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K. Foster

Age: 50

Occupation:Executive Chef

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Sky

Sailing Date: March 14th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

My wife and I have only sailed once before about a year ago on the Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. On that voyage we sailed from New Orleans in a sweep of the western Caribbean.

Having only one prior cruise to compare to our most recent aboard the Norwegian Sky, we are amateurs in what we refer to now as our favorite style of vacationing. I hope that our comments will help someone sort through the issues that are important to them as relates to cruising.

My wife and I cruised with our son and his girlfriend in a quad on the Viking deck. On the opposite side of the ship was our daughter with her husband and 7 month old baby.

We had a direct flight from Minneapolis to San Juan, which had been arranged by NCL. This means that they also arranged the transfer from the airport. We were pleasantly surprised that they put us together on the plane in adjoining rows. The NCL guides at the airport were not particularly attentive. It was not clear what we were to do with our baggage. By asking at least two people, we found that a straight truck was being loaded to follow a small coach bus. The bus ride was pleasant, and took only about 20 minutes.

Arriving at the pier I was disappointed to find that our ship was on the Isla Grande side of the harbor. Old San Juan was a 20 minute cab ride away and this blew our plans to settle in the room and roam the streets of OSJ that evening. The Carnival Destiny was located across the harbor with its bow hovering over a main avenue in the old city.

Instead we headed to the garden café buffet to parouse the items offered there. The food was not up to approved temperatures and they were haphazardly thrown in the pan and not presented very nicely. Milk, iced tea and coffee were available as was a dessert table. The desserts were lacking in individual flavor and were sweet, dry cake type of items.

As an executive chef, you might guess that I would pay particular attention to the food. This is where I will start. I have read reviews on the Norwegian Sky on other sites that seemed to have a common thread, being that the food was substandard.

We tried the buffet again the following morning and had a nice table on the aft deck with the sun shining brightly. The coffee is good as lower-end coffee goes. It is a WMF product which describes a process. Contrary to RCL’s boiled, and reconstituted coffee which was awful. However, RCL had excellent choice on the buffet for breakfast and they were presented up to temperature and served attractively.

We vowed to never eat at the buffet again for the remainder of the voyage. Dinner in the Seven Seas dining room was superb. From the menu selections, to impeccable service and a convenient dinner time of 6:00 we were able to overcome the down-side of “freestyle cruising.”
We simply arranged with the Maitre’ d to have a specific table, with specific servers at a specific time through the entire voyage. When we found that we would not be able to keep our reservation one night we simply called and cancelled for that evening to find that they held our reservation for the following nights.

That evening we decided to dine in the Four Seasons. It was about 8:00 p.m. and the staff was obviously weary of an extended time of multiple seatings. We had two Americans serving us. We are Americans and found their service to be extremely poor. They were inattentive, botched orders, coped attitudes when we explained how the orders were wrong and we complained to the assistant Maitre’ d who was apologetic but went too far. He explained that “the Sky was being transitioned to become the Spirit of Aloha and the staff was also in transition, so we couldn’t really expect to see their normal standards of service.” He quipped briefly that there is however, no excuse. I was sitting there thinking that NCL had booked us under false pretense. They knew that we were going to get substandard service and yet charged us a full price as if we would be getting “normal” service. I expect a refund or rebate because the assistant Maitre’ d speaks for the cruise line and I think the truth was willingly withheld from us in the booking process.

Aside from the one bad experience, the cuisine in the Seven Seas dining room continued to prove most excellent. Desserts were not as they were in the buffet, they were original and quite diverse and tasty. The “sail away buffets on the pool deck were okay. The food was not heated thoroughly and it was not kept at proper temperatures. Deli cuts of meat sitting under the intense Caribbean sun without refrigeration turned me off but their were ample selections. The 24 hour pizza bar was good. I found that just taking what they had was adequate. I chuckled as my fellow Americans were trying to tell the cook to specialize their pizzas, “Less sauce, extra cheese etc.” The guy was visibly disturbed by special orders. Why not just take what they have to offer and not tell the guy how to do his job?

