I booked this cruise for three main reasons: 1) A group of cruise bloggers/travel agents had organized a block, and I was interested in meeting folks that I've gotten to know through Twitter, 2) I had a few unaccounted vacation days to use this year (for solo travel sans husband) and wanted to do a weekend cruise with one or more of my girlfriends, and 3) going on this cruise would bring me even with my husband in terms of number of cruise lines sailed (4) and total number of cruises (10)!
In fact, my husband had sailed the 4 day version of this cruise with his dad back in January 2011. So I went into this cruise with appropriate expectations, given this is referred to (even by the ship's staff) as a "booze cruise" and this was one of the oldest & smallest ships I've sailed on.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
I actually flew into Tampa two days ahead of the cruise, as my best friend joining me on the cruise lives in St. Petersburg. We took her car and drove to Miami the day before the cruise (about a 4 hr drive).
Hotel Info (if any)
We stayed at the Miami Element hotel near the airport. The hotel is being targeted toward Millennial age travelers - lots of green/sustainable features, and decor very IKEA-like (in the words of my best friend!). The room itself was fantastic - very open and spacious, huge bathroom with a large glass enclosed shower, premium bedding linens, complete kitchen, large flat screen TV, and free high speed Internet. We had a 4th floor room facing downtown, and had an incredible view of 10+ fireworks displays in the area (we stayed on July 4th). And for its proximity to the airport, it was very quiet. However, the hotel is located in an industrial area, and there is absolutely nothing within walking distance. This wasn't an issue for us since we had use of a car, but it definitely isn't a convenient hotel to the port. We had a park & cruise package, so we left her car at the hotel, and took the hotel shuttle to the port.
We arrived at the cruise ship terminal about 11:15am. No lines waiting at check in - took about 5 min. We were assigned to Group 3 for boarding, and we were on board shortly before noon. They originally announced that our staterooms wouldn't be ready until 2:30pm but they ended up being ready by 1:30pm. All our luggage was delivered to room by 3:30pm.
We had an oceanview stateroom on forward port side of deck 4 with an unobstructed porthole window. It was a small but perfectly functional room for a 3 day cruise. There's only 1 accessible power outlet at the desk so it's good to bring a power strip. Since NCL is a Pepsi ship, I brought on board an 8 pack of small bottled Diet Cokes which fit perfectly in the mini fridge (I did have to call Housekeeping to request that the mini fridge be emptied of all the minibar crap, which didn't occur until after 1st night turndown service). Beds were not plush, but they weren't rock hard either. Pillows were OK. Linens were nice. Didn't hear much hallway noise during the night.
The ship feels very much like the Sun class ships of Princess, except the Promenade deck on Sky has no teak floors and no type of seating available. Definitely no wow factor but offers a typical cruise ship experience.
The hull artwork and many of the interior decorations still date from when the ship was positioned in Hawaii as the Pride of Aloha. However, the ship will be going into dry dock in October as I understand it to "de-Hawaiiify" the decor.
Smoking is allowed in certain public areas, including the casino which permeates the surrounding air in that region of the ship. It was so bad that we took pains to walk through deck 6 and up the aft stairs to get to the Internet Cafe & shops on deck 7.
Our muster drill station was out on the Promenade deck. This was my 1st time doing muster outside and I'm not a fan. It was congested and uncomfortable. However, we didn't have to take life jackets to the drill which was nice.
Wifi is only available in public areas of decks 6,7, and 11 - NOT in staterooms but I'm told that's coming with the Oct dry dock changes. Bought 30 min pkg (+5 min free when purchased on day 1) for $16 plus $3.95 setup fee. Internet speed was much better than I expected - we always went to the Internet Cafe on deck 7 to use our smartphones.
There didn't seem to be a lot of chair hogging on the pool deck. Pool was refreshing though not very large in size.
Given this was such a short cruise, we didn't participate in many of the organized activities.
The sailaway party was pretty loud and hot. They had a seemingly nice poolside BBQ but we didn't partake.
The White Hot Party was held on night 2 at 10:45pm (a family version was scheduled for 9:30pm). Sky is one of only a few ships in NCL that has the WHP outside on the pool deck - can't imagine how incredibly uncomfortable it must be held inside a club. Still don't understand the angel wings thing. Great mix of dance songs. We stayed until about 11:45pm.
Besides the food, I'd say this was the other major weakness for the cruise. Never met our cabin steward, and there wasn't even a sign in the cabin indicating who he/she was. We did get a towel animal with nightly turndown service, but no chocolates! :(
Definitely much less connection to staff than I've had with any other cruise line.
Port & Shore Excursions
Port #1 - Great Stirrup Cay (GSC)
Sky doesn't have their own tenders - tenders are launched from GSC. Tender ride over was fairly rough. We arrived on the island shortly after 9am (having priority tendering).
GSC is a pretty large island. Royal Caribbean's Coco Cay is next door and seemed tiny in comparison - Mariner of the Seas was anchored there on this day.
