This cruise was the first real getaway for us since our honeymoon back in 2009, so we were REALLY looking forward to the break! I'm a high school teacher, which greatly limited the dates that we could travel. That made us nervous about the spring break crowd on board, especially since this was a shorter cruise, but we were very pleasantly surprised. I'm in my late 20s and DH is in his early 30s. This was our second cruise, both with NCL. Our first was our honeymoon cruise on the Pride of America.
We drove across the border to Detroit to catch our flight to Fort Lauderdale on the Sunday before the cruise. We flew with Delta and had no problems. We used Go Airport Shuttle from FLL to get to the Intercontinental Miami hotel. I know SAS gets a lot of recommendations around here and we did try to book them first. But, we never heard back from SAS after the second time we tried to contact them. Go Airport Shuttle actually worked out cheaper than SAS would have been, though, since our flight came in later in the evening (SAS charges a minimum 3 person fare after a certain time).
The Intercontinental was fantastic! We followed the recommendations here on CC and got a great rate through lastminutetravel.com. When we arrived, we got upgraded to a harbour view room with a king bed. I had requested this when I booked but was not expecting it all. We felt so spoiled! The view was just incredible from our window. I was able to watch our ship come in just before 6 AM.
We took a taxi to the port from the hotel. Don't worry about pre-arranging them if you are staying at the Intercontinental. There were a bunch of them waiting off to the side and when we told the doorman that we needed one, he just blew his whistle and the first cab in line pulled up. It was $12 + tip. We got to the terminal around 11:45 AM. A porter appeared right away to take our luggage. He also made sure we had our passports and docs with us and told us where we needed to go.
Inside the terminal building, there were staff members everywhere welcoming us to NCL and to the Sky, and directing traffic so that everything kept moving along. We went through security and filled out the health questionnaire, then got in line for check-in. They have signs up for specific lines but at the time we were there, staff was just directing people to any line to keep things moving. I think we were in the Silver Latitudes line even though that's not what we are. The agent who checked us in was very friendly and we were ready to go in no time. We got a card for L2 boarding and once we got up to the boarding area, we learned that they had already called that number so we could straight to the ship! After a quick embarkation photo and our first swipe of the key cards, we were met onboard by very enthusiastic crew members dancing and clapping and welcoming everyone. It was a great atmosphere and made us feel like vacation was officially ON. I think the whole process took about 20 minutes, total.
Crew was directing everyone along a particular path through Captain Cook's bar (where you could leave your carry-ons until the cabins were ready), Dazzles lounge (where you could pick up a drink special and soda cards), to the atrium and the elevators up to the buffet. We ended up doubling back to find the open MDR, which they seemed to want to steer people away from. After lunch, we explored the ship and lounged on the sundeck until our cabin was ready.
All staterooms were ready at 2 PM and the cruise director made an announcement letting people know. We were in a Cat K inside on deck 8, #8140. It was small! We were expecting that since we had an inside on the Pride of America but this was even smaller. The beds were pushed together to make a queen and that left about a foot of walking space all the way around. The closets are across from the bathroom so if one of us was using the bathroom and the other was getting something from the closet, we made sure to give a warning before opening the door since that entryway is so narrow. Not a huge deal, though, we got some good laughs throughout the week as we had to keep rearranging ourselves if we wanted to pass each other. There are photos of our stateroom at the link in the first post of this thread.
The location of the cabin was great. It was aft, above the shops and below other cabins so noise wasn't an issue from above or below. No noise from our neighbours or the hallway either, we lucked out there! The only noise we heard was from the engines, which were particularly loud when we were docking in the early hours of the morning. We felt the vibrations as well, but they weren't too bad. The stateroom was close to the aft stairs/elevators so it was easy to get to Crossings, the theatre, the shops, or up to the buffet and pool from there. We just had to walk all the way forward to get to the gangway or to the Outrigger Lounge.
A couple of things did bother us about the stateroom. The Sky is a beautiful ship and in the public areas, she really doesn't show her age. She's very well maintained. The devil is in the details, though, and they are evident in the staterooms. The bed felt like a plank. It wasn't completely uncomfortable for me since I like a firm mattress anyway, but these didn't have the support of a mattress at all. I probably could have asked for a topper but didn't think of it until after the fact. DH was definitely not a fan. Cleanliness was also an issue. Some of the sheets and towels looked like they might have been as old as the ship. They were worn (the towels) and permanently stained (sheets and towels). Not very appealing! They should really look into replacing these.