Having a baby with us presented some interesting challenges, mostly for us though. We did not want a crying baby to disturb the dinner of others who paid good money to enjoy excellent service and good food, so mommy made trips out of the dining room to nurse or change a diaper. One night she ended up taking the baby back to the cabin. Our server had arranged to have her meal delivered to the room. The staff were warm and interested in the baby and never disturbed by noises or the bulky stroller. Particularly the hostess staff and even more specific, the young Filipino ladies. Now I mention nationality for good reasons. I dumped on staff from my own homeland, and I have made reference to Filipino women in a positve light. I don’t care about “political correctness” these are realities. Case in point is that my fellow guests from Germany were loud, rude and emotionally dead. If you don’t mind being pushed out of the way for someone to get into an elevator before you then you would not notice this. If you are not grossed out by old men in Speedo’s, it wont be an issue for you. There isn’t a thing I could do about that and it is not the fault of the cruise line, just something I observed as a fairly sensitive American.

The fact is that the service people of nationalities other than my own were exceptional. The only exception would be our cabin steward who provided a bare minimum of service. We used the bottle of Evian water for which we knew that we would be charged but it was never replaced with another one. Turn-down service was done each night while we were at dinner but the two Pullmans were not turned down, did not have a chocolate. At one point near the end of the cruise, the shower soap ran out. I informed our steward and she indicated that she would fill it right away. It was never filled.

Freestyle cruising – It is not truly freestyle, it is simply an excuse to impose a gratuity and nothing more than that. Yes, you can go to the dining room whenever you want during the service times but it is conceivable that you could wait in a line if you come right from the Stardust lounge after a show. This is located near the seven seas restaurant. The freestyle dining also means multiples of table changes and is tiring to the staff. It also eliminates the option of a line of servers dancing or carrying flaming baked Alaska. I prefer a dining room that is two stories and more midships for ease of access and ocean views. Grandeur of the seas was great in that aspect.

Speaking of the show, the stardust lounge was comfortable but the Broadway style shows were not that good. The male singers all sounded alike. You know that girlish sort of forced vibrato that you heard in A Chorus Line, for example. It got to be too much for me.
This is a smoky ship. Smoke in the outdoor café, in the casino and Checker’s cabaret, the atrium and around the pool, yuck.

Freestyle “debarking” a non-word used to replace “disembarking,” was not a reality. You were allowed to leave depending on the time of your flight.

Having left the ship we opted out of our transfer to the airport and decided to hire a cab for a trip around Old San Juan. He also was pleased to join us for lunch before delivering us to the airport two hours before our flight time. He asked for $ 95.00 and I said I would give him $ 75 to which he said, “OK.”

Ports of call and excursions:

We only availed ourselves of one excursion, this was the Divi little bay excursion to a resort in St. Maarten. This was very nice and well worth the money. It included a barbecue lunch. Most of the time, the young love-birds took the party boat or beach excursions and enjoyed them, particularly the Jolly Roger pirate ship in Antigua. The grandparents and our daughter’s family were happy to browse the shops in the ports.

Tortola is a boring hole in the wall. Nice beaches but really nothing of any quality to offer. Martinique was industrialized and had many shops but the locals were not interested in bargaining and refused to speak anything but French, which is fine, but not conducive to many sales or purchases.

St. Thomas is well documented on this web site and we were happy with what was available. St. Maarten was by far our-hands down favorite.

I really wanted to write this in such a way as to not put an overwhelmingly negative light on the Norwegian Sky. If asked the question, “would I sail NCL again?” my answer is a firm, Yes! However it would have to be an outstanding deal, to wrestle me away from other lines.

For our next cruise we hope to go Celebrity because of what we hear related to the Constellation and the Millennium. Without hesitation, we will willingly cruise Royal Caribbean but I think they have spent so much money on television commercials that they are trying to recoup this in their pricing. NCL did not charge for the infant, all others made no exception. In all honesty, that was the driving force that made us choose NCL. I don’t know how the other lines get off charging for a 7 month old who will neither eat meals nor take up space by the pool-side.

The Sky is a wonderful ship with a competent crew and excellent food and service is available.

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