Introduction: My wife and I sailed on the NCL Sky from Miami calling at Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay from October 30 through November 2, 2009. We had booked this cruise a long time ago as a low-cost weekend getaway from our busy lives. We knew that it would be a party atmosphere as it was not only a 3-night weekend Bahamas cruise from Miami but it was also Halloween weekend. However, we were counting on being able to ignore those activities and have the relaxing experience we wanted and needed.
We chose this cruise for the convenience and the price – it was only $129 per person, less than the similar Royal Caribbean and Carnival itineraries, and we had only a long weekend available. We liked that the itinerary included a private island – perfect for relaxing with no temptation to do anything in particular. We have sailed NCL twice before – both times on the Jewel and on longer itineraries – and find the flexibility of freestyle dining to our liking. We’ve never had any complaints with the service. To minimize costs, we planned to eat all our meals in the main dining rooms or buffets, avoiding the specialty restaurants. We know that the food in the main dining rooms and the buffets isn’t the best quality, but we’ve always found it to be enjoyable and adequate. We weren’t interested in the parties, casino, bingo, entertainment, shopping, spa services, shore excursions, art auctions, or other revenue enhancers, just in a quiet getaway at sea, with perhaps some opportunities for me to sail.
We both had enjoyable and relaxing experiences and no major complaints, especially given the low price. We were extremely glad that we took this cruise and would do it again under similar circumstances. But we did find several significant areas where NCL could – and should – improve at minimal or no cost, and these are noted at the end of this review.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port at about 11, having flown into Miami on the day of the cruise. (We took an early non-stop flight, so if there had been a problem, there would have been alternatives later in the day that still would have gotten us to the ship on time.) We bought toothpaste and suntan lotion at the pharmacy in the airport; we couldn’t bring these with us from home due to TSA restrictions. Their selection was limited and prices somewhat high; they appeared to be geared to passengers returning home to Latin America, but for us the convenience outweighed the cost of another stop. Since there were two of us, we took a taxi rather than NCL’s bus to the pier – the $24 flat rate, even with a $6 tip added on, is less than the $20 per person charged by NCL for their bus, and the taxi left when we were ready, not when there was a large group formed.
There was no line at all at the port; we went to the Latitudes counter, checked in, and were given a card to board with group 1. We had to wait about 10 minutes until the first group was called. We had expected this to be group 1, and we were surprised when they called group 3 and told it to line up on the left side of the check-in area. Our surprise increased when the next group called was group 4. However, our surprise turned to pleasure minutes later when we heard another announcement, for Group 1 to proceed directly to the escalator at the front of the check-in area and board the ship. So group 1 really did board first, and we got to wait a little longer in the seating area instead of standing for a while in a long line. Had they told us this in advance – that we would not be called first but that we would board first and that we wouldn’t have to wait in line – when they gave us the group 1 card, the experience would have been perfect. As it was, it provided a minor bit of stress due to the uncertainty about the process and the wait time. We were aboard the ship by about 11:40 or so.
We boarded on deck 6, aft, and were given a choice of complimentary champagne or orange juice. We were routed forward along the starboard side of the ship, through Captain Cook’s bar and to Dazzles nightclub, where they offered to check our carry on luggage since our cabin wouldn’t be ready until 2pm. Continuing on to the atrium, we descended a level and waited for the Palace dining room to open for lunch. Few tables were occupied, and we were seated immediately, at a window table for two overlooking the channel and causeway, just as we requested. The décor was Hawaiian, emphasizing pictures of the palaces of Hawaiian royalty, reflecting the Sky’s former service in that market as the Pride of Aloha. We both had a fish entrée (tilapia) that was moist and tasty. Service was friendly and efficient – bread was brought immediately, our water glasses were refilled promptly, our orders were taken and our food brought correctly and quickly.
