DH and I just finished a 4-day cruise on NCL Sky out of Miami to Freeport, Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay. Overall, we had a fun, relaxing vacation. For background, this was my 11th and DH's 8th cruise, and my 4th/his 3rd with NCL (both of us twice on Majesty and I had done this same cruise on Sky with our DD last September). We have cruised on Carnival a lot (with kids) and once on Costa. Any comparisons below are meant for informational purposes only.
We flew Southwest the day before into Ft. Lauderdale. I think people either love or hate Southwest. We are in the "LUV" group! You never know when you will get a really entertaining flight crew. Suffice it to say, we were pleased with our SWA experience and our bags flew free! Flight was uneventful and while we left a few minutes late, we arrived on time at FLL. I had never flown into that airport, and I did not have a good first impression upon arrival. The terminal seemed very crowded with people waiting for departing flights (sad, sad people going home to colder places mostly).
The trash cans were overflowing, and there was also trash all over the floor in the seating areas. It may have been the spring break crowd and/or higher-than-usual volume of travelers due to the time of year, but the airport should be prepared for this. It was a real mess that day. I will say it was better on departure, so maybe it was just a fluke. I also found the baggage claim area disorganized and the traffic flow in the pick up area to be a bit of a cluster. Our shuttle driver on the way back told us we had done ourselves a favor by not flying into MIA, so I guess it could have been worse.
We stayed at the Sleep Inn, Dania overnight. They had a free shuttle from the airport. We called them after our bags were retrieved and it took them about 20 minutes to get there. The shuttle ride to the hotel was around 20 minutes after they stopped at 2-3 other terminal areas to check for other pax to pick up. It ended up being just us and one other couple. The hotel had a fast check in. The room was average at best, but we had got it for $93 plus tax pre-paid on the chain's website. That is a VERY good price for this area during spring break. I guess they also have a free shuttle to Port Everglades if you are sailing out of there. I would probably stay there again if the price were right AND I were sailing out of FLL (which we were not this time).
Day 1: Shuttle to POM and Embarkation
We decided to use the hotel shuttle back to FLL to get the SAS shuttle down to the Port of Miami. We had a 9:00 shuttle from the hotel, and a 10:00 shuttle from the airport to the port. We were a bit early to the airport, and I called SAS shuttle at 9:30. They were there by 9:45. It took about 35-40 minutes to get to the port. The SAS shuttle costs $15/pp each way plus tip (great deal). They do pick up at hotels, but we wanted to get to the port early and they don't start picking up at hotels in that area until 10, and may stop at multiple hotels before actually leaving for POM. So, that is why we decided to get them at the airport instead. It worked out well.
We were through port security by 10:45 (with smuggled carton of wine not detected!) and were one of the first 25 people in the waiting area. We were assigned to boarding group L1. They started boarding at 11:30 with anyone disabled or with strollers. DH and I were the first to board after that...woohoo! We were on board by 11:40.
We first went to drop our hand luggage in their luggage check area on board. I love this service. Carnival does not provide this. Next, we went up to the practically empty Lido deck to order our first DODs, take some pix, and chill for a while. The weather was absolutely perfect.
We decided to have lunch in the main dining room. This was a great choice! One of the two best meals we had on board all week. I highly recommend skipping the buffet that first day and having a relaxing lunch in the MDR. This is also something NCL does that Carnival does not. Hardly anyone takes advantage of this on the first day. The restaurant was almost empty, and service and food were excellent! DH had the portabella (sp?) mushroom app and I had the spring rolls. Both were very good. The waiter also brought us a fried calamari app that was good. DH had a strip steak (which he said tasted good, but was a bit tough for him), and I had your basic cruise ship burger. The waiter recommended the blueberry cheesecake for dessert and it was a very good choice! Service was very, very good. We were seated next to an older couple who must have been suite guests or some kind of VIPs. The staff were fawning all over them/knew them, so I'm sure being in the right place at the right time helped us out here!
After lunch, we went to the casino to fill out the form to get slot cards and get our tickets for the raffle to be held later that afternoon (including free rum punch) at around 5:30. We did go back up to the lido right after that (around 1:30) and NOW it was CROWDED! Not a big deal, but I think it could be overwhelming for the uninitiated cruiser.
