Background info: This was our 3rd NCL cruise. Four of us went...me, my husband, my father and my mother-in-law. Three of us have been on the previous NCL cruises and one....this was her first cruise ever. We gave this cruise to my mother-in-law as a Christmas present as she wanted to try a short cruise to see if she enjoyed cruising.
Pre-cruise info: Since this was a short cruise, and our time from work was limited, we did what we normally don't do. We flew into Miami the day of the cruise. Everything went absolutely perfect. Flight left Baltimore at 7 am and arrived early in Ft. Lauderdale at 9:00 am. We chose to fly to Ft. Lauderdale as the pricing was lots cheaper then flying into Miami at the time we booked.
We had reserved a rental car at a Hertz location that was about 5 miles from the airport (Seabreeze Blvd) because it was almost ½ of the price of renting a car at the airport. It did cost $20 for the cab ride (including tip) to and from the airport so if you consider this option, include that in your pricing to help you make the decision. It was easy for us and we had plenty of time, so I would do it that way again, but to some, it may be worth it just to pay the extra and rent right at the airport. Also, since there were 4 of us, renting a car was cheaper then getting shuttle service from Ft. Lauderdale to the cruise port in Miami. Since both mother-in-law and father have some mobility issues, both have handicap placards which enabled us to park at the Miami cruise port for free. So we rented the car for the entire 3 days, even though it just sat at the cruise port. That was cheaper then two, one way rentals since we didn't' have to pay for parking at the port. If you intend on using a handicap placard for parking, be warned that the owner of the placard must be with you. They must submit their ID and fill out a short form, so no cheating to get free parking. Total for the rental car for 3 days was $84.00. It's a short drive from Ft. Lauderdale to the port...about ½ hour.
Embarkation: Smoothest I've ever had. We arrived at the port around 11:30, unloaded luggage at the curb, parked the car and were onboard by a little after noon. Fantastic! We were directed to a certain line due to parent's mobility problems, but I noticed that the other lines were very short too and everyone was getting through very quickly.
The Ship: I was pleased to find that the Sky is identical in layout to the Sun which we cruised in March 2008. It made it very easy for us to get around the ship as we felt like we'd been there before. These two ships are a little difficult to find your way around on as many know, and I saw a lot of people, even on the last day, looking at signs at the elevators trying to figure out which way to go. Three days really isn't long enough to get totally familiar with the ship but there are good directional signs everywhere and always someone to help if you get lost.
The Sky is in beautiful condition. As on all NCL ships, there is constant cleaning and maintenance being done by the crew to keep the Sky in excellent condition. I noticed none of the sewer smell that some have described in their reviews anywhere on the ship. I love the hull art on all NCL ships and even though this one is definitely Hawaiian in theme, it's very, very pretty. All of the public areas are beautiful and I didn't mind all of the artificial flowers at all. I've read reviews where people called them "ugly" or "tacky" but I don't agree. They are just fine. There is some normal wear and tear if you look VERY CLOSE but you have to be looking for it. There is a Hawaiian theme throughout the entire ship in the paintings, murals etc, but I'm sure it would cost a fortune for them to redo them and honestly, it's not a problem. They are beautiful and "tropical" so I think they work fine. I don't think that the general customer would even notice the Hawaiian theme...they'd just think tropical. I took particular notice of all the furniture in the public places and found it all to be in beautiful condition.
The Cabin's: We had two inside staterooms (9127 & 9128). Since this was a short trip, we wanted to conserve money so didn't book a balcony. One was a HC room (for MIL and father). It was nice and roomy as all HC rooms are. Our cabin was perfectly fine for 2 people. A 3rd would have fit fine with no problem. This was my first time in an inside cabin on NCL and I was pleasantly surprised with the size. My only other experience with an inside was 15 years ago on Holland America and it was much, much smaller then this cabin. Bathroom was surprisingly roomy and the cabin was in excellent working condition (lights, fixtures, etc). Plenty of storage space. The location of both of these cabins is excellent for quick access to the main atrium scenic elevators.
The Food: Let me start by saying that food is very subjective. And, I'm not a "foodie". I'm very easy to please and I like basic foods. I'm not adventurous and don't like "exotic" things. A meat and potato's girl. ? I found the food to be excellent as usual. I've never had a complaint in my 3 NCL sailings. The food was always served hot and with excellent presentation. Portions are not huge, but that suits me just fine as I cannot eat huge portions after having several appetizers. And, you can always request more if you want it.
