We sailed on the SKY April 20-24 2009. I'll start with the summary, so the "bottom line" folks can read it and run.
My wife and I were first time cruisers, we're both in our early 50's. We both thought the trip was an exceptional value. We had a balcony cabin on the deck 9. The cabin was very clean. The balcony was comfortable for two. Bed was comfortable. The cabin was small, but I had nothing to compare it to. Bathroom and shower were small, although I'm pretty big, and had no problems. We ate at the Palace main dining room for dinner twice, and breakfast twice. I would say the Palace food is slightly better than Applebees/Bennigans, but not quite as good as Outback. Considering the cost of the cruise I was very pleased. We also ate at two different specialty restaurants. Le Bistro with a $15.00 cover, and Cagney's with a $25.00 cover. Both were outstanding. We tried the buffet for lunch. It is laid out poorly, and the food was not good. On the upside, we ate late on disembarkation, and we could only get breakfast at the buffet. Breakfast they did pretty good. By the way, the ship is going into Dry-dock this week, and the rumor is that the buffet is going to be remodeled. So maybe it will be better by the time you go. The ship was bright and clean. I saw no frayed carpeting or smelled anything bad like some others have mentioned. Every single employee I dealt with was friendly and happy to help. You can party heartily all evening, every evening. We liked NCL enough that we signed up for a promotion where we got a discount on a future sailing. If I can only afford the SKY when the time comes, I won't hesitate.
Okay, for you folks who like details. (Might want to get some Fritos and a Beer about now.....
Getting there and returning: We live in Florida, about a 3 hour drive from Miami. Everyone, and I mean everyone here uses a private bus line called Cruise connections to get to their cruise. It sounded like a relaxing way to make the trip. Well, it required me to get up at 5:30am on sailing day. That wasn't so bad, because you're pumped and you can get right on the ship and have lunch the first day. Coming back was terrible. We got off the ship at 10am, and didn't get home until about 5:30. And it's only a 3 hour drive by car. Never again. From now on I'll drive and use long term parking.
Embarkation: Like everyone says, it was a snap. We sailed right through security. We had a balcony, and there was a special line set up for balcony guests at check in. I asked a worker where it was. He showed me and said even though it was a short walk, we'd be at the counter just as quick if we stayed in the main line. He wasn't kidding. We got up to the counter so quick it made my head spin. Check in clerk was very friendly, and got us right through. We went upstairs and picked up our sign and sail cards, got photographed and were heading out to the boat. From the time we walked into the terminal until we were going over the gangplank was no more than 15 minutes tops. It would have been 10, but they stop you and take souvenir photos before you board. A short ways in, you can check your carry on. I intended to, but decided against it. They said they didn't deliver the bags, that we had to come back and pick them up. Frankly, at that point I wasn't sure I could find that area again. They said rooms would be ready "after 2pm." We poked around the ship a little, gawked at the other ships around us, had lunch, then had a drink. At 2:20 we headed to our room and it was ready. By the way. On the first day, if you ask about food, the folks on the ship try their hardest to direct you to the buffet. But you don't have to eat there (and I don't recommend the buffet.) The specialty restaurant "Il Adagio" is open for lunch. It's right off the pool area, and right next to the buffet. At lunch, you can only get pasta and Pizza there, but it's all miles ahead of the buffet. There is no cover charge to eat there for lunch. One of the main dining rooms is also open, I think the Crossings. You'll be given a daily brochure when you get on, the restaurants are listed on the rear of it. Everyone I dealt with in the terminal was friendly and made me feel like they were happy to see us. I did see a couple of workers (in the terminal) who looked disgruntled, but they were not helping cruisers directly.
Cabin: We had a Balcony cabin on the Fiord deck (9) aft. It wasn't a balcony at the rear, it was just slightly back of the center of the ship, so they called it aft. The cabin was kind of small. Of course, being a first time cruiser, I had nothing to compare it to. But other cruisers who have been on other lines said it was about the size of the inside cabins on some ships. The balcony was comfortably sized for two people. The deck chairs were in good shape, and comfortable. The balcony had reasonable privacy. There were solid walls between balconies, but your neighbor could easily peek around the wall if they had a mind to. The room, carpet and furnishings were all comfortable and in good shape. The room never had much of a odor from whatever cleaners they use. And there was no funky smell from scented sprays like that which hotels use to mask stale cigarette odor. The room had only 1 electrical outlet. It was in a terrible location if you are using a CPAP machine. I brought a outlet strip with a 5 foot cord. It would not reach the side of the bed where the one night stand was. So every night I had to move the coffee table close to the bed, and put the CPAP on it. Not a big deal at all. Just something for you CPAP users to think about. And do bring an extension cord. Air conditioning worked well, and you have your own thermostat. However, it didn't blow hard, so if your room heated up because you left the balcony door open, it did take a little while for the temperature to come back down. Bathroom and shower are very small. That said, I'm a pretty big guy. Wide shoulders, barrel chest, and now an expanding belt size. I had no problems using the shower or toilet. If you rearranged the toiletries in the bathroom, you get 3 or 4 small shelves to put your own toiletries on. We found that adequate. One tip I would give would be to buy some type of roll-up bag that you can hang on the bathroom door. You can put things like your curling iron, and maybe some shoes in it. The cabin gets "cluttered" quickly because it's small. We had 2 suitcases that fit well in the closet. There is good room under the bed also for your suitcases. We never met our Steward. He did leave chocolate every evening, and made towel animals for us twice. The ice bucket was always full. We saw some stewards in the hallway, and they always gave us a warm greeting.
