We just got back from a 3-day Bahamas cruise that sailed from Miami on September 12th. Our family consisted of my husband and myself, both in our mid-50's, our daughter and three grandkids, two boys and a girl, 11, 7 and 6, respectively. This was the first cruise for the two youngest grandkids, as my daughter and oldest grandson had sailed before. My husband and I are seasoned cruisers, having sailed on RCCL, Carnival and Princess. We also sailed last year to Hawaii on NCL's Pride of America. The reason we took this cruise was NCL's "Kids Sail Free" promotion on the Sky. We couldn't pass up the sale.
I first have to thank all the Cruise Critic members for their reviews, both the good and the bad, as they've proved to be invaluable on all our cruises. As for the Sky, the first reviews were horrible, talking about no AC, bad plumbing, bad smells, etc., and I had second thoughts about whether or not I'd made the right decision in booking this cruise. However, during the latter part of August and first part of September, the reviews got better and better, and even though I didn't have any expectations, I was a little more at ease. I will try not only to give our reviews of the cruise, but also some tips that will prevent disasters.
Embarkation: We're Florida residents, so thankfully, we didn't have to deal with airlines and were quite familiar on how to get to the Port of Miami. We arrived at the port about 12:30 p.m., and didn't check in any of our luggage. The few pieces we had were easily carried by us. My husband dropped us off in front of the terminal, and parked in the garage for $20 per day. The parking was not prepaid. My husband got a ticket upon entering the garage and was told to pay upon returning. NOTE: Whether or not you prepay your parking, please leave your parking ticket in the car, so that you have it ready when leaving the garage. Should you lose your ticket, they will charge you $220!! Once inside the terminal, everything went smoothly. As Latitudes members, we were shown to a separate check-in desk.
Just when we thought everything was good and we were ready to board the ship, we hit a snag that almost prevented us from going on the cruise. When checking my daughter's and grandkids' passports, the NCL agent noticed that the last names were different. My daughter is married but uses her maiden name and the agent said she needed to see some document that would show the kids belonged to her. The agent said that if there was no document to link the kids to my daughter, they wouldn't be granted access by the embarkation customs agents. Thankfully, our daughter brought along her medical health card which listed her name and the children's names. The agent's supervisor gave the okay and we were very thankful. NOTE: The agent explained to my daughter that in order to avoid future problems, she should always bring the children's birth certificates as well as their passports. For grandparents, they must bring a parental consent form signed by the parents, along with a copy of the children's birth certificates and passports. The agent was super nice and very friendly.
Our Cabins: We boarded the ship with no further problems and were greeted by friendly staff members who offered us champagne and orange juice. We were told our cabins would be ready in about 20 minutes (2:00 pm) and that an announcement would be made when they were ready. In the meantime, we could sit in the lobby or have lunch in the Garden Cafe on deck 11. Since we had our carry-on luggage and 3 kids, we opted to wait in the lobby. After 10 minutes or so, I decided to take a walk to our cabin just to check, and sure enough, the cabins were ready. Our staterooms were on the Fjord Deck (Deck 9), and my husband and I had a balcony stateroom (9224) which was on the starboard side (right side), mid-ship, right off the atrium elevators. The AC worked perfectly, so did the toilet. Those were the first things I checked. There were never any smells inside or outside of our cabin. Our cabin was smaller than on other cruise lines, but it was good enough for the both of us. There wasn't much storage space, but then again, it's only a 3-day cruise and not a safari, so you don't need to overpack. TIP: I always take a zip-loc sandwich bag with a few dryer sheets, and I clip some to the hangers and also put some in the drawers to keep everything smelling nice. I also bring flushable baby wipes, as they have many uses, including wiping the toilet seat and bathroom counter, phone receiver, desk and counter space, as well as for our own personal hygiene. You don't have to bring the bulky container, as they sell the soft refill packs. I never go anywhere without them. The balcony was small, but again, perfect for us. The small fridge was jammed packed with liquor, juices and water, however, we never used any of it because the items are quite expensive. TIP: We brought our own bottled water in a separate totebag, and this worked fine for us and saved us lots of money. There was a safe in the closet, but no instructions on how to operate it. The numbers were almost rubbed off. We put our passports, purses and other valuables inside the safe, since we only needed our room key and some cash for the casino. The cash part I'll explain later.