We decided to go down to the service desk after that to put down another $100 on our on-board account. I had pre-purchased $300 in two installments by calling NCL directly, in the couple months prior to the cruise. When we got there, they did not have $100 of that on my account. They filled out a form and said they would e-mail NCL to check on it. We would not have an answer until the next day. This was a bit disconcerting, and I'm glad I had the e-mail confirmations of my OBC. (When I got a print-out of our account balance the next morning, the missing $100 had been applied, so it did work out OK).
By now, it was almost time for the rooms to be ready (2:00 is the advertised time). So, we retrieved our carry-ons from the check area and sat in the atrium for a bit until about 2:10. They had not announced the rooms ready yet, but we made our way to deck 9 to see if they were ready, and they were. Our luggage had not yet arrived (to be expected). The room was as we expected—clean and tastefully decorated, but small compared to Carnival. We had an inside, midship room 9137. It is not the smallest category (119 sqft), but still pretty small at around 145 sqft. Carnival has 185 sqft standard size rooms. Anyway, it was fine for what we needed it for. I unpacked our carry-on stuff while DH napped for a bit. Our luggage arrived by 3:00 (yay!). I was all unpacked by 3:40 (including our two undetected-by-booze-police 8 oz. Rumrunners). Let the vacation begin!
A couple of things about the rooms...the beds are hard as a rock! I knew this, since I had been on this ship before. They really need to improve their mattresses. Also, last time I was in a balcony room, and they had bathrobes, while the insides do not. Shower was hot and had great water pressure, but I found the temperature would change suddenly multiple times during any given shower. The storage space is barely adequate for two people, as far as the drawers and bathroom counter. Not deal-breakers for us, but you may wish to consider if you are thinking about this cruise. Pack wisely. I packed way too many clothes and shoes (again).
The first night, we had dinner in the palace (mid-ship) dining room. It was not crowded and we had no wait to be seated. Service was friendly, but not over-the-top. The timing of courses was a bit off, but not too bad. I had the tortilla soup which was thick and spicy. I ordered the fatoush salad, which had way too many peppers for my taste, but was well-presented and fresh. It was really a pretty salad. The "shrimp cocktail" is not what most American's would think of when ordering shrimp cocktail. It is more like a tiny shrimp salad. DH also had the lamb sausage starter, which he liked (looks gross to me, but he raved about it!). For the main course, DH had the roast pork, which he didn't like—said it was too dry. I had the cheese tortellini of the every-day menu which tasted great. Neither entree was quite warm enough for us though. We both had the chocolate mousse dessert which was very good!
We spent some time in the casino, which was not kind to us at all! Their slots were very tight and table limits for both blackjack and craps were $10 (DH prefers $5/low limit table games). It would remain so the whole cruise, even during the day on the private island stop, (when hardly anyone was in the casino). We did find "our" bar server that night at the atrium bar, just outside the casino. She was very good at her job and we loved interacting with her each evening.
Another little snafu was we found that DH's room card would not let him purchase anything. Turns out, our cards weren't "linked", so all the funds were on my card. I found that really strange. Had to make a trip to the service desk to get it fixed. On my prior cruise a few months ago on this ship with my DD, they wouldn't let us UN-LINK her card from mine. Why they would then have a married couple in the same cabin start out with separate accounts is beyond me! It worked out in the end, but this was just one example of the few small things that irritated us on a daily basis throughout this cruise.
After our miserable luck at the casino, we decided to go to Longboards (sports bar) to get some bar food. It was impossible to get anyone to come take our order. We finally left out of sheer frustration (and I was really looking forward to the yummy fish and chips I had had there on my previous cruise!). We went back to the room, with the intention of ordering room service. Their menu is quite limited, and DH wasn't interested in any of the offerings there, so he went to the buffet and brought back a plate of various food which we shared. Then, off to bed for our early wake-up in Freeport for our pre-arranged tour to Deadman's Reef at Paradise Cove.