While we were eating, one of the waiters politely asked us if we were going to the concert that evening. We responded that we hadn’t realized that there was a concert, and he told us that a famous Latin American pop star was aboard and would be performing. The waiter told us that there was a large group booked on this sailing specifically for the concert. It appeared that over half the passengers aboard were part of this group. The group was sponsored by MKCruises www.mkcruises.com , who had a special desk set up on deck 6 in the atrium. I got a copy of one of their brochures; their special events, which required a bracelet for admission, were a AMOR 107.5 FM www.univision.com/content/channel.jhtml?chid=9514&schid=9525 Masquerade Ball with a full open bar at 10:00 pm and a performance by Willy Chirino www.willychirino.com at 11:15pm, both in the Stardust Theater. We checked our Freestyle Daily –I had picked up a copy from the desk in the atrium before lunch – and saw no mention of a concert. I also noticed that there were no activities at all scheduled for the Stardust Theater that evening, which I found somewhat surprising, as the reviews of this cruise I had read previously mentioned such an event. (Bingo, a Welcome Aboard Dance Party, and a comedian presenting adult humor were scheduled for Dazzles however. Given how many passengers were part of the group whose activities used the Stardust Theater, I’m sure that Dazzles had adequate capacity for these other activities.)
After lunch, we reclaimed our carry-ons and brought them to the cabin. We asked our cabin stewards if we could leave the bags in the cabins; they graciously told us that they had a few more things to do to get the cabin ready but that we could leave our bags, and that we should be sure to lock the door so the bags would be safe. As the cabin stewards – a team of a man and a woman – were still readying all their cabins and had the doors open for their convenience, we appreciated this gesture that would slow them down just a bit but make our lives a bit easier. This was a harbinger of the service we would receive from them throughout the cruise – the stewards always greeted us by name and with a smile, serviced our cabin efficiently, and responded promptly to special requests. We found out later that they were jointly responsible for 32 cabins; there was hardly a time that we passed by in the hallway without seeing them hard at work. We gave the stewards an extra tip on departure, in addition to the NCL assessed daily service charges.
Room: We had a small inside cabin on deck 10, directly under Il Adagio. We never heard any noise from above, although we were disturbed on occasion by loud conversations in the hallway. The cabin was tiny but effective for two people. There was about one foot of clearance on the three sides of our bed. We couldn’t get to one side because the mini-bar (with shelves above) blocked the entire corner. There were only three small drawers for clothes storage; I ended up living out of my suitcase, which I placed in the inaccessible space between the side of the bed and the wall. Closet space was adequate. The code-operated safe was a nice change from those that require a credit card. There was a small desk/makeup table whose purpose seemed to be to accumulate the endless handouts of promotional material for art auctions, future cruise credits, bingo, and gold or silver by the inch. We did receive Latitudes pins, a personalized letter about the Cruise Rewards program (a $100 shipboard credit in return for a $250 deposit for a future NCL cruise), and a card for a special treat in a restaurant because we were also using this cruise as an opportunity to celebrate our anniversary.
The bed was hard and uncomfortable; we both woke up with sore backs on the first morning. We requested and were provided additional padding – we didn’t pull back the covers so I’m not sure if it was an “egg crate” or just an additional comforter under the sheets – which helped a little but not a lot for the remaining two nights.
The bathroom was functional if small. It had a multi-level towel rack that held washcloths, hand towels, bath towels, and a bath mat. There were several levels of shelves on either side of the sink and mirror. A small cylindrical shower area had dispensers for shampoo and shower gel. Another dispenser for hand soap was next to the sink. A single outlet was switchable between 120 and 240 volts and had a dual-purpose socket for US or European style plugs.
We walked around the ship, appreciating the promenade on deck 6. I noticed an open cable junction box – several local area network cables terminated here – and mentioned it to a crew member whom we passed; the next time we passed that area, the box was properly closed and secured. We also walked around the open decks, exploring the Garden Café, Great Outdoor Cafe, Longboard Bar, Il Adagio, the teen club, and gym. We were unable to go into the Outrigger Lounge due to a wedding that was taking place, so we made a note to return later, not only because we have enjoyed forward lounges on other ships but also because I wanted to pass through to the outdoor area of deck 11. We did go to the forward area of deck 12, which had the children’s pool and a hot tub; the areas leading to it were full of lounge chairs. These decks were nicely arranged; transparent wind shields with openings alternating between the center and edges of the ship broke up the large area into several sections on each side of the ship. Stairs to deck 13, the Sun Deck, were blocked; this area was to remain closed for the entire cruise. It was used only as a storage area for lounge chairs. We were disappointed as this was the one outdoor place designated as a “quiet area” on the ship. The other two areas that could have been used as quiet areas, the deck forward of the Outrigger Lounge on deck 11 and the promenade on deck 6, were both devoid of deck chairs. On other ships we have enjoyed sitting in the quiet and, depending on our choice of port or starboard, either the sun or the shade, on the promenade. Why NCL has no chairs in these areas is a mystery; perhaps they want passengers to congregate only in areas near the bars so they can sell more drinks.
