During a recent Preview Cruise for travel agents and press, I had the opportunity to cruise aboard the former Norwegian Sky (now re-born as the Pride of Aloha) for a 2 night cruise before beginning its revenue cruises to the public.
The Hawaiian transformation was done well...but in some places, it's as if they went overboard (pardon the punn) in some public areas. Perhaps being a preview cruise, the cruise line is still working out some of the kinks in the service. However, since this ship is a good four years old, it was hard to label my cruise experience as the typical "Shakedown" cruise.
Although the ship has 2 main dining rooms (The Palace Restaurant and Crossings Restaurant), and 3 alternative restaurants (Royal Palm Bistro, Pacific Heights, and Kahili Restaurant). Perhaps because on my shortened cruise, they were not accepting reserivations from passengers for any of the restaurants, but instead, implemented a "First-come, First-served" rule. Because it was obvious that the cruise line did NOT have a full compliment of wait staff in the restaurants during my voyage, this led to long wait times of anywhere from 20 minutes to over anhour on any given night.
I made two attempts (1 for each night of my cruise) to dine in the upscale Italian cuisine Kahili Restaurant. Unless you were one of the first people to arrive at the restaurant when it opened at 5:30pm, those coming around 6-6:30pm were told that the restaurant was full for the next hour. That's because the standard dining experience for dinner on my voyage (due to the slow or newly-trained wait staff) was a minimum of an hour and a half to two hours. And when I presented myself on the second night of the cruise to the Kahili restaurant at around 8:00pm (thinking that I would have better luck than the night previously), I was told that the wait was a minimum of an hour...but was also told by the Maitre 'd that the Kahili Restaurant would not seat any new diners after 9:00pm. Therefore, I ran the risk of waiting for an hour to possibly eat in the restaurant, otherwise at 9:00pm I would have to go find another restaurant to have my dinner in. I wound up the 2nd night having dinner at the Crossings Main dining room. I was seated at 9:20pm (a short 15-20 minute wait, and I did not emerge from the dining room until close to 11:00pm. The service just seemed very slow...considering that the two dining room were NOT full, and the Maitre 'd was not utilizing all the tables in the restaurant anyway.
Lastly, I have some concerns about the all-American crew aboard the ship. I had heard complaints from a fellow passenger that her cabin stewardess would bang on her cabin door at 7:30am to want toclean the cabin. My awakened fellow passenger then told the stewardness that they were sleeping, and the cabin stewardness replied "Fine, then I'll be back in 20 minutes!"
I noticed a number of the wait staff in the dining rooms rolling their eyes in disgust and frustration when dealing with elderly or difficult passengers. I don't know if these American crew members can make it for the 5-7 month long contracts that they have aboard this ship. They already looked very bothered by the passengers already...and it was about 2 weeks before the ship is repositioned to Hawaii to begin her inaugural cruise season. Let's hope that NCL America will continue to do more in-house training regarding customer satisfaction and attitude towards passengers. If not, I feel that these relatively new (with most NOT coming from any formal hospitality industry job or recognized hospitality-based training program) American crew members will not make it for long, and passenger satisfaction levels will be less than what is likely anticipated by the inaugural season passengers.
My family of four sailed on the Pride of Aloha's inaugural sailing from San Francisco to Los Angeles from June 7 through June 11. The ship stopped in Monterey, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.
My philosophy is that every cruise is a good cruise, but some are better than others. This was the worst cruise I have experienced, and I've cruised eight times on most of the major cruise lines. Still, it was better than being at work. The ship just came out of dry dock, where it was refurbished to give it a Hawaiian atmosphere; now it is a United States-flagged vessel.
Embarkation was terrible. The ship was supposed to begin boarding at 2:30 p.m., but didn't start boarding until after 3 p.m. We stood on the sidewalk in the sun and wind for almost three hours before we got inside the pier to register and board. No one at NCL seemed to know what was going on. Passengers were calling out groups so we would know it was our time to register.
The only bright spot was that the inside cabin we had booked was not finished, so wegot upgraded to a balcony cabin. Carpet was still being laid in many cabins throughout the cruise.
Once we got on the ship, we headed for the Hukelau Café since we were starving. While we were eating, the muster drill went off, even though hundreds of passengers were still on the dock registering. The ship sailed about three hours late.
The excuse we kept hearing for the entire cruise was that the ship had come out of dry dock and things were being worked out.
The main problem with the Pride of Aloha is the service. All employees are U.S. citizens who do not give the excellent service I have experienced on all my other cruises. They have no incentive to provide excellent service, because you do not tip them personally.
There is, however, a $10 per person "resort charge" per day. I tried to lower my bill, but was told I could not do this because it is a resort charge, not a service charge or a gratuity. The employees will receive the same tip no matter how well they serve the passengers.
Dinner took at least two hours each night. The only area that I was satisfied with was the cabin attendant. She kept the small cabin clean and tidy like I've experienced on other cruises.
Food was average. Entertainment was good. Tenders were unsafe. The first day in Monterey the employees on the tenders looked like pirates. In Santa Barbara, NCL had them wear uniforms, but the results were the same. One inexperienced tender crew rammed their vessel into a parked boat in the harbor of Santa Barbara. They apparently didn't know how to tie the tender up to the ship properly, so it was dangerous to get on and off the tender.
I hope NCL can get its act together and make this idea work. They have a marketing advantage with the Hawaiian cruise market and a U.S.-flagged vessel. I hate to say it, but the U.S. employees are not hard workers and do not give the service that one would expect on a cruise. There was a lot of goofing around and talking that I've not seen before.
I would not cruise again on the Pride of Aloha unless I see that the service has improved.
Overall, our vacation was great. We really enjoyed ourselves. The weather for the most part was beautiful. And since we were there with 4 other couples, it was a great time.
However, we were very dissapointed with the Norwegian Sky. Although the main areas of the ship were very nice, the service was terrible.
Our cabin was tiny (in comparison to my inside cabin on Celebrity), lacked storage space and the bedspread was dingy. They were not good about cleaning the cabin, turning down the bed, changing towels. They left a bucket of ice in the room every day, but no water pitcher. We didn't get towel animals until Tim finally spoke to the room steward on our last day.
We also had problems with the food service.
Breakfast was a disaster almost every morning -- long lines, not enough food, runny eggs, no omlete or waffle stations until someone complained, and then when they were out, the closed earlier than listed in the daily newsletter.
The 24 hour pizza service was also horrible, burnt pizza, not enough to serve so you were always waiting and when you finally got to the counter, they'donly give you half a slice in order to try and accomodate the crowd.
The ice cream service was also horrible -- again, long lines, the soft serve machines rarely worked, it was only open for a short period of time each day, the ice cream was melty, and when Tim tried to get ice cream for the both of us, he had to argue with them about getting 2 cups.
The outside BBQ every day was also pretty bad -- overcooked burgers and ribs, they would run out of buns, cookies, etc.
The dining room experience over all was good, once we found a good waiter. The first night our friends ate at one of the dining rooms and had a great experience (we didn't board until late, so we were not there).
Our second night, we chose a different dining room to discover that it had the same exact menu. We though with the free style cruising that the menus would be different. We soon discovered that the menu was only different at the three other restaurants that require additional cover charge. The two free dining rooms (those included in the price of the cruise) were identical. Anyway, the second night experience was horrible. We were there for over 3 hours and ended up missing the show that night.
So the third night we decided to go back to the original dining room and try and get the same waiter as the first night. However, we were informed by the maitre'd that our waiter had been reassigned to an area where there were no large tables (we were a party of 10). So we ended up with a different waiter who was not very friendly, very slow, and once again, we were there for over 3 hours.
