Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sky
Sailing Date: January 12th, 2003
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
This was my third cruise, the 1st being a 3 day Disney, the second the NCL Sun Western Caribbean. This was my favorite, the people on the boat and the itinerary making it so. I am a 32 yo F respiratory therapist who took my 28 yo mechanic boyfriend on his first cruise. We are hippies who travel a lot but I never thought I'd get him to cruise, he always thought he would be stuck on a boat full of stuffy rich people with nothing to do! Well, needless to say he is now hooked! -but he agrees with me that freestyle is the only way to go.
I found a great deal on airfare from Northwest, 220$ rt from Pittsburgh to San Juan- whoopee! -but for this price we had to arrive Thursday, leave Monday, cruise was Sunday to Sunday. Hmmm, do I want to hang around beautiful 85 degree Puerto Rico for 4 days around my cruise when I could be home in 10 degree Pittsburgh weather? let me think, --YEP!
We rented a car to explore the island, what an adventure! Puerto Ricans are very friendly until they get behind the wheel of a car! I'm a pretty aggressive driver, so I had no problem, but I know my mother would have probably been a nervous wreck driving there. It's nice to have a car to explore the out island, roads are well marked, (though signs are in Spanish) and there are some beautiful scenic drives, but to go into Old San Juan, rent a cab! We toured the Caribbean National Forest, El Yunque, the Rio Camuy Caves, and the Areico Observatory. This island is beautiful, and worth a couple days exploration. If you want a hotel pre or post cruise the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel and Casino is a good choice right across the street from the cruise terminal. We stayed at the Wyndham Condado which is about 15 min and a $14 cab ride from the terminal, but pretty pricey, we're talking 6$ at the bar for a Budweiser! There are stores and cheaper restaurants within walking distance of both hotels.
We arrived at the terminal around noon and were on the ship by 12:30. The ship was immaculate, new carpeting throughout and no sign of wear and tear that I could see. We had a room on the oslo deck 6a, where you had to get off the elevator on 7 and go down 1 flight of steps. I liked it because it was easy to get everywhere from our room without getting lost or losing sense of direction! It was also just up one flight and down two and out the door onto the Promenade deck. Our room did have a window, which was nice but not very necessary, we were never in the room!
I found the staff to be very friendly, not overly so, like on the Disney ship, but I don't pay much
attention to that kind of stuff, I am very down to earth and don't expect to be kowtowed to by every employee at every moment like some people. Everybody had a friendly smile and was very professional, my room was immaculate all the time, and the ship was kept very clean and well-run.
For me, freestyle dining is the only way to go. I am a friendly person but I don't like eating with strangers, I want to be able to stuff my face and not have to feel like I have to converse with others! I also want to go to dinner when I'm hungry and ready, not at a prescribed time! The Maitre-d always asked us if we wanted to share a table, but we never had to wait for a private one, although we did always go to dinner before 7pm. I heard people say they had to wait a little if they ate from 7-9pm. All the waiters we had were prompt and professional, and seemed to be having a good time with each other. There were review cards on the tables that the staff asked us to fill out. Since the tipping is freestyle, they have competitions where they are rewarded for good service, so its not like they have no incentives for providing it.
Each night in the main restaurants had a different theme, A chef's dinner, President's dinner, Caribbean night, etc. The day at sea formal night's Captain's dinner menu was the only night lobster was served. Every night had lots of variety, though we are very picky, so we always ordered some simple form of fish, steak or chicken, and these were always delicious, and so tender you could cut them with a fork! On Caribbean night, be sure to try the honey-yogurt dressing on the salad, yum-my! Almost every day, and some nights there were poolside buffets, two nights they set up huge grills and cooked steaks and seafood stir-fry with shrimp and clams dumped in by the bucketful. The chocoholic buffet was not to be missed! There were cakes cookies and pastries galore, lots of fruits dipped in chocolate, and a huge ice cream bar with tons of different toppings! Even if you don't like chocolate, it was worth it just to go see the beautiful setup, with huge ice sculptures and baskets of flowers made entirely of fruit.
