In a word - disappointing - The food/service and entertainment were lackluster at best. I will not book NCL again. It's too bad - because the ship itself is beautiful.
Service - I think that the problem with the service stems from the mandatory tipping policy that NCL has - $10/guest is automatically added to your shipboard account on a daily basis. The service reflected this - there are none of the extra niceties found on other lines.
Entertainment - For as much time as you spend at sea - the ship has very few daytime activities - The Spa had various seminars, but each comes with a product pitch, which I found very annoying. There is no nightlife to speak of - with the exception of a couple of lounge acts - who were great- the place closes down after 9pm. Part of this may stem from the fact that there are a lot of seniors - I mean VERY senior citizens on board.
Food - We cruised on the Nordic Empress last March, which is a much older ship and the food was far superior to the Star's. The onlydinners we enjoyed were at Horizons, which is one of the specialty restaurants. Otherwise you're talking Chili's or Denny's quality - this is the first cruise that I didn't gain weight on!
Positives - the ship itself is immaculate and we especially enjoyed the observation lounge which gave you a great view during the often inclement weather.
Alaska is a great destination and I will return there - just not on NCL
My wife and I just returned from a 7 day cruise to Alaska on the Sky we sailed on 7/12/03 from Seattle. We are both 38 years old and have kids, but we traveled without them. The Norwegian Sky is in very good condition (it was built in 1999). Everything was working (pools, spas, elevators, etc.). The only exception I noted was that the plastic outdoor tables in the Great Outdoor cafe are looking a bit rough and should be replaced.
Shaun, our port and cruise consultant, was fun and entertaining.
We ate our dinners in the Four Seasons and Seven Seas restaurants -- very good service.
We ate breakfast and lunch at the Great Outdoor Cafe in the aft part of the ship. The older passengers showed up at the adjoining indoor Garden Cafe (the other buffet) before sunrise to reserve the best spots, so we didn't even try. Watch out for the crows/seabirds at the Juneau port -- you may get some extra cream in your coffee if you are eating outside! There is a cool hidden secret for food on the ship -- the Pizza buffet. It runs 24hours a day and serves up great cheese, veggie, and pepperoni pizza! It is located next to the Sports Bar on the aft part of the ship on level 11.
The staff overall does not bend over backwards to cater to you on the outset. But I noticed that those passengers who took a few minutes to exchange conversation with their servers got much more favorable service.
If you are not already aware, NCL has implemented a practice they call hassle free tipping. This means that you will be charged $10.00 US per day per person to cover all tips for all crew members (the only exception to this being the luggage porters at the embarkation / debarkation points). While I found this to be easier to deal with than stuffing cash into envelopes the last night of the cruise, I have a problem with using the term tipping with this program. The term TIP or TIPS is actually an acronym for To Insure Prompt Service. If you were a service employee of NCL, it would easy to see there is not much incentive to work harder at being prompt when you know your tip is already in the bank. I think NCL should rename this program Hassle Free Yet Mandatory Gratuity, which at least would true up what the money is going for.
Our room attendant stuck to a strict time schedule for making up our room in the morning and in doing the turn down service at night.
Night life was boring and, to be honest, totally non-existent. However, we booked the cruise knowing that. Activity on the ship pretty much wound down at around 8:30 p.m. at night. There were a couple of folk artists on the ship who played in the smaller bars, including the Windjammer. Unfortunately, I only got to listen to them as I passed through.
Juneau was the best port and I wish we could have stayed there longer. Sawyer Glacier was breathtaking, not to mention a little chilly! Skagway was a tourist trap -- not much to see. I could not justify spending $80 to $100 for a train ride on the White Pass. All land tours can be booked cheaper if you do them yourself when you're in port. The only tour I would book with the cruise ship would be the White Pass train, since it will likely be sold out by time you can get to the ticket office in town.
We would definitely take Norwegian again, but not to Alaska too boring at night. It is also a little frustrating for people our age to have to navigate around the more senior people who abound on these cruises. If you want to see if you have what it takes to do this, try doing a few laps around the buffet lines at Old Country Buffet on a Sunday morning at around noon time.
One final note about the Norwegian Sky - I found out during a future cruise presentation that it is going to be rebadged as The Pride of Aloha in mid-2004 and redeployed as a US flagged ship in Hawaii.
Fresh from our first time experience with NCL cruising the Inside Passage of Alaska on the Norwegian Sky, I would like to start by saying that it is a beautifully appointed and very clean ship. It was staffed with mainly attentive, polite, and eager to please personnel. As time passed, unfortunately, it turned out to be just an average cruise ship with small cabins, limited organized activities, and below average offerings in the main and casual dining places. We did not visit the extra charge restaurants. The long anticipated midnight buffets, ice carvings, chocoholic buffet, the flaming Baked Alaska Procession was non-existent and really missed. The almost total absence of chocolate anywhere on the menu for the entire week was also disappointing, (but not a catastrophe).
The alternative to dining in the 2 main restaurants were 2 buffets that were comparable (IMHO) to the Golden Corral Restaurant chain (or any major buffet chain) in quality, quantity, or diversity. You can find chicken, steak, pasta, and fish anywhere. In other words OK, but not anything that stands out. On a luxury ship even the always-served cold lowly hot dog and hamburger buns stood out alittle more than if served at home. Little things such as the Bleu cheese dressing being watery and obviously devoid of cheese was a drawback, as well as delays in getting our tables orders, and constantly having to ask for refills for coffee, tea, and water in the main dining rooms. Forgotten salads and less than attentive service were in abundance. The pizza parlor was a standout and the offerings were well prepared and very tasty.
Room service has two phone #s. One is for decks 9-10 where we were and the other is for decks 5-8. The room service selections were somewhat limited but the speed of delivery was outstanding. Each delivery was presented in a very friendly and professional manner. Our cabin stewards were on top of things at all times. We finally got our first towel animals, cute. Our room stewardess was chosen the employee of the cruise and she was well deserving of this award. When she saw us in the passageway or the room she always inquired as to how our day was going and called us "Dears". I had previously ordered a Congratulation Package through the NCL hotline and was well pleased with the decorations. Balloons, streamers, cutouts, a cake and a chilled bottle of sparkling wine awaited us. An outstanding value for $30.00.
The ship on the other hand lacks the pomp and circumstance we were looking forward to, and that we have experienced in the past with other companies, (Princess and Celebrity). I know I'm not becoming a CS (Cruise Snob) so I'll chalk it up to "Anyone can have a less than perfect event at any given time". Otherwise known as the "Eye-of-the-Beholder" syndrome. But on to other things. The itinerary was outstanding with Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, BC being super ports. We took excursions that we had set up on our own on-line for the first three stops. In Ketchikan we took the Saxman Totem Village/City Tour. We were the only ones who had booked on line and we had the van to ourselves. The driver and the guide, a native Alaskan, were super and very informative. Well worth the money. In Juneau we were on the Mendenhall Glacier Historic City Tour.