Day 2: Freeport Bahamas--Deadman's Reef at Paradise Cove
We began the day with room service breakfast which was prompt and adequate as usual. We were to meet our driver for our pre-arranged beach/snorkeling tour at 9:00. I had reserved this online after reading about it here and on Tripadvisor. We were looking for a perfect, quiet beach day, with snorkeling, and this was definitely all those things! The driver pointed out a lot of things and gave some history of the island on the way to the beach. As many of you know, Freeport/Grand Bahama is not the most scenic port out there! The ride to the beach was about 30 minutes, and we arrived shortly after 9:35 at Paradise Cove. We were the first group to arrive (about 10 of us). You pay $35 each at that time which includes your transportation and snorkeling equipment for the day. We thought this was a great deal! They give you a brief safety talk and show you where to go to see the best fish and parts of the reef. We rented two beach chairs for $3 each.
Snorkeling was awesome! I never imagined that Grand Bahama Island would have such a great swim-to reef available! This place is truly a hidden gem, given the poor reputation of the Freeport cruise stop. We were fortunate to be there at high tide, making it easy to paddle out to the deep reef. The owners placed floaties out every 75 yards or so so you would have something to aim for and places to stop along the way. If you bring a 27-exposure disposable underwater camera, hold off on taking pictures until you are beyond the big rocks...it was a whole other world over there! The only other place I've been with better snorkeling was Grand Cayman (which is famous for its reefs). DH said that Hawaii was the best place he had snorkeled, but he was still very happy with what we could see here. I can't really name all the fishes/corals we saw, but the amount and variety were impressive! You will not be disappointed.
On the way back in to shore, we saw these little clear jellyfish. This kind of freaked us out, so we didn't waste any time getting back. We later found out they were harmless jellyfish (no tentacles to sting you with). Coming back seemed harder than going out because the tide was going out by then. It was way lower when we left the area, and it would have been difficult to swim out to where the reef is because you can't step on the sea grass or any coral and you would have to take a more round-about route to get there. My suggestion is to research the tide tables if you are thinking about going there and try to go during high tide if you can.
Food and drink there were excellent! They had rum punch for $3.50, Bahama Mamas for $4.50, water for $1.50, Beer for $3.50, etc. Conch fritters were 6 medium sized ones for $4. We had two orders of those and shared an order of fries for $2. Our total food/drink bill was $36 plus tip for the day. That plus $70 for the excursion, $10 driver tip, $6 for chairs, and $10 for bug stuff brought our total for the day to around $132 plus tips for servers. So, for $66 per person, we had an excursion of a lifetime without all the hustle/bustle of the cruise sponsored tours. Plus, we skipped all the crowds of Lucaya beach. There were never more than 50 people at the facility at any one time. It was clean, quiet, and just plain beautiful! I am almost afraid to hype it up too much, lest too many cruisers find out about it and ruin it for those of us lucky to know about this little secret! LOL!
One negative I must mention is that we were literally attacked by sand-flies (also known as no-see-ums or midges) upon our arrival. I looked down to see my legs covered with these little menaces. Luckily, they sold Avon Skin so Soft in their gift shop which did wonders for keeping them off of you. It cost $10, which I'm sure they are making a hefty profit from. They also had a can of Cutter insect repellent for the same price. The lady working there said the flies only come during certain times of the year, and are especially bad when there is no wind (like the day we were there). The sand-flies went away as the day went on though. The only other minor thing was that DH didn't like that they only had the kind of flotation devices that go around your waist instead of the vests which one can deflate to dive down into the water. If you have a vest, you might want to bring it. No big deal for me. All the equipment was clean and functional. They also offered glass-bottom kayaks if you didn't want to snorkel. So, with the exception of those two minor things, everything else was perfect that day! Even the bug bites we had got in the morning were gone by the end of our day there (or so I thought...read on).
OK. So that was my original review. I stand by everything I said, and I'm still unsure if what happened in the next few days would prevent me from ever going back there. They do have two cottages for rent that would provide an awesome secluded couples get away. We actually thought we might like to do that for our 25th anniversary or something. Anyway, please keep the above review in mind as you read what I have to say next.
