Cliff and Melanie Demczuk
Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sky
Sailing Date: November 3rd, 2002
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line
Sailing Date: November 3rd, 2002
Introduction: This was my second
(and third, as we cruised back to back this time)
cruise to the Caribbean. The Norwegian Sky is one of
Norwegian Cruise Lines Freestyle Cruising ships, which
I will describe later. The itineraries from San Juan
were as follows:
First Week: Day 1 - Day At Sea Second Week: Day 1 - Day At Sea
Day 2 - St. Lucia Day 2 - Martinique
Day 3 - Barbados Day 3 - Antigua
Day 4 - Dominica Day 4 - St. Maarten
Day 5 - St. Kitts Day 5 - Tortola
Day 6 - St. Thomas Day 6 - St. Thomas
Getting to the ship: The Norwegian Sky sails from San Juan, and the pier is located in the heart of Old San Juan next to Carnival's pier. If you have booked your air flight with NCL, then you have no real issues and the ship will await your arrival. However, if you plan to book your own airfare, the best piece of advice I can give is for you to plan on arriving on the day before your cruise departs. There is a fine hotel (The Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel and Casino) located directly across the street from the pier, and if you can make reservations to stay there, it will make it very easy to get on the ship the next morning. It costs approximately $18 US to take a cab from the airport to the hotel/pier, and in the morning when you check out, all you have to do is cross the street with your luggage. We spent a night there prior to our cruise and we were very satisfied. The Norwegian Sky begins boarding at 1:00 PM, so if you are checking out of a hotel, try to arrange your travel time accordingly. The best time to arrive to check in was about 12:45 PM. There was no real line yet, and things moved quickly in the embarkation process. However, by 1:30 PM, there was a huge line, and things had begun to slow down. If you don't make it to the pier by 1:00 PM, and you don't want to wait in a long line, then don't arrive at the pier until later in the afternoon. There is a lull between 3:30 PM and 5:30 pm between flights at the airport. One source of aggravation was the tables they had set up to confiscate any liquor people were trying to bring on board. NCL is very strict about bringing liquor on board, and they were pulling people out of line to confiscate any alcoholic beverages they might have with them in carry-on. This seemed to just cause a bit of confusion in the line. Note: In the port of San Juan, if you really want to get a small amount of alcohol on board, just board the ship and come back out to the terminal area and ask the duty free shop personnel for tips on how best to do this... it's not difficult to sneak a bottle on board as long as you are reasonable about it. Having stayed at the Wyndham Old San Juan, we were in our room by 1:15 PM after arriving at the pier at 12:45. We then left the ship for our own walking tour of Old San Juan.
The cabins: We had booked an outside cabin on Deck 4 for the first week and another on Deck 5, front of the ship in both cases. Both were very convenient for getting on and off the ship in the various ports. The Deck 4 cabin was a little better than Deck 5, only because Deck 5 is located directly beneath the walking/running track. Despite signs that asked people not to run on the track before 8:00 AM, some individuals obviously felt the need to wake people up by stomping around the track at 5:30 AM on certain days... I would suggest avoiding Deck 5 for this reason. The cabins on the Norwegian Sky are a bit smaller than other lines, and even other Norwegian ships. However, this is not a major inconvenience. The shower and bathroom are adequately sized, but temperature of the water may fluctuate for unknown reasons. However, there is a definite lack of dresser space. There are three tiny drawers in the closet under the safe, and they really weren't much help. We ended up using the nightstand shelves as additional drawer space. There is room under the beds, however, and if you choose to leave your clothes in your suitcase, you may store them under the bed. A hairdryer is provided, but you might want to bring your own. No irons are allowed. Unlike alot of ships, there is no self-service laundry area. This can be a problem if you are staying for more that one week.
The Ship: The ship is rather well laid out. There is a huge atrium that runs from the top of the ship down to Deck 5 where the lobby is. In the center there are 4 glass elevators. For some reason, a lot of people preferred to wait (and wait and wait) for these, rather than use the other elevators located near the stairs in both the front and rear of the ships. Here's a hint: If you don't want to wait long for an elevator, use the normal elevators. However, at the end of a day, when people are coming back on the ship, use the atrium elevators, as the normal ones are crowded with people re-entering the ship. Deck 5 also houses the two main dining rooms, the Four Seasons, and the Seven Seas. The specialty restaurant Horizons is also squeezed in on Deck 5 between the two main dining rooms. There are small shops on Deck 6 in the atrium area (including Colombian Emeralds), as well the Atrium Lounge, Checkers Cabaret, Windjammers Bar, Churchills Cigar Bar, and the Photo Shop. The Stardust Lounge is also located on Deck 6 as well as 7 for the main shows. Deck 7 houses the main shops, and coffee bar, and the casino. Deck 11 is the pool deck, and Deck 12 is the Observation Deck. Deck 11 also contains the Observation Lounge at the front of the ship, and the Outdoor Cafe (for buffets) and the Garden Cafe (also for buffets) at the rear of the ship. The specialty restaurant Ciao Chow, and the Spa, and the gym, and the Sports Bar are also located on Deck 11. Le Bistro, the french specialty restaurant is located on Deck 12 in the rear of the ship.
Restaurants: The Norwegian Sky 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 dining pleasure. The three alternative dining restaurants (Le Bistro, Ciao Chow and Horizons) all require an additional $10.00 cover charge. They also require reservations as well. The following is a breakdown of the various restaurants:
Garden Café (Deck 11, aft): This is the main buffet of the Norwegian Sky. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is a fun and quick place to get a meal. There are food items like waffles, various egg dishes, cereal, fruit and so on for breakfast, pasta and various poultry and meat items 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 Cafe.
