Number of Cruises: 7
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sky
Sailing Date: March 7th, 2004
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
This was our 3rd cruise on the Norwegian Sky and will definitely be our last. Previous cruises were OK, if a little slipshod, but this one was possibly the worst in terms of service and facilities.
We flew from Heathrow on BA to New York. This was our first mistake as the BA checking in facility at Heathrow must be the worst in the world. You don't book in for a flight at Heathrow, you book in for your airline. With 10 jumbos all going out that morning, there were almost 4000 people in the queue. I waited over 2 hours before getting almost to the front. By this time, they began calling our flight so we had to queue jump so it was pointless getting there 3 hours early as recommended. The economy (or world traveller) class on BA is one of the worst I have ever been on. United and Delta are far superior for crossing the Atlantic. BA is on a par with the cheaper charter flights like Thomson or Airtours.
Getting through New York and on to San Juan was fairly painless. The new immigration checks didn't hold us up too much but we noticed that those not on the visa waiver scheme were taking ages to get through with fingerprinting and eye-scanning which bodes badly for the future when the Brits have to do this as well. Our queue took about 20 minutes to get through whilst those with visas took almost 2 hours with less people.
We were put up in the Embassy Suites in San Juan for the night which was excellent, although the price for drinks was quite extortionate ($7 for a small Budweiser plus 17% tip). Breakfast in the morning was a plus and was excellent considering it was free. This was the last decent breakfast we had for the next two weeks. Getting on the ship was also pretty painless as we were Latitude members and had a separate booking in queue but it should be noted that there were only 2 booking clerks for Latitudes and 10 for the rest so all people booking in went through fairly quickly.
The Norwegian Sky is a really beautiful ship. It is well laid and has plenty of room around the pool and in the bars/restaurants. The cleaning staff do a magnificent job of keeping the ship up to scratch and our cabin stewards were their normal impeccable selves. We had absolutely no complains over the room service or the high standard of the ship's overall appearance.
We knew something was wrong on our first night in the Seven Seas restaurant. After being on the ship before, we knew that both main restaurants were exactly the same as the kitchen is shared. On previous cruises with this ship, the service had been brilliant although the food was rather basic. This time, we sat for over an hour and had only had our salad. The waitress apologised and said that they had run out of plates(??). My steak, when it eventually arrived, had obviously been sitting somewhere for some time before being put on a cold soup plate on which it was served. The next night, at the Four Seasons restaurant, the service was just as bad and I don't think we got out of the restaurant on any night in under 2 to 2 and a half hours.
We were on the cruise for two weeks and waiting staff gradually changed from being Asian/Central American/Eastern European to Americans. We were then told that the ship was going to be renamed the Pride of Aloha and "foreigners" would have to leave due to the difficulty in getting work permits so they were training Americans. Sorry, but the service provided by these young people was absolutely atrocious. This was also evident in the bars. On our first week, we had a Nicaraguan waiter called Ramirez and a Jamaican waiter called Samuel in the Sports bar. They were excellent and remembered our drinks after our first visit. They also remembered our names and gave excellent service each afternoon we visited. They were replaced in the second week by young Americans who were more interested in chatting to each other than serving us. On two occasions, I had to go to the bar even though there were two waiters standing by the till chatting to each other. I'm sure they deliberately ignored the passengers. This attitud was the same in the Windjammer/ Churchills Cigar Lounge and other parts of the ship. One notable exception was a young American girl in the Atrium bar who tried her hardest even though this was her first time on any ship ever. However, in the first week, when I asked a Chinese waitress in the Atrium bar for a draugh beer, she went down a deck to Chequers to get me one. The second week the same request was met with "we don't serve draught beer in the Atrium bar."
The poor waitresses in the restaurant were rushed off their feet each night. They did everything at the table as we didn't see a bus boy all cruise so the waitress was taking the orders, serving, clearing the tables, refilling the water glasses etc. No wonder the meals took so long. Quite a few of the passengers cancelled their compulsory tips of $10 per day per passenger and just tipped those who did give them good service (apart from the cabin steward these would have been few and far between). It was a shame that you couldn't cancel the compulsory 17 1/2% service charge on all drinks which were quite expensive in the first place ($3.60 for a beer plus service, $4.80 for a Bacardi Coke plus service. Bear in mind a litre bottle of rum costs $5 in most of ports we visited).
