We purchased this cruise on the Egghead auction site and got a pretty good deal on two Cat AA balcony cabins. The other cabin was occupied by my brother and his wife. This was their first cruise.
Pre Cruise: We booked our air from Minneapolis on AirTran. The price was reasonable but we had to make a stop in Chicago and change planes in Atlanta. Two stops before getting to your destination is about two stops too many. The AirTrans planes were reasonably on time and were in good shape but the seats were about the hardest seats I have ever sat on in an airplane. We were lucky enough to get exit row seating so that gave us a good bit of legroom.
Embarkation: We took a taxi from the Wyndham to the Port of Miami. This is a short cab ride that is about $10.00 with tip. The cab driver dropped us off right at the port for the Norwegian Sky. We had seen the Sky from my brother's hotel room earlier in the day and I will say I was impressed with the look of the ship. Wehanded our bags to the porter with $5 dollars to assure us we would see them again. The porter directed us to the embarkation area. We entered the embarkation area and even though we were not suite or Latitudes members we were processed and having our embarkation photo taken in less than 15 minutes.
We entered the Norwegian Sky and were escorted to our cabin by a steward. He took us forward to the atrium elevators, which were very impressive, and up to Deck 10. We obtained our room keys on Deck 10 and proceed all the way to the stern of the ship to our rooms.
Cabin: I had requested stern cabins when I confirmed with NCL after we won the auction. This request was granted. The two cabins we had were 0266 (My brother') and 0067 (ours). The cabins were right next to each other and ours was right in the middle of the ship. I was a little leery because of what I had heard in regard to the size of the cabins. To my pleasant surprise the cabin was a good size for two people. The balcony on the stern cabins in much larger than on other Cat AA cabins. It has a sliding glass door instead of a conventional door and the balcony has a chaise lounge, two chairs and small table. The port/starboard Cat AA cabins only had room for two chairs and a small table. The other thing about the cabin that I was very impressed with was the bathroom. Even though it was not large it was very well laid out. Shelves for toiletries, round shower stall that accommodated my 6'2", 240 lbs body, with no problem. The reports of little drawer space are not exaggerated. There are three small drawers in the closet. To make more room we stored our luggage and the life jackets under the bed. We also brought extra hangers and hung most of our clothes. T-shirts and other items were placed on the upper shelves where the life jackets were. This provided more than enough space for our, too many, clothes. One bit of advice though. The shelves are quite high. If you are less than 5'8" you may have a hard time getting things on and off the shelf.
The beds were very hard. My brother requested and received from his cabin steward a foam pad that made the bed quite comfortable for him. The pillows though were wonderful and the duvet was a very nice and comfortable touch.
We were also pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of wine, fruit and champagne in our room upon boarding. I knew we would receive the wine and fruit, but the champagne was a surprise from NCL. For what, I don't know. My brother received the wine and fruit but no champagne. We also received a T-shirt each and another huge basket of fruit the next morning. These were very nice surprises and really added to our enjoyment.
The only negative I can say about the cabin was the placement of the bedside lamps. I should say the in-bed lamps. The lamps are placed directly where you would sleep. I hit my head more than once on those darn things. I did not injure myself and my wife, who is more graceful than I, had no problem. Just beware of them. I think the designer had a few too many Schnapps when he put this in the plans.
Cabin Steward: I can describe our cabin steward, Dominador Carbonelle, in one word. FANTASTIC! He was the best steward/stewardess we have had on a cruise. Pleasant, personable, accommodating and went the extra mile to make sure everything was a.o.k.. One thing he did that was great was to make a "towel creation" each night for us. Everything from Alf, Octopus, Turtle, and Alligator. My wife loved these creatures. Dominador or "Ador" as he liked to be called, had never worked for Carnival, so he learned his towel technique on his own. He also was very nice on the last day and let me look at the suites and the other Cat AA and inside staterooms. The Penthouse suites are very nice. Two rooms and a full sized bath with full size whirlpool tub. The balcony was a wraparound balcony and was large but quite narrow. As I stated the port/starboard Cat AA cabins are about 3 feet shorter than ours and have a standard door to the balcony and not a sliding glass door. The inside staterooms are tiny. I do not see how two people could be comfortable in one of those, but we spoke to people who did and seemed to like the cabin.
The Ship: The Norwegian Sky is a nice vessel. My wife thought its decor was better than the Mercury. She thought it was not as bright and wild. I would disagree but it still was a very nice ship. The things I did not like were:
Limited amount of teak decking. On the pool deck only certain areas were decked in teak. The rest of the areas were decked with a blue plastic that was non-skid but also very painful on bear feet. The promenade deck was nice in the fact that it was actually a wrap-around promenade but it also had a blue plastic as decking.
The Atrium area: This was a very striking area and was also visually stunning with its glass enclosed elevators and winding staircases. But every time I looked at it I thought: "What a waste of space." That is my own personal feeling and I know most people love the large atriums.
The Observation lounge on the front of the ship was a beautiful club. You could exit the Observation lounge and go out on the teak deck and have a beautiful view off the front of the ship. The only observation was that every time we were in the Observation Lounge there was hardly anyone there.
Checkers Cabaret was the setting for dancing, art auctions (yuck), certain activities (If someone from the Cruise Directors Staff showed up) and live music. I did not like the dark decor of this room and the layout did not give you an intimate feeling.
Windjammer and Churchill's Cigar Lounge: These were quite nice but small. Churchill's Cigar lounge had a very strong tobacco smell in it. Unlike Michael's Cigar Bar on Celebrity. But it was done in lovely leather wing back chairs and dark wood tables. The cigar selection was quite poor. Mostly Macanudo's.
Library and Card Room: These were fine but we only visited them on the first day when we were touring the ship.
Shops: The shops on the NCL were quite extensive. They had more than just the standard clothing, liquor and jewelry. They had these things but they also had Colombian Emerald, a fine watch shop. The watch shop (I forget the name) carried fine watches: Tag Hauer, Breitling, Movado, Ebel. Their prices were reasonable. A Colt Ocean, automatic, stainless with pilots strap was $1,080. $200 less than what you could get it for in the states but $80 more than the one I bought at a reputable shop in Ocho Rios.
Internet Lounge: Located outside of the main shops. There were a number of terminals and an attendant that was very informative. But at .75 cents per minute I could live without checking my stocks and email for one week. One thing that I was sort of impressed with was the fact that in cabin Internet access for you laptop was still .75 cents. Other cruise lines charge much more. This is at least a less costly alternative if you must stay in touch with work and/or email.
Stardust Show Lounge: This was a disappointment. If you were on the upper level, on Deck 7, you had to watch the show through the railings. I commented that it was like watching a show in prison. The bars were always in your line of sight. The support poles were numerous and made for many obstructed view seats on both levels of the showroom. The chairs were very comfortable and swiveled nicely. The couches though were quite hard and uncomfortable.
Monte Carlo Casino: The casino personnel were very personable and fun. The blackjack and slots tournament were enjoyable. My brother even finished in the top seven in the slot tournament and won a bottle of champagne and a T-shirt. I did not place in the blackjack tournament or the slot tournament but I did pretty good at the blackjack tables. We went home with quite a bit more money than we came with.
Space: While on the Norwegian Sky we never felt crowded and it did not seem like there were over 2,000 passengers on board. It was not as intimate as the R2 but we never really encountered crowds of people. The pool deck was full on sea days and the Garden Cafe was had a fairly long line on a couple of occasions but it was not the norm. The forward splash pool and hot tubs were usually open and this area of Deck 11 was not crowded at any time. One thing my wife liked but I did not was the partitions on Deck 11. These Plexiglas walls protected you from the wind but I thought it distorted the view and blocked too much wind. It got quite hot for me.
Stability and Vibration: This was the roughest sea we have had so far on a cruise. On the north side of Cuba we hit 15 - 20 foot swells and you did notice the pitch. There were a number of passengers walking with a stagger but hadn't had any alcohol. We noticed the pitch more so in our stern cabins but it was not unbearable and was sort of relaxing for sleeping. I enjoyed sitting on the bed and looking out of the balcony door and seeing ocean, then sky, then ocean, then sky. I told my wife not to do that or her scopolamine patch would not help. I did notice some vibration and noise when the ship was using its thruster's. This was only during docking and otherwise the cabin was quite quiet.
