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Copyright © 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman

 

Norwegian Sun
“Exotic” Western Caribbean Itinerary: Miami, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize, Cozumel
November 2- 9, 2002

by MrTractor

Travelers: Jerry and Barb Hoehn
Ages: Mid to late 40s
Cruises: 14 total - CCL, RCI, Premier, HAL, NCL, Celebrity, Windjammer, and Princess.
Traveling with: Friends Mike and Beth (Ages: Mid Forties, First Cruise)
Stateroom: 9076 Category AC Penthouse Suite. Portside, Aft
Agent: Barbara Coe, BestPriceCruises.Com (free plug there)

I'll give you the Summary first and save many of you the trouble of reading my rambling and ranting.

Positives -

  • Aft Penthouse Suite
  • Concierge Service
  • Cleanliness
  • Food in Dining Rooms
  • Embarkation
  • Veranda
  • Price
  • Tender operations
  • Entertainment
  • Freestyle Dining
  • Disembarkation
  • The Passenger Mix
  • Did I mention the Penthouse Suite?

Negatives-

  • Pool Games
  • Pool Deck and Show Lounge Bar Waiters
  • Drink Prices
  • Not enough time to do it all!

Summary - Rating 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 (Not perfect, but nobody’s complaining!)

Whatever slight irritations there may have been were very minor and not worth a second thought. Sometimes you couldn’t find bar service on the pool deck and you had to go get your own drink. But that was just another excuse to walk around, chat up the other passengers, use the WC or graze at the barbeque for some spare ribs. Everything is an opportunity for fun on a cruise if you look at it the right way! It’s possible this rating may be somewhat skewed by the fact that it was our first experience staying in a penthouse suite. We were pleased by our BA cabin on the Grandeur of the Seas. But the AC Penthouse Suite on the aft part of the Sun was truly amazing. I know the AA owner’s suite was larger and the AB Romance Suite had a heart shaped hot tub, but if I had to do it again, I might pick this cabin over either of those cabins. More on that later.

When deciding if I had a good experience on a cruise, I ask myself and my wife a few simple questions:

  • Did I get my money's worth? Yes. We got a very reasonable price on the AC suite and jumped on it. But beyond that, the ship was very well laid out, the crew was hard working, the entertainment was great, the food in the dining rooms exceeded expectations and the passenger mix was comfortable. Not too old, not too young, not too many special interest groups, etc.
  • Would I go on this ship again? In a second. It’s only a function of time and money. We enjoyed our trip on the Sky, which is close to identical to this ship. We had an inside on that one and weren’t disappointed. Our pleasure was only magnified by the Penthouse Suite on the Sun. The crew was generally terrific, it was clean, nearly new, and the choices of dining and entertainment options seemed endless.
  • Did we enjoy ourselves? Immensely. We really enjoy Freestyle as it is practiced on the Sun and the Sky. Not as much on the Sea, as it was not built with Freestyle in mind. But the Sun and Sky have the program down to a tee! Only once did we wait for more than a minute or two for a table and that was at the busiest time on lobster night in the main dining room.

Tips - A few quick tips for those of you who don’t want to read all the rest of my ramblings…

