Smith & Burns Family
Number of Cruises: n/a
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sky
Sailing Date: March 11th, 2001
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Murray Smith, Joanne Burns & Family
& Administrative Assistant
After our first cruise in September 2000 with Carnival's Sensation, we decided to take another cruise with our family during March break. The reason we chose the Sky was that we had heard it was good for teens. Instead of going into a detailed account, I will just touch on some items as it pertains to TEENS.
CRUISING WITH TEENS
1. Cabin Accommodations
We had 2 inside rooms (8115 & 8116) on the Viking Deck. Both could accommodate 3 people. The teens were all in one cabin and we were in another. The cabins were booked as the guys & the gals rooms since no-one under 18 can be alone in a cabin - but since we were next door to each other, we thought it would be okay, which it was). The cabins were identical in size. There were 2 twin beds and a pull-out couch with a drape separating the two sleeping areas. A small desk with shelving above it held a t.v. and phone. In the bathroom, there is a hair dryer. Unfortunately, there was not enough storage space to unpack their clothes, so they just hung up any dresses or suits in the cupboard and kept their suitcases under their beds. The room is great for 2 people, but a little tight for 3, especially when the couch is pulled out. They tried their best to keep the room neat.
2. Teen's Crew
We were told that the Sky had lots of things for teens to do. They have a teen program and we did encourage our three teens (aged 16, 15 & 13-turned 14 on the cruise) to go to the first teen event and the first teen disco. This was about the only "organized" teen thing they went to. They met quite a few friends at the teen disco on the first night and they seemed happy to go off and do their own thing.
3. Cruise News Activities
Teens can join in any of the activities listed in the daily Cruise News (the daily newsletter), such as trivia games & win prizes. Sometimes in the evening, you have to be 18 and over to participate, but in the day, there didn't seem to be a problem.
4. Teen Activities
Outdoors: There is an enclosed basketball & volleyball area on the second level above the pool area. This was quite a popular place. Beside this are 2 shuffleboard areas. There are 4 ping pong tables (2 on either side of the ship at the pool area). And of course, there are 2 pools and 4 jacuzzis. In front of the ship, there is a separate pool for younger children with a mini waterfall as well as a hot tub (for the parents!).
Aerobics & Fitness Centre: There were a lot of interesting gym activities in the Cruise News, such as yoga, kick boxing, etc. & our girls wanted to attend these sessions. However, one thing that we found out was that the gym and any of these activities were for those aged 16 and over. This could have been a problem since one of our daughters is 16 and the other is 15. We talked to one of the gym staff and they said as long as they respect the property, there wouldn't be a problem and they could participate. The gym supervisor told us that they had had problems with teen "gangs" in the past, who had destroyed some property.
Sports Afloat: In the Cruise News all the sport activities marked with a running shoe are part of the Sports Afloat Program. When you collect 14 vouchers you receive a free t-shirt. Our teens wanted to participate in this program, but it is strictly for adults. Too bad, they would have liked a free t-shirt, too. My opinion is that this program should be open to everyone. After all, you want to keep the teens happy because this will be the next market segment that the cruise lines will be going after.
Video Arcade: There is a small video arcade near the casino that is open to children and teens.
5. Teen Disco
One of the features that was stressed to me was that teens had their own disco. This was nice; however the teens liked going to Checkers (the adult dance area), because there was karaoke there and there was dancing with a D.J. The drawback here was that teens were not permitted to be in Checkers after 11:30 p.m. and were supposed to go to their own disco. Our teens said that no-one ever went to the teen disco and everyone was at Checkers. They didn't understand why they couldn't stay in Checkers because it was more fun. At Checkers, they always had some type of contest going on, like John Travolta contests, and I guess the teens wanted to participate in these events too!
Other than singing karaoke practically every night, we also went to all the evening shows in the Stardust Lounge by the Jean Ryan Company, which were excellent! Hey, Mr. Producer was extremely well done and the singing and dancing was very professional.
