by Greg "Pepe"
The m/s Norwegian Sun is a
"Freestyle" purpose built ship which seeks out adventure
while plying the azure waters of the western Caribbean. The ship has
one of the friendliest crews afloat, headed by Captain Constantinos
Fafalios and hotel director Michael Klieverik who keep an immaculate
ship. Norwegian Cruise Lines should be proud of the ship which is
adorned by beautiful artwork, sculpture and a very classy motif
throughout the ship.
Pre-cruise at South Beach. I usually
like to arrive a day in advance to the point of departure, in case of
weather delays for flights. It's also a great way to transition from
working to the vacation. For this cruise, I chose to stay at the
Marriott on South Beach which is a very nice hotel, centrally located
on Ocean Drive. The highlight of the day before the cruise was sunset
and dinner at Smith & Wollensky's. Manager Paul Spiess does an
excellent job overseeing what I believe is the best place to dine in
South Beach. Having a martini at sunset while watching the ships
navigate the ship channel at Government Cut is a great way to end the
day. The restaurant is located right on the ship channel, and the
ships pass so close that you can almost touch them.
This provides a fantastic backdrop
for the restaurant. The food and service at Smith and Wollensky's is
incredible, and an event that you should not miss on your next visit
to Miami. Dining is either outdoors next to the water, or indoors with
capacity up to 400. Show up a bit early for the sunset and have a
martini or glass of champagne while Paul prepares a table for you. I
had the crab cakes and lobster bisque for an appetizer which were just
an incredible fusion of seafood and spice. For the main entree I had
the lobster and steak, which was one of the best meals I've ever had.
Paul is to be commended for running such a great operation. (Smith
& Wollensky, One Washington Ave, South Pointe Park, Miami
Beach, FL 33139 tel 305-673-2800 fax 305-673-5943, Paul Spiess, Mgr)
The next day I boarded the Norwegian
Sun around 3:00 p.m. and did not have to wait in line. It appears as
though the big rush to embark is right at 1:00 p.m., so if you show up
after that, you don't have to worry about the huge mass of people
trying to get on the ship. The embarkation procedure is both fast and
efficient. You have your photo taken and are issued a key card which
not only opens your room, but also acts as your onboard credit card.
After a security screening, I boarded the ship and proceeded to my
On such a huge ship, passenger
navigation can be a challenge, but Norwegian has properly fixed a
generous number of easy to read maps at every major intersection.
Elevators and stairways are strategically located to handle even the
most tempest amounts of traffic. The beautiful atrium in the center of
the ship from Deck 5 to Deck 11 is capped by a skylight which allows
the entire area to be bathed in the tropical sunlight. The ship is a
delight to cruise on.
There were a number of public rooms
on the ship which really stood out. The Observation Lounge on Deck 12
forward is a great place to view the Caribbean as the voyage
progresses, or a martini before dinner with live entertainment after
dinner. Amidships on Deck 6 is the Windjammer Bar which doubles as a
piano bar in the evening with the fantastic Roger Hernandez who plays
both guitar and piano to all your favorites.
With a full capacity of 2,400
passengers on this Spring Break March 15, 2003 cruise, the ship never
seemed crowded except however, during the sea days, when passengers
teemed onto the upper decks scrambling for tanning space. I found if
you just wait until after 2:00 p.m., there was no problem finding
room. On such an efficiently planned ship, it seems odd that day
tanning space is always at a premium. I'd eliminate the golf driving
rooms and shuffleboard to make space. The basketball court takes a
huge amount of room, but seemed well used during certain periods of
the day. As far as I'm concerned, sports venues aboard a ship is a
needless waste of space. The exception to the rule is a workout room
which can be placed anywhere. Instead of deck lounges, I'd go to some
type of hammock system which could easily be rolled up to save space.
Towards the aft of the ship, there is
a multilevel deck for morning and afternoon breakfast and lunch, which
is covered from the Sun by a translucent canopy. When the ship is
steaming along at 20 knots, combined with a sea breeze, it can get
quite windy on the top decks. We had one day with 35 knot winds which
made the upper decks extremely windy.
One feature which I particularly
loved, was the use of plants in the Atrium, and throughout the ship.
It gives the ship a more lived-in warm look and enhances the classy
nature of the ambiance while aboard. I had cabin 0008 on the Norway
deck, which was unfortunately located right below the exercise room,
and was awakened a few times by an aerobic class early in the morning.
I always try to see where a cabin is located before booking, to make
sure there is nothing but another cabin above me. The cabin had a
small balcony and was well appointed with Cherry veneered cabinets
with plenty of storage. The bathroom was compact and efficient. Both
110V and 220V outlets were available in the cabin, and a hairdryer is
permanently affixed to the bathroom wall for your convenience. A small
bar refrigerator is in the room, and two bottles of water are
available for a $3.00 charge each.
