Number of Cruises: Varied
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sky
Sailing Date: February 25th, 2001
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Free Styling on the Norwegian Sky
We were a group of 38 travel agents on a NACTA cruise seminar. Most of us were seasoned cruisers but there were a couple of first time cruisers with us. We wanted to make a determination about freestyle cruising and came to the consensus that it is wonderful for most of our clients. This consensus was arrived at by quite a bit of conversation and deliberation. Our concerns about service and quality were decided after many separate experiences as our group went "free style" on the Sky as well. We would recommend the Norwegian Sky and freestyle cruising to clients who want to be able to make choices about when, where and with whom they want to dine. This review is broken up into four parts. First is information regarding the ship , then comes information about the cruise . Shore excursions comes next followed by frequently asked questions about the Norwegian Sky . We hope you enjoy this review.
Getting to the Ship:
I did not have any airline reservations and needed a reasonable airfare to get to Miami from San Diego. After checking with American Airlines, Delta and others the lowest airfare I could find was around $850.00. I found a Southwest Frequent Flyer award for sale in the San Diego Union and negotiated to buy it for $325.00 (including 10 free drink coupons worth $30.00) I made a reservation with Southwest’s reservationist and presented the flight award (that are fully transferable) and received a boarding pass. This is a great tip if you live in or near a Southwest Airlines market.
I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale and spent the evening in a budget hotel near the airport and made arrangements for Super Shuttle ($17.50) to take me to the Port of Miami to board the Norwegian Sky at 12 noon the following day. I was picked up at 11am sharp and arrived at the NCL terminal around 11:45. There was no line and the new terminal is outstanding. Since I carry my own luggage when boarding a ship I was in my cabin totally unpacked and ready to confirm the group’s arrangements by 12:15. It was absolutely painless.
My advice for anyone sailing from Florida that lives on the West Coast is to arrive the day before to make sure there are no weather delays. This way you can board the ship totally relaxed and ready to start your vacation.
Our group was located on deck 9 with low category inside cabins. I had been on the Norwegian Sky before and actually enjoyed the opportunity to experience an inside cabin. I must tell you that the inside cabins are a bit smaller than those on other cruise ships so I have prepared some suggestions on ways to maximize your cruise experience if you are booking these cabins. They are available at quite reasonable rates and I would cruise them again as once settled they are ever as comfortable as a larger cabin would be, plus you get the advantage of being able to take a nap whenever you want as there is no daylight to keep you awake.
I was in cabin 9357 that featured two twin beds (they could be pushed together to make a queen sized bed if one wanted) that had two night stand/shelves between the beds and each bed had its own reading light. Important to me, the quality of bedding was excellent which made for an wonderful night’s sleep. Next to the bed was a vanity/desk area with a single 110v outlet and enough workspace for my computer and printer. Across from the vanity was shelving that contained the remote controlled TV. that had great programming of CNN, PBS, first run movies and so on. Several shelves for storage were also there as well as a mini refrigerator that could be used for drinks, fruit and other smaller items. There are two closets, one full length and the other ½ length with drawers and a safe below it. The closet space was ample for me alone but it would have been tight with more than one person. The safe is operated with one of your credit cards and is excellent for storing wallets, passports and other valuables.
The bathroom is also tight. There is a shower (with excellent hot/cold controls) toilet and sink with a small amount of storage area and a large mirror. The cabin featured a hair dryer, shampoo, body lotion and mouthwash as well. I always travel with these items but I would suggest that you acquire them and use them on your Norwegian Sky cruise to maximize your enjoyment.
A 6 ft. multi-outlet extension cord: This helps so that you can plug in more than one appliance at a time.
A piece of luggage also designed for storage: A simple suitcase with pockets will suffice as you can store shoes, under garments and other items under the bed in an organized manner. This will help dramatically on all cruise ships.
A hanging toiletry bag: Every good luggage store has a wide variety of toiletry bags and I would strongly suggest that you obtain one for each family member, as storage space in the bathroom is limited. I always use mine whenever I cruise or stay in a hotel as it makes packing so much easier.
A portable laundry kit: There is not a self-serviced laundry on the Norwegian Sky and while they do offer laundry and dry cleaning service some biodegradable laundry soap and about 8 feet of good laundry line will allow you to wash small items in your cabin and dry them during the day. There is no laundry line in the shower or bathroom on the Sky so remember to bring one along.The Ship
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The Norwegian Sky is a large ship at 80,000 gross tons and she is diverse as well. Apparently, Costa Cruise Lines originally ordered the Sky and then cancelled the order after the ship’s superstructure and cabins had been constructed. NCL came in and picked the ship up (presumably at a bargain) and added the NCL finishing touches to the ship. She offers a wealth of public areas that are extremely attractive and wonderful. She is a joy to be on. However, the cabins are smaller than on other NCL ships because of the nature that NCL acquired her.Restaurants
The Sky is unique as it offers 2 main restaurants, a buffet and 3 alternative dining restaurants to choose from. The intent of “freestyle cruising” is to give the Sky’s passengers a wide variety of choices for their dining pleasure and the Sky certainly accomplishes this task. The three alternative dining restaurants (Le Bistro, Ciao Chow and Horizons) all require an additional $10.00 gratuity that can be signed to your cabin. (They also require reservations as well) Following is a breakdown of the various restaurants.
The Garden Café (Deck 11, aft)
This is the main buffet of the Norwegian Sky. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is a fun place to take meals, as there are always separate food d carts in addition to the 2 main buffet lines. Specialty food items like waffles, various egg dishes, fruit and so on for breakfast, pasta for lunch and a separate dessert cart are always available to enjoy. The seating is both inside in the café or you make also sit outside by the pool or on the fantail of deck 11 by the Great Outdoor Café.
The Great Outdoor Café (Deck 11, aft)
Just aft of the Garden Café are two separate buffet lines that are open early for breakfast and sometimes lunch (primarily on sea days) It offers the same food as the Garden Café but has a larger selection of fruit in the morning. The Great Outdoor Café also has its own bar that serves the sitting area behind the café that is open during the day and into the evening. This is the place to come for coffee, juice, roils and such from 6 am and is also a great place to enjoy an early morning breakfast to enjoy the ocean when at sea and also take in the port vistas.
