REVIEW: NCL Sky 10-31-11 and 11-04-11 (LONG - Part 2)
Continued from Part 1
Even the photographer staff is friendly and fun. The photos are still FAR too expensive, but I have to admit their charm even seduced me into purchasing a couple of the prints. You just can’t help yourself when the photo was so great (me in my Queen of Hearts Halloween costume on the grand staircase), and the gang is just so friendly.
Always a stop for me was the fitness center and the spa. The fitness center is more than adequate with state of the art equipment, and plenty of it. There is a free weight section as well as the rows of treadmills and ellipticals all facing the large picture windows with a great view. I have to wonder though, why do they attach televisions to the tops of those things when there is such an amazing view?? LOL I never had a problem finding a free machine. I did take a couple of classes but have to say I was a bit frustrated a couple of times, so didn’t attend the usual amount that I normally would. Once the instructor decided to do “abs” instead of what was on the schedule which was “stretch and relax”; and once during a stretch class a cartoon was on the television at a pretty hefty volume. I was thinking more like Enya for a stretch class, and not Sponge Bob. I’m sure I could have said something, so the onus is on me for not doing so, but just some observations.
The spa was nice, crisp, refreshing, and rejuvenating looking with a full salon and barber services, along with assorted spa treatments. There is a small one-person hydro therapy tub but it’s an extra charge unless you purchase a Poultice Massage. I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to use it for a bit before my Bamboo Massage, but those are the rules. There is also a steam room and sauna in the locker room, which you can use if you purchase a spa treatment. I took the spa tour on the first day, which is always fun, and you can sign up for the drawing which were several really great prizes. I signed up for a Bamboo Massage and a Therapie' Facial. Both were very enjoyable albeit it still pretty pricey. Make sure you take advantage of port day specials to make it affordable. I must say that I prefer the NCL Mandara Spa’s with the Relaxation Spa section, but considering this is a small ship, they did quite well with their space. The spa staff is friendly and helpful and knowledgeable.
Since I was on a back-to-back, I’d like to share some about that experience. I was lucky and was assigned the same stateroom, so that meant that I didn’t have to pack up at the end of my first leg. I was able to get up, go for my run, work out in the gym, shower and get dressed, have a lovely breakfast in Cagney’s, and leisurely make my way to Captain Cook’s Bar at 10am. I was met there by a crew member from Guest Services that walked me off the ship, and handed me to a Port Crew Member who literally walked me off the ship, and down to Immigration and Customs. This was a simple process of handing them my Customs Document, my passport, smiling and answering “yes” to the question of “So you had so much fun you are staying on board?” I was then again escorted to the waiting area, and in very short order, as soon as the ship cleared, I was the first to be escorted back on board. I slipped back up to my stateroom, grabbed my iPad, and found a spot in the sun on Deck 11 to relax and await the rest of the new batch of passengers. Then I had a bright idea and went up to the spa and took advantage of it being completely empty and got a massage and facial. Ahhhhhh! When I emerged from my bliss, the ship was full of new guests and my adventure continued!
The ports of call we visited were Freeport, Nassau and Great Stirrup Caye (GSC), all islands in the Bahamas. The four day portion of my cruise stopped at all three ports. The three day portion stopped at Nassau and GSC only. I must admit I didn’t spend much time on shore in either Freeport or Nassau. My plan, to be honest, was to simply stay on board and exquisitely take part in every aspect of my floating 5 star resort at sea, but I did venture on land twice and want to share those highlights with you.
