Before I get started with this review, I should mention that I have now been on over 20 cruises, some short, some longer. I have sailed this particular 3 day route many times as a quick getaway from home (Ft. Lauderdale) on a variety of lines. The point is, I have some things that I can use as comparative points of reference. Accordingly, I hope to provide you with a meaningful review.
Having read several negative reviews and many negative postings on the Cruise Critic Boards, I was very concerned about this weekend trip aboard the Norwegian Sky to the Bahamas. In fact, I was so concerned, that I contacted both my travel agent and an upper level executive at Norwegian to find out what was going on with the ship and what they were doing to remedy it. My first bit of relief arrived in a timely email response from NCL that admitted to some cabins having A/C or plumbing problems and that those cabins had been taken off-line. I was assured that my cabin was not affected. I decided to go to the port and hope for the best.
Arrival at the port was very smooth. I do wish that the Port of Miami would do a better job with their signage however. I drove in circles trying to find the correct parking garage and pier. There was no sign directing me to the correct terminal, but fortunately ships are BIG so you can find where you need to be by looking for the correct smokestack. Anyway, I digress...
Embarkation was very smooth. We arrived at the terminal at around 12:30 pm, showed a security guard our boarding pass and passport and were permitted to go upstairs. At that point we cleared security without any lines or hassles. In less than 5 minutes we were being checked in by an agent. The agent had a problem with his computer crashing so rather than try to fix it, he had us go to the very next agent available. This was pleasant and definitely saved time and showed a customer focus. Check in was quick. In a couple of minutes, we were upstairs waiting for the obligatory boarding photo and then we were on the ship. The entire process took less than 15 minutes - very smooth!
The first criticism that I had heard about the Sky was that once on the ship, nobody was available to assist you. I could not have found this to be further from the truth. While there were not groups of staff waiting to assist me with my carry on luggage (not that I need it), there were staff at every turn offering directions to help get us to where we wanted to be. Speaking of carry on luggage and thinking of other reviews, if you can't manage your luggage efficiently and need someone else to help you, then you should probably be checking it with a porter and not using it as carry-on. OK, I am digressing again...
The first place that we went was to Deck 5 to make a dinner reservation. This process went well. I must say that NCL does know how to handle the FreeStyle concept of dining. Other lines I have been on have tried with much less success to make this concept work. I was skeptical of it, but I must say, they know what they are doing. Anyway, we made reservations for LeBistro, cancelled and changed them to Il Adagio, and then about 20 minutes later called them to change again to Cagney's Steakhouse. Talk about indecisive. At any rate, they were very accommodating and met all of our reservation needs with ease and accuracy.
Next, we went up to Deck 11 for the buffet lunch. I must admit that this was disappointing. The Garden restaurant (buffet) has an awkward layout that makes the "action stations" difficult to navigate. While seating was always available, it also always felt crowded. The room itself had some "hot spots" where the A/C did not work as well as one would hope. On top of that, the food choices and appearance were never very appetizing. Of all the cruise lines I have sailed, I must say that the buffet area and food quality in the buffet was the worst I have ever experienced. This remained true throughout the cruise, breakfast, lunch or snack... The buffet was a consistent disappointment.
At about 2 pm we headed to our cabin which was now ready and available (note, they did not make an announcement to this effect until about 2:45, but we were told by crew members that the cabins should be ready by 2 pm and they were). The cabin was very clean, decently appointed and comfortable... and the A/C and plumbing worked well. We did notice that the beds were hard, but not unreasonably so. In fact, my partner loved the bed because he thinks a firm bed is the best thing in the world... for me, not so much. The other thing about the cabin that we did notice was that the bathroom was not well ventilated, so it became very moist and humid. The shelves in the bathroom were so moist that I had to wipe down my toiletries. Not a big deal, but it does show that "something" with the ventilation system on the ship is not perfect.
The lifeboat drill was smooth and quick. Having done these drills so many times, I have grown to accept and hate them at the same time. Yes, I know they are necessary... but I still don't like them. Anyway, this one was very quick with formalities kept to a bare minimum. We were back in our cabin within 15 minutes of arriving on deck. NOTE: Regarding smells of sewage, we did notice a strong odor in our muster area (F) outside on Deck 6. As I walked the deck throughout the weekend, this area did have a consistent odor. All cruise ships seem to have small areas that have unpleasant odors (sometimes sewage), and I was on the look-out for it on this ship having read the posts. I don't know that anything is necessarily wrong in this area on the Sky, it may just be where an exhaust vent is located, but there is an unpleasant odor in this area so I would advise not hanging out there.