  • Get to the port early. They always say they won’t be boarding until 1 PM, but the truth is, if the ship gets cleared early enough, they will start boarding as early as 11 AM.
  • When you ask for a drink, specify the size and the type of glass you want. If you don’t specify, you might get a large expensive drink or a “souvenir glass.” If you want one, get one, but ask for it that time and don’t assume you won’t get it the next time. If you don’t specify, you probably will!
  • Make your alternative dinner reservations early. Suite passengers can make reservations for the whole week in advance. Others can’t. We didn’t make it to East Meets West because we decided too late to try it. And we were in a suite! Reservations can be made one day for the next day. This doesn’t mean that you can call at dinner time one night to reserve for the next night at dinner. This means if you want to get a reservation for dinner tomorrow night, make the call EARLY the MORNING BEFORE you want to go there. You can always cancel if you change your mind. If you can’t get a reservation, you can always try showing up at the door and checking with the maitre d’. People sometimes “no show” and this worked for us in the past on the Sky.
  • Put insect repellent containing DEET on BEFORE leaving the ship in Roatan or for cave tubing in Belize. I think the bugs know the cruise ship is in port and they start swarming just like the hawkers. And don’t get DEET on anything. It literally took the polish right off ladies nails and eats into polymer plastics.
  • It’s cold in many of the restaurants and lounges. Especially the Observation Lounge.
  • It’s VERY cold in the caves in Belize especially for the ladies. I would suggest wearing a wet suit, but the walk through the jungle is pretty hot and you may be uncomfortable doing that. We did Reggie’s Cave Tubing and at least we had a jungle walk and a portion of the river to float down in the sunshine. On the ship’s tour, they never got out of the caves except to walk to and from the buses a short distance. Just be prepared to be cold on either trip since the water is about 65 degrees.
  • Get a deck chair near the pool early on sea days. As usual, there is a lot of saving. If you plan to get a chair near the “action”, you’d better get your breakfast in the Garden Café. Or get a cup of coffee and enjoy it on deck for a while before you go to breakfast. I hate chair saving. But once you’ve put your stuff on a lounger, the others around you get filled up and people see you there, then I suppose its “legal” to claim them. I think the rule is up to a half hour. That should give you time to go the dining room for breakfast or lunch if you desire. We personally don’t like to be down where the pool is. Its noisy, too much foot traffic, not as much breeze on a hot day and too much screeching and splashing from juvenile cruisers (I’m including all ages in this category). Our favorite spot was starboard side forward.

Just a quick suggestion for NCL if they happened to be listening: It seemed like there were a lot of nice young couples aged 30 to 45 walking around the ship sort of “unconnected.” They have “singles parties,” “kids parties,” “friends of Bill W” meetings, and even “gay and lesbian” get togethers. Why don’t they have adults only “Couple’s Parties” of some sort? I got the feeling that with Freestyle Cruising, it’s sometimes harder to connect with other folks that you didn’t come with or connect with on the Internet before you cruise. I realize that not everybody goes on a cruise to socialize. Maybe some go for the relaxation, or the food or the gambling or whatever. But most want at least some interaction with other passengers. If not, then why cruise? Why not take a land vacation where you’re not contained on a large floating party barge for most of 7 days? I think these young couples would have welcomed an opportunity to socialize with others on the ship. (See my last paragraph for how important this is to making a cruise more fun).

OK. Drum roll please. And now ladies and gentlemen, the full “MrTractor” review of our trip... (Cue the snazzy show band music.) MrTractor enters wearing his black tuxedo with Caribbean Plaid bow tie.

Good evening fellow cruisers and thanks for listening! Tonight I’m inviting every one of you to embark upon a voyage to exotic and exciting places never before seen by grumpy whiners who don’t know how to relax and enjoy themselves. If you are one of the above mentioned people, stop now. You’ll only feel worse. Come with me and my fellow adventurers to a place where... Even the life boat drill can be fun.

So turn on the calypso music, get your self a frothy drink with fruit hanging off of it, put your feet up and try to get through this incredibly long but hopefully informative and entertaining review. Remember, this is just one mans opinion. Your mileage may vary. (YMMV)

Trip to Miami - The main reason I mention this is to tell you how great it was to fly on the newly refitted American Airlines coach seats! Last year we flew Delta into Ft. Lauderdale and it was tight. At 6’ 4”, I really appreciated the new legroom and width on our American Airlines flight. If you are tall and or large, it’s worth the extra $10-20 RT to fly American. We arrived Friday night and stayed at the Holiday Inn South Beach. Cheap room from Priceline.com. Rented a Cadillac because It was the biggest thing they had other than a minivan (hey, what’s romantic about a minivan?). Also a car rental was better because of our desire for flexibility and the amount of luggage being taken. Should have rented a U-Haul truck. With all the school supplies and our over packing we had the trunk full and the back seat stacked with boxes and luggage. Any more and we would have had to make two trips! More on the school supplies later.