We spoke with the maitre'd and we were promised that the next night we could have the waiter we wanted at the time we wanted. However, the next day when we called to confirm the time, no arrangements had been made, and we had to put up quite a stink to have it arranged. They did however change the arrangements to please us.
So finally by the fourth night we had a pretty good experience. Dinner was still taking a bit of time, however, we started attending the earlier show performances to avoid missing them.
Some good things -- - we had a great time at the casino every night, the casino staff was very friendly - bar service for the most part was also very good, although we found pricing a bit inconsistent - the shows were pretty good (although I felt that my Celebrity experience was better) - the art auction experience was fun -- Tim and I actually won a piece of art - disembarking/re-embarking at ports was seamless -- no long lines
Anyway, I know this is probably more information that what you were looking for, but I hope this helps others sailing on the Sky so that they have a better experience that we did.
The sad part of this whole story is that my fiance and I were planning to take the Norwegian Dawn out of New York for our honeymoon (departing November 7th) and now we have many reservations and concerns. So we are now looking at altnerative options. Norwegian would have to promise us the world at a ridiculously inexpensive price to get our business right now.
NOTE: I am sending the basics of this post to Norwegian directly also.
by Ann - April 4, 2004
We recently returned from a cruise on the Norwegian Sky - Southern Caribbean on Easter week. This was a our second cruise, the first being Celebrity to Alaska on the Mercury. My husband and I were traveling with our two ten year old children.
Before taking the cruise, we did a good bit of research on review of the Sky and NCL. Going into the cruise we expected: small cabin, fair cuisine, freestyle freedom, acceptable (but not stupendous service), good entertainment, good childrens programs and nice ports. We were able to get a very good price for the four of us, much less than Celebrity would have cost.
Here is a summary: Embarkation/Disembarkation - Embarkation went smoothly. The lines were long but the total embarkation process took under an hour from when we left the cab to being on the ship. The process was to start at 1:00 but, we arrived early and were on board the ship prior to one. Disembarkation - LOVED FREESTYLE! No negotiation for when you leave the ship for herding into a common rooms to wait for you call. You decidewhen you will simply by what color tags you pick.
Kids Crew- Our children were quite reluncant to go to the kids program, and stated "we were not going to dump them there!" Well, after the first day they could not wait for the program to start each evening and enjoyed their time there. Our cruise has 500 children (spring break week) and the program still seemed effective with the increased volume - they seemed prepared.
Dining - The Sky cuisine lacked greatly from what we experienced on Celebrity. At times the buffet lines (for lunch) were long, the food of questionable quality, and selection unappealing. The main dining room had a couple special nights that were very good (Presidents Dinner expecially).
Service - In general, the staff of the NCL was basically pleasant but not overly accomodating. They did not seem completely concerned with the guest experience. We found the reception desk to be arrogant and not terribly polite. When presented with a problem, you had to push to get a resution rather than having one freely offered.
Excursions - The excursions themselves were fun. We prebooked our excursions prior to departing and had to hunt down our tickets. They were to have been delivered to our stateroom but never appeared. The prebooking process was difficult. We submitted our requests on-line and waited several weeks to hear a response. I had to call to check on the status and was told "Oh yeah, sometimes the on-line doesn't work." Not good.
Cabin - Our cabin was small as expected. We packed knowing it would be tight, but it worked. The ship is about to be refurbished - our cabin was definately in need of a overhaul.
The cruise was as expected, and we would definately consider NCL again if the same value were offered. We found the Sky ship very comfortable and well designed, filled with many ship activity.
Overall, I would give the cruise a 7 our of 10 and a 9 for value.
What can I say about this cruise, it was the worst I had ever taken. My husband and I booked this cruise for our 5th anniversary. It was planed from the time we took our honeymoon basically. Let me start by saying that I am travel agent but we paid full price for this cruise, as we wanted to travel at this specific time.
We booked our own tickets into San Juan and hailed a cab from the airport. No problems here. Our documents were to be a pier pick-up so I did not have NCL baggage tags for our luggage. When I entered the cruise terminal and got to the desk, the staff had no idea what I was talking about and said that the ship was sold out. After 10 minutes I finally got a supervisor to understand that we were booked on the cruise. I then received my boarding pass, cabin keys, etc.
The boarding process was very easy; just walked right onto the ship. There we were greeted by the staff and asked what our cabin assignment was so they could escort us. I'm feeling betternow and am looking forward to the week. My joy was short lived as the gentleman took us to the opposite side of the ship than we were on. (Not port versus starboard but aft versus bow) When we got to our cabin #5201, we were pleased with the cabin itself. Its location is at the very front of the ship down a private hallway. We originally thought it would be nice and quiet. What is also down this hallway and not reflected in any deck plan are the crew cabins. Every night I had to open the door anywhere from 1-4AM to advise the crew to be quiet. Directly above our cabin was the jogging trail on the Promenade Deck. Although there are signs prohibiting jogging from 9PM - 8AM, the notices were ignored and continuous complaints were not answered. Needless to say we had to come home to get a full night sleep. Went to dinner in the Four Seasons Dining Room. Food was OK; service was slow although it was very early in the evening. Took 1 ½ hours for dinner. When we arrived back at the cabin our bags were there and 1 was damaged. I brought the bag to the reception desk and they advised that the carpenter would repair it.
Monday - St. Thomas Scheduled to be in port from 8AM - 5PM and had pre-arranged a tee time at Mahogany Run Golf Course. I am not a golfer myself but I enjoy the ride and this was one spectacular course. For those of you who are golfers, you are basically hitting blind, the whole course is quite challenging, especially Devil's Triangle. The beverage cart is constantly coming around and you can pre-order lunch at hole #7 to pick up after hole #9. The food was good and reasonably priced for a golf course. Full pro-shop with a good selection of items. Price per golfer through the cruise line is $180.00. We paid $130.00 and $20.00 for me to ride. Cab from the pier is $9.00 each way.
Tuesday - Dominica My husband specifically chose this port so he could go to some cigar factories. There were none to be had. Where we did find cigars, not only were they overpriced but not stored in humidors. Originally scheduled to be docked in town but we arrived late and were docked at another pier. Cab into town was reasonable $1-2 per person each way. Let me say that arriving later than the other ships was a common occurrence on this sailing. Since I was up during the middle of the night, I noticed that we would not be moving. All I can figure is the captain took a siesta in the middle of the night instead of sailing to our respective port.
This night was also formal night. Since NCL offers Freestyle Dining, the choice to dress up is optional. I have always enjoyed formal night and look forward to having our pictures taken. This too would not happen as the cabin steward ruined the dress. I had the dress hanging on the inside of the bathroom door to steam the wrinkles out. That day while we were in town, the cabin steward cleaned the room. No problem except for the fact that he sprayed cleaning solution across the dress. So obviously I am mad at the fact that my new dress is ruined. When I take it to the reception desk they advise that they will fix it and have it delivered to my cabin by 600PM. At 630PM, my husband goes back to reception to see where the dress is while I finish getting ready. At this point we are advised that they will clean the dress but only if we release them from liability. Obviously this was not acceptable. The next morning I am called back by reception and told to claim the dress on my homeowners insurance!!! What I realize later in the week that the person who advised me to do this was none other than the first officer.
Dinner that night again in Four Seasons Dining Room. Over 2 hours to be served dinner.
