When it debuted in late 2001, Norwegian Sun was considered Norwegian Cruise Line's first real innovator. It was the first cruise ship the line built expressly for the "Freestyle Dining" concept, and raised quite a few eyebrows when it launched with nine -- count 'em nine -- restaurants. Even its launch was unusual -- the ship shared a splashy dual premier ceremony with Norwegian Star in Miami (how many cruise lines can you remember that actually debuted two new-builds on the same exact date and at the same locale?).
Certainly, Norwegian Sun has evolved and mellowed in the past decade, but a 12-day dry-dock in early 2011 has the ship sparkling from top to bottom with bright colors, happy staff, spacious accommodations (its 33 suites were refreshed) and cheerful public spaces. Sun also gained a Brazilian-style churrascaria, a concept that debuted on Norwegian Epic, NCL's newest ship.
In fact, with so many ships and cruise lines from which to choose, it's often the little things that make a difference between a great experience and one that is so-so. For me, it's usually staff and crew behavior that drives my appreciation, and then touches like porcelain cups and real cream at the coffee stations, well-maintained and clean public rooms, attentive room stewards and enjoyable activities for all age groups. All of these factors are present on this ship.
"Freestyle Cruising" allows cruise passengers to dine in a variety of restaurants and to take advantage of menu options not available on other cruise lines at times that are convenient for the guest. Long shore day? You can dine as late as 10 p.m., or, if you want an early night, as early as 5:30 p.m. (There's also a 24-hour snack area and 24-hour room service for lighter fare).
Freestyle may not be for everyone -- and that's not an issue here. Purists, for example, who prefer set-seating, set-tablemate dining, can be accommodated in one of the ship's main restaurants.
There are two main dining rooms, Seven Seas, aft, which serves "contemporary" cuisine, and Four Seasons, midship, which serves "traditional" cuisine. Meals in these restaurants are tasty and attractively served, and the wait staff is attentive and considerate.
Three other alternative dining venues have no surcharge.The no-fee options include The Garden Cafe, the ship's buffet restaurant. Designed to serve food by creating specific areas for specific dishes (which alleviates lines), it can be accessed from two sides, and. While the areas are smallish, it does provide a wide variety of both hot and cold food items. Although it's fairly standard cafeteria-style fare, some items are exceptional (the grilled tilapia I had at one lunch was superb), and the carving station, with chicken, turkey, roast beef or pork loin was always good. This is also the best dining spot for breakfast, with fresh waffles, omelets made to order, and of course the regular line for scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries and croissants.
In the afternoon and evening, there are separate dessert and fresh fruit stations, and an Indian curry station that had started as an occasional special offering but proved so popular that it was made a regular fixture. At its busiest times it's occasionally difficult to find a table, but if the weather is nice, wander to the aft deck with your tray and sit outside. You can replenish your drinks at The Great Outdoor Cafe, located here, which also serves fast-food items and snacks (hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, cookies and cake) during the day.
The last of the no-surcharge dining spots is not really a restaurant; Las Ramblas is a lounge located on Deck 12 aft, near the entrance to three of the fancier restaurants on board and the spot of choice to meet before dining. It's a beautiful room that serves tapas, those little bites of Mediterranean food found in bodegas along Las Ramblas in Barcelona, served here often with the accompaniment of a guitarist/singer. You can, in fact, make a meal out of these delights, or have a couple for appetizers before you dine elsewhere.
Those restaurants that do levy a surcharge include Le Bistro, which offers French-Mediterranean inspired dining. The restaurant is simply gorgeous on this ship, with cozy booths set around the edges of the room, solicitous servers, and a menu that is filled with delicacies from escargot to foie gras. The signature dessert, chocolate fondue, is not to be missed ... a pineapple boat of fresh fruit is presented with a dipping pot of melted chocolate. It's all I could do to keep from licking the remaining chocolate out of the pot. There's a $15 fee to dine here -- worth every penny.
Il Adagio is another option. Located on Deck 5 (but accessed via a stairway on deck six -- though passengers in wheelchairs can request entry via the main dining rooms), this tucked-away gem features northern Italian cuisine, with specialties of pizza and pasta, among others. Cost to dine here is $10.