Two + hours on a packed school bus designed for first graders was a bit uncomfortable, but again a great sightseeing opportunity. At the end glacier tour we boarded the "Duck", an amphibious vehicle for a city/harbor tour. A real hoot and saw a lot we missed on the bus tour.. In Skagway we boarded the White Pass Summit Tour. A much more comfortable mini bus and off to the sights and tales of the gold miners. We went to the cemetery and heard the tales of some famous (and some not so famous) citizens of the old days. The trip through the snow-capped mountains and valleys was really a sight to behold. I never get tired of seeing Gods majesty. The one ship's tour (Orca Jet Boat) we took in Victoria was well organized and definitely worth the money. The time spent cruising to and from the different ports and Sawyer Glacier was very relaxing and the scenery is magnificent. The closer to Sawyer Glacier we got, the more ice floes we encountered, some with seals resting on them. They hardly reacted to us. The cruise itself is something we will fondly remember long after the not so hot drawbacks fade.
Our three days pre / post cruise spent in Seattle was a truly fun time. A 6-hour city and harbor tour was well worth the 55.00 p.p. spent. We went on 2 ferries, drove through $5 million neighborhoods, downtown past the Mariners and Seahawks parks, Bremerton shipyard, a salmon spawning ladder, the locks, and a lot of places most natives never see. (According to our guide, a schoolteacher turned tour operator).Pike Place Market is a must see/do as well as the Space Needle. After all is said and done,I am sure all cruise lines are watching the bottom line in one way or another. I'm just not sure NCL is handling it in the best way. I know that we will take other cruises, perhaps even another Alaska trip..just not with NCL. **Somehow we missed hooking up with the CMs we were planning to meet. I was on deck 6 outside the $10.00 shop with baloon and streamer from 2030-2215 on the first nite out. Got a lotta' stares about the POLICE tape. The guy working at the shop was curious as to what was going on. After I told him he just smiled and said "OK". Don't know what happened. Sorry.**
As first time cruisers we were unsure about what to expect as we left for our trip to Alaska. We opted to take Amtrak to Seattle as we were comming from Portland, OR. RT tickets for 2 were $115.00 When figuring Gas and garage fees this was a cheaper and more relaxing way to travel to Seattle for us. We took a taxi to the peir and although embarkation was smooth it did take a very loooong time. Aprox. 2 1/2 hrs. OUCH!!!! (computer problems is what they were telling us was the delay) Once we were finally onboard we went to our stateroom to drop off our carry ons. 2 of our 3 suitcases were already outside our room. The 3rd arrive a short time later. Our inside stateroom was very small but well layed out.
Well her goes my cruise review ....
THE SHIP: I felt that the Sky was a beautiful ship. Not gaudy or too ornate. The atrium was lovely with its winding staircase. As well as the whole of the ship being nice in its decor.
FOOD: The food was wonderful in our opinion. Ienjoyed freestyle dining as we got to meet a lot of wonderful people as well as sit alone when we wanted. We did try the Chio Chow (sp) the food was good but not worth paying extra for since we felt the 2 main dining rooms food was excellent. The buffet food was good as well, no problems finding somewhere to sit either. We did enjoy room service a couple times and were plesantly pleased :0)
FREESTYLE DINING: We very much enjoyed being able to eat when and where we wanted! Although we have never cruised with set dinner times. For us we felt that it allowed us more freedom to plan our day.
MAIN ENTERTAINMENT: The Jean Ann Ryan Company is Awesome they are a very tallented group of peaple. 2 of the 4 shows we LOVED!!! the other 2 were not in our tastes but that was our personal preferance not the lack of tallent. The magician was fantastic Still wondering how he did the illussions... The comedian Darrel Joyce was 98% clean and also extremly funny....They also had a the Hawallian Cowboy he did musical impessions and some comedy... He was also very enjoyable.
SIDE ENTERTAINMENT: Many different musical groups were throughout the ship and we found them all very tallented as well. Thet "game shows" were entertaining altho often seemed that when they "randomly" were picking people to play the games the same people were always picked ??? They did start having people who wanted to play put thier names in a bucket then drew, we felt it was much more fair and interesting that way.
SHIPS POOLS AND HOT TUBS: We never swam in the pools but we did use 1 of the hot tubs 3x's (the single one at the front of the ship.) It was very nice although it could have been a bit warmer.
SPA: My husbands name was called for who wants to be a millionaire and he won a mini facial well of course he let me use it :0) That was a real treat!!! lasted about 45 min. and was soooo relaxing. They did try to sell me 2 very little bottles of facial treatment stuff for $60 dollars each... I passed
CREW: We could not have asked for a nicer room stewardess she was sooooo sweet and very good as well. The wait staff was very friendly and made dining a pleasant time. The Matra'De (sp) would come around to insure all was running smoothly. Our cruise director Adrain was pleasant and funny.
PORTS: We enjoyed each port. Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria BC as well as Seattle. We did not do any of the ships excurrsions so I can't tell you how they were except they seemed pricey to us. We did hear from many who did take the excurrsions offered and heard many possitive comments. There are many companies at each port offering excurrions that we felt were priced much better. We did do a couple ! in Juneau and 1 in skagway. Had a fantastic time!!
DRESS: Boy did I overpack... We only had 1 formal nite. Most men wore suits some had tuxes. Women wore from semi-formal pantsuits and dresses all the way to Gowns. We didn't see anyone in jeans on that nite. Although on other nights many did wear jeans. It didn't bother us but thought it was worth mentioning.
TRACY ARMS/SAWYERS GLACIER: Well I would have to say that this was a little disappointing :0( the ice was still too thick to get close to the glacier. so it wasn't much to look at, since it was sooo far away. OH WELL glad we were able to se what we could. I'm glad we did choose go to Mendenhall glacier in Juneau earlier that day for an excurrsion and got MUCH closer look at that glacier.
TIPS: A many know NCL does place a $10 per person per day charge on your account. (you CAN adjust it if you wish up or down or remove it altogether.) We were Ok with this (Our cruise director encouraged every one to leave the tipping to them as they pooled it all together etc. and if you pulled out your$$ and paid your own people yourself thoughs employees would be "tipped" 2x's) We did leave it as recommended. My personal preferance though is to tip individually as that way hopefuuly the ones who work hardest and give the best service get the higher tips. I know as a waitress myself it doesn't always work out that way.
SEASICKNESS: I did have a bit of Seasickness on our 2nd day as did others. I took the pill that they gave out at the reception desks and felt much better. Did make me a bit sleepy. I talked to the people who had the patch on all said they felt fine during the "rough" seas and next time I will go to my dr. before I leave and get one.
WEATHER: We had beautiful weather all week long. Layers is definatly the way to go. A mild 10 minute sprinkle in Ketchikan then 75 degree weather the rest of the day. Partly sunny in Juneau 65-68 degrees no rain. Skagway same as Juneau. Victoria was abot 70 degrees no rain. Returning to Seattle 75 degrees at least! We did have rain leaving Seattle on our first day. On some of the "sea" days we did have some rain at night. I would not have even notice except for the decks being wet. Wind was a bit of an issue on the front decks. But if you had your hat and gloves no big deal.
UNFORSEEN CURCUMSTANCES: Unfortunatly we had a death on board our ship while in port in Ketchikan. This delayed our leaving aprox. 3 to 4 hours as they did have to do an investigation. (Our room was 3 doors down and across the hall from where it occurred) We arrived in our next port Juneau 1 1/2 hrs. behind schedule. NCl did there very best to accomidate all the excurrsions but a few were cancelled. We did lose some time in Juneau. There were thoughs who complain, Well I felt that NCL did the best that they could. I felt so bad for the Lady who lost her husband! People need to think of others even when on vacation and not sweat the small stuff IMO. OVERALL REVIEW: We had a fantastic time and Loved the Sky. Yes.. we are hooked!! We are already planning a next cruise, just can't decide where!!! We definatly highly recommend the NCL Sky and will cruise Alaska again as well as NCL. So much to see and not enough time to see it all!