Our daughter's cabin was right across from us (9319), a deluxe inside cabin, which fit four people. It had 2 twin beds, a fold-down bunk bed and a small sleeper couch. The cabin was small but acceptable, the bathroom tiny, but clean and perfect for them. The only drawback was that when the sofa bed was opened, it completely blocked the way to the bathroom and the front door, making them have to climb over the bed. The sofabed never folded down flat, so when you sat on the sofa, it wasn't comfortable. The TV was small, but it had Cartoon Network and the kids were fine with it. Neither cabin had radio/alarm clocks and there was no quick reference card as to the phone extensions to the front desk, room service, etc. We didn't meet our room stewards (Joanna and Jon) until Saturday evening, and this was a first for us, as we have always met our room stewards on other cruises on embarkation day. Even when we sailed NCL to Hawaii, we met our room steward shortly after settling in our cabin. Everything was clean and tidy, but I missed not having the personal interaction with our room stewards, as we have in prior cruises.
Casino: The casino is brand new, as I believe it's the only new thing on the NCL Sky. If you're planning on going to the casino, the machines only accept cash. This is why I mentioned previously that we only took our room key and some cash with us. You can use your room keycard to get cash, but the minimum is $100 which will then be added to your stateroom bill. If you use the ATM machine at the casino, the minimum is also $100 plus a $4.50 ATM fee, not inclusive of your own bank's ATM fees. So, if you don't want to spend that much at the casino, remember to have cash with you. I applied for the free Casino Player cards for both myself and my husband, and we got 2 discount casino books, which included several discounts on slot machines, card games and the roulette table. You spend $10 and you get $20 worth of slot machine credit. The casino offered free limited items of food and desserts for the players. The casino staff seemed pleasant enough.
Restaurants: After we unpacked, we went to make reservations for dinner, and we learned that no reservations were needed for the main dining rooms, the Palace and Crossings, but for all specialty restaurants it was a must. I made a reservation for Saturday night at Cagney's Steakhouse, but decided we would eat the rest of the meals at the two main dining rooms. We went to Il Adaggio for a late lunch and they had pizza and made-to-order pasta. My husband had a cheese ravioli which he liked, but the rest of us had pizza and it looked like store-bought pizza, and didn't taste any better. Also, at the time we went, they didn't have any beverages available, except coffee and liquor. I had to go outside of the restaurant, and all the way to the other side, to the Garden Cafe, to get water and iced tea. I was very surprised at this inconvenience, since on our previous NCL cruise to Hawaii, there was a similar restaurant that had no beverages, but there were staff members with beverages carts that came right to your table and offered water, juice and iced tea. Another inconvenience is that none of the restaurants on the pool deck offer trays, so trying to carry a few glasses of water back to our table was difficult and by the time I made it back with the drinks, the pizza was cold. We only ate at Il Adaggio once, and after that, anytime we wanted a mid-afternoon or late-night snack, we went to the Garden Cafe, which had more food variety and beverages as well. The food wasn't exceptional, but just okay. Our first dinner was at the Palace and both the food and service were good. Our server Katherine and her assistant Claudia were excellent. The kids always chose from the kids' menu, and they liked their food. The only thing you have to get used to is the very slow service. You must plan for a good 2-hour meal at most of the restaurants, both the main dining rooms and the specialty ones. The breakfasts were lengthy, as were the dinners. On Saturday, we went to Cagney's and the food was excellent. My daughter and I had the filet mignon which was tender and melted in your mouth. The crème brulee was awesome. Our server Hristina and her assistant Rosalie were also excellent, but again, the service throughout was very slow. The only drawback was that Cagney's is on Deck 12, which is also the sports deck, so all throughout our dinner, there were people walking by in their swimsuits, which took away from the ambiance of the restaurant. However, it was worth the $20 surcharge per person. The kids were not charged, as their meals were from the regular kids menu offered at all the restaurants. TIP: If you want to attend a particular show or casino event, before making dinner reservations, you should first check the Daily sheet of events, in order to plan your dinner accordingly. Otherwise, you'll miss the shows. Dinner service is slow everywhere. Just tell yourself you're there on vacation and relax. We ate most of our meals at the Palace, with the exception of Saturday's dinner at Cagney's and the last breakfast on Monday morning at the Crossings. I'm so glad we didn't eat there during our cruise. The