Food/Restaurants There are seven different dining venues on the Norwegian Sky. The two main restaurants, Seven Seas and Four Seasons were nicely decorated did not have the "banquet room" feel that some cruise ship restaurants have. The Horizons restaurant was intimate and provided wonderful views of the ocean from all tables.
The LeBistro was decorated with fine linen and dark wood. The Garden Cafe is the enclosed buffet area on the Sky and the Outdoor Cafe is the open air buffet. Ciao Chow's is an alternative restaurant that has a service charge. ($5 pp.) They have Italian and Chinese food during Dinner and VERY good pizza 24 hours.
The food in Seven Seas and Four Seasons was consistently good. The lobster on "Captain's Farewell Night" was excellent. Even my sister-in-law who does not like lobster thought it was very good. Most of the food in these restaurants ranged from very-good to excellent. There was a good variety and appetizers and entree's were done as requested or expected. There was not a large variety of desserts but the ones that they served were good but I have had better.
The Garden Cafe and Outdoor Cafe were both pleasant surprises. I am not a fan of cruise buffets but these two were actually quite good. Cold food was cold and hot food was hot. There was a good variety of entree's at lunch and dinner. I was even surprised when the sirloin steak that was served was actually good. It was a little more done than to my liking but it was not well done. I also liked the fact that the buffet was open 24 hours. We did have a couple of midnight snacks up there. Mozzarella sticks and buffalo wings were quite good. I also appreciate that milk was available at all times. Juice was only available at breakfast and iced tea was available all other times.
Horizons is very visually beautiful dining venue. There are a number of tables for two and the rest of the tables are booths for four. This is a great place if you want to have an intimate dinner or celebrate a special occasion. The food is basically the same as the Seven Seas and Four Seasons. The night we dined in Horizons I was not impressed with my steak but the service was quite good.
We never ate at Ciao Chow's for dinner but two things served in this restaurant were highlights of the cruise. The pizza is great. It is available 24 hours, made to order, loads of toppings and a great thin crust. Very good. During lunch on our days at sea we were very pleased to find sushi being served. They had a variety of sushi rolls and mackerel, Ahi, Squid, and Salmon sushi. My brother hates rice but loves sashimi and the sushi chef had no problem accommodating him with all the sashimi he could eat. I will admit that my brother and I made thorough pigs of ourselves on sushi and sashimi. Here in Minnesota (flyover land) sushi and sashimi is very expensive. We figure we consumed the equivalent to $100 worth of sushi in Minnesota.
Le Bistro was the only disappointment in dining on the cruise. It was a big disappointment. The service was really bad. Our waiter was not attentive and had too many tables for an intimate, elegant dining venue. We waited 40 minutes between salads and entree. When the entree arrived my steak was very well done. Remember, I liked the steak at the buffet. I asked him to take it back and bring me one that was medium rare as asked for. He said that it would take awhile for the steak and I said never mind and just bring the dessert tray. 20 minutes later we had dessert. This was ridiculous for a restaurant that expects a $5 surcharge. I complained to the Maitre D. He expressed his apologies and that was about all. I left Le Bistro in a very bad mood. I spoke with others on the cruise that thought it was wonderful but we sure hit it at the wrong time and the wrong waiter and Maitre D.
Entertainment: The shows in the Stardust lounge were VERY GOOD. The Jean Ann Ryan Dancers were a joy to watch. The comic, Willie Farrel was funny and entertaining and did a good job of lampooning cruise ships, and personnel. The magician was fun and did some very good sleight of hand and used his wife and daughter as part of the act. The acts in the lounges were pretty good. The ones that stand out are The Rob Ellis Trio and pianist/vocalist, Jackie Wood. The pool band, Roots Link, was fair but not really good. We did not visit any of the disco's late at night but I was told that they were pretty dead and not much going on after 11:00.
Activities: I will say this is an area that needs work. The number of activities on the Norwegian Sky, are limited. There were more non-revenue producing activities on Renaissance than on the Norwegian Sky. The cruise director, Eric Bohus and his staff were the worst I have seen. Eric was only seen at the shows and giving "lectures" on the ship channel. There were trivia games that were canceled not because players didn't show up but no one from the cruise director's staff showed up. The assistant cruise director that hosted the Newlywed/Not so Newlywed game was painful to watch. She really needs to work on organization and public speaking. She also made a number of mistakes while hosting Karaoke. Eric was the only member of the Norwegian Sky's crew that asked for an excellent rating and he and his staff were the least deserving.
The Ports: Grand Cayman: We had been to Grand Cayman in February on the Mercury. At that time we chartered Captain Crosby for a 4 hour Stingray City snorkel tour. We had a great time. This time however my brother and his wife were not swimmers so a deep water snorkel of Stingray City was not something they wanted to do. Instead we booked the sandbar Stingray City tour at the dock. The tour was definitely not up to Captain Crosby's standards. We were packed in to tour buses that had no air conditioning and driven about 10 miles north of town to board the excursion boat. The boat was o.k. except when my brother started climbing down the ladder one of the rungs broke. He cut his hand and leg quite badly but not bad enough to require stitches. He also went over his head into the water getting a lungful of saltwater in the process. His wife also cut her hand going down the ladder after him. Needless to say they did not enjoy Stingray City. The driver of the boat could not handle the boat well in waves and it took him a long time to get anchored on the sand bar. When he did get anchored we were in quite deep water and it required you to swim to the sandbar. This stopped the non-swimmers from going in. The transporting to and from the boat for this excursion took forever. We were on the boat for about 90 minutes, including time at the sandbar and one other deeper water snorkel site. The entire excursion was over 3 hours long. 1 ½ hours of it were just going to and from the boat. This is an instance where you should not book this tour at the dock. At least with the ship's excursion you may pay more but we could have gotten at least a partial refund.
Afterward we all agreed that we would rather have gone to Hell than this excursion.
Ocho Rios Jamaica: I booked a private tour here through Portpromotions.com. This was a great tour. Our tour guide Danielle and driver Bins were very good. Danielle gave a great tour that was entertaining and informative. We drove through the rain forrest, went to Cohoba (sp?) gardens, which were beautiful and we finished up at Dunn's River Falls. The falls were nice but not as impressive as I imagined. My wife and I would have preferred climbing the falls on our own. We were herded up the falls, holding hands with about 30 other people. This was o.k. but it took forever. Due to slow people, picture taking, etc. We finally said to heck with it and went up on our own. If you follow the rocks that have the horizontal black marks you will have less chance of slipping.. (They scrape them with a wire brush to make them less slippery) Of course they frown on that because they want to make sure you tip your guide. We did tip the guide.
Afterwards we bought a few trinkets and a Red Stripe beer. Red Stripe beer tastes just like a local brand we have in Minnesota. Grain Belt. You can buy a case of it for about $10 and tastes bad. So does Red Stripe.
We then did some shopping at the Tah Mahal shopping area. I finally found the Breitling Colt Ocean that I have been looking for, for more than a year. I was able to negotiate the price down $80 and purchased it for $250 less than Minnesota.
Nassau: For me Nassau was the best port. Not because of the island but because of the Dolphin swim I booked on the Internet. I booked the Dolphin swim at Dolphinswim.com. I did the swim, not the encounter. The swim gives you and 4 others the chance to swim with, play with and be pushed and pulled by these magnificent mammals. They moved me around as if I were a toy. I am a large man. 6'1" 240lbs.
You spend about 40 minutes with them and the $115 was worth every minute. If you get a chance to do this I recommend you take the opportunity. You won't regret it.
My brother, sister-in-law and wife took the ship's "Sea and See" tour. The Sea part was a cruise on a semi-submersible craft. They really enjoyed this and saw some beautiful underwater sights and fish. The guide was very informative and provided quite a bit of information about the island and area. The "See" portion of the excursion was a real bust. They boarded a bus after getting off the semi-submersible. The bus driver asks them: "Where do you want to go." They responded that they thought this was a tour and that they should know where they are going. They then proceeded to drive around the main part of town three times and then drop them off in the middle of traffic, about 10 blocks from the ship. OOOH Exciting!
Great Stirrup Cay: This is NCL's private island. It should be thought of as a beach day. The island has an o.k. beach but snorkel gear, floats and any other water toys must be rented. They do have a nice barbeque with hamburgers, brats, hotdogs, salads, fresh fruit and cookies. If you want to snorkel and lie in the sun this is the place to do it. Tenders go to and from the ship constantly so it only takes about ½ hour to get to or from the ship. Most people go back by 2:00 pm. and the last tender leaves at 4:30.