Ship cleanliness was perfect. Even
above decks where the wind was blowing everything around. Pools and
Jacuzzis were drained and cleaned nightly. After a day at the beach,
people bring aboard amazing amounts of sand, which is promptly
vacuumed by the staff.
There are a few noticeable features
of this cruise which really stood out. The first one is usually only
found on luxury ships, and that is the attempt of the crew to learn
your name. With 2,400 passengers, even that attempt is splendid, and
by the end of the cruise, a good number of staff knew my name. This is
the hallmark of great service. Kudos go out to the staff of the
The second feature which really stood
out, was the incredible effort on behalf of Ray Williams, the
concierge. I have never even seen a concierge on an economy line such
as Norwegian, and I have to admit, it works quite well. What is a
concierge you ask ? A concierge is primarily for the passengers in the
upper class cabins, but is available to other passengers as well. They
can accommodate small and large demands, but primarily act as a
liaison for the passenger. Ray, to was extremely helpful and did
everything he could to accommodate my requests. Thanks Ray ! It's the
little things like that which make a cruise really stand out.
With the outbreak of the Norwalk
Virus on other cruise lines, Norwegian has taken a proactive stance,
and has in-place an extensive regime of measures to insure that the
most sanitary conditions as possible. The crew will opt-out from
shaking hands (most of the time), and moist towelettes are required
for all to be used when boarding the ship, and recommended before
meals. There was never a time when I didn't see somebody cleaning the
handrails or hallway walls, which reinforces the effort on behalf of
Norwegian to keep a clean ship.
The food on the ship was quite
varied. Part of the "Freestyle" design is for a number of
restaurants ranging from Oriental to Italian. Food quality ranged from
fantastic (Teppanyaki) to good (main restaurants) to average (Pacific
Heights). The downside to the more upscale restaurants was the fact
that you needed reservations, and you had to pay for them (either a
flat cover charge or in the case of Sushi, a per item fee). The
reservation system needs to be thrown out, it simply doesn't work. The
Ginza area was never at more than 20 percent of capacity, while in the
main dining rooms, there were times you had to wait more than 20
minutes. A better system for all the restaurants is to eliminated the
reservation system, and go to a beeper system in high demand (a beeper
is provided when your table is ready). While the room service menu was
fairly basic, the service was prompt (usually within 15 minutes) even
at 3:00 a.m.
The shore tours were well varied. I
chose to take the most expensive tour, a day trip to Guatemala to
visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. After tendering to shore in
Belize City, we bused to the international airport and flew to Peten,
and after boarding another bus finally arrived at the most spectacular
array of temples that I have ever seen. This tour is priceless. The
sheer size of the Mayan pyramids against the backdrop of the jungle
simple makes you gaze upon the temples in awe. In this one area there
were over 10,000 platforms covering 200 square miles. In Cozumel, a
rental car proved to be the most economical and fun way to see the
island. Sometimes it's fun to plan your own adventure. However, if you
want an organized tour, the ship tours are always a good option.
This is one of the newer ships which
was specifically built for what Norwegian calls "Freestyle
Cruising." Let me tell you, there's nothing "Free" in
the coined term, which is designed to mimic what happens normally on
the upscale and luxury ships. I'll give credit to Norwegian for
providing an option to "traditional" cruising, but it's
clear the concept still needs a great deal of work. The number of
different restaurants definitely worked well, however when I pay for a
cruise, I just assume the food is included. With "Freestyle"
only the main restaurants are included (Pacific Heights or the Tapas
Bar didn't charge either).
"Dine when you want, and with
whom you want." Not exactly. You can only dine when you have a
reservation to dine (if you can get one) in the specialty restaurants.
What surprised me was the 20 minute wait one evening for one of the
no-cover main dining rooms. I actually miss having a set dinner time
and being able to sit with people I don't know. Part of traveling is
meeting new people, and "Freestyle" dining precludes this.
Why would you want to eliminate one of the best aspects of
While Norwegian "suggests"
proper attire, it was common to see people in shorts, amongst people
dressed in tuxedoes. An evening dress code should be enforced.
Freestyle in this case means a large discrepancy in tasteful attire.
The other touted benefits of
"Freestyle" cruising include not waiting in lines, and other
benefits, none of which became ever became reality. So while Norwegian
might be on to a good concept with "Freestyle" it has a lot
of work yet to be done. My overall impression on the concept was that
I was being constantly being nickel-and-dimed, and was relentlessly
exposed to up-selling. At dinner, you are offered your choice of two
bottled waters--choose the "NCL Ship Water." There's a fine
line between a classy presentation and up-selling.
My overall impression of the
Norwegian Sun is very good. The ship is new and the staff is just
wonderful. Even though we missed the port of Grand Cayman due to poor
weather, the entire itinerary in the Western Caribbean was excellent
and I highly recommend a cruise on this ship. Adventures abound when
you look for them and the Norwegian Sun is part of a fun adventure.
Good seas and fair winds.
Greg "Pepe" Giese
Madison, WI 3/25/2003