Remember those sand-flies? I was amazed that night that the bites were all gone. No worries. Right? Wrong! The next day, as I awoke to prepare for our Nassau excursion, my legs were itching like crazy! I looked, and discovered that all the little bites that had "disappeared" the day before, were back and were now raised bumps kind of like mosquito bites. They were all over my legs where those sand-flies had been and just a few on my arms and my back where my bathing suit didn't cover.
Wow! What a hassle! These were very itchy. Thankfully, I had some hydrocortisone cream in my kit, so I applied some, and it helped enough to make it bearable. I made a mental note to stop at a pharmacy for some benadryl cream in Nassau that day (which they did not have, so I purchased more hydrocortisone for a hefty $8 for a 1 oz tube). As the day went on, it was becoming obvious that these were more than just a nuisance...they were going to negatively affect the rest of my vacation if they didn't go away or I didn't find a better remedy.
I did some Internet research, later in the trip, on Thursday and it appears that some people are more sensitive to these bites than others and there can be a delay of a day or several days before this type of reaction occurs (DH was equally as attacked by them as I was, but did not have any negative consequences). Had I been sleeping in a bed by myself or if DH (with whom I was sharing the same bed) had the same reaction at the same time, I truly would have thought they were bed bug bites or something (because of the delayed reaction). It appears I am "allergic" to sandfly venom. By the end of the second day, these were starting to look a lot like chicken pox. By Thursday, they really did look like chicken pox (or maybe like poison ivy) as some of them were starting to break open. I was embarrassed on the last day, thinking people would wonder if I did indeed have bed bugs or chicken pox! When we were waiting at the airport on Friday afternoon, out of boredom, I counted the bites on my left leg--there were over 100 just on one leg!
At that point I was thinking I will never ever go back to that beach again! However, if you read my review of the actual beach day above...you will see that it was a lot of fun. I felt I must share the info about the bug bites so people can know ahead of time and be better prepared than I was.
So, the last 3 days of my cruise/trip home were spent itching and trying to find the right remedy for it. These bites became worse every day, until around Sunday after the cruise (5 days after they happened) when they finally started getting better.
Would I go back to Paradise Cove? Maybe. But I would spray myself down with some Deep Woods stuff containing 90% DEET first and I would do some research as to when these bugs are prevalent and avoid those times of the year. I will also bring more oral benadryl as well as ample supplies of topical benadryl and cortisone cream, and Aspercreme next time. I have a pretty crazy first aid kit, but found it lacking these things (or enough for a 3-day issue). I might actually add some prescription prednisone to my kit, as I think it would have been really good to have.
Now, I will return to the rest of my review of the cruise which, despite my itching, was still fun!
The Sky casino needs to improve bar service. It is extremely difficult to get the attention of the one or two bar servers in there! We would walk over to the atrium bar and order from our favorite server there. DH made friends with her the first day and she was very generous the rest of the cruise. The atrium bar is just a few steps from the front of the casino, so that worked well for us. The casino has slots and blackjack tournaments all week for a $15 entry fee.
Dinner that night after Freeport was in Crossings (the aft MDR). I had the lobster & fish dinner and DH ordered something called a "rack of lamb" which was really just a couple of pieces of lamb with some sides. DH hated it and sent it back and ordered the every-day strip steak cooked medium, which he did like. This is the last time you will see any lobster in the MDR, so if you want it, order it now! DH had also ordered the seafood ceviche, which he did not like, so I was happy to eat it for him! The caesar salad was always good. For dessert, we shared the molten chocolate cake and a vanilla ice cream...in an effort to re-create Carnival's chocolate melting cake dessert. It worked out pretty well! Not quite the same, but a reasonable facsimile. Those of you who have cruised with Carnival will understand what I'm talking about!
Day 3: Nassau:
Having been to Nassau at least 5 times before, we were looking for something different. We were not interested in paying $100 per person for Paradise Island, and had done the Cable Beach properties' day passes; we had done the taxi tour, and walk around town on your own. We wanted to see the "real" Nassau. So, I found the "People to People" program on the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism website and contacted them to see if we could hook up with a guide for the day. With this program, local volunteers are matched with visitors and they become your host for the day and try to show you things of interest based on your preferences.
