Rather Smooth. Line moved quickly. We have two connecting cabins. I asked the agent is the children's key cards could be de-activated for charging. I was told if you want that you have to go to guest relations. I then asked if the adult cards could be activated to open both rooms. The agent said that it was not possible and if I wanted a second key, I need to go to guest relations. While the agent was pleasant and did her job, there was no effort to go above and beyond.
My wife and I are traveling with our 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter. In order to have enough space (and two restrooms -- very important with 2 children), we booked connecting ocean view staterooms (8014 &8015). This is how we saw how the ship is not being maintained as well as possible. The rooms are small but have a living room style little sitting chair. When I moved one chair to the other room (the children's room) in order to prevent a squabble, we saw that the chairs are different heights because one was missing the 4 inch legs. In 8015, there was bar soap for washing hands while in the other cabin there was liquid soap. We noticed that 8015 had the hand soap container broken off the wall. Additionally, in 8015 there was a painting with broken glass. When we asked for it to be removed, it was removed but not replaced. At 6 pm on the last night of the cruise, they returned the painting to the room with the glass replaced.
In one room we had the beds separate and in the other they were pushed together. In the room with the beds configured as a queen, there was a 3 inch gap between the two beds. I spoke with the cabin stewardess about a runner or pad to prevent the gap. She said that tomorrow, she could fill the gap with foam. The next day, she put a queen size foam topper on the bed which minimized the gap. I would have expected this to be standard. Usually there is a connector for the beds which prevents these gaps at the seams.
On the second night, after the room was cleaned there were still dirty glasses left in the room. After speaking with the housekeeping supervisor (and later with the staff captain, which I did several times during the cruise) we were informed that it is NCL policy not to clean any glasses if there is even a drop of liquid in them because passengers in the past have complained that they were saving a drink for later. (On other cruises, everything is cleaned. If someone complained that a portion of their drink that they had paid for was thrown out, the bartender, with appropriate authorization, would give the passenger a new drink if they complained.)
As a plus, the room stewardess made cute towel animals every night including more complex ones.
Right after muster, we called down for children's life jackets. On the second day I went to guest relations and asked again. Finally after turn down on the second night, the kid's life jackets were in the room.
As kosher consumers, I was interested in how Freestyle dining could be integrated with kosher food. The answer became very clear the first night. It cannot. The first thing we do when we get on board a cruise is meeting with a Matre D in order to arrange dinner for the first night. We went to the Palace main dining room and were told to find any supervisor at the buffet to place our dinner order. This went rather smoothly. The supervisor told us to go to the Palace dining room anytime we wanted for dinner and everything would be arranged. (For the unaware, most cruise ships offer frozen kosher food prepared by kosher caterers that can be reheated onboard. The food is double wrapped and has heating instructions. The food is usually certified by the OU but sometimes is certified by other reputable kosher certification agencies.) At 8:15, we went to the Palace dining room and were seated promptly. We informed the waiter that we had requested kosher food. He said that he would get it. Twenty minutes later we asked what the status was and he said that he would go to the kitchen and check. Fifteen minutes later we asked another waiter what the status of our dinner was. He said that he would go check. About ten minutes later the head waiter for the section came by. We asked him what the status of our dinner was. He went to go check. He finally came back informing us that only the appetizers were heated but they were waiting for the main course and dessert to be heated to bring us everything together. When I asked him why we were not getting the appetizers first, he told me that kosher travelers want all food delivered at once. We asked him to deliver the appetizers first, then the entree then the dessert, like any other passenger. Finally 30 minutes later we were finally delivered food (about an hour and twenty minutes after sitting down). All three courses were delivered at the same time.
In order to mitigate this challenge for the rest of the cruise we had fixed meal times, 8:30 for breakfast, 1 pm for lunch, and 7 pm for dinner. We arranged to have the same servers and table for dinner every night. On the second night, things were fasted although it still took 45 minutes for dinner to be delivered to the table. (All the food was brought out at the same time but the waiter held it to serve as separate courses. As such the appetizers were hot, but the entrees had cooled off since they were sitting at the staging center.) By night three (this is a four night cruise), dinner service was finally smooth.