Freeport is your typical port pier shopping experience with the “straw market” hawkers and a live Caribbean band that breaks into action whenever a passenger appears on the gangway coming off the ship. I can’t tell you anything about any of the ship’s excursions or any excursions for that matter, nor the famous or infamous “Our Lucaya” as I didn’t make it anywhere near it. I can share with you one of the highlights of my cruise, and that was a visit to the Perfume Factory in the old International Bazaar in Freeport. I had read about it online, and decided that was my one stop. I disembarked and tried to get a taxi. “How much to the International Bazaar?” I asked. “It’s closed lady, go to Our Lucaya, its better!” Now I knew this was coming. From having read on CruiseCritic, the taxi drivers make $5 to take you to Our Lucaya and only $4 to the International Bazaar, so they tend to stretch the truth. It’s true that about 50% of the shops in the International Bazaar are closed. Due to the hurricanes and the main hotel there closing, many shops just never reopened. There is endless gossip about how may be buying the hotel and resurrecting the area, but those rumors have been going on for a few years now. Who really knows? One historical icon that still stands at the International Bazaar is the Perfume Factory. Its history goes back being founding in 1969 by Albert Whisnant, later sold to Peter and Patricia Aston in 1976, and since Mr. Aston’s death in 1993, is now ran by Mrs. Aston and daughter Chrisanne, but you can read all about that on their website. In brief, it’s a free standing building that appears to be a replica of an old Bahamian Mansion. Inside, your nose will be delighted with an exotic dance of refreshing delightful fragrances coming from tropical perfumes, lotions, oils and soaps. The friendly staff will be grateful you came and more than happy to escort you throughout the premises for a tour. If you are so inclined, you can sit down before a myriad of essential oils and create your very own fragrance, which you will hand mix and create yourself. For a very reasonable fee, you will leave with 1.5oz of your signature scent and a certificate of registry for your formula. It may sound very kitschy, but I spent my afternoon taking the tour, creating my fragrance and speaking with Chrisanne (daughter of the Astons). No doubt this lovely woman has given this tour hundreds, no thousands of times, but by her demeanor with me, I would have sworn it was one of her first. Her excitement and joy in helping someone understand fragrances was contagious. So I simply had to create my own. Make the time to visit the Perfume Factory. If Chrisanne is there, please tell her that I said hello.
Great Stirrup Caye is NCL’s private island that is still under construction. That said, there are many things ready and waiting for you. There is a functional dock now that the tenders use, and getting off and on the Caye is very easy. Unless of course there are high winds and rough seas. It is said that 2 out of 3 stops at GSC are canceled due to this condition, so keep that in mind. My back-to-back had two stops planned at GSC, and one was canceled. The day we made it to the Caye was lovely! There is a nice stretch of beach along a protected cove that makes for softly rolling waves onto a white sand beach. They still need to do some work grooming the beach regularly, as the coral embankment surrounding the cove is in an ever constant state of depositing broken pieces of coral and shells. This isn’t a big deal, but be sure to bring aqua socks or beach shoes if you have tender tootsies. NCL’s Cruise Director’s Staff has a long long list of assorted beach activities going throughout the day, along with a variety of aquatic excursions. You won’t be bored. There is live music, a simple straw market, three full bars, and a beach BBQ buffet that won’t leave you wanting for anything. I chose to make it my mission to make sure that my beach lounger didn’t try to escape and kept myself firmly planted on it most of the day. There are lots of beach loungers and beach chairs available at no charge, but I would still suggest you get off the boat early if you wish to make sure you have one closer to the water’s edge. There are no beach umbrellas, but you can rent a clam shell style shelter. The cabanas are not yet completed, but there are a few assorted buildings that you can seek some refuge from the sun. There are also palm trees a plenty if you can score one early. Another blissful day on a white sand beach in a tropical island setting.
Here are some random assorted tips:
*Grab your breakfast and slip into the Long Boards Bar to eat it. It’s quieter than in the buffet, and offers a unique venue for breakfast.
*There is a fantastic bar outside Cagney’s called the Plantation. They rarely advertise on ship, but most nights from 6p-8p they offer two-for-one martinis! The best alcohol deal on the ship!
*There is a “quiet zone” just above the pool deck around the front of the ship; it has a nice quiet private hot tub and splash pool.
*Take in the Art Auction preview for the free champagne and you might learn something about art.
*Take in the Gift Shop Presentation for free liquor tastings.
*Take advantage of the laundry special half way thru the cruise. Get all those delicates done before you go home. It’s a great deal AND they fold.
*At least ONCE, get up and go have coffee on the far aft of the ship on Deck 11 and watch the sun rise.
*Do NOT miss the Fountains Show or anything with Rich Purpura.
*Give Richard, Omar and Gio big hugs for me…did I say that already?
"Well behaved women seldom make history!"
~ Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
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