The Seven Seas Restaurant (Deck 5, aft)
This is one of two main restaurants that serve as the base of breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant dining. It is a lovely setting with attentive servers. We enjoyed a dinner in the Seven Seas restaurant and experienced excellent service and food. I had read reviews that claimed that the freestyle dining format had removed the incentive for the waiters to provide excellent service and I would have thought that this is where it would have appeared. If anything, we received better service than I have experienced in dinning rooms on NCL’s ships that offer traditional dining plans. NCL seems to have found a way to offer incentives to their waiters to get them to perform well. The food was very good and the presentation wonderful. One could cruise the Norwegian Sky and simply eat at the Four Seasons and the Seven Seas restaurants and be perfectly content with their cruise experience.
The Four Seasons Restaurant (Deck 5, forward)
This is the second main restaurant (along with the Seven Seas) and offers fine dining without a gratuity. We enjoyed an excellent dinner here one evening as a group of 12. It happened to be the night lobster was being served and most of us selected it. I enjoyed escargot, a mixed green salad and I have to admit to having a second lobster tail. Many ships have gone to serving lobster dishes rather than a whole lobster tail however on this cruise the lobster tails were large, succulent and tasty and there were as many as you could eat. This was a rare treat indeed. We had a great time in the restaurant and the service again, was excellent.
Le Bistro (Deck 12, aft)
Le Bistro is NCL’s signature fine dining alternative restaurant that is offered on all NCL ships. The restaurant is a wonderful experience and offers a complete menu of Mediterranean cuisine in a wonderful setting. A group of us enjoyed a late dinner in Le Bistro and had an excellent waiter named Oscar that was professional and efficient. I had a seafood appetizer, Caeser salad and baked salmon that was to die for. The service was impeccable and the food wonderfully prepared. The presentation even included the simultaneous uncovering of the entrée. Don’t miss the Le Bistro Restaurant on the Sky for a fine dining experience. The $10.00 gratuity is well worth it. Some in our group ate in Le Bistro several times during the cruise.
Ciao Chow (Deck 11, midship)
This is the classic Italian/Asian restaurant that blends food from both cultures into a meal. While the setting of the restaurant is not as glamorous as either the Le Bistro or Horizons, the service and the food make up for it. I enjoyed Ciao Chow one evening having sashimi and a shrimp and squid (calamari) Caeser salad and it was the best meal I had on the trip. If I hadn’t been so keen on trying every restaurant for this review I would have eaten there every evening after I discovered it. My waitress (a blonde woman from Romania) offered the most attentive service of the cruise. She was efficient and had a wonderful way of serving her guests. Again Ciao Chow is definitely worth the $10.00 gratuity for the food and experience.
Ciao Chow also serves lunch every day and offers a specialty dish and salad that I found to be excellent. One day they offered Miso soup, the next fresh vegetarian pasta, the next a Ceaser salad made to order. It proved to be an excellent choice for a light lunch and there were never any crowds. Fresh curry and Chinese dishes with rice were offered in hot serving trays for those that wanted to dine on more traditional Asian dishes for lunch.
Horizons Restaurant (Deck 5, midship)
WOW! I really liked this restaurant. It is quite long and narrow taking up a good part of the starboard side of deck 5. There are large picture windows the entire length of the restaurant that takes in magnificent ocean vistas. The restaurant is made up of circular booths with seating for four looking directly out of the windows and then tables for two right in front of the windows. The menu is gourmet Italian food and it is wonderful. I had a mushroom filled ravioli appetizer followed by Caeser salad made right at the table and then scampi as an entrée. All of us had scampi and agreed it was the best we had enjoyed in a long time. Our waitress from Thailand was excellent and our wine stewardess (used to be on the Norwegian Star) was one of the best on any ship. This is a great dining experience not to be missed and well worth the $10.00 gratuity.
Pizzeria (Deck 11, midship)
The Pizzeria is open 24-hours a day and offers excellent pizza. It is located inside of Ciao Chow.
The Norwegian Sky offered two midnight buffets on this cruise. On the first day at sea they did their signature “chocoholic” chocolate buffet where everything is made from chocolate. Cakes, pies, fruit dipped in chocolate, fudge, you name it and they offered it. On the second day at sea was the “Grand Buffet” held in the Atrium. This is the fabulous midnight buffet everyone talks about. The buffets are open for photos for a half of an hour before they are consumed. While many cruise lines have gotten away from the gala midnight buffets, you are sure to enjoy these and they are not to be missed.Entertainment Venues and Main Lounges
There is always something going on somewhere on the Norwegian Sky. NCL has rearranged their entertainment so that it is very stimulating. First of all, there are 17 different bars and lounges on the Sky. Each has their own personality and many offer entertainment in the evening. There is a headline show every night, a dance venue that is active all evening and there are quiet lounges offering soothing music. There is something for everyone.
The Stardust Lounge (Deck 6 and 7, aft)
This is the main showroom on the Norwegian Sky. It is two levels (Deck 6 and 7, aft) and while there are a few seats with blocked views, it offers excellent vantage points to enjoy the nightly productions. NCL offers a major show twice nightly (once for early and once for late dining) and it is easy to plan your evening around dinner and the entertainment. One of the things I especially liked about freestyle dining is that you could go immediately from the show to dinner without having to mill around for 45 minutes waiting for the assigned seating to become available as you do on most ships.
Checkers Cabaret (Deck 6, midship)
This is the primary dance venue on the Norwegian Sky and is the site of many of the themed parties that take place on the ship. NCL does a 50s & 60s party, a 70s and 80s party and so on. There is a band playing dance music (rock and roll) here every evening until midnight or so and then a disk jockey takes over until closing. It is hopping every evening and is well done. There is a full lounge and a bar with numerous stools.
