I admit I am an NCL loyalist and after sailing on the Sky I know why. From the minute we were escorted to our cabin to the time we said good bye our week was like being in heaven. I had been on her sister ship, the Sun last spring, but hubby had not thus he was even more impressed. Yes, it's true the cabins are a tad bit small, but well decorated and very clean. Although we never even met our cabin steward we never lacked for service. One morning it appeared our bathroom light had burned out. Hubby had planned on stopping by reception after breakfast to request it be fixed, he forgot, we got to room, Viola, it was working. That's service. Some, including myself have criticized the NCL buffets in the past, if what we experienced last week is any indication of what NCL is doing then the improvement is to be commended.
Everything was hot, so hot we could hardly touch the utinsils, the selection quite satisfactory, especially when you get lox and herring for breakfast each morning and the assistance of the crew helped makeeverything run smoothly. We did notice on a couple of occassions the coffee machine or the juice machine on one side was "Out of Order." No problem for us, but some,I am sure were put out they had to walk a few extra steps. Each morning there was an omelette bar and a separate waffle bar by the pool. Lunch was complete with cold cut sandwhich bar, hamburgers made fresh, fruit bar and a pasta or similar bar. The inside buffet offered everything from Leg of Lamb for lunch the first day to fish, chicken or minute steaks on other days. We didn't eat dinner at the buffet as we choose the main dining rooms on 5 nights and alternative dining the other two. Horizons was great, but Le Bistro even better. One night the Pork roast in the main dining room was a bit dry, one morning the eggs benedict could have been tastier and the Beef Wellington appeared to be re-heated. Only other concern we had was the Tapa bar could not compare with the Sun. Every other element regarding food was spectacular. A must try is the yellow split pea soup served in the main dining rooms. Of course the escargot, both on Lobster night as well as in Le Bistro is to die for as is the Ceaser salad made at table side. I opted for dessert in Le Bistro but hubby choose nothing. That is what he got: a plate with the word Nothing written in chocolate. Isn't it amazing how little things can make a special experience a little more special? Entertainment was good to outstanding, both in the showroom with the wonderful Jean Ryan company and in the lounges. Never could anyone say there wasn't anything to do at night. Piano players in the Windjammer and Gadby's, a band with entertainment in Checkers and the wonderful group performing in the Observation Lounge, not to mention the activity in the casino. Of course you could choose to just sip a drink at the atrium bar and people watch: a favorite passtime for me. For those who like flexibility freestyle offers just that plus the asortment of ports adds to pleasures of sailing on the Sky. For those who like to venture off the ship there is only 1 sea day; for those who want to relax around the pool those port days that attract many to the outside world give you more room to enjoy the pool. Never did we feel the pool area was crowded. The Sky did offer some wonderful excursions or as we did, you could do your own thing. Dominica was our favorite island, with Barbados being our second favorite. St Thomas, of course is for shopping if nothing else. We did our share. Embarkation and debarkation ran smoothly for us anyway, but getting a taxi out of San Juan was a bit hair raising. Speaking of hair raising, the drivers in Dominca will cause your hair to not only raise, but turn gray very quickly. We visited St. Lucia and St. Kitts as well as the islands mentioned above. Quite a lot for a 7 day cruise. Would we cruise the Sky again, you bet we would although we try to pick different ports each time we cruise. Whether this is your first cruise experience or you are planning your next cruise experience I hope this will help you make up your mind. Freestyle is a wonderful way to get to know more cruisers, enjoy true relaxation and eat when and where you want, not to mention dress in the way that best fits you (within reason that is) Happy cruisin' Nita
The headline on this review ought to be "value cruise line takes the lead"! Many people, including veteran cruisers, tend to discount Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) because like KMart, NCL often offers lots of "blue light specials". What they overlook, I think, is that there is often great value in good deals. Certainly our cruise on the Norwegian Sky "exotic Caribbean" itinerary December 1-8 2002 was a great example of a good deal. And in my opinion, NCL continues improve itself and raise the bar for other "value" cruise lines such as Carnival and RCCL. The plain fact is that this cruise was much better than our recent cruises on both Celebrity and Costa, two lines which try to position themselves as a step up from NCL.
A few words about us. I am in my mid-50s and a professional event planner. While not truly a travel agent, there are major travel components in many of my events, and we get around. My wife is on the management team for a group of world and US champion motorcycle racers, and we also get to see some of the world through their eyes.We are extremely experienced "foodies" due to our travel, and have been in some of the finest restaurants in the US (think Trotters, French Laundry, Inn at Little Washington, etc.) so food is most important component of the trip for us. We'll eat ANYTHING, but it had better be good. We started cruising in the early 80s, and this was our seventh cruise in the last two years, having recently been on the Carnival Sensation, RCCL Voyager, Costa Atlantica, Celebrity Century, and the NCL ships Majesty, Sun and Sky. On this particular cruise, we also took with us our 24-year-old son who was getting his first true vacation in seven years and first cruise since and adventure on the Big Red Boat about 10 years ago.
We booked this trip almost a full year ago while on the NCL Sun. It was our first experience with onboard booking, and it worked out well. We are Latitudes members and we received all the perks with no problem, including a lightning fast embarkation checkin, the usual Latitudes cocktail party, our commemorative pins, and drink discounts in the Windjammer Lounge. We chose this version of the exotic itinerary (San Juan, Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Kitts and St. Thomas) because we had been to Tortola, Antigua and Martinique on our NCL Majesty cruise. In retrospect, we were SO glad, because there was not a disappointing port call on this entire trip. The Sky does alternate itineraries each week from San Juan. We flew in a day early, as is our custom, staying at the Wyndham Hotel in Old San Juan. This turned out to be a great choice, as to our surprise, the Sky was docked directly across the street on the closest wharf to the hotel.on Sunday morning, we simply checked out and dragged our stuff across the street where the dockside checkers took the bags we did not carry on. As I mentioned, checkin was very quick and we onboard before noon even though the formal embarkation is not supposed to start until 1:00pm. All our checked luggage was delivered to our stateroom by 3:30pm, so the whole process could not have been smoother.
Our stateroom proved to be much smaller than expected. When we were on the Sun, we learned that the Sky is her sister ship and the layout is, indeed, very similar. However, we had been told the Sun had been revised to better suit Freestyle Cruising, and this sure proved to be true, starting with the cabins. We had an outside with balcony on Deck 9, and with the total floor space of both inside and outside added together, it was not as large as our master bedroom at home. I would say it was easily the smallest cabin of ANY we have ever had on a cruise, and it really was a tad too small for three adults. We were pretty much always in each other's way, and there simply was not enough storage.much of our clothing stayed in a couple of the suitcases, under the bed. The cabin was arranged with a "queen" size bed for my wife and me, and a foldout sofa bed for son Chip. One nice touch was a curtain that could be drawn completely across the cabin to separate the beds, giving the heir to the family nickel a touch of privacy. Luckily, we were on the starboard side, which proved to be the more scenic side in all but one port. The balcony got a lot of use, although my wife and I are not finicky about these porches, and often actually prefer inside cabins.
Although everything, including the bathroom and shower, was small, it was also functional and we had no major complaints. There was water, ice, California "champagne", fruit and an orchid in the cabin when we arrived. We didn't drink the water or champagne, and thus did not pay for them. There was a refrigerator that we never used (I think my son may have stored some clothing in it!) and the best TV system we have had on a cruise. You may ask who watches TV on a cruise? OK. We do. We like to keep up with the news and sports, and watch a movie in the afternoon. The Sky had the widest variety of channels and movie offerings we have seen. It also had that great bridge cam which allowed you to see if it was day or night, how the weather was, and what the ship was doing while entering and leaving ports. Our room stewardess was probably the least attentive I've ever had.I don't even know her name.but all that means is that our room was cleaned and made up when it was supposed to be.just no little extras. That's good enough for us.
