The last time I cruised on Sky was in 2010, and in four years there have been some changes--some for the good, some less so. Here's my honest take on what I still believe is the best weekend getaway or intro to cruising trip currently available, warts and all.
This was a hastily planned, last-minute I-need-a-vacation-now cruise. I had just taken my severance from my last job and decided it was time to celebrate moving on. My wife and I hadn't had a proper vacation since we were married in Jamaica over a year ago.
We flew from DFW to FLL via Spirit Air and made it on-time (surprise!). Transportation to POM was via MJS transportation and for $13 pp, was comfortable, quick and Jeremy was a great driver/guide. Embarkation at POM was typical NCL efficient, meaning you were ten minutes from walking in the terminal to walking across the gangway.
First thing I noticed was the missing glass of champagne on boarding, OK, no big deal really, but it was a nice touch on my first two cruises. It was a demarcation line between regular time and vacation time. NCL take note, those were maybe $3 bottles of bubbly you were serving, the cost couldn't have been that high and we missed the nicety.
We boarded at about 1PM, and had a quick bite at the buffet (Great Outdoors) and were pleased with the food, which was fresh and hot, if simple. We were starved from the trip and it went down well. Staterooms were available at about 2:30 and we went in to relax prior to sailaway. We were eagerly anticipating getting underway, and after a short trip to the naughty room to pay the corkage fee for the one bottle of bubbly we brought aboard, we went up to the lido deck to grab a beverage and join the festivities. As on previous sailings, first thing I noticed is that NCL bartenders pour on the heavy side and you need to pace yourself if you don't want to be sideways in a hurry :-)
The sailaway grill-out was as I remembered, simple hot dogs, burgers and tasty grilled chicken--in all a very neighborhood-block-party ambience as people started to loosen up and dance.
As for the Sky, she's definitely older, and showing her age in a few places. Public spaces are immaculate and detailed, but due for a refresh. Our stateroom (10208) was a forward balcony, and I could get picky about the condition of some items, specifically the picture frame that was marred and chipped, the lampshades over the bed that were stained and cracked (from being hit by so many passengers heads, I imagine--given their ridiculous location), and the overall "lived in" feel. But I won't. The room was still quite comfortable and there are, after all--no bad balcony rooms! The location, right off the forward elevators, was extremely convenient and wasn't noisy at all.
I will call out our room steward by name (thank you, Rogelio Mayo) who kept our room as clean and tidy as possible, and with the help of his supervising officer Frederick, helped us out a whole lot when we had a minor crisis develop: You see, we borrowed an iron and ironing board to press a few items before dinner Friday evening. Midway through the ironing process the iron spat out a spray of rusty water and stained my wife's brand new white blouse, all over. I called in Rogelio and explained the situation, he said he would handle it and called his boss in. So, Frederick comes in and looks at the iron, the blouse (complete with it's still attached price tag) and says "no problem, are there any other items you need cleaned and pressed, I will take care of that for you as well, no charge?" The blouse was returned the following day in perfect renewed condition. Kudos to the team, and the excellent service!
We caught dinner at the Crossroads MDR, and I will say that the food was improved over last sailing and service was markedly faster. I prefer Crossroads over the Palace MDR as it tends to be quieter, IMO. Now, for all the complaints about food on NCL and the Sky in particular I have read, I am just going to say "I don't get it." And let me also say I'm a "foodie," and have eaten in and appreciate some of the best restaurants all over the country. I'm a vocal critic of bad food (and service) as well. That said, we weren't served a bad meal in our three days on board NCL Sky, in any venue. More to come on individual meals but overall, food quality was very good. Some are prepared simply, but the quality was good. In Crossroads first night, my wife's sirloin was a bit thin-cut, but tasty and prepared well. My garlic shrimp were prepared well and were fresh and on par with any decent seafood restaurant's offering. So far, so good!
We caught the tail end of the comedy act after dinner, and we were sorry we missed the first half of the show, this guy was pretty good. We stopped for a couple of lattes at the coffee bar. Service from "Papi" from Jamaica was friendly and they do a fair job with their coffees.
We proceeded to donate a couple of hundred bucks to the casino before retiring. The beds were comfy and we slept well until we pulled into Nassau the following morning, Coffee was brought by room service at the exact called-for hour, which was repeated for the following two days as well. The on-board cinnamon rolls were "meh," at best, but I wasn't expecting Cinnabon :-)
Breakfast at Il Adagio was excellent, with well-prepared to order omelettes, and tasty sausages. They had just run out of home fries, I guess I could have gone around the corner and scooped some from the main buffet, but I passed. My waistline was probably grateful... We ate our omelettes and headed down to spend the day in Nassau. Nassau is reviewed below in my port review.
