Just got back from the 4/20 trip on the Sky. Because everyone is different I'll give some demographic info about my family first. I'm 50, my wife is 42 and we've been on one weekend cruise with NCL before this. We have 5 boys ages 12 thru 17 that went with us. We have not had a lot of experience with fine dining as a family because of the expense and the boys have only recently started trying new foods so our home menu tends to be a basic meat and potatoes one. Our 14 year old has Asperger's syndrome, which is a high functioning form of autism. This was only our second official family vacation.
We drove from Vermont to Miami and found the port easily with Garmin's help. Our luggage was handed over to the porter and the parking garage posed no problems (long term parking is $20 per day payable in cash in advance). We got into the terminal and started the check in process at 1:05 pm and were onboard at 1:30 (takes awhile to check in 7 people, others were moving quicker). Got onboard, went to the Atrium Deck 5, bought the soda cards for the boys (well worth it if you drink 4 or more sodas a day) and visited the credit desk to set up the room cards the way we wanted as far as charges go. We had eaten and registered the kids with the teen and kids crew program by 2:30. Our cabins were forward on deck 7 and we had two- three of us in one cabin and four in the other. It was cozy but the only time we were all in the cabin was at night when we were sleeping.
We had a quick bite at the Garden Cafe for lunch and I didn't find it too bad for buffet food. Iced tea and coffee were available throughout the day. (The second day I bought an insulated cup from the gift shop for my coffee because I like large quantities of it and the cups were too small). As others have remarked the layout of the buffet does leave something to be desired, it does not flow well. We walked around the ship to orient ourselves while we waited for the boat drill. The drill was conducted and seemed to be as organized as such things can be with 2,000 people. We stowed our lifejackets and went topside to watch our departure. They had a sail away party/cookout on the pool deck and some of the boys decided to eat there for dinner. I couldn't look at another burger after all of the fast food we ate on the way down, so DW, I and two of the boys went to the Palace MDR. Everyone else was up on the pool deck so we had the dining room almost to ourselves. The staff was friendly, the service was great and the food was good. The menu changed daily but NCL has several items that are available every day (such as sirloin steak, chicken breast, tortellini). Our 14 year old loved the Palace MDR and often would go back between 9 and 10 to eat by himself.
If you happened to see us on the ship you probably wouldn't have realized that we had 5 boys with us because they were all doing their own thing, either with their program or on their own. We only ate one meal as a family and that was lunch at the Palace. We generally ate breakfast at the Garden Cafe (the only time I had an issue with the temp of the food was when I took too long to find a seat), lunch was either at the Garden Cafe or the Palace and dinner was at the Palace. The omelet station was kept busy and was worth the wait. We enjoyed the food and the kids were able to try new things without having to worry about finishing something they didn't like. My 14 year old found out that he doesn't like scallops but he does like escargot. We typically eat early and the one time we ate after 7 there was a 30 minute wait, but they gave us a beeper so we were able to do something else while waiting. They have several TV screens in the Atrium and around the ship that show the status of each of the dining rooms and how busy they are, so passengers could plan accordingly. They do have a children's menu available with mac and cheese, pizza, and other kid favorites on it. Juice, milk, coffee and iced tea were included with the meal.
The ship was clean and seemed to be well maintained when you stop to consider that she is always on the go with thousands of people moving through her on a weekly basis. We had no maintenance issues with our cabins and ran into no facilities issues elsewhere. The stewards were friendly and took good care of us. I did give them an extra tip before the cruise started but I think the level of service that we received would have been the same regardless.
As I mentioned the boys always seemed to have something to do. We were particularly concerned about our 14 year old before we started because he doesn't like crowds and doesn't tolerate new things very well. He was able to join in those teen activities he wanted to or do things on his own with no problems. The kids staff (both kids crew and teen) were super and all of the boys liked them.
We enjoyed the entertainment they had, especially the comedian Rich Purpura. He was an absolute riot. We went to the 7:30 show and while he was a little risque it wasn't too bad for our 12 year old. The NCL singers and dancers put on a good broadway show the second night. There always seemed to be something going on somewhere.
The ports of call were Freeport, Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay. Our shore excursion in Freeport was cancelled because of weather so we visited the small market near the ship and bought some souvenirs. In Nassau we walked over to the Pirates museum and shopped on Bay Street. The museum was a bit pricey ($54 for the 7 of us) but the boys seemed to enjoy it. It didn't take too long to walk through it, only about an hour. The taxi drivers and tour operators are aggressive but if you politely tell them no and keep walking they eventually get the message. Great Stirrup Cay was interesting. We got in line at 10:15 am for the tender and were boarded and on our way by 10:30. We found some lounge chairs readily enough by going to the right of the tender area, but we probably could have found them in the other area too. The water is clear and fish are readily seen (look for their shadows on the bottom and you'll spot them easier). The island was surprisingly clean considering the number of people that visit every week, but I did see some bottle tops and other debris in the sand. The sand is very coarse and hard on the feet and there are some sizable rocks in the water to avoid. Again, the boys didn't have any trouble finding something to do. The cookout lunch was acceptable, burgers, chicken, hot dogs, potato salad, etc. They had a couple of bars set up and drinks went on your onboard account. The watermelon cutter was kept busy all day and I'd hate to guess how many watermelons he cut up. They had floaties available for rent along with snorkel gear. You could use your own snorkel equipment but they required you to rent a vest for $5.99 if you did. We stayed on the island for close to 6 hours and they do have plenty of shady spots so you don't get too burnt.
We had a very pleasurable cruise and will sail with NCL again next year. It seems that those that have cruised a lot with other lines have the most difficulty with NCL, but if you do your homework before you go (read their website, read these reviews, chat with other cruisers) you will get a good cruise for the money. Freestyle cruising isn't for everyone, but it works for us.