A long-weekend cruise getaway

Norwegian Sky,  April 23 – 26, 2010

I recently enjoyed my first cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines (a quick 3-night Bahamas cruise out of Miami) and was very interested in comparing it to my past experiences on other cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America and Celebrity. The verdict? It was nice, but it was not my favorite cruise ever – and I don’t know whether that was due to the length and/or the itinerary more so than the cruise line itself. Guess I’ll have to try another (longer) NCL cruise in the future! In the meantime, the trip report is below (and here are the photos): 

Because we were dropping the kids at my mom’s house in NY, we flew out of La Guardia (boy did I miss our great little Providence airport!) on a non-stop to Fort Lauderdale. There, we were met by our driver from SAS Transportation for the short (45 minute) shuttle ride to the Miami pier. This turned out to be a great decision. It was cheap ($15pp), easy, and stress-free, and saved us the hassle and expense of flying into Miami. I will be using them for all my clients in the future.

Sailing out of Miami harbor on the NCL Sky

We arrived at the pier at about 11:30 am, which is technically before boarding even begins, but were on the ship within 15 minutes and heading for Il Adaggio for a lunch of pizza and pasta. The announcement that cabins were ready was made at about 2 pm, and we headed off to find ours. We had a “Superior Inside” cabin on the Fjord deck (#9142), and it was certainly large enough for the two of us, but it was the smallest cabin I’ve had on any ship. Given that, I don’t think I would have liked the regular (smaller) inside cabins.

The ship is mid-sized and fairly easy to get around, but I did think there were some strange things about the layout – like the fact that the (small) nightclub/dance club area was in a very open high-traffic spot in the middle of the ship, and the main (only) theater seemed to have a lot of poles blocking people’s sightlines.  Odd quirks aside, I liked the vibrant Caribbean/Hawaiian décor, and we did find some favorite “nooks and crannies” in which to hang out.

That first evening, we enjoyed the sailaway party on deck, some two-for-one martinis in the Plantation Club (a recurring theme for this cruise!), dinner at the buffet, and a fun and lively Rock N Roll show at the theater.

Saturday morning we docked in Nassau, and Everett was up early to take photographs of the ship and the port. We had a quick al fresco breakfast on the stern of the ship and headed off to spend the day at Sandals Royal Bahamian resort. It was great to see the renovations they’ve made to this property since we were last there (about four years ago), and we enjoyed a very relaxing day on the beach.

Sandals Royal Bahamaian, Nassau

Back on the ship that evening, we had time for a quick swim in the pool, some pear martinis at the Plantation Club, and a so-so dinner in the main dining room (Crossings). This cruise was our first experience with Norwegian’s “Freestyle” dining, and I have decided that I really do prefer a more traditional/formal dining experience. The food was not great, the service was not great, and the dining room just felt quiet and “blah”.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny and the ship anchored just offshore of Great Stirrup Cay (NCL’s private island). I had not realized that Royal Caribbean’s private island (Coco Cay) is literally right next door, and it was fun to see the RCCL ship anchored right next to us!

We took the tender to shore and claimed the lounge chairs and “clamshell” shade that I had pre-reserved through the Shore Excursions desk. This turned out to be a GREAT idea, as it was very hot and sunny, and we would not have lasted for the day without some shade. Everett rented a snorkel and fins and went off to explore, and I spend the day reading my book, people-watching, and taking advantage of the bar service and the beachfront barbecue.  As beach days go, it was just about perfect.

Norwegian Sky docked at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

That evening, we toasted our last night on the ship with more two-for-one martinis and met a nice couple from Colorado at the bar. We had dinner together in the other main dining room (Palace), and stayed out late for drinks/dancing.

Monday morning came all too soon, and we were up and out for a last breakfast in the outdoor Garden Café before disembarking the ship and meeting up with our SAS Transportation shuttle back to the Fort Lauderdale airport. Again, the process could not have been easier. We elected to do “self-disembarkation” and walk off the ship with our own bags. As soon as we got outside the terminal we called SAS and the driver swung by within minutes to pick us up.  A few thunderstorms and a LONG airport delay later, we were on our way back to NY to pick up the kids.

So, here are some overall observations about the cruise:

  • The crowd, as might be expected for a short weekend cruise out of Miami, seemed to be very focused on “sun and fun”. Lots of activity at the pool all afternoon, lots of drinking (but nothing out of control), but there did not seem to be much going on at night. The ship did not have the variety of entertainment options that I’m used to (piano bar, movies, multiple show times, etc.) and we had a tough time finding stuff to do in the evening.
  • The food was just average. I can’t say I had any dish that really impressed me, but I didn’t have anything truly awful either.
  • The service was also not what I’m accustomed to, but I don’t know if that’s due to the short itinerary (staff does not get the time to know you), the “Freestyle” concept (no continuity with the same servers every night), or something specific with this cruise line. I’m definitely willing to give them another chance.

I will say that we got what we wanted from this cruise, which was a few days in the sun to relax without the kids. With that as our goal, we were perfectly satisfied.

Here’s another link to the photos.

My chuckle for the day

I’m trying not to laugh.

A travel agent friend of mine just shared an email from a “sometimes” client who went ahead and booked a quick getaway to the Florida Keys on her own. Her agenda looks like this:

It’s a quick two-night stay. Found a great flight arriving in Miami at 5:20pm on a Monday night. Rent the car and be in Key West by 7pm. Spend the night on Duvall Street and the following day on the beach, then leave right after dinner on Wednesday for our 8:40pm flight home.

If you’ve ever been to the Keys, you know she’s in for a rude awakening. Factor in the Miami airport hassle, rental car lines, rush hour traffic, and the fact that it’s about a 150 mile drive, and she won’t be in her hotel until at least 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. As far as the plan to have dinner on Duvall Street before driving to Miami for an 8:40 pm flight home — good luck!

Sure, Miami is “right next to” the Keys, right? So it’s understandable that she thought this itinerary would work. But a travel professional would have explained the realities of the geography (the actual distance, the fact that it’s a two lane road in sections) and the nightmare that is the Miami airport (I prefer to fly into Fort Lauderdale instead, drive the extra distance, and maintain my sanity) and would have presented her with some much better options — like flying directly into Key West, which is the only thing that makes sense for such a short stay.

This is a perfect example of why even the simplest getaways can benefit from some professional guidance and advice. But I will admit that do-it-yourselfers like this are great for the entertainment value!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)