Now to the most important part of the review: The food! Not everyone is going to agree with my evaluation, because frankly, a lot of people judge cruise ship food on the steaks, prime rib and lobster. I personally like a more creative approach, with more sauces and innovative presentations. I think NCL as a line, and the NCL Sky in particular, have really taken the lead in food, and this is especially true if you limit the comparison to the "value" cruise lines. NCL food in general is much better than Carnival, RCCL or even vaunted Celebrity. Having said that, I also think the food on the Sky is better than the food on either the Majesty or the Sun! The exception, to some extent, is the buffet, but I don't like buffets anyway and try to avoid them at all costs. The younger MacQueen dragged us there one night because he didn't think the dining room menus looked attractive, but that particular version of leg of lamb and a million salads certainly kept us from trying that a second time. As we ate in the Horizon Restaurant on the Sun, we went back to LeBistro on the Sky, and I thought it was much improved over the Majesty version. That being said, I still believe that steaks and hamburgers can NEVER be at their best on a cruise ship.
We split breakfasts between the dining room and the buffet depending on our excursion schedule for the day. If you want eggs, go to the dining room and get them to order. If you like cold items, you are actually better off in the buffet lines where you can get what you want, and as much of it as you want. To those who have written they don't like NCL coffee, well, you just don't know good strong coffee! For lunches, we followed our usual practice of finding a nice place in port to taste the local flavor.I know that doesn't sit well with people who still think of cruises as "all- inclusive" vacations, but I just don't see how you can say you've been somewhere if you haven't tried THEIR food. We did have one lunch onboard.a poolside barbeque of skillet steaks and wursts that actually was quite good.
Both the Seven Seas and Four Seasons dining rooms proved to be excellent, both when compared to other cruise lines and even to very good land restaurants. The NCL Executive Chef is inventive with menu planning and recipes, while the NCL Sky Executive Chef oversees an excellent galley. In my opinion, presentation is one of the line's strong suits. There is a much wider range of appetizers, soups and salads than on other lines, and NCL particularly outdoes Celebrity in this area. With age, the line has really got their Freestyle dining system down pat. We never had to wait longer than 3-4 minutes for a table, and then only the first night when we wanted to sit with another party and it took them a minute to find a group to share our table. Generally, we told the matre'd that we were flexible and would either sit by ourselves or with others. Of the five nights in these dining rooms, we sat by ourselves twice and with others three times, and we enjoyed meeting the new people. Although there is really not much difference, we preferred the Four Season to the Seven Seas from a decor standpoint, and there was a pronounced difference in the waiting time with the midships dining always underused by the passengers.
My advice to anyone traveling on NCL is to do a little mealtime planning. Each morning, the menus for all the dining rooms are posted in the Deck 5 atrium near the service desk. If you are really concerned about your food options, go there and see what is on the menu in the "free" dining rooms. If you don't see something you want, review the "service charge" rooms and make a reservation. Our experience was that the "paid" rooms did NOT fill up on this cruise and that you could make a same day reservation pretty easily. I don't know if that was true every night, but I observed empty tables every night I bothered to look. Also, be flexible. Don't lock in on certain times, certain tables, and certain dining rooms if you can help it. With Freestyle, you CAN do those things if you want, but it will increase your chances of having to wait. Frankly, Freestyle as a concept suits our family and we much prefer it. As time has gone on, I think the system has really caught on with a majority of cruisers, or at least, with a majority of NCL passengers, and there is much less complaining than there was when the change was first made.
So, on we go to the trip and the ports. First day out was the one and only sea day. Saving of deck chairs was about normal, but we got what we wanted poolside and in the sun. The Sky pools are very nice (don't miss the secret little splash pool with the waterfall and 'cuz forward on Deck 12!), salt water, not overcrowded on this trip, and the bar service was adequate. The wait staff was not as pushy, but on the other hand, not always there when you wanted a beer. For that reason, a bucket of Coronas makes good sense from a financial and logistical standpoint. The evening was the optional formal night and lobster dinner. I would say the majority of people dressed, with probably a third or more of us in formal wear. We did it because we wanted a family portrait.
I'll cover the ports in no particular order. On Barbados, you are docked at a port that doubles as both the freight and passenger terminal. It actually proves very interesting to watch them work container shipping with some of the biggest machines I've ever seen on wheels. I thought Barbados was a beautiful island and the Bejans were some of the friendliest islanders we've met. Instead of taking a ship's tour, we simply got off, found a taxi, and asked him to take us on a 4-hour drive around the island high spots. We got a great guy who charged the three of us just $70 ($80 with tip) which left us about $40 to the good over a similar ship excursion. After he brought us back to Bridgetown, we had him drop us off at a local restaurant (keep in mind these guys get a commission from restaurants and businesses, so don't exactly COUNT on their advice!).
Dominica is to whale and dolphin watching in the Caribbean what Alaska is on the west coast. We pre- booked all three of our NCL-sponsored excursions on the Internet, which saved us a lot of time and trouble on Sunday in San Juan and guaranteed we got what we wanted. As it turned out, we wouldn't have had to take the whale-watching excursion to see a whale! As the ship sailed in to Roseau, we nearly sailed right over a momma sperm whale and her calf. What a spectacular surprise. However, the excursion also proved to be well worthwhile. They guarantee around a 95% success rate in finding whales and dolphins, and certainly did not disappoint. First, we found several major pods of dolphins that loved bow riding and wake surfing our boat. After 45 minutes of playing with them, we went out a little further using the boat's underwater sounding gear for guidance, and quickly found three more sperm whales, two of which treated us to those spectacular tail waving deep dives.
Let's see.if this is Wednesday, this must be St. Lucia. That means the catamaran sail to the volcano, into the harbor guarded by the Pitons. Ah, the photo opps. The wife, son and I brought back nearly 750 photos, all but a hundred of which are digital. This catamaran sail is a pretty complete tour of the best parts of St. Lucia, which is a beautiful island but which is also bogged down in some degree of native poverty. Sailing down the west side of the island from Castries (where you dock) to Soufriere, you see endless rain forests and sheer cliffs interrupted by attractive inlets and beaches. The southern port, which handles some of the sailing cruise ships, offers relatively easy access to the "drive-in volcano" and Diamond Falls, the mineral baths, and the Botanical Gardens where the French Empress Josephine is said to have bathed. The local beer, Pitons, sampled on the sailboat, was excellent.
The next stop is St. Kitts. Personally, I though this was one of the nicest islands I've visited. For one thing, although formed by three different volcanoes, the terrain has been gentled and the island is still ideal for sugar cane farming. We took a driving and hiking tour operated by Greg, which included exposure to St. Kitts native life, a visit to the Batik factory (a beautifully restored old plantation property next to the rainforest National Park) and a 2-hour hike through the rainforest. St. Kitts is the home of Carib Beer. don't pass it up! It's the island version of Corona, lime wedges and all.
Finally, St. Thomas. I am NOT a big fan of St. Thomas, perhaps because I've been there four times in the last 18 months. We've been to the others, so we went to Coki Beach this time. The local dive shop in Havensight offers discount tix to Coral World, and while you don't NEED to go to Coral World to sample Coki Beach, this aquatic theme park has the best facilities. We had a very nice day here, watching the people using the "snuba" gear, swimming and snorkeling, and finding a great little beach shack cookery which did up a truly excellent lunch. I always thought I like Megan's Bay best of the island beaches, but I think I've been converted to Coki, which is less crowded and has better snorkeling.