Debarkation: The morning of debarkation went off without a hitch. We had lavender baggage tags. This meant that we would be the third group called for debarkation. Seeing as we had no flight to catch I was hoping to be one of the last ones off. We did however rent a car. Avis had a representative on board. We rented a full size car and picked it up right at the pier. When our color was called we proceeded out of the ship and through immigration and then on to customs. The only issue in customs was that I had forgot to put my Breitling on the customs form. The customs lady saw the watch and immediately asked where I bought it. I said: "In Jamaica." She then asked why I did not declare it, so I immediately played dumb and said that I thought you didn't need to declare duty free items. I then pulled out the receipt and the duty free papers and gave them to her. She then said that yes, you need to declare this but you don't have to pay duty. She then asked if I was sure there was nothing else. I said no and she let us on our way. After that we grabbed the Avis shuttle and had a very short ride to the lot and picked up our rental car. Our cruise was over.
Post Cruise: We had a number of hours to kill before we could check in to our hotel. We proceeded north on I-95 but after a few miles we decided we were going the wrong way to see the Everglades. We then proceeded south on Highway 1 and ended up where we wanted to be. We visited the Everglades Alligator Farm south of Homestead, right next to the Dade County Correctional Facility. Good place for a prison. If they try to escape the gators will have them for lunch. The Alligator Farm was touristy but it was actually quite fun. We saw hundreds of farm raised gators. Several 15 - 20 foot gators. There were some exotics that were raised by humans that could not be released in to the wild. They consisted of two cougars, a black bear, and two bobcats. We also went on a 20 minute airboat ride. The ride was fun and we saw quite a few turtles, birds, gators and snapping tutles. The driver also did some air boat spins that most of the us really enjoyed. I also had a good time holding a python after the snake show. After we left the Alligator Farm we drove through Everglades National Park to Flamingo. It really was a pretty boring drive. We got out one time to look around and were instantly attacked by mosquitos almost as fierce as the ones we have here in Minnesota. My wife had a nice nap.
We returned to Miami about 5:00 and checked in to the Wyndham Biscayne Bay. We had originally booked the Best Western Marina Hotel. After hearing many negatives about this hotel we switched to the Wyndham Biscayne Bay. The Wyndham is about 1 mile north of the BW and it really was not worth the $50 extra dollars a night to stay there. The hotel was o.k. but the rooms were a little shabby and could have used some renovation. Carpets are old and hallways have a lot of wear and tear showing. It is convenient for the businessman looking for companionship away from home. I had two nice young ladies offer me their services for the evening. I had to decline. Our post cruise stay was not very nice. No towels in the room, no hair dryer, no shampoo, no iron. These things were there just one week ago. We waited 15 minutes for an elevator at 04:30 in the morning. Also on this day the computer system was down at 05:00 a.m. so we could not receive an itemized list of charges to our room or receive a payment ticket for our parking. Being late I said o.k. and did an express checkout. When I went to obtain my car the attendant would not release it because I did not have a receipt from the front desk. I blew up at that point. I walked back upstairs, told the desk clerk that I wanted to see the manager. He responded that he had been trying to find him for the last hour. I told the desk clerk that I wanted my car released, NOW! I also informed him that I was not going to pay for the room.. He said he didn't blame me and said that once the computer system was back up he would credit all charges. I'll believe that when I get my bill. He then went downstairs with me and told the attendant to release my car and off we went to the airport. Not a great way to end a vacation.
Our return flight on Airtran was about the same as the previous flight. We did upgrade to business class for the Miami to Atlanta portion of the trip. The seats were wider but weren't any softer than the seats in coach.
Freestyle Cruising: I like Freestyle. I like to be able to choose where and when I dine. I also like to be able to stay in my cabin on debarkation morning and not have to wait in a lounge or public room with a couple hundred other people. Many people have said that there are long waits for a table at dinner. We never had this problem. We ate at all the venues and at various times and never had to wait for a table. I also saw more tuxedos and dark suits on formal night than on Mercury. Also: They don't water down the drinks at the Captain's cocktail party. My three Martini's made me feel no pain for the rest of the evening.
Conclusion: I would rank this cruise as third place amongst my wife and my three cruises. It was a good cruise and I would cruise the Norwegian Sky again. I would not do this itinerary again. If we cruise the Caribbean again it will be the Southern Caribbean. I really enjoyed "Freestyle Dining". The only thing I did not like about Freestyle was the pre-paid gratuities. I would rather give gratuities to the staff that served us well. If this means giving a tip at each meal, then so be it. If you lower your gratuities with the purser for someone giving you bad service you are also lowering the gratuity for someone who gave you good service. I do not find this right. We did give extra to our cabin steward, Dominador. I hope to return to the Sky someday but not until I have tried a few more ships and lines and have more experience to base my opinions.
I just got back from the 10-22-2000 Sky Cruise. What an awful experience for a first time cruiser such as myself. Where to begin:
Flight down Made my own reservations - it went well - flew down the day before had no problems
Boarding the ship Went very quickly - was very impressed - was threw all the paperwork and on the ship w/in 30 minutes. Although Norwegian failed to send me all the appropriate paperwork.
Cabin - Balcony Stateroom - Much bigger than I thought - very nice - tv w/ CNN and ESPN, movies and documentaries. Which was a good thing considering some much time was spent in the room
First Dining Experience Very bad - this is a "Free Style Cruise" resort attire - but they fail to tell you is NO JEANS - my cruisemate only brought jeans, therefore we couldn't eat in any of the main dining rooms - we instead went to the Garden Cafe - the food was terrible - beverages included means: undrinkable coffee and tea, water (as long as it is not bottled) and milk. You did have the option to drink hottea - make it yourself - which was a bonus. The desserts for the most part no flavoring - the main dishes very bland as well. We were aware of the fact that alcoholic beverages would be extra but a soda is $1.50 per 12oz can. Plus the add a 22 cent tip to that for opening the can for you.
First Night at Sea Nothing to do except go to the Casino - I don't gamble.
Day 2 - At Sea Pool small and over crowded - but plenty of chairs - servers walking around to take drink orders but not often and couldn't get the order right. Pool closes at 8pm but they put all the chairs up at 6:30p - the outside bars close at 7pm and the hottubs, not very hot, were open until 11pm so if you wanted a drink you had to go down 2 or 3 levels inside, were it was very airconditioned, get your drink and go back up and hope that the hottubs were still available. The crew was cleaning the deck while people were still in the hottubs. But you couldn't get them to clean an ashtray. Still no real entertainment to talk about - a comedian - who was fair but don't expect to get a drink unless you go to the casino and get it yourself.
Day 3 - Grand Cayman Finally a port - Grand Cayman - that was fair - we lucked up and got a great taxi driver that gave us a history lesson - probably better than anyone else - plus we got to finally eat descent food - go Hard Rock Cafe!!! - at night still no entertainment unless you wanted to hear a DJ play very low music in a very small room w/ hardly no dance floor.
Day 4 - Jamaica - fun fun - Dunn's River is a blast - Jamaican Queen fun!!! Small beach but never a dull moment - you can't swim out very far but it was still very nice out and we enjoyed it other than being offered every illegal drug known to man about every 15 mins or so. The taxi driver was great!! But then you have to get back on the ship. Guess what, still no entertainment! Well Bingo and an Art Auction and the Casino. Dinner that night - 50s -60s theme so jeans were permitted - we ate at Horizons - food was fair - wine steward took 15 mins and 3 other crew members to tell him we wanted something from the bar.
Day 5 - At sea all day Poolside was nice but never saw a server - still no night poolside entertainment - same as the rest of the days.
Day 6 - Nassau Don't do the Discover Atlantis tour - wasted $45 per person - take the ferry over $3 per person and go through it yourself. The guide was terrible!!! Lots of shopping areas - easy to bargain them down - but offered illegal drugs once again out in the open on a street corner. That just amazes me. The stay there was much too long I thought. Finally night poolside entertainment - Country Western Night - I was sick and could not go but could here them until about midnight.