This respositioning cruise left from San Francisco with stops in Seattle, Victoria and finally, Vancouver, B.C.
We left Vancouver, B.C. on May 4th on Alaska Airlines to San Francisco. We wanted to spend a couple of days there before the Norwegian Sky left for the cruise. We loved San Francisco with its shops, restaurants and of course, cable cars. The weather was unseasonably warm and clear which was alright with us and we took advantage of it by seeing as much as we could of the usual tourist areas such as Alcatraz, embarcadero, Chinatown, Presidio and much more. By the time embarkation day came on May 6 , we were exhausted and looking forward to our 5 day cruise home.
The Norwegian sky was docked at the cruise ship pier which we arrived at by using one of the San Francisco trolley cars recently restored by the city. A great way to travel plus you can use the day passes we had purchased for all transit during our stay.
At the pier we handed our large bag over to the Stevedores, checked through the tight security and joined the line upwhich seemed to stretch for a long way. You had to walk down the pier, through a hallway, turn corners, climb stairs and join a long, snaking line in a room filled with NCL staff taking your papers. This actually did not take as long as we thought it would for the amount of people boarding. Once at the counter, the process was smooth, fast and NCL did a great job of processing all the passengers. The only strange thing was they requested our passports which they would put in safekeeping until the end of the voyage. We would be issued photocopies and this would be sufficient to use for ID when leaving the ship in Seattle and Victoria, B.C. Strange request but we complied as did everyone.
Just before boarding we posed for the embarkation picture, NCL had a drink of juice available while we joined the line up for the ship. Upon boarding, we were informed which deck our cabin was on and pointed in the right direction. Easy to find. We had a small but efficient cabin with a window on Viking deck. The Sky is a fairly new ship and we found all ship shape and kept so by our Cabin steward whom we never saw. The cabin was set in twin beds mode rather than the Queen mode as requested but with the layout we didn't mind and they were quite comfortable.The room contained a safe, enough drawers and the under bed storage was sufficient for our luggage. The bathroom with its great amenities was small but had enough shelves for our needs. The shower was functional and hot water was always available. We left San Francisco at 5.00 PM with our sail away party in full progress as we went underneath the Golden Gate bridge.Passengers took hundreds of pictures of this exciting feat. Music was provided by an excellent band called the 60280 band. Their name was a reflection of the music they played 60's to 80's. Special drinks were sold by the NCL staff with the drink glasses as souvenirs. The Sky is a huge ship of 80,000 tons holding almost 2000 passengers and 750 crew but you never felt like there were this many passengers on board. There is lots of room to get away from the crowds for quiet time. The 7 deck high atrium was a grand sight along with its glass elevators. This was the first time we had cruised under a Free style dining arrangement without set sittings. We were a little apprehensive about this and our fears were almost founded the first night we dined in the Four Seasons dining room. The waiter who served us should never have been there and wouldn't qualify for a fast food restaurant position. We were appalled at his attitude. We never went back to this dining room and ate all our meals in the Seven Seas restaurant located at the stern,where we experienced much better service/attitude. We did report this waiter to the appropriate manager and hopefully this helped. The food served was the best we had ever experienced on a cruise, NCL's menu is great and we experimented with many new dishes of fish,meat, chilled soups,along with excellent appetizers and great desserts all of which we enjoyed thoroughly. Keep it up NCL. Breakfast and lunch was had in the Garden cafe and the Great Outdoor cafe. We enjoyed the latter as there was hardly ever a lineup as in the Garden Cafe. Staff were always there with trays of cutlery and sanitizers. The food was hot, tasty and ample for a buffet style setup. The cheese blintzes at breakfast became an addiction along with the smoked salmon. NCL 's coffee was the best ever on a ship as it was freshly brewed right there.
We never felt the need to experience any of the extra charge dining options such as Horizons, Le Bistro or Ciao Chows although we heard they were excellent.
The entertainment on the Sky was top notch. The Jean Ann Ryan company's shows - Sea Legs cirque and Hey, Mr. Producer were fantastic, broadway quality entertainment. Outstanding stuff.They also had an award winning magician, Shawn Farqhuar and a Hawaiian cowboy, Wes Epae and both put on amazing shows. We have never seen the likes of this on our other cruises on Princess or HAL.The Stardust lounge was an excellent venue for these shows and had quite the stage set up for a shipboard production.
This repositioning cruise had us stopping in Seattle and Victoria. We were supposed to be at sea for the first two days and then arrive in Seattle. For reasons unknown, we raced to Seattle in one day and night to arrive one day early. No reasonable explanation was provided and because we were travelling at almost full speed any outdoor activities were hard due to the wind generated.A few passengers we spoke to complained about the change in itinerary because of arrangements made to meet family and friends were all for a day later.
We were unimpressed with the pools and hot tubs which were usually full of passengers or empty of water, so we did not use them. The kids pool and hot tub are located on the upper sports deck (12)forward and would have made a quiet getaway except it was almost always in use, by adults.Walking the promenade deck was most exciting during this race to Seattle.
Seattle was great, weather was wonderfully warm and clear. Pikes Place market, space needle and Pioneer square were the most interesting. The antique shops near the square were the biggest we had ever seen.Security in Seattle pier was almost too much as we were checked for ID at the entry point, bags were X rayed, wand frisked for weapons and sent to the ship. At the ship about 300 feet further, we were once again sent through the metal detector, X rayed again and wand frisked if required. Possibly a sign of the times although in Victoria we were only subjected to one search/Xray. Security at both ports did not challenge the photo copies of our passports and there were no problems.
Our slow two night cruise to Victoria from Seattle made up for the mad dash and we enjoyed this immensely as the ship was in fairly protected waters.There was always a lot of things to do and the Cruise Director ensured we had plenty to keep us busy such as bingo, movies, art auctions, bazaar sales, spanish lessons, jewelery seminars, guided ship tours, nature talks, horse racing, slot and blackjack tournaments and health and beauty lectures at the Spa. All this and great food too. Victoria was interesting as a stop and we had fun there. Canada Customs officers were a little surprised about the photocopies of passports but didn't cause any problems. On the last night we obtained our passports back from the Purser.
On arrival in Vancouver we docked at Ballentyne pier and had a smooth disembarkation after eating our last great breakfast and drinking our last great cup of coffee. We will definitely cruise with NCL again.
went on the norwegian sky from 1/26-2/2/2003.i have to say if your single and looking for women,forget it!! went with 2 other buddies and were very disappointed.iam 42/m.food good as was the service.
getting up early on sat.for a onboard customs check ruined my day. could do that when we got off that day. (this was in st.thomas) people very nice! if i was 65 and retired this was the cruise to be on! no single women!!!!!!!!! jeff
Well, if you have read some of my other posts, you know about the surprise I got on Sunday morning! The ship wasn't where I thought it should be! Not to dwell - I had called NCL the night before to ask what time we could begin embarkation. The rep stated that embarkation was to begin at around 3pm to which I responded that we were Latitudes and we could then board at 2, right?? The agent agreed with me, and when I asked if we could board earlier, he stated that the ship did not leave until 10pm and that there was plenty of time. I advised him that my hotel would be booting me out by noon, and I needed to go somewhere.
