I was not pleased. I decided to go to the reception desk and lodge a complaint. The one girl in reception at the time met my complaint with a rather blank look and offered absolutely no solution. The other poor experience we had was in the Pacific Heights alternate restaurant. We had heard that they served very good mussels and since my hubby adores mussels, we decided to give them a try for dinner one night. My husband ordered both the chowder and the mussels. He was served the chowder, but not the mussels. When we inquired about the mussels, we were informed rather rudely by our waiter that my husband had not ordered mussels. I clearly heard him order this. A good waiter would have said "I'm sorry, I must not have heard you and I'll get them for you" and would not have argued in such a manner with the customer. Oh well, it was a long cruise.
Food: The worse we have ever had on any cruise line. The food in the main dining room was horrible. On one occasion, several of us at the table ordered Paella and none of us could eat it after the first bite. My husband ordered Chioppino one night (NCL's version is spaghetti pasta with a little marinara sauce and a few shell fish on top - not what most consider Chioppino - perhaps they should refer to a cookbook). He became very sick to his stomach that night - vomiting the dinner up. Fortunately, he was better the next morning. On a seven day cruise, they have lobster one night and a chocolate extravaganza on one night. You would think that on an 18 day cruise this would at least be doubled - not so. Only one lobster night (the lobster was dry - how do you mess up lobster?) and one chocolate extravaganza. Give me a break NCL - I am not a picky eater. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese often suffices as a gourmet meal in our household. What I would have given for a little Kraft M&C on this cruise. Due to the poor and limited offerings in the main dining rooms, we were forced to pay extra to eat at the alternate restaurants during the majority of our cruise. Maybe this is NCL's intention. For the most part, the alternate restaurants are good. We enjoyed Le Bistro (the chocolate soufflE was very good) and we ate at the Steakhouse several times. The Maitre D' at the steakhouse was particularly nice and we made sure to give him a little something extra at the end of the cruise. Il Adagio was OK, but we were surprised at the limited offerings (no fettuccini alfredo for instance - another of hubby's favorites). NCL does not seem to be very responsive to customer complaints about the food. Several fellow guests that we met and dined with decided to approach the subject with staff. A meeting was set up (I did not know about it in advance and thus did not attend). The food and beverage manager was at the meeting along with a few other staff members. According to our new friends that attended the meeting, the response to their complaints was "no one else seems to be complaining". Apparently they don't take the time to walk around the ship and listen to what the guests are saying. I heard a lot of complaints and absolutely no one was praising the cuisine.
Ports of Call: As I explained earlier, this cruise stopped at a number of places. Our first stop was Manzanillo. We didn't book a shore excursion, simply walked about with our new shipboard friends. It is a pretty little city. Next stop was Acapulco. Hubby was not feeling well that day, so we cancelled our plans to go see the cliff divers that night with friends. We only walked about a bit in the morning. Very dirty city and garbage was floating in the harbor. Could not imagine partaking in any of the water sports we observed going on due to the filth in the water. Yuck! Puntarenas, Costa Rica was a lot of fun and beautiful. They had just had several days of rain and several areas were flooded, but we had beautiful weather. The group we were with had hired a van and we went to the crocodile bridge, Carrera national park and Jaco beach. My husband was not able to go with us as planned. He has a heart condition and had gone to see the ship's doctor the day before. He was very well treated by the Sun's medical staff, but since he was having bronchial spasms, the doctor ordered him to take it easy for a couple of days. Just a note to future cruisers - buy trip insurance that includes medical coverage. Although you must pay medical expenses up front, you will at least be reimbursed later. Remember, most medical insurance, including Medicare, will not pay for medical expenses incurred while traveling to foreign countries. Carrera national park was great. Our group hired a guide (recommended) for $100 which worked out to just a little over $10 per person. The guide was very knowledgeable, pointing out various plants and animals. We saw Macaws, monkeys, lizards, butterflies and numerous tropical plants with various medicinal properties. I am actually glad that hubby didn't go on this one as it turned out to be quite a hike. He would have had problems negotiating some of the areas with his cane. The Panama Canal crossing was great and I took loads of pictures showing the locks closing, filling up, etc. Gatun Lake is massive with beautiful flora along it's banks. Was disappointed that we did not see any animal life from the ship, but they must have been taking advantage of the wonderful weather as well. Cartagena, Columbia was the big surprise. I was a little apprehensive about this port, but was pleasantly surprised. We took a cab into the old town section and spent the day wandering around the various little streets. Although the sellers are numerous and