We had breakfast at the buffet all 3 mornings. Although I'm not a buffet person (prefer a sit down restaurant) you cannot beat the buffet for breakfast in my opinion. Lox, bagels, omelets, waffles, fruits, hot cereal...the choices go on and on. There was plenty of seating too with not only the main buffet area but the outdoor buffet and within an easy walk, outside around the pool. We only used the buffet for breakfast so I can't comment on lunch or dinner.
We ate in one of the main dining rooms once for lunch (embarkation), and twice for dinner. All 3 times the food was excellent and everyone in our party enjoyed it. For those who are more adventurous then me in their dining choices, there were lots of items available. I was surprised that they did have lobster night on the 3 day cruise. It was the 2nd night (Saturday). It is a lobster/fish combination and you get ½ of a lobster tail and a piece of fish. From previous NCL experience, I was aware of this so did my normal "special request"....no fish, two lobster tails. It was easily done with no problem from the waiter.
We ate in LeBistro one night and as usual, it was excellent. Slow, but excellent (more on that below). Well worth the $15 cover charge. We were going to eat at Cagney's as we've never eaten there but honestly, I just can't get past the $25 cover charge. I understand that it's an excellent meal but to me, $25 is way out of line for a surcharge and I won't pay it. Just my opinion, but everyone has a limit and $25 surcharge is over mine. I'd rather spend that $25 in the casino! ?
Seriously, I think that the specialty restaurants are nice, but truly an option. It is not necessary to spend one extra dime on food on an NCL ship. The included venues offer a wide variety of choices and it's all good. Whenever we have onboard credit available, we utilize the specialty restaurants but to us, it's just not necessary. I've heard people say that in order to get great food, you must use the specialty restaurants and I couldn't disagree more.
The Service: Overall, the service was excellent as usual. However, we did have a few issues which were individually based, not overall. Neither of them were a big deal, but worth mentioning I suppose since a review is supposed to be as balanced as possible.
First, my hubby and I were in one cabin, and my father and MIL were in the other. And, we had different room stewards. Our stewards were fabulous, as all of our previous NCL stewards have been. Friendly, courteous and there to please. Our request for ice all the time was always taken care of with never a reminder necessary. Anytime we saw them in the hallway they greeted us cheerily and asked if everything was okay with the cabin.
The stewards our parents had were very different. Never introduced themselves and it seemed as if they were there to simply do the minimum they could. They weren't very friendly if you saw them and on the first night, they didn't do turndown at all. And it wasn't just our parent's cabin; it was obvious that it was all of their cabins. Freestyle Daily's were put on the outside of the cabin door each night at turndown. If you looked up and down our hallway that first night, all of the doors had the Daily's on them except the block of rooms that those stewards did. So they skipped turndown in all of their rooms the first night. My MIL asked me where she could get a fresh towel in the morning for her shower as the towels from previous use were still on the bathroom floor. She also asked me what the schedule was for the next day as she had no clue since she had no Freestyle Daily. She wasn't complaining as she's a very, very easy going person and she actually told me not to complain as it wasn't a big deal. Bear in mind that this was her first cruise and she was overjoyed at how wonderful it was so far. And, she really had no idea that turndown had been skipped and that she should have the Daily and fresh towels. I did call down at that point (it was after midnight) and whoever answered the housekeeping phone was very polite, very apologetic and offered to send someone right up to do turndown. I told them it wasn't necessary as I had extra towels and the Daily. I just wanted them to know that the stewards had totally skipped turndown. He apologized again and told me that he would definitely make sure that the supervisor was informed. The other two night's turndown was completed with no problem. The issue was obviously addressed by the supervisor and that is certainly all that anyone can expect so we were pleased.
Our other service issue involved the wine steward in the main dining room at dinner. When we boarded, there was a bottle of wine in our room that had been given to us by NCL. We had had a personal situation occur on our last cruise (I missed the ship in a port) and NCL had went above and beyond in assisting us in every way possible. When we returned home, I had written a letter to corporate headquarters complimenting the staff and crew of the Dawn. It was a pleasant surprise to find the wine waiting for us on the Sky with a note of appreciation for the comments I had sent to corporate.
