Finished a 6 night Southern Caribbean cruise with RCI on the Jewel of the Seas. Spent a few days in Miami and then on to the Bahamas with Norwegian on the Sky. Let me start this off by saying we had not been on a cruise before the Royal Caribbean trip, so we didn't know what to expect. A few of the people on the RCI trip were bashing RCI but we thought it was great. Very nice and personable crew, great food, clean, well maintained boat. Couldn't see anything to complain about there.
Norwegian Sky was a different story.
The crew... We didn't meet our room attendant until we basically hunted him down on the 3rd day to get some ice. Nice enough guy but we knew our gal on RCL pretty much right away as she introduced herself, told us a bit about her growing up in the islands, left a card. We talked w her every day. All the crew on RCL is personable, attentive, accessible right up to the captain. Never really met any of the crew on the Norwegian Sky. Don't know about the officers who appeared to be Europeans, the rest of the crew was basically Filipino who while nice are basically invisible. The "islands" crew on the Jewel were not invisible. Possibly a cultural deal?
Food....basically sucked on the Norwegian Sky. Eating in the dining room on the RCL Jewel was like going to a really nice restaurant. We could go pretty much any time, had the same seating area and servers. Food was very good as was the service. Tried the dining room on the NCL Sky 2x's, kind of gave up. Service was OK, food was mediocre and not worth the wait. Had to pick thru the buffet to scrape together something that was just OK. The buffet on the RCL Jewel was way better. It's like a $20 buffet versus a $6.99 buffet in Vegas.
The ship....RCL Jewel while not new, was well maintained and very clean. The NCL Sky while not new showed it. Time for some dock time to go through and redo the boat. Lots of plates laying around in the buffet on the Sky, immediately picked up on the Jewel. Saw the same pieces of paper and plates/glasses
laying about on Sky for some hours, that just wasn't allowed on the Jewel.
The rooms....had a window room on the Jewel, not on the Sky. Missed the window but you get what you pay for. These were both last minute trips. The room on the Jewel was slightly larger which ultimately makes a difference. It would be difficult to do a 7 day on the Sky but maybe that's why it's on the 4 day Bahama milk run. No storage for clothes on the Sky. The Jewel had 7 drawers under the desk which allowed you to clear out your suitcases. No desk drawers on the Sky, 3 small ones in the closet. Lots of closet shelves on the Jewel, basically 0 on the Sky.
Summary...It's obvious the Sky is more like a "bus" than the Jewel. Different demographic departing from a different port. The Jewel departs from San Juan and it takes time and $ to get to the ship. The Sky..drive to Miami and get on board. Perhaps that explains the wear and tear difference. Don't understand the crew thing, could be cultural but is likely a corporate culture deal. The officers are isolated on NCL and so is the crew. Total reverse of that on Royal. The difference in the food? Maybe it's just the cattle boat mentality again. We have friends who swear by Norwegian, but maybe it's way different on a different NCL ship.
Shopping....Drives you bloody nuts! Incessant about buying stuff on the boat and their captive shops on land. Not good on the RCL ships, worse on the Sky. Both of these companies can turn this stuff waaay down in my estimate, but I'm sure it's a critical component to their bottom line so that's not likely to happen. I'm not much of a shopper anyhow, so it really got under my skin.
Hope this helps