Day 7 - Great Stirrup Cay It was a very poor looking beach but at least they were grilling hamburger and hotdogs, had drinkable tea and cold water until about 2pm - then cleared it out and you didn't have to go back to the ship until 4:30 so you were forced to buy a mixed drink or just suffer. Had live entertainment, volleyball nets and lots of shaded areas to sit and relax. Guess what no nightly entertainment poolside!
Room Steward - Devi - She was incredible! All the room stewards were very friendly. They were the only crew members that were. Eric the cruise director you could never find. He needs to learn to put more activities and entertainment in the cruise - it was very boring. Medical Center - only open from 8:30a-10:30a and 4:00p-5:00p cost $50 - outside those hours it was $100 - when I called down there the lady was very rude - the doctor was nice and gave me plenty of meds. Reception Desk - good luck getting someone that actually understood your question.
Over appearance of the ship - fair - nothing that great. Free Style Cruise should state Business Casual and NO Jeans
Disembarkation Departing the boat - I let them know I didn't want to leave before 9am so my color was called at 9:05am - I was told not to book a return flight home until at least 1-2pm cause I might miss it - well I was at the airport at 11am and had to wait - don't try to go standby - you have to check you luggage and hope if you don't get on the plane neither does it. Airport personnel (Miami Int'l) very rude. But leaving the ship and going through customs was a piece of cake.
Norwegian gave me a lot of incorrect information and didn't do things that were suppose to be done. I booked my cruise directly through them thinking that things would go smoother. For the most part it did, but I was totally misinformed about a lot of things. I will never cruise with them again. It was a very boring cruise.
We boarded the Norwegian Sky on Aug. 20th with 28 family members for our Alaskan cruise. This was my third cruise and didn't have good memories of embarkation or debarkation, but what a surprise. After parking across the street and going through security we headed upstairs to be greeted by smiling staff offering us juice or water, moving quickly through the line and onto the ship. They even were letting people on more than an hour earlier than we had exected.
Our group was scattered over several differant decks, our cabin being on deck 5 just off the atruim. I was a little concerned at first but there was a door separating our hall from the atruim and we never heard a sound from that area the whole cruise. We were close to two differant set of elevators and that was a plus for not having to wait. The only complaint about where we were located is on the night we had rough weather it was very creaky.
We had an outside cabin which made the small size still seeming comfortable because of the open feeling. Every review complained about the lackof drawer space and that is certainly the case, but if you keeping some items in the suitcases under the beds there really is not much of a problem, closet space was fine. The shower is small but if the soap shelf would have been higher that would have been helpful.
Because we had so many people travelling together we thought that free-style dining was great. We could sit with differant people from our group each evening and didn't have to worry about missing a certain dinner hour. A couple of evenings we made reservations for our group to be seated at four tables together. Those reservations in the main diningrooms are available at 6:00 and 8:30 pm. Free-style dining is a trade-off though because you don't get to know your waiters, however if there is someone you find that you like you may request his table but you may have a little bit of a wait if they are busy. We had an especially good waiter who made one of our eveings very enjoyable.
The food on the Sky was very good. One evening eight of us made reservations at Le Bistro and thought it was superb. The Filet Mignon was recommended and we were not disappointed. The breads were the best on any of the cruises I have been on and if you go to the chocolate buffet don't miss the dipped macaroons or fruit. The buffet was certainly better than on previous cruises and the salmon and rib barbeques were great. The pizza was also good and could be delivered to your room anytime.
I thought that there could have been more activities offered, my 19 year old daughter and several cousins in that age bracket were getting board by the 5th day. This ship did however offer a tour of the bridge whch was quite interesting., but on the whole during the day there could have been more offered.
The entertainment was high quality, especially the Jean Ryan singers and dancers. I missed Jane L. Powell, the featured singer, but everyone raved about her.
The day we sailed through the glaciers was awesome and we have the pictures to prove it. The glacier was calfing when we were there so we couln't get as close as other ships have but it was great just the same.
One major design flaw was the (showlounge) balcony. I don't know what they were thinking but it was like sitting in prison looking through bars. I don't know how anyone could enjoy anything from up there, definately do not watch any shows from there.
We were pretty happy with our choice of ships for our cruise.Marilynne
Embarkation: Embarkation went smoothly once we got to pier as we were among the last to arrive due to a slightly late arrival from Phoenix. There was a delay at the airport to get a shuttle bus to the pier. When we boarded the life boat drill was already under way.
Ship: Entered at the Atrium deck 5 which is quite attractive with panoramic elevators in the center. Were directed to our stateroom on deck 10. Ship is immaculately clean.
Stateroom: Was the smallest we have ever had. Two people couldn't pass by the bed at the same time. It was only 3 steps from the left side of the bed to the bathroom. Storage space was limited but we knew ahead and took things on hangers. As we were three in the stateroom, when rollaway bed was pulled out, we had to fold it back to get to the balcony.
Dining Areas: We preferred having meals in the Four Seasons dining room. Freestyle sailing meant more efficient service at night. Easier on the kitchen as they don't have to prepare for a full dining room all at once. We ate oncein Horizons dining room but found it a bit difficult to get to. Didn't care for the selections the times we ate at the Garden Cafe. Somewhat missed having the same tablemates each evening, but made friends anyway. Only once were we seated with gripey people.
Meal in Le Bistro was excellent with good service. Food great -- especially the escargot and steak.
Meals overall were fine but not spectacular. On Friday night -- lobster night -- don't go at 7 p.m. because that's when they do the Baked Alaska show and people are lined up to be seated.
Resort casual is the attire for the whole cruise. There is one formal night but tuxedos and formalwear is not required.
Shows: Don't miss "Hey Mr. Producer" or the Jane L. Powell show. Powell has an incredible vocal range and puts bits of humor in as well.
Bars: Especially enjoyed the Observation Lounge. Though bar service was somewhat slow, enjoyed the atmosphere. Chairs in the Atrium Lounge were too deep for a short person to be comfortable. Windjammer Lounge was nice with a good pianist - singer. Too bad he had to compete with the music in the adjoining and larger Cabaret Lounge.
Glacier Bay Glacier Bay was awesome. Margerie Glacier calved three small ones and one large which the captain sail might rock the boat a bit. Saw a bear in the greenery around the glaciers.
Haines: Excursion here was disappointing. Did the Bald Eagle Preserve bus tour. Bus went through Fort Seward. Then stopped briefly at what was supposed to be a museum -- but was more of a gift shop and auditorium with stuffed wildlife. Then drove 19 miles to the preserve. There were four buses already at the preserve, so it was crowded. We went down the nature trail but saw no eagles or wildlife. On the way back to ship went past "downtown" area. Not much to Haines and the excursion took all of our time.
Skagway: Four ships in port -- way too many people for this small town. Son enjoyed the downhill bike tour here --even saw a bear cub said to be orphaned. Husband and I went downtown. T-shirt shop was packed making it hard to shop. As we are both journalists, we stopped by the Skagway News office to visit with the editor and summer intern. Paper is published bi-monthly. We paid a visit to the Red Onion Saloon. They had live music playing and "bordello-dressed" waitresses. A fun place. This year Skagway had a transit system running from the pier to downtown for $1. Quite handy, especially on a chilly, windy day.
Juneau: Husband and son did an independent fly-in flyfishing trip. They had a great time and caught (and released) 7 Dolly Varden. It was offered as a shore excursion on HAL's Statendam for $50 more than we paid.
Vancouver: Just did the Gastown area on our own.
Disembarkation: Very smooth. Out of cabin by 8:30 and off ship about 10.
Trip Home: Proved why one should plan on going to port city a day early because if the travel problems we had had come on day of embarkation we would have missed the ship. Flight to Phoenix was delayed an hour, so we missed connecting flight to Austin, Texas, next flight out was full -- but our luggage got on -- So American West put us up at the Airport Phoenix Sheraton.
Overall, a very enjoyable cruise -- our sixth. Met interesting people. One drawback was the number of children who tended to play in the elevators.
Our recent cruise on the Norwegian Sky produced mixed results. We had a Category AA "Superior Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Balcony", which is the top category other than the "Penthouse" and "Owner's Suite". The biggest problem is the lack of storage space (only 3 small shallow drawers). It was necessary to use luggage under the bed for storage.