Anyway, we left the hotel and caught a cab ($15) to the Pan-American Pier where the Sky was waiting for us, and a couple hundred people were waiting in line (drat!). There are a couple of problems (in my opinion) with the operation at that pier (and I don't know if it is because it is a RCI/Celebrity pier or what). First of all, thereis nowhere to drop off your luggage when you arrive, you must wait in line outside as they take everyone's luggage and load it onto carts. Once they take your luggage you then go into the building to wait in more lines. The employees there are either not helpful or not too knowledgeable. Everyone begins standing in one long line and then eventually you figure out that there is another line, this one is for suites and Latitudes members (though the sign says suites and Captain's Club). Unfortunately, this line moves at about ¼ the speed of the regular line, and of course by the time you figure that out, no one is going to let you back in line. There were two reps for the Latitudes/Suite line and about 25-30 for everyone else. Looking back, I guess it really did not take that long to go through, but, when you are facing the anticipation of your trip, it takes FOREVER!!! We arrived around 11:20 and were onboard at 12:25. A white-gloved attendant took us to our room.
We were in cabin 0067, Norway Deck all the way aft category BA. I knew about the infamously small rooms on the Sky but was still initially taken aback by the size. Within the week, though, I came to appreciate it and felt it was more than adequate. I am not sure why we had it, but, champagne was chilling in the room there was a bottle of wine in the refrigerator. Perhaps NCL was thanking me for the recent letter I sent. Later in the afternoon, a tray of the most wonderful chocolate covered strawberries was also delivered to us. The room had two single beds that we pushed together (after moving the nightstand), we needed to be able to store the luggage and get around the room. There were two smallish closets and one contained the "Norwegian" equivalent of a dresser, which means three small drawers. Somehow we mad it all fit. In addition there was a small sofa bed, coffee table, desk and chair in the room. The bathroom was very small as was the shower. A full-length mirror was inside the closet door and there was another mirror above the desk. The room was decorated in mainly pink (each deck has a primary color used - carpets, curtains etc. Deck 10 is the pink deck). The balcony was accessed through a sliding glass door, and held two lounge chairs and a small table. The view was great from the balcony though the space was a little tight. (On a good note though, we were docked next to Dawn Princess in Tortola and we could see the balconies on the side of that ship and they were TINY!!! Ours was close to twice the size). I have heard that people have complained of black soot on the aft balconies, rest assured that was never seen on our balcony or on any other balcony I could see.
We did not join the sail-away party, we chose to stay in our room and watch from our balcony, it was the only time that we got a "front" view. How is that? The ship sails out of San Juan backwards, so we had the front view for a while (she eventually turned around and completed sail out going forward). It was strange leaving so late, since we are used to sailing out of Miami at 4pm, but the lights of San Juan were lovely.
LeBistro Deck 12:
This was a lovely restaurant surrounded by windows on the starboard side of the ship. We never had the chance to eat there but the room was decorated in beautiful colors. Like others have said - I don't get the gazebo.
Gatsby's Wine Bar Deck 12:
Great room! Nice place to enjoy a drink and still be able to talk without yelling. Surrounded by floor to ceiling windows on the port side, it too was beautifully decorated and contained comfy chairs. Check out the glass mural on the center wall! I particularly liked the small leopard stools they were really cool. Latitudes members received a 20% discount on drinks in this bar during our cruise.
Sports Bar Deck 11:
I did not use this room a lot as I am not a big sports fan, but it was nicely decorated and very modern. You can sit here to eat if there is no room at the Great Outdoor Restaurant. Floor to ceiling windows on the port side of the ship offer great views.
Ciao Chow Deck 11:
Yum! This is one of the specialty restaurants and carries a $10 service fee, and is worth every penny. We ordered sushi, bruschetta, and a hot dipping plate that included chicken wings, spring rolls and yakitori. The entrees we ordered were Steak with Japanese Wafu Sauce w/ potatoes and veggies, Giant Prawns over Thai noodles, and the surf and turf. For dessert, one option (which I got twice) was Sweet Pizzas. They are tarts that are puffed in the oven and then covered with a vanilla cream and sliced fruit (peach one night and peach/banana the second) and crowned by vanilla ice cream. During non-dinner hours, pizza is served here. You can get cheese, pepperoni or veggie. They advertise that this is a 24-hour service, but I did here one cook say that they would only be there until 3am. I never saw the restaurant empty.
Garden Café Deck 11:
This is a rather nice buffet. I liked it because it was indoors, pretty well laid out, and well decorated. The food was pretty good I thought (I am not picky at all). The ice cream parlor was here as well, and I did indulge in the ice cream twice.
Great Outdoor Restaurant Deck 11:
We only ate here once I think, and it was not bad. There was a good variety of food and a pretty good flow through. Seating was not bad outside and we had no trouble finding a seat.
Body Waves Spa Deck 11:
We did not use the gym. It looked nice though. We did use the Spa, we each got a massage on the final day of the cruise (sea day) and it was worth the money and the wait. We made the reservations within an hour of boarding, so I cant say how quickly they booked up. I would, however, recommend booking as early as possible.
Observation Lounge Deck 11:
What a great lounge. It was really pretty! The windows were great and doors on either side lead out to an observation deck overlooking the bow. Sadly, we did not spend any time in this room; we only passed through once or twice. There is a model of the ship in this room (as well as one in the Four Seasons Restaurant) that is cool to look at. I remember one being on the Norway back on our first cruise together in 2000.
Decks 8, 9, and 10 are residential only.
Kid's Crew Areas Deck 7:
We never saw this area, no kids! J So, I cannot comment on this, but the kids did seem to be having fun whenever we saw them around the ship.
Atrium Bar Deck 7:
A nice martini/champagne bar. I loved it because of the floor to ceiling windows and the view into the atrium. They truly make a good martini there, and if the special drink is still the Amaretto Cappuccino make sure to try one! The seats seemed to be very similar to the ones in the Stardust Lounge, barrel style and quite comfy.
Gift Shops Deck 7:
The Galleria Shops were quite large and had just about anything you would want or need. There was a full selection of toiletries if you should forget anything. This is where you will find clothing, perfumes, logo wear and knickknacks. Just outside the main shop is the watch store with two large counters full of high-end watches. In addition, there was liquor for sale in the Galleria.
Coffee Bar/Internet Cafe Deck 7:
Located between the watch shop and the Casino you will find the coffee bar and Internet café. Sadly, we did not use either of these facilities, but there were several coffee specials listed in the Freestyle Daily. Looking back, I don't know why we never had coffee there since we both love coffee! (Just a side note, we thought that the coffee in general aboard the ship, dining rooms and buffets was pretty bad).
Monte Carlo Casino Deck 7:
Wow, am I back on the Norway? This casino looks as if it was picked up off the Norway and placed on the Sky. I love the décor of the casino and thought it was pretty well laid out. Unfortunately, we did not win anything substantial this time, but it was sure fun trying to. The arcade is next to the casino, we do not play video games (that don't pay out money) but we did take a peek. The room is small and jammed with games, at least 10-15 machines in there.