staff seemed disinterested and the food was horrible and the coffee was extremely strong. At the Palace, the Assistant Maitre D', Isaac Fernandes, was extremely helpful in getting the two younger children booster seats, and making sure we always had a nice table near the window. He always checked on us to make sure everything was going well. We were very blessed that the servers we got were very pleasant and attentive; however, that wasn't the case for many other passengers. There were quite a few disgruntled passengers, complaining about everything from cold food to disrespectful staff. I guess it's the luck of the draw. I heard some people complaining about the bad service at the Palace, while other people were giving praises on the Crossings. To us, it was completely the reverse. Some people complained of hallway smells, but yet we never smelled anything unpleasant. Maybe it was the fact that most of the hallways we walked through were on Deck 7 where the Kids Zone is located, and the fact that our cabin on Deck 9 was 2 doors away from the atrium elevators. Our youngest grandson, Justin, is very keen to any kind of smell and has no problem in telling you it stinks. Yet, not once did he ever mention smelling any bad smells anywhere.
Kids Zone: This is the one thing that disappointed me most on this cruise. On the first day of the cruise, I went with my daughter so she could register the children at the Kids Zone. I don't know about RCCL or Carnival, as we didn't take any kids with us on those cruises, but when my husband and I took our oldest grandson on a Panama Canal cruise on Princess, their youth program was free of charge the entire day, whether you were out to sea or in port. On sea days, the children had to be picked up for lunch and dinner, unless they were having a sleepover event. When the ship was in port, the children would be offered lunch, with no extra charge. The only time there was an extra charge was after 10 p.m., where it was really considered a babysitting service, so that parents could take in a late show or dinner. However, on the Sky, the only free Kids Zone hours were from 8:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on embarkation day, and 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. each evening. If you wanted your kids to stay in the youth program during the day, you had to pay $5.00 per hour, per child, and $3.00 per hour for each sibling. That was also the case from 10:30 pm to 1:30 a.m. For us, that meant $11 per hour for the three kids. That didn't include gratuity which was not included in the fee, but expected at the time you signed the charge receipt. This is a first for me. Our granddaughter seemed to like the activities, but the two boys were bored and really didn't want to go back. There were not that many kids onboard. The staff was very pleasant and the kids liked them. There was also a video arcade room, but only a few machines were working and there was absolutely no supervision in that room at all.
Nassau: Since we have been to Nassau a few times, we didn't do any shore excursions, and my husband decided to stay onboard and relax, while my daughter, the kids and I went ashore. The taxi and city tour people almost block your path to the city, trying to sell you city tours or rides to Atlantis. We got rid of them quickly by telling them we had been there many times before and were just walking around. Once you say that, they step aside. If they think you've never been there before, they keep on insisting and some of them are even rude. I know it's their livelihood and all, but I wouldn't do any kind of city tour unless it was arranged through the ship. I saw some passengers renting scooters and it looked like fun, but we had 3 kids and couldn't go that route. Instead, we walked along Bay Street, stopping at the Ice Cream Shack, and other souvenirs places, such as Del Sol. TIP: I recommend everyone to buy your souvenirs in the City and not onboard the ship. At Del Sol, I bought a set of 6 plastic rings which change color once exposed to the sun. This cost me $5.00. The ship's gift shop had the same exact ring set for $10.00. So it pays to get your souvenirs in the city. The Straw Market had changed since the last time I was there, and it was jam packed with people. Not a great place to take kids. The kids found some toys and we walked a little more before heading back to the ship. We could've walked more, but with the Carnival and RCCL ships arriving in Nassau right after us, the streets were very crowded and the excessive heat was just too much. This was a budget trip for us, and the one thing I would've loved to get for the kids was the Dolphin Encounter shore excursion. This was done somewhere close to the Atlantis resort, but it was quite expensive. Once we returned to the ship, everyone took a short nap and then the kids went back to the Kids Zone before going to eat dinner at Cagney's. NOTE: In Miami, when we first checked in, the NCL agent told us not to take our passports to Nassau, just our room key and a photo ID such as a driver's license. I confirmed this at the purser's desk onboard. Children don't need photo ID's, just their individual room key cards.