We never got to eat in any of the 10$ pp cover charge alternative restaurants this cruise, but here is a sampling of the menus:
Air-cured bresaola with arugula and parmesan cheese flakes: Thinly sliced raw tenderloin of beef sprinkled with olive oil, balsimico and parmesan cheese; Homemade forest mushroom ravioli in roast onion broth; Pureed red bean soup with broken pasta and scallions; Tomato consommé' with pesto and goats cheese ravioli and lobster medallions; Deep dish trio of risotto and long and short pasta; Shrimp scampi with forty cloves of garlic; Milanese style breast of free-range chicken, potato and Swiss chard gratin; Char-broiled veal chop on pan jus with wild mushroom ragout; Braised lamb shanks in red wine, herbs and root vegetables; Beef medallions with vegetable peperonata and pesto pizza sauce; Poached pear on warm gorgonzola, ciabatta bread; Homemade Zabaglione with seasonal fresh fruits
Norwegian seafood timbale; French escargots in garlic butter; Cream of forest mushroom soup in sourdough loaf; Beef consommé' with julienne of vegetables in a golden pastry dome; Seared yellow-fin tuna salad: Filet mignon with foie gras and truffled veal jus; Salmon fillet in sorrel cream sauce; Mille-Feuille of seabass with tomato concasse' and mushroom duxelles; Vegetarian four seasons; Chocolate Fondue; Apple tart ala mode; Lemon tart
Sushi and Sashimi bar; New world pizzas with peeking duck and sweet plum sauce on sesame crust, goat's cheese and sun dried tomatoes with basil oil on California crust, prosciutto and artichoke hearts with arugula and parmesan-reggiano cheese; Macadamia nut crusted mahi-mahi; Druken asian spiced shrimp and squid atop caesar salad; Sirloin steak with japanese wafu sauce; Grilled kaffir lime juice and coconut milk marinated chicken breast on enoki and endive salad: Lentil and vegetable curry; Sweet pizza tarts with creme anglaise and vanilla bean ice cream with apple, pear, passion fruit or peach tart, etc, etc, etc! Also in this restaurant there was a 24 hour pizzeria, great for the 3am munchies!!!
For those on a budget like me, the pool bar always had a special of buy a bucket of 5 beers, get one free! (around $16 for domestic)- and there were buy one get one free drinks in Checkers from 12-1am! And at all bars you could get a big 16 or 20 oz draft for the same price as a bottle!
The entertainment was the best! The Jean-Anne Ryan troupe puts on the best shows. They did a broadway-type show, and a Cirque-type show that were outstanding. There was a singer named Joni Butler, who sang alot of Broadway-type music and had a beautiful voice, a very funny comedian and a comedy-magician. There was always something going on, a 50's and 60's party, 70's party, Caribbean deck party, Karaoke, Big Band music, intimate piano music, Who wants to be a millionaire, The weakest link game show, etc. etc. There was really something for everyone going on all the time. NCL entertainment is top-notch! I was very impressed by the talent of all the performers on this ship. The cruise director, Denny Anderson and his staff were okay, but I was so spoiled by the exceptional talent of Paul Baya and his staff on the NCL Sun that everyone else pales in comparison!
