NCL Sun: Oct 11 – 26, 2014; 15 day Repo
Los Angeles to Tampa via the Panama Canal
Our cruise planning has evolved over the years to fit our transition from working class to post retirement leisure class. We now plan our sailing schedule 12-18 months in advance. We sail every Fall and Spring on 2–4 weeks cruises. We have booked only suites since 2006, when we decided to become serious cruisers.
Our last balcony booking was in 2006 on our first NCL cruise, which was a 7 day cruise to Alaska from Seattle on the Sun. It was a very special balcony (1202), as we would learn much later. It was the size of a Mini-Suite but had to be marketed as a balcony because it only had a stand up shower without a tub. It had originally been designed to be the 3rd bedroom of the Owner’s Suite with a connecting door into the suite’s entry foyer. It was that cruise that launched us on a program of allocating all of our fun and frolic finances to the cruise industry.
When a fellow Cruise Critic friend, Mandy (www3Traveler), suggested we book the NCL Sun 15 day sailing from LA to Tampa via the Panama Canal we were awash in nostalgic memories of our first NCL cruise, eight years earlier, on the Sun. Motivated by nostalgia, we booked the very same special balcony for our 20th NCL sailing.
Another rule in our leisure class sailing game plan is use Amtrak to reach or return from American embarkation and disembarkation ports, saving the precious frequent flier miles to reach or return from overseas ports. So, we booked Amtrak for our travel to Los Angeles and return from Tampa.
On October 5 we boarded Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in Chicago at 3pm for a 40 hour rail ride. We booked an accessible bedroom, which included all meals, from Chicago to Fullerton, CA which is half way between Anaheim (Mickey) and Long Beach (LA’s cruise port). We thoroughly enjoyed the desert scenery on the second day and the early mountains in the early morning of the 3rd. The Route follows the “Mother Road” of the National US highway systems: US Route 66: Chicago IL, Kansas City MO, Topeka KS, Dodge City KS, Albuquerque NM, Flagstaff AZ, Kingman AZ, Needles CA, Barstow CA, Fullerton CA, Los Angeles CA.
Fellow Cruise Critics, who had booked the cruise with us, Pete & Gretchen (pdoeringer), picked us up at the train and gave us a whirlwind tour of southern California, including a lovely lunch before taking us to the Embassy Suites South hotel in Anaheim for 3 pm check in. Promising to return to pick us up in 4 days from transport to the ship, they left us to the companionship of Mickey and Minnie and other former cruise mates who lived nearby.
We spent the next two days rekindling childhood memories, only possible at Walt Disney’s legacies to the world.
The Embassy Suites hotel provides a complimentary cooked to order breakfast in the morning and cocktails with munchies in the evening. They also provide round trip non-stop shuttle service between their front door to Disneyland for less than $10 per person. The shuttles depart both the hotel and theme park every 20 minutes.
On the following day, other Cruise Critic friends, Hank & Florence (MrsHappy), from southern California checked into our hotel and took us for a day of sightseeing, including a great seafood lunch at the iconic “Crab Cooker: in Newport Beach. After a lovely day we returned to the hotel to freshen up. I had booked a special room at the Embassy Suites with a dining table seating 6. I went next door for a superb carry out Italian dinner from Buca di Beppo. The four of us broke bread together in our “home away from home” enjoying the food and good company in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.
CRUISE DAY 1, Saturday, Oct. 11
The next morning, after bidding adieu to Hank & Florence over breakfast, Pete & Gretchen arrived to transport us to the NCL at the Long Beach, CA, for noon boarding. Pete had done me a big favor of buying a case of my favorite (reasonably priced @ $8) Spanish champagne (Segura Reserva cava). A year or so ago, NCL offered Segura on their wine list but no longer offers such an enjoyable and reasonably priced sparkling wine.
So, after paying $15 corkage, my cost is $23 a bottle, far less than the $40 offered by NCL for a similar bubbly.
I still buy the “wine package” on board, but the only bubbly in the package is a sparkling Rose’. I wish NCL would save me toting a case of champagne on board by restoring a nice and reasonably priced bubbly to the “Wine Package”.