After the announcement was made that cabins were ready, we returned to ours to take a nap; we had stayed up late the night before finishing up some work and packing, and had gotten up early to catch our flight. We were woken up at about 3:30 by an announcement that the lifeboat drill would be taking place at 4:30. I think that it was unnecessary to make the first announcement so soon; it easily could have waited another 30 minutes.
Lifeboat Drill: The lifeboat drill itself was reasonably efficient; we had to bring our lifejackets to a designated area where a crew member took attendance. Passengers then had to line up as if they were boarding a lifeboat. Some teenage passengers in our area did not bring their lifejackets; the crew checked them off and treated them just like the passengers who complied with the rules. Two 20-something men showed up late with no lifejackets, drinks in hand – and obviously several more in their bodies, wearing nothing but swimming attire. I’m sure that they didn’t absorb any of the information about what to do in case of an emergency.
Sailaway: After the lifeboat drill, we took one more walk around the promenade deck while we waited for the stairways and elevators to clear out. We then replaced our lifejackets in the cabin, got our cameras, and returned to the open decks for sailaway. The best places to take pictures turned out to be on deck 11, both aft of the Great Outdoors Café and forward of the Outrigger Lounge. Deck 12 was a bit more difficult because of the transparent wind shields all around. It was possible to take pictures with no barrier by standing on a lounge chair on deck 12 forward and many people were doing so. We snacked on some barbecued chicken and burgers from the sailaway BBQ. Burgers ranged from overdone to overdone on the outside but raw on the inside – they clearly used frozen patties. We ate inside the Garden Café because the pool deck was crowded and loud; the band was playing and people were dancing in addition to other people just enjoying the pools, hot tubs, and weather. We ended up by the Great Outdoors to take pictures of the sunset looking back towards Miami, and enjoyed a mojito. The receipt was inaccurate; it read “Long Island Iced Tea,” but I didn’t notice until later. (The same thing occurred the next night, the drink was a strawberry margarita but the receipt read “Mangopolitan.”) I’m not sure if we were overcharged or not.
After it got dark, we headed to dinner, also in the Palace dining room, because I didn’t feel like changing into long pants. We ended up at the same window table for two we had had for lunch, but with different servers. I noticed that the menus no longer identified any items as “Cooking Light” and also didn’t include the nutrition information that used to accompany these items. The selection was good, with appetizers, salads, soups (hot and cold), and entrees (including chicken, fish, lamb, beef, and vegetarian choices). Portions were small, allowing for a five course meal and feeling satisfied but not over full. I had the dill smoked salmon, chilled peach soup, tossed greens with endive, mahi-mahi, and no-sugar added coconut cheescake; my wife had the crostata, a hot soup, the mahi-mahi, and the Italian Cream cake. I encouraged her to order the warm vanilla bean soufflé too, which she did, but it didn’t look or taste much like a soufflé. The cold soup was sweet and had a liquid texture; this contrasted with the one at lunch that was the texture of a smoothie. My wife thought her mahi-mahi tasted odd, but mine was ok if slightly dry. I did find it strange that the accompaniments to the white fish (polenta and braised fennel) were also white colored; they could have had a more interesting presentation by choosing a different colored vegetable. My wife asked if she could substitute mashed potatoes for her polenta; they offered instead to bring a side of mashed potatoes. My cheesecake was more the texture of a pie than a cheesecake but tasty nevertheless. Coffee was offered after dessert. After dinner, we were tired and retired early.
