Service charges are considerably higher than industry standard
Ship is old and a bit worn, with some dark and dreary public spaces
Cabin space and bathrooms are bland and small
Bottled water not included in drinks package
Fee for room service (unlike other brands)
No in-cabin babysitting
The 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky, first launched in 1999, is an aging mid-range ship that stands out for two reasons: its all-inclusive nature (alcohol is covered without passengers having to purchase a drinks package), and a regular itinerary with a stop in Havana, Cuba (there's also a regular itinerary to the Bahamas, without the Cuba stop). It's one of Norwegian's smallest ships, as well as one of its oldest in operation, but it's the only one with alcohol included; in fact, it's one of the only big mainstream ships on the seas with this offering. Cabins are small and bland, and features include two pools (one for adults only), a spa with Thalassotherapy pool, a spacious if slightly dated fitness center, a casino, and a small theater. The steakhouse and French specialty restaurants are worth the splurge. Though there is a kids' club, most cruisers are couples.
What's Included (and What's Not)
Norwegian Sky is the only Norwegian Cruise Line ship with an included drinks package in base rates. Free beverages include cocktails, beer, wine by the glass, sodas, and juices at the ship's bars, lounges, restaurants, and when visiting Norwegian Cruise Line's private port in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay. The drinks package excludes room service, bottled water, premium booze and coffees, and bottles of wine. Passengers pay a $7.95 fee for room service meal orders, too, except for continental breakfast items.
Your cruise fare covers meals at the main dining rooms, the Garden Cafe buffet, and barbecue lunches on the Lido Deck. A soft-serve ice cream station on the pool deck is also a nice treat and at no added cost. The beach barbecue on Great Stirrup Cay is free. There are several specialty restaurants: Le Bistro serves French cuisine, Il Adagio Italian, and Cagney's is Norwegian Sky's steakhouse. Each venue uses a la carte menu pricing, as opposed to a cover charge.
In the spa, the Thalassotherapy pool and thermal suite cost an additional fee to access, although the steam room is free to use. Likewise, fitness classes will ring up an extra charge, though use of the fitness center is included in rates.
Internet service worked fairly well on our sailing (even while in Cuba). On Norwegian Sky, you can buy packages of 60 minutes, 100 minutes, or the "Ultimate Cruise Plan," which costs about $30 a day.
Each passenger is charged a per-day gratuity that is about $4 more than the cruise industry standard: $18.99 for cabins (including Mini-Suites), and $21.99 for Suites. Norwegian has explained that this higher fee is related to the increased service necessary to cater to a full ship of passengers with an open bar.
Note that Norwegian may update its pricing or policies at any time, so it's a good idea to double check before your sailing.
Norwegian Sky has several regular itineraries out of Miami: three- and four-day sailings to the Bahamas, and four-day sailings to Cuba and the Bahamas. Unlike some other cruises stopping in Cuba, the Sky's itinerary includes an overnight, allowing passengers to experience Havana's famous nightlife. The passengers are mostly American couples, ranging from their late 20s to 60s. You'll see few kids on the ship, although their numbers could increase during summer or school holidays.
The ship was built in 1999 and last dry docked in 2013. It is showing its age and doesn't offer many frills. Norwegian Sky had a previous incarnation as the Pride of Aloha and did Hawaii sailings, and the decor still reflects this, with art featuring dancers in hula skirts and leis as well as other flourishes of colors, flowers, and slogans perfectly fitting to Polynesian culture -- if not so much Cuba and the greater Caribbean. Today, the Sky is one of two Sun-class ships, along with its sister the Norwegian Sun, which holds slightly fewer passengers. These are both among the oldest ships in the fleet; Norwegian loyalists curious to experience the line's newest offerings should look into the pricier, and much larger ships in the Breakaway Plus class.
The atmosphere on the Sky is calm and laid-back, with the house band setting the mood with reggae or Latin beats. During the day, many cruisers gather in the wide-open pool deck to enjoy the sunshine and inclusive drinks package. Inside the ship, cruisers often gather in Captain Cook's Bar, a dark and atmospheric joint, for trivia contests or to chat with new friends while sipping rum drinks. People also like to chill out in the Outrigger Lounge at the front of the ship on Deck 11. You'll find nice panoramic views and quiet moments during the day to enjoy a book or play card games. On our Cuba sailing, we chatted with several people who were visiting Cuba for the first time and had chosen Norwegian Sky for this reason. The mood was always fun but never obnoxiously boisterous.
The dress code for the dining rooms is casual and comfortable, and most people choose breezy island wear. Resort casual and shorts are allowed in all dining venues. Norwegian Cruise Line voyages are known for "Freestyle Cruising," and the ship lives up to their "enjoy your cruise, your way" concept.
The ship has an unusual flow, and you can't go from one end to the other on some decks. Le Bistro, the specialty French eatery, and the kids' clubs, can be hard to find without carefully scrutinizing the ship maps (available electronically at elevator banks). The elevators are small but are only crowded during mass embarkation or disembarkation times.
Tight quarters with dated decor, more suited to sleeping than lounging
Norwegian Sky's standard Inside staterooms are small, even for the industry, ranging from a teensy 121 square feet to 147 square feet. They fit from two to four guests, but we wouldn't recommend this category for four passengers. Cabin space in the living area and bathrooms is so tight that it's best to just use staterooms as a place to sleep, shower, change, and store your clothes in between time out by the pool, in the dining rooms or lounges, or ashore. Be warned, we bumped our shins a few times when circling the bed before we learned to move very deliberately and carefully around our quarters.
The look is generic but not unpleasant, though cabins do feel a little dated and there may be minor signs of wear. Blue carpeting accents off-white walls; cabins with windows or balconies also have pink and teal curtains. Each stateroom has a sitting area, desk, TV with a small number of cable channels, and a minibar fridge. Bathrooms have a small sink and shower with a curtain. Amenities are spare -- a bar of soap, and dispensers with conditioning shampoo and hand soap.