After a quick security check for Pete, Gretchen and “herself”, one of the security officials decided to give me the full Guantanamo treatment with full body pat down. Then he got into a fight with another officer who wanted to make sure I paid the corkage for my 12 bottles of bubbly. I was like a kid caught in a custody battle between two war waging parents during a horrendous divorce. All three of my companions had been passed through to the check in desk while I was trying to get the two officers to end their tug of war with me as the prize. When Sharon Rae realized I was not behind her, she returned to the security station. She gave me “the look” and asked me “What have your done this time?” Now, I had three people who wanted a piece of me.
By the time I was released by both security officers and had paid the corkage on my case of champagne, Pete & Gretchen were already on board having lunch. Sharon Rae completed our check in at the accessible desk and finally boarded at 2pm. Since it was ready, we went directly to our cabin. Our forward facing balcony was directly above the Captain’s bridge and offered a view of LA’s working port for cruise and cargo ships alike.
Sharon Rae began to unpack, starting by hanging an over-the-door shoe caddy on the inside of the bathroom door as place for the odds and ends. I iced the Bon Voyage bottle of bubbly for Platinum guests which had been delivered to the cabin. Then, with a small cabin tray I went aft to the buffet which was located on the same deck. I returned with bowls of cold deli salads (tuna, chicken, and egg) and croissants for making sandwiches. The sandwiches and champagne were perfect on our balcony in the warm southern California sun.
After lunch, we reviewed the packets and envelopes which had been delivered to the cabin introducing the Captain, Hotel Director, Concierge, and Steward. Sharon Rae began to organize a calendar of NCL & Cruise Critic events and activities for the entire cruise, including the Specialty Dining Package while I filled out the On Board Wine Package order form. Being Platinum level Latitudes members with NCL, we each received a comp dinner for two with a bottle of wine for use at LeBistro, La Cucina, or Cagney’s. Combining the Latitudes wine and the welcome bottle of bubbly with the 12 bottles of bubbly we brought on board, we had 15 bottles of wine at the ready. So, I purchased a 12 bottle wine package. That should get us through the 15 day sailing.
The safety drill was called for 3:30 pm. Immediately following the drill, we headed for the Champs Bar outdoor bar overlooking the Pool Deck for the Cruise Critic Sail Away Party. I finally met Marilyn (Mellygo) who had organized the Sail Away Party and Cabin Crawl. 65 Roll Call members signed up for the Sail Away. We got a chance to meet most of the 30 or so who showed up.
Following the Sail Away, Pete & Gretchen accompanied us back to our cabin to offer their assistance in tasting the Segura Cava we had brought on board along with mini sandwiches delivered by room service. It had been a long and hectic day, so we skipped the theater and turned to bed early.
CRUISE DAY 2, Sunday, Oct 12
We ordered room service breakfast with the in cabin door hanger menu the night before. Even when we intend to go to a restaurant for our complete breakfast, we will order room service juice, coffee, and croissant every morning. It acts as a great wake up service and helps clear the cobwebs before going out and about. But, today we ordered a full room service breakfast of fruit, cereal and breakfast egg sandwich (NCL’s version of Egg McMuffin).
The room service kick started us into action. Sharon Rae and I gathered the Roll Call paraphernalia I had brought (lanyard badge holders, preprinted name tags, marking pens, etc.) We arrived at the Observation Lounge at 930 am to set up for the Meet & Greet. We met Pete & Gretchen who organized the Grab Bag Gift exchange. We had scheduled from 10 am till noon. The first hour was devoted to Cruise Critic mingling and the second hour to meeting the ships senior staff. 106 members had signed up for the event and about 70 showed up. (am I beginning to see a pattern here?). The attendees were a lively lot and enjoyed mingling with one another and the Gift Exchange.
The second hour was an absolute delight. We were visited by HD Brian Walters (soft spoken with great warmth and sincerity), Exec. Chef Denton Laing (culinary artist combined with a love of people), CD Richard Matic (excellent at organizer and entertainer), Guest Service Mgr. Rodel Gemeniano (hands on problem solver), Exec. Housekeeper Hal Broomes (proactive action to assure guest satisfaction), Group Service Coord. Ligaya Dagasdas (who made the Cruise Critic events planning a breeze), along with remaining superb senior staff: Dan Dyer (Food & Beverage Dir.), Gary Bryan (Restaurant Mgr.), Windchester and Barrack (Beverage Mgr.).