Wednesday - Barbados
Again, we arrive late and have to be shuttled to the main pier. It was raining that day so we decided just to shop. Shopping plentiful at the pier and we made a number of purchased, one of which was a print by a local artist. I'll bring this print up again later.
We had reservation this evening at Le Bistro. We had dined at Le Bistro on previous NCL cruises so we were looking forward to the experience again. This was also the evening of the Latitudes party. Now NCL is fully aware who on board is a Latitudes member, yet we had to go to another desk to receive our invitation. Basically they handwrote our name on a form letter and gave it to us. Doesn't give the "warm fuzzy" feeling. The party was lame and the captain gave wrong information regarding the deployment to Hawaii. Before dinner I decided I would play Bingo as we had time before our reservation. The staff was more interested in playing with each other than running the game. My husband had to go to Le Bistro without me as the game was running behind. I met up with him 20 minutes later. Service at Le Bistro was the worst I had ever experienced and the food was not as good. The only highlight was a little girl from Poland who was as friendly as can be.
Thursday - St. Lucia
Golf again. My husband went alone on this excursion, which again, was less expensive booking directly with the course. $95.00 for a golfer versus $109.00 through the cruise line. Since they were already picking golfers from the ship, they gave him a free ride. Another beautiful course and very challenging. He had a good time.
I was not feeling well and needed to see the ships doctor. $50.00 to just speak with someone. There are 2 doctors on board. After speaking with other passengers on the ship, I was treated by the good one, a female doctor from South Africa. Very nice. She gave me some antibiotics (enough to last 2 days) and some over the counter medication. Overall my 10-minute visit cost me $125.00.
I did get some shopping in right at the pier and found some lovely shops. The people were very friendly and helpful.
After my husband returned we went up to the pool area so he could smoke a cigar. We sat there for an hour before I finally grabbed a waiter and asked him how long we had to sit there before someone took our order. He said that we must have just sat down. When I advised him that he walked past me at least 10 times, he just walked away. This day I buy a cute souvenir cup, which is made out of a coconut in the shape of a monkey head. $9.95 for the cup and first drink and refills are $4.95 (normal price). Great little investment as the drink stayed cold much longer.
I chose to eat dinner in the cabin that evening, as I was still not feeling to well. Room service was very friendly and the food was better than what I had received in the dining room. Friendly staff as well. My husband went to the dining room and actually found an area where he could eat in less than 1 hour. We asked specifically for this area the next night.
Friday - St Kitts
Originally we were schedule to go on the Kayaking excursion through the cruise line but decided to cancel since I was still not up to par. From those we spoke with, the excursion was a hit. We went into town and did some shopping. For the best prices for Alcohol and cigars, St Kitts is the place to go. My husband had a field day in the walk in humidor. In the center of town there is a Piccadilly like in London with shops all around. We found Tommy Bahamas shirts for $59.50 (normally around $100) and ate at the Circus Restaurant for lunch, which overlooks the center of town. I highly recommend the Seafood Kabobs. Service was good, food was excellent. My best meal on the trip.
When we get back to the cabin I become enraged. My print from Barbados, which was rolled up and lying on the couch, had been knocked to the floor and stepped on by the cabin steward, thereby creating a huge crease through it. Our "monkey cup" which had a "hinged" top was obviously picked up by the top and broken. Now in 5 days my luggage has been broken, my formal dress ruined, my print crushed and a cup broken. What is so hard about cleaning a room without wrecking the contents?
I immediately make a beeline to the reception desk and demand to speak to whoever is in charge. My husband and I are led back to the First Officer's cabin where lo and behold, there is my suitcase, which was supposed to be with the carpenter. So I proceed to tell this woman al that has happened to my belongings on this ship and my demand that it be replaced. What I am told is that she will see what she can do. Now, after all that has happened I want some sort of guarantee; at a minimum I was a guaranteed time that I will be gotten back with. She refuses and tells me to go back to my cabin. I tell her I'm not leaving until I get some sort of guarantee. At this point she looks at my husband and tells him to escort me out of her office. Basically he laughs and advises her that she better start producing some answers. Finally she relents and tells me she will get to me by 6PM. Now I have a guarantee and I leave the office.
At 6PM she arrives at the cabin as promised (progress). The cup is replaced (easy to do). I am advised that when the ship returns to Barbados that my print will be repurchased and sent to my home address. The dress will have to be handled by the home office. The suitcase damage is now being blamed on the Port Authority in San Juan and there is nothing they will do. I tell her that I want some written guarantee for all of this, which she states she will get me. While thinking more about the suitcase issue, I grab my brochure and look at their Terms and Conditions. There is a reimbursement for damaged luggage. I go back to her office and show her the documentation, which is issued by NCL, not me, and demand a $100 shipboard credit. I go back to the cabin where I receive a call stating that the shipboard credit will be applied.
Saturday - At Sea We decide to try and sleep in, as we have received no real sleep on this cruise so far. Due to all the noise we realize that this is impossible and get ready to go to the buffet breakfast. It was pitiful. The eggs were water, the juice machine was broken (as it had been all week) and the breakfast meats were literally sitting in pools of grease. When we attempt to find a place to sit we see that there are no clean tables yet there are 3 busboys talking to each other. I take it upon myself to bus the table myself. At this point a busboy arrives and takes the linens off the table and leaves. And they expect to be tipped for this? I proceed to lead him back to the table and advise him that he may not know it but cleaning the tables is his job, not mine. I did have a massage appointment at the Spa but cancelled it the day before as I could only imagine what other bad experience I would pay for.
While in the cabin early that afternoon I am watching the TV about booking a future cruise. The one that catches my eye is the Norwegian Sea traveling out of Houston. Since I am from Dallas I sell a lot of this ship. The information about the sailing is wrong. It incorrectly lists the ports of call. Now this was not a recent change, it had been done months before. I go to the Cruise Desk and advise Duncan, the Port and Cruise Consultant that the information on the Sea is incorrect. He asked me what ship that is. So I tell him and he says, "Oh yeah its doing 3 and 4 day cruises". No Duncan, it's doing 7 nights out of Houston. "Yeah" he says, "What ports of call?" I asked him if he was joking with me. He said he was serious. Now I'm sorry, but here is a gentleman who is paid by NCL to be an expert on their product and I have to tell him? I just walked away disgusted. When I met my husband at the pool he just laughed and said it was typical.
We actually had an enjoyable afternoon in the casino. The blackjack tournament was holding its last round of qualifying sessions that afternoon with the finals at 430PM. $10.00 entry fee, free beer, glass of wine or soda and $2500 to play 7 hands. I never got into the finals but played 10 qualifying rounds anyway. $100 spent but I had 10 drinks. I did stay in the casino and won back the entry fees so I broke even for the day.
Sunday - Disembark No problems this morning as I still had not received my written guarantee from the first officer regarding my print. When I reach her by phone she tells me that the Hotel Director is taking care of it. Since I trust nothing she says at this point I advise her I will not leave the ship without something in writing. 20 minutes later I receive a beverage receipt with a 2-line guarantee and a stamp of the Hotel Director. Yes, it's in writing but not very professional.
What scares me most is that the Sky is being renamed the Pride of Aloha and will be deployed to Hawaii. Not only are these cruises expensive but also a very discerning traveler purchases them. I not only will not sell this ship but also have given serious concern to selling any NCL product in the future. When speaking with other passengers on the ship, my experience was not unique. I did not find one person happy with the cruise. One gentleman had booked back-to-back cruises and was considering leaving the ship and going home versus spending another week on board. One gentleman advised me that things should get better once the ship is in Hawaii with an all American crew. Really, I said. Do you feel that strongly about the work ethic of the American youth? I have 2 children age 15 and 21. Considering I can't get them to bring their dishes to the sink or their laundry to the washing machine I have a hard time believing that the service will be that much improved.