We decided to take the wine with us to dinner on Sunday night. Our steward had kept it iced for us since we arrived on the ship, so we took the bottle with us to the dining room. When the wine steward approached our table and asked if we wanted anything from the bar, I told her we just needed a stand with ice for our bottle of wine and to have it opened. She took the bottle off the table, examined it and said "Where did you get this? Did you buy it on the ship? Or did you bring it from your room?" It was said in an accusatory tone which all of us at the table immediately noticed. I've brought wine on board before and paid the corkage fee and have never, ever been questioned in the dining room as to where I got it. The steward has always brought us glasses, opened and poured it and been very, very polite in the process...and been tipped for their service. I told her that it had been a gift from NCL and she just looked at me and said "I'll have to check this out" and walked away. There's no other way to describe her attitude other then rude. Our waiter came over at that point and we asked him for wine glasses which he immediately brought over to us. My husband opened the wine at that point and poured it. No big deal but we know they don't like you to do that yourself, but at that point, we had no choice. We were almost finished our meal when the wine steward came back to the table.....very, very pleasant this time, and asked how everything was and if we wanted anything else. I didn't say anything to her but had it been up to her, the wine would have been left sitting on the table the entire meal.
Our waiters in both LeBistro and the main dining rooms were excellent as usual. Very friendly and efficient. Typical of the service we have always received on NCL. I will say that dining time was very slow on this trip. It wasn't our waiter's as they were quick and attentive so it must have been the kitchen. We know that dining takes time and don't expect (or want) to rush through dinner; however, we do usually plan our dining time so we can see the shows. Two of the 3 nights, we missed the shows due to the long dining time. We arrived in LeBistro at 6:45 and didn't get done until 9:15. There was a long, long wait between each course and our waiter's kept apologizing for the delay. In one of the main dining rooms, we arrived at 7 and didn't get out till 9:10. Usually, 2 hours is more then enough to allow for dinner for 4 people but that was not the case on the Sky this trip. If you want to be sure of making it to a show or activity, allow yourself plenty of time.
The lines to get into the dining rooms were fairly short and mostly non-existent. We waited one night about 10 minutes when we went at prime dining hour which we thought was excellent. Also, I've only been on the Sun and the Dawn previous to this cruise and neither of them had the board that showed the availability in the restaurants. I thought this was a really nice feature and it helped to plan (reservations) or where to go if one dining venue was busy. The beepers were something else the Sun and Dawn didn't have and they are wonderful also. You can go to a bar, seating area, lounge or out on deck to wait and don't have to stand around the entrance to the dining room. Freestyle certainly seems to work very, very well on the Sky.
The Ports: Only two ports since this is a 3 day cruise. Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay. Nassau is well, Nassau. ? We've been there several times and it's nice. Be prepared though for a lot of walking as NCL must be assigned a permanent berth all the way at the end of the dock. I've been to Nassau twice on NCL ships and both times, that was where they docked. So bring your walking shoes.
I booked the Sea Lion excursion through NCL and it was fantastic. I've swum with Dolphins before and loved it so the Sea Lion excursion sounded like something I'd love to do. You don't interact as freely with the sea lions as you do Dolphin's (they have some good sized teeth) but I loved it and would highly recommend it.
I was happy to get to go to GSC. Our last cruise in that area had to skip it due to rough seas. The water was too cold to swim in (for me) although some were swimming. The beach is beautiful and the whole experience of being on a tropical island, having a picnic under a palm tree, and looking at that beautiful water while listening to a Caribbean band is like nothing else.
Entertainment: Being such a short cruise, we didn't have time to do many of the games, etc that we usually do. We attended Soul Rockin Nights and loved it. Also attended the Not So Newlywed Game and of course Quest and enjoyed both of them as always.
We also, as usual, spent a lot of time in the casino. The casino is beautiful as it's pretty much brand new. However, if you are a person who likes the old type slot machines, you won't find any here. Everything is video slots. Machines varied as to how much they paid but were generally pretty tight. I never saw anyone hit any jackpots.
Disembarkation: Since this is a short cruise, many people do not check luggage. So self-embarkation is huge. The lines were very long up until about 9:30 or so and since we were in no hurry (late flight home), we just hung out up by the pool enjoying the sunshine and warmth as long as we could. We left the ship only when they made the final call (around 10 am) for everyone to disembark. We waited only a short time to get off the ship and through customs.
Final Thoughts: I will say that the 3 day cruise is more of a party atmosphere then the longer cruises. Everyone is trying to get a lot done in a short period of time. It didn't bother us except for one time around 3 am when a group was very, very loud going down the hallway and woke me up. But they passed quickly and it really was not a big deal. I didn't see anyone rude or obnoxious.....they were just having a great time! This was my 3rd NCL cruise and I was again very, very pleased. They offer an excellent product which is very suited to what we are looking for in a cruise. We booked this cruise when the sales were going on and got a deal that could not be beat. I can't wait until my next cruise with NCL in June and as long as they keep offering a quality product, for a great price, I'm not likely to go anywhere else in the near future. If anyone would like to see some photos of the ship, etc., you can follow this link: http://picasaweb.google.com/ChBoxers800/NorwegianSkyCruise#