Norwegian Sun Cruise Review by KarlGermany
- Sail Date: February 2016
- Destination: South America
- Cabin Type: Family Balcony
I have seen another comment on an earlier date for this cruise, where someone said "worst cruise ever", well I wouldn't share this, but when I had to put the about 15 cruises we have been to in an order, it would probably end on the very bottom of the list.
Ok, let's start with the ship: 15 years old, you will see a certain amount of wear and tear, however generally it is well maintained but the interior is somehow old fashioned. Cleanness on board was not really good, e.g. I have never seen one of the glass tables in the theater really clean. Same in our stateroom, the cabinet doors had fingerprints on arrival and throughout the whole tour. I don't blame the stateroom attendant, it just seems that he had too many staterooms to take care for, so he couldn't go that extra mile to make the room really clean. Same for the tables in self service restaurants which looked sometimes dirty. During the cruise we have seen much less cleaning going on in the general areas compared to other cruises.
Due to the "free style dining" system, they have five "speciality" restaurants (I will talk about them later) although those are not that big, they take away room for the other dining areas. Just one of them, the 'Moderno' is used for (a limited) breakfast and lunch buffet. So especially during bad weather when they cannot use the outdoor dining the buffet style Garden Restaurant and Moderno are very cramped. Tables are filled most the time making it hard to find an empty seat and you may end up having your breakfast on a bar chair at the bar. On one of the port days most people made excursions and everyone back on board was 3.30p.m. They closed the seated restaurants and even the buffet in the garden restaurant at 3p.m., only one side of the outdoor buffet was open. Well that day (Puerto Madryn) the major excursions were 7.5 hrs long and if at all guest had a boxed lunch in the busses. So when all those guests came back just before departure of the ship it was more than cramped at the buffet. It took them about an hour before they finally opened the other side of the outdoor buffet as well. And we've seen that on other days too, there was a long line at the outside restaurant, but they opened only one side, even though food was sitting on both sides, but they did not open the other side until an hour later.
The buffet itself is pretty small, not much of diversity and sometimes long lines waiting. Other than on other cruises we have been to, 90% of the food is real self service, so you take the food yourself not someone behind the counter filling your plate with whatever you want. Having food lined up partly in three rows, it was sometimes even for me, having long arms hard to reach everything without touching or bothering around with other food. Didn't look very hygienic to me, and pretty soon sometimes like a war-zone.
Same time they have two restaurants (Seven Seas and Four Seasons) where you will be served at the table, however they open only one of those for breakfast and lunch, which is ok, as most people tend to go to the self service buffet. But I think it would be a good idea to have a breakfast and lunch buffet in one of those restaurants as well.
We went most the times to the seated restaurants as we prefer to be served at the table. For dinner they open both, however the menu is the same in both, although the description upfront in all brochures gives the impression that both would have different styles. You can make reservation upfront, which is probably a good decision when you like to eat more around 8.00 p.m. At that time you may have to wait a while for a seat without reservation (they hand out buzzers, so it seems to be some waiting time). You better take a jacket or something else warm to your meals, especially when you get a seat close to the window the A/C is sometimes really freezing cold.
However even if you make reservation you will not get the same table every day. Meaning you will have different waiters every time. No chance that your waiter will anticipate your wishes after some days. Also I had the impression no need for (most of) the waiters to offer exceptional service, most likely they will serve you only once. So they don't go an extra mile for an extra tip. Generally we had the impression that staff / guest ratio was not as good as on other cruises we've done. We met our stateroom attendant twice or three time during the whole cruise. On other cruises that was the average we met them per day. Maybe they have to take care for more staterooms than on other ships.
Food quality was mostly good although some of the dishes missed a little bit of spices and the deserts are not that good in my personal view. However the variety of the menu is limited and recurring, not only some of the dishes but the whole menu was some days identical. Actually after one week you will have seen all they offer. Well menu included even e.g. Ribeye Steak or Lobster if you are willing to pay around 22 USD. Other than this, as I said, good quality but limited and recurring choices.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, forget about. We met a vegetarian couple and she was very sad, as she ended up having the very same meal multiple times. Breakfast menu was the exactly same every day. In my view especially sad was that no cheese (other than cream cheese) was on the menu in the restaurants. The buffet offered one or two sorts of cheese. When I asked the waiter for cheese for breakfast there was at least a chance, that they actually brought me cheese. That again the downside of 'freestyle' dining, different waiter every day. Quality of breakfast was very much moving target. Some days eggs were perfect (for me) sometimes even the egg white was partly fluid. We like to have black tea in the morning, that always required extra waiting time and sometimes the hot water was no longer hot when it reached the table. No idea from how far away waiter had to get this.