Food: "Freestyle" means you can eat on your own schedule. Just like at home, you walk up and they seat your party at your own table. There are no set dining times, and you don't eat at a table all week with other folks you're not traveling with. The main dining rooms are the Crossings and the Palace. Shorts okay at Crossings, but not at the Palace. We never did make it to the Crossings. But we had dinner twice, and breakfast twice at the Palace. As I mentioned in the beginning, I consider the Palace to be about on the level of "The Outback" restaurants. Considering the cost of the cruise, I was very pleased with that. Breakfast was very good, but the Palace only serves breakfast to those in balcony or more expensive cabins. They put out a Continental breakfast buffet, and also have a menu. If you're in a hurry, the continental is fine. If you're not, you can order off the menu and also eat from their buffet. We ate at the Garden Cafe (main buffet) for lunch twice. It has a bad reputation, and I agree. It was poorly laid out, the food was not good, and even though the steam trays were spouting steam like crazy, the food was cold. That one, I have not figured out yet. Take heart though, the ship is going into dry-dock this week, and the rumor is that the buffet is being remodeled. Hopefully, the quality of food will improve. We did eat breakfast there the last day, and the food was pretty good, and warm/hot. I'll give them credit for that. We went to two specialty restaurants. Le Bistro $15.00, and Cagney's $25.00 You should make reservations. They fill up fast, and I think if you just walk up, you will have a very long wait, maybe not even get in. Balcony guests and above can make reservations 2 days in advance. Rooms lower in cost can make reservations same day only. Funny, Cagney's menu has a picture of Al Capone on front. I was expecting James Cagney....... We both had Beef tenderloin at Le Bistro. Ordered medium rare, and it was done perfectly. Very nice cut of meat. I had French Onion soup. It was the best I've ever had, and I eat it a lot. But, I almost never eat in French restaurants either. Cagney's.... Something went wrong here, and I'm still not sure just what. I thought I ordered a T-bone medium rare. Because I eat almost all beef Medium rare. Just a couple of minutes before the steak came, I doubted myself and was wondering if I said Medium rare, or Medium well. Sure enough, the steak came medium well. In any steakhouse, if you ask for medium well, or well, the waiter double checks, and even tries to talk you out of it. That didn't happen. Anyway, the steak was still tender, juicy, and very flavorful. I let it go because it was still so good. I was so zonked from lack of sleep and snorkeling all day, that I might have gotten confused when I ordered. It was the best Med Well beef I've ever had. It was so good as it was, I didn't bother fussing about having another one brought out. I heartily recommend both of these. Every server in the Palace, Le Bistro and Cagney's was very friendly and know what they are doing. In the buffet, the workers tend to keep their head down and avoid eye contact. We later found out from Matt the Cruise director, that many of those folks came on the ship for the first time the same day we did. Besides being unaccustomed to the ship, and their new jobs, many had difficulty with English, so I think many of them were just shy/scared/overwhelmed. If you asked them something, they did try to help. We had breakfast delivered by room service one morning and ate on the balcony. The room service menu is very limited. The breakfast Danish was very small, and well on it's way to being called stale. The fruit was past its' prime too. On the other hand, they called when the waiter was on his way, and it was a few minutes early too. But we didn't want to do it again. The Danish and fruits were much-much better in the restaurants.
Casino: They have a nice little casino. When I first saw it, I thought all the tables would be packed constantly. They always have one, sometimes two $5.00 blackjack tables open. Players tend to come and go, so you can get a cheap seat if you wait a little. One thing I did not like, the pit allowed folks to play 2 and 3 spots at the $5.00 table when it was obvious some of us were waiting to get on. And the players didn't seem to care that we were waiting. That happened more the first and second day, after that, there was very little of that. Roulette has a $3.00 min inside spread, with a $5.00 outside min. 0/00 just like in the states. I thought the minimums were very reasonable considering you can't go gamble anywhere else. Craps had $5.00 min. The boys were very good, and made no mistakes. Sign up for their slot club/rewards card. It's free, and they will give you coupons for a free spin to win a cruise, pay $10.00 and get a debit style card with $20.00 slot play on it, you also get 2 coupons to use with a $5.00 table bet the coupon makes the $5.00 count as $10.00. It's all on the up and up, no restrictions or loopholes as to what you can play. I bought them all. They had all the typical 3 card/joker poker games. They have slot, blackjack and Texas hold em tournaments every day. Blackjack was only a $15.00 buy in. The tournaments are early evening, and I never did get to play in one.
