Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sky
Sailing Date: June 16th, 2002
Itinerary: Alaska Sawyer Glacier Seattle to Seattle
Alaska Sawyer Glacier Seattle to Seattle
My husband, teenage daughter, and I decided to choose Norwegian Sky for our third cruise to Alaska, after reading reviews from former cruisers. This was our first cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines, having cruised with Carnival and Celebrity previously.
We arrived at Seattle airport with no transfer reservations, but there was an NCL representative right at the baggage area selling them, so we took advantage of that and arrived at the ship within 45 minutes of picking up our luggage, Since we arrived at about 3:00, the check-in line was shorter than it had been, but it was still quite long, It moved quickly, though, and the actual check-in procedure was very quick. We were in our cabin by 3:30, and found there was still food to be had at the buffet area on deck 11.
Our cabin was, as advertised in the reviews we read, very small, especially to people used to the much larger cabins on Carnival and Celebrity. It was attractive, with light colors and blond wood. The bed was two singles put together, and the third bed for our daughter was a small hideaway sofa (about loveseat size). There were only three small drawers in the cabin. Since we did not bring formalwear for this trip, we found the closet to be adequate, but it would not have been for long dresses and suits. Since we knew in advance that the cabin was small, we booked a category BC with a balcony. The balcony was great, not huge but perfectly adequate, and very private. It also made the room seem a little larger than it was, not to mention giving us some great views of the scenery, ports, and glaciers. The bathroom is also very small, and the shower was a problem for my husband, who is somewhat hefty. The biggest problem with the shower was that the temperature alternated between scalding hot and freezing cold several times during each shower. The sink area has some shelves on either side of the mirror, so we were able to put out our toiletries for daily use, which was nice. The cabin has a safe, a small refrigerator, and a hair dryer, which was woefully underpowered and made me glad I brought my own. The bed is very hard, but I found it very comfortable and slept quite well. The sofa bed mattress was kind of lumpy, though. Honestly, while the cabin was barely adequate in size for two, I can’t recommend having three or more in it. When both beds were down, you literally had to crawl over one of them to get to either the bathroom on one side or the balcony on the other.
The ship was nicely decorated and not garish, which made a nice change from Carnival. The atrium, with its four glass-enclosed elevators, was especially nice, and had good areas for quiet sitting and/or reading. One problem was that you had to go through the casino, with all its smoke and noise, to conveniently get to the shopping mall area. Since none of us drink, we didn’t use the bars except for smoothies for our daughter, but they seemed nice and not usually crowded. The disco, Checkers, was very busy most nights, and everybody seemed to be having a good time. There was live music, not canned, which was nice. Anyone under 18 must leave Checkers before midnight, so be forewarned. There was a small but nice library, but the hours when items could be checked out were very limited.
The reviews I read before the cruise made me very nervous about the food, so I was agreeably surprised by it. We ate in either the Four Seasons or the Seven Seas dining rooms for dinner every night. The service was excellent, with no sign that the staff didn’t care because their tips were assured. We did miss the feeling that our table waiter got to know our preferences that we had on the traditional cruises we had been on before, but the freedom to sit down where and when we wanted made up for it. The food, while maybe not gourmet in style or standard, was very good, and the quantities were awesome. The appetizers were particularly great, and I’m still drooling over a sturgeon pate with caviar. While not 100%, the meat entrees were better than a lot of the ships we have been on, particularly the beef dishes. Salads were pretty ho-hum, but tasty, and the desserts were fine but limited. Ice cream is available at every meal, and the quantity is good. I was concerned about long waits for a table, but we only had to wait once, and we went to dinner at times ranging from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. We had our choice of a table for just us, or being placed at one of the bigger tables with other cruisers, and we did both. People were wearing pretty much everything from nice weekend outfits or pants and tops or sweaters to jeans and t-shirts, although this was supposed to not be allowed. On the formal night, there were people in sequins and tuxes scattered among those of us in khakis and sweaters.
We ate our breakfasts or lunches in the Garden Buffet, and that food was okay, but not great. There were a limited number of choices, and the quality was medium. There was a great fresh-cooked pasta station out on the deck one day, but they made the mistake of trying to barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs under an awning on another day, which sent smoke all the way to the elevator area and made the rear open deck area uninhabitable. There are no fresh-cooked stations at breakfast for omelets, etc. The pizza station is actually within the Ciao-Chow specialty restaurant, which can be a little confusing, as at some times you have to order the pizza, pick it up, and leave the restaurant or they will charge you the $10.00 cover charge. We chose not to eat in the different specialty restaurants, but some shipboard acquaintances did, and their opinions were generally good, especially of the Horizons restaurant.
We attended three of the musical revue productions in the show lounge. The room is pretty good sized, but if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself with a pillar blocking a good portion of the stage. The seating is on banquettes or individual bar-style chairs, which is comfortable, but makes it awkward to let someone past to his seat. The musicals were very well done, with a higher than average pool of talent among the performers. My husband attended a performance by a magician-ventriloquist and loved it, too. We found that it was much better to attend the later show (either 9:30 or 10:30, depending on the night), since it was harder to get a seat at the earlier show and you had to arrive much earlier. We were able to get decent seats just 10 minutes before showtime at the later show.
One thing which I noticed about the Norwegian Sky was that it was the smoothest cruise ship I have ever been on, with virtually no motion from the sea. Also, there was almost no noise or vibration from the engines. Our cabin, 9245, was almost amidships, which may account for some of it, but we didn’t experience much motion on other parts of the ship, either. We were fortunate that the weather was very good for almost the entire cruise, but there were days when there were whitecaps on the ocean, and we still didn’t feel much motion.
The ports we visited were great, and the weather was too, but since this was our third Alaska cruise, we took only one shore excursion, in Skagway. We actually booked the excursion through Port Promotions rather than the ship, since they offered the same tour for less money. The selection of shore excursions offered by the ship seemed very broad, and the Dive In programs would appeal to the more physically adventurous cruiser. All of the ports in Alaska are easy to walk in and interesting. We felt that this cruise, probably because it’s round-trip Seattle to Seattle, had less time in port that we wanted, and the hours were sometimes awkward (i.e., Haines, a quaint little town we hadn’t visited before: 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm). The day at Sawyer Glacier was nice, with good views of the glacier and beautiful scenery. There were hundreds of Harbor seals and their pups sunning on ice floes at the foot of the glacier.
The most amazing thing to me, after five previous cruises, was the ease of disembarkation. We were given colored luggage tags corresponding to our travel plans, and yes, we did have to pack and put our luggage in the hallway by 3:00 am. But we were free to sleep as long as we wished, to eat breakfast whenever and wherever we wanted, and to go back to our cabin and wait for our color to be called if we wished! This was heaven compared to the “herd you together like cattle and then wait” procedure we had experienced before. The whole ship was disembarked by 10:30, with no pain and no snarling passengers. We went through customs and immigration, picked up our luggage, and were in a taxi within 30 minutes of leaving our cabin.
I started this cruise very skeptical about the Freestyle Cruising experience, but I found I liked it a lot. The pluses, not wearing dressy clothing, eating when we were ready to, and sitting in different parts of the two dining rooms, outweighed the minus of the waiters not getting to know our preferences. There were plenty of things to do during the day if you wanted to participate, and the ship itself is lovely. I am perfectly prepared to take a Norwegian cruise again, although I think this will be it for Alaska. Panama Canal, anyone?