The players: Me (Lee) and my partner, Mike. We're in our mid-forties and discovered cruising on Royal Caribbean, which was a good cruise line for us, in terms of fit. We've also tried Celebrity (loved Century but liked Constellation less) and Holland America, which was just too senior-oriented and sedentary for us. We were drawn to trying NCL Sky for a number of reasons. First, it was a new line and we are trying not to be the type of cruiser who presumes their line is best based only on stories of other cruisers. If we're going to express a preference, it will be based on our experience. Second, Sky was in the process of being re-branded back to NCL after the failed Pride of Aloha experiment, which saw very poor reviews and the subsequent decision to reduce the Hawaiian fleet. We figured that the pro-longed dry-dock would produce a ship that looked nearly new. In many ways it did, but in some small and big ways it did not. This is the story of our cruise. Your priorities, perceptions and experience will no doubt be different, but we hope you enjoy reading about our experiences.
Before the cruise started, we were very nervous, not just because we were about to try a new line but because we were also hearing stories via the internet that the re-launching of NCL Sky was not going well. Early cruisers were coming home claiming a myriad of problems from bad customer service and mediocre food to an absence of air conditioning or working plumbing in some cabins. While we were prepared to roll with the earlier concerns, we pretty much require AC and the ability to poop in order to be happy on a cruise. Folks online complained to NCL but the problems did not seem to be going away quickly, based on subsequent reviews. At one point, I got so skittish that I asked our travel agent, the formidable yet diplomatic Judy, to see if she could get us off this ship. She could not but she was assured by NCL that a management team had boarded the ship and was there to respond to any concerns. They also relocated a number of people who were in cabins that were affected by this issue. We were in a cabin that was unaffected.
It was without the normal sense of anticipation that we left for the airport. In reality, it was more like trepidation or anxiety on this trip. We checked in for our flights online but I got my boarding passes confused so I checked us in for seats that were not even together (and actually paid US Airway's ridiculous "Choice Seat" Fee to do it!). By the time we realized what I'd done, there was little to do since the flights were full. We actually did sit together on the way to Philadelphia and were offered free soft drinks, etc. This surprised me as I thought they charged for these things now. It turns out, they started the charges the next day.
This was my only bad flight of the trip. The plane was unbelievably cold and the guy in front of me had directed his air nozzle so that air was blowing directly in my face. Not good. Since the plane was only 2/3 full, I moved across the aisle. Now, I was in front of two small girls who kicked my seat the whole flight and had a laptop playing some Hannah Montana-type show with external speakers blaring. There parents just smiled back at me whenever I glared at them. Easy for them! They were across the aisle and not in front of their children!
Philadelphia Airport was packed when we transferred there but we managed to get something that we could eat eat on the next flight. We approached the podium to ask if the gate agent could move us together and she snapped at me before I'd even finished asking that the flight was oversold. I then tried to ask if they could just move me from my middle seat to an aisle and she snapped again that it was oversold. I then tried to ask if we could pay the upgrade fee and move to first class and she asked me what part of oversold I didn't understand. Wow. Mike was a hero and offered to take my middle seat (and a nice lady next to him offered to trade her aisle seat so she could sit with her husband) so we settled in for the flight.
There was no entertainment on this flight except for a travel trivia loop playing on the tv units with no audio. Luckily, I had podcasts to listen to and books to read. The flight was uneventful and we landed on time, which is always nice when you're arriving late at night. Because we had only brought carry-on luggage for this short trip, we didn't have to wait for the luggage carousels, which we have always found to be painfully slow in Fort Lauderdale. We were further sped up because I had checked in online for our car rental. This meant we could bypass that line and just walk to the first available car in our class. We chose one but when we got to the lot exit, we were told that the car we had chosen needed maintenance and we should choose another. I chose a Yarus and would not do so again, given the choice. The instrument panel is between the driver and the passenger, not in front of the driver. Also, it had the get-up-and-go of a small lawn-mower.