We tried a lot of the venues on this ship and enjoyed just about everything we ate. A few dishes could have used more flavour but overall, we were happy with the food. A couple of standout items: the spaghetti carbonara on the first night, chilled strawberry soup on the second night, buffalo wings at Longboards, Caesar salad everywhere, and the crème brulee at Le Bistro. These were all SO good! We also enjoyed having some soft serve ice cream before sail away at each port. There's a machine just outside the buffet as you go towards the pool. We tried room service for breakfast on the first morning. It's great when you're in a hurry but options are really limited and items at the buffet or MDR are better.
We'd really been looking forward to treating ourselves at one of the specialty restaurants on this cruise since we had such great memories of Jefferson's Bistro on the Pride of America. DH didn't feel like steak and didn't want to do Cagney's without steak so we opted for Le Bistro. Maybe my expectations were just too high, but I was a little disappointed. The service was great but the food didn't really feel like anything special (except dessert!). It was still good, but not great. It just wasn't how I remembered it from our first cruise but, again, that may have been an issue with my own expectations.
I'll include the bar in this section too. We only had a couple of drinks throughout the week since I was on cold medication for most of the time and couldn't really indulge. What few drinks we did have were very good, though. We definitely got our money's worth, those bartenders were NOT stingy at all! One of the bartenders at the Great Outdoors (I think his name was Edwin?) was great. There were 2-for-1 martinis between 6 and 8 PM in the Plantation Club every night. Get there early as it is a very popular special. If the place is full, you can get your martini "to go," they just won't put it in a martini glass. Lightweights beware - those martinis will knock you on your behind! There were other drink specials throughout the week as well, all listed in the Freestyle Daily.
Our Cruise Director was Candi Finkelstein. She and her staff were great, they seemed to be everywhere throughout the week. They had a good variety of activities going on and we thought they did a great job of catering to all the different groups that were on board - the families, the spring breakers, and so on. We enjoyed the shows and activities that we went to and there were several that we were sorry to have missed.
There were two production shows for the week. One was Soul Rockin' Nights, which we went to and enjoyed. It was a tribue to rock and soul music through the 60s up to now. The other was On Broadway, a Broadway revue. We didn't attend that, but did hear from some fellow cruisers who said that it was good.
We went to Rich Purpura's comedy and magic show, which we just loved. He was hilarious. If you like dry humour and aren't easily offended, you'll like Rich Purpura. One night, he hosted Joker's Wild, which was an open mic night where your fellow passengers tell jokes and at the end, you vote for the best one.
On the last night, we watched the Quest game show hosted by Jamie, the Port Shopping Consultant (I think that was his title). It was hilarious, especially since it was on St. Patrick's day and most participants were drunk He gave us a little CC shout-out as he was introducing the game, saying, "This is not for the easily offended. If you like to get on Cruise Critic and write 'wah wah wah I heard a bad word!' this game is NOT for you." We got a good laugh at that.
The only thing we didn't like was all of the announcements from Candi. They went on way too long and were repetitive. Candi would essentially recite the Freestyle Daily schedule multiple times a day, which got very annoying very fast. And then it would all be repeated in Spanish (though, thankfully, not in as much gory detail!).
Going into this cruise, I really didn't have any specific expectations when it came to service. We were satisfied on the Pride of America, but had read a lot about how service on that ship is different and not up to the same standard as the rest of the fleet, so we were curious what we'd missed out on. It didn't take very long after boarding the ship for the Sky's crew to blow the POA's service right out of the water. Everyone was so friendly, attentive, and accommodating. This continued throughout the cruise. We were impressed. The only place where the service lacked some polish was in the Crossings dining room.
A couple of standouts: Already mentioned Edwin, the bartender. The waitress who served us at the Plantation Club (I wish we'd gotten her name!), where we went for the martini special, helped us find seats in the packed lounge, helped us pick out a martini, and she remembered us two nights later when we went to Quest - which was held in a totally different lounge. She was great. Venus at Le Bistro was fantastic and it was clear that she enjoyed her job. She'll be leaving the ship in a couple of weeks for her vacation and she's really excited to see her family in the Phillipines. Make sure to wish her well if you see her on your cruise!
Our cabin steward, John, was good. We were in our stateroom when he stopped by for turndown service on embarkation day so he introduced himself. We didn't know who our room steward was on the POA until the last day. We'd see him in the hallway often. He always greeted us and asked how our day went. He didn't really do anything above and beyond, but did a good job with the room. We never had to ask for anything.