Miami, South Beach - Had dinner on Lincoln Road at one of the outdoor Italian restaurants “Carnevale.” Nice meal, great service and great atmosphere. The Holiday Inn South Beach is too far north. Stay further south on the beach if you can or over near the port. It was a lot nicer than the HOJOs, but not as convenient.

Embarkation Day - We loaded up our Caddie after breakfast at the hotel. Barb and I took a walk on South Beach while Mike and Beth checked in with the kids back home. We took a quick tour of downtown South Beach and headed past Bayside shopping center over the causeway and into the port of Miami. Our ship was waiting. After so many cruises there is still something amazing about driving over that bridge in Miami and seeing those humongous vessels lined up like great white circus elephants ready to parade down Government Cut. We dropped off our bags and the ladies stayed with them while we took the car back to Enterprise Rental Car. It's right downtown Miami instead of the airport and they have a very prompt and courteous shuttle service to and from the port. The driver seemed to sense our excitement and anticipation. There was another couple in the van with us. “What ship are you guys on?” I asked. It was a Carnival ship. It looked nice, too, as we turned into the port parking lot. But we were happy to note that although it didn’t have the sheer size of the Voyager, moored behind the Sun at the port, our ship was as handsome as any ship there and at least from the outside, far more attractive than the Carnival ship. We puffed up a little when they asked us and we said simply “The Sun.” We decided to use Enterprise on the way back, too.

Since we were “Suities” or “Suite People,” we had a priority embarkation area. But our traveling companions didn’t. We asked one of the agents if they could go with us and, at first, she said “no.” We asked her to check with Julie, the concierge, if it would be OK. Julie came out and introduced herself and said, “No problem.” Things were starting out nicely. I introduced myself and our little group and said “You must be Julie Sedgwick. Your good reputation has preceded you.” She looked up at me not the slightest bit surprised and said “Cruise Critic Dot Com.” “Right,” I said and we all laughed. We proceeded to check in where we were offered tea, coffee, water, juice, pastries, sandwiches and comfortable chairs. When it was our turn we were individually checked in and our photos were taken digitally. We waited a couple of minutes and then Julie personally escorted us on the ship. We didn’t feel rushed or pressured and could have walked right past the photographer for our embarkation photo. Darn! No Las Vegas style showgirls! I was disappointed. My wife wasn’t. We stepped on the ship. There is something about the feeling of getting onboard at the beginning of a cruise that is unique. Maybe it’s the smell or the uniforms or the sheer relief of getting there after weeks or months of anticipation. We felt the rush of cool air conditioned air and got our first glimpse. Unlike many other ships where your first step is into a grand atrium, we entered deck 6 aft near the library. The atrium would have been a more dramatic first impression. But what the heck we were there, finally.

A waiter’s assistant named Maja (?) was there to escort us. He took our carryons and knew just how to get to our cabin. I realize this may not be the way most passengers embarked, but I didn’t hear anyone else complaining and when I looked over at the lines of other passengers, the lines didn’t seem long at all.

The Cabin - We had seen the 360 degree tours on the internet and knew pretty much what to expect. It did not disappoint us and the pictures only did it partial justice. This is possibly the best on the ship. Not the largest or the fanciest I suppose compared to the owners suite, but considering the amenities, services, size and especially location, it was the favorite of all who surveyed it. IMHO, there is no better location on the ship than one of the aft penthouses between passenger decks. They are not only huge, but have all sorts of cool stuff in them. We hooked my laptop up to the surround sound stereo system in the living room and had continuous music playing from my MP3 library. The balcony--scratch that... the veranda, was truly that--a veranda. I was about 8 feet deep and 20+ long. It wrapped around about a third of the width of the ship. The veranda floor was made up of the same blue decking material you find on the upper sun decks. Teak would have been nicer, but the effect was like a cool blue pool of Caribbean water. Really very soothing and it dried instantly. It had two full sized deck chairs, two full sized lounges and a table, but could have easily accommodated more. It would be perfect for our Champagne Sailaway Gala. Just close your eyes and imagine Grand Cayman fading gently off in the distance as the sun goes down over the Caribbean. Thats what I was doing the moment I stepped out and put my hands on the teak railing. When I opened my eyes, I was in Miami and the adventure was beginning.

