The Sky was not the limit!
About the Reviewer: I'm a 28 year old male who sailed with his 60 year old mother onboard the 4-day Norwegian Sky on January 11, 2010 out of Miami with port calls in Freeport (Bahamas), Nassau (Bahamas) and Great Stirrup Cay (Bahamas). This was my 7th NCL cruise and my mom's 6th NCL cruise. We've both sailed on other lines including Princess (5x) and Carnival (1x). I've sailed on other lines including Royal Caribbean and three times with Celebrity. This was mom's 60th birthday present to her from me.
Pre-Cruise Stay: Double Tree Miami - Biscayne Bay This hotel is a hidden gem and while there is no complimentary transportation to the hotel from either the airport or the cruise port, it was the best accommodations we've stayed in Miami since we started cruising from there. Soft beds, clean room and warm cookies to boot! The hotel was in excellent shape and for $7.50 per person you were transferred over to the cruise port via a shuttle the hotel contracts with. I would recommend this hotel to future cruisers.
Embarkation: The process was very smooth and fast since we arrived at the pier around 11:30AM. We were onboard the Norwegian Sky and having lunch in the Palace Main Dining room shortly after noon. Very fast and efficient check in process and again no champagne bubbly welcome aboard. I do miss this and hope NCL brings it back. It was a nice touch.
The Ship: Norwegian Sky is the second oldest ship in NCL's fleet. Knowing that the Sky had a recent dry dock would mean that the ship should be in excellent shape with everything working fine. The ship's public address system the first two days of the cruise was absolutely obnoxious with a whole bunch of static coming out of it every time someone made an announcement. Announcements were so frequent during the evening hours that it was almost like you were on QVC being constantly sold something - very annoying! While the ship's public areas were in great shape, I couldn't say the same for the cabin we had.
The Stateroom: Mom and I shared an oceanview on this sailing with category D cabin number 8213. This cabin looked worn and tired and in need of a massive overhaul. There was visible rust on the bottom of the bathroom door where the metal had been exposed to years of water run off from the shower which is right next to it. I couldn't tell if the bathroom was just poorly cleaned or if the stains were permanently in the plastic shelving on both sides of the mirror. The carpeting in the cabin was really worn and the walls look like someone took white paint and tossed it about. It was probably to hide the scuff marks which were apparent in most areas of the room. Since this category could accommodate four people there were two fold down beds from the walls. While this might explain why the cabin was in such rough condition, I would hope NCL would do something to address these issues when the offending guests leave the cabin.
Food: Culinary delights onboard every cruise ship is always open to people who do and do not like the menus. Since we had just got off the Norwegian Jewel the previous week we were surprised that we hopped on the Sky and picked up at Lunch 4 menu and continued right on through with the menu from the Jewel sailing. The food was always great and it was nice to try new things on the menu as opposed to sticking with the old staples of cold soups, prime rib and salmon. The lamb was tougher on this cruise than on the Jewel. Presentation-wise the food was always presented well and warm. Service time was very fast in the Crossings Main Dining Room where we ate every night of this short cruise.
Service: This is the first time that we had hit or miss service onboard any NCL ship. Room service messed up the order once and from then on I'd just go to the buffet and get the food. It took them too long to fix the mix ups. Our stateroom steward did a very haphazard job cleaning the cabin which could explain why there was dust nearly every where (which I'm allergic too and it caused me to break up and my eyes to swell up). The bathroom was not cleaned thoroughly either or wiped down as it was on the previous week's sailing as I was in the cabin when they did their morning service and their night time service. Usually I tip the room stewards but on this sailing I didn't feel it was warranted (I left the auto gratuity though).
The true gems of the cruise were the Maitre D and Assistant Maitre D in Crossings Main Dining Room aft. Both of them greeted us each night in a very personable and friendly manner and welcomed us back to the dining room and always gave us a deuce table by a window. We always felt warmly welcomed by both of these individuals and by the hostess. Waitstaff in the dining room were very quick, efficient and accommodating but the service didn't seem as personable as the last cruise we were on.
Now I'd like to do a day-by-day break down of what we did, who we encountered and experiences had:
Day 1: Miami, FL: Embarkation was smooth and lunch in Palace Dining Room was great. Rooms were available at 2PM which was great since we'd explored the Promenade Deck 6 and Deck 7. We had our biggest luggage pieces before the muster station drill which was out on deck. Thankfully the weather had warmed up some as Miami and a lot of the Caribbean was experiencing unseasonably cold weather. After boat drill we ventured back up to the room and finished unpacking the rest of the luggage. Tonight and every night this cruise we dined in Crossings. Great, fast service and we were on our way. Friends of Dorothy was held at the Atrium Bar at 7PM but this was not listed in the main events page but rather on the back page of the Daily making it harder to find. This was corrected on the second day of the cruise.
