B A C K G R O U N D
I am a relatively experienced cruiser which has sailed everything from Seabourn to Transocean Tours, booked suites to inside cabins, and cruised to 6 continents. It is important to note that I shall rate the Norwegian Sky not against, say, the Seabourn Odyssey, but rather as opposed to what the cruise line claims the ship is- NCL markets a mass market, fun for all, 'freestyle' experience that is very reasonably priced, and so the rating this ship achieves will take into account weather the prior promises were fulfilled. This way, the review can be fair- you get what you pay for, and in this case NCL provided a wonderful experience. This was my second time sailing with NCL, the first being a 12 night July 2008 voyage in the Baltic aboard the Norwegian Jewel.
I never planned on being on this cruise- our 2011 annual family holiday was due to be a weeks cruise on Holland America Line's MS Veendam, followed by a two week tour of the United States. Somehow though, on the last day of the Veendam cruise, I decided that instead of exploring Florida, as a cruise addict what I'd rather be doing is be on another cruise, and so, I checked NCL's website, getting a good deal of $320 per person for a 3 night Bahama cruise. I snapped it up, and a week after disembarking in New York, we were in the Port of Miami.
P R E- C R U I S E
I looked for cheap accommodation near the Port of Miami for a nights lodging after the arrival of our midnight flight, as we were to be boarding the Sky the next day. I finally settled on the Courtyard by Marriott Miami Downtown, which was a fine hotel for a sole nights stay. It's location is not stellar if you want to stay in Miami, but for a cruise, its less than 5 minutes drive from the port and operates a shuttle to/from all the cruise terminals. As a Marriott Elite member, I got upgraded to a suite which was a nice touch, the stay wasn't anything to write home about but adequate, all for a very reasonable price.
E M B A R K A T I O N
What can I say? The smoothest of any large ship cruise I have ever been through. We arrived at the Port of Miami around noon, and I anticipated a huge queue similar to the one I experienced in Port Everglades a few years prior. Surprisingly, none was there, and we entered NCL's terminal, we went through a very friendly, quick security check- (through habit, I immediately removed my shoes, belt, etc. only to be told ''were notan airport, this is a cruise, your supposed to have fun ! '' by a smiling security guard). We checked in after signing the medical form, and were on board in about 20 minutes. Once on the ship we were greeted by dancing Entertainment department members, desks to sign up for drinking packages, etc.
T H E S H I P
The Norwegian Sky is a beautiful resort ship. She wasn't originally built as a ''freestyle'' vessel, but her conversion to one seemed to have worked just fine. The three story aft foyer prior to entering the dining room is sublime, and overall the ship didn't feel crowded, had everything you'd need and more for such a short cruise. It really felt homely, and quickly shot up my list as one of the nicest cruise ships I have sailed on. She is a large, huge ship, but doesn't make you feel it. The lounges, although numerous are still few enough for you to spend good time in all, and finding out which one is your favorite. Some spaces, like The Outrigger lounge, were nearly empty throughout yet had a regal feel to them that you'd struggle to find on newer ships, that of an old ocean liner, with the ceiling considerably higher than is the norm on cruise ships, giving a feeling of great expanse. The Plantation Club was another bar/lounge that was rarely used, up on Deck 12. Some decoration from her days as the Pride of Aloha remains, but much of it has been removed, meaning that the Hawaiian themed areas of the ship are no longer that obtrusive or out-of-place, they just add to the overall ambiance found on board. The theater, unlike the bulk of modern cruise ship, is located aft, and reminds me of a Las Vegas show lounge without the glitz, just more elegant. Again, more than enough for the ship, and finding a seat in a show was never that much of a struggle. The swimming pools were more than adequate, large enough, and the adult pool insures you can swim in peace should the filled-to-the-brim main pool seem to noisy. The atrium was a lovely place to congregate in, again, not the largest by any means, but all the same, it worked well within the Sky. I really just found the Norwegian Sky to be a great balance, and one of the few cruise ships I have sailed with real ''character''- something you can't put your finger on, but nonetheless, you can feel it there. The Norwegian Jewel for example, to me, was the exact opposite of this. Even the children play area forward of the ship had some nice views of the bow. The staff aboard the ship were wonderful, all willing to help and doing so professionally. When I had a dispute with the Shore Excursions team, they assisted me very well.