Following the Meet & Greet, we headed to the buffet for lunch along with ship exploration. We returned to our cabin for the usual seniors’ afternoon nap before getting ready for the “Dress Up or Not” evening.
While I did not bring my tux, I did bring a white sport coat matched with a black shirt and slacks with a black and white tie. Sharon Rae wore a simple black dress topped with a brightly colored jacket in a Peter Max style.
We returned to the Observation Lounge for Captain Ronny Borg’s VIP reception, scheduled for 7–7:45 pm. Arriving early, we had a chance to chat with the Captain and have our photo taken with him. A half dozen glasses of champagne later, we headed Le Bistro with Pete & Gretchen for our 8 pm dinner reservations.
Dinner at LeBistro was a little bitter sweet. The appetizers (salmon mouse pate to die for), soups (French onion au gratin excellent) and salads (delightful) were a great start. Two of us ordered the steak specialty and were pleased with our choice. The two ordered rack of lamb which proved very difficult to chew. They were quickly replaced with two more steaks. Before leaving the restaurant, Chef Denton personally visited us and apologized for the lamb and informed us that he learned the lamb brought on board in LA was tough and it would be replaced at the next port of call.
We completed dinner too late for the 9 pm show in the theater. So, we ended the evening with a night cap of brandy and port at the Windjammer Bar with easy listening of James Morris at the piano.
CRUISE DAY 3, Monday, Oct 13
Another at Sea Day which started by sleeping in and having room service provide a juice, coffee and croissant breakfast. Our first stirrings out of the cabin was for the Latitudes Party in the Theater at 12:30 pm. The wine flowed freely and the response to requests for a two servings resulted in the waiter topping off one glass of wine with the contents of a second glass from the tray. (That way they didn’t violate the prohibition against one person having more than one drink in his possession) Captain Borg’s welcome was both warm and humorous. If he ever gives up his Master’s license, he would be a great standup comedian.
Now that we’ve had our eye opener wine, how about lunch in the buffet? Since the Sun’s buffet and theater are both situated aft, it made perfect sense. It also, helped save time, since the Cruise Critic Slot Pull was scheduled for 2 pm in the Casino. Charlie (Surprise17884) had done a great job planning the Slot Pull. He did an even better job putting the plan into action. 39 people had signed up for the event and about 25 showed up. (The evolving pattern continues). We each put in $15 and had 5 pulls on a $3 machine. Well we didn’t win but we didn’t lose big. We each lost less than $5 and that’s not bad for an hour in the Casino meeting and making new friends.
We returned to the cabin to relax and rest up for our evening plans. The Aft Main Dining Room is the Seven Seas. Maitre D’ Hernan Gonzales Rios and his able Assistant Roberto Roman had reserved a table for us and Pete & Gretchen. We informed our wait staff that we wanted to make the 9 pm show in the theater and they said “No problem”. The service was impeccable and the meal delectable. I turned in two of my wine package coupons and reserved enough of the second bottle to take two glasses of wine to the theater.
Having an Aft theater on the Sun (rather than forward like most ships) makes it much easier to move from the Aft Main Dining Room to the show. The performance with “Divas3” was wonderful. Three beautiful women with beautiful voices to match belted out songs and memories spanning the 60s to the 90’s. The 45 minute show flew by. It was a perfect ending to a lovely day.
CRUISE DAY 4, Tuesday, Oct. 14
Today is our first port of call: Puerto Vallarta, MX.
We ordered room service of juice, toast and coffee at 7am timed for our 8 am arrival in port. Light meals were the order of the day because we were booked for the “Chef’s Table” for dinner.