Our hotel for this pre-cruise night was to be the Renaissance Fort Lauderdale. We got it on Priceline for $90, which is a good deal. We find Fort Lauderdale to cost more than Miami in general, although still far less than South Beach. We were assigned a disability room and it was very comfortable for the night's sleep. The next morning, we got up and ran errands before going to the ship. We had to mail a gift for a friend in Florida, we had to buy some suntan lotion (since we couldn't bring big tubes of it on the airplane because of the TSA rules), and we had to have our traditional McDonald's breakfast. Yes, we're fancy boys! Luckily, all three errands could be dealt with within blocks of the hotel.
We arrived at the Alamo lot at Miami airport and Mike ran ahead to see if the port shuttle was there. I was gong to quickly turn the car in but then the attendant had trouble with her printer and, true to form, this meant that Mike had to plead for the bus driver not to pull away. Of course, if I hadn't been delayed, the shuttle would not have been there for ages!! We were pleasantly surprised that they let us stand on the crowded shuttle and were at the pier in no time. Alamo runs a great service by including port drop off or pick-up for free with its rentals. We gave our luggage to the porters and then cleared security to enter the building. They were already checking people in (this was at about 11:50) and before the guest relations staff member let us join a line, she asked us what cabin we were in and consulted a list. I suspect that this was the list of relocated people, since her list had two rows of cabins (original and re-assigned?) and was about three pages long. The check-in was pretty smooth, although we had a scare when we told the check-in agent our cabin number and he named two other people. He re-keyed in the number and realized he'd made a mistake the first time. Whew!
We were onboard in minutes and it seemed that they started letting people on at noon. We had a boarding picture taken which was so good that we bought it. We accepted a glass of champagne and began scampering around the ship. Actually, before we could scamper, we had to make some restaurant reservations. As many will know, NCL boasts about its Anytime Dining program, which truly is a nice change from the other lines. You really are free to eat whenever you like. The fallacy is that you can choose at the moment of hunger. If you don't have a reservation for the more popular specialty restaurants, you won't be dining there. If you want to see the show, you have to choose what are more or less typical dining times in order to be able to schedule the show. Nonetheless, we were ready to plan our spontaneity and then enjoy the weekend. We book Il Adagio for the first night, Cagney's for the second and the Bistro for the third. I had bought an anniversary/honeymoon package (neither was true for us but they don't seem to care), which included dinner in the Bistro with a bottle of bubbles. An advantage of this is that you can reserve it whenever you like, as opposed to the normal 24-28 hours ahead. It took some time to convince the reservation lady of this but we got it all sorted out. I can't stress enough that it's important to make reservations if you want to go to a restaurant, particularly the steak house and the Bistro. We later tried to move our steak house reservation by 30 minutes and it was so fully booked that this was impossible. Anyhow, now that we'd taken care of this, it truly was time to scamper!!!
First, we went to our room and asked the attendant if we could leave our bags. It's our experience uniformly that they don't mind this; they just don't want you to settle in and get in their way while they're still setting up for the cruise. Then, we went to the very top deck and started to work our way through the public rooms. Mike likes to get pictures before there are too many tourists around. The rooms of the ship were all nicely decorated and the ship certainly looked recently spruced up. Someone who knew it has previously sailed the Hawaiian market could see lots of evidence of that, but I think that if you didn't know it, you'd mostly perceive a tropical theme, with lots of surf imagery. Very appropriate for a cruise chip!
We visited the gym (which we never did use) and were pleasantly surprised to discover it would be open 24 hours a day. I was slightly disappointed that they offered neither sauna nor steam, though. In fact, there was no changing room off the gym, so you'd have to return to your own cabin to shower after a workout. I'd love to say that's the reason I didn't work out but I have never worked out at sea so it'd be a big lie. The pool area was quite nice. There was not as much pool-side lounging as I would have hoped but then we didn't ever have a problem getting a chair. There is an incredible number of lounge chairs on the upper deck and since our cruise was not full (owing to their not being able to use all cabins), we felt very un-crowded. By the pool, they had a buffet seating area and on the first day, they had a sailaway bbq, which was a nice touch.
The buffet area had both indoor and outdoor seating but the buffet area itself was pretty crowded and there were lines. This did not bother me as I hate the buffets and this would be a good excuse not to eat there. I did like that they had an outdoor (covered) buffet in the back of the ship so that you could eat outdoors without the noise of the pool band. The seagulls have also discovered this area so I wouldn't recommend walking away from your plate.
