I just got home last night. Here is a review I typed this morning while everything was still fresh on my mind. The Sun was terrific, and the staff was even better.
Review: NCL Sun, Alaska, June 12-19, 2005
6/12 Vancouver embarkation
6/13 Inside Passage
6/14 Ketchikan (fishing with Ken of Northern Lights)
6/15 Juneau (city tour including Mendenhall Glacier)
6/15 Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glacier
6/16 Skagway (driving tour of the Klondike Highway to Emerald Lake)
6/17 Wrangell (self-guided walking tour)
6/18 at sea (entered inside passage around 16:00)
6/19 disembarkation in Vancouver
Group (14 total):
Mandy and Curt – ages 30/32. This was cruise #6 for us (started cruising in 2000) and our third cruise with NCL. Other cruiselines include Celebrity and Holland America. This was our first Alaska cruise. We married on our last Norwegian Cruise in 2003 while in port in St John, and our very first cruise was Norwegian Sky, so NCL holds a special place in our hearts. All cruises have been 7-night cruises.
Twelve others joined us (friends and family) and all have taken at least one other cruise. However, for everyone in our group, this was our first Alaska cruise.
Terrific cruise with NCL staff going above and beyond to satisfy. We loved the relaxation of Alaska and Freestyle cruising, and will probably be returning to Alaska again.
Our group was flying in from various places (Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Tampa, and Austria). Most arrived in Seattle on Saturday while one couple arrived in Seattle on Friday to visit friends who live in Seattle. Twelve of us stayed in two separate hotels.
Of the twelve, eight of us stayed in Hilton Garden Inn (Renton) which we acquired on Hotwire for $35 per room (plus taxes/fees which came to $45 per room). Even paying regular rates, we would highly recommend this hotel. It was very well kept, comfortable rooms, good business center (free internet to check last-minute cruise weather), and also had an indoor pool and hot tub with good jets. Location was about a 10-minute drive from SEATAC. Following the hotel’s directions, you feel like nothing is around. However, ask for directions to the nearby WalMart and you find lots of restaurants nearby without using freeways. The Hilton Garden Inn provided a free shuttle to and from the airport. Something that really impressed us was when Curt’s parents arrived, the shuttle driver was on break. When phoning the hotel from the airport, they were told to take a cab and would be reimbursed upon arrival to the hotel. The cab cost $18 plus tip, and the front desk immediately reimbursed them. Considering the Hotwire rate of $35 and the hotel paying $18 for a cab, this was quite impressive.
The other four stayed at the Hilton airport and had no complaints.
We rented a minivan for the eight of us who arrived around noon. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and went to walk through Pike Market. It was very crowded that day and rained off and on. Because of the crowds, it was not very enjoyable as you could barely walk. However, we did watch the Seattle cruiseships sail away around 4:00 from a good viewing area just near the famous Fish! people. We took everyone back to the hotel and then returned the minivan to the airport so that we would not have to deal with it in the morning. Most in our group went to bed early, while Curt and I relaxed in the hottub for a short amount of time before retiring for the evening.
Transportation from Seattle to Vancouver (Amtrak Cascades):
The eight of us arranged for a shuttle from the Hilton Garden Inn (Renton) to the Amtrak Station (King Street). For $77 (plus tip), Shuttle Express (425-981-7000) took us and ALL of our luggage to the train station in a van. Our driver was punctual and friendly. I prefer to be early rather than late, so we had a 5:50 pickup. We arrived at the train station around 6:15.
Using the credit card I had purchased tickets with, I utilized the kiosk to print tickets. We needed these when turning in checked baggage. The checked baggage doors opened at 6:30. Yes, they do stick to the 50-pound policy, as one couple did get to do a little rearranging of items. We were the first in the line, but for some reason I felt it was disorganized. Although we were all traveling together, the lady wanted the luggage with each family (couple). Then she wanted them by reservation number, and since some couples had purchased tickets as a group online, that added to the confusion. However, she ended up stapling our baggage claim tickets to just one ticket. In the end, it worked out, but the most confused I became was when giving her four tickets (for the four people I booked) and she kept asking for the luggage of the three of us. I couldn’t understand why giving her four tickets she only wanted three of our bags. (I teach math, and am pretty exact with numbers). Fortunately, she realized she had miscounted and understood why I was confused with her “three”.
