Here we go… my overly long, verbose review of the Norwegian Sky. Grab a sandwich and a soda, cuz this is going to take a while!!!
M/S Norwegian Sky 11/09/03-11/16/03
Well, if you have read some of my other posts, you know about the surprise I got on Sunday morning! The ship wasn’t where I thought it should be! Not to dwell – I had called NCL the night before to ask what time we could begin embarkation. The rep stated that embarkation was to begin at around 3pm to which I responded that we were Latitudes and we could then board at 2, right?? The agent agreed with me, and when I asked if we could board earlier, he stated that the ship did not leave until 10pm and that there was plenty of time. I advised him that my hotel would be booting me out by noon, and I needed to go somewhere.
Anyway, we left the hotel and caught a cab ($15) to the Pan-American Pier where the Sky was waiting for us, and a couple hundred people were waiting in line (drat!). There are a couple of problems (in my opinion) with the operation at that pier (and I don’t know if it is because it is a RCI/Celebrity pier or what). First of all, there is nowhere to drop off your luggage when you arrive, you must wait in line outside as they take everyone’s luggage and load it onto carts. Once they take your luggage you then go into the building to wait in more lines. The employees there are either not helpful or not too knowledgeable. Everyone begins standing in one long line and then eventually you figure out that there is another line, this one is for suites and Latitudes members (though the sign says suites and Captain’s Club). Unfortunately, this line moves at about ¼ the speed of the regular line, and of course by the time you figure that out, no one is going to let you back in line. There were two reps for the Latitudes/Suite line and about 25-30 for everyone else. Looking back, I guess it really did not take that long to go through, but, when you are facing the anticipation of your trip, it takes FOREVER!!! We arrived around 11:20 and were onboard at 12:25. A white-gloved attendant took us to our room.
We were in cabin 0067, Norway Deck all the way aft category BA. I knew about the infamously small rooms on the Sky but was still initially taken aback by the size. Within the week, though, I came to appreciate it and felt it was more than adequate. I am not sure why we had it, but, champagne was chilling in the room there was a bottle of wine in the refrigerator. Perhaps NCL was thanking me for the recent letter I sent. Later in the afternoon, a tray of the most wonderful chocolate covered strawberries was also delivered to us. The room had two single beds that we pushed together (after moving the nightstand), we needed to be able to store the luggage and get around the room. There were two smallish closets and one contained the “Norwegian” equivalent of a dresser, which means three small drawers. Somehow we mad it all fit. In addition there was a small sofa bed, coffee table, desk and chair in the room. The bathroom was very small as was the shower. A full-length mirror was inside the closet door and there was another mirror above the desk. The room was decorated in mainly pink (each deck has a primary color used – carpets, curtains etc. Deck 10 is the pink deck). The balcony was accessed through a sliding glass door, and held two lounge chairs and a small table. The view was great from the balcony though the space was a little tight. (On a good note though, we were docked next to Dawn Princess in Tortola and we could see the balconies on the side of that ship and they were TINY!!! Ours was close to twice the size). I have heard that people have complained of black soot on the aft balconies, rest assured that was never seen on our balcony or on any other balcony I could see.
We did not join the sail-away party, we chose to stay in our room and watch from our balcony, it was the only time that we got a “front” view. How is that? The ship sails out of San Juan backwards, so we had the front view for a while (she eventually turned around and completed sail out going forward). It was strange leaving so late, since we are used to sailing out of Miami at 4pm, but the lights of San Juan were lovely.
LeBistro Deck 12:
This was a lovely restaurant surrounded by windows on the starboard side of the ship. We never had the chance to eat there but the room was decorated in beautiful colors. Like others have said – I don’t get the gazebo…
Gatsby’s Wine Bar Deck 12:
Great room! Nice place to enjoy a drink and still be able to talk without yelling. Surrounded by floor to ceiling windows on the port side, it too was beautifully decorated and contained comfy chairs. Check out the glass mural on the center wall! I particularly liked the small leopard stools they were really cool. Latitudes members received a 20% discount on drinks in this bar during our cruise.
