This post is the fourth installment in a journal of my cruise through Scandinavia and the Baltic states in 2012 on Norwegian Cruise Line. Throughout the cruise, I’ll highlight each port, with photos and some tips on what to see and how. Today, the first of two sea days on the cruise.
It’s a long way from Warnemunde, Germany to Tallinn, Estonia, the next port on my Baltic cruise (see above). That gave me some time to get settled into the Norwegian Sun and find my way around. (Note: the Norwegian Star does this cruise in 2014, but the two ships are similar.)
The Sun is one of Norwegian’s older ships, built in 2001. However, it was refurbished in 2011, just in time for my cruise, so everything was ship-shape. The Sun is also one of Norwegian’s smaller ships, with a length of 853 feet, compared with the Pearl, at 965 feet and the Norwegian Epic, at 1,068.
Still, I never found the ship crowded, as some have said about newer ships: in fact, some passengers have commented that the size made the Sun easy to get around. The only crowded place was, at times, the buffet restaurant, but that seems the case on most cruise ships: I’ve never been on one where I didn’t have to hunt for a breakfast table.
Here’s a look at the handy handouts Norwegian gave passengers to familiarize us with the ship: click on the deck plan to see it full-size.
The Norwegian Sun doesn’t have the kind of features you’ll find on the glitzy new ships like the Epic or Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. There’s no rock climbing wall, no ice rink or zip lines. Instead, you get a pretty standard suite of recreation spaces aimed at the things most adults really want to do: have a drink or a coffee, listen to music, watch shows and lie around the pool.
Most of the activity on the ship radiates out from the central atrium, an attractive meeting area with glass-walled elevators that rise right through the ship. The guest services desk is here, but there’s also a cafe, and around it a variety of bars and lounges as well as the internet cafe, pretty standard on Norwegian ships.
There are nine bars in all, including the Atrium cafe and bar, the Champagne Bar, the Champs Bar by the fitness centre, Dazzles Nightclub, the Observation Lounge above the ship’s bow, the Sports Bar, the Sun Club Casino Bar, Topsiders Bar and the Windjammer piano bar.
There’s something for every taste, and I enjoyed the guitar and piano sets that popped up throughout the day and night. For a quiet drink, the Champagne Bar was a great place to meet.
The main evening shows were in the Stardust Lounge, a mid-sized, fairly intimate space that worked well for the kind of entertainment Norwegian put aboard. Having seen the shows on other cruise lines, I was happy to see some more contemporary entertainment, like an artful Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics act and a well-done Beatles show — I went twice.
There’s also the Mandara Spa and Fitness Centre, two pools, a golf driving net, a walking/running rack, a basketball/volleyball court, the Sun Club Casino, and of course the Galleria of shops along with the inevitable photo gallery where the ship tries to sell you photos of yourself.
To its credit, Norwegian doesn’t push the photos or its other services in your face as much as some other lines (hello, Princess), and the ship shop stocked the kind of things you tend to run short of, like shaving supplies and antacids, at reasonable prices. It also featured local specialties at each port, like Russian nesting dolls, at not-outrageous prices.
For the kids, the Sun has the Video Zone, Splashes kids’ pool and Kid’s Korner, with crafts and movies. There’s also the Teen Club with a dance floor, video, table football and air hockey.
There are two main dining rooms on the Norwegian Sun, the Four Seasons near the atrium and the Seven Seas at the stern of the ship. There’s not much to choose between them: the décor is pretty neutral in both. Still, I found them both a refreshingly comfortable place to eat, even when dining solo (you can read about my experiences here). I’ve inserted a look at the standard menu: click to see the photos full-size.
Norwegian is famous for its Anytime Dining: in fact, the Sun was the first ship built specially for this type of dining. The concept is pretty simple: you just show up when you’re ready and they find a table for you. I only had to wait for a table once or twice through the whole cruise, and had most of my meals in a favourite spot near the full-length windows, with a great view of the seascape and familiar waiters who knew my name.
I enjoyed most of the food I had in the dining rooms, including the steak and lobster on the first night of the cruise. Commendably, both the steak and the lobster were perfectly cooked and tasty. Some have complained that the menu doesn’t change much: one side features standard dishes while the other varies from day to day. However, most of the food was good, if unspectacular (one reliable choice: the rosemary roast chicken). I had beer or wine with dinner most nights, and the selection and prices were reasonable for a cruise ship.
Of course, there are a lot more places to eat on the Sun, including several premium specialty restaurants: Cagney’s steakhouse ($30 surcharge), Teppanyaki for performance-style Japanese food ($25), Le Bistro French restaurant ($20), Moderno Brazilian steakhouse ($20), La Cucina Italian restaurant ($15) and Ginza Sushi (a la carte).
Cruising solo, I don’t spend time in the specialty restaurants since they’re better for couples and groups. As well, I prefer to spend my money in the ports. However, La Cucina and Le Bistro seem to be favourites with the commenters on Cruise Critic.
Still, on a cruise like this when you’re in port much of the time, the ship is mostly a place to start and end the day, and to sleep. And while Norwegian offers some of the most luxurious accommodations on the sea, with The Haven, its ultra-luxe suites, for me this cruise was a chance to see a favourite part of the world for a bargain price.
Norwegian often offers great deals early in the year. And since I’m not into sitting on a balcony watching the world go by, I can get great prices even booking solo by taking an inside cabin. This time, I decided to try a family inside cabin for a small extra charge, and it was a good choice: the cabin was considerably roomier than other insides I’ve had, with lots of storage and enough room so I didn’t feel cramped.
Overall, I was happy to be on the Norwegian Sun: the cabin was good, the bed was comfortable, and the staff was friendly. Even the boarding procedure, carried out in a tent at the Copenhagen dock, was relatively pain-free, and once I had my passenger card, everything was pretty easy.
Drawbacks? The lack of spectacular features would be a disappointment for some, but I didn’t miss a lot of things I probably wouldn’t use — those are more for Caribbean cruises. More of a concern: the Sun has no do-it-yourself laundry, so if you get on with a load of dirty clothes, you’ll be paying for their laundry service. Happily, though, the ship had a special offer during the cruise so I was able to get some clothes cleaned without paying a king’s ransom.
The television in the cabin was adequate, but a little dinky in this era of 40-inch flat-screens, and a number of passengers have complained about the old-fashioned hair dryers. It seems Norwegian saves money on a few of the details and passes the savings on to you. One last quibble: I don’t eat chocolate, so finding some edible snacks at odd hours was a problem. I started hoarding oatmeal-raisin cookies when they came out.
That’s a look at the ship as we sailed across the Baltic Sea, passing the Swedish island of Gotland in good weather. It was a welcome chance to sit back with a coffee and look ahead at the destinations to come: Tallinn, two days in St. Petersburg, then on to Helsinki and Stockholm. Some of the world’s great sights, in the land of the midnight sun.