We love to have breakfast in our stateroom, weather permitting on the balcony. However balcony was no option on this cruise even not in the warmer regions, as there was no table on the balcony. When we booked room service was included, later they changed that to a 7.95$ charge (not 8.00$, just 7.95$, what a bargain) per order, except for continental breakfast in the morning. However the continental breakfast is absolutely basic, no toast, no egg, no fruit. So you most likely end up with 7.95$ for breakfast in the stateroom. After we complained about this change, they granted us 1 free order per day. However not only due to the fact that there was no table on the balcony, but also due to the fact that the service was late twice we decided not to use the room service on this cruise.
In regards to variety of the menu the speciality restaurants are even worse, they did not change their menu at all, meaning exactly same dishes offered throughout the 14 days cruise. And the amount of main courses is pretty limited too. Again, food quality in the steakhouse and the Bistro (that's the two we went) was absolutely perfect, service there was very good as well (and yes, they deserved and got their extra tip). However we bought a 3 day dinner package (which gives you 1 main and unlimited starters / sides / deserts for three dinners) we went to the Bistro first and the steakhouse next. Being not a fan of Japanese food and neither the Brazilian style churascaria, it was already not that easy to find something on this limited menu we wanted to have for the third dinner. Yes there is an Italian place as well, but nothing really special Italian dish on that menu (we are in Italy often and love Italian food, however they even don't have vitello tonnato on the menu). If you go more often than three times you may probably end up having the same main twice, especially if you maybe don't want to have seafood or prefer seafood, don't want meat or prefer meat, etc.. There is also ‘Las Ramblas”, a “Tapas Bar”, however all they offer are about six very basic tapas style snacks. And those seemed to be the same every day as well. The Sushi Bar is by the way not included in the Speciality Dining Package. We've been twice to the steakhouse, sushi bar is kind the entrance area of the steakhouse. Both times I haven't seen people eating sushi.
One day they offered special chocolate deserts in the main restaurants and (based on the information they hung out) special chocolate deserts plus other deserts in the speciality restaurants. Happened that we've been to the steakhouse that night. Asking for the special chocolate menu the waiter was first uninformed at all, then he called and told us out of his memory which desert would be available (well, he couldn't recall all of them, so he said, ‘basically the same as last cruise’ ). Anyhow we could order it and got it, however if we hadn't seen this before by circumstance (we had looked in one of the main restaurants before) he wouldn't have mentioned it to us. Again, not big deal, but very typical for not giving out information.
Very limited selection is also true for wine if you bought the 'Ultimate' beverage package. This 'huge selection' (as advertised) includes 8 different red wines (by glas) out of the total list of 61 red wines. White wines are also eight included, 2 off dry and 6 semi-dry. We complained about this and they gave us one free bottle of nice white wine (Which we liked and appreciated), but didn't change the list. Having 14 days just two different wines to pick from (as I didn't like the other 6 reds at all) is not what I expect from an 'ultimate beverage package'.
If you like to get a not included wine (which only comes by bottle) they will give you a 20% rebate. Well, they include wine by glasses, where the bottles range between 30 and 40$ and when you buy a not-included wine which is listed e.g. for 40$ as well, they grant you a 8$ rebate. Do you get the rational behind this (expect getting after your dollars)? I don't get it. Even worse, it was not for sure that you will get all of the included wines in every bar, in between some were sold out in some bars.