Friends of ours at home own 6 weeks of time shares in Vallarta and spend January there each year. They recommended the driver they have relied on for several years. Our needs were special since Pete and Sharon Rae both use electric scooters. So, we required a vehicle which could take four persons and two scooters. Our friends from home contacted Alberto Cruz and made arrangements for a 3.5-4 hour tour for $200 in a 12 passenger window van equipped with microphone and speaker system. The customary price for driver/guides is $50-70 per hour, placing our fare at the low end of the going rates. Alberto was waiting for us as we exited the port building with our name placard in hand. There are three sections of Puerto Vallarta: Old Town, New City and the Upper Heights We spent an hour touring the old city, including the Alarcon which is a mile long paved road along the ocean lined by shops, taverns and restaurants. It is now a pedestrian road with no vehicle traffic permitted. If you choose to explore the Alarcon, have your driver drop you at one end and pick you up at the other end. Departing the Old Town, we drove through the New City and toured residential (both local and tourist) and commercial areas. Our final hour was atop the steep mountain cliffs which ring the city and harbor. This is the area of many posh medium and high rise condominiums, resorts, and hotels carved into the cliffs. Back in the day, Puerto Vallarta was on Hollywood’s “A List” for movie locations and holiday get-a-ways. We visited a great restaurant hang out for the stars and starlets of yore, “El Set” (as in movie set). The restaurant serves great food, cold beer and frosted margaritas on a semi enclosed patio with a stunning view of the ocean. We decided to lunch aboard the ship and limited ourselves to the 2 for 1 special on drinks.
We were back aboard the ship by 1pm and we decided to grab a bite to eat at the Sun’s VIP breakfast/lunch dining venue. Other NCL ships use Cagney’s for this purpose but the Sun uses La Cucina. The VIP dining menu is standardized fleet wide, so we knew what we wanted before arrival. I ordered the wedge of salmon on toast points with tartar sauce while “herself” wanted hamburger, no fries. Remember, Chef’s Table tonight.
After our obligatory siesta, we showered and dressed for our 6pm Special Dinner. We reported for our culinary repast at the Java Café where we were met by Chef Denton Laing, several officers and waiters freely pouring a great champagne selected by the sommelier for the occasion. After a group photo, each couple was photographed with the Chef as part of a memento package of the evening.
We were escorted into a private dining room adjacent to the Four Seasons Restaurant (The Sun’s mid-ship Main Dining Room). Let the Culinary Games begin. Gentlemen, start your taste buds. The Chef’s Table is a seven course - wine paired meal with between course descriptions of ingredients by the Executive Chef and Sous Chef who prepared that course and the Sommelier who selected the paired wine. If you are a serious foodie or wine buff, NCL’s fleet wide Chef’s Table is a great splurge, but, Chef Denton’s Table on the Sun is an absolute MUST. It is simply the best meal with wine pairing I’ve had at sea. It ranks among the top five such meals I’ve enjoyed on land at some the finest restaurants around the globe.
CRUISE DAY 5, Wednesday, Oct. 15
I needed another At Sea Day to rest up after the marvelous Chef’s Table Dinner the night before.
We slept in and began our day with lunch with VIP dining in La Cucina. After lunch Sharon Rae headed to the Salon for a manicure while I attended a lecture on the history of Norwegian Cruise Line in Dazzles Night Club.
We rested for the rest of the day, doing nothing and doing it very well thank you.
Carrying out the same “do nothing” theme, we decided to order dinner in the cabin with room service. The room service menu has replaced my favorite NCL soup (tomato bisque) with chicken noodle (Sharon Rae’s favorite) Room service said they would try to find my tomato soup and they succeeded. Our light meal of soup, salad and a shared club sandwich washed down with a nice Pinot Grigio from the wine package.
After dinner, we opened a second bottle of wine and enjoyed it with a golden oldie movie on the ship’s TV before sleep time.
CRUISE DAY 6, Thursday, Oct. 16
We arrive in Huatulco, MX at 9 am and depart at 430 pm. We had booked a private tour guide for ourselves and cruise mate, Pete & Gretchen on line by googling.
We drew 4 aces when we booked a 4 hour tour with Arturo Martinez,
( firstname.lastname@example.org, www.arturomartineztours.com Cell: 958 583 3469)
1st Ace was the tour included a spacious 10 passenger van with plenty of room for 4 persons, 2 scooters, a driver and our guide Arturo.