Ten of us had purchased the $36 business class tickets while four of us had purchased $24 coach tickets. At 7:15 we were called to get seat assignments, which were basically assigned in the order you lined up (business class was on the right, coach on the left). When I informed the desk we had ten of us together (five couples) he placed us in rows 1-5 on the left. The business class cars had a seating configuration of two on the left and one on the right. When heading from Seattle to Vancouver, the water (and best views) are on the left. Row one faces backwards, so that is good if you don’t mind riding backwards and want to visit with row two. However, my dad did become a little queasy riding backwards but didn’t want to inconvenience anyone else with switching seats. Once we were off the train, he was fine, but felt it was completely because of riding backwards.
Many of us enjoyed breakfast in the dining car. Because seating is limited, you need to go immediately when breakfast is announced if you wish to have a seat. Otherwise, it is about 1:15 before the next seating. There is a $8.50 per person minimum, and if booking in business class, you received a $3 off coupon when getting your seat assignment. Breakfast was very good and well worth it. We enjoyed a table for four, watching the scenery go by as we had good food. The menu on the Amtrak Cascades website is accurate.
Disembarking the train – business class was first but was also furthest from the exit. A few carts were available for helping with luggage.
After clearing customs in Vancouver, we took cabs to Canada Place. This cab ride was under 10 minutes. Most traveled in pairs, while my parents/grandparents decided to see if they could get four to fit in a cab (plus all luggage). Amazingly, ALL of the luggage fit in the trunk. Cab fare was about $10 (Canadian) so with tip we paid $10 US.
The first line we entered was Customs. Not a problem. Then we split into the separate Norwegian lines (regular checkin, Latitudes, Suite/VIP). Four of us were in the Suite/VIP line. In this line there were cookies and marble bread, and we met the concierge and butler. Quite honestly, we felt this line moved slower than the rest (we watched the rest of our party in the other lines complete the process faster and board the ship well ahead of us). The positive thing was getting to meet our concierge at this time.
After completing checkin (setting up onboard credit, picture taken for cruisecard), we proceeded towards the gangplank. There were two photo stops, which we did, but did not purchase.
Cabin (AF MiniSuite 9278, aft):
Wow. We were impressed with everything and did not have a single complaint about the cabin. Ample storage, and as others in our group said, they could get lost in our bathroom!! We really enjoyed the layout of the cabin, and particularly the location. Only 18 cabins overlooked the wake, with six on three decks.
Our friends were nextdoor in AF MiniSuite 9078 which was identical. Our headboards and bathtubs shared the same central wall. Visiting on the balcony was easy, as we did not have to really lean over the divider much. However, the divider between the minisuites and the BA balcony cabin nextdoor seemed to be thicker/wider. You really had to lean over the railing that way if you wanted to chitchat with those guests. If you are wanting a complete overhang, this is not the balcony for you. The overhang was only about a foot, but even standing out, you still had privacy because of the angle of the aft of the ship. The only way people from above could see us was if we were standing against our railing and they were too. I even tried looking at our balcony from deck 11 (outdoor café) but could only see Curt when he was against the railing.
Our balcony had two chairs, one small round table, and one lounge chair. Joe/Grace had the same furniture with the addition of another lounger. Blankets and towels were provided in our cabin. Because of the occasional soot, we would take the towels outside to sit on, as I learned my lesson the second day of the cruise.
The last two nights, the weather was good enough to sleep with the door open for fresh air. Hubby gets cold easily, so when I tried sleeping with the door open earlier in the week, he asked me to close it. Hearing the wake down below was so relaxing! And just like on most ships, sleeping at the aft of the ship is peaceful, particularly with that little vibrating alarm clock when pulling into port!!