The entertainment options on board were also limited compared to other cruises. Well entertainment is very much a matter of personal taste and prefers, however evening shows were partly recurring and in my personal view quality of performers were ok, but nothing really special. Not to forget, they had South America / port of call presentation every day which was really good and informative. We also liked the piano man Greg in the Windjammer Bar. (By the way Windjammer Bar and Havana Lounge are both mentioned as Bar options on the ship description. They are not two bars, but just one partly divided by a glas cupboard, making the Havana Lounge a little bit more quiet. But basically these are only two setting sections of the same bar. Well they are good in making descriptions)
They offered a 'tour behind the scenes' to kitchen, laundry, etc. but they did charge for this extra. There was the usual bingo, casino, a few dance classes, and q&a with captain and officers, but especially with a large numbers of sea days on this cruise I would have expected more variety in entertainment. The TV system was also pretty outdated. No interactive Information, e.g. assessing your stateroom account or ordering room service, making reservations via the TV system, etc.. I understood they do offer something like this via the wireless Internet. However for that you need to download an App. As I was not willing to pay for the Internet to download this app and did not have any information upfront, I could not use this App.
TV offered BBC, Fox, MSNBC and I believe three movie channels, however, there was not easy to find out when which film will start. As far as I have seen when I switched to those channels, the selection of movies was very limited (I actually noticed four different movies, but again I can't tell for sure, as there was no schedule available) Occasionally they showed a movie in the theater, but I believe just once or twice. One TV channel was used for round the clock repeating advertisement for next cruises, but even that was not really informative, just standard 'we go to great places', one channel was for round the clock repeating safety advices, well I didn't see the point to get information throughout the cruise about how the security drill which took place the first day will operate or how tender operations will operate when there is no more tender port to come. One channel was the view from bridge which was also occasional used for announcements about the cruise, but very limited. One channel was for recorded theater shows and other recorded events another one showed information about ongoing events etc. however this was kind of a slide show with changing slides, many of them about the casino and other advertisement. To get some real information you had to watch this channel probably more than 15 minutes or so until finally a slide with information you look for comes up.
'Best' was the channel for the 'up to date' ship and weather information, which was pretty often astonishing incorrect or outdated, did not always show the current position of the ship on the map (but a map where the actual ships position was not on). It showed small wavelets when the actual waves outside were probably about 3 meter or showed an outside temperature of 23 Celsius when it was really cold outside. And I doubt that we really had water temperature of 20 Celsius down to the south tip of South America. Leaving Puerto Madryn, the distance to previous port shown on screen was 45 miles when it was actually probably 15 miles, well as further we went, the shorter the distance became until it finally seemed to be correct. I assume (and hope) the captain used more correct information. Well, that incorrect information doesn't ruin your cruise but are kind of example of unprofessionallity.
All together I think this was the cruise with the least comprehensive and most incorrect information on board. For announcements they used , as on all ships their speaker system in the hallways and rooms and one of the TV channels. However we could never find out by which system other than random they decide which communication channel they use. Ok, stateroom announcements should be limited to most important things, as people may want to sleep, especially as there was no way (as on other ships) to turn off the speaker in the stateroom for other than emergency announcements. But why they sometimes broadcast the announcement over their communication channel on TV and sometimes not, we couldn't find any reason for. One day we were standing on the balcony had the TV switched to the communication channel and waited for the ship to be cleared for going off shore. We nearly missed this announcement as it was only made in the hallway, which we couldn't hear from the balcony, it was just because I went inside to get my camera that I heard there was an announcement going on, opening the door I could get at least the Italian version and understood that we could go ashore now. It's very unconvincing if you don't know how to get which information on a cruise ship.
I also did never understood, why the daily printed information about meals, ports, events, etc. in German language included always very incorrect grammar, spelling and wording, as they do have several native German speaking staff on board (the Hotel Director was a German as well). Even standard, recurring information was partly bad translated. Again, that is definitely not a big deal I always understood the meaning and was mainly going for the English versions anyway. However, as a Hotel Director I would make sure that information printed in my own mother tongue would be correct, just for being professional. It's a small piece of a puzzle but matches the big picture, that NCL goes more for the money of the guest than for real quality.
E.g. prices for shore excursions were by far the highest I have seen on comparable cruises. Charging 219$ per Person for a 4 1/2 hrs. Excursion which includes an approx. 20 km Bus ride, visit of a small park (entrance fee about 10$) a sheep farm and a lunch BBQ is in my view ridiculous, unless the BBQ was gold plated. I read the other day, that NCL is more or less a budget cruise line. I would not agree, their basic rates are comparable to many other lines, include all side-costs especially excursions they are not budget. And service is below budget.
