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Cruise Ship Information

Norwegian Sun is a Sky class cruise ship operated by Norwegian Cruise Line. She entered service in 2001 in a dual christening ceremony at the Port of Miami with Norwegian  Sun. She was constructed at the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven, Germany. Beginning October 2010, she was homeported at Port Canaveral, later Miami, Florida.

Atmosphere on board

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  Sun 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.

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.

Family with Kids/Teens

In addition to solid family-friendly accommodations, the children's facilities on Norwegian  Sun are excellent and truly make this ship ideal for families. The main center of action is the T-Rex kids' lounge, with play rooms and a movie theater. Adjacent (but not enclosed within) is the T-Rex kids' pool, complete with downsized lounge chairs, a waterslide and a whirlpool. For teens, there's a video arcade and a disco-style teen club.

NCL's "Splash Academy" is currently divided into four age groups: Guppies (6 months to 3 years, with parent), Turtles (3 - 5), Seals (6 - 9) and Dolphins (10 - 12). The teen program, called Entourage, accommodates passengers 13 to 17. The overall program focuses on sports, arts and crafts, theater and technology, with age-appropriate activities for each group. Planned activities may include circus workshops, parades and scavenger hunts. (Both Splash Academy and Entourage feature a different theme every day, like pirates, space cowboys, jungle fever or circus.)

Games for kids are also organized on Great Stirrup Cay, the line's private island.

For the 3 - 12s, organized activities are typically offered from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on both port and sea days. On port days, a supervised meal fee ($6 per child) may apply. Entourage's hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on sea days and departure time or 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on port days.

Group baby-sitting is available onboard; evenings it's offered from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; on port days. Cost is $6 per child per hour; the second kid is $4 per hour. Passengers should sign up for sitting services by 8 p.m. the night prior to when they are needed. There is no in-cabin sitting. Norwegian also has developed a fleetwide discipline policy. The four-step set of rules includes warning, time-out, suspension and dismissal stages.

High chairs and cribs are available upon request (either onboard or in advance). Other kid-oriented amenities include kids' packages for soda. The unlimited beverage program is roughly $4 per day, per child, up to age 12 and $6 per day for teens 13 and older.

Past Passenger Programs

Indoor activities on Norwegian  Sun are primarily concentrated on Decks 6 and 7. The Grand Atrium (Deck 6), with its glass-domed ceiling, is the hub. There you'll find passenger services counters (shore excursions, reception) and a duty-free cosmetics shop. On the landing of a curved stairway is a performance platform, where live bands play, and the Java Cafe, where you can pick up specialty coffee drinks and pastries.

Deck 6 is also where you'll find the ship's main duty-free shop, which flanks both sides of a long hallway that opens up to some of the specialty restaurants. The shop offers  Sunry, stylish casualwear (Tommy Bahama is a mainstay), upscale accessories, alcohol and souvenirs.

The Internet Cafe has 17 terminals; Norwegian  Sun also offers wireless access. Passengers can bring their own laptops or rent them. Rates at the cafe itself are industry standard -- 75 cents per minute -- as are wireless fees. Packages are available (100 minutes for $55, 250 minutes for $100) and include a laptop rental (exclusive of a $3/day insurance fee).

On Deck 12, you'll find the library, which is cozily appointed and offers an excellent selection of books. Though checkout hours are limited, you can almost always grab a book off the shelf to enjoy in one of the library's comfy club chairs.

Fitness And Spa

Norwegian  Sun offers a wide range of fitness and recreation services. First: the two-tiered El Dorado Spa and Beauty Center offers up-to-date fitness equipment and a fabulous glass-paneled room for classes in stretching and aerobics (free) and yoga and Pilates ($12 fee).

The spa itself is beautiful and serene. Operated by Hawaii-based Mandara (which is owned by Steiner), the treatments are a bit more exotic than the average, with Hawaiian and Polynesian influences. Passengers purchasing treatments are permitted to use a lovely adults-only relaxation room, with tile loungers, multiple hot tubs and Wi-Fi. Men's and women's locker rooms each feature a sauna and a steam room.

The piece de resistance, however, is the spa's indoor lap pool. (It's an adequate size for swimmers who want exercise.) The only problem is that passengers occasionally missed the concept of lap swimming and treated it as an alternative to the main pool. There's also a whirlpool and a hydrotherapy-pool. Another neat feature found in the spa is the for-fee juice bar, with all sorts of healthful drinks. The spa's amenities are only available to passengers who purchase either a spa treatment (same day only) or spa passes for $30 a day or $119 a week, per person.

In the main pool area, there's a saltwater lap pool, plus four whirlpools and a bandstand for entertainment. (Another hard-to-find whirlpool is tucked away on Deck 13.) Chaise lounges are set up in amphitheater mode, as well as directly around the pool. Slightly set back from the pool area and out of direct sunlight are cafe tables and chairs so you can grab a snack or cocktail and enjoy the poolside scene without risking a sunburn. On our nearly full sailing, we never had an issue snagging a couple lounge chairs, even during sunny hours.

There's a narrow jogging track on Deck 13, where sports enthusiasts can take advantage of golf driving nets, shuffleboard, a man-sized chess board, volleyball/basketball courts, paddle tennis and horseshoes. Walkers are better off on the wider, more relaxing wraparound promenade on Deck 7.

