After working on a few options for the annual family vacation, we chose to sail on the NCL Sky. I had read the reviews but figured it would be a good choice for our family. We're a family of four with 2 little ones - a 3.5 year old and a 9 month old. Crazy - taking them on a cruise, right? This was also the DW's first cruise and the last cruise for me was 10 years ago, a lot has changed!
Because of the ensuing challenge, we also recruited some help with our babysitter and brought her along. When we booked the cruise in May, the only room available with a balcony was a "penthouse suite". Okay, so we budgeted and made the commitment to do it. Lucky, we booked the sitter a month later and the inside room directly outside of our suite was available and so we were set for the rooms and the experience.
We headed to Miami on Sunday to ensure we would not be rushing on the day of the trip - and that we could get the kids settled from flying before getting ready for the completely new experience of boarding the ship. We pulled up to the pier around noon on Monday and tipped our porter after being reminded this was our only chance to do so! We didn't want our bags to fall to the bottom of the pier, so a tip was handed over.
I had read somewhere that being booked in the suite gives access to the priority boarding line. But certainly I did not read this through NCL Literature. We stopped at the VIP registration area near the entrance behind security and sure enough, we were on the list. Let the pampering begin!
"New" software delayed the boarding process a bit as they only had one functional computer. After waiting a little bit with a few refreshments to help, it was our turn and they got it all figured out. Then we had to wait about 10 minutes for the runner to escort our two groups onto the ship.
We were escorted through the longer lines of the check in and brought to the gangway. The family was certainly now starting to get excited! We were told our concierge host would be waiting for us on the lounge and Leah was there with a smile! She got us settled and brought us over to Cagney's for lunch. LIttle did we know that Cagney's was available for breakfast for us each day on the ship.
As we finished lunch the concierge let us know our suite was ready and off we went - we were in 0264, 10th floor in the aft (Back) of the ship. Great room for a family, certainly worth the extra money - for us at least - to give our crew extra space to nap, keep the kids on their sleep schedule and for us parents to move around and have a bit of space, too. Plus the bath enabled the little ones to have their baths, far easier than the tiny cruise shower.
Overall, the ship was very nice. Very clean in every area. The ship is well organized. The aft area has the theater, buffet, few other restaurants and a bunch of elevators ready to take you up and down with ease. The one big thing needed was on floor 11 aft - where there is the buffet, Italian restaurant, sports bar - a small hallway or passage with a direct access to the pool area without going through the food areas.
Food on the ship was all "good". It wasn't great and we really did not have anything that was sub-par. Buffett is a zoo during busy hours. If crowds bother you like me, stay away! The deal with "freestyle" cruising is that you eat where and when you want. Which is a great choice for kids. The downside is that you lose much of the social aspect that Cruises are known for - the camaraderie with other passengers and meeting new people. And I think this added the madness of the buffett - easy, edible food and you don't have to plan or think. It was hard to find cold water - only one of the drink machines dispensed cold water and there were only two drink machines, so I would say we were all dehydrated because drinks and water were a challenge to get to and get plenty of.
Buffet Alternatives: Breakfast you can do Il Adagio for waffles and omelets or room service? Again if you have a suite you can plan on Cagney's. We went there twice and wanted something different with the kids - a seated breakfast can only go so far with a 3 year old!
Lunch at Il Adagio was the best - pasta station and pizza that is actually quite good. For dinner, we tried Le Bistro pay-up restaurant and that was again good. We had a great bottle of wine and the food was tasty but not the best ever. We actually ordered the 32 oz rib-eye to share. Something new and different. It was good but had the texture of a brisket - a much lower quality meat. We did enjoy our meal there and would recommend it for a nice, quiet and romantic dinner. We did do Palace dining room one night and the service was terrible. Food was slightly lower than the standard of "good" so far that we had tried. Longboard's bar-food menu was actually very good as well. Another benefit of the butler, we were able to enjoy any restaurant in our room, wish we did that more.
