Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sky
Sailing Date: May 31st, 2003
My wife and I just returned from our 7-day Alaska cruise aboard the Norwegian Sky. To put it short, we were impressed with almost everything about the ship, the staff and the cruise.
It was our first cruise, and as such we booked our airline tickets through NCL. We were met at the baggage claim at Sea-Tac by an NCL representative. We collected our bags (make sure you tag them before flying) and began the rather long hike to the bus to be driven to the pier. Beware, the bus area can seem chaotic – apparently, those on the bus we got on had been waiting up to an hour to depart. Serendipity was on our side, and we left right after boarding the bus.
Once on the ship, you will have to go through the mandatory life-boat drill. This took approximately 45 minutes (according to other, more seasoned cruisers this was long) and its length was mainly due to people not paying attention and arriving late at their muster stations.
Once the cruise was underway, all went well. The restaurants (at least the ones we visited) were excellent, the service was always top-notch. One night, they had a President’s Dinner, and the menu offered up good cuisine even more so than usual. We did not try the paying restaurants, mostly because we were satisfied with the food and service in the Four Seasons or the Seven Seas. We heard the food at Le Bistro, one of the paying restaurants, was excellent, however. We tended to avoid the Garden Café, for two reasons: one, it is a buffet, and though the food was good it simply paled compared to the other restaurants; and two, it was the eating place of choice for those with kids on board and as a result it is almost always packed, except very late at night. A tip: arrive at the restaurants around 6:15. They open at 5:30 and there is always a line, it is gone by 6:15. Seriously, we never once had to wait for a table. The maitre de will ask if you would prefer to sit by yourself or with others, we were seated immediately regardless of which format we chose.
We went to three shows on the ship, one an extravagant dance routine that’s sure to impress people who like dancing; another was an award winning magician who was very entertaining. The other was a comedian, Daryl Joyce, who was very amusing. We visited the dance club Checkers a few times, mostly to watch really bad singers attempt karaoke. Beware the gift shops; of course, they are very pricey. Amazingly, I noticed more than a few people buying binoculars because they had forgotten their own. Do yourself a favor and bring your own -if you don’t own any get a good pair as the scenery is simply spectacular.
We kept track of our expenses on the ship and as such it was no great shock that we had heard about in other reviews. Neither of us is a heavy drinker, but even with some cocktails, a massage and a shore excursion the bill was frankly lower than we thought it would be! The ship also has a reception desk on Deck 5 in the Atrium where they will print you an up-to-date account anytime, as well. In addition, we had hoped to take advantage of the Internet Café to email info and pics home during the trip; at $.75 per minute and a one time $3.95 log-on fee, however, we find the cost too much and elected not to use the café.
The room was cozy (I suppose a polite term for small). Our advice is to unpack immediately at your first chance. Utilize the space they give you, including the drawers and there is room under the bed for your bags. We were on Deck 9 with a balcony. We highly recommend going this route. The room was VERY quiet, with minimal engineering noises, and the balcony was fantastic, well worth the price. The housekeeping staff deserves probably the biggest kudos of them all; they were all very friendly and extremely helpful. I heard an unfortunate tale of someone having a problem with their room arrangement but I am a firm believer in having a sunny disposition with help staff – it more often than not results in good service with a smile.
The ports of call are wonderful. I used to live in Alaska and so I knew generally what to expect. My wife was blown away by the scenery and is in fact planning our next trip as I write this review. We will probably travel independently next time, taking advantage of the Alaska Marine Highway. The ferries ply the Inland Passage waters and allow you much more freedom in exploring the area fully and at your leisure.
Ketchikan is a nice little town, the so-called “First City of Alaska.” The people were all very friendly and we ate at Annabelle’s for lunch. I thought the lunch was good, my wife disagreed, and nevertheless we then elected to eat on the ship for lunch from then on. Juneau was very nice; we took a city tour which was very interesting. We felt rushed in Juneau, however, and we were back on the ship by noon. Had we more time we would have taken the tram to the top of Mt. Roberts, but at approximately $20 per person round trip we didn’t have enough time to justify the cost.
Skagway was our favorite, as the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush it is teeming with history. Much of the downtown is actually a U.S. Park maintained by the Park Service. They offer a free walking tour from their headquarters – we highly recommend it. You’ll learn all about the gold rush, Soapy Smith, Frank Reid and all of the other characters of long ago.
