We have just returned from our first NCL cruise - a 3 nighter on the Sky in which we booked an aft suite. The overall experience was excellent and the few hiccups experienced along the way did not detract from the trip. We flew into MIA and took a taxi to the port. We asked the taxi driver to take us to a liquor store as we wished to purchase some wine and champagne for the trip, and he advised that we could do so but the fare would be on the meter as opposed to the fixed rate for the trip to POM from MIA. We did so, arrived at the port in good time and started the haphazard check in process. Security appeared to be gleeful that they had detected 3 bottles of wine in my check in bag and escorted me to the little NCL desk where I happily paid by $45.00 corkage fee. Beside the little desk there was a container in which other alcoholic beverages had been placed - presumably because folks had decided against paying the fee.
From there we went up the escalator to the NCL check in desk - I could see the area to the right where suite guests were to go, bit it was entirely cordoned off. I showed the cruise tickets to an NCL employee who directed us to a check-in line and I told him that we were in a suite. "Mini-suite" he corrected me as he examined the documents - and once again directed us to the regular check in line. We took a short cut under the barriers that had isolated the NCL employee at the VIP area and approached her with our documentation in hand. She then informed that we should go back to the regular check-in as our names were not on the VIP list. Hmmm. I asked to see the list and found our names listed with the appropriate suite number ... and our vacation began. We met the concierge (Anna) and our butler (Theodore) and then another fellow (Geoffrey) escorted us to Cagney's for lunch. Anna and Theodore had told us that we could go down to the cabin after about an hour - I inquired if one of them would take us to the cabin and show it to us (I had read on Cruise Critic about this), but was told just to wander down. We did so - but it would have been nice to receive instructions on how to use the coffee maker and control the AC.
We had a great relaxing lunch at Cagney's - DW and I had the colossal shrimp cocktail to begin with - as good as we had read about, DS had chicken fingers - perhaps the best ever! After lunch we headed to suite 9075 on the Fjord deck (deck 9)and all we can say is that it was magnificent! The balcony is astounding. (see link for pictures below) Our room steward seemed to try hard - although there was somewhat of a language problem and we never were successful in our requests that the ice bucket be kept full. The first night there were no towel animals for DS, however after asking for them on days following, they did appear.
A short summary of other observations - first night we ate at Le Bistro - very nice indeed. Second night at Il Adagio - frankly I would pass on this restaurant in future cruises. We found the pizza to be soggy and not crisp in texture, I had a pasta dish that on the menu read as being prepared with shrimp and mussels - and asked if I could be prepared with shrimp only. I was told yes, however when the dish arrived it seemed that the mussels had simply been removed from the plate, so strong was the mussel flavor. The calamari appetizer was nothing special although the marinara that accompanied it was good. The pasta as well as the risotto that we had was way undercooked - aldente would have taken a much longer cooking time.
Great Stirrup Cay - we availed ourselves to Anna and the "VIP" escort to the tender. This was great as we got to see a little of the inner passageways of the ship, then first in line to the tender. DS and I did a kayak tour (about 1 ½ hours long) at a very relaxed pace in which we saw numerous starfish, conch and other fish. DS enjoyed the tour very much and our guides were well versed and competent. By the time we returned it was HOT. DW had secured a clam shell for $30 (apparently $20 if you pay in advance - although I never did find where to do this) and was enjoying the shade it provided. Tip as provided by DW - elevate the rear of the clam shell to allow the passage of air. If you do not, you will slowly poach - there is no ventilation on the sides of the clam shell. In order to prop the rear of the clam shell up, you will have to lean a portion of it against the chair - it will take some trial and error - but you will be much more comfortable. DW also rented a float ($12) - most of the rentals (floats, snorkel gear) appeared to be in poor condition and poorly maintained. I'll admit that the weather will take its toll on this stuff - but I saw many leaky masks returned, floats so cracked and dried by the sun that they were not comfortable and were returned to a somewhat indifferent staff. DS had a blast on the hippo slide and the fellow spraying water onto the slide as well as the guy who hosed the sand of the kids feet were great with the children.
Night 3 we went to Cagney's - but it was not a good choice. They appeared to be understaffed - and given that a large number of the people seated had had a big day under the sun at GSC with lots of heat and perhaps alcohol, the crowd was not the most polite to the wait staff. After DW and I had been seated for a while with no one approaching the table (and given that we wanted to attend the Quest show later that evening) we decided to leave and go to Longboards. As we were departing, the sincerely apologetic Maitre'd approached us and tried to convince us to return - but we had already lost half an hour of our evening and now Quest was only an hour away. To give an indication of our experience with NCL customer service, the Maitre'd followed us into Longboards, spoke to the Longboards manager about our experience at Cagney's (which was no big deal to us!) and comped us a bottle of wine. Nice touch NCL. We had great fish and chips at Longboards as well as chicken wings.m No complaints whatsoever.
Quest - well, you know that I can not discuss that here!
A couple of notes on the suite - there is no ipod dock - but there is a stereo system and DVD player. If you have an ipod, simply bring a line out/RCA cables and you will be good to go. Menus for all restaurants were in the cabin as well as the room service menu.
As far as cleanliness goes, there were NCL staff spraying the passenger's hands with a cleanser when they reentered the ship after an excursion, however I saw no enforcement whatsoever on use of the self dispensing machines located by the buffet or other restaurants.
We found the NCL staff on board to be excellent and found none of the "attitude" that others have complained of. While we did not eat at any od the buffets, we did walk through the areas frequently and the food looked to be good - and there appeared to be lots of people enjoying it.
Overall - great value and we would not hesitate to do it again. I wish NCL would offer more aft suites with a capacity for 3.
Pictures of the suite, sky and GSC can be found below.
Ollie and crew