We had dinner that night at Cagney's, and it was wonderful. If I were to grouse about anything, I would complain that the shrimp cocktail only had three large shrimp, but If I wanted more I could have just ordered another, It would have been silly anyway--my wife and I both had the 18 oz bone-in Ribeye and it was enough food to total us both, Both steaks were seasoned and cooked to perfection. Also, I forget what it was called but the Cagney's Signature Martini was awesome!
We caught the "Vegas" revue after dinner and it was a well done show. Didn't think I'd like it as much as I did. There is a talented company working the Sky and I urge people to catch the show and see them perform.
Since we had a long day in Nassau and a big dinner, we actually decided not to attend the White Hot Party and called it a night earlier than expected. We were tired and happy, and considered the day a win overall.
Next day, we awoke to the sound of the anchor chain as Sky pulled in to Great Stirrup Cay. We caught an early tender over and had no problem getting a lounge. NCL has done a LOT of work on GSC since my last cruise. The island looks good, the tendering on and off is easier now with the tender docking area, and there is just more to do on the island than before, Good work NCL! We ordered (for $17.50 each, I think) a couple of massive drinks in 32 oz beach cups. Denise's Bahama Mama nearly knocked her out, and there was a enough Tanqueray in my G&T to induce an impressive pre-lunch buzz. Lunch by the way, was as I remembered from past trips here--burgers, chicken, good sides, all enjoyed with the accompaniment of a reggae band. A little clash in music between the reggae and the other music coming from the Bacardi Bar, but other than that, a perfect day in the sun and in the water in an idyllic spot.
We went back to the ship about 2PM, having had enough sun, and actually took a two hour nap before going back up to the pool deck to lie out and get some more. We dressed afterward for dinner at Le Bistro that evening, and were rewarded with another excellent meal. The quatre cornets appetizer was very good, and the escargot were excellent! The rack of lamb was tender, well seasoned and delicious. My wife's roast pork was equally well executed. Service by our waiter Joseph was beyond reproach. We asked him to bring us what he thought was Le Bistro's best dessert, so he brought us a chocolate fruit fondue, a napoleon AND a creme brulee. We fought to finish the fondue and took the rest back to our stateroom for later. We caught the Sunday evening show in the theatre, called "Showdown," a sort of mock "American Idol" type presentation, It was OK, but a little too campy for my tastes. Afterward we saw the adult comedy act in Dazzles afterward, it too was okay. My personal thought was that I think he would be better if NCL didn't throttle him back--there are limits on how rude/profane they let him be, apparently. I don't mind a little over-the-top stuff in an over-18 comedy venue, and this was rather tame, all things considered. Probably so as not to offend the older folks :-)
So, after donating to the Sky Casino one more time, we called it an evening. Next morning we rushed off the ship, and I regret not taking the time for one last breakfast. I had no idea how poor the facilities are at FLL airport, so when we were stuck there for hours waiting on a delayed flight (That's the Spirit Air I know and "love!") I was *seriously* missing breakfast. Really, Fort Lauderdale: International Airport? Nothing to eat but pre-packaged crap and less-than-fresh Nathan's hot dogs--and not a single outlet to charge your phone? As bad as MIA is, FLL is a dump.
But I digress...
OK, so in summary: No doubt, Norwegian Sky is starting to show her age, but if you can get past some of her warts she is still a fair gal who will show you a great time. Service from the moment we got on board through the moment we walked off was impeccable. Everyone on the staff was happy and friendly, or at least if they weren't they put on the right face--from waiters, stewards, bartenders and officers right down to the washy-washy girls who are all over the ship. This was not a spring break cruise, and the pax for the most part were all well-behaved across the board. There were a *lot* of families with young kids, and all of them seemed to be having a great time.
Bottom line? I really think the only way you could have a bad time on this 3-day cruise is if you brought it on board yourself.
Great improvements on the island, a great beach day!
This makes my seventh visit to New Providence Island/Nassau over the past twenty years, either via cruise or air, so I am pretty familiar with the place. Nassau is Nassau. I love it, personally. I love its unabashed tackiness, it's borderline seediness, the crazy cabdrivers and the pushy salespeople. Others hate it for exactly the same reasons. I had read with dread the recent US State Department's warnings about crime in Nassau, and duly noted the paragraph in our Freestyle Daily urging cruise passengers to exercise care while in Nassau for the same reason.