Our biggest complaint is that NCL sprung "Freestyle Cruising" on us. The brochure and the documents received before departure indicated there would be two formal evenings, 3 casual evenings, etc. "Freestyle" means dress is optional anytime. We packed our usual formal attire and found we did not have enough casual clothes. Also, "Freestyle" means no assigned tables or meal times. There were occasions when it was necessary wait for dining room seating. We missed having waiters who get to know your needs and desires. Also missed making lasting acquaintances. In our 15 cruises we have always had good luck meeting varied and interesting table mates Another concept of "Freestyle" is that you are basically denied the freedom to tip as desired. They now charge $9.75 a day per person to your shipboard account for thetip pool. Oh, they say you can make arrangements with the purser to adjust it as you wish, but that gets complicated. We, and most people we know, tip according to service rendered - i.e. if outstanding, tip extra. Since the Maitre d' shares in this tip. We seldom tip them unless they provide actual service other than to interrupt your meal with the obligatory small talk. Besides, they are on salary. I will admit that the dining room service was generally excellent. This was only the second week of "Freestyle", only time will tell if this level of service continues when the lack of incentive to earn extra tips dawns on the waiters. Our cabin stewardess was excellent and we did slip her a bonus in cash. Since tips were now on the shipboard account, we brought way too much cash - cash that should be earning interest in the bank.
The food in the dining rooms was always good to outstanding, and presentation was generally excellent. We dined one evening in the Le Bistro alternative restaurant. The quality of the main course filet mignon was excellent, but the rest of the food was nothing to rave about. And, the $5 p/p suggested gratuity did not yield any extra special service. Unfortunately, food in the Garden Cafe buffet was pretty bad - cold eggs, dry partially toasted toast, etc. And, general cleanliness and table clearing was often lax.
The high point of the cruise was the entertainment. This was our third NCL cruise in a row and the Jean Ann Ryan Company production shows have always been outstanding. The three shows on the Sky were even better. The singers and dancers were very talented and exquisitely rehearsed. The costumes were fabulous. With superb sound and lighting, the shows were at least of Las Vegas or Broadway quality. Other acts included a hilarious comic Rich Pupura, and the dynamic Jane L. Powell with a great voice, personality, and back-up band. Even the ship's show band was unusually good - none of the members trying to out play each other and they blended well - even the drummer. Unfortunately, the main show room is less than adequate for a ship of this size and age. The main floor is crammed with uncomfortable bench divans and barrel chairs competing for space with those pesky drink tables, resulting in some marginal sight lines. The balcony is even worse. Sight lines are also bad and sometimes non-existent. And, you have to peer through overly ornate railings giving an "in-prison" feeling. Here, "Freestyle" can be good. You can arrange to stand in line when the doors open in order to insure decent seats.
The itinerary was to the Sawyer Glacier and included short stops at both Haines and Skagway in a single day, as well as 1/2 day calls at Juneau and Vancouver. While weather was cool and wet, the Alaskan Scenery is still outstanding. Our last cruise was around the South American Cape Horn and the highly touted Chilean Fjords. Believe me, nothing compares with our good old Alaska for spectacular scenery. As this was our third Alaskan cruise, we did not partake of any shore excursions. Despite ever increasing prices, many were sold out in advance. Haines, Skagway, and Juneau are open to strolling in town for lots of shopping. They dock at the Ballentine docks in Vancouver which are quite a distance from downtown, making it difficult to see much unless you take an organized excursion.
In summary, it was mostly an enjoyable cruise. The relaxed "Freestyle Cruising" is probably a good approach for Alaskan cruising (if you know about it in advance!). Norwegian Sky is a adequate vessel for a 7 day cruise; but for heavens sake, the small cabins and lack of storage makes it inappropriate for any thing longer. Opinions we heard on "Freestyle Cruising" varied. Younger or first time cruisers seemed to like it, while veteran cruisers almost all disapproved. I guess Carnival now has some competition for their "Fun Ships". However, this will be our last NCL cruise!
I received several emails asking how we enjoyed our cruise on the Norwegian Sky to Alaska and the new free style cruising. I decided to create this web page to give everyone a summary of our experiences.
First of all this is a review of the cruise experience, not the airline. That was a different matter. Yes Southwest lost our luggage. I learned one thing. When departing on a holiday weekend give yourself a lot of extra time at the airport. We arrived at the Oklahoma City airport 50 minutes before the flight and wouldn't have made it if I hadn't sent my wife ahead for the boarding passes. SW only had two people checking baggage for two full planes leaving 20 minutes apart. On the up side they did give us $200 each in Seattle to buy clothes, etc. and they did get our baggage to us in Skagway via Alaska Air. I think my wife enjoyed going in Target with $600 with 40 minutes to spend it in. She spent $425 of it and the rest on the boat on the way. A big tip to the Yellowcab driver who hung around the Target parking lot waiting for us and didn't charge the time.
NCL and The New Free Style Cruising For those who are not familiar with free style cruising, it is a change to a totally open dining room from the traditional assigned meal times and tables. It basically opens the dining room up as if it is a regular restaurant with fixed open hours. Many cruise ships have gone to open breakfast; NCL just took it further as a trial. Our cruise on May 28 was the first run. Overall I gave it a B-. The three dining rooms were open generally from 7 to 9 am, 12 to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to midnight. The hours were varied to accommodate for the shore excursions and were published in the daily newsletter. So why did I give it a B-. Since you didn't have an assigned waiter or table, you took potluck. Sometimes we were seated with a group, other times by ourselves. You could request either, but might have to wait. The first evening of a cruise is a little uncomfortable until you get to know the people at the table and your waiter. In free style, you have to go through this at every meal. Sometimes it was great; sometimes we just starred at each other. We found the 4 seasons dining room to have better service than the other dining rooms, but all were excruciatingly slow at times. Three times it was over 1.5 hours for dinner. The cause did not appear to be the wait staff. I think the kitchen was not adjusting to the change well. We did hear a rumor the waiters were doing it on purpose because they opposed the fixed tip system (another story below), but we never confirmed it. Overall we did not experience bad waiting service, just slow. It was confusion the first few days for the waiters and bus boys (you can't tell them apart, they dress the same). At one diner four different people served us. Avoid 12 noon and 6 pm as most of the retired folks tend to crowd the dining rooms at these times slowing service.
Alternative to the dining rooms were the two buffets, the Garden cafe and the Great Outdoor cafe, plus the two restaurants, La Bistro and Ciao Chows. The latter two have fixed menus and were by advanced reservation only. Both were fully booked for the week by Wednesday. La Bistro was only open for dinner. Ciao Chows served pizza from 11 am to 4 pm. Ciao Chows also had unannounced lunch specials, such as sushi. The buffets would have late night snacks that varied. Crab claws were popular one evening, and Chinese food another. These were not announced either. Maybe to prevent crowds. I initially didn't like them not announcing the specials, however, I could see their point. On the night we had crab claws, people were snatching and grabbing them as fast as they would set them out. You would think that people, who can afford an Alaska cruise, would have plenty to eat, but you would not notice it by how selfish and ill mannered they can get. One fellow loaded two plates with claws as high as he could stack them and headed out the door leaving about 30 people standing there empty handed until they brought out more. There were no midnight buffets, but we did have a Chocoholic chocolate buffet on Monday night 11:30 to 1 am. It was OK, the chocolate coated fruits were the best. All restaurants are closed by 1 am. Only room service is 24 hours.
Dress To go along with the open dining rooms, was the new standard dress that NCL refers to as "resort casual". Which means about anything goes for dress. There were two exceptions, no shorts or t-shirts after 6 pm in the dining rooms or in the two on-board restaurants (Le Bistro and Ciao Chows); and the captains welcome and farewell parties. The latter two were held in the atrium and were formal. I saw a lot of jeans at dinner, but most folks wore slacks and dresses.
Shows The main shows were still presented at two times, usually 7:30 and 9:30 pm, to accommodate the early and late diners. However, the sideshows, a comedian, magician, talent and games were only once. All the entertainment was good and well executed. I really liked the magician show. The late night comedian show was good as well and I appreciated the lack of a lot of vulgar language you get in some of the adult shows. The costumes for the evening "Broadway" shows were very good. I particularly enjoyed the Sea Legs Cirque presentation on Friday night. Overall I gave the entertainment onboard a B+.
