It's taken me this long to get home, settled in, and down off the clouds after my back to back cruises on the Norwegian Sky. What an incredible cruise, and what an even more incredible crew!!
My trip starts out with the usual arrival at the port of Miami. If you've not sailed out of Miami yet, have no fear, it's completely painless. You'll be dropped off right in front of where you need to be. If you were smart and put your luggage tags on back at the hotel, you'll simply drop them with the luggage handlers and go directly to the port house. At that point, you'll receive a little form to fill out to make sure you don't have the flu or other assorted bugs, and go thru an airport-security type screening checkpoint. As long as you don't have any opened bottles of anything, like at the airport, you will be fine. If you have an unfinished soda, you'll have to leave it behind. If you are staying in the suites or have a VIP designation, then head right over to the VIP Registration office and they will take great care of you while you snack on treats. If not, then proceed to the general registration counter with your flu form, your eRegistration docs (you did print them off, right?), and passport in hand. Hand the agent the paperwork, smile for the camera, present a credit card, and receive you stateroom key card. From there you will go to the waiting area (if you are early) to pause for full clearance of the ship, if it's after twelve, you will saunter right on board. I can tell you that it took longer to type this paragraph than it took me to board. It was smooth, seamless, painless and actually quite fun!
As I made the final zig-zag turns and arrived on board, I was met by Richard Matic and Gio, the Cruise Director and Assistant Cruise Director respectively. They were grinning from ear to ear, waving, and joyously welcoming the guests on board. Now when you consider that this crew does 3 and 4 day cruises back to back, it's no small feat to be so upbeat, charming and energized time after time. Not to mention they are adorable! I'm already excited and I'm not even inside yet! In all fairness, I had met Richard before on the Pearl for my Alaska cruise, but none the less it had been nearly three months and a few thousand passengers for him. Yet he recognized me right away, we shared a big hug and promises to catch up later. He kept that promise and made this cruise one of my favorites.
Upon entering Deck 6, you will marvel at the atrium lobby. Unlike the new ships with just 2 or 3 decks of atrium, the Sky's atrium ascends all the way to the top of the ship. The lobby is flanked by glass elevators that offer a fantastic view as you ascend! The lobby is bright and cheerful as are the assorted crew members all awaiting to take your wine order, sell you a soda package, hold your carryon's while you wander and wait for your stateroom, take your dinner reservations, and direct you to where you might find lunch or anything else your little heart desires.
As the days passed, I experienced nearly everything possible on the Sky. And I do mean everything! From food, to fitness, to entertainment, to relaxation, to exploration, to more fun that I though imaginable sailing alone. That's right, this was a solo cruise for me, and I must say that I was attended to with as much care and interest as the larger parties and full families staying in the Suites.
The cuisine was fantastic! I did eat in the Palace Main Dining room once and the food was delicious and the service perfect. I also ate in my favorite haunt, Le Bistro and the meal was nothing short of exquisite. Don't leave without trying the French Onion Soup and the Escargot. There is an up-charge for this restaurant but it will be the best $20 you spend on board. Another up-charge restaurant I sampled was La Cucina, and it didn't disappoint. Try your best to avoid the traditional pasta favorites and delight in some non-traditional but scrumptious Italian delights! Not because they aren't good, but because you shouldn't miss out eating something truly out of the ordinary. My breakfasts in Cagney's were way too yummy with my favorite being what I would call "pound cake turned into French toast"...need I say more? Then there is a buffet of fresh fruits and pastries that should be enough to fill you for the entire day. The Garden Cafe Buffet was adequate with plenty of selections that you would expect at a buffet, with some surprises such as some Indian and Asian food selections. I do miss the fresh chocolate chip cookies that are usually there, but can I really complain with a dozen other desserts to choose from?