We met our hostess "Cassie" at the Ministry of Tourism building just outside Festival Place (the building you have to walk through getting off the ship). I am an RN and DH is a history buff. Cassie is a retired RN who has been a life-long resident of Nassau. She picked us up in her personal vehicle and drove us all around the island of Nassau for 4 hours! We first drove through town and she pointed out some churches/schools/government buildings, etc. Then she took us to Ft. Charlotte, which is west of the cruise dock and has a great view of everything. The museum costs $5 per person plus you need a couple dollars to tip the tour guide after the quick tour of the underground part of the fort. The fort is pretty cool and has lots of photo ops on the top where you can see for miles around. There is a small market area there that is much less intimidating than the big Straw Market.
After visiting Fort Charlotte, we drove all around the west and south sides of the island. We saw the College, new stadium being built, and many areas where the rich and or famous live and play. There are many public beaches that are nice but more secluded than the ones near the ships. Also, many condo-type areas you never get to see if you don't stray far from town. There are some very nice homes up on bluffs over on the west side, and some exclusive gated communities. Cassie also drove us by the airport where they have just finished the new international terminal (it looks really nice). We also saw a national park area that has the remnants of an old slave compound. You can see the ruins of these from the road.
After seeing pretty much everything there is to see from a car, we went to lunch at the Fish Fry on Arawak Cay. There, we ate at Oh Andros restaurant, which was highly recommended by our host. We were looking for something local, and this was just perfect. DH ordered some chicken wings that he just loved. I couldn't resist the conch fritters (again) which were 12 for $3! Cassie ordered what was called a "grouper snack", that really was a decent sized meal. Those around us who had ordered the regular sized meals had HUGE plates of food in front of them fit for 2-3 people! Our food with soft drinks and tip came to about $30. It was really delicious. We would go back there again.
After lunch, we stopped at a pharmacy to see if I could find some benadryl cream for my bug bites (not available, but I bought some hydrocortisone cream for $8 for a 1 oz tube). Then, we stopped at the public beach for a photo-op and then Cassie drove us back to town right where we had met her. We had brought her a small thank-you gift and I gave it to her at that time, and we had paid for her lunch at the restaurant. For a total of less than $45, we had a four-hour tour, with lunch, and a PRICELESS companion to give us very interesting information and share about the island and her life there. I highly recommend the People to People program if you are interested in going beyond the tourist parts of visiting Nassau.
Back to the ship.
We did not even try to smuggle any booze back on in Nassau, which was probably a good thing. The security people were checking everything; like water bottles, my empty travel mug from that morning's coffee I had in my tote bag, etc. DH had on cargo pants and they asked him if he had anything in his pockets (believed him when he said no..pockets were flat). I think if his pockets did not look so flat, they would have patted him down. They were being very vigilant that day!
There were a few stragglers getting back on board that evening. One couple was left behind as the ship was pulling away around 6:30 (supposed to be back on board by 5:30, and the ship did wait until after the scheduled 6:00 sailaway time). As the woman arrived in a golf cart, she ran down the pier yelling, "Hey, that's my ship, come back!!!" I'm always torn at feeling sorry for people or not. Even some of the people who are still WALKING down the pier past the time they were supposed to be back on board amaze me. I would be freaking out. Much rather be up on deck watching them than the other way around!
This evening, we went back to the Palace MDR, where we had the best dinner so far! It was on par with the lunch we had in the MDR the first day. Of the MDRs, I find the Palace to be the better of the two. Our waiter was "I Made", who with his assistant April, did a fantastic job that night! Timing was spot-on and special requests were handled without question. We both really enjoyed the scallop appetizer (DH ordered two and they brought it out on one plate). They offered cheese rolls in the bread basket that were fantastic! We requested a basket of just these, and they were provided without question. I had the Caesar salad again (I think NCL does a really good job with this always-available salad). Entrees were the bowtie pasta with sausage for DH and the strip steak (well-done with A-1 on the side—don't hate me) for myself. We both enjoyed our choice of entrees. For dessert, I had the lemon cake with blueberries and DH had a chocolate orange cake. Both desserts were good. No real complaints this time!