”Let’s see the rest of this place” I turned to say to my wife Barb. She was gone. I heard a sound somewhere between a sigh and a scream. She had found the bathroom. The bath and dressing area was bigger than the last stateroom we stayed in! “What no hot tub?” she joked. When she pulled back the curtain to the whirlpool tub, she almost cried. The whirlpool tub was big enough for a family of four (although two seemed to fit perfectly! HA!). A separate shower, separate commode, 5 foot long marble top sink, separate dressing area with vanity and phone, more storage than you could ever use on a 14 day cruise, individual zoned heat and A/C and computerized combination safe. The living room was separated from the bedroom by two frosted French doors to allow access for the butler or room service and provide complete privacy. It had a fridge, plenty of extra glassware, a large sofa, two chairs, a large high coffee table that we used for dining and serving. There was a wall unit that included a desk, the menus from every restaurant on the ship for room service, a 25-inch TV and entertainment center with DVD. The surround sound speakers were mounted around the room to an amazing effect. One large sliding door was in each of the two rooms adjoining the veranda and gave the entire suite a warm and airy feel. It was more cabin than two people could use. The bedroom had a king size bed and another TV (who cares since we never turned either one on!) and a complete gentleman’s wardrobe that was twice the area I needed to store my things. Everything worked, even the refrigerator. The only thing that bothered me was an occasional unpleasant odor from the commode room. (Usually I blame this on the dog, but he wasn’t around).

Later that week, we met the couple that was staying in the Owner’s Suite at the Captain’s reception. They wished they had their cabin in our location! They much preferred the stern location. Also, our room was between passenger decks while theirs was directly under the Observation Lounge where dancing and music was played until very late. I could go on about this cabin, just allow me to say... Heeyouuuuuweeee! GolDANGit that was a great cabin!

The Ship - I realize this was not the fanciest or most exclusive cruise ship sailing the seven seas. But it was very nice. I personally prefer the color schemes on Royal Caribbean ships, but the décor on the Sun was very pleasant. Some of the colors seemed a little disjointed, but overall, the interior was tasteful, pleasing to the eye and comfortable. The Sun was a handsome gal on the outside, too. And it was a nice size. Not too big, not too small. 9 restaurants. Two pools separated by four hot tubs. Pool Deck was all teak, while the Sun Deck was the same blue mesh that was on our veranda. It kept the decks cool, dried instantly, and it made moving deck chairs around easy. On sea days, our little group of four camped out on the upper deck forward near Champs bar and the outdoor barbeque. It was much easier to get a lounge up there. I could close my eyes and drift off to the sounds of the Calypso band. From here, the noisy pool games weren’t quite as annoying and it was on the other end from the thump, thump, thump all day from bouncing basketballs. Up here, you could get the sun all day. It was near the bar, had a nice breeze and you didn’t have to go far to get to the barbeque. You definitely want to try the ribs. If I lean back in my chair and close my eyes right now, I can still hear the music and smell the smoke from those ribs. Mmmmmm. If all you want is sun and relative quiet, then try the area all the way forward on the port side. It was too far from the pool and the band to hear them and the port side is away from the kiddie’s pool on starboard side. I hope you have two beautiful days in the sun on the Sun like we did!

The Sun had some great lounges. Our favorite was the Windjammer. Roger Hernandez was terrific. He sounded more like Billy Joel than Billy Joel does! “Twice as Nice” plays mostly in Dazzles and brought back memories of being young in the seventies and the DJ in Dazzles was great to shake your tail feather to until the wee hours. Corey in the sports lounge made great acoustic music. I love that kind of music and wish I had picked up a few of his songs to play when I get home (on my guitar, not on the stereo!). Rick and Vince are really outstanding musicians. They played in the Observation Lounge. I called them Elvis and Clapton. They smiled when they heard that. That’s also where karaoke was held.