Other point which need to be mentioned critically is the size of the ship, which was probably too big for this destination. There was another cruise ship going the same route as we did (more or less) the Regatta from Oceanic which was docking where we had to tender and which probably also was able to go further into the Chilean fjords, where we just went through the bigger passages. Tendering is general ok, however we nearly missed Punta Arenas due to the fact that the waves were nearly to high for tendering (they had to stop tendering for a while in the afternoon, making it a long waiting time to get back on board).
We couldn't get as close to Cape Horn as promised due to heavy winds and we missed totally the Falklands, due to the fact that the ship is too big to get into the inner bay but has to anker outside on the ocean. Making it a 20 - 30 minute tender ride. As very heavy wind were on the forecast for the afternoon, captain was afraid, that he would probably not be able to bring back all gust on board by tendering, so he decided to cancel this port. 'Funny' enough they started to hand out tender ticket at 7 a.m. when actually the decision to cancel was already made and the boat was already past the point where the ship would had to turn towards the island for the planned tender operations. They even did not make any announcement before 8.30 a.m. about the cancellation, at a point in time when we already were past the islands. So many people did even not get a chance to take at least some pictures of island at the time when we've been appr. only 10 sea miles away. They never gave an explanation for the late announcement even not when especially asked for in an Q&A session on the following day, no sorry or apologise for this as well. I thought this was very unrespectful for the person from Argentina who asked for an explanation. He mentioned that he would have loved to get at least the chance for a view to the Island and make some photographs by an earlier announcement. Captain's comment was, that he wouldn't have seen a lot anyway, because it was foggy and that he would no longer discuss this. It also took them more than 4 hours until they handed out an amended program for this additional seaday and announced e.g. which restaurants will now be open for lunch or which additional events they will offer.
Especially after hearing that in average 3 out of 10 times, or even more often they have to skip the Falklands due to the weather, I would have expected that they have a 'plan B' in the drawer for that situation. But they even did not manage to change the on screen displays in the Hallways which showed the 'Welcome to Port Stanley' schedule the whole day. However, they managed to change the schedule so the ship arrived in Puerto Madryn a day earlier as planned, in the late afternoon. That way we had a chance to spend the evening in town.
Anyway, given the fact that the ship is too big to get into the inner bay at the Falklands, making a long tendering required increases in my view the chance that this port will be cancelled. I believe it would be more than fair that NCL does mention this in their brochures. (Well, they even didn't indicate how many ports will be tender ports). A number of guest (including the two of us) made the decision for the NCL cruise just because of this stop, knowing this would mean two additional days on sea. Other cruise lines do not include Falklands in their itinerary upfront. Looking back I have to admit they are probably just more honest to their guest. Missing the Falklands was especially for the large numbers of Argentinian on board hard, which planned to visit the military cemetery there and book the whole cruise just for this.
Overall most port of calls on this cruise are not really worth to go (in my view) but more just on the way to Cape Horn (and to the Falklands). Punta Arenas is a beautiful little city with many nice old buildings, maybe better than Valparaiso which does not look as nice. The beagle canal passage was interesting, in the first part we came close to five glaciers. But here again, they told upfront we would pass the glaciers at appr. 7.30 a.m. At 7 a.m. there was an announcement (not in the staterooms but only the hallways) that we are about to pass the first glacier (which was the second best). Well, for those sleeping on the 'wrong' side or in an inside stateroom it was probably too late. Our cabin was on the port side, so we had a perfect view, even undressed. Sure, it may be not realistic to tell the exact time period of passing a night before, but making an announcement just at the time of passing is not good organised, especially if the passage is one of the highlights of the cruise. Nearly the same happens for Cape Horn, due to high winds (captain said up to 130 km/h) the captain decided not to go as close as planned. This announcement came also only at the time when we reached the closest point and on the hallways only, not in the staterooms (the ship was not too bad rolling and shifting, we had rougher sea some days before). At this time you could see Cape Horn at least, but as he was turning around that was for some minutes only as well, at least from our balcony (yes, I could go on the balcony without problems). I am quite sure, many guests will have missed out Cape Horn completely due to the late announcement of turning around before the planned point.
