My husband surprised me with a 4 night NCL Sky cruise for February 28, 2011 as a birthday present! I am 40, DH is 37. DH has cruised 4 times (3 Carnival, 1 Royal Caribbean), and I have cruised 16 times (11 Carnival, 2 Royal Caribbean, 1 Princess, and 2 defunct lines). This was our first time on NCL.
We arrived at POM just before 11am to absolutely no line at security, so we breezed right through. There was no line at the check-in counter and within minutes we were checked in and given Zone Number 4. After a short wait in the terminal, we boarded the Sky around 11:50am.
DH had checked his bag with the porters outside, but I rolled mine aboard myself. NCL offers a nice carry-on bag check option, so I was able to check my bags at a holding area once we got onboard and didn't have to lug my things around. They attach a numbered tag to your bag and give you a stub to claim your bags later.
We proceeded up to Decks 11 & 12 to check out the pool deck. We ordered a couple of Coronas and sat and enjoyed the beautiful weather for a bit, then went to the Great Outdoors Buffet and enjoyed a light lunch. Food was good; I made a salad from the salad bar and had baked chicken, and a braised beef dish. We loved the outdoor seating of the Great Outdoors. Ship was still pretty empty by this time.
Around 1:45pm, I claimed my bags from the baggage check area, and we proceeded to our room. The door to our room was open, the carpet by the door was pulled up, and one of those big blower fans was set up just inside the room obviously to dry the carpet—uh oh. There had apparently been a leak in our room, and we were a bit worried that we could possibly be dealing with more of the same as the week progressed. Unfortunately, the carpet wasn't fully dry yet, and there was a kind of musty smell—yuck.
We were disappointed with the size of the room. We knew it would be smaller than Carnival, but this was REALLY small. Our room 5108 was supposed to be a 147 sq. ft. "Superior Inside" Stateroom, Category JJ. While they categorize 5108 as a 147 sq. ft., "Superior Inside" on ncl.com, I believe it is really only 121 sq. ft.—the same size as the Category N "Inside" (non-Superior) Staterooms, such as Cabins 5101, 8114, 8315. We were disappointed that the deck plans on ncl.com were not completely accurate and that room 5108 is mis-categorized as a 147 sq. ft. "Superior Inside", when it should be displayed as a 121 sq. ft. "Inside" Stateroom. DH felt a little ripped off at this point.
When we got home today, I also reviewed a photo review of the Sky posted on the cruise critic boards by member Hollybelle in which she posts photos of her cabin # 8314. On ncl.com, cabin 8314 is categorized as a 147 sq. ft. category II "Superior Inside" Stateroom. Our 5108 is supposedly the same size as 8314, but the photos of Hollybelle's room clearly show that her room is indeed bigger. 8314 has a loveseat in it—there is no way a loveseat would have ever fit in our room. I will post a review on the NCL forum later with pictures of our room, if anyone is interested.
Anyway, the room was not what we expected. There was barely any room to walk, there was one shelf and three tiny drawers in the closet under the safe, the closet itself was small with only 2 compartments versus 3 on Carnival, but there were plenty of hangers. DH had to leave some of his clothing in his suitcase, and store it between the bed and the wall. He couldn't get it under the bed, because the only place at the foot of the bed where there was enough room for him to lay the suitcase down to slide it under, was also where the legs of the 2 twin beds pushed together were, which blocked the suitcase from sliding under the bed. I stored my suitcase between the bed and the wall on my side, and to get in bed, we climbed on at the foot and crawled up to the head.
Our other disappointment was that there were several areas in the room that were pretty dirty. DH's nightstand was very dirty with dust and what looked like potato chip crumbs. My nightstand had no crumbs but was very dusty. The desk/vanity was dusty too, and the phone was very dirty, and dusty. A few of the bathroom vanity shelves were dusty and one had what looked like dried toothpaste on it. Luckily, I always carry sanitizing wipes, and I wiped down all horizontal surfaces, the drawers, and the telephone handset and keypad. I couldn't believe the amount of dust and dirt—I had to use quite a few wipes to get the job done.
To put it into perspective, I always wipe everything down on Carnival too, but the wipes never come up this dirty. I don't know if this is typical of NCL or if our particular steward just did a poor job. Steward was extremely nice and personable. We tipped him extra to empty the mini bar and asked him to bring us 2 extra pillows, and at the end of the cruise we gave him another $20 in addition to the auto tip. He was so nice, I couldn't bring myself to complain about the dust and dirt in the room, however one day, I did ask if he could vacuum, because the carpet was getting a bit dirty with sand/grit tracked in from our shoes and it didn't seem like he had vacuumed at all since we had been there.
The beds were very hard and uncomfortable for us. I have some relatively minor but painful neck and back issues, and the first night, I didn't know how I would ever get to sleep on that bed. But I took 3 Ibuprofen, and eventually drifted off to sleep. The subsequent nights got a little better—I guess I had gotten used to the bed a little more, or at least I knew what to expect unlike the shock of the first night.
