So, being from the Boston area, I never thought we'd be sailing the Sky. It just doesn't make sense to fly all the way to Miami for a three or four night cruise (to us). But when we were planning on being in Florida anyway, the idea suddenly made sense. Instead of ending our vacation in Key West with a long drive to the Miami airport, we'd hop on the Sky and extend our vacation. It made leaving Key West just a little less painful. The three-night cruise was the perfect fit to our plans.
As it is a four-hour drive from Key West to Miami, we still thought it a good idea to arrive the night before the cruise. We spent the night at the South Beach Marriott and could just glimpse the Sky from our hotel when we got up Friday morning.
It is our habit to get to the port early and this cruise was no exception. We were at the Port of Miami by 11:00 and on the ship by 11:45. There was literally no wait to get through security or to check-in. (By two o'clock, the line to get into the security area would wrap around the building!)
We wondered around for little bit, beginning to get our bearings. This would be our first time on the Sky. We also had a few minutes to kill waiting for the Shore Excursion desk to open. When it did open at noon, I pounced and booked our clamshell on Great Stirrup Cay. I'd read that clamshells were limited and it was best to book them as soon as possible (and they aren't available to book online).
After that bit of business was taken care of we headed to Crossings for lunch. It's amusing how every employee you encounter on the ship steers you to the buffet. They announced in the waiting area that Crossings was open for lunch and it's in the Freestyle Daily, so I don't know why they try to hide it from you. Speaking of the Freestyle Daily, it is NCL's practice to give these to you before you board (used to be in your stateroom). Somehow we missed getting one. I was able to get one near the reception area later on.
Okay. Back to lunch. On my last cruise they didn't serve bread and butter at lunch...but I wasn't sure if it was a fluke since we still had bread plates and butter knives. Well I guess it wasn't a fluke. No bread and butter on the Sky either (which I don't mind at all) but they're still putting out the plates and knives! Someone tell these poor people that they can stop putting out (and washing!) plates no one will use!
DH and I both had the steak figuring that we were planning on pretty much living at the buffet this cruise. The steak is decent and on par with the lunch steak served to the suite and VIP guests at Cagney's.
We left the dining room intent on sneaking into our room if necessary to drop our carryon bags. No need! In what I believe is a record, the announcement came that rooms were ready at 12:45!
I believe this balcony cabin was the smallest we've had yet. (Of course I've thought that about our last two balconies on the Spirit and the America as well.) Ultimately it probably wasn't the smallest, but it had the worst storage. There was only one shelf in the entire room (which I took up half of when I unloaded items from the mini bar) and three very small drawers. The storage was on par with our 108 square foot cabin on the Majesty...and on that cruise we left most of our clothing in our suitcases under the bed! One thing we did like about the room was the door leading to the balcony. Although the door and window combo let in less light than sliding glass doors do, just opening the door to get in and out was nicer than muscling a slider.
Now on cruises less than five days, there are no Latitudes benefits on board. So I was surprised to see on the bed an envelope with a letter welcoming us back as Latitudes members. The letter stated that our benefits could be found in the packet. There was nothing in the packet except the letter...and one ship pin (and why only one?). It was even mentioned in the Freestyle Daily to check with your Cruise Consultant to find out what your benefits are! There are none! It was really quite funny. I think that the Cruise Consultant making announcements welcoming returning guests was sufficient.
The muster drill was held at 4:30 and is very quick now that you aren't required to bring your life jackets with you. After the drill, we grabbed a bucket of beer from Longboard's and watched sailaway from our balcony.
This was the vacation of "whatever" for us. We would end up in Longboard's later. They do serve the Blue Lagoon menu (between 6 pm and 5:30 am) but we went for the $5 pizza delivery. There was something great about hanging out at the bar and having piping hot pizza brought to us because we were too lazy to walk to the buffet...about 20 feet away! We found that (excepting the next night when play-off basketball was on) Longboard's was generally pretty quiet and we enjoyed the conversation with Lily the bartender who was there between 7:00 and 9:30.
When we returned to our cabin, our room steward, Sherton (who had knocked on our door to introduce himself earlier) had left us a towel animal. Wow. Haven't had a towel animal the first night of the cruise in who knows how long. What a nice surprise!