Gratuities The cabin steward operation was basically the same as other cruises. We had an assigned steward. He was Jamaican and very efficient. They say the best stewards are the ones you never see unless you need them. His tip was fixed on the bill as with the other service personnel, but service didn't suffer that I could tell. On the subject of tipping, it was announced up front that the bill at the end of the cruise would include a $9.75 per person per day gratuity that would be divided by the wait staff, room stewards and matre ‘D. The latter we never saw, nor did he every stop by the table to introduce himself. I thought about removing his gratuity. However, to do this you had to go to the reception desk and argue with them and were only given a brief time on Sunday before disembarking to do it. In fact, any dispute of the bill required a long wait in line as the bills did not arrive until after bedtime on Saturday night. by the way, gratuities were automatically added to all bar bills and $5 per person was charged for dining in the Le Bistro or Ciao Chows restaurants since their wait staff do not share the general gratuity.
Shore Excursions One thing NCL did, that I liked was to give you a brochure and order form before the cruise to order shore excursions in advance. We used this option and faxed our requests in about 3 weeks before the cruise. When we arrived, the tickets were in our cabin. No trips to the excursion desk were necessary unless you wanted to cancel, change or add an excursion. Now the rub was that the desk is only open a short fixed times each day. All employees have multiple jobs and therefore the shore excursion people have other duties while at sea. They claim you can't cancel an excursion within 24 hours of it departing, but we found you could change them. One thing is to make sure you obtained the scheduled tour time you wanted. For instance the White Pass train trip is offered at two different times. They had ours mixed up and it conflicted with another tour. NCL was good about fixing the problem.
Glacier bay is not an extra tour, but a great experience all enjoy during Tuesday. However, the Sky and Wind alternate each week trips into Glacier Bay with Sawyer glacier as the alternate destination. Check the schedule for the weeks the Sky visits the park. They brought two park rangers on board entering the bay. The rangers narrated the whole trip on the PA system and strolled the ship answering questions. They also gave a special program for the kids in the Kids Crew program (highly recommended for the kids. They were kept busy the whole cruise). Spotters on the bridge continuously scanned for wildlife and announced any sightings. We really enjoyed this part of the trip.
We did the kayaking trip in Haines and thoroughly enjoyed it. It leaves at the dock down by the shore and goes out into the bay and back around the ship. It was easy and fun. We saw eagles, lion seal and a whale during our trip. In Skagway we took the antique car tour in classic tour cars that were once used in Yellowstone National Park. They were fully restored. Ours was a red one made by Kenworth, the truck company in 1934. It was only 1 of 3 made. The tour guides were gals dressed to fit the era. The tour was fun and a short film at the end tells the interesting history of Skagway and the gold rush. We also took the White Pass rail trip. It was a lot of fun and fully narrated. It was scenic, but not as good as the Durango-Silverton rail trip in Colorado. They used some modern replica cars and the engines were diesel. They have the old No. 73 steam engine, but it only makes special occasion trips. You don't get off the train during the trip. It goes to the top of the pass and then the engines unhook and pass the train. They reconnect to the other end for the trip back down. The seats in the cars flip over so you face forward on the return trip. A nice touch is they ask everyone to switch sides so the people on the mountain-side on the way up can view the scenery on the way down. However, the narration was poor on the return, so I recommend setting on the left side on the way up.
In Juneau, we did the tram to the top of Mt. Roberts. This is a must. If you don't buy tickets onboard, tell the tram ticket office you are with the NCL cruise and you get a discount. The tram leaves right next to the ship. We also did the salmon bake in Juneau. Leave that one out. It was bad! Only the salmon was worth eating. The ribs were undercooked and there was no desert until just before we left. They charged big time for beer and pop. Ice tea and lemonade were free. There are several very good seafood restaurants near the dock in Juneau with higher quality food and cheaper prices. Don't forget to visit the Red Dog Saloon. It was an experience. Our friends took the glacier helicopter trek. Its pricey, but they thoroughly enjoyed it and felt it was worth the cost. Plenty of shopping in Juneau, but go into town, just a short walk, for cheaper prices on souvenirs.
In Vancouver, we did the Sea to Sky tour. It includes another tram ride for a breathtaking view of the city from Grouse Mountain. However, one of the bridges over the bay is being repaired and they altered many of the tours. We did not get to see Stanley Park. There are some very cool woodcarvings on Grouse Mountain, so don't linger in the gift shop. Once you get there go directly past the gift shop and on up the mountain. For $2C you can ride the chair lift to the very top for an even better view. We waited too long and didn't have time to do it. This tour also takes you to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. This was fun, but they don't give you time enough to hike around the area which is beautiful. We returned to Gas Town after the tour by taxi and did some shopping and dining. That was a lot of fun. Disembarking in Vancouver was a mad house. I think this was more the piers fault than NCL. They put the ship down in the cargo area. The captain said this was unusual. He had to back the ship in (an interesting site). There was only a single file gangway and everyone was backed up in the atrium.
We did not take the add-on tours in Seattle, but did stay there an extra day. There is a lot to see within walking distance of the pier, including the Space Needle, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, and lots more. I highly recommend the Space Needle, a stroll through Pike Place Market, a beer at the Pike Place Brewery and the Seattle underground tour in Pioneer Square. We had lunch at the Pike Place Brewery. The stuffed salmon and Cajon halibut were excellent. The underground tour tells the tale of how the original Seattle was a story lower than today. They had to raise the streets to get the sewer to function correctly burying the first story of many of the buildings. To preserve their entrances, there was an underground sidewalk system with skylights above in the new sidewalks. The tour takes you through part of these old sidewalks and the guide tells a lot of interesting tales. If you stay in Seattle and get ready to take a cab back for a flight out, call Orange cab and ask for the $25 flat fee airport service. This is offered from any of the downtown hotels.
Onboard Services We didn't use all that were available. Here are the ones we did. The Internet cafe was great. It is a little high priced ($0.75/minute), but what do you expect for Internet access at sea. We sent several emails. You can also make a video mail and send to friends for an additional cost. The TV system gives you ESPN, CNN, a current movies channel with a schedule in the cabin. You can also view documentary PBS videos, how to play games in the casino, and shore excursion descriptions. There is also a link to the view cam on the bridge if you want to see where the ship is from your cabin. This view is also available on NCL's website 24 hours a day. We found out late that the bridge cam channel also carries the ship announcements and is easier to hear than the speakers in the hall. Interesting that there is a PA speaker under the desk in the room, but they only used it one time. The captain made a sometimes-annoying long speech each morning at 9 am. There were also a few random announcements by our rather dry cruise director.
Our Deluxe Inside Stateroom, We were upgraded two categories to this. I would hate to see the one we would have had.There was plenty of closet space, but only three drawers and a shelf. There was a safe and a refrigerator. Bath was a clean modular unit with shower only. Plenty of hot water, but would vary during the shower making you grab for the controls.
Shopping was pricey. There is one main shop that sells NCL clothing, sundries, jewelry, etc. Two other shops sell jewelry and watches only. There was a lot of browsing, but not much buying. There is a library with odd hours, but a good selection of books and games. There is a photography service that did good work. They were not pushy, as we have experienced in the past. They were set up on boarding, formal evening in the atrium and on dock during shore excursions. They also roamed the ship and dining room. Prices were $9.95 for a 5 x 7. Other sizes were available as well.
There are no washer/dryers available to the passengers, but they do have a laundry service. We didn't use it, but a lot of people did.
Kids Crew was great. They have a special large playroom forward in the ship. There is also a teen center with video games and movies. There was a large staff that was dedicated to entertaining the kids. They divided them up into age groups each of which had schedules of things to do throughout the day. Baby sitting was available for $4/hr at kids crew to 1 am or $9/hr by reservation in your room. The kids could purchase unlimited sodas identified by an armband for $16. It's only sold through the kid's crew and not at the bars, but any of the bars will honor it. NCL did well on this.
Since we don't gamble, we I can't tell you much about the casino. It was well staffed and I saw two roulette, four blackjack and one craps tables. There was also some other gaming tables, two with a different version of blackjack. A lot of slots from $.25 to $5, all used tokens. The hours were odd depending on the ships proximity to shore. Bingo was played about every day with a progressive jackpot and a free cruise. Card sets were $28. The ships design is odd, on many decks you can't navigate around the rooms either inside or outside. This forced you to take the kids through the casino. The staff didn't mind, but they advised you couldn't stop with them when it was open.
