Up to now, I have never had a vacation go so horribly. Sure, my family and I have had hiccups in our vacation experiences like illness, ankle sprains, hospitalization (food poisoning), lost and delayed luggage, 16 hours in a Puerto Rico airport because the plane had “mechanical issues”, etc. (I could write a book.) I have been on three previous cruises, one I didn’t get my luggage until three days into the cruise. Yet, I always enjoyed my cruises (Costa and Royal Caribbean). Nothing compares to the experience on the Norwegian Sky. I hate to bash anyone or any company, but this information should be posted to prevent other cruisers from suffering the same fate. There were no reviews of this particular ship because it had just been refurbished and relocated from Hawaii to the Bahamas. The cruise right before ours was the first one open to the public since the refurbishment. Crazy as it seems now, I thought newly refurbished meant we had a clean slate and “new” ship to enjoy. Well I found out that the ship still had many technical issues to work through and that the voyage was a training cruise for the crew. I’m not against training, everyone has to learn sometime, but an entire ship of trainees should have been disclosed to us unsuspecting vacationers. If you get a discount because it is a training cruise, then you should be allowed to make the decision if the discount is worth the substandard service.
I sailed with my mother, my thirteen year old daughter, and her fourteen year old friend. I chose a three day cruise because the girls had never been cruising before. I just wanted them to experience the fun of cruising. I prefer a seven day cruise to immerse myself in the pampering and the tropical surroundings. Thank God we didn’t make this one seven days. I also chose the Norwegian cruise line because of the “freestyle cruising” appealed to me. I don’t like dressing up and going to meals at a set time with strangers. I found the discount with the Norwegian Sky where the kids/teens were free. This was perfect. I could keep the cost down for my family and my daughter’s friend.
I made reservations by calling NCL directly. I wanted to carefully pick our cabin. I preferred an outside cabin, but was told they were sold out, so I regretfully chose an inside cabin. I figured for three days we could put up with the cramped space, we’d be doing things outside the cabin most of the time anyway. After making the reservations, paying with my credit card, and listing the passengers (my name first), our cruise documents and luggage tags were sent to my daughter’s friend who happens to live in a different state than us now. Why they sent the documents to a fourteen year old with a different address than the one who purchased the cruise, I’ll never know. OK, we got the documents back from her. One little goof up. No big deal.
We drive half way to West Virginia to pick up my daughter’s friend. The next day we all fly from Richmond, Virginia to Miami, Florida. I was told by a NCL representative on the phone, when I made my reservation, to just place the luggage tags on my bags and the cruise personnel would take care of them from there. I had purchased the transportation from the airport to the cruise terminal. The rep on the phone also told me to just go straight to the cruise desk in the airport terminal once we arrived. The cruise desk was a long way from the gate, but isn’t everything in an airport. We get there with only one quick bathroom stop on the way and they tell me they have been looking for us. They were very terse because we hadn’t been at the baggage turnstiles. I explained what I had been told and the gentleman that power walked me back to the other side of the terminal to get our luggage complained and called the phone representatives idiots. He said they had no idea what they were doing. As my heart was practically beating out of my chest from the “run” to my family’s luggage, I thought about how unorganized this company seemed. He grabbed one bag and we had to get the rest of them. We power walked back to the other side of the terminal just in time to hop on the bus that we were tersely informed was waiting for us. We had to look into the eyes of the delayed passengers aboard. They were not happy with us. I just wanted to explain it wasn’t our fault, but they probably would not believe it.
After arriving at the cruise terminal, we got off the shuttle bus and were told to place are luggage with the cruise porter. He then informed us that “this is where you tip me now”. This just didn’t sit well with me, but if you don’t tip you’re afraid you may never see your luggage again. In to the cruise terminal we go, it was clean, the air was cool, and the layout and decoration beautiful. There was NCL staff at every turn to point us in the right direction. No waiting, just off to the ship. When we entered the ship, the gangway went in to an area that was not attractive at all. There was no one to guide us from that point on. We blindly followed the other passengers ahead of us. We wandered in to the atrium and they gave us a glass of orange juice or champagne. From here we found our way to our cabin by ourselves. It was stifling hot, but I thought, oh well, the air conditioning probably doesn’t work as well with the ship in dock. I had pre purchased a bon voyage gift for the girls and my mom. The teen gift was there, but not my moms. I went to the reception desk and told them the oversight, but they just said my mom could get her ship board casino credit in the casino, there would be no card with my nice little note to my mom like I ordered. Approximately three to four hours later the card did arrive in our cabin.
The Norwegian Sky supposedly had a great teen program with activities for the teens so my mom and I could just relax and let the girls have at the fun. I even purchased the “teen passport” gift so they could have 20 non alcoholic drinks to share and a teen pizza party while on board. I went to the “kids” area and signed permission for both girls to participate in the teen activities. The girls went to the first activity and no one else was there. The activities were very limited and included the adult activities (which were also very limited). Activities while in port were almost non existent. The teen pizza party I paid for never happened. The passport was for twenty non alcoholic drinks. Nowhere in the description did it give limitations on where you could get the drinks. Our first meal I showed the server the teen gift card and we were told that it was only available at the bar. So we go to the bar after the meal to get one of those fruity drinks with an umbrella my daughter loves. The bartender tells us to go to the reception desk to get the tear off coupon book, he was out of them. We go to the reception desk, they say go to the bartender. We go back to the bartender – by this time I’m hot, tired and the fun gift I got my daughter and friend is a nightmare. The bartender says we’ll just have to get our money back because they don’t have the teen coupon books anymore. I head back to the reception desk and I ask to speak to a manager. He arrives but does not speak good English so we have trouble communicating. Finally, he gives me a piece of paper with his signature and the NCL logo that says we are “entitled to a teen passport”. On the way back upstairs to the bar, the elevator makes a weird noise like the one when the weight limit is exceeded and a light comes on with the words “Please get out”. I’m not lying, that is what the elevator sign says. At this point, I have missed the start of the only show that evening. While my family is hopefully enjoying the show, I am riding up and down on this rude elevator. I get to the bar and show the bartender the signed note. He reluctantly gives me two drinks and makes to “tick” marks on the paper. For the rest of the cruise, I had to go to the bar and explain my story to every bartender to fight for the drinks I paid in advance for. The fun and convenience of the girls getting their own drinks was lost. We only ended up with fifteen drinks and no pizza party, it just took too much time to get them.
