Let me start off by saying that although I have cruised with my hubby over 20 times, I never before felt compelled to write a review. This was our first time straying from Carnival as we didn't want to interfere with our planned milestone cruise. We were planning on a long weekend over President's Day...so comparing pricing to itinerary, we ended up decided on NCL Sky as the price couldn't be beat for a balcony cabin.
We got to Miami port around 11:30 am and we were checked in and waiting by 11:45am. Check-in was a breeze and they took your security photo right there which did actually speed things up later on. We were group 6 which I figured wasn't that bad but we were used to Platinum status on Carnival and it was a bit difficult sitting with "general population" I must say :) The terminal was one of the older ones but the chairs were comfortable enough. We waited over an hour - and by the time our group was called the line was very long to get on the ship. We finally got on board - and at first I was impressed - we boarded on deck 6 near the photo gallery and it was quite nice. There were some staff outside dressed up to welcome us on board - so I was quite hopeful things would go well as we were a bit nervous having never tried another cruise line.
My husband and I normally go straight to the bar when we board the ship and then we get lunch. We found our way to the top deck where there was a bar and we ordered 2 of the daily specials which were Bushwackers. They were frozen drinks and kind of bland served in a souvenir glass - $27 for 2 drinks!! Ok - well maybe it's just the glasses that made the drinks cost so much but wow....so we went to get a bite to eat. We wanted to try the pizza so we went to where they were serving it off to the side of the bar in a restaurant. They were cutting fresh garlic so it looked promising! I had a slice of cheese and a slice of veggie, my husband had the pepperoni. 2 bites in and I had to stop - it was absolutely disgusting...and I am not a picky pizza eater. I couldn't believe it honestly. There was some spice in there that tasted like mold.
Anyhow, we then decided to go to the Garden Cafe Buffet as we were right next to it. When you walk in - they force you to get sprayed with hand sanitizer - which actually is a good thing. The layout of the buffet needed some work. It was hard to get around and crowded due to the timing. The food was laid out in small trays - and the utensils were piping hot you almost burned yourself trying to serve your portions. Overall - the food was terrible. Now I am a vegetarian so I felt the selections were very limited in and of itself, but my husband is not and he found the food to be pretty gross. They had pretzel bread which was the best part, but other than that, it was gross. At dinners they had a pasta station which I would say is the best part and was worth the long wait. Breakfast in the buffet was better. The omelette's were good as well. I had asked for wheat toast and they made me rye - oh well. Seating was always difficult to find.
On the first day, it started pouring, which didn't help the crowded situation as no one was hanging outside. What we found unusual was that you had to walk outside to get to the food area - so you got wet- strange layout of the ship in general. We found it awkward to get around.
The rooms were ready early so we went to check out our cabin. We expected it to be smaller than Carnival - it wasn't awful but it was much smaller than we were used to. The storage is really lacking. There were 2 closets, 1 of which had a safe and a few shallow drawers which don't hold much. The bathroom had ample storage though. A couple notes about the room - the balcony was a good size, larger than Carnival. The bed is rounded at the corners which helps a lot with the size of the room. There was a small couch which converts to a bed if needed. There was a flat screen tv in the room. There was also a small fridge stocked with items below a desk area. We only had 1 robe in our closet - we never used it. In the bathroom there were only 2 large towels - Carnival stocks way more. Liquid handsoap by the sink and no toiletries at all. After a bit it was time to have the muster drill.
The muster drill was very quick. They now take your name and check you in - but it was really fast and organized - we were impressed considering we had done many of these before.
We left port a little after 5pm which was in good time. It was raining on and off though so that put a damper on the departure.
Day 2 was Great Stirrup Cay - NCL's private island. The weather was again terrible - they still did the tender process, but it took over 3 hours and you could see the tenders rocking back and forth so bad, that it just wasn't worth the trip out in the pouring rain. I felt bad for everyone here because private islands are usually really nice - but we didn't venture off the boat due to the weather.
Since there wasn't much to do, we decided to start drinking a bit earlier than normal - why not, we were on vacation! Well we couldn't find an open bar- there are limited bars on this smaller ship and normally on other ships we could find a drink without walking too far, this was not the case on this boat. Oh well - guess we weren't meant to start drinking.
Also - something to mention here - NCL offers a drink package for $49 per day plus 15% tip. We didn't buy it on the first day - but realized after day 1 that the drinks were so expensive, we really should have so we wanted to buy it on day 2. When we were able to find someone to talk to about it at the bar, they gave us conflicting info as to whether or not we could buy it - eventually we were told yes but we would have to pay for all 3 days. We didn't bother.
On day 3 we went to Nassau - which we had been to many times. The weather had finally improved (no rain) but it was freezing cold out! We are from FL so the 50's was very chilly! Debarkation was quick here and they took the standard photos as you exited. We had to be back on board by 4:30 so it was a quick visit to Nassau.
On debarkation day, it was a cluster. There were no announcements and you just had to get in line outside on the main promenade deck and it took forever to get off the boat. Now we went during easy walk off time (bring your own luggage off) and because it was a 3 day cruise, everyone else seemed to do the same. But the wait time was ridiculous and it was very cold out which also made the experience more painful. In line, we saw 2 large piles of vomit that no one cleaned up - yuck!! I guess someone had a fun night but really - they didn't clean it up?
I want to conclude with some general observations. Our experience was awful with the crew. They seemed to be lifeless and unhappy and we were really disappointed by this. We knew it was an older ship that needed some TLC based on other reviews, but the customer service is what really makes the experience and we felt it was lacking all around. No one said hello to us when we passed them. We didn't see our room steward until the 2nd day and only because he happened to be outside when we walked out our room. On the first night we had a towel animal, no mints like Carnival - which was not a huge deal but it's the little things. We didn't get a towel animal on the 2nd night because we were napping but on the 3rd night, he left an unmade towel on the bed. Kind of like he got distracted and forgot to finish...an unmade towel animal really?? My husband made one for me though - but it was just so funny.
Ok so pros compared to Carnival:
Balcony is larger, muster drill was very quick, there were ping pong tables and the equipment was easily accessible instead of having to check it out from a desk. If you liked to do the pay restaurant options, they clearly let you know the scheduling and when it is filling up quickly, for those meat eaters, you can grab all the bacon you want! The bed was generally comfortable.
Cons compared to Carnival:
The pillows were hard as a rock, the food was terrible, the buffet setup was awful and very limited seating, the pizza was awful, the room service menu was very limited especially for a vegetarian and they charged you after midnight, our room steward didn't seem to care about us at all, the staff was not friendly, the drinks were more expensive, the ship was old and dated, paint peeling, carpet stained and tiles lifting. In the atrium elevator you could see exposed wires. You couldn't buy the drink package prorated, if you wanted soup in the buffet, you couldn't get it because there was no one there to serve it to you, the public restrooms smelled awful and in certain bathrooms there were no urinals in the men's room meaning the bathrooms got very messy, our room steward also didn't replace our mini bar items or our water. Speaking of water, the water from the faucet was awful, on Carnival it tasted ok, but this was undrinkable. On the top decks there were rubber mats everywhere instead of the teak which we much prefer.
Overall, I couldn't wait to get off the ship. Unfriendly service really just made everything else stand out more. We are not complainers nor very picky, but we will never sail this ship again and probably won't ever chose NCL unless it is a large ship where I am guessing they put their better crew on board.