On a positive note, we mentioned to the server on the first night that my children like apple juice with dinner and on cruises my wife likes pineapple juice with dinner. Every night, they brought these beverages to the table as soon as we sat down. Another positive note was that they wine steward was willing to exchange bottles of wine. Based on multiple factors, we had several free bottles of wine that were delivered to our staterooms. The wine steward was able to exchange these free bottles for kosher wine available as long as the kosher wine had a lower sales price than the bottles we had. (That was good since the kosher wine was the cheapest bottles on the ship, Concord Grape and White Concord grape.) I spoke with the Head wine steward to suggest that there are some decent kosher wines that could be cross sold to non-kosher passengers such as Bartenura Moscato or Baron Herzog. She said that on cruises out of Italy, they have sometimes brought kosher wines from Italy and Israel onboard which sold well to the mass market.
One note about kosher dining on the ship, there is no flexibility in terms of menu. Every night, we were given the menu for the next day. There were two breakfast items, two appetizers, one soup, two entrees and two deserts. You cannot have something from a previous day. One day there was a delicious appetizer. We were told that NCL does not allow the ship board staff to deviate from the pre-prepared menus. As a tip for other kosher travelers, we found that two appetizers plus fresh fruit makes a great lunch. The cantaloupe on the ship was some of the best we ever ate.
About the ship:
As has been described in many reviews, you can see that the ship has had many lives. There is a wall dedicated to the Pride of Aloha (the ships name when it was US Flagged as part of NCL America). There are some interesting things on the ship that seem like afterthoughts. On Deck 12 forward is the quiet zone for lying out. In the middle of the "quiet zone" is the children's wading pool. While exploring the sports deck, I went into the driving cages. All the golf clubs were left handed. One nice thing was that there were enough ping pong paddles and balls for two per table. (It frustrated me that on some ships they have three ping pong tables but only three paddles and two balls that are usable.)
The public restrooms on the ship were horrible. On Deck 5, the main atrium men's rook outside of guest services and the Palace Main dining room reeked of urine. On the ship the urinals did not have a flush. As such, all the men's rooms smelled. (One of the conversations I had with the staff captain was about this.) On the second night of the cruise, the deck 5 atrium restroom was flooded due to a stopped up toilet. Even after they fixed the toilet, the floor was still wet.
When we got back to the ship at Freeport, we asked the security guards where we could exchange the used beach towels. He told us to bring them to our room and the stateroom attendant would exchange them. It wasn't until day three that we found the towel exchange on deck 11 on the port side near the pool facing aft. (We always got out of the forward elevators and went to the pool on the starboard side. (This is the way to the buffet and soft serve ice cream.) On many ships there is a towel exchange near the gangway. I spoke to the staff captain about this. He said that he would make sure that his crew knew to inform passengers about the towel exchange on deck 11. He also said that he would look into adding a towel exchange near the gangway.
One nice part of the ship was that you don't feel like your wallet is being emptied every time you turn around. While there are gift ships, jewelry stores and the like on the ship you are not constantly bombarded with the need to buy an "inch of gold" or one in a cruise rings, etc.
On board entertainment:
The cruise director and her staff tried really hard. They made my children feel like stars. Unfortunately, that is the best part about the entertainment. Due to the problems with the first night dinner service we were not able to go to the first night's main show, a comedy ventriloquist. (This was not a problem since that was half of the last night's main entertainment.) The second night, the main show was a Gloria Estefan cover band. While it was a decent "concert" it was not what I was expecting. Looking around the room, about half of the people were really into it. The other half was either waiting for the "production show" or left. The third night, the feature entertainment was the Newlywed/Not so newlywed game show. While this was fun, and our children were too young to understand the show, it was not family friendly. The last night, there were two shows. The first was a crew talent show, which was mainly crew members playing guitar and singing. The highlight of the evening was the Cruise Director and her staff's "production show" Fountains at the end of the talent show. In this the cruise director and staff spit water on each other pretending to be water fountains. Check it out on YouTube. The second show was a variety show. This meant that the ventriloquist and the Gloria Estefan cover band were each performing "half" sets. When we asked the assistant cruise director which night has the production show (Las Vegas style review that is on every other cruise I can remember), he said that they do not have one. He said that Miami did not think it was needed on the ship since it was such a short cruise. One of the main reasons I go on cruises is that I love the production shows and variety of other entertainment. Unfortunately, this cruise fell short.
