Those who know me best know my preferred method of traveling is cruising. For me, nothing can compare to sunrises and sunsets at sea. A virtually all-inclusive journey aboard a floating hotel. Cruises offer travel without the horrific torture of the TSA or the endless stops to gas stations. If I had my druthers, I would most likely live on a cruise ship. Well, that is, providing I could bring my small zoo of pets!
my beautiful family
It was not a hard sell to my (at the time) fiancé, to take a cruise on our pending honeymoon. At that time I had been on several cruises with my family and once with an ex. As I had traveled once previously on Carnival, I convinced him this was our best bet. I will not bore you with the details of the trip, but will simply say it was hell. It took a full year to convince him to take another cruise. Having been a bit wiser to the all too young behavior aboard Carnival, we decided to try NCL, we chose their ship the Sun. This was in February of 2006. It was our one year anniversary. At this time we fell completely in love with NCL. The contrast between Carnival and NCL was like night and day. Before the cruise was even over my husband was planning our next trip. We chose the Sun to sail on the next year and then again the next thereafter. In 09 the Sun was not at a port we had access too so we opted to try another member of her fleet, the Pearl. This made us miss the Sun! Amidst many other cruises with NCL we managed to find the Sun again close enough to our home to sail aboard in 2013. Then again she left our reach. Once we saw she was returning this year we were excited. We could not wait to set sail on our old faithful gal!
Perhaps the nicest part of NCL was its creation of the Latitudes program. I remember when we first started cruising how we anticipated jumping up to each next category. I looked forward to each bump as each offered another tier luxury.
Perhaps the nicest being the embarkation and disembarkation. Sadly this became tainted on this cruise. We woke up quite early (2:30 AM) to drive to the Port Miami to meet up with the ship. Per usual, there were many passengers walking in the terminal. It is always a lovely relief to see the section for the Platinum Latitudes members as it certainly does save time. Sadly, however, this time when we went into the line a crew member came up to us. In a rather demeaning tone, he asked us if we were Platinum guests. I told him we were and he said, “I do not believe you” and asked to see our passes. Now, if he had done this to everyone I would not be as offended. But out of the hundreds of Platinum members who continued to line up, he only singled out one other couple. And thus it began, our annual anniversary trip started by being called a liar by an employee. I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach as I stood quietly in line wondering why this man had isolated us and called me a liar to my face. I felt flush with anger but said nothing.
Miami Skyline view from back of the ship
Embarkation post this man’s considerably poor behavior was, as always, a breeze. I must say, I am not a big fan of Port Miami. It is a mile and change from where I grew up on Brickell in Miami. Over the years it seems to have not kept up with the changes needed to support the traffic. Although the addition of the tunnel was absolutely awesome and made leaving the port a great deal easier.
The Sun (despite two apparent makeovers) looks just as she did back when we first sailed on her in 2006. The only visible difference is the bedding. I remember there used to be sailor knots on the bed covers. Of course, those have long since been replaced by the standard modern hotel style white striped duvet wannabe cover.
It had been 11 months since our previous cruise with NCL. Evidently, within that time, NCL made a host of changes to the Latitudes program. We were not aware of the changes. Mind you, we are now! We discovered last year that the one benefit of becoming a Platinum member, a behind the scenes ship tour was something we were not able to attend as our daughter is not 18. Always read the small print! It really seemed insignificant however as we knew the other benefits that came along with staying loyal to NCL would certainly make up the difference……..right?
Well, there evidently was a merger of sorts. Changes have been made. You cannot bring your own water on board now. (NCL says this was to speed up embarkation) Many cruise lines (if not, in fact, all) have implemented this change. So it seemed nice that the Latitudes membership now afforded one bottle of water free per Platinum member. One 20 oz bottle, for an 11-day cruise. But it seems in order to give that one bottle they had to then take away the nightly chocolate per passenger pillow as well as the special gift, which used to be a small box of Godiva chocolates. Mind you, we are not chocolate eaters so no big deal, right? Platinum Latitudes members receive a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine or champagne in their stateroom as well. We do not drink this stuff…so that really was a waste. We left it in the cabin for them to give to the next guests. Membership also provides a meal in one of their restaurants with a bottle of wine. Reservations have to be made before you ever get on board if you plan on cashing in on this, which sadly we did not make. Platinum members also receive 1 bag of laundry cleaned per member. Courtesy of advice from those who did use this service, we opted out as I had no ironing board and evidently their service’s pressing skills lacked. Members also receive 30 free internet minutes. Minus login time and patchy service, you can squeeze in about 17 minutes of actual online time. The exclusive latitudes party has changed drastically. It used to be quite fun. Endless drinks were free, there was a lovely band playing, they had future cruise information, and you could speak one on one with the staff. This time around you had one drink and the staff left as a DJ played music. It felt extremely ODD. Other attendees remarked that they felt the same way, and were not happy with the many changes to the program. Another note on this… A DJ…..we used to love to hang out in the lounges or by the pool for the live entertainment. Well, now they are replaced by a DJ playing digital music and his selection was a bit, well, awful. As a result, we spent no time at the pool or in the lounges. Live entertainment cannot be replaced by a man playing mp4s. We are almost at the Platinum Plus level now. This next tier adds Dinner With Officers and Priority Restaurant & Entertainment Seating. (Well, entertainment wise, some of the shows are the same as when we first started sailing!) At this point, however, I see no desire in those. I wish I had the old copy of the Latitudes Rewards Tier Benefits as I feel as though more has been removed and not replaced with anything other than just the silly chocolates which we never ate anyways.
I feel petty even wondering about it as in all actuality the cruise itself was PERFECT. Despite a bit of redirection of Ports Of Call courtesy of hurricanes, the itinerary was wonderful. The weather and the sea were perfect. Perhaps the smoothest sailing I have ever experienced in my 44 years of cruising.
St John’s, Antigua
Our cabin steward, Roman, was an absolute gem, as was the entire staff on board the Sun. The food was delicious, as always. The service was excellent. Although I must add this, and we did not complain because we never did see his name tag,….there was one busboy in the Garden Cafe who had significant issues. I guess he thought no one could see him as he opted to squat behind his station and pick his nose then rub his hand on his pants. He then proceeded to walk around the dining hall and pick up plates and cups from tables. I was absolutely disgusted. Normally there were white coat officers everywhere but of course not then! Perhaps I feel a bit jaded as we opted against other cruise lines because of the Latitudes Rewards and maybe I feel as though we have missed out somewhat by strictly sailing with NCL all of these years, cruising once or twice a year, per year.
St Kitts, Nevis
We have decided we will most likely start using other cruise lines as well. As our daughter is older now, Carnival poses less of a threat to our parenting advice and they certainly are cheaper. Plus we would like to visit ports NCL just does not offer to us. I still love the Sun though. She offers larger cabins and has never once had a rude staff….at least, not that I can remember. We set sail again in 43 days, this time aboard the NCL Dawn. We have had some rough trips with this particular ship in the past but are going to give her one last chance as our last two times aboard her the staff seemed upset. Perhaps fog delays had everyone cranky. Nonetheless, we always give second chances and this is her third.
I am not afraid of change, I embrace it. I am, however, against things being changed without being at least notified. Especially when these changes were once considered a loyalty program. I love the Sun. I do love NCL, but I think perhaps it is time to branch out and see more than just what they offer.
All art, images, and text
Elizabeth Eichelberger Art©