Sports Bar Deck 11:
I did not use this room a lot as I am not a big sports fan, but it was nicely decorated and very modern. You can sit here to eat if there is no room at the Great Outdoor Restaurant. Floor to ceiling windows on the port side of the ship offer great views.
Ciao Chow Deck 11:
Yum! This is one of the specialty restaurants and carries a $10 service fee, and is worth every penny. We ordered sushi, bruschetta, and a hot dipping plate that included chicken wings, spring rolls and yakitori. The entrees we ordered were Steak with Japanese Wafu Sauce w/ potatoes and veggies, Giant Prawns over Thai noodles, and the surf and turf. For dessert, one option (which I got twice) was Sweet Pizzas. They are tarts that are puffed in the oven and then covered with a vanilla cream and sliced fruit (peach one night and peach/banana the second) and crowned by vanilla ice cream. During non-dinner hours, pizza is served here. You can get cheese, pepperoni or veggie. They advertise that this is a 24-hour service, but I did here one cook say that they would only be there until 3am. I never saw the restaurant empty.
Garden Café Deck 11:
This is a rather nice buffet. I liked it because it was indoors, pretty well laid out, and well decorated. The food was pretty good I thought (I am not picky at all). The ice cream parlor was here as well, and I did indulge in the ice cream twice.
Great Outdoor Restaurant Deck 11:
We only ate here once I think, and it was not bad. There was a good variety of food and a pretty good flow through. Seating was not bad outside and we had no trouble finding a seat.
Body Waves Spa Deck 11:
We did not use the gym. It looked nice though. We did use the Spa, we each got a massage on the final day of the cruise (sea day) and it was worth the money and the wait. We made the reservations within an hour of boarding, so I cant say how quickly they booked up. I would, however, recommend booking as early as possible.
Observation Lounge Deck 11:
What a great lounge. It was really pretty! The windows were great and doors on either side lead out to an observation deck overlooking the bow. Sadly, we did not spend any time in this room; we only passed through once or twice. There is a model of the ship in this room (as well as one in the Four Seasons Restaurant) that is cool to look at. I remember one being on the Norway back on our first cruise together in 2000.
Decks 8, 9, and 10 are residential only.
Kid’s Crew Areas Deck 7:
We never saw this area, no kids! J So, I cannot comment on this, but the kids did seem to be having fun whenever we saw them around the ship.
Atrium Bar Deck 7:
A nice martini/champagne bar. I loved it because of the floor to ceiling windows and the view into the atrium. They truly make a good martini there, and if the special drink is still the Amaretto Cappuccino make sure to try one! The seats seemed to be very similar to the ones in the Stardust Lounge, barrel style and quite comfy.
Gift Shops Deck 7:
The Galleria Shops were quite large and had just about anything you would want or need. There was a full selection of toiletries if you should forget anything. This is where you will find clothing, perfumes, logo wear and knickknacks. Just outside the main shop is the watch store with two large counters full of high-end watches. In addition, there was liquor for sale in the Galleria.
Coffee Bar/Internet Cafe Deck 7:
Located between the watch shop and the Casino you will find the coffee bar and Internet café. Sadly, we did not use either of these facilities, but there were several coffee specials listed in the Freestyle Daily. Looking back, I don’t know why we never had coffee there since we both love coffee! (Just a side note, we thought that the coffee in general aboard the ship, dining rooms and buffets was pretty bad).
Monte Carlo Casino Deck 7:
Wow, am I back on the Norway? This casino looks as if it was picked up off the Norway and placed on the Sky. I love the décor of the casino and thought it was pretty well laid out. Unfortunately, we did not win anything substantial this time, but it was sure fun trying to. The arcade is next to the casino, we do not play video games (that don’t pay out money) but we did take a peek. The room is small and jammed with games, at least 10-15 machines in there.