The top deck also included the sports bar (which really was just something we walked through) and Il Adagio. This is the Italian specialty restaurant and I liked the food here very much. The seating is not as intimate and inviting as it could be but the food and service make up for it. the only downside was that it was between mid-ship and the aft and many people just walked through the restaurant to pass through the ship. Similarly, Cagney's Steakhouse had decent food but the "view" tables often had a view of people sitting in deck chairs just outside the restaurant smoking. It would make more sense to me to have it in an area people did not walk past. The Bistro was a much better example of an intimate dining space. Although it was incredibly long, it was only two tables wide and everyone had a stunning view of the sea.
The regular dining rooms were both pretty. I especially liked the Art Deco look of the lobby outside the aft dining room, the Crossings. I suspect few passengers ever even make it back to this pretty space. We had lunch this day in the mid-ship dining room, called the Palace. I had a good meal of a BLT sandwich and Mike had salmon. Both were very tasty, although mine was oddly cold. The service was great and if anything, a bit overly attentive.
There were many places on the ship to wet your whistle. We liked the Atrium Bar because of the very large windows through which you could see the the beautiful ocean. They had nice drinks and were very swift. You could watch the ocean or watch the world pass by within the ship. We also liked the Plantation Bar a lot. This bar featured a guitar-playing singer who was really incredibly good at the singing part. His patter between songs was fairly insolent. This was his second ship and he was about to leave for his third but you'd think he was in detention or something. The drinks here were also good and we really did enjoy this entertainer while he sang. The Outrigger's lounge is a nice large bar that was hosting a wedding reception the first day. We came back later and discovered it has doors to a small, quiet deck in front of that space which is good for star-gazing. During the White Hot Party, we could see lasers in the Sky from here. Dazzles Bar was a large bar, too, and served as a disco, a comedy club and an art auction space. The furniture here is very loud and tacky, and I think this is the only room on the whole ship that I thought this about.
There were a couple of bars that I liked but thought could have been better. Captain Cook's Bar is the martini lounge and it suffers from being a dark, windowless space that folks walk through constantly to get to the photo gallery. It's also weird to have the theme of the martini lounge (usually a cool area on a ship) be colonial pirating.
The piano player was [just] okay but I wonder why piano bar players tend to always be at either end of the manic/depressed spectrum. The other lounge that suffered from location was the coffee bar. We had our most personable service of any bar in this space but it's another "corridor bar" stuck in with the casino, Internet cafe and general store. Like the martini bar, we enjoyed our drinks here and thought they had some of the best on the ship.
Speaking of the casino and Internet cafe, they are both mediocre if we're speaking charitably and rotten if we're not. The casino is full of mostly generic machines and not the old favorites that we like to play. Our friend who played the tables said that he could not get them to open a $5 blackjack table and that $10 was as low as they would go. The nice aspect of the casino is that it does not stink [yet] like regular casinos do from smoke, since it was just added during the conversion from Pride of Aloha. The Internet cafe was slower than any we'd used at sea and had higher per minute charges, too. Also, charging an additional $3.95 for "set-up" the first time you use the machine is such a money-grab, since nobody helps you do this. The library is also a low-point, being in a windowless area and with mostly older books. I suppose, the investment on a more recent collection might not make sense given that few are ever onboard for more than 4 days.
The shopping on the ship was pretty good. We liked the NCL logo mugs and glasses and thought they had a decent supply of all the typical duty-free products. They had a 10% off special on liquor the first night but we forgot to head over.
The muster drill was a fairly typical exercise. We met at our muster stations and were not required to actually put on our life-jackets as long as we watched them demonstrate how to do it. It was interesting to me how so many people refused to remove their life-jackets even when they were told they could, given the extreme heat of the day.
After the muster, we went to the top deck for the sailaway. We got a couple of nice drinks and watched as the Carnival ship came down the channel to turn around and head back out. I've always wondered why Carnival does this, as opposed to just parking the ship pointing out. While they were turning, we got under way and headed out. This is the loveliest sailaway we know. The passage along the MacArthur Causeway and then South Beach is so very pretty and we both tend to swoon. We had perfect weather for the sailaway and if you look in our pictures, you will see clouds over the city and clear skies over the beach and ocean. The clouds never did catch up to us and we had wonderful sailing weather the whole cruise long.