2nd Ace was the itinerary:
City/Bay Tour - This tour offers general information about the development of Huatulco as a tourist destination. We will see the most spectacular viewpoints of Tangolunda Bay, the Bay of Santa Cruz and the Lighthouse. A visit to downtown La Crucecita and it´s attractions, like the church with it´s monumental mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe that measures 285 square meters, also we´ll see the weavers working in the looms at the workshop of the textile factory where different types of works are made, such as tablecloths, place mats, bedspreads, curtains and many more textiles , and “ La Casa del Mezcal, to taste the Oaxacan Mezcal made from the green agave where we will be able to taste this drink and it´s varieties, such as the liquors and the flavored Mezcal also the Oaxacan grasshoppers.
3rd Ace was Arturo’s knowledge, expertise and love of the history of Huatulco as a government planned tourist destination and resort area that grew from a sleepy little fishing village. His enthusiasm for Huatulco was contagious.
4th Ace was the price: $55 per hour.
Upon our return to the ship at 1 pm, Sharon Rae and I decided to do the VIP lunch in La Cucina. (I would order the salmon on toast points every day, if I could).
We dined with Pete & Gretchen that evening with our standing reservation at 6 pm in the Seven Seas Main Dining Room. The food was great, the wine just right, the service impeccable and the company delightful….Life is Good.
CRUISE DAY 7, Friday, Oct 17
Our port of call is Puerto Chiapas with arrival at 8 am and departure at 430 pm. Mother Nature did not cooperate in maintaining paradise in paradise today. From before sunrise at 7 am, there was a constant monsoon like rain that fell incessantly. Sharon Rae and I had booked a Cooking Class tour with the NCL Shore Excursion desk. It had been rated handicap accessible but when we disembarked the ship to join our tour group, we were informed the restaurant venue had changed and while only 1 kilometer away, it was a walk through a park and the soggy ground would not support Sharon’s scooter. So, we made the best of it and visited the souvenir pavilion adjacent to the pier.
After we had our obligatory picture taken with and by the ship’s photo staff, we returned aboard. After obtaining a refund of our tour booking from the Shore Excursion desk, we participated in several on board activities including trivia which lessened our disappointment.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the very uncrowded buffet. Being high and dry, our spirits were raised as we watched our poor cruise mates return to the ship thoroughly soaked and water logged. We kept our usual 6 pm dinner reservations in the Seven Seas and decided to skip the guitarist in the theater. Instead, we tried the Observation Lounge which was featuring the NCL song and dance troupe in an up close and personal cabaret style performance. We were glad we did and heartily encourage others to do the same. The Sun’s small size, by today’s standards, is able to use the Observation Lounge as a cabaret. Sadly, the huge newer ships lack the venues to continue this wonderful type of show.
CRUISE DAY 8, Saturday, Oct 18
The only major item on the agenda today is the Cruise Critic’s Cabin Crawl. Originally, the Cabin Crawl was cancelled for lack of interest. But based upon pleas and begging of late roll call registrants, it was restored to “maybe” status if someone volunteered to coordinate it. Up to the plate stepped Marilynn (Mellygo) who organized the project post haste and today she proved herself to be a great event coordinator. We met at the Champagne Bar, mid ship on deck 7, at 11 am. A dozen or so cruise critics visited five different styles of cabins offered on the Sun: Regular Balcony, Accessible Balcony, Extra Large Forward Facing Balcony, Mini-Suite, and Aft Facing Penthouse Suite. After the crawl most of the participants met to break bread over lunch at the buffet. At 5pm we met Pete & Gretchen in their cabin for cocktails. At 6 pm the four of us headed to Cagney’s for our Black Angus Fix. I realize that neo foodies have moved away from beef as their mainstay. But, having been raised in Chicago, when the nation’s meat packing industry was located there, I still love my protein in the form of a thick juicy slab of beef. Cagney’s does the job equal to the great steak & chop restaurants of yesterday and today.
CRUISE DAY 9, Sunday, Oct 19
Today’s port of call is Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We arrived at 8 am and departed at 430 pm. Pete had booked a great private tour company which he found by internet research: Gi Tours (Olga Saenz, Sales Mgr.) Email: email@example.com Ph: Office (O) 506 2219-6060 (C) 506 8886-5040
The national symbol of Costa Rica was (is?) wildly multi-colored oxcarts which were used by the farmers for every purpose, from personal transportation to farm equipment. Small versions of the iconic ox carts were hand made as home bars for tourists. When I first met Sharon Rae I had an ox cart bar given to me as a gift by a senorita on one my Costa Rica visits from my bachelor days. It was the first thing Sharon Rae tossed after we married.