The ship itself was well kept and clean. The promenade deck has the most lively and colorful murals on the walls. We put on our life jackets for the drill and even enjoyed strolling the deck looking for our muster station. I had my digital elph camera and we hammed it up with someone’s aunt or gramma by taking a few self portraits. She thought it was neat. I don’t remember who she is, but she is now part of another happy cruise memory.

The Ports

Cayman - We had been there numerous times on past cruises, but our friends had not. Sting Ray City is a must for first timers, so we finally decided to do it together. We wanted to get a full day in, so we had to start early. This would give us enough time to do SRC, hang out and have lunch at the 7 Mile Beach Club, the wife’s favorite spot on the island, and still do some shopping. Since we had to use the ship’s tour, we hoped it wasn’t sold out. It was. We enlisted the help of our concierge. She sprang into action. She said she would get back to us as soon as she knew anything. The response for SRC was so great that the Dive In desk decided to start a second group at 9:00. This allowed Julie to slip us in to the first group. I felt like Julie had started the second group just so we could get what we wanted. Maybe she didn’t, but it still felt GOOOOD! The ships tour left a little later than expected due to the large number. It was a little more expensive than Nativeway or Captain Marvin’s, but left a little earlier, so it fit our schedule better. Either of those two local operators would have been fine, but the extra hour or two really helped out. The ship’s tour was a real “cattle call.” But it was fun and we got to talk with a lot of people from the ship, some of whom we invited to our “Gala Sailaway Party” at “Penthouse 9076 Portside Aft” that same afternoon. When the tour boat returned to its slip, we didn’t even get back on the bus. We walked to the main road and then west towards the tendering dock two blocks and we were at The Beach Club. They tried to charge us $8.00 just to walk in as a cruise passenger. We were highly indignant. We snuck in. HA! They didn’t know who they were dealing with! We had lunch. Great ambiance, but the food was nothing special. We took a cab back to the port. The cab driver wanted payment in advance and wouldn’t take my One Dollar U. S. Coins! He thought they were counterfeit! I handed him greenbacks because it was easier than walking.

Tip: This is a tendering port, so if you don’t go on an early ship’s tour or have a suite with priority tendering, then don’t figure on getting off too early. There are always plenty of independents willing to take you to SRC. But don’t wait too late. Remember the PRIME DIRECTIVE: DON’T MISS THE SHIP! Tendering was pretty efficient, but it does take time to get that many people off the ship.

Roatan - We got into port around 10:30 and stepped off the ship around 11. We had planned something unusual this cruise. I had heard about others who tried to help some of the local schools with supplies and equipment. After seeing all the poverty in these third world countries, I thought it was time to do something nice while there and I heard about a couple who was attempting to build an orphanage on the island. We arranged to meet with Brad Warren, director of Child Sponsorship International in Roatan. We have enough enemies in the world. I thought this might in some small way make a positive difference in the way the people of this area saw Americans. Something other than a meal ticket stepping off a giant ship. Then we would go to Bay Island Beach Club for some snorkeling at the famous “Spooky Channel.” We called and made a reservation with the resort operator. Their web address is www.bibr.com. (Free plug there Cam). The resort sent “Tex” a tall friendly man who is native to the island. He brought the van right up to the gate at the pier and helped us avoid the gauntlet of hawkers waiting there. We brought with us several hundred dollars worth of school supplies, children’s medicines and toothbrushes and even some cash contributed by generous fellow cruisers John and Cynthia who heard about our “do gooders” project. At first we went to the Methodista school in Coxen Hole, but we quickly realized this was not the place we were to meet Brad. They would have gladly accepted our donation, but we didn’t feel comfortable leaving all this booty with just anyone. Tex finally figured out that the orphanage was only a mile or two from the resort. It wasn’t too far out of the way, so we didn’t inconvenience any of the folks going to the resort with us too terribly much. After this slight mix up, Tex dropped us at the orphanage to meet the energetic Brad and his charming wife Debbie. The rest of the group went on to the resort and the Warrens took us over there in their van after a tour of the orphanage he is building for 40 orphaned and abandoned children. The Warrens had lunch with us as a guest of the resort. They shared their thanks with us again and left. We had plenty of time to go snorkeling. Tex was our guide for this as well. I promised not to go into ALL the details of our trip (a promise I seem to have already broken!), so if you want to know more about Brad’s work, check out their web site www.csiroatan.org. They are doing great things in very difficult circumstances.