We returned to our room to get dressed and showered and found a second bottle of champagne! The first was from the romance package we had booked and this new one was from our TA and NCL. Nice! The room itself is fine; not the biggest room we've ever had but not the smallest, either. Because the ship was not built for NCL, when they bought it, they made the addition of balconies a condition. For this reason, the balconies were added on and, if I might say, in sort of a strange way. Normally, there would be sliding glass doors and a full-on view of the ocean. This was a traditional glass door that opened inward, next to a wall with a porthole. It was odd but not in a bad way. The furniture on the balcony was among the only things on the ship that we thought looked worn and past-due for replacing. Another thing worth replacing would be the ancient televisions.
Our room had very efficient air conditioning, although it blew right into my face as I slept. Mike traded places with me on subsequent nights; he's swell. Our bathroom had good toiletries and everything about the room worked just fine. It's a decent room for a short cruise but the storage would be clearly inadequate for much longer.
We got cleaned up and unpacked (our luggage took almost 4 hours to arrive, which seemed a long time on a short cruise where fewer people would be checking fewer bags) and then headed back out to the Friends of Dorothy party in the atrium. This is a mixer for the gay and lesbian crowd and we met up with Mark and Mike. Mark and I had been chatting a little online before the cruise and he turned out to be just as nice in person, and we like Mark, too! There was another couple there and we all had a nice chat and met up for drinks later in the evening. Actually, we would wind up having drinks with Mark and Mike pretty well every evening. A very nice couple.
After this, we went to Il Adagio for dinner. While the room is not all that interesting to look at, the food was delicious. They rolled over an anti-pasto cart and then we had a wonderful meal. We had brought a bottle of wine from the room and they opened it cheerfully. We did notice in all the restaurants but one (Bistro) that we were mainly left to refill our own glasses. Not the biggest deal. I actually liked the food best here, I think. I like Italian food a lot and I thought they pulled it off well. I had a calamari followed by a shrimp risotto. The cover for this restaurant is $10-20, depending on what you eat. We both found things we liked from the regular menu so the fee was $10 each.
The show this night was the standard opening show with the cruise director, the comedian and a brief appearance by the singers and dancers. The comedian was medium-funny, the cruise director is medium-odd (a la Austin Powers) and no matter what your sexual persuasion, the dancers are very cute.
Our first port was to be Nassau and we were excited. We had booked an excursion where we would have a day pass to the Atlantis pool and all of its incredible water-slides.
We got up and then decided that we would go to the breakfast buffet because there was no hot food on the room service menu in our room. The food in the buffet was a little tired-looking but we managed to fill our plates, nonetheless. I ordered an egg white omelet and it was a LONG time coming and about a quarter the size of a regular omelet when it did. Maybe he thought I needed to lose some fluff around the middle? We had a quiet breakfast while watching daring seagulls swoop at people's plates if they got up to go get more coffee or whatever. I knew I wouldn't be eating here again. Blech.
One of the pet peeves I have in life is punctuality. Excursions are usually a test of any patience I might have in this realm. The excursion was posted for 9 a.m. and at that time, nothing was happening. At 9:05, a lady near us asked the excursions person when we'd be getting under way and the woman just smiled and said they give people a few more minutes to arrive. The passenger made a dry comment about having been there at the appointed time and being made to wait but it went over the agent's head. I do dislike that so many ship's tours run only as fast as the slowest person and that such great allowances are made for inconsiderate people. Why on earth would you be on time when you can be late (except for common courtesy)? Why stand around and wait when being late means everything happens the moment you get there? Yes, I know, I'm ranting.
We knew from having taken this tour on RCL that we didn't want to take the harbor tour that's included. This will make us sound impatient (we are) but we really don't enjoy having to wait for everyone to sign their waiver and get their wrist band; for the group to muster and be told where we're going; to walk all the way down the pier, through the port building and almost all the way to the straw market; to board the boat and wait for others to do so; to have the slow and not very exciting tour of the harbor (look, it's Nick Cage's house); to arrive at the Marina, to walk all the way through Atlantis and then to arrive at the water park. The last time we did this, the process took between 75 and 90 minutes. This time, we just asked for our bands and hopped into a cab. For $4 each, we got an hour of our day back!