Norwegian Sun has a steakhouse restaurant, which is similar in style to Cagney's, the steakhouse found on Norwegian Dawn and others -- and the surcharge is $25.
Moderno Churrascaria is a Brazilian-style steakhouse that debuted on Norwegian Epic. For $20,passengers can sample a variety of skewered meats presented by tableside passadors, as well as enjoy an extensive soup, salad and tapas bar.
Ginza serves a wide array of Japanese foods including sushi; the teppanyaki bar only seats 12, so make reservations early. Sushi is offered on an "all you can eat" basis for only $15. This is a terrific deal, considering the freshness and presentation of the offer.
Room service for passengers in standard cabins includes pizza, cold sandwiches, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cookies and chocolate cake. Breakfast is Continental, selected from a simple menu on a door-hung card. One nice note is that the restaurant phones before they send your breakfast, to make sure you are awake and ready.
Suite passengers get hot breakfast options, including eggs, bacon, sausage and oatmeal, and can order lunch and dinner off of the main dining room menus during dining times.
The layout of the ship makes it easy to navigate (there's one exception, explained below) with most of the public spaces located on Decks 5, 6 and 7, plus the pool/spa/Lido Deck (11) and the alternate restaurants and Sun Deck (12). A small but soaring atrium is located towards the forward end, with two banks of glass-enclosed elevators rising to Deck 12.
There are two main elevator banks, one forward of the atrium and one at the aft, and it's the latter that creates a problem. Those utilizing the aft elevators to get to the pool deck (or the Great Outdoor Cafe) have to wend their way through at least one restaurant before getting outside. This is particularly problematic when trying to get to the pool during busy dining times. The elevator bank is located smack in the middle of the aft dining spots, with the Garden Cafe on the starboard side and the Sports Bar and Pacific Heights on the port side. The only real way to avoid the awkwardness is to take the forward or atrium elevators to the pool or sports deck.
The rest of the ship flows nicely, with the occasional and expected hiccup due to galley placement (you can only reach Deck Four from the forward elevators, and anything forward of the Seven Seas dining room on Deck Five has to be accessed via the forward elevators as well).
The Deck 5 atrium area houses the front desk, concierge, shore excursions and the Java Cafe (specialty coffees and pastries for an a la carte fee), plus the entrance to the Four Seasons Restaurant. Deck 6 is the most beautiful, and the most fun, with Dazzles, the main disco-nightclub just aft of the atrium; Windstar Lounge; and Havana Club, the cigar bar. The photo gallery is also located here, in a wide corridor with dark walnut wood panels and blue carpeting; it's very elegant, and opens out onto the exterior promenade. Located along this corridor is the lovely and well-stocked library, along with meeting rooms and card rooms. At the aft end is the entrance to the main theatre, the Stardust Lounge.
In an interesting design move, the whole atrium area of Deck 6 comprises the Internet Cafe, run by MTN/Digital Seas. Computer stations are scattered around the central core so anyone using them doesn't feel isolated. Packages can bring your rate down from the a la carte 75 cents per minute to as low as 40 cents per minute. Wireless internet is available too -- your laptop or theirs, your wireless card or theirs -- but the "hot spots" on the Sun at this time are limited to the atrium area and right around the pool.
Deck 7 is home to the shopping arcade, a paradise of trinkets, logo items, toys, clothing, jewelry, clocks, knickknacks, snacks and duty-free liquor and cigarettes, plus a high-priced branch of Colombia Emeralds International. It's also the location of the large Sun Club casino, nicely equipped with a variety of table games, slots, video poker etc. (I was really hoping to see someone try the lone $100 slot machine, but it didn't happen while I was in the casino). At the forward end of Deck 7 is the Kid's Corner, and at the aft, the upper-level entrance to Stardust Lounge.
The Observation Lounge is located forward on Deck 12, a sunny viewing space during the day, a hopping music and dance spot at night.
There is a small but lovely chapel on Deck 12 just adjacent to the Observation Lounge.
The ship has no self-serve laundry.