DH had ordered decorations and a birthday cake for me (the cake was very moist and delicious), but due to the limited space in the room, there was no place to keep the cake. After a few slices, we gave the cake to our steward to share with his co-workers. DH also ordered a bottle of wine and a cheese and fruit platter since cheese is my favorite food—it was huge and very good, but the tray barely fit on the little desk and we had to hold our plates in our hand and eat on the bed. I always pack Ziploc bags when I travel, so we bagged up the remaining cheese, and stored it in the refrigerator for later.
Sorry for the rant, but we were really dissatisfied with the room.
On a good note, there were many things that we really liked about this cruise! We loved the layout of the pool deck and Deck 12 above—there were many areas to find a lounge chair. There is a great 4 person Calypso band playing on the pool deck! We loved 2 for 1 martinis in the Plantation Club, buffalo wings in Longboards, and piano music in Captain Cooks.
The meal we had at Le Bistro was out of this world delicious! I had French Onion Soup, Escargot (in REAL garlic butter sauce!), a delicious salad with smoked duck, the roasted smoked duck entrEe, and the Chocolate Napoleon dessert—yummmmy!! Il Adagio was good also—I had a very good salad with dates and pancetta, fried calamari, and Ossobucco that was so tender, I barely had to chew it. DH had the salmon, which he said was ok but a little dry.
We liked the breakfast in Crossings dining room. The bacon was superior to Carnival's in that it wasn't real greasy and was nice and crispy—I love bacon. My over easy eggs were always perfect. DH had eggs benedict, which he said was very good, but he felt Carnival's hollandaise sauce was better.
While we liked being able to go to the dining room whenever we chose, we preferred the quality of service that you get with assigned-time dining. With Freestyle, the server just delivers your food then disappears. I got spaghetti carbonara one night, and I thought the server would return to offer me parmesan cheese but he never came back. We don't need servers to fall all over us, but I guess we are just used to getting to know them a bit, and them getting to know us and our preferences.
In terms of quality, we felt the main dining room food was good but not quite as good as Carnival. My spaghetti carbonara wasn't awful, but it just didn't have a lot of flavor—the cream sauce tasted like...well, cream, instead of cream AND cheese (carbonara is supposed to be in an alfredo sauce). As a cheese-lover, this stood out to me. Overall, it was adequate—we certainly didn't starve.
Drink prices were comparable to Carnival—a Corona was $4.95, $5.69 with tip. (House)Vodka on the rocks was $5.25, $6.04 with tip.
The layout of the ship was very nice, and dispersed the crowds really well—much better than Carnival's Fantasy class ships. We never had to wait for an elevator on the Sky, unlike on the Carnival Imagination. Even the Lido buffet on the Sky never seemed as crowded as on the Imagination, even though the Sky buffet is a lot smaller. I think the fact that the Sky has other venues available for lunch, such as the Great Outdoor Cafe and pizza and pasta in Il Adagio eliminates all the people congregating in one venue.
Ports of Call
Freeport, Grand Bahama Island - We took a minivan taxi for $5pp to the beach at Our Lucaya resort. We paid $20pp at the towel stand at the Radisson pool for use of the towels, lounge chairs on the beach, and the pool. They don't give you a receipt or armband; the fact that you have their towels is proof you are allowed to be there. We saw in action how this worked on the beach. The lifeguards enforce the "chairs are for hotel guests only" policy. People on the chairs who had the striped towels from the ship, were chased away. We only had sun for about an hour; after that it was cloudy and cool. We stayed until we saw lightning then turned in our towels and headed toward the casino just as the rain came. We spent about an hour in the casino, had a couple drinks, then returned to the ship, where surprisingly it was beautifully sunny. We enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon up on deck.
Nassau - We have been here many times so we stayed on the ship for a relaxing pool deck day. The weather was cool but sunny at first. Then it got overcast and drizzled a bit, and later the sun returned but it was very windy.
Great Stirrup Cay - Due to heavy seas and high winds, we were unable to go to Great Stirrup Cay. We knew this might happen, and given the weather thus far, we were not at all surprised. So, we spent another relaxing day on deck. It was really chilly at first, to the point that I had on long pants and a jacket, but later the sun appeared and I changed into my swimsuit. It was a nice relaxing day, sipping Coronas and reading my book.
Other good notes - Embarkation and debarkation was a breeze. We have done the self-assist debarkation on Carnival and were off the ship and in our car by 8:30am. With the Sky's Easy Walk Off, you line up on deck 6 outside by the gangway; when debarkation began, we dinged our room cards one last time and were off the ship. There was no line at customs, and we were back to our car by 7:30am! We give the highest marks to NCL for their debarkation!
We had a wonderful time on this cruise; it was really nice to try a new line and experience something other than same old, same old. Would we sail NCL again? Absolutely, but definitely in a different cabin category!