When we arrived in the Aquaventure, we had to stop and buy a glasses strap that would make my glasses float if they ever fell off. We actually had bought these last month but I forgot to bring mine so I had to stop at an Atlantis gift shop while Mike rolled his eyes. Revenge is sweet, though. Turns out that while I had forgot mine at home in Ottawa, Mike left his in his room on the ship and we had to return to the gift shop to buy one for him.
The slides at Atlantis are truly a lot of giddy fun. I'd recommend them to anyone. You have to buy the tour from the line, from Atlantis (if they're offering that day) or have at a room at either Atlantis or the Comfort Suites next door. This gets you access to all the Atlantis slides, pools and beach. If you're four people, I'd recommend getting a hotel room for the day. We saw a number of people who seemed to be checking in for the day with the same idea.
They have thrilling and calm areas in the water park and Mike and I floated around for about three hours. You can go down a slide and then float in your inner tube along the lazy river until you're returned to the top of the slides, via conveyor belt. I think that at one point, I hadn't stood in an hour. Even the lazy river is fun as they have little inlets that bring water surges or rapids, to make things interesting. I think almost anyone would thoroughly love this. You didn't even have to be able to swim. You could hop out of your tube and be in three or four feet of water.
After this, we had a really great outdoor lunch. While the RCL version of this excursion included lunch, the NCL did not. At Atlantis, they have quite a few levels of eating and we discovered that folks' stories about it costing $50 for a burger and beer were exaggerated. For about a dozen dollars, you could get a burger and beer at a take-out counter. We opted for a sit-down place with waiters and paid about $17 for a great seared steak sandwich with caramelized onions and fries. It was the most delicious thing! I also had a Bahama mama and it was $9.50. While this was not cheap, it was not more than a top resort in Vegas and was certainly cheaper than most of the stories we've heard about the cost of food here.
We spent some more time sitting by the pool after this. Mike wanted to just move some abandoned towels while I didn't want to face the potential confrontation if these people came back and we'd taken "their" spot. In retrospect, I see the error in my thinking. I didn't want to face the possibility of an argument with people who I will never see again but who might or might not come back and so I started an argument with someone who was there and who I care about. I should have shut up and sat down sooner.
We were both staring to really crisp up and I thought I might be burning so I did the only thing reasonable in the situation. I ordered another drink for each of us. They were strawberry daiquiris and they were GOOD!
Mike was off getting the stuff from our locker at this point and I took a sip of his drink so it wouldn't spill. Hey, I'm a giver. What I didn't realize was that they likely just pour virgin slush into a cup and then add rum to the top. It was powerful stuff!!!! We finished up and made a deposit at the casino. Back in Nassau, we wandered the streets for a while looking for duty-free but in the end, decided the ship's prices were better than what we were seeing. Mike got a Starbucks and we headed back. One of our favorite things to do on a ship is to watch the last of the re-loading in port. Invariably, some person comes straggling along, just as we were supposed to leave. Often, the stragglers don't look like they have a care in the world. They're just out for a relaxed walk and they don't understand why everyone is yelling at them to hurry. On another cruise, a woman was running and waving her arms so she would not be left behind but once she saw that they had seen her and were waiting, she actually stopped to buy something at a stall! On this NCL cruise, there was nothing so dramatic as that but we did hear them paging the same group of 4 people over and over and then, just as the ship was to leave, we saw a woman running around the corner to catch the ship, with the rest of her party trailing behind in a golf cart. I truly hope we're never that close to the wire because I don't think I could take it! I'd likely get a headache from the stress.
Back onboard and changed for dinner, we went to Cagney's. Actually, it was not quite time for our reservation so we went to the bar next to it, the Plantation Club. Cagney's was booked solid this night and even though we wanted to move up our reservation so we would not miss the show, we couldn't. This speaks to the impossibility of being all that spontaneous with Anytime Dining. Getting to do all you want to do while working with this dining program was proving to require a lot of fore-thought and more than a little fore-knowledge, in terms of when shows and other events would be held. Our strategy for edging up our time was to go for drinks and then arrive just slightly early. This worked well and waiter was very understanding about our wanting to see the show and promised us we would be out in time. He kept that promise, for which we were more than grateful.