The staterooms on Norwegian Sun are more attractive and more spacious than I expected, a lovely surprise. The color scheme is bright with its palette of primary reds, blues, yellows and greens -- not exactly restful or elegant, but the furnishings are nice, the beds very comfortable and the storage space ingeniously designed, with tons of drawers, shelves and closet space.
The portion of the closet used for hanging clothing is a little smaller in these cabins than on other ships, but since it's a "Freestyle" vessel, there isn't the need to bring lots of dressy clothing, and the space is just the right size. Adjacent to the hanging space is a series of shelves and bin-like drawers, all behind the closet doors. Attached to the closet is a console with a coffee pot or water boiler (complimentary coffee is included, which I consider a classy, generous and hospitable bonus), a cupboard with a room safe, several drawers and more shelving curved out at the ends.
At the other end of the room is a desk/vanity, topped by another cupboard, space for a small television and more shelves, drawers underneath, and a nice-sized mini-fridge. (Note: Some of the lower-category outside rooms are configured differently, as are the inside cabins). The storage space, in a rich honey-maple wood, is so attractive, simple and efficient that I found myself trying to figure out how I could incorporate that design into the den in my home.
Standard guestrooms come complete with a pre-molded clinical-looking rounded bathroom, which is actually very functional, if not decorative (though the over-bright purple of the fluorescent light sent me running to apply makeup under the softer incandescent lights over the vanity/desk). Lots of soft, fluffy white towels are provided; suite guests also get bathrobes.
Rooms designated as triples have a long sofa, (others have love-seat sized sofas) which is really a kind of day-bed; some of these are actually double beds, which can make the room a quad. And there are rooms for five, too, with the double day-bed/sofa and a drop-down berth.
There are 368 cabins with balconies, or just about 61 percent of all outsides. I worried that my Deck 10 cabin would be really noisy since it was under the Sports Bar, but the sound insulation is great and there were no problems at all. I could hear some scraping of chairs while I sat on the balcony, which didn't have the insulation, but otherwise, no noise from cabins on either side of me or from above. The standard balcony is really spacious, about five-feet deep and as wide as the room. It's covered with a bright blue filigreed rubber mat which keeps water from sloshing around your shoes. There is a small table and two charmingly attractive cafe-style chairs which are pretty, but very uncomfortable. They'd be ideal for sitting with a cup of coffee but are no fun for lounging, with their petite size and low backs. Take a pillow outside (it did help soften them some) but beware: Those with ample tushes might find themselves wearing the little chair when they get up to go inside.
Hint: The aft corner cabins on Decks 9 and 10 are slightly smaller (with a love-seat-sized sofa rather than a long one) but have larger balconies that wrap a bit to the aft. And if you are looking for a non-balcony stateroom, are able to handle stairs, and want total privacy and quiet, look at the cabins on Oslo Deck (6A), an odd architectural anomaly in that it's a short bit of cabin deck, all the way forward, between Deck 6 and Deck 7.
There are a whopping 52 suites on the Sun, ranging from single-room mini-suites with bathtubs to luxurious owner's suites with hot tubs on the veranda and in-suite laptops. The "top 20" suites get butler services and all suite guests get the attention of the permanent concierge. (Ours was a charming Brit with a wonderful sense of humor.) All suites have lovely soaps and lotions. Guests in standard rooms have pump bottles for shampoo and shower soap in the shower, a pump bottle of soap at the sink, and a small bottle of lotion. Bar soap is available if requested.
Twenty cabins are configured for guests in wheelchairs, and 42 for hearing-impaired guests.
Hint: The Sun uses a team concept for its room stewards, two people who efficiently "manage" your cabin for you. This international crew has been exceptionally well-trained to adapt to your needs and style. If you want to engage them in conversation, they will happily oblige. If you prefer quiet, unobtrusive service, that's what you will get. They work extremely hard, are unfailingly polite and cheerful, and will make every effort to accommodate you and your family.
