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Copyright © 1995-2002 
Linda Coffman

 

Norwegian Sun
Western Caribbean Itinerary
June 15, 2002

by Mike Kauffman

INTRODUCTION

My wife, 18 year-old daughter, and I cruised on the June 15, 2002 sailing of the NCL Norwegian Sun Western Caribbean itinerary.

This was our sixth cruise overall, and the second on NCL, having also cruised on the Leeward in 1996. We have also cruised on Carnival (twice), Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean. I would rate this cruise as good, but not great. While the itinerary was great for water sports and the entertainment was excellent, the food was a big disappointment.

ARRIVAL

We booked our own flights on USAIRWAYS.COM, finding a rate of $190 for round trip flights between Harrisburg, PA and Miami. This compared to $410 that NCL would have charged for their Air/Sea program out of Harrisburg. We connected via Philadelphia on the outbound trip and through Pittsburgh on the return flight.

We flew into Miami a day early to avoid the rush and stress of flying to the port on the day of departure. I found a great rate of $49 for Friday night at the Fairfield Inn Miami West on Marriottís web site. This rate included a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, continental breakfast, which included the normal fare of cereal, bagels, fruit, etc., plus a waffle station for Belgian Waffles. The hotel also offered a free shuttle to the cruise pier on Saturday morning.

We arrived at the pier about 11:00, and went into the terminal building. Embarkation had already begun. Since we are Latitudes members, we were able to enter through the Latitudes line, which took about 10 minutes. The line for non-Latidutes members was much longer, and I would estimate that it took about an hour to reach the front of this line. We bypassed the obligatory welcome aboard photo shot, and proceeded into the atrium. From there we were escorted to our cabin by a member of the shipís staff. We were in our cabin by 11:30 am.

CABIN

We booked a Category D cabin (Superior Oceanview), but were immediately upgraded to a Category BC balcony cabin located mid-ship on the 8th deck, 8050. The room had two twin beds which converted into a comfortable king bed, plus a sofa bed. The balcony had two chairs and a small table. It also had privacy screens on both sides. The bathroom was the standard cruise ship bathroom, with plenty of shelving for storing toiletries. Our cabin attendants were very good and efficient. Cold water and ice were replenished at least twice per day, towels were exchanged each morning and evening, and any special requests were honored. The cabin had sufficient storage and closet space for the three of us. A safe with a combination lock was located in the one closet.

MEALS

The food in the two main dining rooms on the Sun was disappointing. When we last cruised on NCL in 1996, we felt the food was excellent. However, it has definitely gone downhill from then. We ate in the main dining rooms (Four Seasons and Seven Seas) on five of the seven nights. The meals ranged from very good to poor. My wife and daughter had the lobster tail on Sunday night (the only formal night - about 25% of the passengers dressed formally), and said they were very good. I was also disappointed in the menu selection. There were a few nights when there was absolutely nothing on the menu that appealed to me. The service was inconsistent. It depended on where we were seated. On some nights, it was only fair. However, we did find one section in Seven Seas where the service was excellent. The section was in the rear of the ship/dining room. We specifically requested seating in the section the next time we ate in Seven Seas. One other minor irritation - I was unable to get a good cup of coffee anywhere on the ship. I donít know what NCL uses, but it definitely was sub par.

We ate two of our meals in the alternative restaurants that NCL now offers. Both restaurants featured great food and service. Our first alternative restaurant was Le Bistro. All of the other reviewers have been correct about this restaurant - it was exceptional. We each had the filet mignon. The meat was very tasty and juicy, and prepared perfectly. The restaurant itself was tastefully decorated, with windows all around. This restaurant required a $10 per person surcharge. If you wanted surf and turf, featuring filet and lobster tail, the surcharge rose to $17.50. Reservations are definitely required for Le Bistro. The second alternative restaurant we visited was Pacific Heights, for which there is no additional surcharge. This restaurant features healthy meal preparation. The menu has items such as meat loaf, calzone made with fat-free cheese, and vegetable lasagna. My daughter and I had the calzone, and it was excellent. My wife had the vegetable lasagna and also said it was great. The portions were huge. The three of us could have split one of the calzones and still would have been full. We did not have reservations for Pacific Heights, although we did get the last unreserved table. Again, the atmosphere in this restaurant was very nice. We sat in a large booth beside huge windows. It was very relaxing watching the sea go by and day turn into night as we dined. The noise level in the two alternative restaurants was several levels below that in the main dining rooms. There were other alternative restaurants featuring Italian and Japanese food that we did not try. It appeared to us that NCL is de-emphasizing the food in main dining rooms in an effort to gain revenue from the alternative restaurants.