Day Two -- The Private Island: Great Stirrup Cay
This is going to sound weird, but I literally had no idea how to go about getting tender tickets, so I had to ask! We're platinum so usually at least have priority tickets delivered to our room (and if we're in a suite, we get VIP tix and an escort to the tender). Found out that that first morning you could go get tender tickets at Dazzles. The instructions were to wait until you were ready to go (emphasized many times) then get your tickets. Well I confess, based on the time it took between the first and second group to be called, we got our tickets for group 3, then went for breakfast. We had just gotten back to the cabin to gather our things when our group was called!
We had breakfast at the buffet. The buffet is small and not set up well. The main buffet gets congested very quickly, especially with the made-to-order egg stations at both ends. However they make good use of auxiliary spaces. Made-to-order eggs and waffles are available in Il Adagio and more self-serve food at the Great Outdoors. We would find that the Great Outdoors was usually less busy than the main buffet area (despite helpful wait staff directing you to the Great Outdoors).
I thought we'd be some of the last people to the tender, but we were among the first, which meant broiling in the sun waiting for the boat to fill. Oh! I forgot to mention that we'd left Miami concerned about a tropical storm forming and keeping us from Great Stirrup Cay. When we threw open the drapes that morning, the sea was like glass and there wasn't a cloud in the Sky!
GSC has changed dramatically since only visit in 2007. Instead of pulling right up onto the beach, the tenders now take you to a nice dock. Gone are the little metal chairs, replaced with cushioned loungers.
Now you can rent clamshells and, very recently, cabanas to provide shade.
For entertainment, there's a huge Hippo Slide that appealed to kids and adults alike, eco-tours, snorkeling, kayaking and para-sailing (all for a fee). Oh, except for the snorkeling...if you bring your own gear! There's live music and games with the Cruise Director staff.
Drink abounds with several bars and wait staff ready to keep you hydrated. The buffet is all brought over from the ship, but a large variety of food is available nevertheless.
Our day was great. DH enjoyed some good snorkeling and wandering around the island checking out all of the improvements.
We were really glad to have the clamshell. I wouldn't have lasted the four hours at the beach that we did without shade. But there wasn't a breeze to be found, so even the protection of the clamshell got stifling at times...and our clamshell was ventilated! The people around us without ventilated clamshells looked like they were going to die and didn't last nearly as long as we did!
Just a word of advice: There were several clamshells still available for rent when you got to the island, but they reserved the ones closest to the water for those of us who booked on the ship. The people without reservations had a view of the back of other clamshells.
Back on the ship we barely noticed when we set sail. I actually didn't know that ships could go so slowly! I think it's 50 miles from GSC to Nassau, and we had fourteen hours to get there!
Taking the advice of several people on CC, we went to the Plantation Club for a pre-dinner martini. It was a nice atmosphere for a quiet drink (no 2 for 1 martini's as mentioned on the boards).
Dinner was Le Bistro. I'd made reservations on line before boarding and although we debated cancelling them (in keeping with our ultra-casual theme) we kept them after all. Le Bistro is on deck five but is accessed from a stairway on deck 6. We were glad that we'd figured that out when checking things out the day before. The restaurant is small but boasts that all tables have an ocean view (and they do). The dinner was standard Le Bistro. I wish I could say it was great, but except for the always consistent beef tenderloin, the rest of the meal just okay. Even our favorite escargots were topped with a heavy breadcrumb layer, and without cheese and with too little butter. DH's lamb was just okay. On a positive note, as usual, the waiters were very friendly and helped make for a pleasant dining experience.
Big surprise, we then went to Longboard's and found the Celtics were playing a playoff game (a win clinched the series). The place was packed and the hot wings were flowing!
Last Day -- Nassau, Bahamas
Again we woke to bright blue skies! Yay! We watched the first few people get off the ship feeling in no hurry ourselves having been there, done that. We were just going to walk around the port area a little bit. When we were ready, we grabbed breakfast from the Great Outdoors and easily found a seat at one of the many tables there. (The side nearest Longboards almost never has a line, whereas the other side does because it's nearest the main buffet.)
Looking off into the horizon we saw ominous clouds inching their way toward us. DH thought they might go around us. Not such luck. Within a half hour it was a full-fledged downpour. Not having an agenda gave us the leisure to wait it out, but we threw travel umbrellas into the backpack just in case. We didn't make it off of the pier before the skies opened up again.
All-in-all I'd say it was about a half hour of solid rain, then the sun came out and let us walk around Nassau in comfort. Well, some comfort as the roads and sidewalks were initially quite flooded from the deluge. Good thing I'd stuck with flip-flops and not gone with my sneakers!