Tip: Don’t be intimidated by the crowd around the last gate from the pier. We talked to people who stayed on the ship because of them. Get off the ship! It’s a wonderful island; you just have to get out of the port area to the resorts. And if you use one of the taxis to give you a tour, or you plan to have them return you to the pier from a resort, don’t pay them until you return. That’s kind of a rule the government has put in place to make the island more “cruise friendly.” The people of Roatan in general are poor, but they are very friendly and accommodating. The same precautions you would take in any foreign country apply, but don’t come all that way and not experience this island and its people. This port is also known as a dive and snorkel paradise, so if you plan to only snorkel or dive once on your trip, this would be the place to do it!

Belize City - The harbor is very shallow and the ships must anchor far from the pier. So this is another (the second and last) tender port on this itinerary. The secure pier area is new and nice. Lots of shopping for almost anything you would want to bring home. Local crafts and jewelry, Cuban cigars, local rum, t-shirts, and the usual junk. Try the 190 Octane smoothie at the food court if you feel daring. Smooth, but kicks like a mule! The first person we saw when we stepped off the ship was Reggie. We went with Reggie Cave Tubing after hearing recommendations on CC. The ship has a similar tour, but we figured on living dangerously! (See tips in summary section). Belize seemed to be a nice enough place, but somehow I felt a little less secure there than I did in Roatan, despite its relative wealth. Perhaps because the port was right in the middle of the country's largest city. Rudi, our driver and cave guide told us that there were a number of ethnic groups including many Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan fleeing the imminent and/or possible takeover of those areas by the communists. This gave the city a more international feel. If our guide Rudi and the shopkeepers at the port were any indication, these were also a friendly and accommodating people. I just dont think I would wander around in the city the way I might in the other ports we visited.

Cozumel - It rained all day, but we still got off the ship. To a real cruiser this was just “liquid sunshine.” My wife quickly came up with a plan B (the B is for Barb). No little bit of rain was going to prevent MY wife from exercising the traditional rites passed down for generations from her foremothers - SHOPPING! We had planned to go to Chankanaab to do some of our favorite activities - sunning, eating, snorkeling, drinking, and snoozing, but the weather turned this into a shopping and Carlos and Charlie’s kind of a day. Oh, well. Shielded by our cheap clear plastic rain parkas, credit cards and cash, we bravely stepped into the tempest. We spent the morning stepping over rivers of rain in the flooded streets, shopping around on the high ground and having lunch at one of the restaurants on the square. As the tourists, locals and cruisers all huddled in the shelter of the colorful cafés it felt good to be somewhere else than in beltway traffic. The margaritas flowed and the guacamole was tasty. Watch out for that yellow habanera hot sauce, though. YOWEEE! I drizzle one drop too many and tears begin rolling down my cheeks. Even that felt good just then. Everything feels good after three margaritas! The four of us slipped back to the ship and caught up with fellow CCers Rumncoke and Planers Edge and headed back to town for some Carlos and Charlie’s fun. If you haven’t been there, it’s a real experience. My wife and I even saw a few new moves on the dance floor that modesty will not allow me to describe. Let’s just say that if you enjoy having sex standing up with your clothes on, you already know how to dance At Carlos and Charlie’s. Lots of tequila shooters, wild dancing and debauchery. And this was 2 o’clock in the afternoon! Ah, the tasteful ambiance of it all.

I needed a nap. After all we had to keep our strength up. Tonight, Thursday was a special nightLOBSTER NIGHT! Whats that honey? Oh, yeah. It was also our 21st wedding anniversary. Sure I remembered, Suitie, er, I mean Sweetie…….