The meals in the Garden Cafe were only average. We ate all of our lunches and all but one breakfasts in this area or the adjacent Outdoor Grill. The breakfasts included several items served buffet style, a small array of fresh fruits, and hot and cold cereals. There was also a station for fresh omelets or eggs, including Egg Beaters. The Outdoor Grill also had a waffle station during breakfast. Lunch choices included a few hot items, a choice of salads, fresh soup, and fruit. The Outdoor Grill also offered hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries for lunch. On the two sea days, barbecued ribs were made on gas grills at the Outdoor Grill. Service in the cafe area was not good. There seemed to be a shortage of staff to bus the tables when someone finished eating. It was rare to see a waiter circulating the cafe during breakfast refilling coffee mugs.

ENTERTAINMENT

Entertainment on this cruise was great. The shows in the Stardust Theater were all very good to excellent, as was the entertainment in the various lounges on the ship.

The Stardust Theater is small, compared to the theaters on similar sized ships we have been on. However, the shows were sparsely attended. We never had trouble finding three seats in the center of the first level. Three production shows were presented during the week. The set designs and costumes were first rate. The singers and dancers were all very, very talented.

The shows on two separate nights featured the singing of Jane L. Powell. I read several reviews praising her performance. She was outstanding. However, this was her last week on the ship for a few months. The first night showcased a comedian, Rondell Sheridan, who was hilarious. Someone in the audience made the mistake of yelling out "Get rid of the baby", when a small child started to fuss in the theater. Rondell heard the comment and immediately ripped into the man that said it, dubbing him "Mean Man." He badgered this man for about 15 minutes, and then picked up his routine without missing a beat. The entire audience was in stitches. It was one of the best comedy routines I have ever seen. Rondell also did a late night routine in the Observation Lounge, which was fully packed for his performance. Other nights featured the comedy and acrobatic routines of Power of Two, featuring the husband and wife team of Rudi and Christi. Rudi was a talented acrobat and great comedian and could been seen wandering around the ship mingling with the passengers on many occasions.

The ship also had music in the Windjammer, Dazzles, and Observation Lounges. Roger Hernandez performed nightly in the Windjammer Lounge, singing and playing the guitar and piano. He did tributes to Billy Joel, Elton John, and others. One night featured a sing-a-long and another night was music from the 70s. As the week went on, his performances became more and more crowded. He was excellent and could have used a larger venue. The Observation Lounge featured the duo of Rick and Dean, who performed classic rock hits. Again, this group was outstanding. Dazzles lounge had the duo of Twice as Nice, who performed mainly dance, disco, and Motown hits.

The cruise director on the ship, Paul Baya, was very talented and entertaining. He performed a few musical numbers and also did a very funny acrobatic routine with Rudi on the last night of the cruise.

ITINERARY

This was a Western Caribbean itinerary, beginning and ending in Miami. Ports-of-Call were Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. There were two days at sea, the first and last days of the cruise..

The first stop was Grand Cayman. We visited there before on another cruise and knew what to do and expect. We again chose to go to Stingray City. We bypassed booking the shipís excursion to Stingray City, opting to find our own tour. We left the ship and walked up the dock the main avenue, where private charters congregate. We booked a snorkeling trip to Stingray City and another stop for $30. The price for the shipís excursion was $45, which included only Stingray City, and not the second stop. Quite a few passengers on the ship did this as well. There were 27 on the boat we took snorkeling, and several other charter boats made the trip as well.