We definitely used the balcony, safe, refrigerator, and bathtub (which was large enough for two).
Other than the two aft minisuites, the rest of our group had opted for category J inside cabins on decks 8, 9, and 10. They found the cabins to be efficient and well laid out. Curt and I did visit some of their cabins and found them larger than our category J inside cabin we had on the Sun’s sister ship in 2000, NCL Sky (now reflagged as Pride of Aloha).
Room steward (Armando):
To put it bluntly, he was the best ever. Even when we book inside cabins, we stay on a suite deck and have the same room steward as the suites. Armando was top notch. Not a detail was missed. We also had not really ever had towel animals, but he continually surprised us, with our favorite being two swans meeting with their heads forming a heart. I am not a wasteful person, so if I used a shower cap, I would hang it up to use it again later. Armando would throw it away and put a new little package in the tray in the bathroom. When we took a packaged roll of toilet paper in Skagway for our drive on the Klondike Highway (just in case… since we knew there were very few restrooms), we came back to the ship to see he had placed another roll in the bathroom. Just those little details – he did not overlook anything.
Anca Zamfir is the new concierge onboard the NCL Sun as of June 12. We remembered seeing Anca on the Norway during our wedding cruise. Anca did a terrific job and was delightful to visit with. In visiting with her, we learned she speaks five languages fluently (wow!). NCL has made a wise decision in adding Anca to the fine pool of concierges. We expect to see her as a rising star with NCL. Anca’s previous NCL ships include S/S Norway and NCL Sea.
I utilized the 24-hour fitness center. Cardio equipment included treadmills (open 8A-8P), four elliptical machines, bicycles (sit down and regular), and stairmasters. I did not use the weight equipment. Before getting on the equipment, I would wipe my equipment down as well as when I would get off. Even there were signs asking you to wipe equipment off after use, I still saw some people workout then leave without wiping off their equipment despite the signs. So to make sure I was on clean equipment, I definitely used the spray bottle and paper towels before beginning my workout.
~ LeBistro (twice) was superb. The first night I had my normal (escargot, asparagus, cream of forest mushroom, Caesar salad, Bearnaise Barigold on a Red Wine Jus filet mignon, and chocolate fondue). The second night I had double asparagus (LOVE their asparagus), spinach salad, surf-and-turn, and banana flambé. I wanted fondue too, but didn’t think I could handle it just then, so they told me to call them later when I was ready for it and it would be delivered to our cabin. Hubby and I enjoyed sharing it on our balcony overlooking the wake. Very romantic.
~ Il Adagio was good. However, as I put in the comment form, we felt it was not worth the $12.50 surcharge. Maybe $7.50. I had the mozzarella.tomatoes, cesar salad made table side, pasta special, and incredible chocolate hazelnut cake. Hubby and the shrimp scampi with fort cloves of garlic. We love the views in this restaurant (same as the Horizons on the Sky when we sailed it, but was the same menu as dining room and no surcharge).
~ Two nights we ate in our cabin. Embarkation night (just too tired from travel – ordered prime rib and French onion soup from main dining room menu) and after Tracy Arm (tablehogs were upstairs and we didn’t feel like dressing for dinner after being outside all day, so we brought a tray down from Garden Café since there were no seats)
~ Two nights we ate in Seven Seas. Service was fine. However, we had made a 5:30 reservation for the last night for fourteen, but were told there were no tables to accommodate that many. They placed us at two tables for seven (splitting one couple). We passed a few tables set up for groups that definitely held 14 and were empty when we arrived and left, so I am not sure why we were placed at two separate tables. On our wedding cruise, we had a table of 15 and table of 4 next to it, which had been no problem.
Breakfast and lunch were mostly Garden Café, but we did enjoy Seven Seas and the soup/sandwich bar a couple of times.
Appetizers (tapas) at Las Ramblas were okay, but I really went there to enjoy the Sangria. $5.95 per glass or $13 for a half-pitcher which really seemed to be about four glasses.