The Observation Lounge and Bali Hai Lounge (Deck 11, forward)
This is the other major dance venue on the Sky. They offer more traditional music for folks not really into rock and roll and it is open every evening from around 7 pm until closing. It is a huge observation lounge that offers excellent vistas during the daytime and into the evening. It is a great place to be while entering or leaving port. There is also a bar with limited bar stools.
The starboard side of the Observation Lounge is known as the Bali Hai Lounge. It offers a tropical theme and serves Pupus (Hawaiian appetizers) every night before dinner. At midnight “tropical treats” are offered to those in the Observation Lounge as well.
Gatsby’s Wine Bar (Dec 12, aft)
Here is my favorite bar on the ship. Gatsby’s serves fine wines by the glass and offers soothing entertainment in the form of either piano music or a duet playing soft jazz and an “Enya” type of jazz. It is a great place to meet and our group found it to be our favorite meeting place. There are bar stools around a friendly bar and three separate lounge areas, one of which is great for conversation. It also serves as the main bar for Le Bistro as it resides at the entrance to the restaurant.
The Atrium Bar (Deck 7, forward)
Our group met at the Atrium Bar one evening and really liked it. They offer piano music during the cocktail hours and several places to meet for conversation. The Atrium Bar also has a dozen or so bar stools that are great for people watching as there is quite a bit of foot traffic traversing the Atrium area.
Windjammer Bar (Deck 6, midship)
The Windjammer is a great piano bar complete with over stuffed chairs and sofas and a rustic dark wood bar and decorative back bar. It reeks of tradition and comfort. Martinis are the specialty of the Windjammer and you will love the atmosphere here. My only complaint with the Windjammer was that it adjoined the cigar club and the scent of cigars was noticeable on occasion.
Sports Bar, Deck 11, aft)
Here is NCL’s signature sports bar. It is in a great setting and offers numerous TV screens running sporting events live and recorded to participate in. There are always sport trivia contests going on in the Sports Bar sponsored by NCL and it is a great place to simply relax and enjoy a beverage. Our group met in the Sports Bar for pre dinner cocktails one night and took over the adjoining “The Zone Disco” and it was like having our own private cocktail party. Highly recommend this setup for groups that want to meet prior to dinner in a party type of environment.
Churchill’s Cigar Club (Deck 6, midship)
Here is the cigar club on the Norwegian Sky. They sell a vast array of fine cigars (or you can bring your own) and also serve an excellent list of brandies and other drinks from a fully stocked bar. It is quite an attractive lounge that you get to by entering through Checkers Disco (or through the Windjammer Bar) while I don’t normally smoke cigars it made me want to try one just to sit in the atmosphere of the club.
The Norwegian sky has a bar available whenever you require liquid refreshments. The more notable is the casino bar (in the casino), the Internet Café Bar (that also serves fine coffee drinks as well as a full bar service), Topsider’s Bar that is the main pool area bar that offers dozens of pool side bar stools, Champs Bar, on deck 12 above the pool area that is open during the day (weather permitting) and the Great Outdoor Bar on the aft fan tail of deck 11. The restaurants also have bars available as well.
Other Public Areas of the Norwegian Sky
The Fitness Center
Great Fitness Center! The Fitness Center is broken into 2 areas, the aerobics area, which offers a very generous amount of space for aerobics and such in an excellent environment and the workout area. It offers several types of cardiovascular machines to enjoy. There are 9 stationary bikes, 4 Stairmasters, 5 Treadmills and 2 ski machines all with great views.
The weight area offers several different weight benches and dumbbells to 50# (not the usual 30#) There are a couple of sit-up benches and the gym features Cybex machines. There is a leg lift, leg extension, seated chest press, lat pull down, lat extension, preachers bench biceps machine, triceps push down, butterfly chest press and a lower abs leg lift. All in all, everything you need to stay toned.
The Internet Café (Deck 7, midship)
The Internet Café offered two access plans. You could get on-line for a $.75 per minute charge or elect to pay a flat $89.95 for unlimited access during the cruise. The access fees are reasonable as there is no minimum time required and my sessions usually ran from three to five minutes each to check my e-mail. I set up with www.MailStart.com to access my e-mail accounts and it worked perfectly. It only costs $6.00 per year and you can access up to five different e-mail accounts simultaneously from anywhere in the world. It worked great for me and dramatically cut my time on-line. I would highly recommend their service if you intend to stay in touch via e-mail while on a cruise.
The Sky has a nice assortment of shops on board. First there is a large Duty Free shop that sells all of the items usually found in the duty free shops at International airports. It offers great shopping and reasonable prices. There is also a Columbian Emeralds store (the first of its kind on a ship) where you can shop for fine jewelry and other luxurious items. The Sky also has a large store selling NCL logo items, clothing and miscellaneous toiletries should you need anything while on the cruise.
The Pool Area (Deck 11, midship)
The Norwegian Sky offers a large pool area that consists of two swimming pools and four Jacuzzis. There are ample lounge chairs around the pool on deck 11 and on the sun deck (deck 12, forward) for everyone but if you want a prime pool side lounge chair plan to get there early (especially on the days at sea) There is always music playing by the pool and one of the ship’s bands plays when leaving ports. The pool area is protected from the wind and is an excellent place to relax. One of the things I liked about the Sky was the ability to escape to the various enclosed areas on the sun deck. They have designed a system of windbreaks that create separate sunning areas that are somewhat private. There is also excellent bar service in the pool area that is not too invasive.
The Children’s Pool Area (Deck 12, forward)
The Sky offers a separate kiddies/adult pool area for youngsters and their parents so that they tend to gravitate to this area rather than the main pool area. There is a shallow kiddies pool and also a separate two Jacuzzis for the parents overlooking the kiddie’s pool. It is a great setup for both the parents and the kids and for the other passengers enjoying the main pool area where the kids would normally be running around.
The Sports Deck (Deck 12, midship)
The Sky offers a full sized basketball and/or volleyball court, batting cage, several enclosed golf driving ranges, ping pong (Deck 11) and a jogging track. The basketball court was always active.