Stardust Lounge Decks 6 and 7:
Three shows were done in this theater, “Runnin’ Wild”, “Hey! Mr. Producer”, and “Sea Legs Cirque”. The productions were well done, as always. We enjoyed “Runnin’ Wild” and found it to be eerily similar to “Sing, Sing, Sing” on the Norway. “Hey! Mr. Producer” was great and the performances were as good as any we’ve seen. “Sea Legs Cirque” is a strange show. I was not impressed by the story line of the show; I felt it was random and kind of silly. Don’t get me wrong, the performances and costumes were amazing, I just did not get the story. It made no sense to me. Bingo was also done in this venue as well as port talks and several other shows and activities. I loved the seating and the sightlines were great unless you got stuck behind one of those stupid poles.
Library and Conference Rooms Deck 6:
We did not use either, but did peek in and they were well decorated and the library was well used throughout the week.
Photo Gallery Deck 6:
This is placed in a hallway between the Stardust Lounge and Checkers Cabaret. There really isn’t much to say about it.
Checkers Cabaret Deck 6:
We spent a lot of time in Checkers! This is the ships disco; so every night we were there dancing and having fun. There was a problem with the DJ and his lack of variety, but another passenger made a report to the Cruise Director or the reception desk and from that point on, the DJ played a wide variety of music. In addition the 70’s party was held here, as was the 50’s sock hop. Karaoke was held here too, and I actually got up and sang two songs! During the day, several functions were held here, but the most frequent was art auctions.
Shops Deck 6:
There were a few additional shops on deck 6, including a $10 store and Columbian Emeralds. They also hosted special sales in the atrium on deck 6 on several days.
Atrium Deck 5:
This was our first ship with an atrium and I have to say I was rather impressed, even knowing that this is not one of the most impressive atriums at sea. I thought it was quite lovely, with its glass elevators, marble floors, beautiful woods and sky light at the top. In this area on deck 5 you will also find the shore excursion desk, reception, port and cruise consultants, dive-in desk and the entrance to the Four Seasons Restaurant. You can also get your debarkation luggage tags here on the last night.
Four Seasons and Seven Seas Restaurants Deck 5:
Both of these dining rooms are equally nice. The wait staff was very attentive and constantly running, there seemed to be no lack of initiative on their part. The food was always good and brought to the table in a timely manner. I enjoyed the Seven Seas a little more because there are more windows and you have a better chance of sitting near one. We never had a problem getting a table for two when we asked, and the only time we really had to wait was formal night; we waited about 15 minutes and took a table with another couple. On the nights that we were in a hurry, the staff made sure our food came out quickly.
Horizons Deck 5:
Wow! Now this is a nice restaurant. Horizons is a specialty restaurant and carried a $10 surcharge that was well worth the investment. We booked a reservation for the final night of the cruise at 5:30 so the sun would still be up and we would be able to see out the windows. The service was outstanding and the food was even better. We ordered (in English) Mediterranean Seafood Cocktail with Aioli, Avocado and Fresh Herbs (yum), Home Made Forrest Ravioli in Roast Onion Broth, Tomato Consommé with Pesto and Goats Cheese Ravioli and Lobster Medallions, Caesar Salad prepared table side, Shrimp Scampi with 40 cloves of garlic, Milanese Style Breast of Free Range Chicken, Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin all of which were fantastic. We sat at a table for two next to the windows; in addition they offer banquets along the wall for larger group with pillows all around the seating area. Be sure to have dinner here at least once.
Swimming Pools Deck 11:
The two saltwater pools on board were nice. Glass walls to protect from the wind surround the pools, and there is additional sunning space on deck 12 above the pools. Sandwiched between the pools you will find 4 hot tubs that are sheltered by a large umbrella-like tarp. The pool area is serviced by Topsiders bar and of course all types of drinks are available. Food can be had at all times, either by going in to the Garden Café or at one of the multiple outdoor barbeques held throughout the cruise.