Even the sky, as in the heavens above, couldn't limit how much fun we had on the NCL Sky sailing March 7, 2004 out of San Juan through the Southern Caribbean. We met a fantastic group of people on the cruisecritic message board, picked up a few more friends in the San Juan airport & together had a blast.
The ship is lovely and well appointed in muted tones of blue and aqua, accented by deep, rich wood tones. It's very elegant. It was certainly not decorated by anyone who favors chrome, glass or glitz. We were thrilled to find prints of impressionist paintings, rather than modern art, on the walls in our cabin.
Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at the Pan American Pier around 1 p.m. We had taken a cab from the San Juan Airport. If you can, send one person to pick up the bags and another to stand in the taxi line. We waited about 35 minutes in line which isn't terrible considering 5 cruise ships full of people are trying to get a cab, but after being squished in a plane for hours, standing inthe hot sun was not fun. There were more stevedores than passengers outside the terminal. Inside there were about 8-10 open windows and maybe 4-6 other passengers. We walked right up to the counter, opened our sign and sail cards and were on our way in minutes. As you board there are two more x-ray machines. One is for customs, I think, and the second is for NCL. They did confiscate all alcohol.
It was comforting to see that they took safety seriously. There were antibacterial stations as you boarded with crewmembers explaining how they worked. They were available every time you went ashore & throughout the ship to help prevent the spread of germs. Health officials say frequent hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of the Norwalk virus.
There was a bit of a bottleneck as each passenger was digitally photographed for the ship's computer. It was never made clear to us why we were issued two cards: a sign & sale card that also functioned as the cabin key and a separate boarding pass. On RCI we got one card that served all those functions.
Once aboard, a very nice person escorted us to our cabin. This was a nice touch because we were tired and having her lead us freed us from having to think as we navigated an unfamiliar ship after traveling all day.
We booked an inside cabin for our last minute super saver - oh boy what a bargain - get out of the cold & it was fine. The room wasn't too small. It even had a love seat. The placement of the reading lamps by the bed was not well designed; it was hard to sit up without conking your head. The light switch on the headboard was ingenious because you did not have to move to turn the lights on & off. This is very important in unfamiliar surroundings. The cabin could have used more drawer space but the closet was ample and our suitcases fit under the bed. It was extremely dark in the cabin and hard to judge the time of day. We employed a tip we learned on the boards and tuned our TV to the bow cam channel, with the sound off. That enabled us to get some "natural" light in the room.
The staff was in transition on our voyage. They are becoming an All American crew as they move to Hawaii. What they lacked in knowledge (sometimes they couldn't find things and some were still getting used to serving on water) they made up for in enthusiasm. Almost everyone had a big smile, a funny story and a great attitude. Our favorite bartenders were Natalie, Paul and Benjamin. They worked at the Pool Bar, in the Observation Lounge and at Checkers.
Of course, if you look hard enough you can find some unhappy person in any large group of people, but they were in the minority. Are you thrilled every minute of every day you're at work?
People complain about NCL's customer service, but we were treated exceptionally well. When we had a minor problem with the toilet, we called maintenance once and the problem was fixed very quickly without recurrence. We had the unique opportunity to meet the new hotel director on board, James Deering. It was easy to see why the Travel Channel voted him one of the best hotel directors in the world. He gave even the smallest detail his attention. When he asked us how everything was on our trip we gave him the usual banal "fine" answers, but he kept asking. He genuinely cared. Finally, we said we were disappointed that we could not get a mojito (a rum drink) because there was no fresh mint aboard. The next day we got a message to go to the Observation Lounge because the ship had obtained fresh mint and would be able to make the drink in that bar. Wow! We were flabbergasted that with everything else to do aboard a floating hotel, especially during his first week of work on that ship, he cared about such a little thing. The mojito's were delicious!
If you get a chance, attend Mr. Deering's Wine Tasting class on board. There is something in it for the novice & the connoisseur. He's entertaining & informative. The class was fun, you will learn something & you get a discount if you purchase a bottle of wine. It was amazing to watch him take a complex subject usually shrouded in snobbery, and make it accessible to anyone. If you just want to listen, you can sneak in for free & sit in the back; if you actually want to taste the wines along with him, there is a small fee. It was about $10 pp. For five glasses of wine & some cheese, that's not bad.
Freestyle dining was more akin to eating on land. You ate when you wanted to. There were plenty of tables for two and four. Bigger tables of about 6-8 were available for sharing. It was nice to get to know new people. However, when our cc group wanted to eat together in varying sizes from 8-12, we seemed to stretch the dining room's capacity. For some odd reason, they grouped all the big parties together in one section and overburdened one waiter with multiple big groups instead of spreading them throughout the dining room. This was not the waiter's fault but indicated poor dining room management. We mentioned the problem to various maitre d's and hotel senior staff who assured us that the layout was being revised. The food was good but could have been brought to the tables faster; many nights it seemed as though it had been sitting under the warming lamps for too long. We expect this will improve as the staff gets used to working as a team. If you are eating in the Four Seasons dining room, mid-ship, Todd is a great maitre' d. He tried to seat everyone as efficiently as possible, which isn't always easy at peak dining times. We liked the Four Seasons better because the colors were cooler and more understated, plus it was located mid-ship so there was not a lot of ship movement. While the Seven Seas dining room has rich blues, it is aft. If you eat while it is still light outside, there are great windows to look out the back. We had some rough seas, 8 - 15 foot waves, and could feel the ship moving. That was more than we could handle for dinner. Also, from this dining room we could hear the engines, which made it difficult to have a conversation. We could also feel the vibrations of the ship; those were minor compared to the movement on the ocean. We were told that a few weeks earlier it had been really bad and there was one day when the passengers were confined to below decks for their own safety. Let's just say we were very happy that we brought extra Dramamine and we do not recommend trying to walk far on board with a full beverage.
Breakfast and lunch at the buffets were typical buffet fare. The food was good and hearty. Personally, I think they could have cooked the hash browns more thoroughly, but that's me. There was plenty of variety with some staples - fresh fruit, yogurt, cheese and salad - served every day. On our trip the juice machines on one side of the buffet restaurant seemed to be broken for most of the voyage. That tended to cause a bottleneck on the other side.
We ate one breakfast in the formal dining room but never made it there for lunch; we never ate in the buffets for dinner. We also did not try the specialty restaurants; friends who did were pleased with their choices. For all the people who raved about the pizza, let's just say they definitely don't live in the NY Metro area. The pizzas were OK; we had some slices as a snack. While it was better than frozen, it wasn't even on par with the big chains. They do serve salty snacks at all the bars. You can get a plastic cup of a spicy mix or peanuts to take over to your sitting area if you ask.
Sail away was fun. We met our on-line friends on the aft deck for cocktails. Watching the procession of ships out of the harbor was fun. It must be an impressive sight from land. It became a joke that every day in every port we saw the Dawn Princess and the Carnival Destiny. We "lost" them on the last day; they did not go to St. Kitts. There we were docked next to an older Italian ship; it looked so small next to the Sky. Then again, the Sky was smaller than the Adventurer of the Seas; that thing is gigantic.
The itinerary & the excursions were wonderful. Each port of call had its own unique qualities and all were picturesque.