Dinner that evening was at Cagney's and the food was quite delicious. The service was adequate for the type of restaurant; certainly not to the level of the Speciality restaurants on Celebrity, but adequate nonetheless. My filet was ordered medium but arrived rare. I sent it back and it was corrected quickly. The beef was very tender and all of the sides were delicious.
We ended the evening with cocktails in the Plantation Club and then a short visit to Dazzles Nightclub. The guitarist and singer at Plantation was very good (although his personality was a bit offputting). The drinks and service were good, too. The comedian was okay --- with comedians it is really hit or miss and depends on what you like. Lots of people loved him, I thought he was just okay, my partner did not like him at all.
Now, having spent our first day aboard, let me comment on the decor of the ship. The reality is that I am not sure what the cruise line did during their "refurbishment" other than add a casino. The decor was still very Hawaiian - in all of the lounges, the hallways, and even the artwork in the cabins. Not that this is a bad thing, and if they wanted to go with a theme, they sure succeeded. I guess my feeling was that they boasted about the Sky being all refurbished and yet it still felt like we were on what I imagine the Pride of Aloha looked and felt like. Some may love the decor, some may hate it, some may not care... it is all personal taste, but NCL should at least call it what it is.
Allow me to now also comment on the behavior and number of children on board. With the special promotion that NCL was offering and with it being the end of summer vacation, there were a lot of kids on board for this trip. This was expected. Unfortunately, many parents did not supervise their children, kid's activities seemed minimal, and the adult only signs were ignored and not enforced at all by NCL staff. I even heard parents complaining that there were just not enough of the kid's activities.
On the morning of the second day, we arrived in Nassau. While I would have liked to have breakfast in the dining room, we slept too late and they stopped serving by 9 am. Personally, I feel that they should extend the breakfast dining room operating times - they are very restrictive and don't align well with the Freestyle concept. The need is obviously there because the buffet was overcrowded as the only option available for most of the morning. So, anyway, we headed up to the buffet and again had a less than great meal.
We got off the ship briefly in Nassau and walked around (been there too many times to count and we really enjoy the emptiness of the ship when everyone else is ashore). The photographers were all over on the pier and took some cool shots with the ship as a background. We didn't buy any of them, but they did have a nice background and the photographers were friendly.
After walking around we had a light lunch at the Buffet again since the dining room menu was very limited and not at all appetizing. Once again, it was sustenance, but not anything great. The exception though was the pizza (it was pretty good) that was available at Il Adagio. The problem with this is that it is in a separate restaurant from the rest of the buffet so it is not convenient if you are with someone and want to have a slice of pizza or some pasta with the rest of your lunch or with your traveling companions who may want something other than pizza.
We enjoyed lounging around the quiet ship and even took a nap. Since the headline show was going on tonight, we wanted to grab an early dinner and headed to the Palace dining room as the ship set sail. The dinner we had here was EXCELLENT... really! We were truly pleasantly surprised with the service and the food in the dining room. I had the cheese tortellini as my entree (it is one of the items that is always available) - and it was fantastic. My partner had the surf and surf... lots of seafood and he loved it, too. Even the appetizers and desserts were delicious.
From there we went to the show with the ship's singers and dancers. It was extremely high energy with a variety of music (lots of rock / older top 40). The costumes were great, the singing fantastic, and the dancing good, too. There was no real set design, but the show worked without it. The main disappointment is that it was offered only once and that there was no production show the last night - so we had only one opportunity to see these great performers.
This was also the first time that we met our Cruise Director, Matt. We were not at all impressed with him. He does not seem to have much of his own personality, instead he relies on trying to be an "Austin Powers wannabe". This was really annoying. But, like comedians, some people will surely love him. To each their own. At any rate, this was to be his last sailing on Sky as he was being reassigned, so if you are reading this, you will surely have a different cruise director.
After the show, we went to Plantation Club again... tonight Fracios was playing the piano. He is a classical pianist and is really wonderful. He is very approachable and plays beautifully. We had cocktails and conversation with our new friends and enjoyed the time.
After leaving the Plantation Club we went out to the Hot White Night Party on deck. The use of lasers is pretty incredible. The dance music was not necessarily my taste, but people were having fun and it was definitely a cool scene. I am glad we went and experienced it. We closed out the night with a short visit to the Casino where I did my part in helping NCL's profit line. Oh well... it is all part of the fun.
On Sunday, we once again missed the breakfast in the Palace Dining Room (I actually wonder if anyone went there based on the serving times and the huge number of people at the buffet area). This morning, I got some edible items from the buffet (sliced cheese, a roll, and a slice of french toast) -- nothing great, but edible -- and I brought the items over to Il Adagio where it was very quiet. My partner got some breakfast pizza from Il Adagio which he loved. Since they serve breakfast pizza there, it would be nice if they also had coffee available, but they don't. So for coffee, you have to go over to the buffet room and then bring it back. Very inconvenient and poorly planned.