The food in the outdoor and garden cafes was, quite frankly, appalling. The only good things were freshly cooked omelettes and eggs done by the pool. The downside to this was that the queues were generally huge for these. The remaining food at the buffets was usually greasy, cold and quite unappetising. For lunch, cold meats were curling up at the edges, unrecognisable fish dishes were congealing in milky grease and the salad were very, very basic. If we were on board for lunch, we generally had a fresh made roll/sandwich at the sandwich bar or a pizza from the pizzeria. Unfortunately, the sandwich bar was only available from 12 - 2 so if you had been out you had to rush back to get one. Luckily, the pizzeria was 24 hours and freshly made. The BBQ on the pool deck, twice a day, would have been a good idea if the food hadn't been left so long before being served. Cold hot-dogs, burgers and ribs were the order of the day.
The food in the main restaurants was generally quite good if a bit uninspiring. Being on for two weeks, the menu was exactly the same in the 2nd week and got a bit boring. There are 3 speciality restaurants on board. The Ciao Chow, a mixture of Chinese and Italian, was pretty lousy unless you like things like sweet and sour pizza. It definitely wasn't worth the $10 cover charge. We didn't try the Bistro French restaurant but we did hear some good reports about it. The Horizons Italian restaurant was excellent both in terms of food quality and service. It was really like a different world compared with the main restaurants. The service was excellent and we had a waiter, a bus boy and a water boy serving us. We ate there several times during the cruise.
By the way, some reviewers complained the juice machine didn't work at breakfast and had an out of order sign on it. This was the same for both weeks of the cruise and we remembered that it was the same two years ago when we went on the Norwegian Sky. You can, however, purchase drinks at breakfast (no hidden agenda here, I hope).
Once again, the Jean Anne Ryan dancers were superb. The shows they put on were top rate and highly professional. It was just a shame that the shows were exactly the same as they were two years and 4 years ago and were identical for each of the weeks we were on board. However, the Sea Legs Cirque was well worth seeing over and over again (good job, really).
The magician was exactly the same as on previous cruises with exactly the same material, even down to using his young daughter as part of the act. The only difference is that she is now 3 instead of 1 year old. The comedians were pretty bad. Even allowing for the American jokes (no, we don't all know who you were talking about)which went above the Europeans heads, their timing and delivery was really quite bad and amateurish.
PORTS OF CALL
This made the cruise. The fact that you stop at a different island each day with only the Saturdays being at sea was a definite bonus. Every island was different and we thoroughly enjoyed every trip ashore. One word of advice, don't book the ship excursions as they are incredibly overpriced. As a few examples, an overcrowded bus trip for a tour of St Kitts was $57 per person through the ship. A 14 seater mini bus with only 8 people was $16.50 per person or $66.00 to book a private cab with as many people as you can fit in. Excellent value and an excellent tour. A trip in Antigua, on another overcrowded bus, was $67 per person and meant that everywhere you went you did it with up to 30 people. A private taxi cab for the day cost $60.00 and we went everywhere, the only extra being the $5 entrance fee to Shirley Heights and Nelson's dockyard. We heard lots of complaints of insufficient time with the ship cruises and whilst our trips were relaxing and fun.
Martinique: Trip to beach via ferry - $45 through the ships tours. $6 return via ferry to Isla Trois Islets and $5 for a sun bed/umbrella.
St Maarten: Trip to beach with chicken meal and sun beds - $63 through ships tours. Walk to beach in town, free, Sunbed $4 a day. Beautiful meal of king prawns, rice and salad plus 4 glasses of wine at beachside restuarant - $27 for two.
Called "debarking" by the ships crew (I thought that that was what you did to noisy dogs) was a nightmare. Only on immigration line at San Juan for non-Americans. Three hours waiting on the ship for you colour to be called. Two hours to snake through the immigration line at San Juan. Nearly an hour queuing for the bus to the airport and then faced with a queue that stretched from the the road, into the airport, out again to the road and back into the airport before you got into your flight queue. Then an hour queue to get through security into the departure lounge. We left the ship at 0900 and got into the departure lounge at 1345, 45 minutes before our flight. The in between time was spent in queues for one thing or the other.
Sorry, but with all the competition out there, NCL is kicking itself in the teeth by offering sub standard service like this. In future, we will be going with RCL or Carnival which are far superior with not much difference in price. The pros were the friendly cabin stewards, the entertainment from the dancers and the ports of call. Ishish food and poor service in all public rooms spoilt what was supposed to be a holiday to be looked forward to.