~ As always, there is the “jeans in the dining room” question. Yes, jeans were seen each night when dining although we did not see any in Il Adagio. The most surprising to me was jeans in LeBistro on formal night. A couple by the window about our age wore jeans, sweatshirt, and sandals. (He wore an untucked flannel shirt). We’ve seen jeans in the dining room on each cruise we’ve been on, and NCL is no exception. Attire recommendations are always made in daily programs on each line, but I have yet to see anyone turned away from a restaurant for attire.
The NCL Sun Executive Chef, Markus Reichl, was fantastic. We attended a couple of his cooking demonstrations which were quite enjoyable. He definitely had a great sense of humor!
I will admit we did not attend a single show in the Stardust Lounge except for popping in to hear the comedian for about 10 minutes from the back. To us, the “show” was everything outside the ship.
For musical entertainment, we thoroughly enjoyed guitarist Marc Obitz. He took our requests in Las Ramblas, and could play a wide variety of artists. The pianist on formal night about put us to sleep in Windjammer, so we explored the ship.
Again, entertainment for us with this Alaska cruise was outside the ship. On most of our cruises, we attend a show each night, but Alaska was unique.
Weather ranged from upper forties to upper seventies. We did wear shorts on two days. The inside passage, Ketchikan, and Juneau did have periods of mist/rain (Monday-Wednesday) and it cleared up after that. Our tour driver in Juneau told us they had had no rain the past 30 days until the day we arrived, and they needed the rain.
We did not attend the Captain’s reception on Formal Night, as we had planned for our group to dine in LeBistro. However, we did attend the Lattitudes reception in the Stardust Lounge (yummy rum punch!) and the VIP reception afterwards in the room off the library (champagne and munchies). On the Norway, the VIP reception was held in the Captain’s Quarters (who had a huge balcony) but on the Sun, it was off the library. Staff was very friendly here, shaking your hand as you walked in. However, at Latitudes, they were not into shaking hands, which we found odd. After leaving these two receptions, we went downstairs to Il Adagio for dinner.
We went fishing with Ken of Northern Lights. Four of us from NCL Sun and two from Celebrity Infinity. Our scheduled time was 7:00-12:00. We were on the first tender to shore, but it dropped us off down past the third cruiseship. We just assumed that was where Ken would meet us, but apparently this was NOT a normal tender point. NCL had tendered us there, then the photography crew walked off. We waited, and after seeing no more NCL tenders (plus the fact that the photography crew walked off) we started wondering if this was actually where the tender would take us back to the ship, as NCL crew had said absolutely nothing. Normally in the past when tendering, you return to the ship from the same place you are dropped off. Anyway, we did venture down the dock and did find Ken. He was locating the two guys from Infinity.
The eagles were very impressive. However, apparently some killer whales had been through the area earlier in the morning. Ken said that sometimes that scares the fish for two hours or two days. With five poles in the water (I was an observer) we didn’t get a single nibble. Ken even kept us out until 1:15, and still nothing. I’m sure getting a nibble or even a fish would have been amazing. Just too bad you can’t predict when the whales are going to come through the area!!
We did a $20/pp tour of Juneau and Mendenhall. We got this at the dock. Because NCL docked far away, they provided buses to the main area (across from the tram). We took a 9:30 tour and were back at 11:40. Mendenhall Glacier was really fantastic to see, and our tour guide had grown up in Juneau. He was very knowledgeable.
~ Tracy Arm:
Wow. That’s all I can say. Decks were packed, so we spent the day on our aft balcony. We kept the door open so we could see the bridge cam, which played music. Marion Mitchell made the commentary though the television, and he was absolutely terrific. Some in our group stayed outside the Sports Bar, and with our walkie talkies, we were able to point out different things to each other. We did make it to the point where you could see North and South Sawyer Glacier, and turned around there. All of the waterfalls, icebergs, scenery, etc. was just amazing. Our aft minisuite paid for itself that day. We easily had 8 on our balcony leaning against the railing.
