Sailed weekend of 12/21 out of Miami on the Sky. First things first - last year, same weekend, took the weekend Carnival Imagination on same trip (almost) in the Penthouse Suite. This time, we were on Norwegian in an Owner's Suite. The difference is like a Cadillac compared to a Kia. Norwegian wins in every category hands down.
1) Cost. It was $2500 total less than two weeks before the cruise. The penthouse on Imagination was $5000 one month before the cruise. - Point Norwegian
2) Staterooms - The Owner;s Suite consists of a 1 bedroom stateroom, 1.5 bathrooms, Butler, Steward and Concierge service, three free bottles of wine, 1 bottle of champagne, free snacks, free fridge of water, mixers and soda AND a balcony on the front of the ship two decks under the bridge with a private 4-person hot tub, 2 lounge chairs, table for 4 and STILL enough room to have a party. The penthouse on Imagination had an obstructed view on side of ship, with most of room facing pool deck (no balcony there) and was directly under the jogging track, and had 2 Stewards, no freebies - Point Norwegian
3) Service - WOW am i impressed with NCL's staff. Always a smile, always a hello - and the Butler (Jose) and Concierge (Karin) treated us as if we were old friends coming to spend the holidays with them. No detail was overlooked, nothing was too much to ask for - they were amazing. From Priority Embarkation/Disembarkation, private VIP receptions, being treated like royalty all over the ship (silver cards are given to suite peeps so people know at a glance you are "VIP"). It took us 10 minutes to board, 10 minutes to leave - it was heaven - all thanks to the VIP treatment. But i will even say watching everyone else board it seemed to be smooth and painless. We never wanted for anything. This is the #1 reason we will always sail NCL moving forward. On Carnival, we were treated just like everyone else with the exception of when we boarded. No specials for suite peeps, no extra smiles - nothing. - Point Norwegian
4) Bar Service - lets get right down to the highlight of our trip - NCL is testing out "Ultimate Beverage Package" which is $49 pp per day (mandatory for all peeps in stateroom, mandatory for each day of the cruise). This includes every drink on board that is under $10. thats right peeps - ALL INCLUSIVE BOOZE! LOL. Coffee, Wine, Soda, Tea, juice, frozen concoctions, drinks of the day, poolside service, specialty restaurants - everything but the bucket of beer and any drink (or bottle) over $10. I cannot tell you how much money we saved, but more importantly, we weren't ever wondering the entire time we were on the ship "what is the balance, how many drinks have I had, oh Lord this is gonna cost a fortune.." etc. Totally painless and worth every penny ($49 per day per person pus 15% gratuity) - worth every single cent. This also covered all beverages on Great Stirrup Cay as well!! It was truly what you dream cruising should be! Carnival Imagination offers nothing like this and our bar tab for the weekend cruise was almost $600 for two people (don't judge, its a vacation). -- double points to Norwegian!
5) Food - Norwegian has speciality restaurants (with cover) as well as the regular cruise type restaurants and they also have little dining places (no cover). We ate dinner at specialty restaurants all three nights (once at Le Bistro and twice at Cagneys). The food is good - it is not great BUT it isnt something I would turn my nose up at either. There were highlights (10oz filet at Cagneys, Hot Dogs at the bar-b-q, Creme Brulee at Le Bistro) and good (Suites get in room dining with fresh eggs, etc so I am biased) and the average (everywhere else). Also with the suite you get to order from the specialty restaurants to be served in your room (nice touch) as well as private VIP breakfast and lunch from Cagneys. I enjoyed it and it did not taste like cafeteria food by no means. The Pizza of course is very yummy! Carnival had no specialty restaurants, no "speicals" for VIPs - dining with the masses (at least we had a two seater table) but def nothing to write home about - Point Norwegian
6) Ship - Sky was built in 99, refurbed in 2009 - the only thing I can say is they forgot to refurb the suite bathrooms! Dated, old and in need of serious refreshes. They werent dirty but they werent what i was expecting either. The rest of the ship has a few worn carpet areas but overall is much more pleasing than Carnivals garish-1970s/1980s-vegas-casino-oh-my-god-my-eyes-are-going-to-explode motif. Overall, i kept saying to my darling husband - it feels like I am staying in a hotel that moves, not on a ship - which for me is wonderful! Love love love love it! also remember, the little fishes swimming in the hallway show which way to the front of the ship! You never ever feel crowded, even when everyone is on the ship - point Norwegian
7) Entertainment - its a short cruise, you are going to have a comedian, some adult entertainment, bars with Karaoke, Latin Dancing and ship-sponsored deck parties. Norwegian tries to balance everything out, as well as keeps the kiddies entertained so they are not under foot and in the way all the time (sorry, getting elbowed and kicked in the "adult" pool on Carnival is an experience I will never forget). There are quiet and peaceful areas all around. there is truly something for everyone and you feel no pressure to do anything other than enjoy yourself! On Carnival, it seemed everything was geared towards kids or bathroom humor, nothing was ever any fun - too many people crowded around one activity that was going on, kids not controlled or corralled, and not enough to do. Even on the pool deck on the Sky i never felt crowded. NCL treats its passengers with respect, dignity and friendship, carnival treats them like an attraction. - double points NCL
Overall - i will not be sailing another line again - I am truly a Norwegian and am already looking forward to my next trip (and honestly almost had to be dragged by my hubby out of the room this morning - i did not want to leave). If you like the party/drunk crowd, NCL is not for you - stay with Carnival. If you like to be among friends, have a quiet or busy get a way with like minded people - then give NCL a try - the weekend trip to Bahamas is a great introductory cruise!!!