Stardust Lounge Decks 6 and 7:
Three shows were done in this theater, "Runnin' Wild", "Hey! Mr. Producer", and "Sea Legs Cirque". The productions were well done, as always. We enjoyed "Runnin' Wild" and found it to be eerily similar to "Sing, Sing, Sing" on the Norway. "Hey! Mr. Producer" was great and the performances were as good as any we've seen. "Sea Legs Cirque" is a strange show. I was not impressed by the story line of the show; I felt it was random and kind of silly. Don't get me wrong, the performances and costumes were amazing, I just did not get the story. It made no sense to me. Bingo was also done in this venue as well as port talks and several other shows and activities. I loved the seating and the sightlines were great unless you got stuck behind one of those stupid poles.
Library and Conference Rooms Deck 6:
We did not use either, but did peek in and they were well decorated and the library was well used throughout the week.
Photo Gallery Deck 6:
This is placed in a hallway between the Stardust Lounge and Checkers Cabaret. There really isn't much to say about it.
Checkers Cabaret Deck 6:
We spent a lot of time in Checkers! This is the ships disco; so every night we were there dancing and having fun. There was a problem with the DJ and his lack of variety, but another passenger made a report to the Cruise Director or the reception desk and from that point on, the DJ played a wide variety of music. In addition the 70's party was held here, as was the 50's sock hop. Karaoke was held here too, and I actually got up and sang two songs! During the day, several functions were held here, but the most frequent was art auctions.
Shops Deck 6:
There were a few additional shops on deck 6, including a $10 store and Columbian Emeralds. They also hosted special sales in the atrium on deck 6 on several days.
Atrium Deck 5:
This was our first ship with an atrium and I have to say I was rather impressed, even knowing that this is not one of the most impressive atriums at sea. I thought it was quite lovely, with its glass elevators, marble floors, beautiful woods and sky light at the top. In this area on deck 5 you will also find the shore excursion desk, reception, port and cruise consultants, dive-in desk and the entrance to the Four Seasons Restaurant. You can also get your debarkation luggage tags here on the last night.
Four Seasons and Seven Seas Restaurants Deck 5:
Both of these dining rooms are equally nice. The wait staff was very attentive and constantly running, there seemed to be no lack of initiative on their part. The food was always good and brought to the table in a timely manner. I enjoyed the Seven Seas a little more because there are more windows and you have a better chance of sitting near one. We never had a problem getting a table for two when we asked, and the only time we really had to wait was formal night; we waited about 15 minutes and took a table with another couple. On the nights that we were in a hurry, the staff made sure our food came out quickly.
Horizons Deck 5:
Wow! Now this is a nice restaurant. Horizons is a specialty restaurant and carried a $10 surcharge that was well worth the investment. We booked a reservation for the final night of the cruise at 5:30 so the sun would still be up and we would be able to see out the windows. The service was outstanding and the food was even better. We ordered (in English) Mediterranean Seafood Cocktail with Aioli, Avocado and Fresh Herbs (yum), Home Made Forrest Ravioli in Roast Onion Broth, Tomato Consommé with Pesto and Goats Cheese Ravioli and Lobster Medallions, Caesar Salad prepared table side, Shrimp Scampi with 40 cloves of garlic, Milanese Style Breast of Free Range Chicken, Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin all of which were fantastic. We sat at a table for two next to the windows; in addition they offer banquets along the wall for larger group with pillows all around the seating area. Be sure to have dinner here at least once.
Swimming Pools Deck 11:
The two saltwater pools on board were nice. Glass walls to protect from the wind surround the pools, and there is additional sunning space on deck 12 above the pools. Sandwiched between the pools you will find 4 hot tubs that are sheltered by a large umbrella-like tarp. The pool area is serviced by Topsiders bar and of course all types of drinks are available. Food can be had at all times, either by going in to the Garden Café or at one of the multiple outdoor barbeques held throughout the cruise.
Ports of Call:
St. Thomas - Monday:
St. Thomas is only about 70 miles from San Juan, so the cruise overnight was slow and leisurely. We awoke to find that we were already docked in Havensight and quickly dressed to get off the ship. Docking was a new thing for us since we have only sailed the Norway, and as we know, you have to tender everywhere from the Norway. We got off the ship around 9am and took a cab to the downtown area for 3 dollars. We did just a little shopping in St. Thomas since we have been there several times before, but we made sure to get some liquor and cigarettes while we were there. After some shopping, we took a cab ($6 p/p) to Magen's Bay ($3 entrance fee), and walked out to Little Magen's Beach to do some sunning and swimming. Sadly, it wasn't too sunny (which would become the theme of this cruise) but we were determined to at least try to get some sun. At one point a rather large iguana came lumbering along the beach and decided to park itself in front of our towels, wisely we stayed in the water till he decided to leave. We took a cab back to town and had lunch at Bumpa's and did a little more shopping. We went back to Havensight and found a pharmacy that carried 2 liter bottles of soda. We bought two bottles and had no trouble carrying them back on the ship.
Monday night was formal night and as I have stated, it was the only night we had any considerable wait to get into the dining rooms, maybe because it was LOBSTER NIGHT. Formal portraits were offered on this night and a majority was done in the Atrium on Deck 5, and one other location in Neptune's Court also on Deck 5. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how many passengers dressed to the nines on this evening. we were not sure what to expect with Freestyle. In addition to Formal Night, Monday was also 70's night. The 70's party was held in Checkers, and due to a time difference mishap, we were an hour late to the party, and guess what, it was over. On the Norway, the special theme parties went on for hours, and we were sorely disappointed that this party ended within an hour.
1 Antigua - Tuesday:
Since we had never been to Antigua before, we scheduled a shore excursion. We decided to do the Off Road 4x4 Jeep Safari, and boy are we glad we did. The trip was only $62 p/p, which may seem high, but for all the fun and sights, it was well worth the money. You share a jeep with up to 6 total people, we were lucky, it was just us and two others with our guide (Dion). The drivers take you all through the island, through villages, rain forests and up to Fort George. Fort George sits on top of a mountain in the center of the island and has wonderful views in all directions. The guides give you a history lesson on the way and a presentation at the top of the fort. Dion pointed out many interesting sights to us and told us some inside info about his life. At the top of the fort, you are given a beverage and snack, you can have a beer or soda, but for some reason they did not have any diet soda. They gave me a drink called Ting and told me to try it. It was great, and I recommend it - it is a grapefruit soda! The drivers then took us down through the rain forest and out to a beach. Unfortunately due to the weather, it was rather dreary and a big storm was coming in from the horizon. The jeeps took us right back to where the ships were docked; in total the trip was about 4 hours. We then decided to grab lunch and went to the Big Banana at the advice of the Port Consultant. The food was OK, but I was expecting it to be local foods instead of hamburgers and pizza. The best thing on the menu was the bruschetta and I highly recommend that. We did a little poking around in the shopping district, but did not buy much.
Back on board we got ready for dinner and decided we wanted to try Ciao Chow. I called them around 5:30 and they had no problem fitting us in at 8. Dinner at Ciao Chow was outstanding, the food and presentation were top-notch. This evening was also Caribbean night and there was a huge deck party around the pools at 10:45 pm including dancing, ice carving and a HUGE buffet. As always it was fun, and this was really the only time that the wait staff was a bit pushy with the drinks in pineapples.
