This was our 2nd cruise on NCL - we previously cruised Spirit on a 7-night "Exotic Caribbean" itinerary in March 2008. I traveled with my mom and dad on this trip.
We originally reserved a class AC Penthouse Suite (8202), but we were visited by the upsell fairy 5 days before departure (would we like to double the size of our room and get a private hot tub for $300 extra? Let me think-YES), and wound up living completely beyond our means in a class AA Owner's Suite (8001) - the biggest on the Sky.
EMBARKATION: Because we were totally new to this idea of traveling VIP, we completely missed the fact that there was a VIP lounge at the port, including a separate check-in area. No problem, though. The lines were short and moved along quite quickly. The port staff were very pleasant to deal with, especially when I turned around and walked all the way back through the check-in counter and security checkpoints to try and find a bag I lost (more on that later.) When we got to the desk where you pick up your key cards, ours weren't in the slot for our room. The woman at the desk, sent us to the next desk over, where the woman said "Oh, yes, we've been waiting for you!" This is where we learned we should have gone to the VIP lounge. Oops. Oh, well! They had our key cards ready to go. All in all, a 15 minute process, and we were on the ship by about 12:30.
DINING: After getting on the ship, we went to the outdoor buffet (Great Outdoor Cafe) for lunch. The line moved rather slowly, but we didn't have anywhere to be. The food was very good as far as buffet food went - this was our first of only two buffet experiences on the ship, not because the food was at all sub-par, but just because we're not buffet people.
The first night, we ate at Le Bistro. We found the $15 cover charge to be well worth it. I had the choucroute garnie à l'ancienne (basically a variety of meats) and it was FANTASTIC, especially the pork tenderloin. Our waiter, Malvin, remembered us from a 10-second encounter 6 hours earlier in which we had asked him to point us in the right direction to our cabin. This outstanding level of guest service and personal attention was the rule, not the exception, for this voyage.
We ate in each of the main dining rooms (Palace and Crossings) once. The food was very good - absolutely no complaints. The portions were a bit smaller than in the specialty restaurants, but that's OK. We found no difference in quality or service between the two - the only real difference is that Palace allows more casual dress (specifically, shorts) at dinnertime, whereas Crossings does not.
We had lunch in Cagney's (a perk for those in suites) twice. If you are traveling in a suite, DO NOT PASS UP THIS OPPORTUNITY. The restaurant will be virtually empty. One afternoon, there were literally only two tables occupied - us, and the senior officers (captain, etc.) The food is as good as at dinner and there is no cover charge. One of our waitresses, Charlotte, was by far the most bubbly and exuberant team member I have met aboard an NCL ship, and that's saying a lot, as they all seem happy to be there.
Il Adagio was also outstanding - the portions are considerably larger in other restaurants, but it's Italian, so what would one expect? =] I was feeling a bit under the weather when we ate there, so I ordered only the insalata tricolore (a starter) and the waiter made sure the kitchen made it extra big because it was all I was having.
ROOM: Like I said before, we were in an Owner's Suite, so many of the things I'll mention here won't be relevant to people not in suites. Our steward (Edgar), butler (Lucky) and concierge (Virginia) were phenomenal to work with. We met Lucky right away the first afternoon, when he brought us our first daily hors d'oeuvres and three complimentary bottles of alcohol. We spoke with Virginia on the phone about a reservation at Le Bistro and holding seats for the evening show. When we walked up to the theatre in a crowd of people that evening, she hurried over to us, greeting us each by name, sight unseen. She must have a way of accessing the mugshots they take when you check in - how else would she have known who we were? We don't really look like VIP passengers! =] We didn't really see much of Virginia the rest of the trip, but that was perfectly fine, as one phone call or page took care of anything we needed. She did meet us the last morning to escort us to the VIP Priority Disembarkation line. Edgar also greeted us each by name the second evening as we were leaving our room, again sight unseen. These three outstanding crew members made our trip incredibly memorable, and we were lucky to have them with us.
ENTERTAINMENT: We went to the mainstage show all four nights. The two production shows, On Broadway and Soul Rockin' Nights, were very well performed. The production company (singers especially) on Sky was considerably better than the one on Spirit last March. The comedian, Tim Kaminski, was HILARIOUS. I highly recommend all of the shows.
PORTS: Freeport, Grand Bahama Island Freeport was nice to see, but I don't feel that I would need to go back there again. We got off midmorning and took a taxi to Port Lucaya Marketplace ($5 pp one-way). When he dropped us off, our driver informed us that we would pay him $10 each for round trip and he would pick us up in two and half hours. Just by the looks of the place, we could tell we wouldn't want to stay for that long, so we insisted to only pay for the one-way. He tried to tell us it would cost at least $35 to get back - not true. We paid $5 per person to get back, just like on the way over. There was lots of shopping to be done, mostly jewelry and clothing - typical cruise port stuff. We're not big into that kind of thing, so we explored the beach by the nearby Westin resort, and hopped a taxi back.
Great Stirrup Cay The seas were too choppy for the tender boats, so this became a sea day. I spent most of it napping/reading. Enjoyable =]
Nassau We signed up for the Nassau Segway excursion through NCL and it was the best shore excursion experience I've had on all four of the cruises I've been on. We were bussed to a nondescript area of Nassau about 10 minutes away from the pier, given a 10-15 minute Segway lesson, and then took off for a 45-60 minute ride through an undeveloped woods-like area. The group was only 9 people, and our guide, Deenah (Deena? Dina?) was incredibly encouraging, especially to the older members of our group who had difficulty mastering the art of riding a Segway. The most fun part, for me, was the mini Segway Motocross area in the middle of the tour. We stopped for about 10 minutes and had a chance to go over some speed-bump type things. I definitely got air a few times - I don't think I was supposed to. Oops. =]
OVERALL This cruise felt so much more relaxed than some of our previous cruises. Maybe that's because we got super lucky and wound up in a gigantic suite, but I think that was only part of the equation. I highly recommend this voyage.