While I am not a gambler the casino saw lots of action. It was always busy every time I wandered through it and people seemed to be winning. There are a good number of slot machines, poker machines and lots of tables with various games. I couldn’t get a good shot of the casino to do it justice but the lighting is very stimulating. At the aft section of the casino is the Casino Bar that is a great place to people watch as it overlooks the flow of people going from one end of the ship to the other.
The Atrium Area
This is a very special place on the Norwegian Sky. The Atrium starts on Deck 5 and soars up to Deck 11. There are two banks of elevators that are enclosed in glass that service the decks from the Atrium. On Deck 5 resides the Registration Desk, entrance to the Four Seasons Restaurant and the Shore Excursion Desk. The registration desk is open 24 hours a day and the shore excursion desk hours are posted in the daily “Cruise News”. The next floor up (Deck 6) houses the entrance to Checker’s Cabaret, Columbian Emeralds and the NCL Logo store. There is ample seating around the Atrium for many people to simply relax and enjoy a cocktail. Deck 7 houses the Atrium Bar, a piano surrounded by comfortable chairs for lounging and the entrance to the casino. The Atrium is the place the Captain’s Cocktail Party takes place as well as the midnight buffets.
The main stairway in the Atrium is where the group photo at the top of this review was taken and is also the place many of the portrait photos are shot.
The Norwegian Sky offers a wonderful library and offers both regular and large print books that may be checked out for the cruise. Library hours are posted in the daily “Cruise News”
The Conference Center
Great conference center! We had two formal seminars in the conference center and they went without a hitch. The meeting room is hidden behind the library and there is no one walking by or peeking in during a meeting. We were able to laugh loudly without fearing we were bothering anyone else. There are actually three separate breakout rooms that form one large room if all the space is needed. We met with a group size of approximately 35 in two of the breakout rooms, cleared a space for Rocky’s “Self Defense for Women” seminar and still had lots of room to spare. I would highly recommend this ship for its meeting space. They also offer all the tools speakers need to do presentations and an excellent microphone system.
You deserve to be pampered. Be sure to visit the Mandara Spa while on board. The name “Mandara” comes from an ancient legend about the God’s quest to find the elixir of immortality and eternal youth. Mandara Spa, originating in Bali Indonesia, has embraced this legend.
Treat yourself to services once reserved for only Kings and Queens. Body massages, scrubs, polishes and wraps as well as, facial treatments from around the world for both men and women are offered in the spa.
Finishing touches for stepping out in perfection that include hair care, manicures, pedicures and make up are offered in the Mandara Spa’s salon as well. Don’t miss this opportunity to indulge yourself. (Contributed by Shirley Pate)
The Kid’s Corner (Deck 7, forward)
Boy, I wish I were a kid again! The entire forward section of Deck 7 is dedicated to the Kid’s Corner. It is made up of three different rooms (presumably for three different age groups) and all of them face towards the bow with fabulous ocean front views. I didn’t really check into the kids program but NCL is known for their wonderful kid’s programs and this room certainly enhances them.The Cruise
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Day One, Miami, Florida
I took Super Shuttle from the Ft. Lauderdale area to the port of Miami ($17.50). I boarded the ship and was unpacked and ready to finalize the group’s arrangements by 12:30. I met with Tanja Bessel, the Sky’s Group Services Coordinator who made my job the easiest in quite a long time. We reconfirmed the seminar space and cocktail party and Tanja went out of her way to take care of every detail. I would highly recommend the Sky for groups based on Tanja’s ability to make things happen behind the scenes. I spent the afternoon printing and delivering flyers to the group’s cabins and checking out the conference center and other venues our group would be using.
At 3:30 we had the mandatory lifeboat drill that only took about 10 minutes to accomplish. I went back to my cabin to settle in and to get ready for our cocktail party. We had our “Welcome Aboard” cocktail party up in Gatsby’s Wine Bar at 6:30 where I met the group and we got to know one another. Gatsby’s was an excellent choice for a private cocktail party as it is an excellent setting with soothing music. After the cocktail party I had elected to have everyone dine on his or her own so I chose to eat dinner in the Garden Café (the ship’s main buffet). I found several vegetarian selections that were to my liking and enjoyed a nice quiet dinner before going to the early “Welcome Aboard” show in the Stardust Lounge. It was a good mix of a stage production by the Jean-Ann Ryan Company and comedy by comedian Gregory Carey. I took a quick tour of the Sky’s various lounges before turning in early.
Day Two, Day at Sea
I was up early and watched the sun come up while enjoying a cup of coffee at the Great Outdoor Café. I got ready for the seminar and went to the conference center to make sure everything was all set. The conference center was all set up with the requisite coffee, tea, juice and assorted roils and pastries. Our seminar ran from 9 am until 12 noon and we all got to know one another. I enjoyed lunch in the Garden Café and then made my way out to the pool area for a couple of hours relaxation. The pool area itself was quite crowded and there were “pool games” going on so I opted for the deck 12 sun deck. I easily found a lounge that was somewhat private and settled into my “Framework for Dummies” book.
Our group had decided to form dinner groups to try the Sky’s many restaurants at a pre dinner cocktail hour at 6:30 in the evening. This seemed to work out quite well as everyone got to dine the various restaurants in the “free style” fashion. I would suggest that groups handle dining in this fashion as well. The alternative dining restaurants cannot handle seating for large groups without going to a fixed menu which seems to defeat the purpose of freestyle cruising all together. Enjoying a social hour as a group and then dining with different group members each evening accomplished the same result as group dining would have in a non-freestyle environment.
This was the formal night of the cruise and we had decided to first meet in Gatsby’s at 6:30 pm and enjoy the melodies of Susannah and Pablo who played soft progressive or new age jazz. We formed dinner groups and then made our way to the Captain’s cocktail party that started in the Atrium at 7 pm. The cocktail party was wonderful with plenty of champagne and appetizers being constantly offered. The Captain was available for formal pictures and many in our group took advantage of them. The Sky does not do the usual introduction of the Captain to each passenger that creates the long lines associated with the Captain’s cocktail party but rather you simply show up in the Atrium and start enjoying the festivities and if you desire a picture with the Captain go up to deck six and get in line. It is a great way to handle the party and everyone enjoyed the freedom from long lines.