Martinique - Wednesday:
Again, since we have never been to Martinique, we scheduled a shore excursion, this time the Bat Caves and Snorkel. The excursion left bright and early at 8am, we boarded a boat and were off across Fort de France's huge harbor. It rained just a little on the boat ride over to the snorkel location, enough to create a rainbow over the water. We arrived at the Bat Caves and you just can't believe it until you get there, the sheer number of bats. Of course, there is nothing to be afraid of because they want nothing to do with us. We were able to snorkel in the area for about 30 minutes and during that time; the guides encouraged you to swim into the cave but NOT to remove your mask. (Not due to any danger, just the smell!!) The boat then continued on to a small beach where we had another hour or so to snorkel around a large reef, or to use the beach. This area was quite nice, but the snorkeling is better in St. John USVI. On the boat ride back, the dive-in staff brought out cake and rum punch. Greg, the head of Dive-In made some experimental spiced rum himself, and it was GOOD!!! We departed the launch and walked back to the ship to drop off stuff and then struck off onto the island. We had heard that shopping was not great there, and that was correct. Most of the shopping tended to be aimed at the local population and the prices were not all that good. We bought very little on Martinique and the poor shopping combined with the intense heat sent us back to the ship early!
The Latitudes party was held on this day at 5pm in the Stardust lounge. Luckily we had gotten to know the Port and Cruise Consultants and they got us our Latitudes pins. Unfortunately, the ship never received their shipment of pins so they did not have enough on board to hand out! But we and a few others did stop by their desk and picked one up. We saw the show "Runnin' Wild" that night in the Stardust, this show is quite good. Be sure to check it out. Though we missed it, the 50's 60's Sock Hop was held in Checkers at 10:45 and was supposedly fun.
St Maarten/ St Martin - Thursday:
We opted out of any excursions here and just did our typical jeep rental to explore on our own. We drove into Phillipsburg (you can park for free at the University) and walked around downtown for a short time. Since this was our fourth time in St. Maarten, we did not buy anything. We decided to have lunch real quick and stopped in to Kangaroo Court. The service was slow, but the food was pretty good. We ran into Martin, Shaun and Susie (Port/Cruise Consultants) again and had lunch with them. We also made dinner plans with them for Ciao Chow. We hopped into the jeep and took off for Cupecoy Beach, but when we got there we found it was badly damaged by weather over the last week. The beach was unusable, and we really wanted to get in the water. We decided to go to Baie Rouge, which is just over the French boarder. This beach was really nice, but not as dramatic as Cupecoy. It was an overcast day but the rain held off long enough to enjoy the beach for a couple of hours. Then we were off to return to the ship, we dropped off the car and walked back to the pier area. We did do a little shopping there for a few souvenirs for friends and found cigarettes at only $12 a carton (compared to $35+ at home).
We had dinner with Martin and Shaun at 9 in Ciao Chow, and I ordered the exact same thing I had on Tuesday. Everything was just as good! We did not do much else that night other than the disco as usual.
Tortola - Friday:
Ug! What a day. We had scheduled to do the Norman Island Snorkel trip, but the evening before had received a note stating that due to rough water the trip was cancelled. We then signed up for the Virgin Gorda Highlights trip, but once we got to the pier on Friday morning, they told us that it was cancelled due to bad weather and that it was heading towards Tortola. We took off to go downtown to shop. Again there was not much there, but we found a cute open-air market that looked like little island houses painted in beautiful pastels. We did buy a few things there, but quickly decided to beat feet back to the ship because the sky was darkening. We spent only 90 minutes on the island. Well, we got to spend some time on the ship, we decided to go up to the hot tubs, but there were a lot of people in them so we went up to the children's pool instead. There was no one up there, so we sat in the kid's hot tub while it rained! We then went down to the pool deck and there was room in the hot tubs there, so we jumped in. The kids hot tub is really more luke warm, the ones on Pool Deck are much warmer. We had lunch at the Garden Café and took it out to the Pool Deck and had lunch looking out the windows at. Dawn Princess. We decided to play Bingo for the first time on this trip at 5 in Stardust, no luck. After dinner in one of the main dining rooms, we went to see Sea Legs Cirque and the Farewell Finale. The remainder of the evening was spent in Checkers dancing away.
Sea Day - Saturday:
A day to relax - and a day without rain!!!! We went to the cruise giveaway Bingo session at 10:30 and did not win Bingo or the cruise. We had scheduled massages on embarkation day, and finally we got to go to the Spa at 11:45! The massages were great, and though they did try to get you to buy stuff, it was not a hard sell and once I said no, there was no more discussion. We then went up to Deck 12 overlooking the pool area and lay in the beautiful sun. There was a sexy legs contest going on down at the pool, and all the contestants were men! Waiters came around and took drink orders and sprayed us with water while we baked in the sun. This was also my only dip in the pool and it was really nice.
We had made reservations to eat in Horizons as well this night; our reservation was at 5:30. We ate early so that the sun would still be up and we would have a view out the windows of the water and what turned out to be St. Thomas. Dinner was fantastic (see above for what we ordered). After dinner we decided we should start packing so we picked up luggage tags and went back to the room to take care of this unwelcome business. Later, we spent more time in the casino and still came out empty handed but had fun anyway. We wound up the evening in Checkers for Karaoke night, which lasted till midnight. I even sang two songs. After Karaoke they played disco music until closing.
Debarkation Day - Sunday:
Freestyle debarkation is a great idea. You choose your own luggage tags so that you may exit the ship at whatever time you choose. You are able to wait in your room but be prepared, people will come a'knockin. Our room stewards came by several times and another gentleman came along to place a bottle of champagne in the room. Debarkation began late, so all debark times were pushed back, apparently the fault of customs. by 10am we were feeling rather uncomfortable staying in our room and decided to head off to Checkers to wait until we were called. Eventually they called purple tags, and everyone lined up through the Atrium and started to leave the ship. Customs at the pier was a bit of a mess in my opinion; I thought it was much better in Miami. As you left the ship, you scanned your card out, walked down the gangplank to a bunch of lines to the customs desks. We waited about 15 or 20 minutes there and then moved on to the next line where another person checks over what they just checked over in the customs line. You then proceed to the baggage area to claim your luggage. Once you grab all that, a third person checks over what the other two just did. Then once you are outside it is like a transportation hoedown. We were staying in San Juan so we needed a taxi. First you must stand in one line about 10 mins, to get to the counter where they ask where you are going, how many people and how many luggage pieces you are taking. This agent gives you a receipt with your fare on it and you move to the second line to await an available taxi. This line was about the same wait time. Please be sure to get in the voucher line first, several people were VERY upset after waiting in the taxi line and being turned back for not having a voucher. Debarkation took well over an hour from Checkers to the taxi. In Miami, I have experienced no longer than 15 mins from ship to cab.
We met some wonderful people on this ship. The crew was completely helpful and friendly at every turn. I never saw any nasty crewmembers; even the maintenance guys would smile and say hello. The wait staff was very attentive and more than willing to help each other out, people never moved slowly. The Maitre'D was always around keeping a watchful eye on everything that was happening. In general, none of the bar staff was particularly pushy. I really liked all the servers in Checkers, they were very nice and remembered your drink by the second night. The day we ate lunch by the pool a bar waiter stopped up and asked if I wanted a Diet Coke, and I didn't even remember him!