All good things must end, and so after wandering around in the sea between St. Thomas and San Juan (it's only 90 miles.they could get there in 4-5 hours if they wanted) it was time to return home. Just a few comments about the Sky. She has just come out of dry dock after her summer in Alaska, and has been beautifully refitted. She has new carpets and paint where needed, some new furniture, and is generally in tip-top condition. NCL made a good decision when it made changes to the Sun to make it better suited for Freestyle.the Sun has more restaurant choices and less "multi-use" spaces (for instance, the Sky has a space in the sports bar that also serves as the disco AND one of the alternative restaurants, depending on time of day). One other criticism of both ships is that they have only two elevator/stair stacks, and it is a looooong way between them. The crew was extremely friendly and the service generally top- notch. I have found that the pooling of tips for Freestyle has done nothing to diminish the level of service, and I have never received better service on Carnival, RCCL or Celebrity. The only line with better service, in my opinion, is Costa.
Day 1: Embarkation: We had flown from El Paso, Texas to Los Angeles by way of Phoenix on America West. Air arrangements went smoothly. Thanks to our agent, who made our seat reservations, our seats were located by an isle toward the front of the aircraft. Upon arrival at the Los Angeles airport we were met by a NCL representative. It was early. We waited almost 2 hours before the 1st bus arrived and most importantly the baggage truck. Finally, we were on the bus and heading toward the port. Upon arrival at the port NCL terminal we were confronted with long lines of people also waiting embarkation processing. We waited for almost 2 hours for the process to begin. There were no facilities for sitting. Finally the process began. One side of the counters were for non-US citizens and about ½ was for US citizens. The NCL representative feeding the processing counter admitted that this slow cumbersome process would never occur at Princess Cruise Line. That comment surprised me and all that hear it. Finally we were at the counter; new problem; the computer would not accept our documentation. After muchtrial and error we were processed. We arrived at the pier processing location at about 10:00am and were on board the ship at 1:15 pm. Lunch was the first order of business. This embarkation was without any doubt the worse that we had experienced in all of our past 23 cruises.
Stateroom: We were located on the deck 9, 9045, amidships, portside. The room with veranda was small. Only 1 person could walk through the room at a time. Closet space was limited and with only 4 drawers below the in closet safe. The safe was easy to handle and quite large. Above the clothes rack was space for the life jackets. All and all the stateroom was well arranged but small. The same can be said for the bathroom. Good arrangement but very small. The shower stall was circular and just enough room for one. Being a "free style " cruises we didn't bring any extra excess clothing. Good thing as space was very limited. The beds were unusual. Beds had a very good mattress with just a bottom sheet and a light comforter and 2 pillows. The air conditioner worked too well. We turned it completely down while sleeping. The Veranda was of good size with 2 chairs (which were small and most uncomfortable) and 1 small table. Access to the veranda was with a door that swung out. Next to the door was a small porthole. Our stateroom was located mid way from the aft elevator and the amid ship elevator. Location was ideal.
Dinning Room: Seven Seas Dinning room is on deck 5. The aft elevator ranged from deck 12 to deck 5. Evening hours were from 5:30 PM to midnight. Dinning personnel were most friendly and efficient. Upon arrival to the dinning room you checked in with a hostess who assigned you a table to your liking if possible and available. We quickly found our favorite table location at the aft of the room with a view of the ship's wake. In general, all meals at the Seven Seas were just average quality with the exception of breakfast. Breakfast was outstanding. Soups and bakery items were very good. We were looking forward to the next 2days were at sea as we headed towards our first port, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Being at sea I took my cameras and explored the ship. As mentioned before we had our first meal at the Garden Restaurant, deck 11 -here is what it looked like. Hungry yet? We were. Lots of choice of everything and we were ready for it after a long morning. This was the inside of the Garden Restaurant. One could also go out to the open deck and sit there.
On the aft of the ship was the Outdoor Café. This is what it looked like: That is just one side as the entire aft section of deck 11 was the Outdoor Café. At this point I might as well show you the entry to the Seven Seas Dinning Room. Here is where we ate most of our meals, especially the evening one: It was one of 2 dinning rooms, Deck 5. There are many more photos taken during the 2 days at sea, but I will leave that for your viewing of the photo albums that I am preparing. The days were filled with ship activities. Many more than one could attend really. However, I choose a few including Creative Writing, an one hour class with 7 sessions for days at sea. It was taught by a professional writer, Mrs. Wolff, who writes mainly for the American Tennis Assoc. magazine. Her husband, Dr. Wolff, gave 3 lectures on the Panama Canal. Mostly lectured about the history of thought about it's construction which began within the 16th Century. He was an excellent speaker, and most interesting.
Activities were abundant and ran from early morning to midnight. One could pick and choose which was of interest. Never a dull moment, or option to read a book or anything you wished to spend your time at.
On my favorite spots was the main pool deck 12: There were several smaller pools available also. This pool was filled with saltwater which is unusual as a ship this size normally would filter and produce its own fresh water. Well I have rambled on enough for now. I can't possibility tell all the details on board, but perhaps you can understand the basics as I try to portray them.
Next Day, Day 4 will be within the Port of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. A beautiful sunrise greeted us after 2 days at sea. Seabirds were everywhere looking for their breakfast. I was able to get one bird up close and personal. After our breakfast we went ashore for some looking and shopping. All the shopping stalls were lined along the shore from the pier. Big business when a cruise ship is at port. After shopping some we stopped for a refreshment. Most important was the fact that the water hole was air conditioned. It was very hot and humid on that day. During our shopping tour we ran across a native of Mexico. Found an internet café and sent a few messages home to friends and family. Café was a good deal too. Cost was $1.00 for 20 minutes but it wasn't cable modem haha! As you may recall the great movie, "Night of the Iguana" was filmed here. Down the coast from the city center is a view of the movie sets and locations of the shooting is still in view. In the city center is the noted statue of the Mermaid. Puerto Vallarta is a charmed city within a beautiful setting. Many of the world's rich and famous visit here continuously. Time had come to return to the ship. We sailed at 5 PM. Next stop is Pulco; Acapulco that is. Another sunrise as we approach Acapulco. In Acapulco we hired a taxi for another shopping tour. The former government store has been closed, so we went to several businesses that specialized in silver jewelry. Edith was in her element! Again I am not dwelling on our adventures there. The pictures within the album tell the story. I did notice however that Acapulco is more expensive than in former times. I believe that the harbor of Acapulco is one of the most impressive anywhere.
Next we have 2 more days at sea. Then we will be at the port of Puntarenas, Costa Rica. See you there after another page of days 7 and 8 at sea with more photos of the ship and crew member we met.
The highlight of our cruise, transit of the Panama Canal, had arrived. Thankfully the skies were cloudy, and of all the 6 past passages of the canal today were not too hot.
First some historical facts about the canal: During it's construction over 200 million cubic yards of material were removed, almost half of which came from Gaillard or Culebra Cut alone. Were this material placed on railroad flatcars, it would circle the globe four times. On January 7, 1914, the floating crane Alexander La Valley made the first complete transit of the Canal. However, the waterway's official inauguration took place on August 15, 1914, with the transit of the SS Ancon.
General Information on the Canal: As of 1998 the fee for our vessel was $1.43 per Displacement Ton I believe that the fee have increased since then) up front by the company agent in Panama City. Cruise ship have priority for passage.
A few words about the 12 year construction phase, roughly from 1912 until completion in 1914. At first the French were unable to cope with the engineering problems and the United States obtained the rights from them and President Teddy Roosevelt assigned a Mr. Lewis as Chief Engineer of the Canal project. At this time Panama became the country of Panama as we know it today and broken away from Columbia. The United States bought the land rights for the Canal for $20 million. All the locks and the use of water within Canal's operation are the original design and operated perfectly from the beginning to the present day.
Words defy an accurate account of the toil and strife experienced during its construction. Deaths in the tens of thousands occurred due to the extreme heat, diseases, and accidents. During the making of the famous Gailard or Culebra Cut, over 50,000 men were working on that phase. In November of 1912 President Teddy Roosevelt visited the Canal Construction. It was the worse of times as it was the height of the rainy season. The visit was the first visit of a U. S. President to a foreign country. He was delighted at what he saw.