Freeport - We did the Freeport Bike Adventure through NCL. We tried to book independently but the operator (Grand Bahama Nature Tours) referred us back to the cruise line. The price difference was only $11 each and it turned out to be a good value. It's a 12 mile bike tour, with stops in between to learn about Freeport. They provide bottled water for the ride and after the biking, lunch is included at the Garden of the Groves. There was time after lunch to walk around the Gardens and then a van took us back to Junkanoo Beach Club, where had a relaxing hour on beautiful Taino beach. From the beach, we were dropped at the Port Lucaya Marketplace where we could either shop or catch the next bus back to the ship. It was an activity packed day, we got back to the ship sometime close to 4:30 PM. I have mixed feelings about the biking part (I was still recovering from a cold so I think the 12 miles was a little too much) but DH absolutely loved it. The guides, Mario and Marco were fantastic, too. They took great care of us. I'd definitely do this again, in better health!
Nassau - After a lot of back and forth about our options, we booked Atlantis Aquaventure through Majestic Tours. They charge the same rate as Atlantis does for the pass, but we were afraid that Atlantis would not be selling passes during spring break so we decided not to take our chances. In retrospect, I don't think we had anything to worry about. We took a taxi over ($4 per person in a shared van) and spent the day exploring the resort. We walked through The Dig (the aquarium), which was very neat. I did the lazy river, but didn't try any of the slides. We wandered through the shops, casino, and the Atlantis Marina Village before heading back to the ship. If you've never been to Atlantis before, it's a really neat place to see at least once!
Great Stirrup Cay - We heard that on the sailing before ours, they had to cancel GSC due to weather but it was perfect for us. The tender ride over was a little rocky but once we got to island, we had a nice beach day. I had hoped to snorkel but the water was too cold for me. Lots of other people did go out, though, so I think that's a personal preference thing.
Shade was pretty hard to come by on the island. There are some trees near the Hippo slide, close to where you come from the tender dock, and that was where all the shade was. Since we didn't get there until after 11 AM, we had to walk a ways down the beach to get empty chairs. We ended up in the area in front of the buffet.
The only thing we didn't like too much about GSC was the music. The band that played by the pool every day, Caribbean Plus, played all day on the island as well. That would have been nice if they were playing relaxing music, but they weren't. It got loud at times (it didn't help that our chairs were close to where they were playing, either) and occasionally just sounded like random yelling. We would have enjoyed that day more if it had been quiet or if the music had just been something more relaxing.
This is one of the things we really love about NCL. Their disembarkation process couldn't be easier. We chose to do the Easy Walk Off since we only had the one suitcase. If you do this, you can take your own luggage off the ship starting at 7:30 AM and anytime after that. We had a pickup scheduled at 10 because we didn't know what it was going to be like, so we waited until last call and disembarked at 9:00 AM. Customs was a breeze! I'm not sure if it was because we're Canadian or what, but they just took our declaration cards and waved us right through without a word. Just like embarkation day, there was staff throughout the terminal making sure traffic was flowing. We were out of there very fast.
We had a shuttle booked through Quality Limo Service to take us from POM to the Westin Diplomat resort in Fort Lauderdale (Hallandale). They're one of those companies that requires you to call them from the terminal, which wasn't the greatest for us since our cell phones don't work outside of Canada! We found a pay phone outside the terminal building but it didn't work. Many thanks to the nice person who let us use her Blackberry to call QLS! I really wish that this wasn't required. On our way out of POM, we passed by the Royal Caribbean terminal, which is much better organized and looks like it would make it easier to find your ride/your ride to find you without having to call. Not sure why they can't do that for Terminal C.
We booked the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa through Hotwire. We got a great rate, $94 for the night. It was worth every single penny! It is a beautiful hotel, great staff, and great amenities. There are two properties, one on the beach and a golf resort a few blocks away. We were at the golf resort and took their free shuttle over the beach property for lunch.
The Hollywood Trolley stops in front of the beach resort so we hopped on that ($1 pp, one way) and took it to the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk. The beach was packed in that area but the farther we walked down the boardwalk, the less crowded it got. The boardwalk is 2 miles long, but most of the action (shops, restaurants, bars) is at the start. Farther down, it's just hotels and apartments. We spent a nice afternoon in the area and headed to bed early since we were flying home first thing Saturday morning.
We flew back to Detroit out of FLL on a 7:50 AM flight. Taxi ride back to FLL from the Westin was $36 + tip. Word of advice: if you are flying out of FLL on a weekend, give yourself lots of extra time. The line-ups get loooooong. I don't know if it's their scheduling (they had 4 flights all scheduled to depart within minutes of each other that morning) or what, but make sure you have lots of time to make your flight!
All in all, a great trip that we were sad to see end!