Everyone was heading to the tenders to go ashore to the private island (Great Stirrup Cay). We decided to stay on the ship until after lunch and then go ashore when many people would be coming back on board. This plan often works well for us as we are in the opposite place from the crowds most of the time.
For lunch we went to the Palace Dining Room. The food ranged from decent to excellent, depending on the item. I am glad that they had menu items that I liked on this day. My appetizers of hummus and then an empanada were fantastic, my meatball sub was only okay. Dessert was terrific... a coconut rice pudding with chocolate swirls. WOW!
After lunch we decided to head to the island. The tender had "technical difficulties" and they had to delay our boarding. We waited awhile but finally did get to go. We were the only passengers on the tender since most everyone was heading back to the ship.
When we arrived on the island, we looked at the beach and then chose a hammock under some trees to relax. After a little while we decided to go for a walk and explore the island. We hiked a distance and reached the lighthouse. It was a nice walk over an almost deserted island. That was a cool experience, especially since the light house is outside of NCL property. I must say, I have never seen so many lizards in my life... big ones, too. As we explored we even found the "Great Stirrup Cay International Airport". This is obviously a great photo spot that is not found by too many folks because you would have to be willing to wander away. All it really is is a helipad with a wooden sign. It was funny to see it... very deserted with a lizard sitting in the middle of the helipad.
After a couple of hours (it was now 4:30), we headed back toward the tender boarding area. The security guard rushed us to the tender and said that they were trying to get everyone off the island. I said that I thought the last tender was at 5 pm but she said no... this was the last tender. We boarded and along with the other passengers were not pleased that our expedition had been cut a half hour short. After we pulled away, I noticed that there were other guests who were just arriving at the tender area and another tender pulling up to the shore. I do understand that they wanted to get the island closed down and wanted to get everyone back to the ship... nevertheless, I really don't like being lied to. I have never experienced anything like this before and was really annoyed.
After showering, we went to Captain Cook's lounge to listen to Francios again and to have pre-dinner martinis. The drinks here were excellent, and obviously the piano music was great. Unfortunately, this lounge is located right next to the photo shop so there is a lot of overflow noise. The lounge is also right in a connecter path so there is a lot of foot traffic walking through that kind of ruins the ambience of the place.
For dinner we had reservations at Il Adagio. The food was really great. We enjoyed the antipasto cart, I had a delicious Minestrone soup and then a yummy order of Chicken Parmigiana. My partner enjoyed his pasta with a frute de mare sauce. Dessert was the best... I had possibly the best Tiramisu I have ever had. My partner had the canoli which he said was okay... My suggestion - don't miss the Tiramisu! The service here was very attentive and prompt. We enjoyed the experience.
After dinner we went to Plantation Club for another cocktail and more guitar music with friends. Then, we paid the casino a little more money and then went to watch the Quest game show. It is a lot of fun to watch or participate in... and is definitely intended for adults. Having seen it before on Royal Caribbean, I knew what to expect and it was basically identical.
Monday morning arrived way too quickly and it was time to disembark. We received our final bill under the door (and it was accurate). We decided to skip breakfast and instead just got off the ship once we were ready. Debarkation is very laid back. You choose the color tag you want (or express walk-off) and the time you want to leave (within the given parameters). There was NO crowd at all and we were off the ship, through customs, and in the parking garage within 5 - 10 minutes. I would probably say this was the smoothest debarkation I have ever experienced.
* The ship is nice but is overly Hawaiian and does have some moisture / indoor air quality issues - nothing major that will ruin the vacation, but they do exist.
* Freestyle dining works well in the restaurants and dining room. Reservations are easy to make and availability seems plentiful.
* Food quality and service in the restaurants and dining room is very good. Food quality in the buffet area is in definite need of improvement.
* Activities during the day are lacking, but evening entertainment was quite good and varied.
* Signs that designated areas as adult only existed, but they were ignored and the rules were never enforced by the line. The ship was overrun with kids and the activities for them were minimal.
* Embarkation and Debarkation were both smooth - possibly the best we have ever experienced.
* The private island is not as nice as the islands managed by Royal Caribbean / Celebrity or Holland America. The tender service and time management need attention. Still, the walk to the lighthouse is a nice quiet getaway.
Well, after some thought, the bottom line is that if this ship and the Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas are both available and at the same cost, we would choose Majesty of the Seas. Nevertheless, if a bargain, or if Majesty were all booked, I would definitely sail on Norwegian Sky again. I would also be willing to give NCL another chance, but not over Royal, Celebrity, or HAL.
Even though they did some things quite well, NCL seems a bit too mass market and misses the special attention to detail that some other lines seem to offer.