I do enjoy comedy and magic, but typically these shows on a cruise ship are more of an option for your evening's entertainment, rather than a "must see". My mind was changed when I attended Rich Purpura's comedy and magic show. I was hooked, and attended each and every one of his shows and events. I laughed so hard, and I can't begin to tell you why. There isn't a joke I could retell, because it wasn't really so much an "act" as a conversation with a man musing about things on the ship and in life. It was total hilarity on a level I've not experienced in a long time. The Norwegian Sky Production company was yet again another surprise. I've sailed several NCL ships, and I'll be the first to say that I miss the Jean Ann Ryan Company (JAC) performances. Most ship's productions companies I've seen were good and entertaining, but not the caliber of the JAC's. This theory was dispelled on the Sky. The Sky Production Company not only met and matched but exceeded what I'd seen with JAC. The connection between the performers was authentic and electrifying. You could see the chemistry and feel the energy among them and it was contagious!
In addition to the regular stage entertainment, the Cruise Director Staff kept anyone and everyone that wanted to be involved very busy with an assortment of onboard activities that not only pleased but genuinely entertained. There was something for everyone among the assorted classes, tastings, clinics, game shows, bingo events, and exciting nightclub entertainment. Just to name a few of my favorites: Dancing with the Stars; The Fountains Show; Adult Quest (if you are over 18, you MUST do this); 70's and 80's Disco; White Hot Party; the Ship-N-Males Revue; and the assorted crazy pool deck antics such as the Mr. Sexy Legs Competition; Ice Sculpting demo; the Pub Hub crawl; and more. All that was just on the ship! They continued to carry on with more activities on the beach on NCL's private island "Great Stirrup Caye". Now admittedly, I spent my time holding a beach lounger down and not participating, but there were ongoing events on the beach such as a Hula Hoop Competition; a Limbo Contest; Parasailing; Snorkeling; Jet Ski use; and Kayaking, along with great live Caribbean music and a beach BBQ that left nothing behind.
I would like to pause here and take a moment to mention the Cruise Director by name, Richard Matic. He has to be one of the most dedicated and under-rated Cruise Directors in NCL's fleet. You will not only have the time of your life on a ship with him, but you will leave the cruise with a new friend and having a better experience for knowing him. Richard went out of his way to make his guests feel personally welcome. If you sail the Sky, and Richard is still the CD be sure to tell him that "Tonette says hello" and if you are so inclined give him a great big hug. Richard heads a fantastic Cruise Directors staff including Assistant Cruise Director Gio, who also is an amazing personality that will leave a great big smile on your face every time you chat with him. I'm sure we will see Gio on a ship of his own as CD very soon! Please tell him hello for me also, and don't forget the hug!
Another person that single handedly made my cruise everything it was, is Concierge Omar O'Besso. You simply cannot find a more dedicated concierge in all of NCL's fleet. Omar loves his job, but more than that he takes a very sincere interest in his guests in a way that I've not encountered before. By the time your cruise is over, you will want to take him home with you! Here is another chance for you to hug another NCL crew member for me! Give Omar two!!
The Hotel Director -â€" Steven Knot, F&B Director - Mike Van Bokhoven, and Beverage Director - Raj Rodrigues, were also outstanding examples of Officers who take great pleasure in what they do, and that being making sure you are having the best experience possible. I don't think these men ever slept, as I saw them first thing when I got up and they were still going late into the night. I just have to add a couple of points of interest, and insist that you verify these facts. The Hotel Director and the Guest Services Manager can dance a very steamy, albeit rough tango! The Beverage Director is from India and quite possibly a reincarnation of Michael Jackson. These details may seem silly (and they are), but they attest to what lengths the Officers of this crew go to in order to not only entertain guests, but have a good time with each other!
I've just been mentioning Officers, but let me assure you the remaining crew is equally as dedicated. I can attest that my room steward Gusti on the Norway deck, never sleeps and spent the entire cruise posted outside my stateroom door awaiting my every request. The charming young lady, Uneza Shaikin selling the "chain by the inch" in the gift shop never failed to stop me for a hug and a hello. The Cruise Consultant Martin took it upon himself to personally resolve an issue I was having with my Latitudes number without my even asking. Christian in the Crossings Dining Room met me on embarkation day, and she never failed to remember my first name. I could go on and on.
