We stayed in the owner's suite on the sky (8201), and had a wonderful time.
First some background information on us. This trip was a family vacation for my husband, our two year old daughter and myself. My husband and I are in our early 30's, and have both cruised a couple times with Carnival and Royal Caribbean, though this was our first time with NCL, and our first time staying in a suite on a cruise ship. We've travelled fairly extensively, and stay in various types of hotels depending on the needs of our trip, we're capable of happily staying at a Fairfield Inn or a Four Season resort, eating at McDonalds or at a 5 star restaurant. We're not fussy, and willing to pay a bit more occasionally for good service.
We chose NCL based on their suite perk options. I should note here that usually we stay in interior rooms or sometimes ocean view rooms, since we are not normally in our cabin that much. However, since we were going to be traveling with a toddler, I knew that in order for us to truly be able to enjoy the vacation we would be dependent on the extra space, ease of room service, and the extra attention that comes with the suite. If we were not to have splurged on the suite, we would have probably chosen a land vacation somewhere instead.
We flew into Miami the day before the cruise, and stayed at the Embassy Suites Miami. It was wonderful to be able to get in a day before hand, and let our little on relax and play in the hotel pool. They recommended a local cuban restaurant for dinner and the hotel shuttle dropped us off there, and then came back to pick us up. The hotel was fine, nothing really noteworthy about it, but it was convenient, had a continental breakfast the following morning, and shuttle service from the airport, and then to the port.
Once we arrived at the port around 11am to embark on the cruise we were immediately taken care of. We were pointed to the concierge lounge where they had fruit, cookies (which both my husband and daughter enjoyed immensely), soda and water. We waited maybe two or three minutes before they were ready to process our paperwork, and once we finished with that another few minutes before someone brought us onto the ship. We were told that our room wasn't ready, but that we were welcome to head to the concierge lounge to meet with the concierge, and would then be directed to lunch at Cagney's.
It was at this point that we met our concierge Karin, who was amazing. I inquired about reserving a clamshell for our day at Great Stirrup Cay, and she said it would be taken care of immediately, and asked us if we had any other reservations, spa appointments, or excursions we wanted to make at that time. We explained that we did not, as we did not know quite how our two year old would be on any given day, and wanted as much flexibility as possible. She smiled and assured us that it was no problem, and to reach out to her whenever we needed. I had called earlier that week to put in some requests for our room, and Karin went over those with us. Since I was pregnant at the time, I had asked that instead of the usual three bottles of liquor we have three bottles of the non-alcoholic wine (one red, one white, and one sparkling), since I had never tried them before. Karin informed me that unfortunately all they had was the white, and asked if that would be ok, I assured her that was fine, then we went over to Cagney's for lunch which was wonderful.
After lunch we were shown to our room which was perfect for us. It had plenty of space for storage, and of course the huge balcony with whirpool tub, lounge chairs, and a small table and chairs to eat at. The balcony was a godsend during nap time, as my husband and I could lounge on the chairs and read or nap, and feel like we were still on vacation. We used the whirlpool tub on three of the nights, and it was also great. Plenty of warm water, and allowed us to enjoy our room, instead of being "stuck" in it after our daughter went to bed at 7pm. The bathtub was incredibly useful for giving our daughter a bath after a day at the beach. We also may have used the walk-in closet to set up a small bed for her on the floor so that she had her own little "room" to sleep in. Room was clean, and it was at this point that we met our butler Jose. He was nice, but he was not nearly as warm as Karin was. Still he did his job well, he just never seemed to go "above and beyond" as some people describe. He brought the typical afternoon snacks of fresh fruit and cookies, and evening snacks, and made sure the room was well taken care of. We appreciated that very much. Our prior requests for the room were all honored, there was milk in the fridge for our daughter, and some ginger ale and coke for me, and our pillow selections were all there, or delivered later that afternoon.
We did have one major complaint about the room, which was noise. The suite is situated directly under the arcade, and one of the games was quite loud, and it kept my husband and I up the first night (they never turn the games off), even when the arcade is closed for the night. We are both light sleepers, and it was incredibly distracting to us. However I will say that the next morning we mentioned this to our concierge Karin, and asked her if there was anything she could do, perhaps have someone turn off the machine when the arcade closed, or turn down the volume of the game. She immediately set about making it right for us, and sure enough the volume was lowered. We could still hear it faintly over our fan at night, but it was a huge improvement and definitely allowed us to sleep better. For any really light sleepers out there, I'd suggest a different room or ear plugs.
We normally at when the dining rooms first opened at 5:30, since we had a two year old with us. The first and third night we dined in the main dining room. Food in the main dining room was pretty mediocre in my opinion. The soups specifically were lacking. Still they were prompt, the food was hot, beverage service was quick, and they were very amenable to bringing out our daughters meal with our appetizers, and then a small bowl of ice cream for her during our main course. We then would usually get dessert to go, or order something through room service.