Pete and Gretchen wanted to visit the town of Sarchi with one of the last wood working shops that still produce ox cart bars which now cost 10 times what they were 35 years ago. Pete obtained a quote for a great price and superb itinerary.
The tour lasts around 7 to 8 hours (Full day), departing around 8 a.m. from the main pier where we will be with a sign with your name on it, and coming back around 4:00 p.m. (Depending on the departure time of the ship). It goes through the picturesque towns of Sarchi, Grecia, Naranjo, Palmares and San Ramón, acres and acres of coffee and sugar plantations, gorgeous landscapes and very typical Costa Rican family houses. There are no entrance fees to nowhere since all places where we will be stopping have no entrance fee cost. Our service includes the private van, bilingual certified tour guide and of course the tour itself and the lowest rate we can give you is $270.
But a 7 – 8 hour tour on the Pacific side of Costa Rica can push the envelope a little too far when considering a timely return to the ship. Unexpected thunderstorms can temporarily close mountain roads and the detour can delay your return by several hours. Since the drive to Sarchi would be 1.5 hours each way, we cut the tour length to six hours by skipping 2 of the 5 towns from the itinerary. As it turned out, the day was warm and dry and we were back to the ship in 6 hours, but, better to be safe than sorry.
Our driver, Jesus, spoke little English but would make a great “wheel man” driving a robbery getaway car. Our guide, Francisco was fluent in English which was self-taught from American TV shows. They both took great pride in their culture and country and delighted in showing it American tourists.
We visited the Eloy Alfaro Ox Cart and Wood Fabricator Shop in Sarchi ( www.fabricadecarretaseloyalfaro.com firstname.lastname@example.org ) Sharon Rae bought a beautiful 18” lazy Susan made from multi wood inlays. Gretchen bought several gorgeous wood trivets. I was prohibited from buying another ox cart bar.
We returned to the ship by 3 pm with plenty of time for a power nap, a shower and to dress for dinner. The four of us had been invited to join Hotel Director Brian Walters for dinner at 730 pm in the Seven Seas dining Room. We were joined by another Cruise Critic couple, Roger & Peg (computerpeg). As you can imagine the service was extra special and the food superb. But, the highlight of the evening was getting to know Mr. Walters. Unlike many Hotel Directors, Brian is very soft spoken. But, one thing comes through loud and clear, Brian listens attentively to what others have to say and is sincerely interested in making their stay pleasurable and memorable. By the end of the evening, Director Walters’ warmth and charm made us feel that we’d been guests in his Jamaican home not a hotel guests.
CRUISE DAY 10, Monday, Oct. 20
Today is an At Sea Day and tonight is the second “Dress Up or Not” night.
We had booked the “Murder Mystery” Luncheon. But, when the 40 guests were seated at 5 tables of 8 persons and the wine poured and the food served, we were informed that the Mystery would have to be rescheduled without further explanation. The 32 people at the other 4 tables quickly ate their lunch and departed. The 8 people at our table noticed there were 4 or 5 open bottles of wine. With great concern for the poor thirsty people around the world, we decided we could not leave until the bottles were empty.
Our thirst quenched, we retreated to our cabin for an afternoon siesta. About 3 pm chocolate covered strawberries and petit fours candies were delivered, one compliments of Chef Denton and the other from the Food and Beverage Director. We set them aside for later and began dressing for the evening. We attended a Senior Officers’ Reception in the Observation Lounge from 5 to 530 pm. We then headed to Seven Seas Main Dining Room for 6 pm dinner. We retired to our cabin for a night cap and popped a bottle of bubbly to compliment the chocolate covered strawberries and petit fours.
CRUISE DAY 11, Tuesday, Oct. 21
Today is THE BIG DAY. Today is the Panama Canal Transit. Chef Denton has prepared a Special Room Service Panamanian Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros (Fried or Scrambled Eggs on Corn Tortilla topped with fresh salsa) served with corn muffin, bacon and Chorizo sausage. BUENOS DIAS PANAMA.!