OK. random thoughts, tips, tricks and other weird things
Get a cocktail (if you drink) in the "Icicle Glass", it costs three dollars more the first time, but can be refilled throughout the cruise. A Vodka Tonic (my drink of choice) was 3.95 from the bar, but in the icicle glass (refill) it was 4.95 and more than twice the size - what a bargain! If you are going out and going to have a drink, just remember to grab your glass on the way out of your room!
If you buy a soda card, you do not have to keep the cup with you that they give to you. The soda card will work in any restaurant or bar and they will give you a glass. The soda card does not work for room service. Price 28.75
We were able to sneak aboard a fifth of vodka and 2 bottles of tonic in our checked luggage. I placed the vodka in my suitcase and laid my toiletry bag on top of it. I like to think that all the junk in the toiletry bag somehow masked the bottle.
If you want to take video onboard of the rooms, you need only wait till about 2am, it seemed that the crowd turned in early most nights, perhaps due to the intensive port schedule.
Luggage tags are available beginning Friday night (I think) and you can pick them up in the Atrium on Deck 5. There is a large sign with all the colors and the approximate times they will be called. So, you choose when you want to leave!
If you fly Delta to San Juan, be very careful packing your luggage. Leaving Baltimore, we had no trouble at all, but at SJU there is no curbside check-in. We had to go to the ticket counter and they weighed our bags. The did not weigh much more than when we came down, but the SOB's charged me $105.00 in excess baggage charges. We thought we were being smart only taking two bags (easier to manage, right?). But if we had taken 4 bags and they weighed the same (in total) we would have been charged nothing.
This was a wonderful cruise, even if the weather was dreadful. I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to see the Southern Caribbean Islands.
Let me first tell you about us. We were married at the age of 17 and this month we celebrate our 20th Ann. We never had a honeymoon so this was it. And it was wonderful, we couldn't be happier.
I will start with the Sky. I thought it was a very beautiful and clean ship. The buffets were better than I thought and the restaurants, well you were treated very well. Our balcony room was nice I couldn't imagine the trip without a balcony. The room was made for two, not any more in my mind. We were comfortable with the two of us. The Sky was well maintained and there were also staff near. We paid 28.75 for the soda cup and thought we got our money's worth. The bar drinks are costly. At least 3.50 to 6.75 for a beer or mixed drink in that order. The pools were warm and the hot tubs hot, they were nice. Overall service, food, room and ship were good. I do not think you can go wrong with the Sky.
We visited Ketchikan, Juneau, Glacier Bay, Skagway and then Victoria.The shops are everywhere and pretty reasonable, we enjoyed shopping except in Victoria. I thought they were quite expensive. The ports were fun. The weather was jeans and t-shirts except Skagway. Lots of fog and misty all day we wore our rain jackets The only excursion we booked ahead of time was whale watching in Juneau. I was so excited. We seen Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions, Porpoise, and Bald Eagles just on the trip. We booked with Orca Enterprise in Juneau. I recommend them.
A highlight for us was the scenery. It is gorgeous in Alaska and when we got to go close to South Sawyer Glacier it was beautiful. The glacier is a sight to remember for a life time.
It was a dream come true for us and we had been waiting for 20 years. We fell in love all over again and if you seen us before the cruise you would think we were so much in love already. Enough of the mushy stuff. Go to Alaska on the Sky it is great.
Email me with specifics if you want and I will answer all I can.
I had a great time on the Norwegian Sky on June 21 & have some good shopping advice for those going to Skagway. All the shops have the same sort of stuff, but they are much more expensive. There was a store in Skagway called the Skagway Outlet Store (S.O.S.) & they had the absolute best prices on all kinds of souveniers. $1.00 for a regular sized calendar with awesome pictures of Alaska! Plus it has a little map of the Inside Passage on the inside cover. Also they had lots of magnets for $1.00, including really cute totum poles. You could get a pack of 6 keychains from all the different cities for $2.99. Postcards were 10 for a dollar!! We had already shopped in the other ports, so I only spent about $30.00, but I came away with tons of stuff!! I only wish I bought more! The Alaska chocolate bars were $2.00 each (same price as the other places I went to) & boy are they good! A great gift would be: a magnet, chocolate bar & calendar ($4.00 total!). For kids, a chocolate bar & ateddie bear with the Alaska star pattern on it ($3.00 total). You could also get great jewelry, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, photo albums (including one really neat one with a leather type cover with a map of Alaska on the outside cover. I bought this in a different city for $10.00, but I bet it was alot less at S.O.S. Pick up a free local color ad if you see one. They have coupons in the back where they give you a free wooden train whistle; a fun souvenier after visiting Skagway! Also those teddie bears were buy one get one free, so they turn out to be $1.00 each! You go to the back of the store to redeem the train whistle. I didn't have a coupon, but the guy gave me one anyway and one of the ads with coupons for other stores too. They were really nice there. Everyone is town (90% of the people, seriously!) is carrying around these yellow & black bags from the store. That's how we discovered it & I wish it was the only shopping I did!
My favorite excursion was the Orca by Jet Boat for $69.00 in Victoria. The ship offers two different trips & we did the jet boats with the hydrophones, so you can hear the Orcas noises over the boat's speakers. The boat went pretty fast, which was really fun! They give you a nice warm jacket & a hat, since it does get super windy. The Orcas got within about 10 feet of some of the other boats out there! There were so many in all different directions; it was really spectacular! Also in Victoria is a really neat place called Crystal Gardens.
It's only about a 20 minute walk from the ship, or you can take the bus ($5.00 Round trip). Lots of endangered animals, exotic birds, plants, flowers, butterflies, etc. All inside a really neat glass domed building. It's $14.00 to get in, but well worth it. We paid on with a credit card, because they can't give American currency as change. So, if you don't want Canadian money as a souvenier, bring exact change or a credit card!
In Seattle, go to the Gold Rush Museum, in the Pioneer Square district. It's run by the National Park Service, so it's free to get in & they have very knowledgeable Park Rangers that gave us a great summary of the history. They have a few different short films they play and also lots of artifacts & pictures of the Klondike Gold Rush.
The chocoholics buffet was Thursday at 3:00. Don't miss the magician - Monday night & Friday morning. In the dining rooms, request a table by the window. Also if you find a waiter you like, request his station! Happy Cruising!
I plan on sending a copy of this review to NCL soon, so I'll get right to the stuff that would concern them most, and mention some onshore activities and excursions later. (CruiseMates readers may also wish to check out what I wrote under "Seattle: Cheap sleeps, great eats & transportation tips", under "Hotels" in the message board section.)
The Norwegian Sky looked great, with little visible wear and constant upkeep evident daily. I can't stand smoke, but smoke-free areas were never hard to find. Perhaps because I was a past passenger, I was surprised at check-in with an upgrade to an outside cabin, a full 12 categories higher than the run-of-ship inside I'd paid for. I could see why other passengers, particularly the majority traveling in pairs, might wish for a bit more drawer space, but it was more than adequate for me, and the room was nicely decorated.