On the second night we went to Le Bistro, which wonderful. Again, we went at 5:30 when it first opened, so the restaurant was pretty empty, but the service was wonderful. The food here was probably the best we had on the trip. I had the escargot, mushroom soup, and fruits de mer (lobster, shrimp, scallops and fennel in a puff pastry with vermouth and chive cream), and my husband had the grilled beef tenderloin, all of which were wonderful. Special attention was always payed to our daughter, and the waiters were again very prompt with our meal service. This night our daughter started getting antsy at the end of the meal, so my husband had to take her out of the restaurant, while I finished up, and ordered dessert to go.
Our fourth night we dined at Cagney's, and again the food was wonderful. Portions are small, and the meat isn't of quite the same caliber as say Ruth's Chris, but neither my husband nor I found any cause for complaint, and both left feeling full.
We had lunch at the buffet once (the day we went to Great Stirrup Cay), and it was much like every other cruise buffet I've ever seen. Food was adequate, warm enough, and filling. The lines were incredibly short, but I suspect that was in large part because we were back on the boat earlier than most of the other passengers who were enjoying the barbecue on the island. We did find the famous pretzel bread, and enjoyed those immensely.
We had room service for lunch one afternoon as well, we ordered a pizza which was nice, though an extra charge. My only complaint here was that it took a while for it to be delivered (almost an hour). We weren't in any hurry, but both my husband and I were looking at our watches by the time it was delivered.
Breakfast we had at Cagney's every morning. The small buffet of fruit and pastries was lovely, and my husband fell in love with the Tahitian Vanilla French Toast, while my daughter loved the pancakes. I'll admit that I enjoyed both as well. Breakfast was often the highlight of our day, as the staff would all come by to say hello to our daughter, and it was always very calm and quiet in there around 7:30-8am. Karin was often around in the morning to check on us, and see if we needed anything for the day.
We didn't really do much here. We got off the boat, walked around the little tourist area that's directly at the pier, had some ice cream, and then got back on the ship. There's the option to take a taxi to Port Lucaya, but we didn't bother. I'd suggest leaving the port if you don't have a two year old though, since it's not very exciting.
We walked over to the British Colonial Hilton, and got a day pass for the use of their beach. The day pass comes with a thirty dollar per person food credit, which we used for lunch. Our daughter loved playing in the sand, and running over to the waves, and the lounge chairs allowed us to be close enough to the water to keep a sharp eye on her, and enjoy our day. It was a little more expensive ($60 per adult), but it was incredibly close to the ship (about a 7-10 minute walk), which for us was ideal. They also had little buckets and shovels for us to borrow for our daughter.
Great Stirrup Cay:
We had priority tendering due to our suite pass, and had reserved a clamshell for the day. We met Karin in the lounge at the designated time, and were walked onto our tender, which was the first boat over. Once we got off the boat, there was no one to really point us to where the clamshells were, which was a bit annoying. I spent a good 15 minutes walking around looking for them, but once we found them, we got setup relatively quickly. I had debated getting a cabana, but in the end decided it would be overkill, considering we would be back on the ship by noon at the latest for naptime. The beach by the clamshells was a little rocky, but not bad, and our daughter certainly had no complaints. We only spent about 2 and half hours there, so not enough time for us to really appreciate the little island.
We did try the kid care program a couple times. NCL is still accepting 2 year olds on the Sky till then end of the year, and give you a pager in case you are needed for a diaper change/crying child. The first time we left her was on the first full day, when we got back to the boat a bit early before lunch. We dropped her off around 11am and came back to pick her up around 11:45am. Since we were in port, the kids area was empty, and the only people in the kid care center were the counselors. She did great, and had a blast. The second time was in the afternoon on the third day, when we left her for an hour before dinner. There were a lot more kids there (mostly around age 5), and thus she did not do as well this time. Literally as we were walking into the room to come get her she burst into tears. I think she was just overwhelmed by all the kids. Still I think it was good for her to try some time away from Mom and Dad, and certainly good for us to have a little time away.
All the shows started at 8:30-9pm, which was far too late for our family. We knew this going in however, and it certainly didn't make or break our vacation. We did catch the comedian and the Not So Newlywed Show on the tv in our stateroom, and they were enjoyable.
Since we had a suite, we had literally the easiest disembarkation ever. Our concierge Karin greeted us after breakfast, walked us past all the lines, and off the ship. Simple as that. Honestly her service on this trip is what made the suite so valuable. When lugging all the various sundries that come with a toddler (car seat, diapers, a few toys, etc), having someone to guide you through the lines and shorten your waiting process is extremely helpful.
Overall I'd give this cruise a 9/10. My only real complaints were the food in the main dining room, which is a fairly easy fix, we could have very easily just dined in the specialty restaurants for dinner the whole cruise, and the noise problem from the arcade, which Karin did her absolute best to rectify. We came back from our vacation absolutely raving about the suite life on NCL. I can't say that we will always cruise in a suite from now on, but it will definitely be something we do again.