A group of us had taken advantage of a table for eight at Le Bistro and had a fabulous dinner. Our waiter Oscar was as professional a waiter as I have ever experienced. The food in Le Bistro is Mediterranean and I selected a shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad and baked sea bass. The ambiance, presentation and quality of food was excellent and well worth the $10.00 gratuity to dine in Le Bistro. Our dinner conversation continued through the late show that we had intended to enjoy and lingered past midnight. By the time we departed the restaurant our table was one of the last remaining. There was never any pressure to leave so the restaurant could clean up and close. I would highly recommend Le Bistro for fine dining on the Sky. After dinner I made my way to my cabin and called it a night
Day Three, Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island
I had brought a substantial amount of work with me and I had been to Cayman a good number of times so I elected to stay on the ship for the day and work in my cabin. However, I would strongly recommend that everyone do the “Sting Ray City” shore excursion when visiting Grand Cayman. It is an experience that everyone treasures and remembers for their entire life.
We met for our pre dinner cocktails in the Observatory Lounge. The Latitudes (NCL repeaters) party went well over its 6:15 pm time to end so our group arrived right when the party was letting out. We assembled forward of the band that was playing dance/rock and roll music and since there had been several hundred people in the lounge prior to us the volume was cranked all the way up. We stayed for a little while but one by one left for calmer environs. I made a mental note to not meet in the Observation Lounge again.
I had reservations at Ciao Chow (the Asian/Italian restaurant) and enjoyed a peaceful meal of sashimi and a shrimp and squid (calamari) Caesar salad. While the setting of Ciao Chow does not have the same ambiance as Le Bistro, the food and service more than make up for the atmosphere. My waitress (a blonde lady from Romania) was unbelievably attentive and served me with an extreme amount of professionalism. If I did not want to dine in all of the Sky’s restaurants I would not have gone any further than Ciao Chow. The sashimi was super fresh and the Caesar salad to die for. I would also highly recommend Ciao Chow for wonderful food with a unique menu.
After dinner I enjoyed the late show in the Stardust Lounge with singer Jane Powell. I had seen Jane before on other ships but her strong voice has a range that is almost unbelievable. She is always fun to watch and she gets the audience involved in a way that makes her so reachable. She is a great entertainer. After the show I went to the 50s and 60s sock hop in Checkers Lounge. This is a fun party that features many of the Sky’s passengers competing for prizes in twist contests, Elvis lip sync contests and so on. While I turned in about midnight, some in our group stayed with the party until 2 am or so. NCL does a great job at getting parties going and I am glad to see that they are now keeping them going after they get them started.
Day Four, Ocho Rios, Jamaica
It was a beautiful morning docked in Ocho Rios overlooking downtown. I needed to go to town to shop for gifts for our “Ideas for Prizes” seminar so after breakfast at the Great Outdoor Restaurant I left the ship and decided to walk into town. After clearing the fence and the dozens of taxi cab drivers trying to sell tours and miscellaneous stuff, I was on my way to town. I passed a small bar with what looked like ladies of the night hanging around it and was approached to buy drugs on several occasions and found that much hadn’t changed much in Ocho Rios since my last visit.
Jamaica is so beautiful and is truly blessed with some of the most wonderful culture in existence on the planet. It is unfortunate that such a small element in their culture can taint an experience for so many visitors. Perhaps if more folks were visibly angry at being approached by this element there would be a little more hesitation.
I continued into downtown Ocho Rios to the flea market and the dozens of vendors selling items of all descriptions. I had fun negotiating for the gifts that I purchased and found (like everywhere) that a little compassion won them over. Once I explained my budget and needs each shop owner went out of their way to help me meet my needs. I finished my shopping and made my way back to the ship. It is only a twenty-minute walk from the ship to downtown Ocho Rios and is completely safe to do and the shopping is actually pretty good. If you were looking for woodcarvings I would highly recommend the flea market in Ocho Rios.
I spent the afternoon working in my cabin but did get an hour or so to take a Jacuzzi and get some sun late in the day. We met for our pre dinner cocktail hour in the Atrium Bar and enjoyed the wonderful piano tunes of Ariel Jacobe while enjoying a “2 for 1” happy hour. The Atrium was a wonderful place to meet as there is plenty of room to spread our. Some of our group was sitting in the bar, some at the tables by the bar, others were across the Atrium sitting around the piano and everyone was moving from table to table discussing the day’s events.
We left the cocktail party to take in the magic of Master Illusionist Garry Carson. Everyone thought he was great. Garry is more of a comedian than anything else but his unique style and illusions are fun to watch….very entertaining. After the show in the Stardust Lounge we decided to eat in one of the traditional restaurants and selected the Seven Seas restaurant for dinner. There was a large amount of people entering the restaurant as the show had just finished but we were shown to a table for 10 and had a thoroughly enjoyable dinner. At one point we were immersed in conversation and the waiter patiently waited, after recognizing that it was not the appropriate time to interrupt he left and came back 4 or 5 minutes later. I thought that it was great to be treated with such respect and everyone in our group commented how nice it was not to be pressed into action based on the waiter’s desires instead of ours. This is an element of freestyle cruising that I found wonderful.
We lingered in the restaurant until our table was the last to leave. Again, it was wonderful as there was no pressure to leave the restaurant so they could close down. After dinner we went up to join the “Country Night Party” taking place by the pool on deck 11. There was line-dancing lessons, Bar-B-Que and plenty of drinks to go around. Everyone was having a ball. After a few minutes I decided to call it a night and turned in.
Day Five, Day at Sea
I woke up early, as the second seminar was to take place starting at 9 am. We were fortunate to have some agents from Los Angeles with us who are also martial arts professionals and Rocky was going to do a “Self Defense for Women” class for the ladies in our group the first thing this morning. I made my way to the conference room and rearranged it to accommodate the class. It went great! We concluded our seminar staying after over an hour talking about computers, the travel industry and such things. I took a quick lunch in the Ciao Chow restaurant (which became my favorite place to have lunch) of Caesar salad and a vegetarian curry dish with white rice. The Caesar salad is made to order just the way you like it every time. I had decided to take a break and enjoy the pool area for the afternoon as I was beginning to feel like a mole spending most of the time in my cabin working on my computer.