Ports of Call:
St. Thomas - Monday:
St. Thomas is only about 70 miles from San Juan, so the cruise overnight was slow and leisurely. We awoke to find that we were already docked in Havensight and quickly dressed to get off the ship. Docking was a new thing for us since we have only sailed the Norway, and as we know, you have to tender everywhere from the Norway. We got off the ship around 9am and took a cab to the downtown area for 3 dollars. We did just a little shopping in St. Thomas since we have been there several times before, but we made sure to get some liquor and cigarettes while we were there. After some shopping, we took a cab ($6 p/p) to Magen’s Bay ($3 entrance fee), and walked out to Little Magen’s Beach to do some sunning and swimming. Sadly, it wasn’t too sunny (which would become the theme of this cruise) but we were determined to at least try to get some sun. At one point a rather large iguana came lumbering along the beach and decided to park itself in front of our towels, wisely we stayed in the water till he decided to leave. We took a cab back to town and had lunch at Bumpa’s and did a little more shopping. We went back to Havensight and found a pharmacy that carried 2 liter bottles of soda. We bought two bottles and had no trouble carrying them back on the ship.
Monday night was formal night and as I have stated, it was the only night we had any considerable wait to get into the dining rooms, maybe because it was LOBSTER NIGHT. Formal portraits were offered on this night and a majority was done in the Atrium on Deck 5, and one other location in Neptune’s Court also on Deck 5. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how many passengers dressed to the nines on this evening… we were not sure what to expect with Freestyle. In addition to Formal Night, Monday was also 70’s night. The 70’s party was held in Checkers, and due to a time difference mishap, we were an hour late to the party, and guess what, it was over. On the Norway, the special theme parties went on for hours, and we were sorely disappointed that this party ended within an hour.
Antigua - Tuesday:
Since we had never been to Antigua before, we scheduled a shore excursion. We decided to do the Off Road 4x4 Jeep Safari, and boy are we glad we did. The trip was only $62 p/p, which may seem high, but for all the fun and sights, it was well worth the money. You share a jeep with up to 6 total people, we were lucky, it was just us and two others with our guide (Dion). The drivers take you all through the island, through villages, rain forests and up to Fort George. Fort George sits on top of a mountain in the center of the island and has wonderful views in all directions. The guides give you a history lesson on the way and a presentation at the top of the fort. Dion pointed out many interesting sights to us and told us some inside info about his life. At the top of the fort, you are given a beverage and snack, you can have a beer or soda, but for some reason they did not have any diet soda. They gave me a drink called Ting and told me to try it. It was great, and I recommend it – it is a grapefruit soda! The drivers then took us down through the rain forest and out to a beach. Unfortunately due to the weather, it was rather dreary and a big storm was coming in from the horizon. The jeeps took us right back to where the ships were docked; in total the trip was about 4 hours. We then decided to grab lunch and went to the Big Banana at the advice of the Port Consultant. The food was OK, but I was expecting it to be local foods instead of hamburgers and pizza. The best thing on the menu was the bruschetta and I highly recommend that. We did a little poking around in the shopping district, but did not buy much.
Back on board we got ready for dinner and decided we wanted to try Ciao Chow. I called them around 5:30 and they had no problem fitting us in at 8. Dinner at Ciao Chow was outstanding, the food and presentation were top-notch. This evening was also Caribbean night and there was a huge deck party around the pools at 10:45 pm including dancing, ice carving and a HUGE buffet. As always it was fun, and this was really the only time that the wait staff was a bit pushy with the drinks in pineapples.
Martinique - Wednesday:
Again, since we have never been to Martinique, we scheduled a shore excursion, this time the Bat Caves and Snorkel. The excursion left bright and early at 8am, we boarded a boat and were off across Fort de France’s huge harbor. It rained just a little on the boat ride over to the snorkel location, enough to create a rainbow over the water. We arrived at the Bat Caves and you just can’t believe it until you get there, the sheer number of bats. Of course, there is nothing to be afraid of because they want nothing to do with us. We were able to snorkel in the area for about 30 minutes and during that time; the guides encouraged you to swim into the cave but NOT to remove your mask. (Not due to any danger, just the smell!!) The boat then continued on to a small beach where we had another hour or so to snorkel around a large reef, or to use the beach. This area was quite nice, but the snorkeling is better in St. John USVI. On the boat ride back, the dive-in staff brought out cake and rum punch. Greg, the head of Dive-In made some experimental spiced rum himself, and it was GOOD!!! We departed the launch and walked back to the ship to drop off stuff and then struck off onto the island. We had heard that shopping was not great there, and that was correct. Most of the shopping tended to be aimed at the local population and the prices were not all that good. We bought very little on Martinique and the poor shopping combined with the intense heat sent us back to the ship early!
