NCL Sun Cruising Review

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Miami, Florida

Embarkation 1/5 Saturday, March 15, 2003
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Bayside Marina

After checking out of the Marriott, I proceeded to have lunch at the Latin American Restaurant at Bayside. Bayside is a combination mall, city marina and outdoor venue which regularly hosts live music in both day and evening. The place has a definite "Latin" flare, and has some of the best Cuban food. A good pre-cruise locale for breakfast or lunch.

Embarkation

Key Card

Instead of embarking early, I went to the cruise ship terminal around 3:00pm, and was greeted by no lines. People are so focussed on boarding the ship early, that the main rush at 1:00 p.m. can be very crowded. And in the end, there's no real advantage to boarding early. You can't really make any reservations for a number of things (like the pay restaurants) until after 5:30pm. After presenting the boarding information and ID, they swiped my credit card (another efficiency improvement instead of doing it on the ship), took a digital photo, then issued a customized room card and charge card for all onboard activities (except the casino which only accepts cash). An interesting side note, when boarding, then make you wipe your hands with a sanitary towelette. I'm not sure if this helps, in fact I'm not sure what it is for to begin with (assuming fears of the Norwalk Virus). NCL Encourages passengers to fill out a advance guest registration form, which (in paper form) is included with your travel documents. You may also go to the web to fill out an online form. The link is below for currently booked passengers. I recommend you print out a copy and keep that with your documentation when boarding.

(click to enlarge)
NCL Advance Registration

Balcony Room

Upon arriving at my stateroom, it was a cozy twin bed with a balcony, and very compact, yet efficient bathroom. The Cherry finished wood was nice with plenty of storage space. Since the ship is only a few years old, I planned on a newer decor and more user-friendly cabin. I was rather disappointed when I arrived that there were not flowers and a bottle of champagne awaiting me (even though I had ordered it weeks before). This is a touch that most luxury lines offer at no charge, and is very classy. I was willing to pay for it on an economy line, such as Norwegian, but even that was not taken care of.

Cast Off Party and Observation Lounge for Martini's

After a mandatory lifeboat drill at 3:45 p.m., there was a cast-off party with a very loud cruise director trying to assemble the passengers into a cruise departure frenzy. It's a good time to find a perch on the highest point of the ship forward or aft to enjoy the scenery as the ship cruises out of the Government Cut in Miami. Luxury homes and yachts can be seen simultaneously on both the Biscayne Bay side and the Fisher Island side of the channel. Once out to sea the ship pointed south towards its first destination of Grand Cayman Islands. After a sunset which never materialized (there were thunderstorms in the area), I got on my evening attire and went up to the Observation Lounge for some pre-dinner martini's. This is a very classy room, with an incredible view. The bar is granite, with backlit blue light which casts a wonderful hue over the glasses and bottles of liquor. There I met the head bartender (Edward) who is the most enjoyable and friendly person. Latitudes Members get 20% off drinks here (keep in mind they automatically add 15% gratuity to your bill). The Observation Lounge is a great place at the front of the ship to watch the world go by, as the ship cruises by islands. With access from doors on the side, there's a small outdoor deck which wraps around the front of the all-glass lounge. When the ship is moving, there is a 20 knot breeze flowing up and over the front of the ship, so it's windy.

Tappanyaki Dinner

For the first night I wanted to experience one of the "Freestyle Pay For Dinners." I have a problem with paying for a dinner on a cruise, if for no other reason they're separating the class of restaurants by those who are willing to shell out some money for what should be included. In this case I was pleasantly surprised. The Tappanyaki Room (Ginza) was very good. Starting with a sushi boat of a variety of scrumptious sushi, it was followed by a very good steak and shrimp. In all, a very good experience, rivaling most very good restaurants on shore. Freestyle is just mimicking what the luxury lines offer all the time. It's a good marketing pull, but not very original. And charging for it, just makes the passenger feeling nickel-and-dimed. I'm still undecided about it.

Windjammer Lounge and Dazzles

After dinner went to a fully attended Windjammer Lounge to listen to the piano and guitar player, which mostly sang songs from Elton John, James Taylor and the sort. What is it with this piano bars, who insist on playing and replaying the song "Desperado?" I find it a bit funny, but every ship I'm on, that seems to be a favorite. The Windjammer Lounge did not have great service (possibly understaffed for the evening) and I resorted to getting my own drinks at the bar (which I actually prefer). The decor is very "martini bar" and much to my liking. Afterwards, went next door to the "Dazzles Disco" for some drinks. A standard ships disco with fog machine and lights, and quite well attended for the first evening. What was disappointing were the guys in shorts, and some baseball caps. Freestyle, doesn't mean free to grunge dress. Most "older" fold dressed appropriately, and the British contingency on the ship all wore jackets and ties (like myself), so they were my favorites. Granted, this is spring-break week for a number of schools, I just think Norwegian should emphasize a more stringent dress code. They carded most younger people (21), and I don't see why they can't press a more uniform dress code for the evenings.

Room Service

At 1:30am, I ordered Room Service to see how well it worked early in the morning. I was pleasantly surprised when they quoted me a 30 minute wait, which was only 15 minutes. The soup was hot, the sandwich is good. Good marks there.

Additional Photographs: Embarkation 1/5

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