Even the photographer staff is friendly and fun. The photos are still FAR too expensive, but I have to admit their charm even seduced me into purchasing a couple of the prints. You just can't help yourself when the photo was so great (me in my Queen of Hearts Halloween costume on the grand staircase), and the gang is just so friendly.
Always a stop for me was the fitness center and the spa. The fitness center is more than adequate with state of the art equipment, and plenty of it. There is a free weight section as well as the rows of treadmills and ellipticals all facing the large picture windows with a great view. I have to wonder though, why do they attach televisions to the tops of those things when there is such an amazing view?? LOL I never had a problem finding a free machine. I did take a couple of classes but have to say I was a bit frustrated a couple of times, so didn't attend the usual amount that I normally would. Once the instructor decided to do "abs" instead of what was on the schedule which was "stretch and relax"; and once during a stretch class a cartoon was on the television at a pretty hefty volume. I was thinking more like Enya for a stretch class, and not Sponge Bob. I'm sure I could have said something, so the onus is on me for not doing so, but just some observations.
The spa was nice, crisp, refreshing, and rejuvenating looking with a full salon and barber services, along with assorted spa treatments. There is a small one-person hydro therapy tub but it's an extra charge unless you purchase a Poultice Massage. I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't able to use it for a bit before my Bamboo Massage, but those are the rules. There is also a steam room and sauna in the locker room, which you can use if you purchase a spa treatment. I took the spa tour on the first day, which is always fun, and you can sign up for the drawing which were several really great prizes. I signed up for a Bamboo Massage and a Therapie' Facial. Both were very enjoyable albeit it still pretty pricey. Make sure you take advantage of port day specials to make it affordable. I must say that I prefer the NCL Mandara Spa's with the Relaxation Spa section, but considering this is a small ship, they did quite well with their space. The spa staff is friendly and helpful and knowledgeable.
Since I was on a back-to-back, I'd like to share some about that experience. I was lucky and was assigned the same stateroom, so that meant that I didn't have to pack up at the end of my first leg. I was able to get up, go for my run, work out in the gym, shower and get dressed, have a lovely breakfast in Cagney's, and leisurely make my way to Captain Cook's Bar at 10am. I was met there by a crew member from Guest Services that walked me off the ship, and handed me to a Port Crew Member who literally walked me off the ship, and down to Immigration and Customs. This was a simple process of handing them my Customs Document, my passport, smiling and answering "yes" to the question of "So you had so much fun you are staying on board?" I was then again escorted to the waiting area, and in very short order, as soon as the ship cleared, I was the first to be escorted back on board. I slipped back up to my stateroom, grabbed my iPad, and found a spot in the sun on Deck 11 to relax and await the rest of the new batch of passengers. Then I had a bright idea and went up to the spa and took advantage of it being completely empty and got a massage and facial. Ahhhhhh! When I emerged from my bliss, the ship was full of new guests and my adventure continued!
The ports of call we visited were Freeport, Nassau and Great Stirrup Caye (GSC), all islands in the Bahamas. The four day portion of my cruise stopped at all three ports. The three day portion stopped at Nassau and GSC only. I must admit I didn't spend much time on shore in either Freeport or Nassau. My plan, to be honest, was to simply stay on board and exquisitely take part in every aspect of my floating 5 star resort at sea, but I did venture on land twice and want to share those highlights with you.