I recommend for further reading of the Canal's construction the book, "Path Between the Seas": Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough.
The Canal is under continuous maintenance and allows about 86 vessels to passage daily. It operates on a 24-hour day. Well we are about ready for our passage, so be sure to see the additional photos within my photo album. After leaving San Andres Island we had 2 days at sea for the return to Miami. by the way, San Andres Island was a wonderful new adventure. The island is located about 450 miles NW of the coast of Columbia and is part of Columbia. Due to the political strife on the mainland of Columbia the island was substituted within the itinerary.
The days at sea were calm. So calm on the Caribbean that at times one had to look out to see if the ship was moving.
This was a Carnival ship heading the other way at about noon during our first day at sea. Ugh! Awaiting us after lunch was our disembarking instruction. Instructions included our baggage tags, and customs declaration. Customs is a minor problem however as we were allowed $ 600 per person exemption. Our baggage tags were colored according to the order we were to leave the ship. Time to leave is determined by the time of your flight from Miami. On the morning of departure one is allowed to stay within the stateroom and relax awaiting the call of your color.
On the morning of 16 October the Miami shoreline was in sight. Suddenly we were docked and it was time for an early breakfast.
One item I wish to convey is several new terms that some cruise lines are using today: Welcome Aboard- in radio traffic between the cruise line home office and ship, the cable-ese abbreviation for "passenger" is "pax." Curiously enough, there are some cruise companies that are doing their best to suppress the term "passenger" in favor of the hotelspeak "guest." It is a distressing move; a guest is an invited client whereas the passenger has paid for passage. Sadly, the Norwegian Cruise Line uses "guest." Also, rather than the Purser's Deck they term it Reception Desk. Although a fine home for 14 days, it is not a hotel. I guess I am just too traditional.
Clearing customs; baggage on busses; and in minutes were we near the airport. Soon we would be back to "reality."
I would sail on the Sky again. The ship was spotless and all of the crew and staff were very friendly.
I just got back home from Alaska on a cruise with Norwegian Sky. Wow what a beautiful ship. I have no complaints whatsoever. There were 8 of us that cruised together. We flew to Seattle for a couple of days so that I could spend some time with my stepdaughter. She took us all over Seattle. I would highly recommend taking the extra day to see Seattle when going to Alaska. There are so many things to do there. I would recommend the Space needle and Pikes Place Market for sure. Pikes is a neat fish market, and they throw the fish and there are the most beautiful flowers and fruits. Great prices! We ate at the crab pot which is located there and it was fun and very good. They bring you a bib and for good reason. You order this great seafood and they put a paper down on your table and bring your food in this big wash bowl, and just dump it all on the table. I would also recommend the amphibius duck ride if you don't know anyone in Seattle to show you around.It is alot o! f fun and it is a land and sea tour. The next morning we took the underground tour. If you like history then you will like this tour. It is about how Seattle was started. We then were off to the boat to get on the "Sky".
Boarding was a breeze. After boarding we had a bon-voyage party. One thing I would suggest is get involved with all activities and have fun! After all this is a vacation. The freestyle cruise is just that. You can wear pretty much what you wish. They have speciality restaurants for a fee of $15 but we never seen the need to do that. The food was great. We had some friends that did eat at the speciality restaurants and said the food was great. If you go hungry on the Sky then it is your own fault. If you eat in the main dining rooms plan on 1 1/2 hours because you go through all the courses of the menu starting with the appetizers to the desserts. If you are in a hurry I would suggest the buffet in the Garden Cafe.
Be sure and bring a dropcord as there are not enough outlets. The blow dryer is not very good. There was just enough drawer space, and you can put your luggage under the bed. I thought everything was sufficient. Pack light. Take my advice and pack and take out half of what you pack. I took way too many clothes. I thought we would be changing more from day to night, but some of the shore excursions are late and by the time you get back on the boat you will be tired and just want to go through the buffet line and eat which is casual. The shore excursions that we did were very good. The first was in Juneau. We had booked through coastal helicopter tour through the internet before we had left home. I am so glad we did as we arrived it was very foggy and all the flights were canceled on the boat. The reason we could go on was because coastal is very experienced and they are the ones that are called on in emergiences. They are very experienced and this was great. We landed on Herbert Glacier and walked around for 20 mins. The crevases were awesome, and the water so blue. It was truelly a great experience. After our return from the helicopter tour we met at the red dog saloon with the rest of our group that went on the whale tour. The red dog has sawdust floors. You have to go in there and write your name in the wood. After that we shopped till we dropped. We was the last cruise for the season so just about everything was 1/2 price. We got some great deals. Everyone said the best shopping was in Ketchikan but, I don't agree. I think Juneau or Skagway. Also if you buy alot and afraid you won't be able to pack it all back home, I would advice shipping from the port before you get on the boat. We had bought alot during the cruise and was going to take everything on the last port which was Ketchikan and ship back UPS, but customs would not let us take all that stuff off the boat. You have to wait till you get back and take everything that was purchessed throughout the cruise through customs at the end of the cruise. If we had of known that we would have shipped before we got on the boat before we boarded for the next port. My point is once you take it on the boat you can't take it off till the end of the cruise.
The next day we was in Skagway. Brr. It was very cold . The wind would cut right through you . We had had very mild weather until then. It had been in the high 50's, but that day it was 37 degrees. We rode the white pass summit. I highly recommend that. I recommend sitting on the left side. Going up the mountain there is some beautiful scenery. It goes to the top and you are in Canada. This was our narriaters last day so as a tradition she jumped in the cold water 3 times. They said the water was 36 degrees. I thought she was kidding but by golly she did it. After doing some more shopping and swooping up some more of the great deals we took a ferry to Haines for our twilight excursion. The ride over you have to be on the look out for whales and other wildlife. When we arrived in haines and go on our bus we no longer got started and we seen a bear right there in town. by the way don't blink or you'll miss town. On the way we had 2 very experienced tour guides. They were very informative. We seen Bald Eagles and I would say about 14 grizzley bears. They usually were in 3's and 4's. We would pull over and watch the salmon spawn and then the bears would come to feast on the fish. Our tour directors told us to stay close to the bus and all in one group. We were to get on the bus if they said so fast. They had bear pepperspray. They had powerful telescopes to look through. The chilikoot river was very beautiful.
The next day was Glacier Bay. Wow! This was very beautiful and cold. You will hear a roaring thunder then see the ice crashing in the water. This was truelly a great experience. The next day we were in Ketchikan. This was a very rainy day. Be sure and go to creek street. The buildings are on stilts in the water and the fish are spawning upstream. We seen a seal trying to get the fish. Be sure and go to Dollys house. This was a neat place. Everything is still the original. The girls that work there are a hoot. Be sure and ask about the Silk flowers on the shower curtain.
The next day was the inside passage. We were so tired and trying to pack for the last day of our cruise that we didn't see a whole lot of it. I wish now I had spent more time just observing, but felt overwhelmed by all the packing and trying to get all the stuff that I had bought together (ha ha !). You have to have your luggage out by 3am . My friend had a broken handle on her suitcase, and the staff were so nice to replace it for her at no charge. They put a whole new handle on for her. The staff really go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. They wait on you hand and and foot. One night we had lobsters, and the waiter took care of getting them out of the shell for me. Anything we asked for we got. Everyone was trully nice. They had a mint on our pillow every night and made our gown into some kind of fish. They turned our beds down and kept our room very clean. Well the last day was in Vancouver B.C. We decided to take the last bus out on quick coach so that we could spend the day there. I wish we had a extra day. This was a beautiful place. Very clean. The scenery beautiful. We had left our luggage at the holiday inn for a fee of $10 for all of our luggage. We took the double decker bus for a city tour since we didn't have very long there. That way we could see the highlights. I would have loved to spent the day at Stanly Park or the neat Gastown. Granville Island would have been nice too. Well after that we headed back to Seattle. We had to go through customs. That was the worst part. We had to get our luggage off the bus and carry it ourselves through customs then take it back to the bus. By the way we didn't know until we had already purchased bus tickets that we could have taken a limo back to Seattle for what it cost us for the bus. We headed to Seattle with beautiful scenary. I took a nap as it was a 4 hour drive. When arriv! ing to Seattle the security was very tight as it was the whole time. I was glad as it made me feel safer. We was off to our home and very tired.