My only quibble with the staff is that some of them, namely Guest Services would just do their jobs, even if helping a passenger was something as easy as turning around and opening a drawer. I know that this is not their job, but on the vast majority of other cruises I have been on, it didn't seem to be a problem- when I went up to the front desk and asked for a NCL brochure, she told me it wasn't her job. I could see the brochure on her desk, asked her if she could give it to me or find me a copy, again she said- ''the future cruise desk is closed''. To me it seemed very simple for her to go a bit further and hand it over to me, for I wasn't asking any big favor, simply something which would help me choose my next NCL cruise. However, this is a small quibble, an exception from a largely wonderful crew.
E N T E R T A I N T M E N T
The entertainment on the Norwegian Sky was really good. The shows were enjoyable, if not a tad to loud (again that is something subjective)- you need to note that these are loud, Broadway-style rock shows, not sublime classical music or top notch jazz- these can be found on other ships, but the NCL Sky does not advertise such an atmosphere, nor does it provide it. The Calypso band were always a delight to listen to, as was the violinist in Captain Cook's Bar. Other happenings on board, such as the newly wed show, who wants to be a millionaire, etc. were abundant, and fun to watch. Nothing very special, but all you'd expect from such a cruise and more- the most important thing was that they were, indeed, very funny as well as entertaining. The Cruise Director, a South African lady, was very welcoming, approachable, and did her job very well. She would always greet all the passengers entering the show lounge, usually accompanied by the Hotel Manager. A very nice touch seldom found on large ships. The Whit Hot Part was had to be moved downstairs due to whether, but the fantastic crew did a wonderful job of sorting the place out for NCL's signature party.
P O R T S O F C A L L
GREAT STIRRUP CAY, The Bahamas-
My God, what an eventful day this was ! We headed to the Cay quite early in the morning, sitting on the top deck during light rain for the hell of it, on the SS Norway tender boat. I loved the fact that a little bit of the great SS Norway remained, as this was the famous ''ship'' she carried on her bow. Upon arrival to Great Stirrup Cay the construction work they were doing was very evident around the island, but not obtrusive within the designated beech areas. A quick exploration of the construction sight makes me think that upon completion, the island would definitely be one of the best private islands of any cruise line.
While my family rested on the beech, and the rain starting to come down harder, I rented some snorkeling gear. Snorkeled from one beach to the other, but it was nothing to write home about, although still, very enjoyable. Beware of man-made huge boulders around the sea area there though. As I snorkeled, I noticed the Majesty of the Seas was all but gone from view, and the Sky was begging to disappear in fog. The rain then came down really hard. Deciding it would be best to come back on the beech, I swam to a somewhat empty beech. Suddenly, I heard whistles and red flags being waved. It was time to evacuate. Running across, from one side of the island to another, I managed to locate my family, who were obviously very worried about me, before returning the snorkeling gear and running back to the tender station, were a huge crowd had congregated. It was about here that the heavens truly opened up, for what was one of the heaviest rainfalls I have ever seen in my lifetime began. Eventually we learned on board it was the remnants of a tropical storm. The grey sky, rain and palm trees blowing in the wind made this a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, not a three day cruise. We were then told that the harbor has been closed, as ships could not navigate the narrow exit. We waited for 30 minutes, prior to finally being let on the SS Norway I tender boat again. After 20 minutes waiting, the tender moved. After getting to the Sky, the weather was such that it was truly nerve racking as our tender slammed into the ship numerous times. Of course, never were we in real danger, but with people stumbling all over the place, it did get your heart rate going. Once back on the Sky, the upper decks had been closed and I rushed to our cabin for a shower.