We did not check out the port area here as we took the full day Land and Sea to the Pitons tour. We were loaded onto newer air-conditioned small buses, which took a very scenic route to the pitons. We stopped several times at scenic overlooks for pictures and a little quick shopping, then went to a small, scenic fishing village for about 30 min to shop. At each stop you kind of got swamped with locals trying to sell you trinkets, but they were very friendly and a simple "no thanks" worked! We then wound our way through some of the most beautiful scenery, banana fields as far as the eye could see, with palm tree covered hillsides behind, tropical flowers growing wild all over the place, cows, goats, horses and chickens just hanging out by the side of the road! It was kind of frustrating because I wanted to stop everywhere and take pictures, but we just drove through because we were on a schedule. We next stopped at a guesthouse for a buffet lunch of spicy chicken, cole slaw, potato salad and some fishy entrees followed by coconut ice cream. Next, we went to see the sulphur springs, I wasn't too impressed here, it stunk like rotten eggs and wasn't very scenic, but interesting if you've never seen anything like this. We then went to the Diamond Botanical Gardens that were so packed with tourists you couldn't even appreciate them! It was very pretty here, but just too many people. Finally, we went through Soufriere to a pier and boarded a big catamaran where we got good shots of the pitons as we sailed back to the ship drinking free rum punch. We stopped at Anse Cochon bay to swim for about an hour. If you brought your own snorkel gear with you, you could snorkel, but I didn't see many fish, there was no reef here, just alot of rocks. This tour was nice because you got to see a lot of the island by land and sea, but I like to take alot a pictures and wanted to stop more often to do so. We also had to wait around alot for people to get done shopping before we could move on. It is nice, though, to have someone from the island tell you of the island's history and culture. For instance, our guide told us that there are about 3 girls for every 1 man on St Lucia, and it was not uncommon for a man to have a wife and 1 or more girlfriends! It would be unheard of for a woman to say she's going to leave her husband because he was being unfaithful, she would be lucky to even have a husband! Next time, I think I would like to rent a car and take my time touring this island, there are just so many scenic areas. Renting a car would be a challenge here, the roads are very twisty-windy, with many blind curves. Careful!
I spent the morning here shopping and sightseeing around town, there is an excellent shopping plaza right where the ship docks, and downtown shopping is a 5 min cab ride away. The ship terminal is very well run, with different exits and lines for island tours, cabs downtown, car rentals, etc. Around noon I went back to the ship to collect my boyfriend and we got a private taxi for an island tour. I would DEFINITELY recommend this over one of the ship's tours. The ships tours are so expensive to see two or three places in 3-4 hours when you can hire a cab for about 80$ for 4 hours. We saw the beautiful Andromeda gardens (hardly any other people here!) the Barbados wildlife reserve, (so-so, we couldn't figure out why they would have a big pen full of bunnys and guinea pigs until we walked into the next area full of very large snakes!!!) St Johns church, Cherry tree hill, Farley Hill National Park, and drove along the East Coast Road and saw Bathsheba. It was a wonderful tour, and we got to stop wherever we wanted to take pictures. I heard Harrison's Cave wasn't anywhere near as nice as America's Luray Caverns or Carlsbad Caverns, and its always PACKED, with long lines, especially if you're not on a tour. We just researched where we wanted to go, and handed the list to the cab driver and away we went! We were going to rent a car here but heard that the roads are poorly marked and its easy to get lost, so we were glad to relax and enjoy the views.
We did not check out the port area here either, as we booked two tours. In the morning, we did the best of Dominica tour, where we were again loaded into smaller air conditioned busses. I liked this tour, we drove through some very picturesque areas, stopping at interesting points so we could take pictures out the windows. It rained on and off a lot, not surprising as Dominica gets about 360 inches of rain a year! I loved this island, it was sooo lush, everything spongy and moss covered, with ferns and tiny mushrooms growing everywhere. We went to the Trafalgar falls, where we walked about 20 min to a lookout deck with wonderful views of the falls. There were guides there that would take you right up to the falls, (about another 1/2 hour hike over rocky terrain) but we couldn't go down to the falls as time did not allow on this tour. We next stopped at a beautiful guest house and gardens for complimentary drinks and great photo opportunities, then it was on to the Emerald Pool. There was another 20 min moderate hike through awesome rainforest to the pool, a pretty grotto with a waterfall into the pool where you could swim if you wanted. There were opportunities to shop and buy local food, drinks and beer at all the stops. We tried the local Kubuli beer and liked it better than Coronas! This island is unique because of how lush it is, you definitely have to check out the interior!