Nassau: Saturday we awoke late and found ourselves docked in Nassau. We had breakfast in the buffet, enjoying the sun and view from the aft deck of Great Outdoors. I had been to Nassau before but my wife hadn’t. She just wanted to walk around the town. I, as usual, wanted to go sailing if there was any possible way to do so, and she was happy to support me in this endeavor. Since the Sheraton web site clams that they have sailboats available – even though no one on cruise critic was able to confirm this – we decided to take the #10 jitney from downtown to Cable Beach to see for ourselves. We left the ship a little before noon and walked along the pier through the market building and out of the port area. I picked up a great map of Nassau, New Providence, and Paradise islands at the information booth in the market area and recommend that anyone visiting Nassau do the same. We politely declined all the vendors offering sightseeing taxi tours, trips to beaches, horse and buggy rides, etc., and headed out along Wooded Rogers Walk towards the British Colonial Hilton. We turned left on Navy Lion Road and again on Bay Street, where we saw many number 10 jitneys waiting at the corner of George Street. We got in the one that was almost full and about to leave. It headed up George Street, turned right in front of the Christopher Columbus statue in front of Government House, right again on Cumberland Street, and left on Marlborough Street in front of the British Colonial Hilton. The windows were open but it was hot, stuffy, and crowded inside, with a broken seatback and no legroom for me due to my being located directly over the wheel and minimal lap space for my wife with my broken seat reclining to where she was sitting. The bus stopped every few blocks and picked up more passengers, who needed to fold down the seats in the aisle. I was surprised by how frequently – why couldn’t people walk an additional block one way or the other to actual bus stops? Passengers were a mix of tourists and locals, divided perhaps 75/25. We headed west on West Bay Street, past several public beaches and parks, the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay, the Cricket Grounds (apparently closed on Saturday), and the golf course, disembarking at Cable Beach where the road was divided into two lanes in each direction. We passed several office buildings that housed financial companies; I found it interesting that they were not located downtown. No one was going to Breezes; most people got off and paid at the Sheraton/Wyndham.
We headed to the Sheraton because I had hoped they would have a small sailboat I could use; if so, I was going to purchase a day pass and my wife would have stayed in the air conditioned lobby to read her book. The Sheraton web site says that they have sailboats available, but no one on cruise critic could confirm this or had recalled seeing any. I did notice several hobie cats as we rounded the bend at Goodman’s Bay, but they appeared to have come from Breezes, not the Sheraton. We walked down to the beach where jet skis were being rented; the attendants told us to ask at the water sports hut, where we were told that they had kayaks but no sailboats. The Sheraton needs to update its website or, even better, get some sailboats for guests to use. Since there was no sailing available, we walked along the beach past the casino and around the Wyndham, back to the street where we caught another number 10 jitney back to Nassau. This one was not crowded and, best of all, air conditioned. The driver was friendly and he enthusiastically answered questions and shared information about his island. It seems like because these busses are privately owned and operated, the quality can vary immensely from one to the next. After some looking in stores along Bay Street, we passed Rawson and Parliament squares and decided we had had enough of Nassau, so we returned to the ship.
We went to Garden Café or Great Outdoors for a late lunch; their selection was very limited, only a single entrée, one carved meat, some pre-made deli sandwiches, an Indian vegetarian dish, and burgers and dogs, with various accompaniments. They had a similarly limited selection the next day and at dinner; I found the buffet to be the least interesting of any cruise ship I had been on. (When we passed through the buffet at dinner time, the selection was similarly limited.) After lunch, my wife sat at a table on the aft deck at Great Outdoors to read her book; I looked for a quiet place on deck in the shade with a lounge chair but the pool was noisy and crowded with families and children, the forward side areas of deck 12 were still noisy from the too-loud pool band, and designated quiet area on deck 13 was closed. The forward area of deck 12 was shielded from the pool noise but had small children in the wading pool and their parents in the hot tub. I think that NCL should designate this area for adults only rather than as the children’s pool; the main pool area will always be full of families and children anyway, and even the adults only hot tub and pool were full of children since NCL didn’t enforce their own rules. (Passengers didn’t follow and NCL didn’t enforce their no-smoking rules either.) There are enough places on the ship for families and for partiers; what is also needed is a quiet retreat for adults, and the forward area of deck 12 would be perfect. I ended up returning to the aft area on deck 11 and rejoining my wife. We had a strawberry margarita at sailaway as it was on special; the receipt was inaccurate once again.
Saturday evening we decided to have dinner in the Crossings dining room. This room was decorated with scenes from the TRANSPAC yacht race, the “crossing” from the west coast to Hawaii. We were seated as requested at a window table for two overlooking the stern. The atmosphere was more elegant than in the Palace; the wood was darker as were the fabrics. The timing was also perfect; it was still light out and the sun was setting as we ate. The waiter recommended the Crispy Soyu Glazed Duck, but I ordered the grilled asparagus and marinated bay scallops and two entrees, the lobster and grouper extravaganza and the beef wellington. My wife initially asked for the pumpkin and ginger bisque but changed to the spring rolls. I requested that they bring my fish entrée before the beef. Perhaps the waiters didn’t understand or request, but they brought the soup after my appetizer, and my beef wellington before my lobster and grouper. Rather than send anything back, I just ate the food that was brought when it appeared. The beef wellington was an extremely thin slice, no more than 1/8 th of an inch. The waiter removed the lobster tail from the shell. It was slightly dry and not particularly sweet, almost indistinguishable from the grouper. Like the previous night, it was not a bad dinner, but not worth ordering more.