6. Internet Café
There is an internet café on board. At first we were concerned that our teens would be on the internet all the time and charge a fortune to their room. However, we talked about this before the cruise and they said they didn't want to go on it anyway since there would be other things to do. On the first night, they have a free internet sample and we encouraged them to go (free), and later in the week we received a flyer in our Cruise News which said all guests were permitted to use the internet café for 5 free minutes. Murray & I went on and entered a NCL contest on-line and it's amazing how fast 5 minutes flies by. If you're still worried about your child or teen using the internet, you can sign a waiver form saying that they are not permitted to go on the internet. It's a safeguard that's in place. When we were on the ship, there was also a weekly special for US$89.95 for unlimited internet use. We found this quite pricey. Our teens were happy with their 5 free minutes and sent some e-mails to their friends from the Sky within that time frame.
Teen Passport: The drinking age is 21 on board. The Teen Passport is basically a coupon book for non-alcoholic drinks and well worth the US$30.00 (?). Our teens really liked these because they could order all types of non-alcoholic drinks like soft drinks, banana daiquiris, and pina coladas, etc. I think there were about 30 coupons. The coupons could also be used at dinner. These drinks came in a small glass. If they want to get a non-alcoholic drink in a souvenir cup, they couldn't use their coupon book - they had to pay for these types of drinks with their signing card. We bought all our teens this passport. In the Teen Program, there were two events that they got in free if they had a passport. If they didn't they had to pay a small cover charge. Our teens had the passport, but never went to these events anyway.
We did not eat at any of the alternative restaurants, such as Le Bistro, Horizons or Ciao-Chow, because there was a US$10 per person cover charge, and for 5 people, that would have cost $50! Some of the items that were featured on the menus of these alternative restaurants (such as French Onion soup at Le Bistro), were eventually served in the main dining room. I'm sorry, but you can't tell me that the food is better at these alternative dining rooms, since all the food is prepared in the same kitchen. Maybe you're paying for atmosphere -- I'm not sure. We did peek into these restaurants and they were quite nice, but not nice enough to warrant paying $50 for our family to eat there.
With Freestyle Cruising, there are no assigned meal times, such as you have to eat at 6:00 p.m. in a certain restaurant. The restaurants are open during certain times for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it is more like a restaurant. Our family was quite content to eat breakfast and lunch at either the Great Outdoor Café or Garden Café (cafeteria-style food). For dinner we normally ate around 6:00 p.m. at the Four Seasons Dining Room, and did try the Seven Seas Dining Room one night. We preferred the Four Seasons Dining Room and found a wonderful waiter and we requested a table in his section every night after we first had him. The one night we tried the Seven Seas Dining Room it was a bit rough and our daughter experienced a bit of stomach trouble. We thought that because this restaurant was towards the back of the ship it tended to be rougher, whereas the Four Seasons is mid-ship.
Our son took advantage of room service on several occasions and enjoyed everything he got. The 24-hour pizza was also a big hit with all the teens and they liked to go there after Checkers.
9. Dress Code
During the day, anything goes. Shorts, t-shirts, and if you're around the pool area, most people are in their bathing suits. We did tell our teens to pack a bathing suit cover-up, which was an extra t-shirt. We encouraged them to wear a pair of pants twice, etc., but to pack a clean t-shirt for each day (I personally like to wear a clean t-shirt each day and not recycle one from 2 days ago).
In the evening, no shorts, t-shirts, jeans or beachwear are permitted in the dining rooms. Before the cruise, we had to buy our son a few pairs of casual pants (like khaki pants) and short-sleeved shirts, as he normally lives in jeans and t-shirts. One idea for teen boys is to buy a Hawaiian type short-sleeved shirt and wear a t-shirt underneath. This way you're dressed for dinner and later you can take off the shirt and wear the t-shirt. Another idea for boys is casual pants with a golf shirt. Girls should pack a white long sleeved sweater to wear in the evenings as the air conditioning in the lounges can get a bit cool. Other than the optional formal night, the dress code in the Four Seasons Dining Room seemed more relaxed than normal. This was probably due to the fact that there were a lot of teens on board, so they didn't really say anything if a teen wore a plain t-shirt to dinner, but was otherwise dressed neatly.