On a side note, while on a cruise the idea is to spend as little time in your cabin as possible, we found that there were no children friendly channels on the TV. For a line that has a partnership with Nickelodeon on some ships, we thought that they would have that channel in the staterooms. The only "kid friendly" channel was the Cartoon Network. For those unaware, Cartoon Network has very dark programming intended for teenagers, adults and pot heads. It is not appropriate for young children.
The highlight of the cruise was Taino Beach in Freeport, our first port of call. In Freeport, we got off the ship and walked to the taxi stand. Most of the people were going to the beaches by Port Lucaya. We chose Taino Beach because it was supposed to be more family friendly. It was great. The round trip cab ride was $14 per person. They did not charge for out three year old daughter. Entrance to the beach is free. For $8.00 we were able to reserve two beach loungers and a large umbrella for the day. (We felt that this was a great deal.) At the bar/food service area, they had bottles of water available for $2.00 each with is not bad. The beach itself was wonderful. The sand was powder soft. The water was warm and the weather was gorgeous. My family had a great time playing in the waves as they crashed near the beach. While playing in the sand, my daughter got a couple of strands of braids on each side of her hair. (Only $2 per braid.) After about 2.5 hours at the beach we headed back to the ship for a late lunch.
Traveling with two children, we do not have the luxury of sleeping in. For Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's private island, we had priority tender available. While we missed the priority tender we got of the ship with the third tender ashore. Unfortunately, they were not ready for us on the island. After getting spoiled at Taino Beach, we were ready for another fun beach day. The water is crystal clear. Because the beach is a semi-circle with rocks that block the mouth, it is like a huge lagoon or salt water pool. Unfortunately the sand was not nearly as nice as the day before. Be that as it may, in order to make sure that we did not get dehydrated, I went to the bar to get some water. They told me that they cannot serve me any water because it was not drinkable. I asked if I could buy some water. They then told me that the bar was not open and as such, they could not sell me a bottle of water. Finally, they told me that I could walk to the other side of the beach where the food service station was to get some cups of water. After walking over there, I was informed that they do not yet have "passenger" cups available. They only had "crew" cups. (The available paper cups were the same ones we were being served with our kosher meals.) Finally, they gave them to me.
After about an hour and a half at the beach, we heard thunder and decided to get out of the water. After a few minutes of light drizzle, we decided to head back to the ship. We had to wait out the thunder before we could go back to the ship which was fine. While we were waiting, we noticed that there is nothing to do. While this was not a problem, it was a lost opportunity to wow us. Even a couple of speakers playing some music would have been nice. I started thinking about what would Royal Caribbean or Disney do to make an ok situation into a good experience.
We have been to Nassau multiple times and did not see it necessary to spend $100 pp to go to the water park at Atlantis. Additionally, we were not looking to shop. The prices for jewelry are not much better than you can get online. As such, we took a horse and carriage ride for a half hour, walked to the straw market for a little while then headed back to the ship to enjoy the pool while it was rather empty. We had a great day onboard.
There is no communication about disembarkation. If I had not asked, I would not have known what time to put luggage outside the cabin nor the procedure for tagging bags. Being that this was the first NCL cruise I have been on since I was a child; I did not know that NCL does not deliver luggage tags to the room on the last night. As such, when I went to guest services, they told me that I can choose what time to get off the ship. The earlier tags were already gone. We had a noon flight out of FLL and I knew timing was going to be tight. We got tags for 8:50 am disembarkation. At 9:20, our color was finally called. When we got to our bags we found that there are only a few porters available but they were all busy. Finally, one cam e and helped us. It was close to 10 am by the time we were able to get thru customs with our luggage. (Luckily, we made great time to FLL and got thru security just in time to hear them starting to board our flight.)
Our general feeling was that:
1) All the staff and crew were nice and did their jobs as they have been trained to do them. What was lacking is the desire to go above and beyond to make it unbelievable.
a. On Royal Caribbean, there is a comment card where you can give praise to crew members who stand out. This is then used for additional compensation. They don't have this on NCL Sky.
b. On most ships, because the crew is working for tips, they try harder it seems. Since NCL has a daily service fee, it seems that the crew does not go out of there way.
2) The ship needs to be cleaned. As noted above, many of the public restrooms smelled like urine.
3) If you were a first time cruiser or this was the only ship you have been on, it is good. This is not the ship for an experienced cruiser.
4) At the end of the day, we separated from the outside world, spent time as a family and bonded. As such, while the cruise was substandard in many ways, we still had a good time.