NCL's policy is to charge shipboard accounts $12 per day per passenger for shipwide gratuities and service charges. That is sufficient to cover typical cruise tips, but some passengers will offer a cash "bonus" to their room teams. Bar drinks have an automatic 15 percent gratuity added and the auto-gratuity for spa services is 18 percent; it is expected that room service personnel will be tipped on delivery ($1 or $2 is sufficient).
|Fitness and Recreation|
There are two pools on the main pool deck, and four hot tubs; a deck above (12), there is a kiddie pool and another hot tub. Several adults on my cruise chose to relax around the kids' pool when the main pools became too noisy or crowded. (There is something about the acoustics around the pool deck that makes it seem very loud.)
Forward of the pool is the Body Waves Spa on the starboard side and Body Waves Fitness Center and Aerobics Studio on port side, all nicely equipped for exercising. Use of the machines is free, but some classes have a fee ($10). These include yoga, pilates and spinning classes. The spa, a Mandara facility run by Steiner of London, is lovely, with genuinely nice personnel who try not to hard-sell their products. Treatments seem pricey but there are always specials, especially on port days. A full body treatment will run around $129, a facial around $89.
There are complimentary sauna and steam rooms for both men and women, a basketball court, two golf driving cages, batting cage, and shuffleboard court on Deck 12, and a ping-pong table on the pool deck
NCL is a family-oriented cruise line, with lots of parent-and-kids activities, a great children's program and even group babysitting until the wee hours. The Kid's Corner, located forward on Deck 7, is a series of three rooms with age-appropriate activities in each. What's really fun about the space is that you have to go down stairs to get to the rooms but there are viewing "portholes" for parents up above. The groups are broken down by compatible ages: 6 months to 3 years, with parent, 3 to 5, 6 to 8, and 10 to 12. A lot of time is devoted to outdoor activities ("so they can expend energy," the cruise director told me), and there are pizza-making parties for parents and kids and even a child-sized Chocoholic's Buffet arranged in the Pacific Heights restaurant concurrent with the one for adults. The program is free of charge; there is a nominal fee for after-hours group babysitting; plan on about $6 per hour.
Teens have their group activities, and a disco is set aside specifically for that age group (13 - 17).
Norwegian Sun's guests are casual, sophisticated but unpretentious people who like the flexibility of Freestyle dining, ample staterooms and lots of shipboard activities. The age range is from young families to seniors; the ship is filled with children during school vacation periods.
Casual. Even with Freestyle dining, most guests dress up a bit for supper, in resort-casual clothing. There is one optional formal night per seven-day cruise. Shorts, tank tops, bathing suits and flip-flops are not allowed in any of the restaurants in the evenings; the fine-dining alternate restaurants require resort-casual clothing.
As usual, Norwegian Cruise Line excels in this arena, with its colorful production shows and Broadway-style reviews. With myriad performers (magicians, comedians and a Cirque du Soleil-like troupe of acrobats) the evening entertainment is stellar. The Stardust Lounge is a nice venue with excellent acoustics; the many upright support posts can interfere with line-of-sight if you don't select a seat carefully.
The many bars and nightclubs around the ship have separate entertainment by way of duos singing old rock and blues standards, a country and western singer, a guitarist/vocalist, pianist, and a calypso/reggae band at poolside. Wherever you go in the evening, there is music of some sort.
The best (or perhaps most outrageous) show of the week was the Ship 'n' Males Review (a play on Chippendale's) wherein sundry crew members did a striptease down to their boxers or tighty-whities to blaring tunes like "Livin' La Vida Loca" or "I'm Too Sexy." Dazzles Nightclub was the most crowded on that evening, with lots of fun and laughter ... and some good-humored embarrassment on the part of the stripping crew as hooting and catcalling ladies stuffed their briefs with dollar bills. It was fun, funny, not lewd, but definitely not for youngsters.
Daytime entertainment is more low-key, but there's plenty to see and do. Bingo, craft-making, art auctions, pool games, trivia contests and the like are all available during the day, both while at sea and while in port. A movie is shown in Dazzles in the morning and another in the afternoon. In-room television stations include local channels while in port, CNN International, ESPN, an "oldies" sitcom channel, several ship-specific channels, and a couple of movie channels with a rotating selection. Not many of the movies were recent releases, though.
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