Having just returned from my first "Freestyle" cruise, I went into it with great expectations. I thought that it was a great idea to be able not to have to follow a set schedule, be able to see the shows when you want and just relax. Unfortunately, I couldn't have been more wrong!
The ship itself is very confused, no, not confusing, but confused! It doesn't know whether it's a traditional ship, a ship that has been decked out for sailing the Hawaiian Islands or if she is just a bridesmaid waiting for her own special day. Depending upon what part of the ship you are in at the time, you might think you were sailing on a traditional cruise ship with lots of wood and traditional furnishings, only to walk down the corridor into the land of bright flowers and Hawaiian motif. It's kind of like visiting Epcot at Walt Disney World where you go from country to country in just a couple of short steps! But I think the worst part of the decor in the public areas are the artificial flowers and plants! I guess NCL decided fresh flowers and plants are a luxury because you won't find one natural plant onboard, but you will find a lot of really bad looking artificial ones that need replacing (at least a good cleaning).
Getting around the Sky is no easy task. She is choppy and cut up. I don't know if this is due to the addition of the 3 "fine dining" restaurants to make her "Freestyle" but try getting to your forward stateroom from Crossings, or the staterooms on "6a", both require a head for geography! Obviously some ships flow better than others, but the design of Sky makes life a bit more challenging than it should.
Another odd thing I found about the ship is that they don't have enough linen for the staterooms. At any point your cabin steward makes up your room, you will find yourself with only bath towels and maybe wash clothes. During our entire trip, we had only 1 hand towel...yep that's it only 1. We would use it after coming in for the day and place it to be exchanged thinking we would get multiple (at least one for the each of us) but that wasn't the case. I inquired about this and was told the ship had no additional terry on board to swap out, so they had to take the linen from you stateroom, wash it and bring it back! I know Freestyle is casual, but come on NCL, I need a towel to dry my face with!
Having sailed on a number of cruise lines, I'm pretty accustomed to being spoken to by staff, smiles and happy faces. Someone forgot tell the officers and staff of the Sky that this is just plain old-fashion customer service. The staff members were very non-committal. Seldom would you get one that would speak without being spoken to first. When they did speak there was no friendliness at all. You might offer a "good morning, how are you?" and get a look that said "why are you bothering me with your pleasantries." Again, this is a cruise...it's supposed to lively and fun! But on the Sky it seems the staff think they are doing you a favor by being there and this includes the attitude of many of the officers! The exception to this was our server in Cagney's, the Restaurant Manager at Il Adagio and the Hotel Director. The two ladies went out of their way to help with my dietary allergies and the Hotel Director was at least friendly. Other than these individuals the remainder of the staff seems to be lost in their own problems of the day. This was very disappointing.
Stateroom cleanliness left a lot to be desired. I don't think the steward's know what vacuuming is. I found everything from plastic wrap on the floor to heavy dust in the carpet corners! But then when your steward doesn't try to introduce himself to you, what pride does he have in his work? I saw our steward only once and that was around 11:00 pm on our last night.
Generally housekeeping is something that cruise ships do pride themselves on, but then again most ships are staffed with European officers. Maybe it's the fact the the Director of Housekeeping is American and doesn't put the emphasis on his staff that he should or maybe he's just too busy working out to care, but this is definitely a weak point on this ship. Several times when going into a restaurant we found the hand sanitizer stations completely empty. If your going to have a program that is designed to ward off Norovirus, you have to make sure you have sanitizer in the machine!
Food quality is average to above. Definitely a plus is Cagney's, very good although the service charge is now $25 per person which is too pricey. The steak thought in Il Adagio was not the quality of Cagney's. In fact a woman behind us, had to order something different as the steak was fatty and improperly prepared. Many have commented that the buffet is small. It definitely isn't the standard you will find on a "mega ship" but it is decent. However, it is very inconsistent. On departure morning, the scrambled eggs were runny and all the food was cold. Don't expect to get a fresh egg on board, everything is done with the liquid egg base, including omelettes. The buffet is the same every day, no change ups at all-so don't expect variety.
Shows were mediocre at best. Rich Purpula is always decent but not great. We have seen him before on another line. The other entertainment is ok but probably not on the same level as other ships. We were able to get into Great Stirrup Cay, although it was overcast and the water extremely choppy. This isn't one of the better Islands, but there were plenty of chairs and lounges available, so either people stayed on the ship or they have added additional. One thing NCL definitely needs to do is drag the immediately water for rocks. There are huge stones that could cause serious injury to someone in the water.
So what is my overall opinion, humble as it may be? For the price, it is difficult to complain, but go into it wisely and keep your expectations moderate. Staff needs customer service/friendliness training, the ship could use a good scrubbing (in the staterooms, public areas are well-maintained for the most part)and updating. If you can avoid it, stay away from the inside cabins. Literally, two people cannot be in the stateroom at the same time and turn around. These must be the smallest ones at sea of any ship built in the last 10-12 years. And those showers! Anyone with any size won't be able to turn around! Our oceanview was adequate, still small but we had a small loveseat and could at least move about. Don't expect that in any interior category despite what the overview says. Based on this experience I don't know that I would sail NCL again. I was not overly impressed. I liked the rate, but I would look for another choice even if I had to spend a few dollars more for it.