Tip: This is an all new pier area. When you get to the end of the pier, straight ahead looks like the best and safest way to get to the town. In truth, you are being “herded” into the new shopping mall where you must walk for about a half a mile through an upper level of the shopping mall before finding your way down to the sidewalk. If you want to see these all new shops, feel free. If not, just as you get to the end of the pier, turn left. You will head to an area that looks like it dead ends into a loading dock. It doesn’t. At the end of the fence you can step right out to the sidewalk on the waterfront side of the main street and proceed directly to town or cross the street and go right to Carlos and Charlie’s. I personally resent being “tricked” into a shopping area, so we avoided the mall area until our second trip off the ship. The town has become so commercialized in recent years. Most of the old shops that we used to go to for bargains on quality Mexican jewelry and silver have been bought up and the prices raised. The shops on the town side of the main road are full of aggressive hawkers all pleading with you to enter their stores. One was even rude to my wife when she turned down his “final” offer on some jewelry. Avoid most of the shops along the main drag. Walk on the other side of the street until you can see the town square on your right slightly up the hill. Turn right off the main road there and walk up the far side of the square. Several streets of shops radiate off the square including some interesting shops for crafts, jewelry, pottery, Cuban cigars and more. If you don’t mind the walk, you’ll find the shops there less pushy, the prices better and the merchants more interested in negotiating. There is also a cash machine in a kiosk at the far left hand corner of the square that dispenses cash in US dollar or pesos. And look out for the birds that often nest under the tables at Carlos and Charlie’s. Did I mention to take it easy on that yellow habanera sauce?!

Entertainment - As I previously mentioned, the choices were many. Jane L. Powell was entertaining as usual and had great fun bantering with the audience. Billy Prudhomme juggled and joked to the delight of all. As I mentioned, the lounge acts were simply great. Fabio Zini entertained us for wine and Tapas in Las Ramblas several nights with a Flamenco guitar style that exudes passion with the fiery Latin rhythms of his Spanish/electric guitar. He had many of us on our feet dancing and clapping along. Ok, so maybe the wine helped a little, but he was still great. We only saw the welcome show in the Stardust Lounge and a short portion of the “Cirque Pan”, but they all had the same full production value you can expect from the Jean Ann Ryan Company of dancers, IMHO the best at sea. We had seen the comedian, Jeff Harms, on the Sky a couple of years ago. He was even funnier. We both have teenaged daughters and he always kills with his shtick on them. We chatted up with him at the Observation Lounge bar and he said he remembered talking with us at the bar on the Sky. Maybe he just said that to be nice, but he was still funny.

THERE WERENT TOO MANY ENTERTAINMENT OPTIONS, just TOO LITTLE TIME!

Tip: As usual, try to get to the shows about 20-30 minutes early to get the best seats. The seats within the first ten rows are the best. The seats in the balcony and behind that have decent sight lines and comfortable chairs (better than the Sky and many other ships), but there are some support poles in the way in several locations. Again, when you order a drink from the waiters in the show lounge (or anywhere else for that matter), be specific! In any case, there always seemed to be plenty of seats for the shows. I would guess due to the number of choices available to passengers at the same time as the show and the Freestyle dining concept. But the Windjammer was usually packed when Roger was playing.

Here is another interesting tidbit for you. Jane L. Powell usually does a portion of her show down from the stage at the level of the seats. For whatever reason, she always seems to favor the left hand side of the stage as you are facing it from the audience. If you want to be up close and almost “part of the show,” sit there. But be warned, she has an entertaining, but sharp wit and won’t tolerate anyone not paying full attention!

Food - I was generally pleased with the quality of the food in both the main or alternative dining rooms. The service was not consistently excellent, but we had no major complaints. I can mention one thing that was irritating with the wine service. We got the wine we wanted when we asked for it, it was served properly and at the right temperature in the proper glass. It was just that it seemed like there was always a great deal of confusion when we left a bottle unfinished in one restaurant and wanted to finish it in another the next night. They even tried to convince us that we had finished a bottle of wine that we knew full well that we had not. We insisted that they keep looking and intimated that we wouldnt be ordering any more wine until they found that one. Lo and behold, it appeared. With so many restaurants, I can see how it might be difficult to keep track of all that, but NCL needs to fine tune that aspect of Freestyle to avoid confusion and possible customer dissatisfaction.