Food & Dining

In addition to its two main dining rooms, Norwegian  Sun has 10 distinct restaurants from which to choose. I suppose you could try them all on a seven-night cruise, but it would be pretty hard (and a bit costly for budget travelers and families). Themes range from Benihana-style Teppanyaki to steaks and classic French bistro fare. Overall, food was fresh, flavorful, and, in some cases, even inventive. Service was excellent throughout, though you can expect a bit of a wait to receive your entree during the busiest dinner hours (between 6:30 and 8:30). Meals are cooked to order in small batches, so the food you receive will likely be hot and fresh.

It's also important to mention that evening dining hours are from 5:30 to 11 p.m., but passengers must be seated by 10:30 p.m. Reservations for specialty restaurants can only be made 24 hours in advance, so if you're dying to try one of the ship's more popular spots -- such as Le Bistro (French), Moderno Churrascaria (a Brazilian-style steakhouse and the ship's newest dining venue) or Cagney's (a classic American steakhouse) -- you should book it as early as possible once reservations open up. Tip: The specialty restaurants are much less busy the first couple days of the cruise when most passengers are still orienting themselves. The reservations desk in the main lobby is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Most days, there is also a reservations table set up in the Garden Cafe buffet during lunch hours. Otherwise, you can call the restaurant directly after 5:30 p.m.

Here's a rundown of the dining options onboard Norwegian  Sun. Unless otherwise noted, breakfast and lunch are only offered in the ship's main dining rooms, buffet, at Blue Lagoon or via room service.

Traditionally speaking, the ship's two "main" restaurants, both on Deck 6, differ mostly in terms of atmosphere. The 472-seat Venetian is the more cruiselike of the two, though smaller than most main dining rooms on mainstream cruise ships. It's decorated tastefully in rich emerald greens and golds, with huge murals depicting scenes of Venice. Though not hasty, service is generally prompt. Because the Venetian is situated on the stern, it boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch across the entire back wall and offer incredible views. However, its location is also one of the most motion-sensitive of the entire ship, so if you're having a rocky sea day, you may want to dine in one of the midship eateries like the Garden Cafe or Blue Lagoon. There are plenty of tables for two, though they may be in short supply during peak periods. The 344-seat Aqua features more contemporary decor with lots of vibrantly colored glass and colorful ceramic murals. Aqua is also more dimly lit, which can make for a romantic dinner, despite being in close quarters with a few hundred other passengers. Both of these dining rooms are open for dinner daily, and they're open for breakfast and lunch on alternating days. In addition to nightly specials (they vary slightly by venue), each offers a standard menu of chicken, steak, fish and vegetarian options that does not change from day to day.

One of the benefits of the freestyle dining setup is that -- because the main venues are not feeding 1,000 people who all sit down at the same time -- there's no "convention center banquet" feeling. And because fewer people eat in the main dining rooms, the spaces feel more intimate than other big-ship dining rooms.

Entertainment

While Norwegian  Sun offers the usual fare during sea days -- bingo, art auctions, arts and crafts, wellness seminars, etc. -- the real highlights of the ship's entertainment offerings are the nightly shows.

Each evening's "main event" is held in the ship's gorgeous  Sundust Theater, usually to a packed house. Our weeklong cruise featured everything from a variety show to Broadway-style song-and-dance acts. Our favorite? The Bollywood show. From great voices singing beautiful songs to stunning dancers and incredible acrobatics, it's a true treat. Also be sure to check out a performance of the famous Second City Comedy Troupe (former stomping ground of many Saturday Night Live alums) -- we recommend the late-night, adults-only improv show.

The  Sundust Theater, which spans Decks 5 through 7, is designed in a European opera house style; it's beautiful and quite comfortable, though views from some of the side balcony seats are obstructed. The  Sun Club Casino -- located along the corridor that leads to the  Sundust Theater, rather than distractingly plopped in the center of a well-trafficked area -- offers the usual slot machines and games, including blackjack, craps and poker. Theater-goers with an aversion to cigarette smoke should beware: you'll have to hold your breath as you make your way through the odorous casino to your show of choice.

The ship also features a variety of bands, playing everything from classical to Latin to torch songs, and most of Norwegian  Sun's nine bars, all with varying personalities, offer some kind of entertainment. Favorites included the Spinnaker Lounge for martinis and dancing and the  Suny Kings Pub for karaoke and offbeat British beers. And, once per weeklong cruise, the ship hosts Norwegian Cruise Line's signature "White Hot Party," for which passengers get decked out in all-white (sheets and towels are acceptable) and dance the night away under black lights, led by the ship's angel-wing-clad staff, who happily demonstrate all manner of line dances.

Several times per sailing, passengers can catch after-hours movies on the big screen in the ship's atrium.

As for shore excursions, you can expect the usual -- snorkeling, catamaran-sailing, glass-bottom boat rides, beach days, etc. Rates are on par with or slightly lower than those of other mainstream cruise lines.

Fellow Passengers

The shipboard crowd ranges from toddlers to seniors, with many in the middle range. Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" appeals to a mostly unpretentious clientele, and the overall vibe is super-casual and fun-filled. With dozens of family-friendly cabins, including many added during the May 2011 refurb, the ship is usually full of multigenerational groups, especially in the summer months and during school vacations.

Tipping

 

Our recommendation

Norwegian  Sun offers the ultimate Freestyle Cruising experience; take a Bermuda cruise departing from Boston in the summer, Canada & New England in the fall and from New Orleans to the best spots in the Caribbean during winter. Norwegian  Sun was built with freedom in mind, offering a choice of 14 delicious dining options, 12 fun bars and lounges, the fitness center and spa, casino, pools and more. Plus, she offers a range of spacious accommodations to suit every size family and budget.