The Freestyle Daily listed in the schedule the opportunity to meet Captain Goran Blomqvist in the atrium at 7:30. I normally wouldn’t have bothered, but I had sailed with him before in December 2007 on Orient Line’s Marco Polo to Antarctica and wanted to say hello. We went to the atrium after dinner, at about 7:15, anticipating a long line as is usual for “meet the captain” events. This event had not been heavily promoted; it was listed in the schedule but not featured elsewhere, nor were any drinks or snacks offered. It was essentially a photo-op. There was no line at all; however, there were a number of passengers who stopped by to get their pictures taken by the ship’s photographers in their dress-up clothes or Halloween costumes. While waiting we saw a number of crew members in costume for the evening Halloween party. The Captain arrived a few minutes after 7:30. He and I chatted for a few minutes; he said that after NCL sold the Marco Polo he had had a contract on the Majesty and now on the Sky, of course in between trips home. He asked me which ship I liked better and I told him that it was definitely the Marco Polo; he told me that he did too. Unlike on the Marco Polo, on which he was frequently out in the passenger areas, this photo-op was the only time I saw him on the Sky.
We stopped by the aft area of deck 11 once more before going to the Stardust Theater for the performance of “Soul Rocking Nights.” While there, we saw the same crew members as in the atrium in costume leading a Halloween parade around the ship for the children. We had enjoyed the entertainment on previous NCL cruises where they were produced by the Jean Anne Ryan Company; this in-house production was of significantly lower quality so we left midway through the performance. The performance was preceded by an attempt to sell raffle tickets and yet another promotional announcement for bingo. The theater was only about half full, with a number of passengers in costume, some quite elaborate.
We returned to the cabin where my wife read and I watched the World Series. When she wanted to sleep, I went upstairs to Longboard Sports Bar, where it was playing on all the TV’s. Towards the end of the game, around 11:30 pm, I got hungry and asked for a menu. The waitress scurried off but didn’t return. After about a half hour I got up and asked someone else; I then ordered chicken wings and fish and chips. The wings were good and were served with blue cheese dressing but only two or three very thin and short pieces of celery, definitely not enough for the number of wings. The fish was somewhat greasy and not particularly crispy, but tasted good nevertheless. After the game, I passed by the Halloween party that was still going on by the pool. Crew and passengers alike were dancing in costume on and around the stage. At about 1:20am the cruise director announced that the party was moving downstairs to Dazzles Night Club.
Sunday morning we awoke and went upstairs for breakfast. We went to the omelet station in Il Adagio; not only was there no line, but it appeared as if no one else had been there. We again sat outside at the Great Outdoors. I was able to get an egg white omelet but there was no tomato juice, just orange, apple, and cranberry, so I didn’t have any. Again, the buffet was adequate but not as good as those on Holland America Line or even Royal Caribbean.
Great Stirrup Cay: We went downstairs to take the tender ashore to Great Stirrup Cay. When we arrived, the lounge chairs with umbrellas attached had all been taken by the few passengers on the earlier tender or two, and the lounge chairs in the first two of three rows to the right of the tender docking area were occupied, although mostly by beach towels and much less so by actual people. There was a mad rush of passengers from the tenders to claim additional chairs. We wanted somewhere quiet and shady, so we continued to the right along the path to just before another small beach near the boathouse. We found some hammocks under some trees just before the beach as well as some lounge chairs. It was a pleasant area until some other passengers arrived and started speaking loudly and smoking nearby.