After dinner, we went back to the cabin and I decided not to go out as the sandfly bites were really making me miserable and I just wanted to dose up on benadryl and get some sleep. I really needed a good night's sleep anyway after three very long, busy days anyway! DH headed back to the casino to donate some more money to the NCL casino fund.
Last day—anchored off Great Stirrup Cay
We both decided to sleep in a bit today (7:30 for me, 9:30 for DH). I woke in the morning as itchy as ever! This was the day I decided to go down to the medical center because I was wanting some benadryl cream and the store would not open until 2:00 pm that day. The tender line was up the stairs from deck 3 up to deck 4—wall to wall people at around 11:00 am. When I did this cruise before, DD and I left to the island around 9:30 and there was no line, so earlier is probably better.
In order to get to the med center, I had to push through the throngs of pax waiting to get onto the tender boats for GSC! I was very apologetic...explaining all the way that I wasn't cutting in line...just trying to get to the med center. It was for naught though, as they don't give out OTC meds without a doctor visit (which was something like $150...lol). However, I could get some benadryl at the service desk, I was told. It was true! Since the store wasn't yet open, I did go to the service desk, where they sold me a 1 oz tube of it for around $9. First ever foray to the med center on a ship for me (hopefully the last too).
We ate late buffet breakfast that day and just sat on deck mostly, watching the tenders go back and forth to GSC. Breakfast at the buffet is generally the best meal to have there. I was feeling pretty miserable with the bug bites and by the time we thought we 'might' just go over to walk around and check it out, we decided it wasn't worth the hassle. We had been to this island together many years ago on Majesty, and I had just been there with DD in September. So, it didn't hold a lot of fascination for us. The tenders looked to be as rocky as ever too...not my favorite thing. So, we enjoyed having the whole Lido to ourselves, for the most part. We had buffet lunch also, which was just OK. We were not impressed with the buffet lunches/dinners/late-night food on this sailing.
I made my way to the Internet cafe to check-in for our Southwest flight the next day. It is $3.95 to sign on plus 75 cents/minute if you do the pay-as-you-go thing. I ended up spending about $16 for that (plus a little time to look up these sandfly bites and what to do about them). We sat on deck most of the day and read our respective books (DH on his phone kindle app, and me the regular "analog" version of a hardback novel I brought). It was a very relaxing day, which we both needed at that point. My only regrets about not going to GSC are not seeing the new tender dock, and missing the barbecue lunch (which was really good when I was there in September). On such a short, port-intensive cruise, I recommend making one of the days a "sea" day if you want some rest/relaxation on your trip. Last time, DD and I stayed on board on the Freeport stop.
That afternoon, I got our two big bags we were going to check all packed up before dinner so I could enjoy the evening without having to worry about it. We had one whole medium-sized bag with all clean clothes in it! I always pack too much, even after saying that after each cruise! For this itinerary/ship/cruise line, I suggest you bring more casual clothes than you think you will need, and fewer dressy clothes for the evenings. I wish I would have brought some comfy black flat shoes to wear in the evening too.
NCL lets you choose your luggage tag color (time to disembark), which is nice. On other lines it's a crap shoot unless you select to self-carry everything off. Here, you must go to a display at the service desk and grab whichever tag color you want. Tags are not delivered to your room (which I found out the hard way last time). We selected Blue which would be the latest to be called, since our flight wouldn't be until around 2:35 the next day.
That night's dinner in the Palace MDR was pretty much the worst. We did go a bit later than we had the other nights, so maybe that had something to do with it. The timing of courses was really bad, and the food was just "OK". Water glasses were not filled regularly as they had been the first few nights, the salt shaker was empty and then they brought another pepper shaker, etc. All little things, really. But they seemed to add up to make it a not-so-good experience. DH was disappointed there was no "lobster night" at the end like on Carnival. He did enjoy the escargot appetizer, however.