The day was spectacular and there were more than enough lounge chairs to accommodate those that wanted to lie out. NCL offers thick stuffed canvas pads on top of the belted lounge chairs and also plush towels to put on top of the lounges. They are quite comfortable. Because the kids have their own pool area the Jacuzzis and pool area on deck 11 are primarily adults, which is very much appreciated. I talked with lots of people in the Jacuzzis and everyone seemed quite happy with the Sky and with freestyle dining. Those that preferred the old way seemed to be the kind of people that love complete structure while on vacation.
I slept on the deck chair for an hour or so and then made my way to my cabin to get ready for our pre dinner cocktail hour. We met up in the Sports Bar and took over “The Zone” disco that adjoins the bar and it turned out great. It was like having our own little private cocktail party area. By now our group had all bonded and everyone was enjoying the social environment at our nightly get-togethers. I had made dinner reservations in the Horizon Restaurant for 9 pm so we took in the early show of “Running Wild” with the Jean Ann-Ryan Company in the Stardust Lounge. The Jean-Ann Ryan productions are wonderful stage song and dance productions that are probably some of the best on any cruise ship. They do a wonderful job at finding very talented young people and producing professional shows with all of the stage effects, costumes and hoopla of a headline Las Vegas show. They should not be missed if you care for entertainment at all.
I met my dinner partners in front of the restaurant at 9 pm and we were seated for what was going to be the best dinner of the entire trip. The Horizon restaurant is intimate and very well done. I ordered the calamari appetizer, Caesar salad and scampi. The calamari was wonderful, the salad (made right at our table) was fantastic and the scampi was the best I have ever eaten. The juicy plump shrimp was prepared with Chinese vegetables and thinly sliced onions….it was to die for. The service was impeccable and our waitress (from Thailand) was superb. The wine stewardess (was on the Norwegian Star for years) was probably the best wine stewardess on any ship. She is friendly, yet professional, accommodating, yet knowledgeable and has a way of presenting wines that make the experience wonderful.
We finished dinner late and I joined the “70’s Groove” party already in full swing in Checker’s Lounge. While I had missed it they had a Gloria Gaynor and John Travolta lip sync contest that some in our group said was hilarious. The lounge was crowded with the dance floor packed. I stayed at the party for an hour or so and then turned in. I heard the next day that the party went on for hours.
Day Six, Nassau, Bahamas
Talk about a lot of people. RCI’s Explorer of the Seas and Sovereign of the Seas, Disney’s Wonder, Carnival’s Fascination and Celebrity’s Galaxy were all in port with the Norwegian Sky. I have to tell you that it was crowded. There were thousands of people in Nassau shopping, wondering around and heading to Paradise Island. I estimated the capacity of the ships at somewhere around 11,000 people.
We had arranged for most of the group to visit the all-inclusive resort “Breezes” (15 minutes from the port of Nassau). Super Clubs had offered to host our group with a full-day pass that included everything so the agents could familiarize themselves with the property. After breakfast we met at the foot of the pier in Nassau and arranged to have several taxi cabs take us to the Breezes resort. Breezes had a “welcome NACTA” sign waiting for us as we individually checked into the resort. After a tour of the property we enjoyed a buffet lunch in Breeze’s main dining room. Everyone was impressed with both the quality and the diversity of the buffet. There were over 60 different dishes being served and there was something for everyone. I had a great time eating steamed vegetables and various types of salads. Wine was also included with all the meals and most of the group enjoyed it. After lunch I grabbed a cab back to the ship while the rest of the group stayed and enjoyed the afternoon at Breeze’s excellent beach and pool areas. On board the Sky I continued to work for the afternoon and set aside the late afternoon for a Jacuzzi and some sunshine. I wasn’t disappointed
We met in Gatsby’s Lounge for our nightly pre dinner cocktail party and continued to enjoy the soft music and conversation. A group of us decided to dine in the Four Seasons Restaurant and made our way from the cocktail party to dinner. We were able to secure a table for 12 by adding two chairs to our table for 10 and had a wonderful dining experience. It was lobster night in the Four Seasons so we all enjoyed lobster and many of us had a second tail. Many ships have cut back on the amount of lobster they make available but I am happy to inform everyone that the Norwegian Sky has a very liberal policy. The lobster tails were large, succulent and well prepared. Dinner consisted of escargot for an appetizer, a mixed salad and lobster. I also ordered steamed vegetables, which were delicious. Our waiter was fantastic and I have to admit put up with a very rowdy table as we enjoyed our conversations and stories. A number of the group had ordered wine for the table and the bottle I had ordered was not finished at the end of the dinner and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the wine steward could store the bottle for me and it could be retrieved the following night from any restaurant on the ship. This is certainly a nice feature.
We left the restaurant just in time to make the second showing of “Sea Legs Cirque” staring the Jean-Ann Ryan Company in the Stardust Lounge. This was yet another excellent stage production with elaborate staging, costumes and song and dance. Don’t miss it. After the show I made my way to the pool deck and watched the Caribbean Deck Party that was now under way. Caribbean music, limbo, conga lines and lots of other entertainment continued into the night. I watched for a while and then went up to Gatsby’s Wine Bar to watch Mark Farris the pianist/singer in the lounge. He did a great job singing soft music and playing with the audience. Then it was off to bed.
Day Seven, Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas
This is NCL’s own private island. The Norwegian Sky anchors off the island and a large tender makes its way over to the island loaded with passengers from the Sky. It took over an hour before tender tickets (tickets used to assign tender priority that are picked up in the morning) were no longer necessary. I went ashore to have some lunch and to take some pictures of the island. They have several lunch areas, a full bar, a straw market shopping area and lots to do on the beach and in the water. Everyone was having a great time snorkeling, sunning, shopping and generally exploring the island. Most people felt the shopping on the island was as good, or better, than in Nassau and many went back to the ship to get cash for purchases. Remember to take some cash with you in the morning if you intend to do any shopping on the island.