The Latitudes party was held on this day at 5pm in the Stardust lounge. Luckily we had gotten to know the Port and Cruise Consultants and they got us our Latitudes pins. Unfortunately, the ship never received their shipment of pins so they did not have enough on board to hand out! But we and a few others did stop by their desk and picked one up. We saw the show “Runnin’ Wild” that night in the Stardust, this show is quite good. Be sure to check it out. Though we missed it, the 50’s 60’s Sock Hop was held in Checkers at 10:45 and was supposedly fun.
St Maarten/ St Martin - Thursday:
We opted out of any excursions here and just did our typical jeep rental to explore on our own. We drove into Phillipsburg (you can park for free at the University) and walked around downtown for a short time. Since this was our fourth time in St. Maarten, we did not buy anything. We decided to have lunch real quick and stopped in to Kangaroo Court. The service was slow, but the food was pretty good. We ran into Martin, Shaun and Susie (Port/Cruise Consultants) again and had lunch with them. We also made dinner plans with them for Ciao Chow. We hopped into the jeep and took off for Cupecoy Beach, but when we got there we found it was badly damaged by weather over the last week. The beach was unusable, and we really wanted to get in the water. We decided to go to Baie Rouge, which is just over the French boarder. This beach was really nice, but not as dramatic as Cupecoy. It was an overcast day but the rain held off long enough to enjoy the beach for a couple of hours. Then we were off to return to the ship, we dropped off the car and walked back to the pier area. We did do a little shopping there for a few souvenirs for friends and found cigarettes at only $12 a carton (compared to $35+ at home).
We had dinner with Martin and Shaun at 9 in Ciao Chow, and I ordered the exact same thing I had on Tuesday. Everything was just as good! We did not do much else that night other than the disco as usual.
Tortola - Friday:
Ug! What a day. We had scheduled to do the Norman Island Snorkel trip, but the evening before had received a note stating that due to rough water the trip was cancelled. We then signed up for the Virgin Gorda Highlights trip, but once we got to the pier on Friday morning, they told us that it was cancelled due to bad weather and that it was heading towards Tortola. We took off to go downtown to shop. Again there was not much there, but we found a cute open-air market that looked like little island houses painted in beautiful pastels. We did buy a few things there, but quickly decided to beat feet back to the ship because the sky was darkening. We spent only 90 minutes on the island. Well, we got to spend some time on the ship, we decided to go up to the hot tubs, but there were a lot of people in them so we went up to the children’s pool instead. There was no one up there, so we sat in the kid’s hot tub while it rained! We then went down to the pool deck and there was room in the hot tubs there, so we jumped in. The kids hot tub is really more luke warm, the ones on Pool Deck are much warmer. We had lunch at the Garden Café and took it out to the Pool Deck and had lunch looking out the windows at… Dawn Princess. We decided to play Bingo for the first time on this trip at 5 in Stardust, no luck. After dinner in one of the main dining rooms, we went to see Sea Legs Cirque and the Farewell Finale. The remainder of the evening was spent in Checkers dancing away.
Sea Day - Saturday:
A day to relax – and a day without rain!!!! We went to the cruise giveaway Bingo session at 10:30 and did not win Bingo or the cruise. We had scheduled massages on embarkation day, and finally we got to go to the Spa at 11:45! The massages were great, and though they did try to get you to buy stuff, it was not a hard sell and once I said no, there was no more discussion. We then went up to Deck 12 overlooking the pool area and lay in the beautiful sun. There was a sexy legs contest going on down at the pool, and all the contestants were men! Waiters came around and took drink orders and sprayed us with water while we baked in the sun. This was also my only dip in the pool and it was really nice.