The second stop was Roatan, off the coast of Honduras. I have always wanted to scuba dive and finally got the opportunity on this trip. NCL offered "Discover Scuba" tours in Roatan and Cozumel. I signed up for the one in Roatan at a cost of $105. It was a great trip. We took a taxi to a very nice diving resort, Anthonyís Key Resort. We spent about 45 minutes in a classroom, going over the various safety instructions and what to expect. Our group of 24 was split into groups to be accompanied by different guides. The maximum per dive group was four divers to one instructor. Our group only had three at the beginning and soon dropped to two. We then took one of the resortís boats to Tabyana Beach Resort. We first went into water that was only about waist deep to demonstrate that we could clear our mask if they filled with water, could recover our air supply if the regulator dropped from our mouth, knew how to check how much air was remaining, and could use the buddy system if we needed to share another diverís air supply. We then proceeded to swim out to a reef that was about 20 feet deep and spent about 30 minutes exploring this area. When the 30 minutes were finished, we had the option of catching a shuttle back to the ship or staying on the dive boat and doing another dive for an additional $30. I decided to take the second dive, as did 11 of the other passengers. The second dive was at another reef and we dove to a depth of 40 feet. The reef dropped to 60 feet, but we were limited by the instructors to 40 feet. Overall, it was a great experience and I am glad I was able to do it. The equipment and the dive staff were topnotch.

The island of Roatan itself was very poor. The poverty on the island was striking. Most of the streets and roads were unpaved, with children running around without shoes. The structures that passed for homes were nothing more that shacks. As we were turning into the dive resort, we passed a dilapidated house, with a woman doing her laundry in a small stream. After crossing the stream, we entered a luxurious dive resort. My wife and daughter went shopping near the pier and bought a few gifts for our 20 year old son, who did not accompany us on this trip. My daughter did not feel comfortable with venturing into town away from the pier. There were many armed guards and policemen in pier area, which made my daughter very uneasy about the island. They stayed on shore about 30 minutes and spent the rest of the day relaxing on the ship by the pool.

The following day was spent in Belize. We left the ship and rode the 20 minute tender into port. We spent about 90 minutes walking through the shops along the pier. After this, we returned to the ship for the rest of the day. The weather along the coast in Belize this day was cloudy with a stiff breeze. I had considered doing the cave tubing tour, but opted to spend the day on the ship. I understand that the weather inland for the cave tubing, Mayan ruins, and horseback riding tours was very wet. I heard it rained about 6 inches during the tours, with thunder and lighting all day long. We spoke with a few guys that went horseback riding who said the horses had to cross streams that came up to horsesí stomachs.

The final port was Cozumel. We docked at the downtown pier, while a Carnival ship in port the same day was docked at the international pier, about 3 miles away. We were directly across from Carlos & Charlie's, Senor Frogís, and the main shopping area. Anyone from the Carnival ship had to take a taxi or walk the 3 miles to the area. We went into the downtown area in the morning. The day started hot and sunny, but a strong thunderstorm moved in late in the morning. We waited out the storm in a convenience store. For the afternoon, my daughter and I went snorkeling at Chankanaab Park. It cost $10 (each way) for the taxi, plus $10 each admission to the park. Snorkeling equipment is readily available in the park for a $5 rental fee. My wife decided not to go along, as the weather still looked threatening. As it turned out, we did not get any rain at Chankanaab, while my wife was caught in another thunderstorm and was drenched. I think Chankanaab is a very beautiful park, with good snorkeling along the shore and a beautiful lagoon area where you can view many types of fish. On this visit, I also discovered an area of the park that contains Mayan architecture.

The last day of the cruise was a day at sea, returning to Miami. The weather was sunny and very hot for the entire day. The pool area was crowded, but chairs could still be found on the upper level. One extraordinary thing occurred on this day. The ship had to evacuate a passenger for medical reasons while we were at sea. The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter and plane from Miami to pick up the person. The helicopter hovered over the rear of the ship while a basket was dropped from the helicopter for the passenger to be placed in. The basket was then raised into the helicopter and it immediately flew back to Miami.

SUMMARY

Overall this was an good, not an excellent cruise. The ship was filled to capacity, with many families and seemed overcrowded. Perhaps there was not enough staff to handle the full capacity. Groups of teenagers would stay in the elevators (especially the panoramic ones in the atrium) for hours on end, riding from floor to floor. Also, NCL was very lax about enforcing their rules about underage drinking. Even though the minimum age is posted as 21, there were many, many underage passengers with alcohol. I would guess that some of them were even under 18.

Photo Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line


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