It was here that we took our shore excursion. We hiked the Klondike Trial (only about 2 miles worth) and then floated down the Taiya River. NCL lists the trip as “Hiking and Floating the Chilkoot Trail” – it was well worth it. The hike was through beautiful country and the float was very nice. The breeze on the river is strong so bring proper gear. Our guide, Patrick, was very informative and enthusiastic, and all in all we enjoyed it. Our only concern was that we didn’t take any other shore excursions – we heard from others who saw Orcas on whale-watching trips and the like. Do as many as you can afford!
Sawyer Glacier was very pretty, be sure to bring a telephoto lens for your camera (there are lots of seals on the bergs floating in the Tracy Arm). We also enjoyed Victoria, B.C. At the Parliament building downtown there is a very nice and free walking tour of the building and premises. It was very informative and be sure to look for the oak from Indiana and Kentucky! Some caution about Victoria: very expensive and it can get warm in the summer so bring shorts for this port of call!
The Inland Passage was beautiful, to say the least. If you are like me, you need to know where you are all of the time, so be sure to get a good map of the area. If you find yourself without a map you can view the very detailed map outside of the observation lounge on Deck 11. The Alaska Historical Society puts out a great history and wildlife guide to the area, as well.
Debarkation on the last day was hectic. They assign colored tags to everyone and your bags must be put out the night before (they’ll go over all of this some time before) you actually leave. Unfortunately, our bus was late and as they began calling colors over the PA system, they skipped ours. There was no explanation why our color was not called over the PA, so we had to inquire on the debarkation Deck (Deck 5). We waited quite a while! Try to be understanding, though -there are two thousand people on board and so things like this take time under the best of circumstances. I heard a lot of griping and moaning and I was a little embarrassed for those people, frankly.
We did hear from a few people (mostly older folks who cruise often) who griped about one thing or another. Don’t worry, keep an open mind and remember that with that many people on board, not everything will be 100% perfect all of the time. Nevertheless, the staff was wonderful, the food was great and scenery alone is worth the price of admission. I guess some go for the casino and bars -my wife and I went to see Southeast Alaska, and the NCL Norwegian Sky is an excellent way to see it!
Some last tips:
Arrange your flights to give you at least some time in Seattle. Through NCL, there is none. We would have liked to spend more time in the Emerald City and we should have thought it through better.
Bring food on the plane – Alaska gave us none save for a remarkably small bag of peanuts. Thus, we had no lunch and no time to snack once we got on the ship due to the hour of our flight and the life-boat drill. We didn’t eat until that night for dinner and by then I was ready to eat my life preserver.
The no-tipping and freestyle cruising formats are very liberating and help to make everything not too “stuffy”.
If you run, don’t run too much on the steel deck on Deck 6 (my knees were killing me afterwards). Use the gym on Deck 11 – at night it is very quiet and while running there on treadmills my wife and I watched a school of porpoises playing off the port side of the ship.
Bring some cheap plastic hangers for the closet – they provide you with some but probably not enough!
Get room service for breakfast when you have a shore excursion to catch or on the last morning – it is much more relaxing than running around and worrying about not having enough time!
Sit with others for dinner, especially early in the cruise. You’ll meet many interesting folks and enjoy everything that much more.
For those gear heads like me, there are NO tours of the bridge or the engine room. Drag.
For soda (pop) drinkers NCL does have a reusable container that you pay one price for, $28 and you can have all of the soda you want throughout the cruise. If you choose not to do this keep in mind that you will pay $1.72 for one can of soda with gratuity included. We do not drink much soda so it was not worth while for us.
There is no fan in the bathroom in your stateroom so be sure to bring air freshener.
The floor of the bathroom may tend to get a little wet when showering, so bring flip flops and make sure you wipe up the water that gets on the floor or else your wife may get angry at you after getting the bottom of her pants wet when using the toilet.
Be sure to bring rain gear as chances of it raining at some point on your cruise are fairly high.
Bring something to combat motion sickness. My wife had a problem with this on the open ocean. We saw many people with the behind the ear patch that seemed to work very well for them. We’ve been told by a cruising veteran (29 cruises) that eating helps.
If you go on deck, take your camera - each and every time.
Smile a lot, talk to people, enjoy yourself and enjoy your cruise! Feel free to email if you have any questions.