The Great Outdoor Café (Deck 11, aft): Just aft of the Garden Cafe are two separate buffet lines that are open early for breakfast and lunch (primarily on days at sea). It offers the mostly the same food as the Garden Cafe but it has a larger selection of fruit and cereals for breakfast. Also good for a quick bite before that shore excursion in the early morning.
The Seven Seas Restaurant (Deck 5, aft): This is one of two main restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant dining. Of the two main dining rooms, this one offers the best views (ask for a table near the rear windows) and the best service in our experience. It is a lot less crowded, especially on the formal night as everyone seems to stay near the atrium and the Four Seasons.
The Four Seasons Restaurant (Deck 5, forward): This is the other main restaurant (along with the Seven Seas) and offers the same menu as the Seven Seas. It is located just outside the atrium area of Deck 5, and being so convenient, it tends to be more crowded. Service is good, but plan on requiring at least two hours for your full dinner here.
Le Bistro (Deck 12, aft): Le Bistro is the french alternative restaurant that serves mediterranean style cuisine. The restaurant is a wonderful experience and offers a complete menu in a beautiful setting. The $10.00 cover charge is well worth it. We had a wonderful dinner here. It is rather high on the ship, so if you are less tolerant of movement, be aware that you feel it a bit more up top.
Ciao Chow (Deck 11, midship): This is the Italian/Asian restaurant. We did not take advantage of this restaurant. The menu seemed to be a melange of italian and asian, with a heavy dose of seafood.
Horizons Restaurant (Deck 5, midship): Located on Deck 5, between the main dining rooms, this restaurant is slightly harder to find. Even on the last night, people were still asking for directions. The menu is very interesting, based mainly in continental italian cuisine. We didn't get to try it, but several people expressed that it is very good.
Pizzeria (Deck 11, midship): The Pizzeria is open 24-hours a day and offers decent and varied pizza. It is located inside of Ciao Chow.
Sprinkles Ice Cream Bar: The Ice Cream bar is located next to the Garden Cafe, and is open every day from 3:00 to 5:00 PM. Long lines tended to form right at 3:00 PM, but if you waited a bit until it was a bit later, you wouldn't have any wait at all at the counter. I don't know why they can't have this open more than two hours a day... it seems like it would be very popular.
Midnight Buffets: The Norwegian Sky offered only one midnight buffet on this cruise. The signature “chocoholic” chocolate buffet where everything is made from chocolate was held on the 4th night. Cakes, pies, fruit dipped in chocolate, moose, cheesecake, fudge, you name it and if it was made with chocolate they offered it. I only managed to make it partially through the line before my plate was overflowing. One nice touch is that they will offer to transfer your chocolate to a "to go' plate so you may take it back to your cabin. Interestingly, there was no picture time scheduled... so if you were not first in line, it was pretty much disheveled if you wanted to take pictures. The contents were fabulous however, and very delicious. Keep in mind that even though it is held at midnight (or actually 11:30 PM) it is still in the main dining room (Four Seasons) and a dress code applies (resort casual). This means you can't go to the buffet in shorts. Many people were turned away grumbling. Fortunately, we were one of the appropriately dressed individuals.
Entertainment: Entertainment on the ship is scattered throughout. Of course, there is a casino. Every night there is a sail-away party on the pool deck. The band there was a reggae style band, and was pretty good. There is live top-40 style music in the Checkers Cabaret, although the musicians were not quite as talented as the poolside band. In Windjammers, there was a piano player who also sang, but he was a bit tacky, reading lyrics off of a laptop. The main shows were adequate and located in the Stardust lounge. They ranged from magician acts, to little broadway ensemble shows, to singers. There was another "swing" type of band (Glenn Miller music) located in the Observation Lounge. They seemed to do pretty good, although that was not my cup of tea. Karaoke was also offered from time to time in the Observation Lounge. All in all, most of the entertainment was enough to keep you busy, but nothing to write home about. I think NCL could take a lesson from Carnival and improve the talent of the entertainment.
Shore excursions: There were two types of shore excursions. One were the ones categorized as "Dive-In" and the regular shore excursions. There were excellent choices among each. The Dive-In excursions involved snorkeling or diving with NCL's own instructors as well as the tour operators. NCL is the only line that actually hires it's own diving and snorkeling instructors. These guys were fun to be with and made the excursions safe and fun. We did both types of excursions (shore and dive-in) and for the most part we were very satisfied.
Freestyle Cruising: We were both new to the concept of Freestyle Cruising. Basically, what this allows you to do is to have the freedom of choosing who, and when, and where you want to eat every night. Basically, we choose what time we wanted to go to dinner and showed up when we felt like it. Except for the specialty restaurants, reservations are not required. You can sit with as few or as many people you like to. I would recommend that if you have a party larger than 8, make arrangements with the maitre'd of whichever main dining room you wish to be in ahead of time, as it may be hard for them to set up the proper table for you. The tipping is also automatically added in to your final bill. At a rate of $10.00 per day per person, we found this to be a bargain. It had no appreciable impact on level of service that we could decipher.
Summary: We both enjoyed this two weeks immensely. We would recommend cruising on the Norwegian sky heartily. The only thing we wish could be different is that despite the freestyle cruising motif, we wished they would be a little more enthusiastic about enforcing some of the dress codes for dinner. We didn't feel it was appropriate for some people to wear denim jeans in the main dining rooms at night, regardless of freestyle cruising.