Freeport is your typical port pier shopping experience with the "straw market" hawkers and a live Caribbean band that breaks into action whenever a passenger appears on the gangway coming off the ship. I can't tell you anything about any of the ship's excursions or any excursions for that matter, nor the famous or infamous "Our Lucaya" as I didn't make it anywhere near it. I can share with you one of the highlights of my cruise, and that was a visit to the Perfume Factory in the old International Bazaar in Freeport. I had read about it online, and decided that was my one stop. I disembarked and tried to get a taxi. "How much to the International Bazaar?" I asked. "It's closed lady, go to Our Lucaya, its better!" Now I knew this was coming. From having read on CruiseCritic, the taxi drivers make $5 to take you to Our Lucaya and only $4 to the International Bazaar, so they tend to stretch the truth. It's true that about 50% of the shops in the International Bazaar are closed. Due to the hurricanes and the main hotel there closing, many shops just never reopened. There is endless gossip about how may be buying the hotel and resurrecting the area, but those rumors have been going on for a few years now. Who really knows? One historical icon that still stands at the International Bazaar is the Perfume Factory. Its history goes back being founding in 1969 by Albert Whisnant, later sold to Peter and Patricia Aston in 1976, and since Mr. Aston's death in 1993, is now ran by Mrs. Aston and daughter Chrisanne, but you can read all about that on their website. In brief, it's a free standing building that appears to be a replica of an old Bahamian Mansion. Inside, your nose will be delighted with an exotic dance of refreshing delightful fragrances coming from tropical perfumes, lotions, oils and soaps. The friendly staff will be grateful you came and more than happy to escort you throughout the premises for a tour. If you are so inclined, you can sit down before a myriad of essential oils and create your very own fragrance, which you will hand mix and create yourself. For a very reasonable fee, you will leave with 1.5oz of your signature scent and a certificate of registry for your formula. It may sound very kitschy, but I spent my afternoon taking the tour, creating my fragrance and speaking with Chrisanne (daughter of the Astons). No doubt this lovely woman has given this tour hundreds, no thousands of times, but by her demeanor with me, I would have sworn it was one of her first. Her excitement and joy in helping someone understand fragrances was contagious. So I simply had to create my own. Make the time to visit the Perfume Factory. If Chrisanne is there, please tell her that I said hello.
Great Stirrup Caye is NCL's private island that is still under construction. That said, there are many things ready and waiting for you. There is a functional dock now that the tenders use, and getting off and on the Caye is very easy. Unless of course there are high winds and rough seas. It is said that 2 out of 3 stops at GSC are cancelled due to this condition, so keep that in mind. My back-to-back had two stops planned at GSC, and one was cancelled. The day we made it to the Caye was lovely! There is a nice stretch of beach along a protected cove that makes for softly rolling waves onto a white sand beach. They still need to do some work grooming the beach regularly, as the coral embankment surrounding the cove is in an ever constant state of depositing broken pieces of coral and shells. This isn't a big deal, but be sure to bring aqua socks or beach shoes if you have tender tootsies. NCL's Cruise Director's Staff has a long long list of assorted beach activities going throughout the day, along with a variety of aquatic excursions. You won't be bored. There is live music, a simple straw market, three full bars, and a beach BBQ buffet that won't leave you wanting for anything. I chose to make it my mission to make sure that my beach lounger didn't try to escape and kept myself firmly planted on it most of the day. There are lots of beach loungers and beach chairs available at no charge, but I would still suggest you get off the boat early if you wish to make sure you have one closer to the water's edge. There are no beach umbrellas, but you can rent a clam shell style shelter. The cabanas are not yet completed, but there are a few assorted buildings that you can seek some refuge from the sun. There are also palm trees a plenty if you can score one early. Another blissful day on a white sand beach in a tropical island setting.
Here are some random assorted tips:
*Grab your breakfast and slip into the Long Boards Bar to eat it. It's quieter than in the buffet, and offers a unique venue for breakfast.
*There is a fantastic bar outside Cagney's called the Plantation. They rarely advertise on ship, but most nights from 6p-8p they offer two-for-one martinis! The best alcohol deal on the ship!
*There is a "quiet zone" just above the pool deck around the front of the ship; it has a nice quiet private hot tub and splash pool.
*Take in the Art Auction preview for the free champagne and you might learn something about art.
*Take in the Gift Shop Presentation for free liquor tastings.
*Take advantage of the laundry special half way thru the cruise. Get all those delicates done before you go home. It's a great deal AND they fold.
*At least ONCE, get up and go have coffee on the far aft of the ship on Deck 11 and watch the sun rise.
*Do NOT miss the Fountains Show or anything with Rich Purpura.
*Give Richard, Omar and Gio big hugs for me...did I say that already?