We investigated the menus for the upcharge restaurants, and found that you could get lobster in Cagney's after paying not only the extra cover charge, but an additional charge for lobster. It would have cost us an extra $70 (I think...memory fading) to have lobster for dinner had we chosen to do so. Now, I am perfectly happy to eat whatever I can get in the MDR, but DH was really disappointed not to have had lobster during his cruise. I do think there is something to be said about having the same wait team every night too, which you don't get with Freestyle. Overall, food quality has declined a bit on each cruise we've taken in the past 4 years or so. Not just on NCL. I guess it's the price we pay for low fares. Not sure what the tipping point will be for us on this.
That last evening, we spent a little more time in that black hole of a casino, ordered one more drink from our favorite server at the atrium bar, and watched some basketball. They were showing the NCAA games in the casino and on the room TV.
All good cruises must come to an end. Friday morning we had ordered room service to be delivered at 0800, which arrived on time and was satisfactory as usual (highly recommend room service on the last day or any day you have an early shore excursion). The fruit they deliver is so fresh and good. Plus, it is nice to have some coffee first thing while you're getting ready. We planned to vacate our cabin around 9:00, and our steward knocked on the door around that time to see if we were still there. We ended up leaving the room around 9:15 to go up to the Lido deck and enjoy our last few minutes of "cruise-ness" before heading off to find our bags, go through customs, and get our shuttle back to FLL airport.
I went to the service desk to settle our account (THEY owed US $17..woohoo !). The line was a bit longer than it had been the other times I had been there, but not too bad, and that is to be expected the last day. Around 9:30, the CD came on and did request that all passengers please leave so they could prepare the ship for the next sailing. The crew on the Lido was already preparing the area for the next group of cruisers. It brought back memories of our first day...
We began our exit of the ship around 9:45 or so. I called the SAS shuttle company as we were walking down the gangplank into customs. They asked me to call them back when I was "out in the fresh air" because there were shuttles already in the area. We found our bags immediately, and customs was no problem at all (very fast). My only problem at that point was there were no bathroom facilities past that point! I asked a worker where to go, and he pointed me across the lanes of buses, taxis and shuttles to a portable trailer with bathrooms in it! It wasn't as bad as it could have been. At least it was air conditioned on the inside and fairly clean. The worst part was actually getting over to it! The POM was quite a cluster if you were waiting for transportation. Last time, DD and I had driven and our car was parked in the garage right across from the terminal. We had also left the ship very early in the morning, so there were no crowds whatsoever. This time, it was a crowded mess! I'm really glad our flight was later in the afternoon and we had all kinds of time to get out of there.
We finally got a hold of our driver a few minutes later. He was a young guy and very personable. He took time to show us different sights out the windows and was inquisitive about where people were from, how our cruise was, etc. Much better than the guy on the way down, although he was nice enough (just not at all entertaining---all business). The ride from POM to FLL was equally as fast as it had been on our way down. I highly recommend the SAS shuttle service if you fly into FLL. We arrived early at the airport and the driver suggested several local attractions we might want to try (by taxi), since we had time, or that we walk down to terminal 3 and eat at Chili's (which we did, after having checked our bags). We had a leisurely lunch there and slow walk back to terminal 1.
The airport seemed a bit less of a mess than it did the week before, thankfully. I got selected by TSA for extra scrutiny of my footwear. They said they are now doing random checks of random things. Better than the enhanced pat-down I guess! We had a quick flight to Tampa to change planes. Our first flight left about 30 minutes late, so we arrived at the second just in time to board with the A group boarding passes we had. Uneventful flight home, bags arrived safely, and we were on the road with cloudy skies and a few flakes of snow to remind us that our vacation was truly over.
The crew on this ship is extremely friendly! I love that about NCL over other lines we've sailed with. The food was unpredictable. Sometimes very good, other times not. Service was great at the service desk, the outdoor drink service was great, and the server at the atrium bar. Room stewards were efficient and friendly. Dining room service was friendly, but varied day to day for promptness. The itinerary is not the most desirable for us after so many cruises. The price was definitely right! We paid more for our airfare than the whole cruise! Four days is one day too short for me. But, any cruise is better than no cruise at all. This one fit the budget and calendar. It was a great little getaway for DH and me. We do think we may go back to Carnival for the next one though. Many more fun on-board activities, although we really enjoy NCL too. This was not our best cruise by far, but not our worst either.