The only time a dress code was really in effect was on the optional formal night, and the Four Seasons Dining Room was designated as the "formal dress" restaurant. A lot of people dressed up, especially since this was also a photo night. We had decided to dress up and the girls wore long gowns and our son wore a suit. We actually saw people who were turned away from this dining room because the man was not wearing a jacket and the woman was informally dressed. For this night only, if you preferred not to dress-up, you could eat at the Seven Seas Dining room, or in the two outdoor cafes.
Dive In & Shore Excursions
We had looked at the shore excursion booklet we received with our tickets and sort of made up our minds of what we wanted to do before the trip. Because it was March Break we knew that the ship would be crowded and we knew we had to sign-up for our shore excursions as soon as we got on the ship to get the ones we wanted before they filled up. My advice before signing up for any tour is to talk to your kids so that they will understand what to expect and what may happen when they choose a certain tour. Sometimes, there are additional tours offered on the Shore Excursion Sheet when you get on the ship (which was the case here).
On the first night, the only part we found confusing was that there are two types of tours. One is offered through the Dive-In desk (snorkelling & scuba tours) and the others are offered through the Shore Excursion desk. As we wanted to take excursions with both areas, we had to line-up in two lines. The two lines were not very well organized and people were cutting in line, etc. For any Dive-In programs, you have to fill out a form with some questions about your health. If you participate in any Dive-In programs, you also get a certificate at the end of the week. Once you sign up, your tickets are delivered to your room.
We signed up for the following tours. We couldn't sign up for everything or we'd be broke! As you can see, our teens were interested in active excursions:
- Grand Cayman: Murray & the kids: Dive-In: Stingray Encounter (snorkelling)
Me: Shore Excursion: Stingray City Island Tour (bus)
- Ocho Rios: Me & the kids: Shore Excursion: Kayak to Dunn's River Falls
Murray: Shore Excursion: Best of Ocho Rios/Falls (bus)
- Great Stirrup Cay: All of us Dive In: Snorkelling Equipment for the Day
Even though it was chaos in the line-up, it's a good idea to do this right away as quite a few tours did sell out. The Dolphin Encounter shore excursion (3 hrs. @US$95 each) for Nassau sold out the first day. Practically all the Dive-in programs sold out during the week. One of the first was Athol Island Snorkel Tour (3 hrs. @ US$32) in the Bahamas. The water in Grand Cayman & the Bahamas is a beautiful turquoise colour and probably the best place to snorkel from all the ports.
Grand Cayman - Dive-In: Stingray Encounter (3 hrs. @ US$45 each)
You go ashore by tender, which is a smaller boat. Murray took our teens on the "Stingray Encounter" which is offered through the Dive-in program. However, snorkelling with stingrays is not for everyone, and , as I later found out, there is a height restriction in order to participate. Murray told me that there were quite a few adults screaming as the stingrays approached and swam by or touched them. I don't think they really understood what this tour was all about. Here's a pic of Shannon holding a stingray. Sign up for the "late" Stingray City Snorkelling. That way, you can do your shopping first and then go snorkelling. I feel that after you've been snorkelling, you'll want to take a shower. Our teens had a fantastic time and thought this was the best part of the trip! Bring an underwater camera from home to take some excellent pics!
Ocho Rios, Jamaica - Shore Excursion: Sea Kayaking/Dunn's River Falls (2 ½
hrs. @ US$59 each)
You just walk right off the ship at this port. This is a really early tour as you have to be on the dock by 8:00 a.m.! This time, I took our teens on the adventure tour and Murray took the island bus tour. The reason I went with our teens is because there is a weight restriction. Sea kayaking is limited to those under 200 lbs. I was a bit nervous about signing up for this as I imagined huge waves crashing over my kayak. I also had never kayaked before. There is really nothing to worry about as you stay close to shore. Each kayak is made for 2 people, you wear life jackets and you kayak as a group. We kayaked to Dunn's River Falls (not too far away -- approx. 1 hr. water time). At Dunn's River Falls, you can climb up the falls if you want to. There are long lines of people from other tours holding hands going up the falls together. It looks like a Kindergarten group on a field trip. Anyway, I decided not to climb the falls and take pictures of our teens climbing. We did pay US$5 for some water shoes for each of our teens. This is a rip-off indeed, as Murray (on his Ocho Rios tour), climbed the falls in his sport sandals and had no problems at all. If you want to climb the falls, bring your own water shoes from home. The water shoes that you rent are so old and falling apart. It's a real scam. After all the group has finished climbing, you take a party boat back to your dock.