We had made reservations to eat in Horizons as well this night; our reservation was at 5:30. We ate early so that the sun would still be up and we would have a view out the windows of the water and what turned out to be St. Thomas. Dinner was fantastic (see above for what we ordered). After dinner we decided we should start packing so we picked up luggage tags and went back to the room to take care of this unwelcome business. Later, we spent more time in the casino and still came out empty handed but had fun anyway. We wound up the evening in Checkers for Karaoke night, which lasted till midnight. I even sang two songs. After Karaoke they played disco music until closing.
Debarkation Day - Sunday:
Freestyle debarkation is a great idea. You choose your own luggage tags so that you may exit the ship at whatever time you choose. You are able to wait in your room but be prepared, people will come a’knockin. Our room stewards came by several times and another gentleman came along to place a bottle of champagne in the room. Debarkation began late, so all debark times were pushed back, apparently the fault of customs. By 10am we were feeling rather uncomfortable staying in our room and decided to head off to Checkers to wait until we were called. Eventually they called purple tags, and everyone lined up through the Atrium and started to leave the ship. Customs at the pier was a bit of a mess in my opinion; I thought it was much better in Miami. As you left the ship, you scanned your card out, walked down the gangplank to a bunch of lines to the customs desks. We waited about 15 or 20 minutes there and then moved on to the next line where another person checks over what they just checked over in the customs line. You then proceed to the baggage area to claim your luggage. Once you grab all that, a third person checks over what the other two just did. Then once you are outside it is like a transportation hoedown. We were staying in San Juan so we needed a taxi. First you must stand in one line about 10 mins, to get to the counter where they ask where you are going, how many people and how many luggage pieces you are taking. This agent gives you a receipt with your fare on it and you move to the second line to await an available taxi. This line was about the same wait time. Please be sure to get in the voucher line first, several people were VERY upset after waiting in the taxi line and being turned back for not having a voucher. Debarkation took well over an hour from Checkers to the taxi. In Miami, I have experienced no longer than 15 mins from ship to cab.
We met some wonderful people on this ship. The crew was completely helpful and friendly at every turn. I never saw any nasty crewmembers; even the maintenance guys would smile and say hello. The wait staff was very attentive and more than willing to help each other out, people never moved slowly. The Maitre’D was always around keeping a watchful eye on everything that was happening. In general, none of the bar staff was particularly pushy. I really liked all the servers in Checkers, they were very nice and remembered your drink by the second night. The day we ate lunch by the pool a bar waiter stopped up and asked if I wanted a Diet Coke, and I didn’t even remember him!
OK… random thoughts, tips, tricks and other weird things
Get a cocktail (if you drink) in the “Icicle Glass”, it costs three dollars more the first time, but can be refilled throughout the cruise. A Vodka Tonic (my drink of choice) was 3.95 from the bar, but in the icicle glass (refill) it was 4.95 and more than twice the size – what a bargain! If you are going out and going to have a drink, just remember to grab your glass on the way out of your room!
If you buy a soda card, you do not have to keep the cup with you that they give to you. The soda card will work in any restaurant or bar and they will give you a glass. The soda card does not work for room service. Price 28.75
We were able to sneak aboard a fifth of vodka and 2 bottles of tonic in our checked luggage. I placed the vodka in my suitcase and laid my toiletry bag on top of it. I like to think that all the junk in the toiletry bag somehow masked the bottle.
If you want to take video onboard of the rooms, you need only wait till about 2am, it seemed that the crowd turned in early most nights, perhaps due to the intensive port schedule.
Luggage tags are available beginning Friday night (I think) and you can pick them up in the Atrium on Deck 5. There is a large sign with all the colors and the approximate times they will be called. So, you choose when you want to leave!
If you fly Delta to San Juan, be very careful packing your luggage. Leaving Baltimore, we had no trouble at all, but at SJU there is no curbside check-in. We had to go to the ticket counter and they weighed our bags. The did not weigh much more than when we came down, but the SOB’s charged me $105.00 in excess baggage charges. We thought we were being smart only taking two bags (easier to manage, right?). But if we had taken 4 bags and they weighed the same (in total) we would have been charged nothing.
This was a wonderful cruise, even if the weather was dreadful. I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to see the Southern Caribbean Islands.
If there are any questions about this review, or what I may have left out, feel free to ask away!!!!