Since our forward facing balcony, immediately above the Captain’s bridge, provides one of the best seats in the house for viewing the canal transit we are providing an Open House from 10 am till 3 pm for Cruise Critic Roll Call members. Concierge Leah and Group Service Coordinator Ligaya provided pitchers of ice tea, lemonade, orange juice, tomato juice, buckets of ice and “crunchie munchies”. With the 6 bottles of champagne and a contributed liter of vodka we served Mimosas, Bloody Marys, and Vodka Collins. Executive Housekeeper Broomes provided balcony seating for 10. That leaves balcony standing room for another 10 and 5 or 6 inside the cabin. During the course of the day, we had about 50 guests stop by and had a full house at all times. By the time the last guest had left, we were exhausted. We ordered dinner from Room Service. It may be our Chicago Style Pizza taste buds showing but we found the NCL pizza HORRIBLE. Thankfully, we also ordered backup Burgers and BLTs. They hit the spot and were a nice end to a lovely day.
CRUISE DAY 12, Oct 22
Today’s port of call is Cartagena. We arrived at 11 am and sailed away at 6:30 pm.
As we were disembarking from the ship, Sharon Rae’s scooter got hung up on the gangway. She heard a deep voice behind her “Don’t worry about a thing young Lady, I’ll push you to the pier”.
When finally on the pier, she turned around to discover her knight errant was none other than Captain Ronny Borg, himself. What a true gentleman and great guy!
Pete was able to find another gem of a tour guide on the internet who came highly rated on Trip Advisor:
Martin Rosales www.cartagenaguide.com email email@example.com
+ 57 300 479 67 61 and + 57 316 243 92 17
Martin is a very knowledgeable guide and mixes history, culture and architecture into a seamless mosaic. He would have made a great teacher. His team work with the driver is perfect. For the walking parts of the tour the driver would find a safe and convenient place to drop us off and would magically appear at just the right time and location when continuing the vehicular tour.
CARTAGENA CITY TOUR: HIGHLIGHTS OF THE OLD CITY.
The tour begins as you take the transportation inside the port, then we continue to see the beautiful houses and the fortress in Manga Island, the next stop is La Popa Monastery where you are going to have a beautiful view of the whole city, as this is the highest point of Cartagena.
Upon arriving to San Felipe Castle, you would see why this is the most important and largest example of military architecture left by the Spaniards in America.Next we will go to the Old City, we are going to see Las Bovedas, these are also an example of Military architecture along with the walls, they function now as Tourist shops, where you can buy all types of handicraft made by local artisans. As we continue to walk around the old town, we will see the beautiful streets, houses, squares and churches Cartagena has, to give you a unique experience of living the History in every step you take, we will go inside of San Pedro Claver Church, the patron of slaves in Colombia and African Americans.The tour continues in the modern part of the City, we will have a panoramic view of Bocagrande, the beach area and the island of Tierra Bomba, with a stop at the Emerald Museum, to be witness of the whole History and legends about the emeralds and its manufacturing.
PHOTO STOP AT SAN FELIPE. - Cost per person (4 people): $70 US Dollars
Excursion Length: 3.5 Hours approximately- Pick up and drop off inside the port. - Entrance fee to: La Popa Monastery and San Pedro Claver Church
- Photo stop at San Felipe Fortress
- Visit to the Manga Fortress.
- Walking tour inside the old city- A bottle of water per person.- Air conditioned transportation (Van)
With the late sail away hour, we decided to catch an early cabaret style show in the Observation Lounge. The program featured the NCL Show Band and the Sun Production Singers doing 40s & 50s big band music and the songs of Sinatra, Dean Martin and Doris Day. We ordered late dinner from room service getting our order in just before the 11 pm service charge kicked in.
CRUISE DAY 13, Thursday, Oct. 23
Today is another At Sea Day.
Chef Denton invited all the Chef’s Table diners to tour the galley, food storage and food preparation areas at 1030 am. We got a firsthand look at the entire culinary team working in their separate departments and then watched how it all came together for plating and serving.