I would say this is the most layed back cruise that I have ever been on. The way they had this spaced out you had your shore excursions, then you had a day of rest on the boat. I would recommend the norweigian sky. The shows are the best from what I hear. I have never cruised on any other line other than norwegian, but I don't have any complaints to make me go to another. I heard that the food was better on other cruise lines, but the shows were better on norwegian. I don' t see how the food could get much better, but maybe I should try another cruise line to see. Nah. why fix it if its not broke.
This was my first cruise and wish I had known about this web site before signing on for it. I traveled with my 14-year-old son with a group from Hawaii. My first disappointment came at boarding time. The ship was leaving at 4:00 and boarding began at 1:00. Our group arrived at the pier at 1:30. It took us an hour and a half to board -- after standing in 3 separate lines reminiscent of the Disneyland lines. I don't know why it never occurred to me that there would be 2000 other people on the ship.
As both my son and I are not very big, the stateroom was comfortable for us. It was actually a welcomed haven from the crowds everywhere else on the ship.
Leaving port for the first time was very exciting for us and we were not disappointed with the fanfare. However, everywhere we went, there were crowds. We usually used the stairs to get around as the elevators were always packed with people.
The first night, we had dinner at Le Bistro. The food and service were excellent and worth the $10/person cover charge. Thereafter, itwas pretty much downhill. The buffet restaurants (more like cafeteria) had mediocre food (except for great desserts) and unless you get there at off-peak times, there were lines and no place to sit. The weather was bad for most of the trip so we couldn't sit outside. We ended up sometimes taking trays back to our cabin to eat and of course by the time we got back to the cabin, the food was cold. The breakfast food in the buffet restaurants was lukewarm. Horizons was decent -- pretty much serving the same food as the buffet but at least the food was hot. There were also lines at this restaurant -- one morning we saw a crowd waiting outside the door for the restaurant to open for breakfast. We tried room service a couple of times to avoid the crowds but the room service menu was very, very limited.
There was a lack of shops on board for those of us who like to shop. Pretty much the only place to shop was the Duty Free shop which had everything from ship souvenirs to Waterford crystal. There were people smoking all over the ship. I have asthma and had 2 attacks while on board because of all the smoking -- if you want to just sit in the observation lounge, which is also a bar, you can sit in the nonsmoking section which is right next to the smoking section, I guess with an "invisible" wall in between.
Positive aspects of this ship: clean; great service
Negative aspects: Too crowded, mediocre food in the "free" restaurants, restaurants closed too early (one evening we all came back from shore around 9:00, hungry, and half of the buffet was closed off. The other half hardly had any food left.), smoking pretty much everywhere.
I wouldn't recommend this cruise to anyone unless you like standing in lines for everything and mediocre food.-
We booked this cruise and then began to look at reviews about this ship. We were more than a little worried since all reviews were negative, no matter which cruise forum we looked at. We decided to wait and let the ship speak for itself. So, here is our account of the May 19th Inside Passage cruise. (We have sailed on RCCL, Carnival, and Celebrity. We are 40 year old parents of a 17 year old and a 13 year old, both traveling with us)
We arrived at the Seattle Pier at 11:00 and were greeted by the nicest personnel we could ask for. We were inside with our room keys by 11:30, a new record for us! Upon entering the ship we were happy to see a beautiful, clean ship with happy and efficient personnel. If only the rest of the cruise went this smoothly!
We went to our room, or should I say cracker box. We had our two children with us and we had absolutely NOWHERE to put anything. You get three Barbie size drawers.period! It made for a very cramped week.
We went to the buffet tograb a quick snack before dinner and were totally disgusted with the choices. The buffet was terrible the entire week! The ice cream is under lock and key, and only available from 3-5 P.M. if you want to wait in line for an hour.
We went to the Seven Seas dining room and received extremely slow and unfriendly service topped off with mediocre food. The service is so slow you better plan on at least 2 hours, but expect up to three hours to finish your meal. We tried again at breakfast, and that evening for dinner with the same experience.
We decided to try Le Bistro and were thrilled with white glove service and FANTASTIC food. We ate there the rest of the week for dinner at a cost of 40.00 per night, which covers the tips in alternative restaurants. The problem I have with this is that it's obvious that NCL is capable of training great staff, and serving outstanding food. However if you want it you are forced to pay extra. No other ship we have ever sailed on has treated us this way; we have always had fantastic service and good food included in the price of the cruise. Additionally, they automatically add the tips to your bill even if you never dine in the main restaurants. ($280.00 for 4 people for 7 days) This irritated me to no end so I went to the percers desk to complain. They told us we could take off the tips if we would fill out a form, so we did.
The nightlife is nonexistent; the daily activities are nothing more than sales talks by the cruise staff. There is NOTHING to do on this cruise except sleep and wait for the port cities. My children were bored to death, truthfully so we my husband and I.
This was the most disappointing vacation of our lives! We would NEVER recommend NCL to anyone. There are way too many great cruise lines out there to choose from! If you have any questions fell free to write me.
We have just returned from a 7 night cruise abord the Sky. After reading alot of negative reviews in the message boards I was a little apprehensive about choosing NCL. I pleased to say that all the negative reviews were completely unfounded. We had a wonderful trip. One problem we encountered just before leaving was that on the Oslo deck 6a there is no elevator. Our Travel agent assured us that there was when we booked the trip. My wife needs to use a wheelchair so this was a huge problem. The Staff on the Sky were very obliging and allowed us to use the Crews Service Elevator for the entire cruise.
Embarkation started out a little slow but one of the staff saw us with a wheelchair and took us right up to the front for processing. We got to our rooms right away but it did take a while for our bags to get to our room so remember to bring a bag with clothes for the first night just in case.(We later found out that some of the service elevators had malfuntiond and the crew had to usethe stairs to deliver the bags) We ate once at Seven Seas, but chose to eat the rest of the week at 4 Seasons because they could accomodate our party of 12 and sit us at 1 table. The menu at both of these restaurants is the same each day so that wasn't an issue. We had alot of fun with the wait staff. They were very friendly and efficient. I never had to wait for water or drinks and the food was served promtly. It was also excellent and perfectly cooked. I did not recieve a bad meal all week.(6 lbs later) A far cry from what some of the reveiws had said. One night we ate at Le Bistro just to try it out.($10.00 surcharge) Both food and service were outstanding. The only thing that somewhat marred the experience was a abusive, obnoxious guest who I would have thrown off the boat. I commend the Maiter D for staying calm and professional thruout. I think every cruise has one or more idiots that feel that they can act like an ass just because they could pay for a ticket.
For breakfast we usually ate at the Buffet at the Garden Cafe. The food was good and plentyful. There is also an ommlette and waffle station which were both very good. We usually ate lunch at the Garden Buffet also because it was quick and easy and the food was good. We also had 2 excellent lunches at the Seven Seas.
We took the Pirates and Dungeons Tour. Save your money. Not worth it. Nassau is very run down. With all the cruises and tourism that goes there I would think that they would keep it up better. I didnt see Atlantis so I can't comment on that.
A beautiful Island. We went on the Atlantis Submarine. It was expensive $82.00 but OK for a one time thing. Also make sure you take the Cable Car to the top of the Island.($15.00) Awesome veiws. San Juan
I took the Rainforest tour.($37.00) It was supposed to be 4 hours but it ended up being 6 hours. The tour guide and driver where great and very knowledgeable. We got to see alot of the island off the beaten path. I think that this was worthwhile. My wife took the Old and New San Juan Tour and was not very happy with it. Pass up on this one.