I stayed for a couple of hours and then made my way back to the Sky to get some work done in the afternoon. I got a great shot of the Sky from the tender as we approached her. Once on board, I got some work done and then spent the late afternoon by the Jacuzzis. I noticed that a number of people had gotten a little too much sun. I suppose that since this was the last day of the cruise and everyone wanted to go home with a tan that they through caution to the wind and stayed out too long. Be sure to bring a good waterproof sunscreen with you to the island. I was using spf 30 and still got some sun in just the two hours I was on the island.
We had arranged to have our final cocktail party in Gatsby’s Wine Bar, as this had become our favorite place to meet. We got together at 6:30 pm and had a wonderful time exchanging business cards, toasting our cruise and then toasting the next cruise. The cocktail party started to wind down as some of the group went to the early show; others were dining in Le Bistro or the Horizons restaurants. A group of us decided to go back to the Four Seasons Restaurant for our final dinner. We got a table for 8 and settled into the familiar pattern of wonderful service, great food and interesting conversations. I had made my decision about freestyle cruising and I loved it, as did the vast majority of our group.
We left the restaurant and went to the Checker’s Cabaret and then the Observation Lounge for one last toast to the next cruise. I turned in for the evening completely satisfied with the Norwegian Sky cruise experience.
Day Eight, Miami, Florida
I always carry my luggage both on and off a ship as I guess I am a control freak at times so I waited until the morning to pack my bags for disembarkation. I had arranged the NCL bus transfer back to Ft. Lauderdale and was going to be in the fourth group to disembark. NCL uses colored bag tags that are assigned by activity or departure flight time. In this way those that need to get off first and those that are have a later flight time and are in no hurry can enjoy the ship all that much longer. Breakfast in the Four Seasons and Seven Seas restaurants was being served until 9 am and both the Garden and Great Outdoor Cafes were open as well. My purple bag tag group was called and we proceeded to disembark crossing the ship’s gangway into the terminal. There was a short line to clear immigration and then no line at all for customs and within ten minutes maximum I had boarded the bus for Ft. Lauderdale. NCL has certainly improved their embarkation/disembarkation process.
Unfortunately, from the time I got to Ft. Lauderdale onward it turned into a disaster as there were weather fronts all up and down the east coast and traffic had been delayed and flights cancelled creating chaos in all of the terminals. After many hours of waiting I finally made it as far as New Orleans and then continued the following day to get to San Diego. It was unfortunate as Joanie was flying out Monday morning and I was going to see her at the airport in San Diego on Sunday night before she left….no such luck. It just underscores the likelihood of flight delays during the winter months and the need to plan to accommodate them. Always arrive a day early for your cruise and always connect in winter-friendly cities.
I had cruised the Norwegian Sky in April of 2000 to the Western Caribbean just before she converted to freestyle cruising. I had a crisis with one of the group members and disembarked the ship after only three days in San Juan, Puerto Rica to help the agent. I was luke-warm about my experience on the Sky and was a tad hesitant at the beginning of this cruise. I am happy to report that the Sky has resolved everything that impacted my opinion of the ship on the first cruise and is managed as well or better than any competitive ship.
I would highly recommend the Norwegian Sky. Freestyle cruising is great!Shore Excursions
(Contributed by Agents on the Cruise)
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Grand Cayman Island
Dive trip. 4 ½ hours $75 which included fruit, drinks and 2 dives
Met dive boat at tender where we boarded the boat. The crew was excellent and the water clarity outstanding. Did a wall dive (Great Hall Wall) where we dove to 80 ft. There was a little current but not so bad that it interfered with the dive. There was an abundance of great coral and sponge life some fish. We saw turtles and rays as well. There was one dive master for every 4-6 people but you could go off on your own with your dive buddy if you chose to do so.
The second dive was on the Lone Star Reef and we dove to a maximum of 50 feet for a total of 30 minutes. The visibility was about 90 ft or better. We dove in groups of 6 with a dive master or you could again go off with a dive buddy if you wanted. There were lots of tropical fish, grouper (some quite large), angelfish wrasses etc
I would give it an 8 on a scale 1- 10 The only negative was the crowd of divers on the boat.
Fitness walk to 7 Mile Beach
I took the 2 ½-mile walks to 7-mile beach. We departed from the tender dock and it took about 40 minutes to walk it and it terminated at the beach club. After the walk was completed you are on your own. I enjoyed the beach for a while and then returned to the ship by walking.
Sting Ray City Glass Bottom Boat Tour
We wanted to do the Sting Ray City tour but NCL advised us of the seriousness of the risk for folks that were allergic to bee stings to be in the water with the rays. Apparently there is something emitted from the rays that could potentially have an effect on folks allergic to bee stings and we decided not to go. We elected to do the glass bottom tour of Sting Ray City instead. We got on a motor coach at the foot of the tender dock where we went to a boat that took us to another boat with a step down glass bottom. We boarded the boat and went to Sting Ray City. A diver feed the rays while we watched from the boat. The diver got the rays right up to the window where we could see everything including the ray’s mouth. From there we got back on the bus and went to Hell (a town actually name Hell!) We shopped in Hell (but there was not enough time) from there we went to a turtle farm. I really enjoyed the experience especially holding the young turtles (I should have purchased turtle oil but didn’t.) From there we went back to Georgetown where we spent time shopping. I would rate the tour a 8 on a scale of 10 simply because I felt rushed in the gift shops (I am a serious shopper)
Golf at Grand Cayman Resort .
We took a taxi to Grand Cayman Resort. The resort was only 15 minutes away from the ship and we arranged for the cabbie to also pick us up when we were done playing golf. The course was in excellent condition (blue tees 6600 yards, white tees 6,100 yards) The greens were in excellent condition and I would highly recommend this course. It is easy to get to but the course requires that you play with a caddy for each twosome. The caddy helped immensely as he knew the course quite well and would shag lost golf balls without any effort. On 3 separate holes the tee boxes were no more than 50 yards from the ocean. Green fees were $100 including cart. We then made our way back to town and went shopping.