The first thing we noticed was that the Straw Market was no longer made of straw and but now housed in a large and modern building. We overheard one local guiding a few tourists to the Market saying, "If you want a knock-off, we got it all." However we didn't see anything of the kind...of course we just strolled through casually and weren't looking for anything.
Continuing the journey we checked out Senor Frogs, then the area that was burned in a fire last year that was just beyond Senor Frogs. Past Senor Frogs I found a restaurant I saw mentioned in a review called Conch Fritters. They boast free Wi-Fi and we thought about eating lunch there, but decided to dine on the ship. We walked the block behind the Straw Market where the high-end stores can be found.
Eventually we made our way back to the port and just as we arrived, yup it started pouring again. There are a few covered spots where several of us took shelter waiting for the worst of the rain to pass. Naturally the Sky was docked furthest from the port building, with the Majesty of the Seas and Carnival Miracle taking the prime spots.
Finally we got back to the ship and went to the buffet for lunch. On the Sky, on port days, your only option for lunch is the Buffet and its branches. The Great Outdoors serves the same food as the main buffet area, but Il Adagio serves piping hot pizza and made-to-order pasta. Two things stood out at lunch. First was the availability of lemonade in addition to the iced tea! Yay! Something else to drink (it would be available for dinner too). We don't know if it was because the Sky is so kid-friendly with its shorter cruises or if that's a fleet-wide addition. I sure hope it's the latter! Also, try the three-cheese mac & cheese. YUM!
After lunch we walked around. Found the soft-serve ice cream machine outside by the pool and got a small cone for our stroll. Checked out an enthusiastic sexy legs contest before heading back to the cabin. There, we just enjoyed hanging out on the balcony and people watching.
Finally we roused ourselves to walk around. The Bomba Band was playing in the Atrium. We had no idea what that was, so we went to check it out. They were playing Latin music to the great enthusiasm of crowd surrounding them. However to us the highlight came when Andrew Kennedy, the ships comedian, took to the piano. Suddenly the music changed to a decided blues riff and before long we realized it an improvised composition of the comedian's entitled the "Washy-Washy Blues". OMG, it was great! Why oh why didn't I have my camera??? Not only is he a good singer and talented at the piano (I thought he was better than the girl in the Bomba Band) he writes a very funny song. That moment literally made the entire cruise for us. Priceless!
The departure was delayed for a medical evacuation. A young woman was off-loaded to a waiting ambulance, along with all of her luggage and her traveling companion. This makes three cruises in a row that we've witnessed medical evacs. All I could think was I hoped she okay and that she had bought insurance!
After dining at the buffet, we spent some time chatting with Lily at Longboards over after-dinner drinks. We took a break to pack (didn't take long with only three-days worth of stuff) then headed to the casino. DH had gone both previous nights, but the craps table hadn't been generous. When we approached the table that last night it was crammed with yelling people, so you knew things were going well. DH said to me, "Well, I may as well go cool it" and took the last free spot. I went over to the poker machines to make my $20 donation and could tell by the continued whoops and hollers that DH hadn't "cooled" the table after all and it remained hot, hot, hot! He ended up recouping his losses and had a blast. What more can you ask? It was a fine way to end the night.
According to the Freestyle Daily walk-off would begin at 7:45. We got up at 6:30 and went for our final breakfast. Around 7:30 we decided to go down to the Atrium area. Usually I see hoards of people milling around waiting for walk-off to begin, but we saw no one. Puzzled we kept walking until we saw a sign that said gangway. We asked the young lady standing there if people were lining up and she said yes and directed us the promenade deck. There were maybe twenty people in line and as we approached we saw them begin to leave the ship. We were off the ship by 7:37. Needless to say there was no line at Customs and we only waited about a minute for a cab. We ended up at the airport almost three hours early, but we'd read so many bad things about clearing Customs in Miami that we didn't want to take any chances!
Final thoughts are that this is a very fun ship (they call themselves NCL's only party ship). It's definitely geared to a young crowd. We thought this short cruise (or the four-day) would be perfect for people wanting to test the waters of cruising. It's not so long that you'd feel trapped if you hated it. The ports are so close together that the ship goes really slow which would help with the bumps in rough seas. It's really a much better cruise experience than a cruise-to-nowhere.