NASSAU, The Bahamas-
Many people usually complain about Nassau, yet on this, my first visit, I could not see why. For sure, it isn't the most exciting of cities, but still has plenty of opportunities to spend a relaxing day. The activity I had planned however, was anything but relaxing. I was due to dive with sharks in the open, and I had been quite nervous since the night before. Assured it was safe, come the morning I got my dive log, changed into suitable clothes and off I went. Upon arriving at the pier, I was told I needed an Advanced Open Water license as well as 25 dives, not the 12 that I had. I understood this, but previously, had inquired about the dive with the Shore Ex team, which assured me that it was doable from age 12, so I need not worry. The NCL website said the same thing- so when it was evident that the information was mistaken, it came as a shock. I spoke to the Shore Ex team, who all admitted to the mistake and highlighted the error in the NCL literature. It wasn't their fault, but I nonetheless asked for the Shore Ex manager, who apologized for the mess and said they would follow up with the tour provider, for it is quite embarrassing to have wrong information on both the brochures as well as NCL's website. He offered my entire family 25% off any other shore excursions I might want to take, as well as a full refund. He stated that any greater compensation would have to be approved by the NCL head office. Deciding not to cry over spilled milk, we chose a segway tour of Nassau, which to this day is the most enjoyable shore excursion I have taken together as a family. We really did have a wonderful time. After completing the tour we went jewelry shopping, and to anyone who wants to buy diamonds, etc. please note that in times such as these, the prices are very much negotiable, which could save you thousands of dollars.
Overall, had a great time in both ports, and the happenings just added to the eventfulness.
F O O D-
Food on the ship was satisfactory. Lines would usually form for lunch and breakfast on the Lido, but nothing too bad. The food was more than edible, and enjoyable, though gourmet it was not (neither was it expected to be). In the dining rooms, food was again, tasty and enjoyable, but nothing to blow your mind away. Expect the quality you'd expect from very good land based restruants. You get what you pay for, and with the prices NCL charges, it was good value for money through and through. The food was plentiful, the midnight buffet at The Great Outdoors one of the best I have experienced.
C A B I N-
For this cruise I decided to book the cheapest cabin available, as it was a three night voyage and the cabin was going to be a place to do one thing- sleep. NCl allocated me an IB class cabin on Deck 6A (in between Deck 6/7 in the bow). The deck does not have elevator access- to some that may be a problem, but it wasn't an issue for us. The cabin was adequate, although with a third bed extended it did mean jumping over the bed to get to the other two beds. Quite cramped for three passengers, would not reccomend for any cruise over a week in length, but for three nights, it wasn't an issue. The toilet was quite large for a cabin of this size, and the shower, though tiny, was not minuscule. My father, who isn't the smallest of people, managed to shower there comfortably. Our room stewardess was a delight, always willing to help.
S P A-
This is probably where I was surprised the most on the entire trip, for the spa was not only quite low priced, but offered a very good product. Far superior to the experience I had on a two week cruise on the Legend of the Seas or Caribbean Princess in years prior. The massage experience was professional and revitalizing, the spa space large, the changing rooms comfortable. The spa attendant I had assigned to me was also a delight to chat to, and I overall had a great experience. Even if you're not spa-goers, it is a great experience that ensures you do not need a holiday-from-the-holiday if you have a massage on the last night.
C O N C L U S I O N
The cruise on the Norwegian Sky was outright one of my favorites. For the price paid I could have not expected any better, with a wonderful ship, enjoyable ports of call, good food and an even greater crew. I do find the policy NCL has to charge everything extra, now even fresh juice (for $2.50) to be quite annoying, but one must realize that they do give you alternatives (non-fresh juice, for example). As long as NCL keeps their prices where they currently are, with some of the lowest in the industry, then I cannot see if they are going wrong. If anything, it gives you more budget control- if you don't need fresh juice, why pay for it in advance?
NCL continues to have some of the lowest prices in the cruise industry, and for that you cannot get a better product. The next time I plan on sailing on a mass market line, I'll be back with the Norwegian Cruise Line. Read Less