Sting Ray City Tour
We were picked up in a bus at the tender dock and went for a 15-minute drive to a wharf where we boarded a boat. We headed towards the reef some miles away. They were serving fruit punch and water on the way over and also gave us information about the rays (history, where not to touch, etc.) We got our snorkeling equipment on the boat that we sized on the way over to the reef. Upon arrival I entered the water and was immediately approached by two large stingrays. I must admit it was a bit frightening, but they are indeed friendly. I stayed in the water about 40 minutes. There was a videographer from the ship who shot video of the entire experience that was available for purchase from the ship. They provided squid to feed the stingrays and showed us exactly how to feed them.
They would also take pictures of you while you held the sting rays in your arms with your under water camera. There were all sizes of rays from tiny to huge. On the way back they served rum punch and water. There were also many collectible many items for sale on the boat the remind you of the experience.
I would give this experience a strong 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. It is the perfect amount of time. We went back to town and shopped for a while before returning to the ship.
Cayman Beach Experience
We like to experience great beaches so we took a cab ($3.00) to Royal Palms Beach Club where the admission to get into the beach is $2.00. They offer a full bar and restaurant, a great beach with a lot of shade available and good snorkeling on the reefs right off shore.
Island Tour and Snorkeling Tour
We had a friend that lives on Grand Cayman and she picked us up and took us to a wharf where we boarded a boat hit and went snorkeling at three different spots. The snorkeling was good. We then did an island tour and ended up at a restaurant where we had an excellent lunch with drinks for 7 people that cost about $80.00 (including tips) The restaurant was right on the beach and I would highly recommend it.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Dunns River Bike Tour
We boarded a bus at the foot of the tender dock where we visited Fern Gully and then went up to Murphyville. We met out tour guides in Murphyville, we tested the bikes to make sure the brakes worked and then took off up a hill before we started on a dirt road through the jungle where the guides pointed out lots of life like termite mounds. The ride went on for 14 miles…the guides were great. They told jokes, played reggae music and were just characters. They shared lots of Jamaican history. The bike ride ended at Dunns River Falls. Rather than climb the falls we enjoyed a beer and some rest. After a while we made our way back to the ship.
We on scale of 1 –10 we would give it a 9. Caution, you should be in reasonable shape to do this tour.
Golf at Sandals Resort
We grabbed a taxicab at the pier and went to Sandals golf course, which is up in the hills. This is an 18-hole golf course (blue tees 6,400 yards, short tees 6,100 yards) and the course is in great condition and they have bent grass on the greens, which is excellent. Green fees were $100, which includes a cart. A personal caddy is required by the course and costs $15 per person. It is well worth it for this course as if you lose a ball the caddy will retrieve it for you. It took 3 ½ hours to play the course. When we were done we made our way back to the ship.
Ocho Rios Beach Trip
We would highly recommend Mahogany Beach. It is a totally free beach (no admission) with free tables, chairs and lounges. They feature a full bar and restaurant and most of the tour boats stop here to snorkel on the reef right off shore. You could easily swim to the reef from the beach. Taxi fare from the ship was only $6.00 per person. This is a great beach because there were no beach vendors hawking stuff on the beach.Frequently Asked Questions
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How will I know if I am going to like “Freestyle Cruising?”
The people I talked with that preferred traditional cruising did so because they liked making friends with their waiter and the folks sitting at the table they were assigned to. I suspect after meeting several of these types of people that they also like everything organized for them and enjoy fully planned and escorted tours, escorted motor coach tours and other such group activity. They did not like the idea of meeting new people every day and were uncomfortable at the idea of going to new restaurants every night. They preferred having an assigned table and waiter and were upset when they couldn’t sit with the same waiter even when they went back to the same restaurant over and over.
If you do enjoy fine dining in both intimate and group surroundings and like being able to make choices about where, when and with whom you dine then you will love freestyle dining. The first day or two many of the agents in our group weren’t particularly keen on freestyle dining as they were so used to having the issue about where to dine taken care of for them. By the end of the cruise virtually all of the agents preferred freestyle cruising.
Is Freestyle Cruising good for singles?
While I was traveling with a group I was also traveling as a single and elected to dine on two separate nights as a single. There was absolutely no problem being accommodated in the restaurants. The Sky offers a substantial number of single’s events with ample opportunity to meet other singles to form dinner groups. I believe that freestyle cruising gives singles much more opportunity to meet a more diverse group of singles than regular cruising does.
What kind of clothes should I pack?
Freestyle cruising also applies to the dress policy of the ship. During the second evening (day at sea) most folks dressed formal for the Captain’s cocktail party. However, it wasn’t a requirement. The Four Season’s Restaurant imposed a formal dress policy but all the other restaurants did not. If you do not like to dress for dinner then there is absolutely no reason to even pack a tie. On the other hand, if you do like to dress for dinner then you could do so on every evening by eating in the alternative restaurants and never feel out of place. The Sky does impose the “No Shorts after 6 pm” rule however and the acceptable dress in the evening is “Country Club Casual or “Resort Casual”. Liken it to a nice resort where some of the guests are attending formal functions while others are attending informal. The mix works quite nicely on the ship as the evening progresses and no one is made to feel out-of-place. I have been on some ships during formal night where I felt out-of-place in a tux since most men are wearing sport coats (or less) and the entire meaning of formal night is lost.
Why should I pay an extra $10.00 to dine in one of the restaurants after I paid so much for the cruise?
This was an issue for some people. You could go the entire cruise eating in the Four Seasons, Seven Seas and Garden Café restaurants and have a wonderful dining experience. I noticed several families that preferred eating in the Garden Café the entire cruise and perfectly happy as the food is wonderful and the environment conducive to family dining.
Having the choice of three additional gourmet restaurants is simply an added bonus that few other ships offer. The consensus of our group was that it was well worth the $10.00 gratuity for the level of service, quality of food and the overall dining experience. Personally, I would have paid more for the experience. I would encourage all cruise lines to consider adding alternative restaurants as an option for passengers who want fine dining selections as it adds so much to the cruise experience.