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I recently accompanied a gay group of 52 cruisers to Scandinavia and Russia on the Norwegian Sun. Many friends and clients have asked how the trip was.
In a nutshell: it is one of the most-exciting cruises you can take in Europe.
The Trip. We sailed from Dover (London’s major port) on board the 3-star Norwegian Sun. 12-day Baltic Cruise sailed to Copenhagen, Denmark; Warnemunde, Germany (for Berlin); Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg (for 2 very short days, 3 would have been perfect); Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; and returned to England.
Sailing in mid-summer allowed us to experience the season called “White Nights,” so-called because the sun is up almost 24-hours. “Night” lasts only a few short hours and really is just a long twilight that gives way to sunrise—gorgeous and breathtaking sunset-sunrises. Weather in mid-summer is generally great!
Sitting on my balcony at midnight with the moon on one horizon and the sun on the other was sublime. The sea was ablaze with brilliant light and had an inky black shimmer…amazing.
The Ship. The Sun is nearly 10 years old. She has not been refurbished but is impeccably maintained and clean. She was well-painted, clean, and although her furnishings are outdated, not a bad cruise choice. This is one of NCL’s two oldest ships and was one of the first purpose-built “Freestyle Ships”.
This ship is going to get an overhaul in the near future although nobody can give me a straight answer as to when. The Norwegian Sun could use some updated color schemes and furnishings-she would surely shine!
The Sun does not have the excitement of maritime architecture of newer NCL ships. But, she offers great value. You cannot beat the prices offered for this ship. She is almost 80,000 tons, carries 1,900 passengers, and is easy to get around barring a couple of specialty restaurants high atop the ship and a lousy-designed Garden Café (the ship’s one downfall).
I love the freestyle concept as it allows a more resort like atmosphere. I am not one to eat at the same time every night, am not ritualistic, and enjoy a relaxed dress code… This part is for me!
My stateroom. I had a balcony stateroom on Deck 10. It was nearly 250 square feet with a nice-sized, well-maintained balcony. There was more than adequate storage with a double door closet, six full drawers, 11 shelves, storage under the bed, a full six-foot sofa bed (could convert for 3rd passenger), and a spacious bathroom with plentiful storage. Guests in some cabins complained about the shower stall and curtain wrapping itself around them, but I never had that problem. The water pressure was superb, and Elemis shampoo, body soap was replenished by my two cabin attendants. Anyway, the room was decorated in kitschy little boy bedroom decor with anchors abounding on fabrics and carpets and a TV that was a vestige from the past. This all needs updating but it was in great ship. The bed was very comfortable but NCL has upgraded all bedding on all ships with new pillows and thick foam mattress covers for a more comfortable guest rest.
NCL Gay Friendly. NCL was the early-adopter of Friends of Dorothy (GLBT) gatherings. They are a GLBT friendly cruise line all around and host these gatherings on a daily basis. They are also the first cruise line to use a GLBT godmother with comic icon Rosie O’Donnell being the gal who christened NCL’s beautiful Norwegian Pearl.
My room stewards had no issues with my partner and I requesting the beds being put together as one bed. We were always made to be felt as welcome guests on this GLBT friendly ship
The Service. My cabin attendants were “oh so friendly” but sometimes inefficient Indonesians. Delights as they were, they always forgot my special requests.
The service throughout the ship was good to adequate. I found the bar staff incredibly good although drinks are now very expensive. Costs have increased some 25% in the last year. I predict this is due to cruise pricing plummeting after the market crash last year. This is a chance for them to increase revenues. The dining room service was a little lackluster but food was delivered quickly and warm. The food ranged from average to quite good. I was baffled at this factor but never went hungry. I thought the poorly designed Garden Cafe (24 hour eatery) has great food, selection, and always replenished. It just isn’t big enough for this size of ship. Freestyle worked well too. I never saw any lines or experienced drama about waiting for a meal anywhere. It was also easy to get a reservation in any of the fee based restaurants (where the food is all cooked to order and better than the dining room). I particularly liked these venues as it felt more resort like to me than going to a large convention style dining hall. The food program worked quite well I just think the staff could use a little “up with the people” training in personality and finesse.
Entertainment. The shows were pretty good but activity seemed to lack. The art auction seemed to be the main event onboard. I felt a few cultural lectures might have made us all feel a little better. A shopping talk for each port is not telling the story of Russia! The lines were long at shipboard art auctions but I think the guests were going for the free art giveaways and champagne rather than buying “Art.”
Overall While I am a luxury traveler and prefer to surround myself with the best, the 3-star Norwegian Sun did not leave me with any bad taste in my mouth. She offered incredible value, efficient cruise experience, the best embarkation, disembarkation, and luggage delivery I have had in years… Even the pickiest guy or gal can be happy on a ship that makes you feel welcome.
What / when is Value for this itinerary? I have so many friends who talk about saving money and want to go when the price is “right.” To save money, some of them have travelled to Scandinavia in the early-season when the weather can be nasty. I say: make the most of your experience, shell out a little bit more, and travel during the PEAK season which is June-August. Enough of the commercial about when to go. It is true though… This season is incredible…
This is in thanks to being in the Baltic during the peak Summer White Nights. If you are going to take this cruise, please go from mid-late June to mid-August… I don’t think you will be disappointed…
Happy Cruising. Tom Baker
Transatlantic Cruise from $22/day? They're out of their minds…and so are we if we don't grab such bargains!
Jeez…just when I thought the deals couldn’t get much better, here comes another Royal Caribbean itinerary at an incredibly deep discount. The ship is Vision of the Seas, transiting the Atlantic Ocean from Santo Domingo, DR, to Harwich, UK, departing April 19.
I’ve seen this itinerary discounted to US$299/person for an inside cabin (plus, undoubtedly some taxes and/or fees). It’s higher than that on RCI’s website (although not by much). Call your travel agent. Now.
THEN: be sure to list your cruise on your MeetMeOnBoard profile, like these guys who’ll be on board!
And let us know how your cruise turns out!
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