We used Murray’s guide and drove the Klondike Highway. Before leaving Skagway, we signed up for the 3:00 NPS walking tour of Skagway. To rent three cars, it took about 20 minutes (we were the first in line and had made reservations months in advance through Avis on the internet, as well as called to reconfirm in May with the Skagway Avis office directly). Our walkie talkies came in very handy on this drive.
My parents/grandparents were getting tired, so they went on back to the ship after seeing Emerald Lake. We were maybe 10 minutes behind them. About a mile before the Canada border, they saw a mother bear and THREE cubs crossing the road. Of course cameras had those once-in-a-lifetime problems, but we hope one got a shot of the bear’s butt going over the ridge. They were so happy to have the sighting.
We did a self-guided walking tour of Wrangell after visiting the Visitor’s Center (very informative!). We saw the Totem Park, Chief Shakes’ island, and Petroglyphs Beach. We also had very yummy ice cream waffle cones from a place in town for $2.25 each. When getting off the ship, the visitor’s center and attractions were to the right, and Petroglyphs Beach was a mile to the left (easy walk – past the ferry terminal).
Smooth for those of us with VIP. We were off about 7:30 and in our Budget rental vehicle by 8:30. We took the scenic drive back to Seattle.
However… five in our group purchased the $60 NCL transfer to Seattle. 7:35 was the scheduled “yellow group” disembarkation time and was recommended for flights after 2:00 PM. They were not called until long, long after 7:35. To make a long story short, they finally borded a QuickShuttle bus and left Canada Place at 10:30. Let me explain why this bothered us: I had very thoroughly researched every aspect of this cruise in the months preceding embarkation. We knew QuickShuttle cost about $41 and left at 9:40 for nonstop to Seattle (arrive approximately 1:30). Some on CruiseCritic had stated that the NCL shuttle passengers left earlier (and past cruisers had arrived SEATAC by noon). Because since my husband had a 3:05 flight, we decided to pay the extra cost and go with NCL versus QuickShuttle. According to my husband, it was mass chaos after clearing customs. One NCL rep would say one thing, and another NCL rep would say another. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. Apparently NCL was to use Gray Lines but had reserved the buses for Monday instead of Sunday (the disembarkation day). Whatever the reason, they were placed on QuickShuttle (again, which we could have booked independently for much cheaper). Not all got on the first bus, so two in our group went later since their flight home was the next day. I am not sure what time they finally got to SEATAC, but when my husband’s group left Canada Place at 10:30, the other bus had not shown up. Fortunately my husband made it to SEATAC by 2:00 for his 3:05 flight. He is just happy he made the flight, as he was becoming very stressed by the NCL chaos at Canada Place. Thankfully, border crossing on his bus took about 15 seconds.
My concern that I will be sharing with NCL is this:
If NCL is just going to put passengers on QuickShuttle at a LATER time than the 9:40 QuickShuttle bus, then don’t even offer the service. Hubby could have saved money and left much earlier by booking QuickShuttle versus the NCL transfer.
This was not a concern I could share on our comment card since we were now off the bus.
We were told that close to 2,100 passengers were onboard. At the Latitudes party, the staff said that there were 177 Latitudes members onboard, which we thought was low. Very few children were onboard.
To be quite honest, this was the only semi-negative with this cruise (other than the NCL transfer chaos). This represents our OPINIONS. We had never encountered such a rude group of passengers on a cruise with a lack of etiquette. It seemed to be the mentality of “me me me”… “this is MY vacation and nobody else is around”. On multiple occasions, we observed the following from various passengers:
~ tablehogs: yes, at the peak of dining times in the Garden Café, a single person would be sitting at a table for four reading a book, completely oblivious to the fact that there were no empty tables and people were walking around with trays looking for a seat. Yes, there were other restaurants available at breakfast/lunch to eat in, but those restaurants were utilized at dinner as specialty restaurants. With as many public areas on the ship to read (library, card room, java café, Observation lounge, champagne bar area, etc) one would think these people would read their book somewhere else instead of in a dining area at peak dining times. Very similar to chairhogs at the pool.