I'd sailed with NCL once before, aboard the Norway in January of 2002. I found that the consistency and overall quality of the food has improved. I had a chance to try two of the specialty restaurants, Le Bistro and Horizons; I thoughtboth were excellent, and worth the modest surcharge. Fish can be a little chancy on cruises, but all I had seemed nice and fresh; Le Bistro's sea bass main course was outstanding. The small pizzas from Chow Ciao were up to New York City standards. Buffet lines could get a bit long, but this was because there was no "help yourself" on this cruise, as a precaution against any further outbreaks of intestinal bugs, which hit a few passengers on the prior week's trip.
Food-wise, the only off note was NCL's continued use of tomatoes that resembled baseballs in color and hardness.
Given that I was often up before 5 a.m. to enjoy as much of the passing scenery as possible, I was generally ready to drop shortly after dinner. So I missed much of the entertainment, which seemed to begin at 9 p.m. most nights, but I enjoyed the comedy-oriented programs. Another standout was an act I had seen previously on the Norway: the trio "Standard Time." The lead singer -- I think her name is Melanie -- is a gem, a great talent with a bubbly personality.
Much has been written about the "Freestyle Cruising" concept. All I can say is: It works for me! I can see why so many people swear by it, and why other lines are following the trend set by NCL. I didn't notice any deterioration in the promptness, professionalism or cheerfulness of the service staff in comparison to other cruises where tipping is handled in the conventional way. I enjoyed the freedom to dine at times and in places of my own choosing, to meet new people at each meal, and to share further meals and other activities with those I hit it off with. I also enjoyed not having to keep sharing a table with persons who were as conversationally accessible as clams. Most passengers maintained a reasonable level of dress in the dining rooms; those who wanted to skip right past "resort casual" and go to "sloppy" headed for the buffet topside.
What really sold me on this cruise was the itinerary. A roundtrip from Seattle meant I wouldn't have to face the long, long haul up to Anchorage at any point. (This might not be a big consideration for West Coast residents, but it sure was for me.) Seattle is less costly to fly into than Vancouver, and unlike Vancouver, I'd never visited Seattle -- another selling point. This itinerary included a stop in Victoria B.C., another spot I'd long wished to visit. The capper was Tracy Arm/Sawyer Glacier -- 15 twisting miles of fjord, so the Norwegians must have felt right at home. I'd heard that many who've cruised Alaska more than once considered it more beautiful than the more often-visited Glacier Bay, and it did not disappoint. It was as spectacular as Yosemite -- a Yosemite you can sail through!
Now to the negative aspects-- there were few, but I hope NCL will take note.
During that sail through Tracy Arm, the on-deck loudspeakers played banal, pointless elevator Muzak, totally unconnected to what we experienced. Such awe-inspiring scenery calls for Sibelius, Wagner, or Norway's favorite son, Greig! Not Kenny G!
Second, I realize that all mid-priced lines achieve their lower fares by charging more for certain extras and promoting them onboard, but the repetitive sell-sell-sell announcements from the cruise director and his assistant just got annoying. A safety message from the captain is "a very important announcement;" another mention of the art auction, the port shopping "lecture," or the latest round of Snowball Jackpot Bingo is NOT, however many times the cruise director might preface it that way. Celebrity is presumably under no less economic pressure than NCL, but they've managed to dispense with these inessential promotional announcements, relegating them to in-cabin TV. Take a hint, competitors!
The major sour note of the cruise was the embarkation. As a past NCL passenger, I was waved ahead of the first-timers at a couple of points. But even so, between the baggage check-in, the ticket check-in, the security check-in, the gangway photo-op, (I opted out of that one, which saved only a few minutes) and a second seemingly redundant security check as I finally stepped onboard, the process took me two full hours standing in lines. Had I not had been able to line-jump, it would have taken at least three hours. Once onboard, I met a woman on her first cruise ever who said she stood in lines for FOUR hours, and had seen old people passing out. What a terrible first impression!
To be fair to NCL, a couple of factors worked against them that day. First, there was the aforementioned minor outbreak of a 24-hour intestinal virus that hit about 80 passengers on the previous voyage, so I'm guessing the crew required some extra pre-boarding time to disinfect the hell out of anything incoming passengers might touch. Second, I heard there was some sort of computer breakdown pier-side.
However, I think there were some things NCL could have done to present a better first impression. While Pier 66 is attractive, new, and conveniently located downtown, it just seems too small to process 2,000 passengers in any manner other than in the long, snaking lines we stood in; there's hardly any place to sit. I would also urge NCL to invest, as its competitors have, in a computerized ID system that has your check-in photo pop up for the security officer to see as you slide your card into a machine whenever you re-board the ship. Getting back onboard the Sky could be a hassle as well, often with long lines for passengers tired from their shore excursions; the newer system would speed up this process considerably.
To sum up, I came hoping for eye-popping scenery, and sure got it. Despite the shaky performance in the opening hours, this was a fantastic trip overall -- a ship and a wonderful itinerary that I would recommend to anyone.
Following is a quick rundown of activities I enjoyed onshore, and would also recommend. Except for Victoria, I made my own arrangements rather than purchasing shore excursions through the cruise line, which are generally much pricier for the same thing. If you wish to do the same, just type the name of the port and "visitors bureau" or "tourism" into a search engine, and go from there. Many of the info packets the tourist boards send out include discount coupons.
Seattle: Pike Place Market may be Tourist Central, but it's great fun to poke around in. Don't miss the lower levels, which contain some of the most eccentric stuff. The Pioneer Square area is also great for walking around and shopping. The Seattle Art Museum, right downtown on 1st Street, has a fine collection, but if you're with kids they'd probably prefer the much more hands-on Maritime Museum, right in Pier 66, from which NCL's ships depart.
Ketchikan: Dolly's House (she was the town's most legendary hooker) on Creek Street is a bit hokey but fun. A number of companies provide seaplane flights over and into Misty Fjords National Monument; I happened to choose Southeast Aviation, which I found on the Web. The hour-and-a-half flight included a landing on a lake high in the mountains. It's not the cheapest activity, at $189, but it was a real thrill, and I thought it was worth every cent.
Juneau: several companies offer a simple shuttle service out to Mendenhall Glacier for $10 roundtrip. From there, you can pick up a trail guide at the visitor center and hike around the area -- or not, depending on the level of bear activity that day.
Skagway: Many cruise passengers take the famous White Pass Railway ride, but as I researched my trip on the Web, I realized I could see a lot more for a lot less money by taking a van tour. A three-and-a-half hour tour that goes well beyond the White Pass, through the well-named Tormented Valley and on into the Yukon, is $52. I booked with Southeast Tours; when their driver for that tour called in sick, the owner, Dave Lee, obligingly walked me over to what he said was the best of his competitors, Frontier Excursions, and set me up with an identical tour with them. More incredible scenery, and fascinating Gold Rush history as well.
Victoria: The shore excursion info NCL sent out before the cruise indicated that excursions featuring the famed Butchart Gardens would not be on offer until a bit later in the season, but luckily, when we got into port, about an hour early, this turned out not to be true. I took a $64 shore excursion that gives a quick tour of downtown on the way out, of elegant waterfront neighborhoods on the way back, and in between, two hours to wander around Butchart Gardens.
A concrete company owner's wife turned their eyesore of a worked-out limestone quarry pit into a not-to-be-missed world-famous showplace, and it's still in the same family -- now the fourth generation. It's another photographer's paradise, and as one of the wicked wits of the Algonquin Round Table once quipped, when commenting on a friend's elaborate landscaping, "It's what God would have done if he had the money."