Puerto Madryn, the city itself is not worth visiting at all (so that additional night we had there was probably fun for the crew as they could spent a night in bars ashore - not so much fun for the guests with a balcony to the dock side when all those people came home late during the night). Their are two areas worth to go from Puerto Madryn. One for Punta Tombo, huge penguin colony, we went there and it was really good. And the other one the Valdez Peninsula, which a lot of other wildlife. Talked to people that went there and it is good as well. However both takes a 2.5 to 3 hours ride by car or bus, each way! Giving the fact that the ship departs from Puerto Madryn at 4 p.m., all guest on board 3.30 p.m. and excursions don't start before 7.30 a.m., you end up with max 1-2 hours at the excursion point compared to 5-6 hours drive (and the roads are not really good and safe).
Having a sea day next day and only about 700 miles to next port would make it no problem to stay 1 or even 2 hours longer in port, well I am quite sure that would incur more port fees for NCL.
All over all, yes not going offshore in Falklands and not getting closer to Cape Horn was disappointing, but taking it for grant that this was for security reason, that's ok and nothing to complain. (Although finding out that the actual weather on that day in Port Stanley was about perfect, leaves some questions about the decision) How the crew handled the situation, late announcements, and all the other bad service factors mentioned lets me place this cruise experience at the bottom of the list of my about 15 cruises so far. And just as well, makes it more than unlikely that we will consider NCL again for one of our upcoming cruise plans.
Tipps and hints:
going from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires, go for a Port Side cabin, (If you book an outside cabin) that’s where you will see the most interesting things, especially that's the side were the glaciers are. Going other directions it will be the other side obviously.
Arriving in Santiago and need transfer to Valparaiso ? Consider to rent a car, europcar e.g. does have a station right opposite the cruise terminal in Valparaiso. (closes at 7 pm, as far as I recall) in Santiago you can then do the Maipo Valley on you own, it is actually not that worth to visit, but at least doing it by car is cheaper than with an organized tour). Trip to Valparaiso is easy driving.
In Punta Arenas it's worth to walk through the streets, no long distances.
If you plan for Puerto Madryn do Punta Tomba on your own, make sure to leave the boat as early as possible. The distance is at least 2.5 hrs. drive each way! For Punta Tombo you will need at least 1.5 hrs there, as it is about a three miles walk through the penguin colony, however it is worth especially if you haven't had a chance in other ports before. Puerto Madryn itself is not worth.
Don't miss the South America lectures given by Peter, lots of very useful port Information!
Avoid the excursions organized by NCL they are overpriced. In all ports we've seen numerous independent tour operators and taxis. (Well I don't know about Port Stanley, but there you can – weather permitting – do a walk to the Penguins, appr. 3.5 hrs walk round trip, as we've been told)
Well and best tipp: look for another cruise line, offering these destinations.
250,000+ people have entered their email
Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
MontevideoThere is a hop on hop off bus across the cruise terminal, 21 USD per person. We took this, just round trip, did not get off anywhere and walked then through the old city. Had a very good steak in the Market Hall close to the harbourView All 248 Montevideo Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's Montevideo Cruise Port Review
Puerto MonttBooked own excursion with G&V Travel, you will find them on Internet, good organized good price value ratio and you only pay after the tourView All 153 Puerto Montt Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's Puerto Montt Cruise Port Review
Punta ArenasIn our view best town on the tour, lot of nice old buildings, very interesting mansion museum. Everything easy to reach by walking.View All 152 Punta Arenas Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's Punta Arenas Cruise Port Review
Santiago (Valparaiso)Santiago is nice, however it's a pretty big city, compared to Buenos Aires its smaller and more nice old houses with interesting architecture.View All 106 Santiago (Valparaiso) Cruise Port Reviews
Valparaiso ? Well with some imagination you can imagine that it must have been a very nice city once. Today many buildings are just ruins, the downtown area of the old city is full of heavy traffic. Uptown got some pretty renovated houses and lovely views.
Good point to stay before cruise is the ibis hotel, as long as you book a room facing the waterfront (don't take street or side view, there is a discotheque across the street with very loud music until 5 a.m.). Behind Hotel is a metro which takes three stops to cruise terminal, better and cheaper than taxi. Mind, for Metro you need to buy a charge card and load the tickets on to the card. Card fee is non refundable, but you can ride with multiple persons on one card!
View Cruise Critic's Santiago (Valparaiso) Cruise Port Review
Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego)Some nice views, but Puerto Montt was betterView All 229 Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego) Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego) Cruise Port Review