Main public beach area has very little shade - far less than what Princess Cays or Disney's Castaway Cay has. Sand quality was comparable to Princess' and Disney's islands.
GSC features live music, beach volleyball, slides, water sport activities, and a miniature straw market.
Returning for tenders seemed a bit chaotic - no organized lines just a mass of people waiting to file through the checkpoint area. Tender ride was better on the way back.
We shared a cabana rental with a family of three (the dad being the group Cruise Family Reunion organizer and our travel agent for this cruise). Cabanas cost $299 and you receive: priority tendering, 8 bottles of water, fresh fruit plate, chips & salsa, and $50 toward specialty foods or any kind of drinks. Cabana attendants took our island BBQ lunch order and brought food to us so we didn't have to walk all the way back over and stand in the lines. They also brought our drinks, including the unlimited pop as that also was good on the island (unlike Princess).
The Island BBQ was comparable to Princess, but not nearly as good as Disney. We had burgers, hot dogs, pizza (terrible), variety of cold salads, and more fruit. If desserts were available at main pavilion, we weren't offered them.
Cabanas feature 4 deluxe loungers, dining table and 4 chairs, mini fridge, outside shower, and a hammock in the back. 8 beach towels are provided so you don't have to drag them with you off the ship.
Cabanas are located away from main area on a separate beach area. Relatively few other people not in cabanas made the trek over so it was uncrowded.
It would be nice if another set of restrooms were available closer to our beach area.
Port #2 - Nassau
We didn't do any excursions. We got off the ship shortly after 10am. Walked around trying to find free wifi unsuccessfully (later found out that we should have headed over to Conch Fritters or Senor Frogs). Did some shopping downtown & in straw market. Preparations were underway for Bahamas Independence Day celebration 7/10. Found a Christmas nook in The Linen Shop that had nice quality merchandise. After a couple hours, returned to ship.
I didn't have high expectations, but even so, the food was disappointing. Now we opted not to go to any of the alternative restaurants, which I'm assuming would have offered a higher quality product.
Buffet - Commensurate with the ship size, the buffet is pretty small, and food is at best average. The only good to very good items were the chocolate croissants (breakfast), the pretzel breadsticks (lunch & dinner), lamb curry (lunch), and made to order pasta (dinner) though the ingredients were fairly limited. Desserts were especially awful - we quickly discovered our "best" option was simply the ice cream or soft serve and the chocolate fountain dipped marshmallows. And apparently cruising like a Norwegian means weird food options - the capstone of which had to be on the late night snack buffet when you could get tomato & mozzarella on Black Forest bread (raisins!) with mayo.
MDR - We only ate in a dining room the first night since this was "lobster" night. Went to the Palace Dining Room at 6:30pm and there was no wait to be seated for a party of 5. The lobster was offered as a surf & turf - but the portions were small and a little overlooked. I had a shrimp & potato salad appetizer and key lime pie for dessert - both of which were quite good.
The menus for 2nd and 3rd nights were progressively more unappealing.
Longboard Bar - This is definitely the hidden gem for dining and drinking on the ship! Discovered they had a menu of food items which were more appealing than what we had in buffet - wings, burgers, chicken tenders, etc. They also have popcorn but you have to go up to the bar and request it. We went here for dinner one night, and late night snacks a couple times. Also, drinks in this bar are made very strong so if you want to maximize your alcohol value go here!
Other Options - One morning, we Went to Omelet & Waffle stations in the Il Vacino Italian restaurant. Waffle was basically an oversized Eggo. You could get a few toppings (bananas, berries, whipped cream) along with sides of bacon & sausage. In this area they also had an Indian vegetarian buffet set up. Alas, it wasn't until I got home that I found out we missed the lunchtime pizza & pasta stations in Il Vacino. In the afternoon of Nassau, they set up another poolside bar of nachos, tacos, and seafood rice stir-fry. I didn't try the rice but my friend said it desperately needed seasoning.
The shows were all very late on this ship - not sure if it's just this kind of "booze" cruise itinerary or if it's part of the freestyle cruising approach. Saw the "Vegas" production show in the Stardust Theater on 2nd night. Got there right before show time and had to sit on far left side which inhibited our ability to see some of the performers. Theater has rather strange seating - some fixed bench seating and then uneven rows of individual swivel chairs which made getting to empty seats annoying. Show was 45 min of high energy and tons of costume changes. Singers and dancers did a nice job, and it was an enjoyable enough show to pass the time before the White Hot Party.
We opted for self-disembarkation which started at 7:45am. We had a final breakfast with our group cruise travelers first. Had to pick up my friend's off-ship purchased rum from alcohol quarantine and then proceeded to disembark. It was a quick process thru customs, and we were waiting for a taxi by 9am.
My 1st time cruising on NCL. Without a doubt, Great Stirrup Cay (and renting a cabana) was the highlight of the cruise. I had fairly low expectations for the cruise otherwise. I would consider sailing NCL again if it were on the newest ships like Breakaway where the amenities and food would probably be much better.