Great Stirrup Cay
What a beautiful Island. Great Barbecue. A word of advice. Have one person in your party go up to the observation lounge early to get tickets for the Tender. The line will start by the bar about 45 minutes before they tell you to be there. You really want to get to onto the first Tender to get the best spots on the beach. Head to the left for the best access to the water. Snorkeling was great hear. Lots of fish. I came face to face with a very mean looking Barracuda which scared the crap out of me. When I got to shore I found out from one of the workers who stays on the Island that there are 3 of them that live in the lagoon. There used to people and are completely harmless. They've even named them. I think I ran into Charlie. About 4' long. I wish I had an underwater camera for that one.
The cabin was definately small but well laid out. It was OK for 2 but any more than that might make you crazy. There is a safe, a refrigerator and a hairdryer. The closet is small but there is room under the bed for suitcases. The mattresses where pretty hard but I slept fine on it. If you leave the beds apart as twins you will have a lot more room but we had ours put together. Same with the bathroom. Small but functional. Bring a Travel Alarm. Our steward "Ramkkisson" was amazing. For one of the people in our group he went to the kitchen and microwaved their popcorn a couple of times. I went out of the room for 5 minutes one night and when I came back the room was made up. It was like magic. I dont know how he did it. And it was like that all week. Rooms are done twice a day and the covers turned down and chocolates put out at night.
Small but nice. Was sometimes a little crowded. I won a litle on the blackjack tables. The lowest table is a $5.00 table. The slots didnt seem to have great payouts though. Good craps action.
Very good. Don't miss any of them. Check the times. We missed one show and walked in at the end because we had a late dinner and thought that the show started later.
Overindulgence. Ate till I was ready to burst. Didnt want to pass up anything.
Well thats about it. Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions and I'll answer them if I can. Overall our entire party of 12 had a fantastic time. We really enjoyed Freestyle and will only do Freestyle from now on. We are already planning our next cruise together for next year and it will be on NCL.
My January cruise onboard NCL's Norwegian Sky was my fifteenth cruise overall and my second with NCL-- my other being out of Houston on the short-lived (old) Norwegian Star in 1997. Needless to say, this was a whole new breed of the "new NCL" and was a very pleasant surprise.
EMBARKATION-- Kudos to NCL on this one. It seems as if they've gone to great lengths to improve their facilities at the Port of Miami, and it shows. We were in line for about 45 minutes, and the check in workers were very helpful when my traveling companion had a problem with her identification. There was a slight bottleneck when boarding the ship because of the welcome aboard photos, but i never mind them; it's part of the cruise, it means "you're there"-- the ship, and the initial boarding of her, is just about my favorite moment. This was the first ship I've been on when you weren't boarded directly into the lobby or otherwise below decks. Upon posing with a couple of dancers for your photo, you realize you are outside on the Promenade Deck jogging track, which wraps around theSky 360 degrees. This is the first moment you notice the cost-effecient royal blue sportcourt type synthetic material that NCL used instead of the cladssic teakwood decks-- some old school ship buffs or those seeking a refined luxury experience may complain, but it didn't bother me one bit. This material prevented even the slightest slippery area up on deck, a big problem on board some ships. The next nice touch was the fact that you get your room key/shipboard credit card or your specific deck, not at one huge station. Upon boarding, i headed to Int'l deck 7, and there in the stairwell foyer was a friendly attendant with the corresponding cards. A nice touch.THE SHIP--
It's true what I've ready about Sky's cabins in that they're, well, SMALL. It takes a lot to negatively affect me on a cruise, and this was no exception. Upon sliding our luggage under the bed, we had plenty of room and frankly, hardly spent enough time in the cabin to notice. As for the public areas, right away I noticed a polished but unintimidating, inviting air to the Sky. She doesn't have the sizzle & flash of Carnival nor the sublime touches of Celebrity-- but somehow she falls neatly in between. The atrium sets the tone for the rest of the ship. Full of light, glass, woods, and brass. Extensive use of plants and trees adds to the ambience nicely. It is much smaller than the atriums of Carnival's Fantasy class vessels, but feels very grand and cozy at the same time. Midnight buffets & cocktail parties onboard ship took place over three levels of the atrium, which created a very unique club-like experience. Very classy yet still fun.
RESTAURANTS-- NCL's Freestyle Dining was a real hit with me. The one complaint people have is that it DOES take away somewhat from the traditional formal night experience, and this is somewhat true. The positives, however, seem to more than make up for this. The alternative restaurants, Horizons, Le Bistro, and Ciao Chow, all require reservations. A smart move is to make these as soon as you're onboard ship, as Horizons & Le Bistro book up quickly. Horizons was by far my favorite, and based on demand i'd say it was the favorite of my fellow passengers as well. It is basically a long hallway connecting the Four Seasons and Seven Seas dining rooms, with large picture windows the full length. Elevated semi-circular booths sit elevated against the back wall and initimate tables for two and four sit directly against the windows. Book a meal during a caribbean sunset and you won't be disappointed. Some people were concerned the service would suffer due to the freestly mentality, but I saw the opposite occur. We had wonderful service without exception, and once we became friendly with a particular waitress and busgirl in the Seven Seas, we made 4 of our 7 meals there.. We found it to be a far more pleasant, peaceful room than the Four Seasons. Outside of the Seven Seas aft was a mini-atrium called Neptune's Court. An impressive statue of the sea god stood in the middle with a beautiful 2-story stained glass mural running upward from above the restaurant's entrance. Giant white columns run upwards on either side of the glass & wood staircase.
CHECKERS CABARET-- The "B" Lounge for entertainment. Checkers boasts of "the longest bar at sea", and this attitude fills the club. The only complaints I had about Checkers was the fact that the club runs the full width of the ship, so transversing it requires walking though. A minor nuisance, but i prefer the full-length promenades. There's tons of seating at Checkers, and it never seemed full. The dance floor, however, could probably be enlarged, as that area was PACKED nightly with "dance through the decades" parties being the hit attraction as every hour we counted down "new year's" of a new decade. Checkers is quite a hybrid as far as shipboard lounges go-- the passenger's talent show was held here and not in the main showroom, but at the same time it serves as the ship's disco-- Sky doesn't have the traditional "dance club" onboard. Still, in functioned well, and gave us many a fun night. The two large clown statues that welcome you into the lounge give you an idea of what you have in store when you enter this room!
STARDUST LOUNGE-- Pretty much your traditional cruise ship showroom. The tables in front of the lower-level benches are bolted to the floor and don't give you much legroom, so sometimes some deft manuevering was required. Also, be sure to get to the Stardust early, as it fills to the rafters at every show and sightlines from the back and upper levels is often obstructed by support pillars. Luckily, with freestyle dining, you shouldn't have a problem arranging your schedule so that you can eat and then be in the lounge a half-hour before showtime. There are plenty of bar waiters hovering around, so you won't have a problem having a few drinks and enjoying the music before the show starts. As for the entertainment, the best at sea bar none. I've sailed with Carnival 9 times, and though they're top-notch without question, I have never experienced entertainment like i did my week onboard the Sky. NCL brings top-flight comedians with household names, singers whose reputation precedes them, and the amazing Jean Ann Ryan company who puts on musical revues and cirque de soliel performances that would fit in at any land based resort. Also, THREE major shows instead of the usual two. A+.