In the afternoon, we did the Champagne Reef snorkel. This reef is accessable from the shore, and close to where the ship docks. You can just ask the cab driver to take you there and wait for you, for around 40$ a cab, way cheaper than the ship's excursion. You just have to walk a little way down a rocky beach to get to the where the reef is. We like NCL's dive/snorkel excursions though because members of their dive staff come with you and snorkel with you. You can certainly go off on your own, but its neat to follow them around, they know the area well and show you all the best areas, and point out lots of creatures that you may not have even noticed. This reef was pretty cool, there was the area where the gasses come out of the sea floor, looking like you were snorkeling in a big bottle of champagne, then there was some pretty decent reef, and a wall that dropped about 80 feet. We saw a moray eel, a manta ray, lots of big squid and a puffed out puffer fish!
Went shopping and toured the port area in the morning, not much shopping here at all! There a couple cool old churches to check out, especially the Anglican church with headstones in the graveyard dating back to the 1600's. Later we hired a cab for an island tour, we stopped at the Brimstone Hill fortress, a must-see here, the views are unbelievable! You can see Nevis, Monserrrat, Saba, St Martin and St. Barts from here. Just stay away from the cats there-they bite if you try to pet them!!! We stopped at Carabelle Batik and shopped and checked out the gardens, then drove around the island. Our cab driver took us to the side of the island where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic, you can see where the two different colored waters meet, pretty cool with awesome views.
We were here for a week 5 years ago and loved it! We had a hard time deciding what we wanted to see again- we opted for a trip over to St John to check out Trunk Bay. We took a 8$ pp taxi from the port to Red Hook, then took the $6 pp round trip ferry over to Cruz bay St John, then another $4 pp taxi ride to Trunk Bay. Still much cheaper than the ships excursion, and you can take your time and shop in town while you wait for ferries. We were kind of bummed about Trunk Bay this time, there weren't half as many fish, but its still a nice snorkel area right off a beach. The thing that kind of stinks about St. Thomas and St John is that you can't seem to get a private taxi, they load you onto open air trams with 12 other people. So you have to wait until the tram is full to go anywhere! St John is beautiful, lots of great beaches and scenic lookouts, and the whole island is a national park, so its kept pristine. You need to rent a car here to really enjoy it. Driving is on the left, but the cars are American with the steering wheel still on the left. making it easy to forget to drive on the left!
St Thomas is great for shoppers, there is a huge shopping area right off the boats, and downtown is a 5 min cab ride. Dont miss the Paradise Point Gondola. It takes you up to a lookout area with a bar and restaurant with the most wonderful view of Charlotte Amalie and the ships in port. Its $15 pp, but worth it! This is within walking distance of where the ships dock. St Peters greathouse is something to see, its a beautiful house on a hill with wonderful gardens and views of the British Virgin Islands and St John from its deck that are breathtaking! St Thomas and St John are definitely my favorite islands in the Caribbean. There's just too much to do here in one day!
Be prepared, US immigration mandates that EVERYONE go through immigration the morning you dock in St Thomas or you're not allowed off the ship in St Thomas, and you have to go through immigration in Puerto Rico. So don't sleep in and miss immigration or you will be sorry!
There was a wide variety of people on this ship, not too many kids, though! A lot of Canadians, mostly middle aged. Most people were very friendly and seemed happy to be there. I found alot of people on the Disney ship to be snobby, especially our tablemates at dinner, which turned me off to anything but freestyle cruising. I am by no means rich, and am so happy and grateful to be on a vacation I can't be anything BUT friendly!
A great site to check out for maps of the islands is www.caribline.com. You can view the maps online or order them to help you plan your trip.
I would recommend this cruise because of the itinerary, the laid back people onboard, the top-notch entertainment and of course the freestyle.
Any questions feel free to email me