Cagney's is an attractive room, although a bit less club-like than the other steakhouses we have seen at sea. Its only real down-side is that some of the aft tables in the room are on the other side of a glass window from a seating area above the buffet. Our view for half the meal was of a bunch of people sitting around, smoking and chatting. Not the best. The food was quite good and again, we found that there was a list for items that were additional to the cover charge for the restaurant. We both ordered a steak and lobster combo, which increased the cover by $10 each. The steak was okay but the lobster was fairly tasteless. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our meal here and were happy to get to the theatre in time for the show.
It's worth mentioning that getting into the show was never a real problem for us. When we sailed HAL, it seemed there were passengers lining up to get in even before the theatre opened and then most of the seats were "saved" for others. This was never the case on NCL and we appreciated that we could arrive so close to the show and find a good seat. The show was called Soul Rockin' Nights and was a lot of fun. It was a tour of hit music through the years and was well-performed. It was a little risque at times, with both the men and women scantily clad and making good use of the stripper poles or writhing on the stage.
Afterward, we attended the White Party on the pool deck where they even featured snow at sea, although we all agree it was some form of soap flake. It was fun but the crowd didn't seem into the event and there were not a lot of people dancing. The light and sound were incredible, though. We were tired and we headed for bed, looking forward to the private island the next day.
We really love private islands and were looking forward to this day from the moment we booked the cruise. Before we could get to the island, though, we had to eat. We tried the buffet but the tired food was identical to the food from the previous day and showed little imagination. Instead, we decided to pick up some of the buffet food and then go to Il Adagio's to eat it along with some breakfast pizza, which was free. It was tasty and we were the only people there for the whole time. This is a great place to get away from the buffet chaos.
We knew there would likely be a line for the tender but we had no idea how slowly it would move until we joined it. We walked down to the deck where it was loading and it seemed nothing was happening. NCL did a super job of keeping us informed, telling us that things were going so slowly because of the swells in the water really slowing down the loading process. Folks were continuously getting off the elevator with a stunned look at the masses of people. Some tried to just blend with the line but we had a very vocal woman from New Jersey near us who told them in no uncertain terms that the line formed at the rear, and up the stairs at least a few decks.
The ride to the island was very lurchy and some people looked a little worse for wear. Luckily, it was a short ride and they didn't have long to suffer. One of the cool things about NCL's tenders was that they essentially just run them right onto the beach and a ramp comes down and you walk off. Very nifty from my perspective. We walked away from the crowds and settled into an area where they rent the boats. This area never really filled up and we had a lot of space to ourselves. NCL doesn't put out a lot of loungers and there were only two rows of them here, followed by a number of rows of sand chairs, which are tiny little things that are low to the ground. You're meant to sit on the chair with your feet stretched out on the sand. They looked not terribly comfortable so we were glad to have real lounge chairs, although we could have done with some more shade. We didn't see a single umbrella (they have apparently been removed) and you couldn't even buy the clam shells that HAL sells for the day at $12.
Great Stirrup Cay is the sister island to what used to be known as Little Stirrup Cay and is now known as Coco Cay, RCL's Bahamian island. The two islands are somewhat similar, although Coco Cay seems much more developed. There is a lot of natural and man-made shade and they have developed more of the island's beaches while NCL has developed only a small cove, where folks are piled in 5-8 rows deep. I also thought that there were fewer diversions on Great stirrup Cay compared to the RCL island, especially for kids. That said, we had a nice day and we thought the lunch was incredibly tasty. Another nice thing about the NCL island is that the vendors in the craft market do not hound you the way we have experienced in Labadee, the other RCL island, if you just wanted to browse.
Getting back to the ship proved much easier than getting to the island and they had a cool feature on the ramp to the tender which was that your feet were sprayed with water to get the sand off them. After we got back, we went to the coffee bar and enjoyed a spiked coffee drink, which we always like. We also tried to us the Internet to check in for our flight but the connection was so incredibly slow, the airline web-site kept timing out on us. Internet at sea is such a rip-off and NCL has put their hands even further into your pocket on this one by charging a $3.95 set-up fee the first time you use the service, even though nobody assists you and you do everything on your own.