~ cutting in line: I was amazed that you could be standing in line and an adult couple would just decide to “merge right in” as opposed to getting at the end of the line. (Such as in disembarkation lines, Garden Café lines, etc.) One couple did this as we were disembarking in Wrangell, then turned around and said “I guess we should apologize”. My thoughts were ‘no, don’t apologize, just go to the back of the line like any decent adult should do’. Of course I was too chicken to actually say my thoughts. If they were physically disabled, I would completely understand, but some people just had the “me me me” attitude onboard and it definitely showed.
~ pushing in tight areas: the photo gallery area could be busy, especially when other shops would place tables in the area for the ship “sales”. One day while walking through the area, three ladies with canes literally pushed their way through. We were not looking at anything, but merely trying to go from point A to point B, which included going through that area. They came from behind, and we were moving as fast as we could (it was jam-packed), but they felt they should push their way past us. Thinking it was just us, I just looked at them in disbelief. Then others in our group mentioned these three ladies that just practically pushed their way past them, and we decided it was the same three. Hubby and I do walk a quick pace, but when it is packed, we just slow down and go with the flow. Apparently these ladies with canes felt it was appropriate to push their way through people when they felt we were moving too slowly.
Hubby and I usually used stairs, but on a few occasions we did use elevators:
~ elevators: when someone in back needed off and would try to make their way to the front of the elevator, some passengers would just stand there not allowing the passengers around them
~ elevators: when I would step off to let others in back off (and I would hold my hand in front of the door to keep it open), some passengers would just pile in the elevator before others had a chance to get off, almost leaving me absolutely no room to get back on. Maybe that’s why people in the previous scenario don’t move so people in the back can get off – they were probably too afraid the people waiting on the elevator would charge right on leaving them no room to get back on.
As I told my husband, I hope he lets me know if I ever become anything like some of the passengers we encountered onboard. I would expect lack of manners from kids (I teach middle school) but from adults who should know better? We were shocked as were other members of our group. We had not encountered adults behaving like this on previous cruises. Yes, the majority of the passengers had proper etiquette, but there was a large group that obviously had a different definition of proper etiquette. Not the majority, but definitely where it was noticed by various people in our group on multiple occassions. I realize the clientele changes every time a ship has a new embarkation - that just happened to be our week.
My husband had to return to work on Monday, so he flew home from Seattle.
I stayed with my parents/grandparents at Embassy Suites SEA Airport. We drove through Stanly Park in Vancouver, through Customs at Blaine (not Peace Arch – longer wait), and down I-5 to Mount Vernon. From there we went through Anacortes, over Deception Pass, lunch in Langley, a stop at Whidbey Island Winery, and the car ferry at Clinton. We were tired, so after driving past the Boeing facility (largest building in the world) we went straight to our hotel. Some were in bed by 6:30.
On Monday, they chose to relax for the day, so I went solo to Defiance Zoo in Tacoma (35 miles from SEA). I love polar bears and knew this zoo had some, so it was definitely on my list. That evening, three of us went to the Mariners’ game versus Oakland. It was our first visit to Safeco field. However, we ended up moving seats because TicketMaster had somehow sold the same seats twice. We were a group of three and another group of five had our same seats. When they showed up (we had been sitting there awhile), representatives from each party went to get help, and reps at Safeco Field preferred to move the smaller group (so we lost our aisle seats, which is specifically why I called to order our tickets months in advance). We could have had aisle seats towards the outfield, but we wanted to remain behind homeplate. I’ve never had that happen before.
We flew home on Tuesday, and my parents/grandparents still had a 2.5 hour drive from Dallas.
My husband’s parents also stayed in Seattle post-cruise for two nights at the DoubleTree. They had lunch on the water on Sunday, and did the $42 City Pass on Monday before going to the Mariners’ game that evening. They also flew to their home on Tuesday.
Four in our group took the ferry to Victoria, where they stayed Sunday/Monday nights, followed by the ferry to Seattle on Tuesday. They should be flying home as I type.