POOL AREA-- We never had a problem getting deck chairs to lay out. There seems to be ample deck space, and unless you want a spot right by the pool, you won't have a bit of trouble. Pool Deck 11 was very intelligently laid out. Topsiders Bar by the main pools (which butt up to each other, separated by 4 hot tubs) quickly became one of my favorite spots. It's very large for a pool bar and had multiple televisions like any good sports bar, yet maintained its pool bar feel. I just wish it stayed open later-- the late-night dock party is ALWAYS one of my favorite nights on any cruise, and this was no exception. Mardi Gras type "men on stilts" parading through, food everywhere, conga lines, bands playing into the wee hours, and shot girls pushing carts of all sorts of original concotions around the deck on carts all added to the scene. It was quite a party. Sports Deck 12 sits above this area, and the rails from the wraparound promenade overlooking the pool were also packed to the brim with partiers enjoying drinks, food, and the two-deck high festivities. Champ's Bar is basically the smaller sometimes forgotten about version of Topsiders, sitting up on Deck 12. The Garden Cafe more than served its purpose. Buffets were so-so, but made to order omelettes and fresh soups daily were out of this world. The Sports Bar-- yes, that's the name-- is a fairly small, plain area opposite the Garden Cafe. It seemed underused and somewhat out of place. Moving forward, however, the Observation Lounge was one of the most impressive rooms onboard the Sky. This Polynesian-themed lounge had Bali-Hai platters almost around the clock and a good sized bar opposite the small stage/bandstand in the center of the room. The theme is played up very well in the room, but you may not even notice because of the beautiful view the huge, slanted windows give you of the bow. This lounge stands out even more because it's almost hidden. You have to walk down a hallway with polished oak walls adorned with plaques and certificates commemorating important moments in the Sky's life to get there, and once you're in, you feel blissfully disconnected from anywhere else. Entertainment in the lounge includes dance lessons, big band music, trivia contests, and a wonderful show in which the magician/comedian told the secrets to some basic magic tricks... that show packed the place!
CASINO AREA-- The Monte Carlo casino was smaller than what you'd find on Carnival's ships, but never felt too crowded or smoky. The casino bar was one of our favorite spots and was surprisingly good for people watching. Off one wing of the casino was the video arcade, oddly enough only accessible through the casino... that one is beyond me. Off the other was the mini-promenade connecting the casino to the Stardust Lounge. This was one of my favorite areas. The internet cafe ran along the length of the port side wall, with the exception of the coffee bar which sat in the middle on the promenade. Starboard side was the galleria, an effective if not overwhelming set of duty-free shops. One of my favorite parts of this area was the mural on the ceiling, which was entirely painted as the sky, with baby blue and fluffy white clouds. Nice touch.
Churchill's Cigar Bar was a popular before dinner spot, with big overstuffed leather chairs, a pub-like feel, and the old-fashioned Windjammer Bar on the back wall. This area has deep, dark colors and rich polished woods. The smoky and dimly lit atmosphere is very appropriate and allows this area to stand out. The only drawback is its close proximity to the Photo Gallery, which becomes an incrdibly high traffic area through much of the evening.
Gatsby's Wine Bar sits atop the Sky right next to NCL's patented Le Bistro alternative restauarnt. Gatsby's is a subtly decorated airy lounge that feels bigger than it is. A lone baby grand supplies all the entertainment you need, and tapas are served at certain times. Gatsby's is probably the quietest spot onboard ship and can be a great area for an "escape".
Ciao Chow, the half chinese/half italian restaurant, sits across from the Garden Cafe. I never made it to this option, as I was too into the rest of the food to step away! I did, however, order pizza from here via room service several times and found it to be top notch. I heard from several passengers that the sushi was to die for as well.
Speaking of room service, it was a step beyond what i expected and had grown accustomed to. Even when in port, service was always prompt, accurate, and with a smile. The Sky's service in general was friendly and effecient but never intrusive or "in your face"... in this regard, I feel as if the Freestyle tipping policy creates a MAJOR plus. Besides, no slimy maitre'd to deal with on the last night. ;)
Disembarkation was a snap. With Freestyle, you can wait in your cabins, so have breakfast, take in some trivia, whatever-- no desginated waiting areas (more like "holding cells") to speak of. As good of an experience as getting off of a cruise ship could possible be, i presume.
I didn't get into shore excursions because they're pretty similar to other lines, with the exception of St. John's. At Trunk Bay, after taking our scenic bus tour, we were dropped off at the beach with a group of HAL passengers. At the beach, the snorkeling demo was performed and then the instructor said "snorkels, lifevests, and fins can be rented for $20 each-- NCL Sky passengers, NCL has paid for that part of the excursion and it's all free for you".... that was a great touch, and I felt almost cocky flashing my Sky ID card. :)
All in all, this cruise was a wonderful surprise. NCL is without question taking steps in the right direction to return to prominence, and it shows. The problems were slight, and when I'm on a cruise, it's gonna take a LOT to wipe the permanent smile off my face. The Norwegian Sky did everything it could to make that smile even bigger and the memories even brighter.
Our Sawyer Glacier Cruise on the Sky left out of Seattle. I made our flight arrangements personally and my three granddaughters (12, 12 and 10) and I arrived at SeaTac International just before noon after our two-hour flight from San Jose.
I had made arrangements for a limo to take us from the airport to the Bell Street Terminal (Pier 66). Although it was a relatively quick trip, the limo had a fixed cost and was actually cheaper than a taxi. Not only did the girls enjoy riding in a limousine, but the bonus was that all our luggage fit in the trunk. The limo was a definite plus.
The embarkation process was well organized and we had only a short wait once we reached the upper floor of the terminal. Most of our luggage was delivered to our cabins in a timely manner, but several pieces belonging to the 10-year old didn't show up for a couple of hours. This didn't present a great problem, since we had lunch and explored the ship in the meantime.
Departure gave us a great view of the Seattle skyline and each of the girlsused my cellular telephone to share their excitement with their parents. Since two of them were cruise veterans (Disney Magic) they enjoyed the comparisons with the Disney ship.
Since we didn't expect to spend much time in our rooms, I had secured inside cabins. Big mistake! The cabins were located amidship well away from elevators and stairs. While the cabins themselves were clean and comfortable, they were very small and had poor ventilation. I got sick (thanks NCL) and would have paid a king's ransom to be able to open a window. Our cabin steward was friendly and efficient and the cabins were well soundproofed.
The ship is beautiful and well-appointed, but it is poorly laid out. To go forward or aft requires going through the restaurants or lounges and even through the casino. There are four glass-bubble type elevators (glitzy but small) in the atrium rotunda, and eight conventional elevators fore and aft. We found the conventional elevators more practical and less heavily utilized in peak traffic periods.
The girls found the organized youth activities boring and the Kids Corner facilities quite limited. They had a far better time playing ping-pong, swimming and playing board games on their own. With only one day at sea, there was more than enough to entertain them. Our observation was that most of the kids on the ship (and there were quite a few families) felt similarly about the shipboard programs.
On my previous Alaskan cruise (Crown Princess) I greatly enjoyed sitting in the forward lounge reading a book and watching the magnificent Alaskan coast slip past. The problem with the Sky is that I couldn't find a quiet place to do so. The library was small and dark and really more of bar than a quiet place to read. While the Observatory Lounge didn't offer particularly great views it would have held out some promise - except for the daytime entertainment. The first day it was a German ump-pa-pa band. Not particularly good but very loud! The next day it was a dance instructor with an absolutely grating Australian accent shouting ‘1-2-3, 1-2-3 . . .', over and over again through a PA system pegged to maximum volume. Excedrin time!
The shore tours were typical of most of the cruise lines on the Alaska summer route. There were no less than six cruise ships in port when we arrived in Skagway. Needless to say that the in-town traffic in tour buses and similar vehicles was intense. We booked a bus tour to the White Pass eschewing the railway trip (which I had done previously and while interesting as a one-way trip, would have exceeded the attention span of our family's next generation of shoppers-in-training.) The girls thoroughly enjoyed shopping in Skagway (and most everywhere else for that matter) and always returned to the ship happy with their treasures. I should note that shopping in Alaska is largely given to tourist junk, although a few shops have some authentic (but pricy) native art.
