All restaurants onboard provide Freestyle Cruising dining with open seating and flexible, extended hours. Lobster is offered every night of the cruise in at least one restaurant.
The term "alternative dining" has become synonymous with "fork over anywhere from $14.95 to $99 per person to get a better meal." Still, the concept works on Norwegian's ships. Why? Well, first and foremost, the idea of eating what, when and where you want is really the cornerstone of the entire Freestyle Cruising experience that now defines the cruise line. The meals are served in a more intimate -- and usually much more elegant and attractive -- setting than what's found in the main dining facilities.
And, most importantly, you'll get your money's worth. At Italian outpost Il Adagio, for example, an entire team works each table, and the food and service matched what we'd expect in a high-end Italian eatery with a celebrity chef, direct from Italy. Wine and water glasses are filled regularly, and individual French-press coffee is brought to each table. Wine lists are comprehensive and include several favorites, one of which we had sent from one dining venue to another.
There are three for-fee restaurants on Norwegian Sky. The aforementioned Il Adagio, Deck 11 aft, specializes in Italian cuisine. Menu items include a varied and high-quality antipasti (mushrooms, salami, prosciutto, eggplant, olives), marvelous chicken parmigiana, lobster ravioli and tiramisu, among the best we've had anywhere. The fee for Il Adagio is $15 per person.
Cagney's, on Deck 12, is Norwegian's signature steakhouse, proffering a variety of steaks, chops, sea bass and seafood, including Alaskan king crab legs; expect to pay $29.95 per person for dinner.
The most impressive for us was Le Bistro, Deck 5, midship. Within the hibiscus prints and gaudy colors so prevalent onboard, this charming little bistro feels a world away. The Mediterranean and classic-meets-nouvelle French food is done beautifully. The escargot appetizer and a steak with bleu cheese scalloped potatoes were particularly lovely. The room, done in regal purple and gold, is beautiful. All seats overlook the water, the chocolate-colored booths face the two-person tables along the windows, and French music plays softly in the background. Mini-statues decorate each booth, and lights on the wall model nature items like leaves. A $19.95 per-person charge applies there.
Reservations are required at all specialty restaurants. Suite and penthouse cruisers can enjoy breakfast and lunch in Cagney's at no extra charge, and all passengers can dine on pizza and pasta free for lunch in Il Adagio.
Norwegian Sky also offers two main dining rooms for those seeking more traditional dining experiences: Palace and Crossings. They are very flexible. You can make reservations each night for the same time or different times, based on your schedule, or simply show up when you feel hungry. Both are open nightly for dinner, and each day, one of the two offers open-seating breakfast and lunch. (Check your newsletter for details and times.)
Compared to the service and cuisine in the specialty restaurants, the dining room experience does not lag. Service in Palace and Crossings is better than that of larger cruise ships. Waiters are attentive and remember your name days after.
Both menus offer similar items, but if you fancy rib eye or pork medallions, part of the everyday selection menu, seek out Palace. Crossings instead offers a lamb shank (full of flavor) and a New York strip steak.
Quality was consistent throughout each meal. Feel free to ask for a second entree or appetizer; often times, the kitchen will have made an extra dish, which you can request from your waiter if you're still hungry. You can't really go wrong with a simple grilled salmon or steak, but also try the special nightly regional item, which includes a superb fish and coconut rice selection. Menu highlights include the surf and turf and chicken Marsala.
Norwegian Sky's buffet venue, the Garden Cafe on Deck 11, offers an array of seating options, including an outdoor patio offering extra alfresco seating. The greens on the salad bar are fresh and crisp with a variety of dressing choices and accompaniments. Among ordinary buffet choices are pastas and sandwiches, and authentic piping-hot Far Eastern cuisine (Asian, Indian) is offered regularly. The French fries are notably good -- hot and crispy -- and the carving station features pork loin and roast beef or turkey breast daily. Ice cream (vanilla, chocolate and swirl) is always available, and two dessert stations feature a selection of cakes, both sugar-free and regular, as well as a chocolate fountain with fruit and marshmallows as dipping options.
The highlight of the Garden Cafe is the late-night buffet, which runs into the early morning hours. Selections include Buffalo wings, empanadas, spring rolls, tacos and chimichangas.
Food is never in short supply, and lines are slim to none with two food stations and an identical outdoor selection in the Great Outdoors Cafe toward the back of the ship.
The Coffee Bar, next to the Internet Cafe on Deck 7, offers a wide array of gratis pastries. Coffee is reasonably priced and ranges from $2.50 for an expresso to $3.50 for an iced latte.
Room service is available 24 hours a day, featuring soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, in addition to specialty items and even chicken fingers with BBQ sauce for the kids. With the exception of morning coffee and Continental breakfast fare, all room service orders carry a $7.95 convenience fee.
A no-cost barbecue at Jumbey Beach Grill on the beach at Great Stirrup Cay is a highlight enjoyed by passengers who clamor aboard tenders as much for the food as the sun and fun. However, the food is often room temperature at best, as the Norwegian staff lug the food and heating equipment aboard the tenders and set up hours before the designated eating time (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.).