The Cruise Critic Farewell Luncheon was held at noon in the Seven Seas Dining Room. We had 35 members in attendance in a special reserved section of the Seven Seas Dining Room. It was a time to exchange pleasantries with phone numbers and email addresses.
Pete and Gretchen joined us at 715pm for dinner at the Teppanyaki (or as I call it Chop Chop) Japanese restaurant. Watching the specially trained chef with their flying knives is a show unto itself. I’ve seen it before but it doesn’t get old. Oh, did I mention the food tastes terrific as well?
After dinner, we went to the 9 pm theater show for a Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons Tribute performance. At the conclusion of the theater show we headed to the Observation Lounge for a night cap and some easy listening music.
CRUISE DAY 14, Friday, Oct. 24
With another At Sea Day, we finally get to enjoy the rescheduled Murder Mystery luncheon. I think this is the third time we have done this NCL version of the classic murder mystery participation. I have put the various character roles to memory and knew the minute I was assigned a role that I was the murderer. I tried my best to lie my way out of it but 2 members of our table of 8 correctly picked me as the culprit.
For dinner that night we booked La Cucina for Italian food. The restaurant offers two house specialties: Osso Bucco and Risotto. I always ask for the Osso Bucco served on a bed of Risotto. That provides two special dishes instead of one.
CRUISE DAY 15, Sat, Oct 25
Our last Day At Sea has arrived. Being a believer in theory that the last day a cruise should be for decompression, we planned nothing and did next to nothing. The day was intended to relax the mind and body to prepare for a late last night.
We booked a table for four at Le Bistro at 6 pm for our last dinner with Pete & Gretchen. Somehow, between Hotel Director Brian, Chef Denton and Concierge Leah we were assigned the best table in the house. There is a Greek Columned Gazebo in the center of the Le Bistro restaurant with a table for four beneath a domed roof. The Maitre D’ personally seated us in the Gazebo and took our wine selections while the waiter and his assistant poured the water, served the bread and butter and the salmon mousse pate’.
We were off to a great start. The Maitre’ D’, recalling our disappointment with the rack of lamb two weeks earlier, suggested we try it tonight. We four trusting souls followed his suggestions to the letter and were rewarded with some of the best lamb we have ever been served. We encountered two tables of fellow Cruise Critics and were able to bid them a fond adieu and farewell. At one point I excused myself to make a rest room visit and upon my return to the table, someone very special was sitting in my chair. I had been ousted by none other than Chef Denton. He had come by personally to say goodbye and make sure the rack of lamb had not been disappointing.
We took a bottle of wine with us to the theater where we enjoyed the humor of a very funny comedian and a reprise performance of the Frankie Valli & Four Seasons Tribute quartet.
CRUISE DISEMBARKING DAY, Sunday, Oct. 26
We arrived at 8 am and disembarking was completed by 11 am.
All and all, this, our 20th cruise with Norwegian, ranks as our best all-around cruise with NCL.
There is a synergy and energy that is clearly working on the Sun that I have only glimpsed once before.
The October 2012 repo cruise of NCL Star from New York to New Orleans was the only previous time I witnessed the senior officers corps work so well together that the whole became bigger and stronger than the sum of the parts. The Star Team was comprised of Captain Costas Fafalios, Hotel Director Sean Wurmhoeringer and Food & Beverage Director Yannis Kasalis. Sadly, NCL’s fleet rotation model has broken up the Star’s “A” Team.
But, the October 2014 repo cruise of NCL Sun from LA to Tampa outshines the Star’s experience in both breadth and depth. The Sun’s “A” Team is comprised of Captain Ronny Borg, Hotel Director Brian Walters, Concierge Leah Rodriguez, Exec. Chef Denton Laing, Restaurant Mgr. Gary Bryan, Exec. Housekeeper Hal Broomes, Guest Service Mgr. Rodel Gemeniano, Beverage Manager Windchester Barrack, Cruise Directors Richard Matic & Simon Jukes, and Group Service Coordinators Ligaya Dagasdas & Shirlyn Valdez.
I realize the Corporate Officers in Miami believe in the managerial technique known as “cross pollenization” which moves good talent around the company to infuse their talents on under achieving units. But, you run the danger of breaking up the talent pool which is built upon the synergy and energy of Team Talent, not Individual Talents.