Meanwhile the ship is getting hotter and hotter in all areas of the ship. We set sail, and this doesn’t help. The elevators start to malfunction. We heard of other passengers getting trapped in the elevators. The computer system kept rebooting in an attempt to correct the air conditioning so it messed up the elevators as well. The captain made no announcements regarding the problem. The reception desk line grew longer and longer with unhappy passengers. The reception desk no longer answered the phone. They were completely overwhelmed. Our cabin was kept clean, but we had no bath soap until the last night of the cruise. A lady came in to refill it but topped off the hand soap instead of the bath soap. We requested bath soap five or six times and I spoke to the head cabin steward and heard him say to a steward to handle this immediately – it was 12 hours later when we got soap. None of the cabin stewards spoke enough English to understand our request. Finally, after two days they say the air conditioning is fixed and the captain makes an announcement that we could have a glass of wine or a soda at dinner for the inconvenience. My mother was sick with the extreme heat in our cabin and I had to practically beg for ice to cool her neck to keep her from passing out. We had no way to get air in that tiny cabin. We slept with wet towels on us. But, that glass of wine for me and diet coke for my daughter really made us feel better about roasting, NOT!! Our cabin had a little air conditioning for about half that night then no more. We never had a cool room.
Passengers began to compare notes. Cabins were without plumbing. The sewer systems were also in trouble. People who had paid for balcony rooms and could get some fresh air, had to move to tiny interior cabins because their toilets wouldn’t flush or the room smelled so bad with backed up sewer. The last night of the cruise we had a leak coming from our bathroom that made a soaking/squishing wet spot on the carpet about a three foot diameter that smelled of urine. Luckily, our toilet did keep flushing. We all wanted off that ship so badly. We were 120 miles or so from Miami and I was wondering if I could swim that many miles without drowning or getting eaten by a shark. Our fellow passengers also complained of food shortages. Menu items were running out. The “picnic BBQ” on the private island ran out of tea, lemonade, and finally water. The captain finally sent a note on the last night to each cabin thanking us for sailing with NCL and the Norwegian Sky and for sailing with them, each cabin would receive $50.00 in shipboard credit. No mention or apology for all of the inconveniences and terrible living conditions was included in that letter.
There was a small bright spot or two on the cruise. The cruise director was funny, vivacious and entertaining. The shows were entertaining. The costumes were in poor condition but the dancers and entertainers were good. If it wasn’t for the laughs and music, I think we would have all gone bonkers. As it was my mother and I both lost our cool a time or two. Also, the Palace restaurant food was very good. The service left a little to be desired. Again, language barriers were a problem in the dining room, including the manager. I love the diversity of international crew members and I think it adds to the charm, but I would like to be able to communicate with them. I’m not talking about thick accents either. These people genuinely could not understand English. They knew the few phrases they were taught to survive the cruise and that was it.
The only stops were Nassau, Bahamas. Not my favorite destination, but it is OK. The taxi cab drivers hound you and stalk you the entire visit. They are very rude if you deny them. They even mimic your comments to them. We went on the “Sea and See” shore excursion. The boat out to the “semi submarine” was a nicely narrated tour of the area including famous people’s homes. The semi submarine was so covered in barnacles and sea grass it was difficult to see out of the window. It was a mediocre tour. The other stop was NCL’s private island. It was small but pleasant (except for the drinks running out). The BBQ food was tasty. The tender service was OK as well. Unfortunately my daughter is very fair skinned and sunscreen was not enough to save her from sunburn. We looked for aloe gel as soon as we got back on the ship but the gift shop had very limited hours and was not open. The ship’s medical clinic refused to give us any aloe without seeing the doctor first – with a charge of $78.00 to see the doctor.
NCL charges $10.00 per day per passenger for gratuities. Supposedly, this is so you don’t have to bother with tipping crew members at the end of the cruise. Personally, I tip according to service given. No service – no tip. We had to pay the $40./day for our cabin even though we suffered with all the above mentioned problems and lack of service. I am being unreasonable?????
One last note about NCL’s “freestyle cruising”: You are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want, provided the limited activities, limited time frames, and limited service can provide for your needs when you want. For instance, take your time disembarking- “Just chill! It’s your final morning.” As long as you’re out of your cabin by 7:30am and off the boat by 9:00am. But please do take your time. Oh yeah. Pick your time to leave out of the six 10 minute intervals available. Eat breakfast before you go, as long as you eat before 9:00 am and beat the other passengers there to get the limited tables available and before the food runs out.
I could go on and on about this cruise experience. I will not plan for another NCL cruise. Even if I got a free cruise offer from NCL, I’m not sure I would take them up on it. My fellow passengers and I decided we would take the time to warn people of this problem. I don’t know about the other ships in the NCL family, but I do know that the Norwegian Sky has a lot of work to do on that particular ship and crew.