Age: 61 to 70
Number of Cruises: 11
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sky
Sailing Date: June 4th, 2000
Our recent cruise on the Norwegian Sky produced mixed results. We had a Category AA "Superior Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Balcony", which is the top category other than the "Penthouse" and "Owner's Suite". The biggest problem is the lack of storage space (only 3 small shallow drawers). It was necessary to use luggage under the bed for storage.
Our biggest complaint is that NCL sprung "Freestyle Cruising" on us. The brochure and the documents received before departure indicated there would be two formal evenings, 3 casual evenings, etc. "Freestyle" means dress is optional anytime. We packed our usual formal attire and found we did not have enough casual clothes. Also, "Freestyle" means no assigned tables or meal times. There were occasions when it was necessary wait for dining room seating. We missed having waiters who get to know your needs and desires. Also missed making lasting acquaintances. In our 15 cruises we have always had good luck meeting varied and interesting table mates Another concept of "Freestyle" is that you are basically denied the freedom to tip as desired. They now charge $9.75 a day per person to your shipboard account for the tip pool. Oh, they say you can make arrangements with the purser to adjust it as you wish, but that gets complicated. We, and most people we know, tip according to service rendered - i.e. if outstanding, tip extra. Since the Maitre d' shares in this tip. We seldom tip them unless they provide actual service other than to interrupt your meal with the obligatory small talk. Besides, they are on salary. I will admit that the dining room service was generally excellent. This was only the second week of "Freestyle", only time will tell if this level of service continues when the lack of incentive to earn extra tips dawns on the waiters. Our cabin stewardess was excellent and we did slip her a bonus in cash. Since tips were now on the shipboard account, we brought way too much cash - cash that should be earning interest in the bank.
The food in the dining rooms was always good to outstanding, and presentation was generally excellent. We dined one evening in the Le Bistro alternative restaurant. The quality of the main course filet mignon was excellent, but the rest of the food was nothing to rave about. And, the $5 p/p suggested gratuity did not yield any extra special service. Unfortunately, food in the Garden Cafe buffet was pretty bad - cold eggs, dry partially toasted toast, etc. And, general cleanliness and table clearing was often lax.
The high point of the cruise was the entertainment. This was our third NCL cruise in a row and the Jean Ann Ryan Company production shows have always been outstanding. The three shows on the Sky were even better. The singers and dancers were very talented and exquisitely rehearsed. The costumes were fabulous. With superb sound and lighting, the shows were at least of Las Vegas or Broadway quality. Other acts included a hilarious comic Rich Pupura, and the dynamic Jane L. Powell with a great voice, personality, and back-up band. Even the ship's show band was unusually good - none of the members trying to out play each other and they blended well - even the drummer. Unfortunately, the main show room is less than adequate for a ship of this size and age. The main floor is crammed with uncomfortable bench divans and barrel chairs competing for space with those pesky drink tables, resulting in some marginal sight lines. The balcony is even worse. Sight lines are also bad and sometimes non-existent. And, you have to peer through overly ornate railings giving an "in-prison" feeling. Here, "Freestyle" can be good. You can arrange to stand in line when the doors open in order to insure decent seats.
The itinerary was to the Sawyer Glacier and included short stops at both Haines and Skagway in a single day, as well as 1/2 day calls at Juneau and Vancouver. While weather was cool and wet, the Alaskan Scenery is still outstanding. Our last cruise was around the South American Cape Horn and the highly touted Chilean Fjords. Believe me, nothing compares with our good old Alaska for spectacular scenery. As this was our third Alaskan cruise, we did not partake of any shore excursions. Despite ever increasing prices, many were sold out in advance. Haines, Skagway, and Juneau are open to strolling in town for lots of shopping. They dock at the Ballentine docks in Vancouver which are quite a distance from downtown, making it difficult to see much unless you take an organized excursion.
In summary, it was mostly an enjoyable cruise. The relaxed "Freestyle Cruising" is probably a good approach for Alaskan cruising (if you know about it in advance!). Norwegian Sky is a adequate vessel for a 7 day cruise; but for heavens sake, the small cabins and lack of storage makes it inappropriate for any thing longer. Opinions we heard on "Freestyle Cruising" varied. Younger or first time cruisers seemed to like it, while veteran cruisers almost all disapproved. I guess Carnival now has some competition for their "Fun Ships". However, this will be our last NCL cruise!