Great Stirrup Cay -- NCL'S Own Private Island:
You go ashore by tender. We were lucky to find an umbrella as it tends to get extremely hot in the open sun. The water was beautiful and turquoise. We had rented snorkelling equipment for the day (US$25 each), and the Dive-in program had on-the-hour snorkelling tours that you could join. Basically they took you around a rock outcrop and also told you the names of some of the fish you saw. We went on this tour and then snorkelled on our own. There are other things you can rent for the day, such as floats, etc., but we were very happy with the snorkelling equipment. There is a free bar-b-q lunch and there is a bar where you can buy drinks.
10. Shopping With Teens
Grand Cayman: This is such a beautiful island. You can't haggle for deals, but you don't get harassed the way you do in Jamaica. All of the shopping areas are conveniently located near the pier. This is a duty-free port. You can't haggle for deals too much here like you can in Jamaica & the Bahamas. You can pick-up some nice bracelets, inexpensive shells, batik beach cover-ups and t-shirts for friends back home. The Tortuga rum cakes are great and there are a lot of free samples. A small rum cake costs about $3.95.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica: Having been to Montego Bay, Jamaica before, I told our daughters to wear the biggest t-shirts they could find and please don't wear little skimpy tops when going ashore in Jamaica. Unfortunately, young teens and women in general are "hit on" by Jamaican men. You can take this as a compliment, but after awhile it becomes quite irritating and some young teens may not know how to handle these advances. Another problem is being harassed to buy drugs or "ganga". Our son was approached by some people at the dock, but we had already warned him about this possibility, so he was prepared. Talk to your kids about this before you leave home.
You have a take a taxi to the shopping areas (set price of $3 per person to Soni's Shopping Center or $2 per person to the Taj Mahal Shopping Center). Haggling is a way of life in Jamaica. The salespeople are quite aggressive in trying to get you to buy their products. We started at the furthest mall (Soni's), and as soon as we got out of the taxi we were asked if we wanted our hair braided. Of course, this was something our daughters wanted, but I was not going to pay US$50 (for ½ a head) to get it done. Our one daughter had US$12 in her wallet and she wanted me to give her more so she could get her hair braided. I told her to calm down and that I would get her hair braided for US$12. I think when I said this she didn't believe me. What we did was we went across the street from Soni's mall to a sort-of open-air craft market with stalls. Here, the ladies are willing to do hair braiding for less. I sort of just struck up a conversation with one of the ladies and in no time at all a deal was struck. My one daughter got her hair braided (12 braids) for US$12 and my other daughter got hers done for US$15 (15 braids). When we got back to the ship, some people had paid US$50 for 5 braids and when we told them how much we paid, they asked where we went. I think I made quite a GREAT deal and my daughters were proud of how much they saved (thanks to me!) I don't think anyone else on our ship got such a good deal.
Nassau, Bahamas: You just walk right off the ship to the shopping areas. The day we were in Nassau, there were seven other cruise ships there! We basically did some shopping and went to the straw market for some great deals (go to the second set of stalls for the better deals as the people here are more willing to bargain). Again, haggle down the price. At the straw market you can get 5 t-shirts for $20 or less. We also got some deals on bracelets, necklaces and straw bags. Almost everyone has the same items for sale, so if you can't get them to accept the price you're willing to pay at one booth, you must be willing to walk away and go to another booth. If they want to lower their price, they'll call you back and ask what you want to pay. Hair braiding is more expensive here and the government runs a hair-braiding market near the pier (prices are US$100 for full head, etc.) - all are set prices, so no deals here.
11. Overall Teen Impression?
Our teens had only two complaints about their cruise experience. The first was that they didn't see why they couldn't stay in Checkers after 11:30 p.m. since no teens ever went to the teen disco and second that they felt that the Sports Afloat program should be open to everyone. They loved the food, and the dress code was never a problem. And even though there were many activities they could take part in, they usually lounged around the pool area. They must have had a great time, since they are already asking about another cruise! In all, the Norwegian Sky was a great ship for everyone!