Lots of Recreation, including heated pools, hot tubs, full court basketball, ping pong, golf tees, etc.. The glass walls kept the cold winds to a minimum. Not too many sun bathers though except when in Juneau the temp hit 70F.
Conclusions I read a lot of reviews on rec.travel.cruises and at the Wheelhouse. Some people make it sound like it was terrible experience. I doubt that very much. There are ups and downs to all experiences and always will be. You hope for more ups than downs, but in general I find cruising to be a blast even with some downs. Maybe I haven't been doing it long enough to get picky. I see a lot of people running down Carnival. There were things I didn't like about our Carnival cruise last year or NCL this year, but still I enjoyed it thoroughly and will go again. The thing about cruising is that it is one of the best vacations left where you can do and see a lot of things, don't have to change hotel rooms, can be waited on hand and foot, all at a reasonable cost. Have fun!
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Sky by Tim Rubacky February 6, 2000
NCL "Reaches for the Sky" but comes up an arm's length short
I've just returned from a long anticipated week aboard NCL's new flagship Norwegian Sky and want to offer my thoughts, observations and opinions.
First off, let me offer this as some preliminary information:
I'm a 30 year old male with more cruises under my belt than I care to count. Having first seen the Sky this past September in NYC, I had extremely high expectations for this cruise at first, but they were slowly tempered down to virtually nothing after reading reviews from the preceding weeks and given the uncertain future of NCL I expected things to be a bit shaky onboard.
In short, we had a most enjoyable week aboard but the hypercritical part of me feels that the "software" aspect (service, food, etc.) has some way to go to par with the hardware (the ship itself.) The Norwegian Sky proves that NCL has to ability to provide a top notch experience but in "Reaching for the Sky" they JUST miss the mark. Read on and you'll see how andwhy I cam to this conclusion.
Pre Cruise/Flight arrangements: Kudos to NCL here for providing us with Continental non-stops between Newark-Miami in both directions and at reasonable times rather than the dreaded Delta connections through Atlanta and Cincinnati that are all too common. We arrived early Saturday afternoon into Miami International, claimed our luggage and proceeded to the "Super Shuttle" which was to take us to Don Shula's Golf Resort. After interminable delays and false starts, we were finally on our way 90 minutes after de-planing and arrived at the hotel around 230 PM.
We had a relaxing afternoon and evening as there is NOTHING to do out in Miami Lakes. We'll never make this mistake again. However, it wasn't NCL's fault we were not booked in South Beach as requested. By the time we realized we were staying here, NCL could not and would not switch us without severe penalties. Oh well, live and learn. But the hotel is comfortable enough.
On Sunday we boarded the motorcoaches and headed for the Port of Miami.
Embarkation: Shame, Shame, Shame on NCL!! We arrived at the Port only to find long lines stretching out of the Terminal. Shame on NCL for this, their facilities are woefully lacking, primitive and hopelessly inadequate to service their fleet today. Their terminal was fine for the old "White Ships" but not for their present fleet. RCI and Carnival have gone to considerable lengths and expense to update their terminals, NCL should do the same.
However, once our driver spotted the lines, she advised us to stay aboard and she would talk with the pier staff. They advised her to take us on a short tour of Bayside and return in 30-45 minutes. And that we did. When we returned about 30 minutes later, the lines had subsided somewhat but were still long. Thankfully, one member of our party required wheelchair assistance to board the ship and after a short wait for the chair, we literally breezed right through to the check in desk and were whisked aboard.
Once aboard, we found our staterooms and our cruise had begun!
Accommodations: We were assigned cabins 4028 and 4029, amidships on Biscayne Deck. At first glance, the cabins are more than spacious enough for two people for a week long cruise. At approximately 150 square feet, they may sound small but there really is adequate space for TWO, NOT three our four! Looks however can be deceiving. Their is a dearth of storage space in the cabins as far as drawer space goes. Four very shallow drawers and two open bedside table with open fronts. Plenty of hanging space mind you, but no drawer space. We found ourselves leaving quite a bit in out suitcases under the beds.
Another glaring design flaw is the placement of the bedside lamps. They are strategically placed right above your pillow at just the right height as to be useless for reading but perfect for banging your head as you lift off of your pillow. The scariest part of this is the blunt bottom, which almost took my eye out one morning. After two days, we were so fed up that we re-arranged the beds from an awarthship position to running fore and aft with one under the porthole and the other next to the sofa. While that proved better for Christian, I still managed to bang my head into the lampshade almost every time.
On a plus side, NCL's new duvets are supremely comfortable. Much more so than the standard top sheet and blanket which always seem to come undone. We also found the bathroom quite adequate and well designed.
Cabin Service: In a word, flawless. When our steward came by to introduce himself, we presented him with a "pre-tip" tip and asked him for extra blankets, to keep the ice bucket filled and a few other requests. When one member of our party didn't feel well one day and chose to remain aboard ship rather than go ashore, I asked him to check in on her throughout the course of the day and that he did. He really went out of his way for us.
Food and Food Service: Here is where the Sky runs hot and cold. While certain aspects of the dining experience were no less than perfect, others were as far from as one can get. For the first day or so, service in the dining room was a little rough around the edges but improved dramatically after a day or so. We were assigned a table for four in the aft section of the Seven Seas with a dramatic view over the stern. We could not have had a more perfect table location. It was almost as though we had our own semi-private dining room with only six tables in our section; four tables for two, one four and one eight.
Breakfast and Lunch is open seating and we used the dining room for these meals a few times. Personally, I hate open seating as you usually end up with dullards and as Ernest Alleva points out, carry on the same conversation over and over again. Much to my surprise, we did meet two wonderful couples but I was struck with "elegant-itis" from several directions during the cruise. If I never hear that word again it will be too soon!
The food itself also runs hot and cold with the buffets and desserts the detractors. Food in the Lido was usually bland and unappealing to me but we made do and as I honestly didn't expect much, it pretty much met my expectations. It was better than the buffets on the VOTS, but a few notches below the buffets on Princess and Celebrity which I have always found to be as good as a buffet can get. Desserts were universally disappointing, every day in every venue at every meal. C'est la Vie!
On a high note, I found all of the dinners excellent. Creative, flavorful, properly prepared and visually appealing, dinner was always a delight. I cant laud NCL enough for their new menu selections. Dinner in the Bistro was as expected, a delight. Flawless service, excellent food and and a wonderful atmosphere. We didn't eat at Ciao Chow although we made reservations twice, but each time found the dining room menu more enticing.
Their was however one MAJOR irritant during the week. One night they make the wait staff parade around the dining room singing "o sole mio" and if this wasn't bad enough, the next night they bring them out to sing "We are the World". I was appalled at this given the underlying tones of the lyrics and the far from subtle innuendo. Personally, I consider this demeaning and degrading. I wish someone would whack a few of these cruise line executives in the head and tell them how idiotic it is to have them do this as it is, besides demeaning, detracts from the ambiance.
Entertainment: This is where the Sky really shines. Say what you will about the entertainment offered by Carnival and RCCL, the Sky, if not all of NCL, has them beat hands down. The production shows, staged by the Jean Ann Ryan Company were the absolute best I have ever seen. I am NOT a big fan of the usual "Broadway" and "Las Vegas" revues which I usually find banal, mindnumbing and trashy; these shows were exceptional.
"Hey Mr. Producer" is a tribute to Sir Cameron MacIntosh, with scenes from Miss Saigon, Les Mis, Carousel and Oklahoma, just to name a few, was truly of Broadway caliber. Runnin' Wild (a tribute to Bob Fosse) and Sea Leg Cirque (An adaptation of Cirque du Soleil)were equally enthralling and entertaining.
Special mention to the cast of Jean Ann Ryan Singers and Dancers we had aboard. I cant say enough about this group of men and women, all of whom can sign, dance, and act, not to mention all of whom are young, exceptionally good-looking and with a seemingly endless flow of energy. They also genuinely enjoy performing as each one of them never stopped smiling, and you could see it was genuine.
Unfortunately, I cant say the same for the balance of the entertainment. Comedians Tom Drake and Rich Purpura were funny enough, but they didn't bowl me over. The biggest disappointment was however, no Jane Powell!! Instead, we got Paul Edison. The bast way to describe this act is Cut Rate Las Vegas Lounge Lizard.