As usual, I hoped to sail, and while I hadn’t read anywhere that sailboats of any sort were available on Great Stirrup Cay, the promotional channel on the TV in our cabin did claim that they had “Kis-Kats,” which were described as two person, fiberglass catamaran style sailboats with bucket seats, a single sheet line and joystick steering. While these seemed less interesting than a hobie cat or sunfish, they would be better than nothing. I didn’t see any sailing craft, and when I asked at the boathouse, I was told that they never had any sailboats there. When I mentioned the promotional video in the cabin, the staffer told me that I could speak with his manager at the dive shack on the main beach area. (When I returned from the cruise, I did find a NCL brochure on line that mentions the Kis-Kats; it is dated September 24, 2009 and available here: http://www.ncl.com/csimages/3/708/0910BahamasFLSky%20NEW%20TEMPLATE%209.23.09.pdf Obviously, NCL needs to update both this brochure and the shipboard video.)
My wife went for a walk while I was reading along the shore. She fell and skinned her knee but seemed to be OK. I took a walk while she was reading, along the road that began behind the boathouse, past the sign that said there were no lifeguards beyond that point. I continued up the road to the right, about ¼ to ½ mile, and found a small cove with a beach and a view across the channel to Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay. The trail, actually, a one lane vehicle track, appears to have been carved directly from the native vegetation.
When I returned, we heard the loud sounds of the band – not only the bass but also the lyrics could be heard in full clarity, even though we were about as far away as we could get from the stage and still be in the developed area. My wife’s knee was hurting so she returned to the ship. I went to get something to eat. There was no more chicken so I had burgers instead. Just like on the ship, they were overcooked outside and pink and cold inside. After lunch I went swimming at the main beach. I saw that there was a shallow area out by the large rock, so I swam out there, thinking that I could stand up and rest before returning. As soon as I got there though, I felt stinging all over my body. I looked down and saw that I was in the middle of a swarm of jellyfish. I immediately swam to shore as fast as I could, and headed directly to the first aid station. They obviously weren’t surprised, as they had a spray bottle of vinegar ready to neutralize the stings. Of course, NCL hadn’t warned the passengers about the possibility of jellyfish, perhaps because it would have reduced the rentals of snorkeling and other water sports equipment. I finished my day at Great Stirrup Cay and returned on the next tender to the Sky. While pulling away from the beach, however, I heard a loud crunching sound. It turned out that the tender had hit a small boat that was parked too close. The tender immediately reversed and remained at the beach for another 15 minutes or so, while it and the other boat were both inspected for damage. Apparently it was safe to operate, since we proceeded back to the Sky.
Great Stirrup Cay definitely ranks third after the other two private islands I have visited, namely, Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay and Holland America Line’s Half Moon Cay. The latter two islands not only have far more activities, but also are cleaner and have a larger developed area. From the tender it appeared as if the only trees on Great Stirrup Cay are located in the developed area; the remainder of the island is native scrub brush. While NCL’s Great Stirrup Cay is clearly larger than Royal Caribbean’s Little stirrup Cay in area, it feels smaller due to its fewer, smaller, and more crowded developed areas, its limited swimming areas, and its paucity of activities.
My wife’s knee was hurting more, so when she returned to the cabin she requested ice to put on it from the cabin steward. He not only filled the ice bucket, but also gave her a large plastic bag to use to hold the ice so she could put it on her knee. When I returned she was feeling better, so we decided to go upstairs to the open deck. Once again, the pool area was noisy and crowded. I spent some time in a hot tub marked “adults only.” When some children started to enter, I pointed out that the sign said “adults only” and they instead went into the adults only pool. When I left the hot tub, their parents, who had been in the hot tub with me, had their children join them, blatantly ignoring the rules. My wife and I then went to the forward side area of deck 12, hoping to find two quiet lounge chairs in the shade. We succeeded, at least for a while, until children arrived to use the forward children’s pool.
We then got ready for dinner, my wife in the cabin and me in the men’s locker room. I enjoyed the sauna for a few minutes; both it and the steam room were in the spa area – the spa staff gives you a key and holds onto your room card while you are using their facilities. The steam room and sauna are fairly large with a capacity of about six–eight men, although there were only a few using it. One man commented that he had been there every day of the cruise at about the same time, and that this was the first time he had seen anyone else there. Another man in the spa turned out to be one of the ship’s dancers; he said that on the Sky the cast performed one show in addition to the White Hot party each cruise, but that on this cruise the Halloween party substituted for the White Hot party.