St. Thomas. The shopping was phenomenal! Ya gotta love shiny rocks at great prices! The open air taxis are fun, but hang on as those drivers take sharp corners. We got some fabulous panoramic photographs from the cable car "ride" but you can walk up the hill if you are adventurous & athletic. I would have loved to have had my picture taken with the parrots but to even take a picture of the beautiful birds, the proprietor wanted $10. If you need staples, there is a K-Mart & a grocery store within walking distance of the pier. We bought some soda to take on board and had no problems.
Dominica. Pronounced Dom-in -eek -ca. Who knew? I am decidedly NOT a morning person: nevertheless I highly recommend waking up early (or staying up really late) so that you have a personal view of the area as the ship pulls into the port. The dolphins love to play in the ship's wake. The island is among the poorest in the Caribbean. Apparently the new government is working to encourage foreign investment but progress will be slow. We took the whale / dolphin watch tour. The sail was a lot of fun; the machinations the crew undertakes to "find" the sea life is over the top but it's hard to beat the sea air whipping through your hair, the smell of the salt water and the breathtaking views, regardless of the available sea creatures. We saw a lot of playful dolphins up close who enjoyed surfing the boat's wake as much as we enjoyed watching them. The babies were so cute. Later on our cruise we met another couple who thought the trip was a rip off because there were no whales. The guides admitted to us that they only see whales about once per week, so it is a gamble. Other friends took an interior hike. Although it was billed as a moderate activity, they said it was very difficult and often dangerous. The tour where you repel over a river had to be cancelled and passengers' money refunded because heavy rains made it too dangerous. There is a local souvenir market near their pier and a small town a few minutes away. A beautiful rainbow was visible in the mountains as we sailed away.
St. Lucia. The Land & Sea to the Pitons tour was the best excursion ever. First you go on a small bus / van with a guide around the island. You stop at some scenic overlooks and a fishing village. There were a number of flea ridden stray dogs in town. The old Catholic Church is worth a look if you walk a few blocks from the peddlers. The botanical garden tour was beautiful and the waterfall is wild as the minerals change colors. That part of the tour would have been better if we were doing it without every other tourist on the island but c'est la vie. We ran into friends who were doing the land only and the sea only aspects of the tour. The trip to the volcano was a once in a lifetime experience (unless you go back to St. Lucia). The sulfur smell is pungent but you get used to it. You can't believe the boiling water coming out of the ground until you see it. After being at the volcano, the Pitons themselves are even more impressive as you learn how they were created. Lunch at the Plantation house was delicious. You have to try all the exotic local dishes; they are delicious even for non-adventurous diners. After lunch you sail on a catamaran. We saw one of the Windjammer barefoot cruises on a 5 masted ship in the distance. It was beautiful. The catamaran sails you over to a beach to go snorkeling. The snorkeling equipment is provided as part of the cost of the whole trip. If you want to go ashore, you must swim or take a water taxi - a local guy on an ocean kayak will paddle you in. The "taxi driver" is also willing to sell you anything - including special cigarettes. That was more than a little annoying.
Barbados. We decided to do this island on our own. We went by taxi to a great snorkeling spot just past Holetown. The reef was gorgeous. Although the beach itself was narrow, we did not feel crowded. Barbados, unlike other islands, is a coral island rather than volcanic. It does not have black sand beaches. As we were sitting on the beach we could see little crabs crawling on the coral rocks; they were almost camouflaged. It rained in the morning in Barbados and was the chilliest day we experienced. Friends who went on the green monkey tour were the only ones who did not see monkeys. George our taxi driver gave us his cell phone number when he dropped us off. We called him to get back to the ship and he came promptly.
St. Kitts. This was an interesting island. A friend from the boards arranged a private tour with Mrs. Wallace who met us at the pier. She took us everywhere. Her van was clean, comfortable and well stocked with beverages. We went to another botanical garden and this was so much better because it was not crowded. We drove through the streets and saw local men butchering a cow in the hot sun. She took us to the fort at Brimstone Hill. This is a magnificent piece of architecture and history, but you need good walking shoes for this. She took us to see huge obsidian rock formations rising from the sea. She took us to the point where the Caribbean and the Atlantic oceans meet. We ended the day at a nice beach near a new resort.
The sea day was nice to have at the end of the cruise. It was a day to relax and unwind before heading back to reality. It does make you realize just how many people are on board. We hid out up on the bow near that hot tub. Even that was crowded but it wasn't as bad as the pool area. The staff did have some organized events during the day but it wasn't a crazy party all the time. There was live music. We attended a friend's on board lecture, which was educational.
Although the dress code is resort casual, passengers seemed more dressed than that to us, especially the women. Men wore pants and golf shirts but the night I wore cotton capris and a cute top I felt under dressed. On formal night our group had a range of every thing from tuxedos and a kilt to golf shirts and short dresses, long dresses, sequins and pants. We still had a blast together.
We saw two of the shows: Jane Powell and Cirque du Sea Legs. Both were well done and entertaining. The lounge was comfortable. Marc in the piano bars was very talented and fun to sing along with. The other piano players were good, but he was the best. He rotated between the Observation Lounge, the Windjammer / Churchill's Cigar Bar and Gatsby's. If you get up to Gatsby's for tapas, the brie is yummy!
The Library / game room was well stocked. There were plenty of board games, sets of dominos and decks of cards. Game tables were available there and you could take stuff to other parts of the ship. We passed a pleasant afternoon playing dominos after returning from Barbados.
Freestyle debarkation is the BEST! You get to pick when you get off. It's so much more relaxed. We got off the ship, cleared immigration rather quickly and hopped in a cab to Old San Juan. There we paid $1 per bag to store our belongings at Audioguia near the new pier across from the Wyndham. The free trolley was cute but you can get almost anywhere faster on foot because traffic was so bad. We walked up the hills to the forts. It was delightful to see families with kids enjoying a Sunday afternoon together in the park flying kites.
We eventually took a taxi back to the airport 3 hours before our scheduled flight time because we had heard so many horror stories about the airport on Sundays. TSA was on its toes and confiscated a corkscrew we accidentally packed in a carry on rather than in the checked luggage. As flight time approached, the lines got longer and longer. We were very happy to be on the right side in order to get home. It was a packed flight.
Over all this was a grand vacation. We had a marvelous time and feel spoiled for future trips. Thanks Mr. Deering, Calvin Lodge and everybody else aboard the Sky, as well as Barb & Bob for starting our Roll Call thread.
Embarkation: Totally smooth. We arrived at the pier at about 4PM and were on the ship by 4:20PM
Cabin: Waiting for us in the cabin was a bottle of champagne - nice touch. We also had 2 bath robes for our use. Later on in the week we received a fruit bowl and a cabin credit for $150. Needless to say we were very pleased. We had a balcony cabin for 3 adults and believe it or not, we found it roomier than expected (I think we were psyched up to expect a REALLY tiny cabin). We only felt a bit crowded in the evening when the sofa bed was made up. It was kept spotlessly clean and tidy by our room steward and his assistant. We experienced 2 minor plumbing problems which were dealt with incredibly swiftly (When our sink stopper broke, the plumber was there so fast, we thought that he must be hiding around the corner). I have only one (minor) complaint about the cabin - shampoo and soap gel containers in the shower were not clearly labeled. We even felt that the small shower stall wasquite adequate (and two of us are on the large side). Lots of shelves in the bathroom came in handy. Hanging closet space was adequate but we could have used more drawer storage. Overall we were quite satisfied with our cabin.
