We just got back from 3-day Bahamas cruise on Norwegian Sky and unfortunately, didn't like it. Maybe the idea of Free Style cruising it's not so bad, but the implementation... Let's start one by one and I just want to state right away - it's not a complain, and just my opinion and thoughts. We sailed already with six different cruises (Carnival, Royal Caribbean and UK My Travel) and have something to compare with. With NCL, we did like pretty much only three things: embarkation, balcony and debarkation. Easy and smooth way to get on board and getting the cabin around 2pm almost tuned us to a nice mood, but not for a long time. The ship dEcor is cheap and old. Everywhere you can see signs of "previous" luxury, which require a new paint or replacement; furniture is old and wore up. Once you get on Deck 10, there is a stable and nasty sewage smell. Nothing helps... If you don't take a look underneath the bed or sofa bed, the cabin was almost clean. It has Queen Size bed, sofa bed (definitely, from some garage sale) and desk with chair. On the floor - an old faded carpet. Size of the cabin Category BB should be around 200 sq. ft, but it looks they calculated it with balcony, which makes the cabin itself pretty small. There is a special story about the bed: two Twin size beds combined together made the Queen bed, but the mattresses.... They are so hard and made our 3 nights completely sleepless. I pretty sure, if we remove the beds, a sleep on floor could be more comfortable than on these mattresses. Four pillows did have nice and clean pillowcases, but were completely uncomfortable and useless as well. The layout of the cabin and AC returns wasn't designed properly and it blows from the wall right to the bed. You can't redirect or switch it off. Finally, we had to block it with Daily Free-style papers (at least some use...). Don't expect Internet in cabins - "it's not deployed yet" and I don't think anyone will do it on the "Sky".
There are a couple of thoughts about food: a breakfast is pretty standard and includes omelette station with beacon, smoked salmon, cereal etc. Not much complains here, but the launch… If for some reason, you missed it (beach or excursion) there is no food available between 3.30 and 5.30pm except some burgers, fries and hot dogs. Definitely, you can order Room Service, but be ready to wait about 45 minutes. There are three types of eating onboard: buffet, main and paid restaurants. The buffet is the fastest one (and sometimes even has a better meals choice), but main restaurants like Crossing and Palace it's completely disaster… First of all, if want to eat there, be ready to spend 30 - 40 min in line to get there. The food selection is very poor and absolutely the same Menu in both places. We've been trying to order a couple of different meals, but all them completely tasteless and very small portions. Since the tips are automatically applied to your account regardless of service, the waiters are not motivated. Why should they serve you better if they already have your money? On other ships, our waiters knew our names, our drinking preferences on the second day. They've been trying to keep conversation and always had some suggestions about different ports and beaches. Norwegian Lines are completely opposite - everything was trying and convincing you to go to the paid restaurants and spend more money. We went to "La Bistro" and did like it. The food, selection and service were better. Nevertheless, why should I pay $15 - 20 per person for the dinner with Norwegian if I can have the same service on other cruise lines for free? Again, in order to book any paid restaurant, you still have to waste your time standing in line for reservations. Otherwise, you'll have all your dinners in the buffer. Let's make some calculation: if you take a 7-day cruise and decide to have all seven nights in paid restaurants, you'll spend at least $105 for dinning only. On top of that, Norwegian automatically charge you $10 per day service fee (effective 2009 - $12 per day per person). You cannot negotiate this charge regardless of your personal impressions and service received. Definitely, you would like to have some drinks onboard and finally, you will pay additional 40-50% of your cruise cost. I understand that tipping is a huge part of staff income, but it should NOT be done automatically and regardless of service. Most waiters never will see you again, so why they should do anything special for you?
Pretty much the same story with steward. Normally, a steward introduces himself on the first night and tries to have some contact during the entire cruise. On Norwegian Sky we never saw our steward. Personally, I don't think he ever cleaned the cabin - underneath of our beds easily I found some old tickets, nuts etc. Is it nice? He even didn't remove our dirty Champaign glasses for all 4 days. Should I tip him? Spoiled by obligatory tipping staff will never provide a good service. We always tip the people that take a good care about us specifically (sometime even more than cruise lines suggest): steward, waiter and waiter's assistant. Visiting Norwegian's private island Great Stirrup Cay didn't make us happy as well: it's too small and was too crowded. I don't think this place ever been designed to host about 3000 passengers. The beach is about 1200 ft long and third of this was taking for tenders embarkation/debarkation. See-through umbrellas (if you're the lucky one) didn't make any shadows and we had to spend all the time under hot sun. Food and all facilities were pretty standard and offered floating rafts, diving and parasailing. Finally, we booked another cruise with Norwegian Dawn in March 2009, but have it cancelled. No more FREE (Cheap) STYLE cruising for us.