Tonight's Showtime was "Soul Rockin' Nights" in the Stardust Theater. When we arrived fairly early for the showtime there was no where in the balcony to sit that didn't have a horrendous sight line and on the lower level it wasn't tiered enough to see over everyone's head and well I'm tall but mom isn't. The railings in this venue up stairs along with the pillars just stink. On the Norwegian Sun, her younger sister, the show lounge didn't have this many obstacles! It made for a challenging time to view the show which was just ok. The singers seemed to be off with their keys when singing together and the dancers were off on some of their choreography. Mom thoroughly enjoyed the show, I thought it was ok.
Off to the room to change for the sizzling South Beach Party. Ironics was the live band playing until 11:30PM when DJ Jean took over. There was a lot of reverberation going on with the Ironics band and it was painful to stay in the lounge with it. DJ Jean, however, changed the night around and I was able to give her a CD of vocal house music to enhance the White Hot Party coming up on Wednesday night. She gladly accepted it and I stayed for a little while and then retired for the evening.
Day 2: Freeport, Bahamas: SHORE EXCURSION: Grand Bahama Island Highlights. This NCL excursion was so lame I couldn't believe I spent any money on it. If I wanted a shopping tour I would have settled for just that. We went around the island and the driver called out places that we'd go by that had signs on them. I could have just rented a vehicle and driven around the island and skipped the shopping. If you like shopping then Freeport is the place for you. They had one casino available but if you don't gamble and you don't shop then this tour was a waste of time and money. We got to see the island but it was much abbreviated and most of the time it was shopping stops. Mom and I both thought this tour didn't live up to its advertised description.
Back onboard the Norwegian Sky we enjoyed a quick lunch and went to the Promenade Deck to do a few miles around. The weather was cool and windy so the faster you walked the warmer you were. There was a live band playing by the pier which was a nice touch when walking on that side of the ship.
After dinner at Crossings it was off to the spotlighted Showtime of comedian Fred Klett. This guy was not funny at all and as much as it was nice to see Paul Baya, the Cruise Director who was onboard the Norwegian Jewel in 2007 back onboard, he was sadly mistaken in saying this guy was good. Mom agreed that he stunk as well. Tim Kaminiski on the prior week's Jewel sailing was hysterically funny, this guy had to explain so many of his jokes it left me wondering whether it was a storyteller rather than a comedian.
Mom retired for the night but I wanted to check out Ship 'N Males so I floated around the ship a bit and caught the Newlywed/Not So Newlywed game show. It was mildly entertaining but the couples really weren't as engaging as I've seen in the past and when you've got boring couples in the show it doesn't fair too much better in the laughs or overall entertainment quality. I know Paul Baya, the Cruise Director, was trying hard to keep it entertaining so kudos to him for trying!
The 70's Disco Groove Party onboard was interesting with passengers being dressed up as the Village People. The tunes of yesteryear were great to dance to on the dance floor but the reverberation from the band Ironics was just so annoying I cleared out and missed the Ship 'N Dales performance (which was reminiscent of a stint during Le Cabaret onboard the Spirit in May 2009).
Day 3: Nassau, Bahamas: SHORE EXCURSION: Nassau Forts & Junkanoo Museum. Our tour left on time and our first stop was to the Junkanoo Museum. Mom and I had no clue what this was about and it turned out to be a fun experience. Arlene, the curator, explained to us the history of Junkanoo and how the elaborate costumes are made and when the celebrations are. She then invited us to be part of her island experience of Junkanoo by making music and wearing some of the costumes made for past celebrations. This was the greatest highlight of the entire cruise in the Bahamas it turned out for both mom and I. It was so much fun we wished we could have stayed there longer. Arlene was a fantastic host and totally encouraged us to get right in there and experience the wonderful world of Junkanoo music and garb. The tour continued with tours of two forts before taking us to the Queen's Staircase with a nice waterfall alongside. This tour is a definite MUST do! The bus operator and the tour guides at each stop did a very nice job.
Back in Nassau at the termination of the tour we elected to go back onboard and grab a quick lunch before heading back ashore and doing some souvenir shopping. Bless their hearts at Starbucks because they had one across from the main terminal building. Civilization at last in the Caribbean! It was the first time in two weeks I could get my Green Tea Latte (Chai Latte is available onboard). Just wanted to share with everyone that there is a Starbucks there and it's on the second floor of the building. They do offer Wifi packages as well if you want to connect back home but not pay the ship's rates.