Food: Overall we were quite satisfied with the food. We ate at both main dining rooms, at two of the specialty restaurants and one evening at the Garden Buffet. All our breakfasts except one were in the buffet area where we were quite pleased with the variety of choices. I particularly enjoyed the cheese blintzes and the smoked salmon. We had breakfast one morning in the dining room and quite frankly I preferred the buffet. Since we were onshore nearly every day, for lunch we mainly just grabbed a couple of slices of pizza when we returned to the ship (the pizza is fresh and tasty). Twice we managed to eat at the lunch buffet which had a good variety and changed every day. I especially liked the swordfish skewers we had one day. My only disappointment was the Indian vegetarian buffet. I love Indian food and was looking forward to it but there were only a very small number of quite bland choices. (The vegetable curry was acceptable and the daal was OK). Dinners: The only dinner I was somewhat disappointed with was the first one. The lamb kebab did not even taste like lamb. This was odd since later in the week I had a very good rack of lamb. Except for the lamb kebab, we enjoyed all our meals in the dining rooms. Our favorite dining room meal was on Presidents Night. Our favorite meal of the week was definitely at Le Bistro. The filet was delicious and the service was excellent. We enjoyed our meal at Horizons (the best dessert - and amazing chocolate covered chocolate cake thing - I wish I could remember what it was called) but the service was as good as at Le Bistro or the main dining rooms. On our last night we wanted to get back to the room to pack - so we just went to the buffet. It was Mexican that night and adequate for our needs. We also enjoyed the Chocolate Buffet.
The Ship: Very well maintained and kept very clean. Needs a bit of paint in a few areas.
Service: Excellent except for some minor problems in the Horizons restaurant (bill confusion and slowness).
Ports: The itinerary was excellent. At the first stop (St. Thomas) we went on an island tour including a 1.5 hour stop at Coki Beach. For a group of seven people we negotiated a rate of $20 each. In Antigua, we had pre-arranged an island tour and beach stop with Lawrence of Antigua. It was excellent. For $100 (and we added a small tip) Lawrence took us across the island to The National Historical Park (Nelson's Dockyard etc), We saw and enjoyed Nelson's Dockyard, Shirley Heights, the Dows Hill interpretation Center. Lawrence made sure we took advantage of all free presentations and tours and showed us all the best spots to get pictures. Afterwards he took us to the Natural Bridge - very interesting and some nice photo ops. Then he took us to Long Beach, where we stayed for 2 hours. Lawrence picked us up at the appointed time and returned us to the ship. We recommend him highly. He is professional, organized and informative.
In Martinique, we joined a group who had negotiated a van tour and needed a few extra bodies to bring the price down (which is important on Martinique where a 3 hour tour for 3 people will cost $140 unless you can find others to share). We ended up paying $20 each. The tour included Sacre Coeur at Balata, drive through the rain forest, and stop at a small banana processing facility. (This was a quite interesting spur of the moment thing. Our driver asked us if we wanted to stop and he asked the supervisor for permission to show us the facility. Everyone was very friendly. The supervisor took time to explain what was being done and the workers smiled and waved as we watched them.) We also stopped at a rum distillery - much more touristy and less charming. We saw St. Pierre and drove back along the coast. On St Martin, we went to Orient Beach and did a little shopping. On Tortola, we took the ferry over to Virgin Gorda and went to the Baths. The ferry was a bargain. For $20 we received a return ferry ride AND a free taxi ride to and from The Baths. The Baths were in one word - amazing.
Entertainment: After a full day we were usually too tired to go to most of the shows but we did makeit to one of Jane L. Powell's shows. We really enjoyed her performance - great range and versatility. But (and this is my opinion only) we found her closing numbers to be cynical pandering to American patriotism on a ship that is neither American owned, flagged or crewed. When this ship becomes American flagged such demonstrations will be more appropriate.
Disembarkation: Reasonably fast and problem free. It was VERY nice to wait in our cabin until our color was called.
Overall: We loved the ship and the ports.
Our only BIG negative was the absolutely hideous airport experience at San Juan which is why we will never cruise out of this port again. This airport is a complete nightmare. There is literally NOWHERE to sit in the departure level until you go through security except in the few small fast food restaurants (which of course are full). Elderly people looked about ready to faint from exhaustion. Anyone who has arthritis (like myself) will be in constant pain. Check-in lines are long (it took us 1.5 hours). The security line is exhausting (that took over 1 hour). There is no information desk to direct people to the appropriate areas. Signs are inadequate. Announcements are inaudible in boarding areas - we actually never heard our boarding call. Quite frankly it is the WORST airport I have ever been through and I have been to some 3rd world airports.
The Sky will soon be renamed the Pride of Aloha and moved to Hawaii. We'll miss it in the Caribbean, having sailed on it twice, January 2004 and November 2002. Both of its alternating weekly Southern Caribbean itineraries are excellent. This year's cruise got off on the wrong foot. We left our hotel, the Wyndam Old San Juan expecting to fine the Sky at the pier just across the street, like it was last year. Whoops, it wasn't there. A helpful Carnival representative explained that Carnival had bought the pier, so convenient to Old San Juan, and NCL now docked at the Pan Am pier. We could see the Sky, but getting over there was an unexpected $14 cab ride, a bummer! It also meant that once we arrived at the ship we could not easily get back into Old San Juan to walk around prior to departure. We enjoyed doing that so much last year it was a real disappointment we could not repeat it this time. A water shuttle is needed from the Pan Am pier over to Old San Juan!
Embarking was reasonably painless, with the onlysignificant wait being for a luggage handler to accept the luggage. Hint: NCL scans carry-ons and "bonds" any liquor found until the end of the cruise. So pack it in your checked luggage.
The cabins are on the small side, but workable. The negative reviews about cabin size are overblown. It's not a reason to avoid the Sky. The bath is compact but quite efficient once you adapt to it. The bed was very comfortable. The pull out sofa our son used was adequate, but less comfortable. There is sufficient closet space. A shelf above held most of my stuff, but it's a reach if you are not tall. My wife used the 3 drawer dresser in the closet. There is plenty of room under the beds to stow all of you bags. We really enjoyed our balcony cabin on our first cruise, and we enjoyed it just as much this time. I recommend a balcony if you are going to have a child in the cabin with you; you'll appreciate the extra space. My parents had an inside cabin across the hall from us, and it seemed quite adequate too. The cabin furnishings are beginning to show some wear, but not terribly so. I'm sure this will be addressed in the refurbishing planned for May, 2004. Our cabin was not well cleaned at check-in. It had not been vacuumed under the bed or behind the sofa; and we found yucky debris that should not have been there. It took two visits from a gruff gentleman who did precisely what was asked, but nothing, more to fix it. Fortunately, he did not turn out to be our steward for the week. Once we met our steward and helper, everything was put right and we had no further problems. Well, maybe one.the ice could have been replenished more frequently. Hint: Avoid cabins on deck 10 immediately below the fitness center. It is open 24 hours/day and there is noise from above.
The Sky is a wonderful ship. The layout is excellent, it rides very well, and there is almost no noise or vibration. The public spaces are contemporary, and very attractive. The traffic flow is very good, and there are plenty of spots with either action or quiet to suit your mood. The Great Outdoors Cafe, a canvas covered eating area on the fantail, is our favorite space. It's wonderful to eat outside in the shade while taking it the panoramic views from the stern. More ships should have a fantail setup like this one! On Deck 11, forward of the disco, there is a lightly used deck that has a great view of the bow. Look over the side and you can watch the officers work on the bridge wings during docking. The 2 pools are very nice, and there is a third splash pool forward that is lightly used. There are 4 hot tubs by the pools and another forward. There are men's and women's sauna and steam rooms accessed through the Spa. Although in the Spa, there is no extra charge for using them. While a bit smaller than some of its peers, the ship is plenty big enough and had ample amenities for our taste. And it feels like a ship, not a floating hotel. It's unfortunate the ship does not have a self service laundry.