We booked a wild life cruise in Juneau. It was interesting, but most of the wildlife was relative dormant. We did happen upon a breeching whale and that more than made the day trip worthwhile.
Now to the food and service. As someone that enjoys really good cuisine, I found the food on the Sky to be considerably below the level of good on-shore restaurants. I permitted the girls to have breakfast and lunch at the buffets, but I insisted that they dress up for dinner and that they select their meals from the adult menu.
I was disappointed to find that the menus in the main dining rooms was the same, in fact food was prepared in a common kitchen. The speciality restaurants, Le Bistro and Ciao Chow, do have unique menus. Le Bristo was good. Ciao Chow was not. I found the Seven Seas dining room to be a good place for a quiet breakfast. I could read and have table service while the majority of the passengers crowded around the buffet tables. The food served for breakfast in the Seven Seas was, however, no better than that found in the buffet. The principal advantage, it seems, in choosing the dining room for breakfast and lunch is that you don't have to hunt for a vacant table or fight off half the Baby-Boomer generation to maintain your place in the buffet line.
While the wait staff was courteous and efficient, many of our fellow passenger were rude, crude and obnoxious. Perhaps some of this was just the clientele drawn by NCL, but I feel that the FreeStyle Cruising concept was a major contributor. Gone forever, I fear, is the civility and dignity of dining that has characterized the great cruise ships. Instead we have the same kind of hash lines you find at amusement parks and WWF wrestling matches. The dumbing-down of America continues! On several occasions, I saw gray-haired old women literally shove one of my granddaughters out of the way, so the old bat could get to the food a few seconds quicker.
What made this so distressing to me was that one of my goals on the cruise was to introduce my grandchildren to cruising and the qualities of refined courtesy and manners that once were synonymous with the great ships. To this end, I made reservations for the four of us to dine in Le Bistro. This is a small dinning room with a distinct menu and elegant furnishings. I made it a big point with the girls and they responded magnificently.
On the afternoon of our big dinner date, all three disappeared in an aura of girlish secrecy. When they finally emerged from their cabin, the reason was clear - they had all gone to the beauty salon to have their hair done. Unfortunately their budget of $50 apiece was insufficient at the pricey salon, so they settled for a cosmetic make-over.
So there they were, in their evening finery, sporting pale pink lipstick with hints of blush and eye shadow tastefully adorning their young faces. Their grandfather could not have asked for more a beautiful bevy to escort. We had a great time in Le Bistro. Its food (although not 5-star) was excellent and well presented. The service (as expected) was outstanding.
Lest you dismiss my comments about the other passengers as the rantings of a stiff-necked, gentrified snob, let me share another frustration with the Baby-Boomers on the ship. This had to do with the 50's and 60's night. The girls had been looking forward to participating in the festivities. They had each packed an appropriate costume (poodle-skirt, flourescent wig, tie-dyed hippie clothes, etc.) and Grand-faw´-ther (as they had lovingly chosen to refer to me) had his own surprise. On leaving their cabin for dinner time they found me hanging out in the hallway in a ‘Fonzie' get-up (blue jeans, a white tee shirt, black leather jacket, and slicked-back hair.)
Apparently we were the only people on the ship who bothered to dress in costume. The girls had practiced the twist and other 50's dances, but were literally pushed off the dance floor by the adults. When the crew began its ‘Happy Days' buffoonery, the adults pushed in front of our table so that none of us could see. We eventually gave up and went back to our cabins. The Ugly-American strikes again.
We all enjoyed the chocolate buffet which is set up in the atrium rotunda at midnight, but here again, the crowds were as bad as a New York subway. You could barely move. The staff made a vain attempt to control traffic into and out of the rotunda, but they were largely ignored.
All of these frustrations would have been bearable, however, had I not come down with food poisoning our third evening out. This was no minor bout, either. I have never been so sick in my life! I spent a half day hooked to an IV in the ship's hospital and the rest of the trip in my tiny little cabin wondering if I were going to die. I was so sick that I was sure that they would have to airlift me off the ship.
Since I had not eaten anything off the ship, I owe this experience totally to NCL. The ship's doctor diagnosed it as E-coli poisoning. And I learned on my return home that the he had given me exactly the wrong treatment. To add insult to my injury, NCL billed me $327.00 for medical care and $13.00 for bottled water into which I had to mix my medicinal Gatorade.
In Vancouver, the Sky docked at the Ballentine terminal, a second-rate facility located in the cargo container area of the port. Apparently being a relative late-comer to the Alaska market and based in Seattle, NCL could not secure docking rights at the Canada Place passenger terminal. This made sight-seeing in Vancouver inconvenient at best. We took a cab downtown, but after walking a few blocks in my weakened condition, I had to return to the ship.Overall, the Sky has potential. A beautiful ship, good crew and well appointed (albeit smallish) cabins. Food quantity and variety is good, but quality definitely needs improvement. And my illness suggests that better care and/or hygiene could be observed in food handling.
I think NCL would do well to lose the FreeStyle Cruising concept, but I suspect I am in the minority on casual vs. formal attire. The ship's layout does not provide good traffic flow and there are few quiet locations in the public areas of the ship. Most of the Inside Passage cruises share the same scenery and ports-of-call, but I would give the Glacier Bay itinerary the edge over Sawyer Glacier.
Based on my experience, I would never again cruise on NCL. Life is too short and vacations too few to again compromise quality for price, or shorts-n-sandals grab-food for sophisticated cuisine.
We just returned from the November 5th sailing on the Norwegian Sky to the Western Caribbean. This was my 30th cruise and first on NCL. Prior to leaving I had spent several months finding out as much about NCL and the SKY as possible and in all honesty everything I read was not good. This was from bad food, rude people, bad service, small rooms, no storage space and on and on.
Something told me to go anyway. I would like to personally report this was one of the best cruises we have ever had. Let me explain.
Getting through embarkation was a breeze, the NCL staff had everything under control and we were on board within a brief time. We were met by several staff members and they were all very friendly.
Our cabin was on Deck 8 (8040) outside in the middle of the ship, a perfect location. Yes the room was small but very nicely appointed. The king bed was very comfortable and the bathroom was very spacious in size. I have to agree with everyone on the storage space there is very little, only three small drawers. However there isplenty of hanging space.
Through the entire cruise the room was so quiet we never heard any creaking or groaning of the ship, in fact we never heard anything from any other rooms. This was the first time I could say that of any ship we had been on. Another thing, the SKY was so smooth sailing you never even felt you were moving.
The food was a surprise better then expected in all areas, it was always hot and the servings were good size. In fact almost everytime we were offered seconds of everything we never had to ask.
The Seven Seas dining room staff was the greatest, they were always there filling whatever requests we had. We enjoyed the Freestyle Dining but we like the fact of having the same waiter and busperson each night, so it is a personal choice on Freestyle Dining, but allot of people liked it.
The Buffets were excellent. The only thing I was frustrated with was we could never get a Reservation in the specialty dining rooms, they had a hard time with a party of six.
The Tours were what I expected, overpriced and not very exciting, you could do the same Tours on your own for half the price. However the private NCL island is great not to be missed. The water is so clear you can see down 50 feet.
The high points have to go to NCL's entertainment, it was great, every night they put on a show that was better then the prior night, we enjoyed every show.
So, what do I think, other then the storage space the Norwegian SKY received high marks from all of us. Yes, there was some rude staff people but very few and only in some areas, this should not stop anyone from going on the SKY, NCL has done a great job with this ship and none of what I was concerned about was a problem.
If you are going on the SKY, be sure to get a cabin on a deck other then 6, it is difficult getting from one end to the other on deck 6.
If you would like to know more, please email me and I will assist anyone planning on going on the SKY with further comments.