We also took this time to buy some duty-free liquor. It was a good deal, although it was a better deal on the first night when it was 10% off. The shopping on NCL was decent and they had some very nice logo gift products like coffee mugs, etc. Their t-shirts were not great and even though I usually cannot help but buy a t-shirt when on vacation, I was not even tempted by the selection here.
This night on the cruise was the night we will recall as having been over-served in the drinks area. We started with cocktails at dinner in Le Bistro. This is really the prettiest room to eat in on the ship. It was long and thin, which meant everyone was no more than one table from an ocean view. We each had a cocktail before dinner and then went on to have the bottle of champagne that we received from our travel agent. When we decided to have the cote de boeuf for dinner (another item that entailed a surcharge beyond the cover fee to enter the restaurant), we ordered a bottle of red wine. This was an error in judgement. We became more chattery and animated throughout the meal but I don't think we went so far as to be annoying. The food and service here were excellent but I think that the menu was a little high-end for a ship that sails quickie weekend cruises. It was the restaurant least likely to be fully booked out and was a little "fancy" for some.
After dinner, we met up with friends at the Plantation Club to listen to the singer. He was in a scowly mood and seemed to be acting like a too-cool rocker, as opposed to someone playing a secondary lounge on a cruise ship. We didn't stay long and instead went to another bar to participate in the Quest. This is a game from Royal Caribbean that we were surprised to see on NCL. Apparently, the cruise director used to work for RCL. It's a fun game and was enjoyable to watch but the night was evaporating and so was our energy. We spent a short time in the piano/martini bar and then headed to bed. This was the first time we have ever gone to bed on the last night of a cruise without packing first. It was only possible because we had only carry-on luggage. When we woke up the next morning, we just got up and each of us packed while the other showered.
They announced disembarkation just as we left the room and we were off the ship in a flash! It took a while for the Alamo shuttle to come but that was OK, we were in no hurry. They finally did come and when we got to the rental depot, we were able to check in using these ATM-style machines they have, without waiting in line. It was quick. We left the airport area and headed north. I am not sure if it a worse observation on us that we were looking for a McDonald's for breakfast or on the area that we were driving through but it took almost a half hour before we had breakfast in our bellies. After that, we went to the Sawgrass Mills Mall and ambled around. We were tired and unfocused so we were not doing much more than just stumbling around the mall. We decided to just head to the airport and we turned in our car and had lunch at the Chilis in the airport. Two uneventful flights later, we were back in Canada.
In the end, I really enjoyed myself on this cruise and would sail NCL again. I think Anytime Dining works well for a person like me, which is to say someone who likes to learn how a system works and plans to maximize their experience. I don't think it would work as well if we thought we could just go with the flow and float into the restaurant of our choice once we got hungry. It simply would not have been possible. Anytime Dining also only works easily if you're also opting out of the shows and other evening diversions. If you plan to see a show, you're already locked into a particular dining window by virtue of needing to be free for that time, and there was most often only one show for the evening, which further subtracted from the option of being flexible. This was a very casual ship and even thought there was a no-shorts rule for the specialty rooms, we never saw fewer than a third of the people wearing them. Lastly, on the dining front, having to pay to enter the alternative dining spaces and then having to pay again to have one of the better dishes meant that these venues added significantly to the cost of our cruise (about $65 per head, in our case, or 15-20% of our cruise fare) and this should be budgeted in when choosing a cruise.
Any fears that we had about the repair of the ship were put to rest soon after we boarded and had totally disappeared by the end of the cruise. This ship is a very good choice for a weekend cruise. The staff are friendly, the food variety is excellent and the rooms are comfortable. NCL needs to work on its private island a little to bring it up to the standard of its neighbor and to provide some shade. We thought the entertainment onboard was top-notch and that the shows were real crowd-pleasers. Drinks were rather pricey compared to the other lines we've sailed and were no more generous in serving size. That said, the bar service was friendly and we never waited for a drink too long.
All in all, we had a great time and no doubt would consider NCL on the right itinerary or if the price was good enough to compensate for the extra charges along the way. If we were sailing on a weekend trip out of Florida, we would not doubt consider this ship again.