I am happy to report that well, Nassau is *still* the Nassau I love, and nothing untoward appeared to be going on as of this last visit (May 2014).
It's still a little grimy around the edges, but in the port area most things have a new coat of paint and are generally well maintained. Beware you don't turn an ankle on the uneven pavements and mind the Jitney's and taxis and scooters when crossing the street, but enjoy Nassau for what it is, a city with a wonderful and colorful history and a warm, inviting population. Take the time to know them and you'll learn a lot about the island and city they call home. This last cruise, we came in on the Norwegian Sky for the day.
Yes, as soon as you walk through the gates you will be accosted by aggressive taxi drivers and hair braiders. A simple "no thank you" will turn their attention to someone else. I don't begrudge anyone for trying to make a buck. Make your way to Bay Street and enjoy the shopping, if that's your thing. Personally, since the advent of the internet I find I can buy most things online for as good or better pricing than in most cruise ports. We walked both sides of Bay street before turning South and walking up the hill towards Fort FIncastle.
My wife and I were the only cruisers/tourists making the hike to the fort that Saturday morning. Along the way, we passed several locals and were greeted with smiles and "good mornings," and although I was in "Condition Yellow" (i.e., maintaining a full awareness of my surroundings and taking mental inventory of all persons and places along my route), I saw nothing to make us feel threatened in any way, Note, your mileage may vary, so to speak. I'm 6'2" 270 and probably not seen as any sort of "easy mark" by anyone looking to roll a tourist, but that said, there were only pleasant individuals and families we saw on our way up to the Fort, no groups of youths or folks looking as if they were out for trouble in any way,
I enjoyed the hike up to Fincastle, although it was hard on my wife's feet, and enjoyed our self-guided tour of the very small fort, There's a great view of the harbor from the Fort, which is exactly why they placed their cannons there, I suppose :-)
We decided to cab it out of there, in deference to my wife's aching footsies, but all of the cabs at the Fort area were waiting on their fares they brought up from the port. No problem, I approached a uniformed Nassau Police Officer and told him I was looking for a taxi, whereupon he accompanied us to the Fort's Gift Shop and asked the girl behind the counter to call us one. Five minutes later, we were in a cab on the way to John Watley's Rum Distillery.
Watley's is on beautiful grounds and we took a self-guided tour of the distillery, which was not distilling or bottling anything that day, but was interesting nonetheless. We had a couple of delicious Bahama Mamas on the grounds and returned to our cab for a ride to Ardastra Gardens & Zoo.
Ardastra is worth the trip. The entry costs $16 pp, and that Saturday morning we were one of maybe a dozen visitors to the park. It;s a beautiful place, filled with tropical foliage and trees and where the peacocks and flamingos have the run of the place, and you can interact with them up close and at will. We were saddened to learn that just two weeks before, the park's resident 20-year old Jaguar passed away. Very sad to see the notice on the empty habitat pen.
There are plenty of birds and animals to see, Lory Parrot feeding and a flamingo parade, which we didn't actually stay to see. There's a little gift shop with souvenirs and other items for the kids/grandkids and we made a bunch of purchases there. Only caveat is those with accessibility issues might have some trouble navigating the paths and uneven ground.
From Ardastra Gardens we walked the few blocks to the Arawak Cay Fish Fry, and had lunch at Twin Brothers restaurant. The conch fritters are better at Goldies, Twins' are more fritter and less conch, but their fried grouper and conch burgers (really cracked conch on a bun) were excellent. The Kaliks are ice cold and overall, Twin Bros gets a thumbs up.
From there it was cab back downtown, some shopping, bought some of the obligatory conch shells to bring home before heading back to the ship.
Summary: Nassau is in my experience, still quite safe to walk,, on the port side of the hill, during daylight hours. It;s a city, like any other city, and you need to be aware at all times. There is a lot to see, and I truly love the Bahamian people. They are warm, friendly and helpful and appreciate those tourists who take an interest in them and their island, If walking concerns you, take a cab. They are plentiful, if dilapidated, and most of the drivers are a hoot! Enjoy their company and local knowledge, just negotiate your fare up front! You'll still make out far better dollar-wise than a pricey shore excursion/tour.