often in your face, most have licenses hanging around there necks and a firm "no" suffices. Since Columbia is actively trying to encourage tourist trade, they are really going out of there way to make Cartagena a regular cruise destination. They have an entire force of "Policia Tourista" on the job and noticeably evident everywhere in the major tourist areas. Although most speak limited English (if at all), they still try to be helpful to the tourists. My limited Spanish skills managed to get our group by in terms of finding directions, etc. Santa Marta is new to the cruise ship itineraries and still has a way to go. The streets were torn up and the locals seemed to be curious about this new invasion of cruise ship passengers. On the bright side, they haven't figured out the economics yet, so we didn't have people in our face trying to sell us something every other foot. Give them a couple of years and they'll get the hang of it. An hour of walking about was sufficient for us and then back to the ship. Roatan , British Honduras, is a small island off the coast and located in the middle of the second largest reef system in the world. Beautiful water!!! We only went into the little village near the port and did not take any excursions to the other side of the island (which I understand is considerably more cosmopolitan and developed). Lots of little shops and sellers trying to get one to buy the same old touristy stuff. After the first couple of shops, everything looked the same. Belize was our next stop and we had a great time. We booked a cave tubing excursion through Cave-Tubing. Com. I highly recommend them over the cruise ship's excursion. Not only is it half the price, but you receive much more personal attention and assistance. Yhony runs the company and I cannot say enough good things about him and his operation. He is starting up a new phase of ATV's and as a bonus, he took our group on a short ATV ride through the rain forest to introduce us to this. Had a great time, got very muddy, and appreciated that the cave-tubing was following. Since my husband walks with a cane, Yhony gave him a lot of personal attention. He stayed with him on the walk to the area where you enter the water and carried his tube for him and me as well. He then stayed with the two of us during the entire cave-tubing, making sure we did not get stuck and enjoyed the experience. Two other guides were with us as well and they gave the same level of service to the other members in our group. We saw several others on the cruise ship excursion and they had basically been left on their own. We are not excursion intensive cruisers, but this one is one we will certainly remember. Thank-you so much Yhony for this wonderful experience and the next time we are in Belize we will be sure to look you up again. Our final stops were Cozumel and Nassau. We were originally scheduled to stop off in Costa Maya, but due to the hurricane, it was replaced with Cozumel. Since we have been to both ports previously, we just walked around and did some shopping. I had to get a ring repaired in Nassau and discovered a great little jewelry repair shop, Islandman Jewelers. Not much of a shop, but quality and timely jewelry repairs. Very nice guy as well. Just a note, I had to have the ring repaired because it was damaged by a jeweler in Cozumel - Silver Planet. I was having a stone set and not only did they use lead solder, but they damaged the existing settings as well. Buyer beware - do not shop there. I should have complained initially, but they took longer than they originally quoted and it was getting late - we had to get back to the ship. It was only while on the tender that I noticed the poor workmanship and damage. In addition, the stone I purchased was not what they claimed. They are crooks and intentionally market faceted quartz as precious stones. Although I am somewhat savvy when purchasing gems, this one just proved to me that I should not be so cocky in the future and that I need to bring my gem tester with me next time. Previously, we have had good experiences purchasing stones in the Caribbean and this is the first time I have been seriously ripped off by a dealer passing off totally fake merchandise. And for those of you who think it serves me right for not shopping at Diamonds International or any of the other "cruise ship recommended shops", do some searching on the internet. There are some very serious horror stories about Diamonds International and how customers have paid thousands of dollars in some cases for junk with no recourse or resolution. I guess I can count myself lucky that I didn't loose that much on this one and my ring is back to its original glory.
Debarkation: This went very smoothly. We chose the express version and were off the ship by 8:30. Were really surprised that Customs was a breeze considering we were carrying our own luggage off.
To sum it all up (and I know this has been a lengthy review), both my husband and I had a great time overall on this cruise. Even with the mishaps, we thoroughly enjoyed the ambience with fellow passengers and the great ports of call. Would we book with NCL again? Probably not, due solely to the food. After all, one of the things we enjoy the most about cruising is trying out new dishes and not having to pay extra for a decent meal. If NCL ever wakes up and decides to address the food issue, we would consider them again, if for no other reason than the itineraries they offer. We are already planning our next cruise - HAL's Noordam - for a 20 day next fall. I have heard that HAL has fairly good food - I'll let you know. Read Less