After another lovely dinner in Crossings Restaurant it was off to Showtime "On Broadway" in the Stardust Theater. Since mom and I both have seen this production before onboard the Norwegian Spirit we knew what to expect but hearing all those Broadway tunes always has me tapping my feet and sometimes singing along. It's one of the best shows that NCL's in-house production team has ever produced and you truly don't want to miss it. Finding good sight lines was important and it turned out the high chairs at the very back of the theater in the top allowed for the best vantage point of the stage.
Next it was back to the cabin to change into all white attire for NCL's signature White Hot Party which was actually held up on deck. It was a bit chilly up there for this as the ship was barely moving but the wind was continuing to be problematic. DJ Jean did a GREAT job spinning this party and made it the way a true white party should be. Having it outside with lights under the stars is a great concept. It did get too cold and eventually the party thinned out and they decided to relocate it to Dazzles. The party continued on and fellow passengers and I had a great time! Danced until the club closed in the wee hours of the morning and actually tried to grab a bite to eat with DJ Jean at Longboards but she was turned away and I just went back to the cabin and fell quickly asleep! Excellent job with the party DJ Jean! More NCL DJ's need to take a lesson from you including the one onboard the Jewel!
Day 4: Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas: It was a bright sunny day at Great Stirrup Cay but we decided to stay onboard as we watched the tenders going over and coming back bobbing up in down in the wind. We opted to dine aft at the Great Outdoors and stare at the island instead. Afterward we walked the Promenade Deck a bit and I went back to relax some more in the stateroom as there really wasn't much to do onboard.
After a dinner in Crossings restaurant, it was back to the cabin to start packing and get the bags ready. We ventured back out to the Stardust Farewell Comedy & Variety Showtime. The two crew members who sang for us did a nice job with the Miss Saigon number and then it was back to that Fred Klett comedian. If the show number Fountains were not after his routine I would have left. This guy is NOT funny! When Fountains began the wait was worth the reward! This production is different on every ship and just as comical no matter how many times you see it.
Since we had been cruising for nearly two week's we decided it was time to go back and retire for the evening and get ready for an early disembarkation since NCL was taking us to the airport and there'd be a long day at the airport ahead. We didn't see the rest of the evening's entertainment and instead watched one of the movies on the in-room TV.
Day 5: Miami, FL: Disembarkation: We woke up early and dined in the Palace dining room for a final sit down breakfast before going back to the stateroom to collect our stuff and wait for the Orange bag tags for the NCL airport transfer to be called. The service was rushed and the waiter was very unaccommodating on finding more muffins as there was only one in the basket in the table.
When our color tag was called we got into a line to swipe off the ship and cleared customs faster than on our previous 7-day cruise. During disembarkation all the senior staff was present. I got to say goodbye to Paul Baya, the Cruise Director and finally got to meet Sean, the Hotel Director. We were outside by the bus in about 15 minutes after our luggage tag was called. The first bus for the transfer was already full and had just filled as we walked up so we were the second group to get on the second bus. The bus didn't go anywhere for over an hour as we waited for more people to get off the ship who purchased the transfer. None of these people had the right color bag tags. As a result everyone on the bus was delayed. If I could have slept in and stayed on the ship longer then I would have. By the time we finally got to Fort Lauderdale airport I could have floated away. This was incredulous and I will not be purchasing another NCL transfer. It was convenient and yet more expensive then booking a private operator which we used to get to Miami when we took the Jewel cruise the prior week.
Conclusion: If it weren't for the friendly hostess and the Crossings Dining Room managers then this cruise really would have been an off cruise for us. The service wasn't nearly as good as all the past Norwegian experiences in nearly every place. The nice lady from Guest Relations who helped me with the transfers had just come over from another Norwegian ship was especially kind and made me feel exceptionally welcomed. The rest of the ship's crew seemed like they were just going through the motions. It was sad to go from such great service on the Norwegian Jewel to this. I do have to give special attention to the best DJ I've experienced on NCL in a long while and that's DJ Jean. Thanks for making the disco a great place to hang out - even if it was a fairly small crowd!
For a 60th birthday present for my mom I wanted this cruise to be special and it was mediocre to disappointing. I'm happy I've cruised with NCL before because if this was my first cruise with them I'd seriously reconsider taking another. Thankfully I know what the Norwegian Cruise Line product is really all about and will be gladly sailing on the Norwegian Spirit again in May 2010. For the price paid for this cruise, it was not a bargain at all. The itinerary was new and we saw the Bahamas but will not be returning to the Norwegian Sky in the future.