Rooms: Very clean and nice and even the rooms around us and our sitter said they were adequate and small. A family of 5 and a family of 4 were sharing two of the ocean view rooms adjacent to ours and we felt bad for the husband and brother that were kicked out of the rooms while the girls got ready! Hard to squeeze everyone in the small space. One note - I will not book a room below any of the social areas, it was noisy, loud and non-stop movement of chairs from above. Several nights we were woken by the dragging of chairs and maintenance crews and I even called to complain one night - and no one answered. Highly frustrating.
Port of Calls:
We did not get off the ship at Freeport - our sitter did and she did the dolphin experience and she said it was great. At Nassau we went to Atlantis on our own - a $4 per person cab ride that is shared with up to 12 other guests. We did not see any individual taxi's. The Discover Altantis tour is $29 for adults and $19 for children once on the island. The ship charges $59 and $49 respectively, so this is certainly a way to save money. It was not a way to save time - the line was huge! and long! and once we finally got there, we were all tired from being in the casino for that long. We did get there around 1:00 pm so that might have had more to do with it (wanted the kids to have their morning nap and then get a quick on-ship lunch to avoid paying the expensive Atlantis prices). Altantis is great, we've stayed there before and more or less remembered the layout of the place and the kids really enjoyed seeing the aquariums, the Dig and the shark area!
Great Stirrup Cay - DW took our DS to a few hours of beach and ocean time - they said it was beyond beautiful and the water was great. The DD and I enjoyed the Under 2 Zoo (GREAT area for infants to play - absolutely was amazed at how big of an area they dedicated to the kids zone, great for the bigger kids and babies). Again, the concierge was a tremendous help as we had access to priority tenders up until 11:00 am and they were escorted on the next immediate tender through a staff entrance on and watched the long lines of people waiting. With the little ones, this again was the right way to travel!
Daily spa promotions were pretty good and great priced, I thought. One day was a package deal for $199 for about 3 hours of pampering including a facial, massage, foot treatment and manicure. Head to toe pampering! We opted for the double relaxation package - a 25 minute deep tissue massage and a 25 minute foot and ankle therapy for $109 each. Of course the 18% gratuity made it a bit more - but you're on a ship, I thought $109 was a nice deal for that.
Many questions are asked about what the butler will do for you. In a word, he's there to make your experience more enjoyable. Literally anything you ask for is just about on the table. As we had an infant and wanted to sterilize the bottles, he would take our microwaveable bag and return it once complete, he did that twice daily. He would bring us extra pillows or towels when the room steward was not available. The night we went to Altantis, we know the kids were going to crash early as neither had good naps. So we requested the room turned down early and when the steward was not available, he actually turned the room for us. The butlers can also access the restaurants and retrieve any item off any menu. We were also treated to snacks each day, a bottle of champagne to welcome us and a large bottle of water complimentary. Really, he made our experience with the kids so much more at ease and relaxed.
The crew, in general, were absolutely fantastic. Everyone single person we encountered were happy, smiling and loved seeing our 9 month old wherever she was. Yes, she made a terrible mess at the restaurants but each of the restaurant staff were smiling and happy to see us. It was actually quite nice to be around such happy people to be on a ship for up to 9 months at a time. I own a business with 60+ employees and only wish my customers would experience such happiness with every counter as we did on this ship!
Overall reaction: This was a great first cruise. Nice, clean, very fun for all ages, a crew that very much knows how to work a 4 night experience and turn around immediately for the next lot of passengers. Candi the cruise director was great as well - certainly nice to hear a happy person everyday communicate what's what! Cruising with an infant: we had a great trip and the staff were fantastic with our DD. We made it work by bringing our sitter and if you are in a similar position I would strongly suggest doing so. We are going to wait until the kids are older for our next cruise, most likely as we should hopefully all be able to enjoy it even more.