Entertainment: Matt, the cruise activities director was a blast. He kept everyone going and doing different activities. In the evening, he would host the main show at the Stardust Theater which consisted of the Sky dancers and the NCL band. All the musicians performing throughout the ship gave us a little sample of their talent at Friday evening's main show. The musicians were great, and the dancers were very energetic, even though I didn't like their show on Friday. They did much better on Sunday's main show. The comic/magician, Rich Purpuro, was very funny. He also performed for a few minutes in the Friday show, and did a 45-min show on Sunday. He was hilarious. Had us laughing the whole time. The Not-So-Newlywed Game was a riot, especially because one of the couples picked had been married 50 years and some of the questions they had to answer were hilarious. Everyone fell in love with them and even though they came in 3rd place, they were the crowd's favorite couple. We didn't attend some of the other shows, like the White Party because we were exhausted.
Great Stirrup Cay: This is where reading the critic reviews is critical in order to make your cruise experience better. Many reviewers said there were no umbrellas on the island and the few that were available, were made of a mesh material, not covering much of the sun. I made it a point to buy a 2-beach chair set that came with an umbrella and everything folded compactly into a shoulder bag ($39.99 Brylane.com). I also purchased a folding canopy chair for my husband, which the attached canopy also doubled as the chair's bag. This chair accommodates people up to 6'5" and up to 600 lbs. ($49 Renetto.com.) My husband is diabetic and can't take too much sun and this chair was perfect for him. The third thing I bought was a folding beach canopy, big enough to cover 2 beach chairs and also small enough to fit in its own travel bag ($18 Brylane.com). This was perfect for the kids to play in, away from the sun. These three items were light-weight and easily carried like backpacks. However, they proved invaluable in protecting us from the grueling sun. We made the second tender of the morning and that made it possible to select a great place away from the crowds, but close enough to the food station. There were burgers and hot dogs and all sorts of salads and fruits, as well as cold water and iced tea. There were some straw market stores, and if you didn't get a chance to get souvenirs in Nassau, this was your last chance to buy them cheaper. We stayed on the island until 2 pm and went back to take a much needed nap. The ocean air and heat took a lot out of us. The kids had a blast and could've stayed much longer.
Gift Shop onboard: We found everyone rude and snooty, as if they were working at a boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The only exception was Beverly, a saleslady who went the extra mile trying to help my daughter replace some Bijoux Terner sunglasses that had broken only a day after she'd purchased them at the gift shop. No one else seemed to care and everyone passed the buck to someone else. Just their facial expressions let you know they didn't want to be bothered. I tried asking some other salespeople for help with certain items, and there wasn't a smile or a helpful attitude among them. The only one who was friendly and helpful throughout was Beverly. She was a blessing.
Disembarkation: Disembarkation was a breeze. Since we only brought carry-on luggage, we took advantage of the express disembarkation and walked off the ship early. There was a little bit of a delay with customs, but once we went through that, we picked up our car from the garage and went on our way. TIP: Traffic gets quite hectic in the terminal area, so if you have a flight that morning, I suggest taking carry-on baggage only so you can do the express disembarkation, or scheduling your flight after 12 noon.
Overall: Your cruise is what you make of it. Some people had a really good time and some people complained all the time. On a cruiseship like the Sky, you have to go with an open mind, take everything with a grain of salt and try to have fun. The Nassau cruise on the Sky is still quite new, and they're going through some growing pains. I truly believe they will get it together as more time passes. Overall, I found the staff to be friendly and nice. I think what happens is that some people expect QE2 service for dirt-cheap prices, and unfortunately, that's not going to happen, at least not with the NCL Sky right now. For the price of this cruise, and children going for free, we couldn't have asked for more. NCL gave us a chance to take our daughter and three grandkids on a nice cruise. We had a wonderful time and if a similar promotion is offered by NCL in the future, we will probably do it again. The reviews I read here made a world of difference. We went on this cruise with absolutely no expectations and ended up having a very wonderful family vacation.