General: There are pros and cons to Freestyle Cruising. We never saw our cabin steward, but the cabin was kept clean and whenever we stopped any random steward in the hall to ask for more towels they were promptly and pleasantly given to us. The catch is that on a cruise where you know your steward and the tip is not automatic we would've only had to ask for extra towels on the first day and then would have gotten them automatically.
If you are sailing on the Sky don't forget to take an extension cord. The bathroom and the desk each have only one outlet. We always carry a Power Squid on our cruises so we have plenty of outlets on the desk for cell phones, cameras, etc.
Boarding: We got to the terminal around noon. It was easy to pull up to the curb and drop the bags, then we parked in the multi-story parking garage. Despite the signs that said pay in advance to park, we paid by credit card when we returned as we exited the parking garage.
Arriving that early, there were no lines so check in and boarding were quick and easy. Multiple staffers were around to direct you to the proper line.
Dining: The first night shorts were allowed in both the Palace and the Crossings restaurants due to concerns that folks might not have received their luggage. On subsequent nights we saw people turned away from the Palace due to wearing shorts. Apparently shorts are allowed in the Crossings restaurant. The dress code said that jeans were allowed in both restaurants; however, we had all packed casual slacks so had no problems with attire. Both main dining rooms serve the exact same menu, so your decision on where to dine is based on what to wear as well as dining time. The Palace opens at 6 pm; the Crossings at 5:30 pm.
We ate at the Crossings on the first night and the service was horrible. We switched to the Palace for all remaining dinners and the service was better, if not stellar. The food was excellent in both restaurants. We did not pay extra to eat in any of the specialty dining rooms.
For breakfast the Longboard Bar on Deck 11 around the corner from the outdoor buffet has an excellent custom omelet and waffle station. Since the Longboard is right by the outdoor buffet you're able to grab beverages to go with your omelet easily.
Freeport: This was our first stop. We had booked the 10:45 am glass bottom boat tour online, but when we got our shore excursion tickets in our cabin we'd been moved to the 8 am tour. We went to the shore excursion desk and asked to be moved back to the later tour. We got multiple stories from the NCL staffer, but finally when I said give me my money back we were magically moved to the 10:15 am tour. In later discussion with other folks on our tour they'd been given the similar run around. Our guess was NCL was hoping to cram everyone on the earlier tour so they didn't have to pay the boat operators for a later one.
The Sky docks in an industrial area, but there is one small shopping area a short walk from the ship - their version of the straw market. We browsed a bit before walking back to the NCL tent to wait for our shore excursion.
After straightening out the timing situation we ended up being very pleased with the glass bottomed boat tour.
When you get to the NCL tent you trade in your shore excursion ticket for a small, laminated coupon. When you board the bus you receive another coupon for your return bus ride (more on this later). The bus takes you to a commercial area with a pier and more shopping. I must admit I was a little skeptical walking out to the glass bottomed boat as it looked like a wreck, but once on board it was clean and well kept.
As you walk out to the boat you give the guide your coupon then take your seat on the boat. The glass bottom is on the deck below you, so you lean over a sturdy railing and look down through the glass. We went to two different reefs and saw lots of fish, including a herd of reef sharks at our last stop.
There's a small cash bar onboard with very reasonable prices selling soda, beer, bottled water, and bags of chips.
Once you return to the pier you can shop or eat at your leisure. Whenever you are ready to go you return to the bus stop. Catch the specified bus line and trade in the coupon you received earlier for a ride back to the Sky. This is an open air bus with no air conditioning, so don't expect to cool off after walking around! It was easy to find our way around the shopping area and catch the proper bus.
The duty free liquor store in the shopping area had excellent prices. The other stores were a little higher in pricing than what we found later in Nassau's straw market. For the most part, you'll find the same items in all three shopping areas (this pier, the pier right outside the Sky, and Nassau's straw market). We picked up a few items here, then returned to the Sky and picked up a few more items at that market. The prices were lower later in the afternoon at the pier shopping area by the Sky than they were first thing in the morning - don't forget to bargain!
Nassau: We had booked the Atlantis day tour online. Turns out that a Royal Caribbean ship was in port at the same time as us and the tour combined people from the two ships. This was a little confusing when you exit the Sky as the sign for the Atlantis day tour was not readily visible due to the mass of people. We finally asked someone and got pointed in the right direction. As before, you trade in your shore excursion ticket, but this time you get an Atlantis wrist band. Make sure to keep this on even after your official tour ends as you'll need it to take the boat back to the ship (more on this later).
Once the tour group finally starts moving be sure to keep up as several local merchants will try to get you to hop out of line to shop or take a horse drawn carriage ride. If you want to do this in Nassau you'll have time after the Atlantis tour.
Your guide takes you to a small boat which takes you on a harbor tour before docking at a pier near Atlantis. Notice I say "near" Atlantis. I thought the boat took you right up to Atlantis, but it actually stops across the street at another pier and an upscale shopping area. You are then led on a walk through the shopping area (note this is not another straw market), across the street, to Atlantis. Here the large group gets divided up into smaller groups of ten or so and your guide takes you into the resort.
I'd been to Atlantis before on my own and remembered having a hard time finding out where to buy tickets and generally finding my way around. I thought it was much easier this time with a guide.
The official tour lasts about an hour. After that you are on your own. We grabbed lunch in a diner on property at Atlantis. While it was expensive, the sandwiches were huge and nobody left hungry. Be careful on drink refills though, as they charged for refilling sodas and even iced tea!
After lunch we went back through the aquariums. Since the official tours had ended it was empty and easy to take pictures. We flashed our wristbands to get back into the ticketed areas.
When you are ready to leave Atlantis walk back across the street, through the upscale shopping area, and catch the boat back to the main pier. When you get on the boat they cut off your wristband as your "fare." You'll dock by Senor Frogs and the Nassau straw market. This straw market had the best prices, but by far the most aggressive sales people. Be prepared to say "just looking" a lot.
Great Stirrup Cay: Unfortunately, bad weather kept us from visiting NCL's private island, so we had a sea day. The ship didn't seem to add very many activities to keep folks occupied. We went to the Palace for lunch and they were very confused. Several tables in our seating area were given the wrong menu, so the waiter just picked out similar food to what we had ordered for us. For example, I ordered the gnocci off the wrong menu, so he brought me cannelloni off the correct menu. Granted, they weren't expecting to have two thousand people on board for lunch, but you'd think they'd have better contingency plans for adding activities and providing correct menus.
I attended the Liar's Club show in the Stardust Theater and it was quite amusing. I'm not sure if this was a regularly scheduled show or one they added to keep us busy.
Disembarking: We opted to carry our bags off the ship after grabbing one last omelet. The hardest part of getting off the Sky was finding an elevator big enough for our entire party and our bags. Once we were back on land the staffers continually yelling at you to have your passports in your hand were pretty annoying. I'm not sure if they were port authority staff or NCL. Seems to me like you're better off keeping your passport secure in a bag or pocket, but apparently I'm in the minority as the uniforms wanted you to wave it around in your hand while trying to walk and carry all your bags.
We walked across the street to the parking garage and I waited on the curb by the exit lanes while the car was brought around (since we had parked on the second level). We loaded up quickly and were on our way. The parking garage took credit cards for payment on the way out. Signs to get back on the highway were easy to follow.