The main dining rooms are very handsome and inviting. Unfortunately, the food quality was not as good as on our first cruise on the Sky. There is a new head chef, supposedly of White House heritage, who we do not think is doing as good a job as the old one. The ingredients used seem less expensive than before, and preparation was uneven. Our last two dinners were memorable; the others were average to good. The menus promise more than is delivered. It's a good idea to avoid the mainstream entrees like the lobster. It was bland and overcooked. It seems the kitchen has trouble delivering quality in high volumes. We did better with the less popular entrees. Entrées were also served with few green vegetables. We retaliated by ordering both a regular entrée and the vegetarian entrée, a tasty solution. Desserts were good, but why is the wonderful Coconut sherbet avaiable only on Carribean night? Not wanting to risk disappointment, we stayed away from the extra cost specialty restaurants this time. Fellow passengers had mixed reviews, but Chow Chow seemed to be the most consistently favorably rated choice. The cafeteria style food in the Garden Cafe was quite good, except that there were some problems with it being hot enough. Why do ribs and burgers have to be beautifully grilled but then tossed into a big bin to sit on the cafeteria line? Couldn't they be served fresh? Appetizers served in the Gatsby Wine bar were stone cold. However room service was excellent! Room Service breakfast on our balcony was great, but the late night delivery of a gorgeous Chocolate Soufflé was truly memorable. The Pizza parlor is also very good. Hint: A treat in the form of a cold bottle of champagne was waiting in our cabin when we arrived. We took it to dinner with us, and I was pleased to find there is no corking charge for any "ships" beverage.
The crew is young, international, and delightful. They work hard to make your experience a positive one. But many of them are anxious because most do not have US work permits and will not be able to stay on the Sky once it is re-flagged a US ship. The crew likes the Sky a lot, and they are sad about having to leave soon. This showed in some glitches on this cruise we did not have on our first one. In the Garden Cafe, my wife picked up a clean glass and found lipstick on it. I picked up a supposedly clean tray that had egg stuck to it. Service in the main dining room (which was fantastic on our first cruise) has deteriorated to erratic depending upon which table you draw. The ship was kept very clean, but there was no painting or other sprucing up, probably in anticipation of the upcoming refurbishment. On a positive note, the execution of the stage shows has improved greatly since our last cruise on the Sky. We enjoyed the stage shows and the magic shows.
There is little interaction between the officers and passengers on the Sky. The only time we saw the captain was at the farewell show where the crew gathers to say goodbye. The Sky made little effort to take advantage of sightseeing opportunities while underway. For example, In St. Lucia it was in and out of Castries. No detour to take in the beautiful Pitons. In St. Kitts, there was no effort to cruise close by nearby Saba. Other cruise lines make these little diversions to the benefit of the overall experience.
Like last time, the kids programs are all but invisible on the Sky. But there was plenty to keep our 9 year old busy, and he never expressed any interest is seeking out the organized programs, assuming they really do exist.
This is freestyle cruising where you have no assigned seating or time for your meals. We like that A LOT! We prefer our own table, so it's perfect for us. But communal tables are readily available for those who like to share their dining experience. The thing we liked best about it is being able to eat when you are ready without having to stick to somebody else's schedule. A sport coat will do nicely for dress on this ship. A tuxedo or dark suit is great for formal night, but not necessary. Disembarking is painless on the Sky, and much better than the processes used on other ships we hear about. The night before, you select colored luggage tags to correspond with the time you want to leave, as late as 10:00 AM if you like. There is no set time when you must vacate your cabin. You can wait in any public room of your choosing if you like. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, returned to our cabin to pack our carry-ons, and were ready to go. No rushing, no waiting in a crowded room, no hassles. Now that is what I call service!
Despite the unfortunate glitches, we enjoyed our cruise on the Sky very much. But I will have to rate it a 3.5 star experience, down from 4.5 stars last year. That's not a recommendation to stay away from the Sky because it does have so much to offer. You will have a great time.
Did I mention how much we enjoyed NCL's FreeStyle cruising?! Freestyle equals freedom in my book. It's the best!!
Freestyle dining on the Sky was everything that we hoped it would be, and one of the reasons we chose NCL in the first place. The hours that the dining rooms are open are quite liberal, and it is really no different than eating in a regular restaurant. You show up, and are usually seated right away. A table for two is never a problem. The food and service are both of good quality. Just like going to a restaurant, sometimes it was better than others. There was very good variety, and the menu changed from day to day. We appreciated that they always had healthy options, including a vegetarian option.
The ship has three specialty restaurants: French, Italian and Asian Fusion (whatever that is). They cost $10 to $12.50 extra per person. The dining rooms are both very nice, but these restaurants are a step up in terms of food and decor. For $65 total, the two of as ate in all three specialty restaurants. That's still a lot less than the cost of decent meal in New York City. Advice: Make reservations at least a day in advance, particularlyfor Le Bistro, the French restaurant.
Alcohol: Everything's moderately priced. They have some kind of package where if you buy five bottles of wine over the course of the week, you get one free. Little did I know that my girlfriend would step us up to the challenge. We were locked and loaded, and fully charged for our free bottle on Saturday, the final day, which is the day at sea. Yes, we missed out on our full bottle of wine because we were sea-sick on our last day.
Room service: 24 hours a day, food is delivered to your room within half an hour, at no additional cost. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe a better menu, but if you stick to the basics it is more than adequate.
The Stateroom: We had an ocean-view room with a large porthole; it was about 150 square feet. Believe the other reviews when they tell you that the room is small. And Norwegian doesn't provide much in the way of shelves or drawers to help you make better use of your space. However, having lived in Manhattan for many years, we are used to living in tight quarters and quickly adjusted. Although the room was small, the window really helped out. I also have to commend the housekeeping staff. They were in there several times a day and did a great job keeping the room neat and clean; it made a big difference. If you want more space, you have to pay for it, or find a ship with larger standard cabins.
The Fitness Center: It was a good size with a fair number of machines for both cardio and weight training. Even more impressive was the very large aerobics studio, which offered classes ranging from classic aerobics and cardio kickboxing to cycling, yoga and Pilates. The instructors were very nice, and if you attended six fitness events you got a free t-shirt. They could definitely modernize their cardio equipment, but all in all they do a good job of promoting a healthy lifestyle throughout the cruise. We got off the ship in better shape than when we got on, which is uncommon for vacations in general, but particularly rare for cruises.
Entertainment: There were three main shows. They were all very different from each other and all of wonderful quality. I suggest seeing all three. We have been to a number of Broadway shows and these were right up there. With the theater so expensive these days, take advantage of this fabulous entertainment provided at no additional charge. Who wrote in their review that Sea Leg Cirque had no plot? It was one of the most impressive performances that we have ever seen.
Gambling: We steered clear of the casino; it seemed pretty standard. We did get caught up in the Bingo. It was a lot of fun, although a bit expensive if you ask me. I thought Bingo was a harmless little game, but a day and a half and 150 bucks later I wasn't so sure. Tip: If you do play, buy the "power bingo" machines; they are a far better bang for your buck.