Shows: They have four shows, and we saw each one. The first night, they gave you a little bit of everything to get you interested. Second night it was Broadway. They sing and dance selections from big hits like Mamma Mia and Hairspray. Wife liked it, I was ambivalent. Third night was the comedian Rich Purpura. He was pretty funny. I would recommend you warm up with a drink or two before you see him. Some of his stuff really started to get "out there" (bizarre.) But then he always managed to bring it home for a good laugh. One evening late night he emcees a game show in the Outrigger bar. We heard he was very raunchy. But his show in the theatre wasn't too bad. There were some families in the audience, and the parents didn't seem to think the material was too adult for their kids. Last show was the rock and roll show. Pure hokum. Wife loved it, I disliked it. I really cringed when they came out with motorcycles built on a dolly. I called them "Flintstone motorcycles." The band was very good though. I would have preferred to just listen to the band for an hour. Funny, the band played really good and tight rock, it was the same band that was playing big band music the night before in the outrigger lounge. Very talented bunch. Matt is the cruise director, and he is very entertaining. You'll see him for a few minutes at each show, and he'll make you laugh. He also plays a pretty good blues harmonica. On evenings where there is only one show, you will need to be there 1/2 hr. early to get your pick of seats. For evenings with two shows, 15 minutes early should get you a decent seat. There really are no bad seats, but the balcony railing is so high, you have to look through the bars to see the show. So, we stayed on the floor level (deck 6) part of the theatre.
Parties: The only planned party we went to was the "White Hot" party. We walked up, and Matt was screaming for everyone to get close to stage. What did I know? I got close to the stage, and in a moment we were doing some line dance I'd never seen. It was easy, and after a moment I was doing it better than many of the ones half my age. Someone said they have a machine that blows real snow during the party. This night it was white scraps and confetti. It looked okay I guess. Not many cruisers were wearing the tee shirts, and I didn't see any women at all wearing white boas like I heard they all do. It's just as well, because they never turned on any black lights that I heard were supposed to make the white stuff glow. Guys will like this party for the eye candy. Things were cranking the whole time Matt was on stage, but when he left things slowed down, and folks started to trickle away. I think the most fun at the party was watching the 20somethings get stupid drunk. I was no better when I was that age, and they look just as dumb as the old folks told us we looked. I still can't believe none of them fell in the pool. There was a Monte Carlo night in the Casino. Besides putting out some snacks, I don't know what it was about. We missed the main part of it. They have a Toga party on the last night, but mamma and I were too pooped to go. That's in Dazzles nightclub. Apparently the first 150 guests the staff decks out in togas.
Pools: We're not pool people. The pools were smaller than I expected. But it looked like most adults just dunked in them for a few minutes to cool off, and then got out. There were not many children on the ship, but they did hang around the pool. LOL it's impossible to keep kids away from a pool. What I did not like was the fact that the crew did not enforce policy in the Jacuzzis that were adults only. All of them were filled with kids, and they never got out. Everyone knows you don't stay in a hot Jacuzzi more than 15 minutes, so I don't know what their parents were thinking. This also applied to the Jacuzzi way out at the front of the ship, that everyone says no one knows about. I wanted to dunk in the Jacuzzi, but it wasn't worth it with the little guys around tearing up the place. While the lounges right at the pool were always taken, there were PLENTY of lounges nearby that were free, many were in the shade. Drink service is constant. You won't have to wait more than a minute for a waiter to take your order.
Disembarkation: You have two choices. Express, which means you handle your own bags, or the traditional disembarkation. With express, you can walk off the ship with your bags anytime after they start disembarking, which is around 8. With traditional, you pick up color coded tags for your bag that match the time you want to disembark. You pack the night before, and put your tagged bags in the hall before midnight. The next morning when your color is announced, you leave and get your bag in the terminal. Our ride wasn't coming until 11, so we did express and packed in the morning, had breakfast, then took our bags and hung out in the shade by the pool. At 9:45 they announced everyone remaining had to disembark. Sadly, we scanned our sign and sail cards one last time to leave, and walked to customs. All we bought was about $50.00 worth of souvenirs. I don't think the customs guy really believed that. He hesitated, thought for a moment, then said "Alright" and let us pass. I don't know what that was all about. It was just a few minutes to get off the ship, through customs, and out to the street. Hat's off to NCL. They sure know how to get guests on and off their ships.
We have two kids full time in college, but wanted to do something nice for our 25th anniversary despite a tight budget. I have read many disturbing reviews of the "budget" cruiselines, like NCL, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival. But we didn't want to spend more and go on a swankier line. We were very pleased with this cruise, and took advantage of an on-board discount to take another cruise with NCL within 2 1/2 years. My advice to cruisers reading reviews is to use your experience, and try to read between the lines. There are a lot of useless reviews (hope this isn't one of them) that are written by folks who just want to be angry about something, and likewise there are reviews that are written by folks who can make the nastiest experience seem Peachy keen. When reading reviews about this ship, pay attention to the dates and itinerary. She had some problems while she was in Hawaii, but I saw none of that on our cruise. First time cruisers should like this cruise. Experienced cruisers may not. Either way, we enjoyed it and recommend it.