Never ate at the buffet until the last morning for breakfast. “Wifey” found a few interesting things there, but didn’t expect a gourmet meal either.

Favorite dishes in the dining rooms - Beef Wellington, Lobster (Thursday night after Cozumel), Prime Rib, Shrimp with Forty Cloves of Garlic (Il Adagio), Imperial feast in Teppanyaki. Again, YMMV.

  • Best place for hors d oeuvres - Las Ramblas
  • Best Place for a Martini - Windjammer
  • Best place for Dancing - Dazzles
  • Best Outdoor Bar - Champs
  • Best Bar Service - Champagne Bar (ask for Roberto!)
  • Best Place to see MrTractor and others Look Silly - Karaoke in Observation Lounge

Disembarkation - There was an ugly scene in Penthouse Suite 9076 the last morning of our cruise. A man was holding a Penthouse Suite HOSTAGE! A negotiating team of four cabin stewards, three executive chefs, a souse chef and a five man security detail had to talk him down from his veranda. Finally an executive chef came up with a plan. He coaxed him down by tying a medium rare slice of Beef Wellington to a stick and leading him quietly down the staircase. As if in a dream state of disbelief, they led him through the atrium, past stunned passengers and crew alike and down the gangway.

Women screamed! Mothers shielded the eyes of their children. Grown men openly wept. It seems I had forgotten not to pack the clothes to disembark in! UmBwahHAAAHAAA!!! By the time I realized what was happening... it was too late. (Cue the spooky background music.) MY CRUISE WAS OVER! (Blood Curdling Scream)

Relax, would you? That didn’t really happen. Well maybe the part about walking naked off the ship in a trance. But it didn’t look that bad in the newspapers. They got my good side! HAAA!

You’re doing Freestyle! Freestyle is the best way to get off a ship. Even though we could have been with the first group due to our “suitie” status, we hung around with our new and old friends and exchanged email addresses and chatted. The ship was late getting cleared, but we had a late flight. We used Enterprise for an SUV this time. Even though we got rid of all those school supplies in Roatan, we had more luggage coming back! I swear it never fails! It defies the laws of physics! Our little group of four had lunch at Snappers at Bayside (had to try those stone crabs), shopped, stopped into Hard Rock Miami (yeah, been there, got the T-shirt). On to the airport and another comfortable and uneventful flight home. I love flying into Washington’s National Airport at night. The view of the monuments is stunning!

I could go on in detail about the butler and the concierge, security, the casino, the ship’s décor, the hardness of the mattresses, the color of the carpet in the dining room etc. etc. etc., but I think this review has already gotten out of hand. I plead guilty to the charge of wanting to share the fun. There was so much we enjoyed on this trip. I hope the next guy picks up a tip that might help this cruise just a little more enjoyable. And those of you who were on this trip, maybe it will help you relive some of the nice times we had during that all too short week.

Let me finish by saying that this will go down as one of our most enjoyable cruises. Someone asked me once to rate my top five cruises. That was hard to do, since I’ve never had a bad one! What I found was, that it was the people that made one cruise a little better than another. Our interaction with the crew has often been important, especially on traditional cruises. On a Freestyle cruise, the crew isn’t as big a part of the experience, even though they did a good job connecting with us. Most importantly, it’s the people that we meet and the family and friends that come along that make a cruise great. This cruise was a wonderful example of that. People like Mike and Beth, John and Cynthia, Crysta and Chris, John and Sue from Manchester U. K., Raul and Diane “Shananayia” from San Luis Obispo California, Rene and Carlos the charming couple from the Dominican Republic we talked to at dinner in Teppenyaki, Anne, our next door (mini suite) neighbor from Sumter, SC who had just recently lost her husband and came over to our sailaway for a drink and to tell us she liked our music, Niki and Jeff from Cincinnati and all the nice folks we met from Cruise Critic. All these people and more completed a voyage which the grumpy, whining, crabby people that don’t know how to have fun will never sail!

It’s back to steerage for Mr. and Mrs. Tractor, but with great cruisers like these, it won’t matter. Thanks to all of you for another great cruise!

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