Passenger Demographics: We are in our late 20s. Aside from an occasional child or teenager, the median age was well above ours. There were some young couples, but most people were between their late 40s to late 60s. Everyone was very nice though, and in great spirits. If you are single, or looking to party, find another cruise.
The ship was very nice and very well kept. I don't know how they do it; the thing is occupied 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but everything looks great. Maybe they can give me some tips for my three-year-old couch and furniture that looks not a day less than 15 years old. There was plenty of everything to go around -- ample seats in the dining rooms, theater, chairs at the pool, stools at the bar -- you never felt like you had to race people or battle it out for accommodations.
The excursions: You probably pay more by booking them through NCL, but they seem to be well run and of good quality. We did one excursion, in Dominica: Sari Sari Falls. It was one of the more strenuous excursions offered. It was fantastic. Tip: If you are going to do only one excursion, do it in Dominica. It is a beautiful island but it seems there are limited things to do there without a tour guide. I am not sure that there is really a beach.
Ports of Call: The weather was fantastic and if you are looking for a warm, sunny place to go in the dead of winter, the Southern Caribbean is a great choice. There are certain themes with all of the islands. Cabs are more like minivans; you can get just about anywhere you want to go for a few dollars. Town is usually relatively close to the boat. If you go to the more popular beaches and attractions, there will be ample cabs available when you want to go back to the ahip.
St. Thomas: As soon as you get off the ship, cabs are waiting to pick you up. The prices appear rather standardized. It's about $3 to get to town, and another $3 to the beach. A lot of people go to Magens Bay, as we did. It is a beautiful and tranquil beach. We went kayaking there and had tremendous fun. The beach itself is a bit crowded, so it might be worth checking out one of the other beaches. Some say that the best part of St. Thomas is its proximity to St. John, which is a short boat ride away. This may be true, but it seemed like a lot of extra work to get to. There are some excursions that go to St. John as well.
Dominca: This is an island of tremendous natural beauty. It is largely a rain forest, I am not sure if there is a beach in the traditional sense. As mentioned earlier, this is a great place to do an excursion. Dominca is a beautiful island to see, but we are glad we didn't go it alone.
Barbados: We got a bad flavor for the place. It is actually a very beautiful island. The problem with a lot of these places, though, is that the natives hassle you constantly. It starts off with the cab; the driver takes you pretty much to the beach that he selects; you don't know the difference. They get kickbacks from bars and other merchants for dropping you off in certain places. They try to sell you anything that's not tied down, and some things that probably were (like other hotels' beach chairs). Everyone has the right to make a buck, but there was a lineup in front of our chair half the day. My advice would be to find the beaches where people with these agendas are minimized. And if you know these places, please email me because that is where I will go on my next cruise.
St. Lucia: A very pretty island. We took a water taxi ride back to the ship, which was quite an experience!
St. Kitts: This is another gem of an island. There are tour guides waiting when you get off the boat. Tours included climbing a volcano and walking through a rain forest. They all looked great and the local chamber of commerce vouched for them. We didn't have time, but it's on our list for next time. We went to Frigates Bay, which has a very nice beach.
Embarkation: "Saving the first, but certainly not the best, for last" – I didn't have the heart to begin my review with the most logical thing, embarkation. It was terrible. Several people did their best to give us a lousy first impression. Maybe the people on the pier are different from the people on the ship. Nonetheless, it took me a few hours on the ship to come to terms that everything was going to be all right.
Overall: This was only my second cruise, but I think on an overall basis they are a great value. NCL wasn't perfect, but it was very good, and most importantly they came though on everything that was important to us. As long as NCL is the only line offering freestyle dining, we will likely remain loyal. I can't stress enough how delightful it was not to have to run to catch the same seating, in the same restaurant, at the same time, with the same people, and the same waiter. But different strokes for different folks, and if you like a bit more structure, are traveling with a large group and need a bit more structure, or are accustomed to an institutionalized lifestyle (clank), don't let me hold you back.
Having cruised over ten times including upscale lines like Windstar our expectations were very modest. We were aware of the small cabins, and the lack of personalized service driven by communal tipping polices, but we were taken back by the total non-existence for customer service, the ship's condition and the just plan stupid policies. Cattle car embarkation procedures were culminated with confiscation" till the end of the cruise", of a special bottle of wine brought on board for a special occasion. Of course if you read the fine print in the daily newsletter they will re-patriot the wine if you pay them a ten-dollar corking fee. It took two days to get the wine back, with no apology or offer to wave the corking fee.
On the evening of day one three hundred dollars worth of excursion tickets were delivered to our room by mistake. When I tried return them I was treated as "a pain in the rear" by staff when I wanted confirmation from the party who bought them that they did in deed receive them. It went down hill from there.
On our way to dinner we stopped atthe Windjammer bar that offered a good variety of Caribbean rums. Both our orders were delivered wrong. When we asked them to be replaced it took the intervention of a Supervisor, as the language skills of the waitress were not good enough to under stand our oders. We were first denied replacement orders as we were virtually accused of changing our minds. Through out the cruise food orders were consistently delivered wrong as it was apparent the wait staff often lacks basic English skills. Not once was an applogy extended when an error was made. The staff at a Mc Donald's can delivery better customer service and get their orders correct with greater consistently than the NCL staff. This is sad, because the welcomed diversity of the staff was deminished by their inability to even converse at a level of simple english. ( advertising should warn pasangers they will need to have language skills sufficient enough to communicate with the fifty seven different nationalities represented on the cruise ship staff)
We were on board for two weeks on three occasions the bath towels in our room were so worn the ripped apart. On one occasion the same happened to our sheets. Over the two weeks of our cruise the glass door and window to our balcony was never cleaned to remove sea residue, even though we asked the room staff to do so.
The second night I ordered a glass of wine with dinner. In over 30 years of ordering wine I have never ask to have wine replaced. I had to do so because it was bad. The Wine Steward responded by telling me my pallet must be "off", as it tasted "ok" to him. He refused to replace it until I asked for his Superior, after which he opened a new bottle that was perfectly good. He then tried to charge me for two glasses.
For the remaing duration of the cruise we decided not to use any additional other fee based services given our experiences. When I asked to close and pay off our shipboard charge account and rescind the bankcard guarantee they refused to so because they had to no way to charge us for the automatic gratuity being accrued to us. Needless to say I told them I had no intention of paying the voluntary "communal" gratuity given our experiences to date. I was then told to come back Thursday (two days forward) as the form necessary to remove gratuities from ship board account were not yet printed up. I had to follow this procedure for week two of our cruise as well. In the end only tipped those who showed any desire to meet our simple needs. While we found a few they they were the exception.
To squeeze every dollar out of passengers they do not allow any one to bring liquor bought at ports of call to their cabins. All carry on bags are scanned and any liquor found is held till the last night of the cruise. My hobby is collecting Caribbean rums and while I think the policy is stupid I accepted it, only to find the ship board security staff charged with scanning all bags brought on board at ports visited (after 9/11) missed over five bottles of rum in my carry on, at three different ports of call. Security on NCL is in reality just booze control and they failed at that as well.
FYI . NCL is Indonesian owned by a Muslim shipping family, who appears to worship only the bottom line while paying only lip service to security. We can only conclude they have chosen accountants to run this business who believe NLC stands for N= No, C= Can't and L= Little service as possible.
Truth in advertising should require that they alter their Marketing theme to:
FEE STYLE CRUISING: The world's first "third world" cruise line charging first world prices.
Hopefully the market place will recognize the difference between affordable, value-priced cruising and cruising on the cheap. NCL is cruising on the cheap. No customer appreciation, a Can't do attitude and No service.