We had dinner again in Crossings. We considered Le Bistro, but the menu items that interested us were the ones with the additional charge above the cover charge, and we thought that $25 per person was excessive. Because of the end of daylight savings time Saturday night, it was already dark, so we didn’t have the same nice view as the previous evening. We saw a number of men who were in clear violation of the dress code, wearing shorts to dinner. Yet another example of NCL’s not enforcing its own rules. We chose Crossings for the nicer atmosphere, and there was no reason NCL couldn’t have sent these passengers to Palace, as many other passengers had also clearly dressed nicely to enjoy the more formal atmosphere of Crossings. I had the tuna tartare, chilled melon soup, and a fish entrée; my wife had the mezze of grilled lamb sausage (which were tiny), the fatoush, and the always available grilled sirloin steak, which was tough and not very tasty. It was not accompanied by any vegetables, an omission that seemed odd and applied to other entrees too. The desserts were ok, but the coffee was weak. My wife was pleased that green tea was available. We had forgotten the card for the treat for our anniversary celebration, but when I mentioned this to our waiter, she told us that it wouldn’t be a problem. Before dessert they brought us a nice cake and several waiters sang “Let me call you sweetheart” while we held hands and had our picture taken.
After dinner we went back to the cabin, where I watched the world series and she read, until she went to sleep and I went back to Longboard Sports Bar to watch the rest of the game. Around 11:30 I went to the rest room and noticed that none of the toilets had flushed. It didn’t flush after I used it, and when I went to wash my hands, no water came out of the faucet. After using the hand sanitizer, I went to two other rest rooms on deck 11 to try to wash my hands, and there was no water there either. I returned through the Garden Café and wanted to get a glass of water to drink, but none came out. Another passenger had a good idea, filling a glass with ice and then hot water, which was still in the tank. When I went back to Longboard Sports Bar to watch the rest of the game, I asked the bartender if he had any water, and he said that he didn’t, but that the filter should kick in soon and water should return. I was flabbergasted by the nonchalant reaction of the crew to what seemed to me to be a major problem – I don’t know if the problem affected the whole ship or just all of deck 11, but I was astounded that the kitchens kept cooking, the crew kept cleaning up the Garden Café and Great Outdoor, and the bartenders kept mixing drinks, all with no water available. I don’t know what the health implications or regulations are, but it certainly didn’t seem like a good situation to me. Water seemed to return about a half hour later. I had an order of chicken wings and asked for extra celery; I got a few more than the previous night but not as many as I would have liked.
When the game ended, I took a walk through the ship. In contrast to the previous night, there was no activity at all on the pool deck. The toga party was still going on in Dazzles, and the casino was active. I went back to our cabin and went to bed.
Disembarkation: Our flight was scheduled to depart Miami at about noon, so we wanted to get to the airport between 10 and 10:30. We woke up, had breakfast once again sitting in the sun on deck 11 aft at Great Outdoors, packed, reviewed our bill, walked off the ship, and took a taxi to the airport. Very smooth process, we were there before 10. This process was the most convenient disembarkation I’ve ever experienced in nine cruises, although I don’t know if it would work on longer itineraries where passengers had more luggage than they could easily carry.
Conclusion and Recommendations: NCL needs to make several improvements to the Sky’s operations. The cost of doing so would be minimal, and the increase in passenger enjoyment noticeable.
1. The information provided to passengers needs to be current and accurate, especially the many TV channels that play endless video loops that are nothing more than promotions for shore excursions, future NCL cruises, and NCL’s brand. For example, the shore excursion video claimed that there were small sailboats available at Great stirrup Cay; as discussed above, when I asked at the boathouse I was told that they never had any sailboats. Also, the future cruise promotion still advertises Bermuda cruises from Charleston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, itineraries which are no longer offered by NCL. 2. Passengers should be warned about jellyfish at Great Stirrup Cay. The swimming area should be checked each morning before a ship arrives and areas with jellyfish clearly marked. 3. NCL should enforce its rules about dress code in the dining room (limited as they are), about children in adult pools and hot tubs, and about no smoking areas. 4. The Sun deck should be open as a quiet space for adults. Lounge chairs should be placed on the open deck forward of Outriggers Lounge on deck 11 and on the promenade area on deck 6. 5. Lifeboat drill rules should be fully enforced for safety. Passengers who do not bring and don their lifejackets should not be counted as having completed the drill, nor should passengers who are obviously inebriated. 6. The shipboard water system should be fixed so there is never a time when toilets can’t be flushed, hands washed, and drinking water obtained. 7. The buffets should have a selection of 2-3 entrees at lunch and dinner.