by Mike Kauffman
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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.