Staff: For the most part, I found the staff members that we came into contact with on a regular basis friendly and outgoing. The Cruise Staff, including the Dive-In Staff, lead by Dottie Kulasa truly deserves praise. All of them witty, charming and affable they seem to revel in their interaction with passengers. Thankfully absent was the "cheerleading" which seems all to common these days. I cant say enough about the Entertainment and Cruise Staff. If ship has a assembled a top notch team, it is the Sky. The only exception would be the Art Director; Robert Snipes. Would someone PLEASE lock him up!!
As for the rest of staff, they seemed somewhat cold and distant. It was a rare occasion that crew acknowledged you with a smile, nod or heaven forbid, a "hello" in passing. Things did a dramatic turn around one day as I was greeted with a flurry of "good-day"s, hello, nods and smiles. I then realized I was wearing an NCL t-shirt I was given by a member of NCL's corporate staff which is only given to staff in the Miami HQ. My how things change! Hopefully, NCL's new CEO will implement similar policies to those at Princess (from where he came) which requires crew to acknowledge passengers existence. I will admit that the crew must have been more than a little tense and distracted by the uncertainty of the past two months and the strange turn of events leading up to their joint acquisition by Star and Carnival.
The Ship: I must give credit where credit is due. With the Sky, NCL has shown it is capable of building a truly top notch ship. The Sky is, IMO, one of the most beautiful and downright stunning ships ever built. Staterooms are beautifully furnished and the public areas are spacious, understated and plentiful. No where does the ship jar the senses, it simply soothes them with a calming, tranquil atmosphere; just as any fine hotel should. If their is one public area that falls short, it is the Stardust Lounge. Like the staterooms, this room is flawed. The sightlines and seating are horrendous. It was a Herculean effort to get a seat that was comfortable without an obstructed view. Hopefully, NCL will see its way clear to correct the flaws with the staterooms and showroom during her first major dry-dock.
The Ports: I shant dwell on this as the ports are rather mundane and probably covered at length elsewhere. Nassau itself is far from appealing and you are only there for a few hours. San Juan offers some great historical sights along with the rain forest at El Yunque which, although we didn't get the chance to visit, holds great appeal. It also offers some great casinos and beaches for those so inclined. St. Thomas is best known for it's shopping which has me puzzled. I fail to see where it offers anything better than a local mall. It does however offer some of the most beautiful scenery and beaches in the Caribbean, as does St. John which is a 30 minute ferry ride away. The most appealing aspect of this itinerary to me was the amount of sea time, "ship-spotting" opportunities and Great Stirrup Cay. A word of warning about GSC. NCL is still making repairs to the island in the aftermath of Hurricane Lenny. The tender dock has yet to be replaced and they are doing major repairs to the sea wall and attempting to replenish the beaches which suffered some significant erosion. NCL is taking the opportunity to expand the facilities here while they make repairs and the island is in good shape overall.
Weather was spotty the first day in Nassau and our first day at sea, but turned wonderfully warm and sunny once we hit San Juan and remained so for the duration.
Ship Spotting: Yours truly had a wonderful time with the bevy of ships encountered throughout the voyage. Nassau brought the Ocean Breeze, Disney Wonder and Rembrandt. In San Juan we encountered the Vision of the Seas and Rembrandt yet again. In St Thomas; Vision, Rembrandt, Paradise, Enchantment of the Seas and one of the "Boxdam's". Great Stirrup cay found us anchored alongside the Enchantment.
What a delight is was to have the Rembrandt with us in two ports. She really is a beauty as is the Ocean Breeze. The Rembrandt looked every so stately and regal anchored in St Thomas and we passed her at close range on departure and exchanged salutes. We had the opportunity to look at her close up in San Juan and she seems to be suffering from the "Queen Elizabeth Syndrome". That is, Premier keeps her starboard side spotless as she goes "starboard side to" in most ports while the port side is streaked with rust. We made two valiant attempts to get aboard for a tour but were politely denied access both times. Oh well! :(
Closing Remarks: Overall, I enjoyed the cruise immensely and would certainly not hesitate to cruise aboard the Sky in the future. With the new ownership, things can only improve and the mew management is not wasting any time in proclaiming their faith in the line, it's enormous potential and that they will seek to grow and improve the product. With just a little more "spit and polish", the Sky is certain to achieve the level of service delivery that she can provide. Her crew is more than willing and capable and the ship itself is already stunning despite the small but annoying flaws. But no ship is perfect.
In talking with several crew members and staff, both Christian and I gleaned some interesting insights. The crew truly loves this ship. Some are leery of the changes taking place but some are extremely optimistic. Colin Veitch, the new CEO from Princess, was supposed to be making the rounds this weekend visiting the Norway, Norwegian Wind and Norwegian Sky to meet with Department Heads and make his presence known. This had them both nervous but excited at the same time. But next week comes the acid test as the Executive Management of Star Cruises will be paying them a visit and it is expected that heads will start rolling shortly thereafter and real change, for better or for worse, will start taking place.
But this is all tempered somewhat by Mr. Veitch's announcement last week that he is eager to build a new series of Mega-Ships for NCL as soon as possible. It is anticipated that NCL will receive four new ships to start with. They will most likely be slightly modified versions of Star's new Libra and Sagittarius class, two of each. It's just a matter of where they can get them built and how quickly. NCL is slated to introduce the Norwegian Sun in September, 2001 and it is unlikely that the next new ship will appear much sooner than 2003 at this point. The most likely scenario would see them built at Kvarener Masa or Chantiers.
This cruise was the famous "Great Group Cruise 2000" (GGC), organized by the readers of the rec.travel.cruises newsgroup. The group consisted of over 430 people. This was our 15th cruise having sailed previously with RCCL (3 times) and Celebrity (11 times).
Day Prior: Dottie and I flew to Miami a day early and spent the night at the Best Western Marina Park hotel across from Bayside Marketplace. We had group reservations at this hotel. The hotel itself was acceptable for the price and convenient to Bayside Marketplace where we attended a pre cruise GGC bon voyage party at Dicks Last Resort. We had a great time meeting our cyber buddies in person at both the hotel and at Dicks. I especially liked meeting my #Seacruise chat buddies in person.
Embarkation: As a perk to our group, NCL provided free bus transportation to the pier from the hotel, this was nice. We stood in line about an hour and finally got on the ship. You have to find your own way to your cabin. We were on the ship about 2 pm and our luggage arrived at our cabin about 7 pm.
Cabin:We had cabin #6209. Standard outside cabin. It wasn't very big, but it did serve the purpose. There was very little drawer space, only 3 small drawers and a cubby hole. There was barely enough room for our clothes, but we did make do. There was a safe in the closet which you program yourself. The bathroom was also very small.
Our cabin steward did a fair job. He never did put the beds together correctly and they kept sliding apart. He didn't do a very thorough job cleaning either.
Restaurants/Food: I didn't think much of the buffet food on this ship. I am not a buffet fan, but this stuff was definitely the pits. Poor selections, some trays were empty, and it was poorly layed out. One morning there were green beans offered for breakfast. I don't think I ever saw green beans on a breakfast buffet before. It even looked sloppy. Many tables still had dirty dishes on them long after the people left.
The food in the main restaurant wasn't all that bad. There wasn't a big selection, but it was definitely better than the buffets. We had a table for eight (all #Seacruise members) and we all enjoyed each others company immensely. The tables had a lamp in the middle which we all found to be very annoying as it blocked your line of site to the people sitting directly across from you. We asked the waiter to remove the lamp after the first night which he did. Now we could see across the table.
Service: I thought the service on this ship was poor. None of the help seemed to have any motivation. Our dining room waiter and busboy were spread to thin. I don't care how good you are, you can't serve 32 places and give everyone the service that is needed. On a more positive note, we had coffee delivered to our cabin each morning. The pantry steward who delivered our coffee was always smiling and very pleasant. The coffee was good and it was always delivered on time. The wait staff in the various bars and lounges did a good job.
Disembarkation: This went smooth enough. They used the color code baggage ticket system. We were in the next to last group to get off. When they called our color we pretty much walked right off the ship, handed over our customs declaration, and found our luggage. We caught a cab to the airport with no problems.
Summary: The only thing that saved this cruise from being a disaster for us was the "Great Group" of people on this ship. There were more negatives than positives for us. We went to have a good time and we did just that.Neil