Noise can be an issue. We could easily hear our neighbors having conversations in the adjacent rooms. Another issue is limited drawer space, with little room for couples to store clothing items. We opted to use the small couch as a place to put a couple piles of folded clothes.
There are several category upgrades, but they don't always offer a lot more space. At 149 square feet, Oceanview cabins are hardly larger than Inside cabins. The Family Oceanview cabins can sleep four to five, each with a sofa bed and two pull-down beds, but they'll be a tight fit that many passengers; connecting cabins are available and would be a more comfortable choice. Upgrading to the Balcony category will get you 202 square feet, and balconies at least are a good size, meaning space inside was sacrificed for a pleasant seating area outside, featuring two chairs and a small table. The Penthouse suites on Norwegian Sky are spacious, with seating areas with couches, chairs, dining tables, and TV stands with entertainment systems. Bathrooms offer both roomy showers and bathtubs. Four Owner's Suites also feature hot tubs on huge balconies with comfy loungers, chairs, and attractive wooden tables. They have separate bedrooms and living rooms spaces. Both suite types feature dark wood furniture and walls and come with butler service.
The best food comes with a la carte prices at the specialty restaurants.
Norwegian Sky features a mix of complimentary and for-fee dining options. The buffet, Garden Cafe, is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offering the typical range of cruise buffet classics. You'll find eggs, breads, pastries, and fruits for breakfast, and stations serving Asian cuisine, freshly carved meats, sandwiches, and hot items like pizza, burgers, hot dogs and mashed potatoes daily. A selection of cookies and other desserts are also available, as is the always-busy soft-serve ice cream station.
The best place to have a quiet breakfast is at Il Adagio. This Italian eatery serves up omelets, pancakes, and waffles in the mornings (for no fee), and on our sailing we always found a seat with a wonderful view away from the usual buffet chaos. Il Adagio also has pasta and pizza available for lunch (again, for no fee). The main dining room, Crossings, features lunches ordered from a menu. The selection rotates, but you'll always be able to order some type of sandwich, salad, and soup as well as a dessert. Note, this venue was not open for lunch on every day of our cruise.
The poolside barbecue is offered at least once during each voyage, and this is a wonderful lunch experience, especially when the weather is sunny and you want to stay outside as much as possible. Staff sets up a salad and fixings buffet and grills up burgers, pork chops, hot dogs, and the biggest batch of seafood paella you have ever seen. You'll know it's barbecue day by the savory smoke signals wafting over the Lido Deck.
Crossings and Palace, the two main dining rooms, offer flexible dining. Passengers can make a reservation if they know when they want to eat, and will be seated at their chosen time. Or you can just show up when you're hungry (you might face a wait, but we never noticed long lines). Each restaurant features a nightly selection of meats, fish, pastas, soups, and salads. The menu incorporates items to reflect the region, with some Caribbean and Cuban specialties available.
Specialty restaurants offer dinners with a la carte pricing. Cagney's is the ship's steak restaurant, with juicy cuts of beef, pork chops, and seafood. Don't miss out on the crispy, delicious truffle fries. Le Bistro serves French cuisine at eye-popping per-item prices, but the food is quite good if you want to pry open your wallet. We enjoyed the Black Angus ribeye steak for two in the gorgeously decorated space. The atmosphere is like an upscale French bistro, with crisp white table linens and rich gold and brown colors in the curtains, walls, and chairs.
Sushi lovers can grab fresh rolls, priced a la carte, at Plantations, a quiet lounge on Deck 12 aft that was largely undiscovered by passengers during our cruise. Room service brings a fee that's on the high side compared to other cruise lines that charge for it.
An island buffet barbecue is served (no fee) when Norwegian Sky itineraries include the private island Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas.
The open bar is a large part of the ship's appeal.
A big draw for this ship is the included drinks. You can get your cocktails, wines, and beers at Captain Cook's Bar, a darkly lit lounge, and Longboard Bar, a lively, colorful place showing live sports and decorated with sports memorabilia. Longboard Bar also serves casual pub fare. (It's offered pretty late, for those seeking a bite post-partying.) Norwegian Sky has a total of eight bars, including Dazzles nightclub, the Outrigger Lounge, with wonderful panoramic views, and Champs Bar on the pool deck.
Specialty coffees, espressos, and cappuccinos are available at The Coffee Bar on Deck 7. This venue also offers a variety of no-charge sweets. Water, iced tea, and lemonade are available at drinks stations at the buffet or by asking a staffer. The bar service is outstanding on Norwegian Sky, which is especially impressive considering how many orders pile in given the ship's all-inclusive nature.
Small theater with simple but engaging performances
Norwegian Sky hosts comedy acts, musicians, and themed events. On our sailing, we especially liked the Cuban and Latin music that the house bands played during the ship's "A Night in Havana" dance party and all day long poolside.
Production shows take place in the intimate (read: small) Stardust Theater. The shows "Rock You Tonight" and "Showdown" on our sailing were your standard medley tribute song-and-dance performances of popular tunes from Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Queen, Journey, and the Who, for example. Nothing was groundbreaking, but they were energetic and fun renditions. Our fellow passengers said they really enjoyed the comedy act.
Other entertainment options include a '70s theme party with hippie wigs and disco tunes, daily trivia contests, bingo (fees apply), karaoke, a Miss Norwegian Sky competition, and dance music in Dazzles.
The Sky Club Casino is a good size for a small ship and features the full range of table games (blackjack, craps, and poker) and dozens of slot machines. A bar at the back of the casino has TVs showing sporting events.
Two small pools for relief from the heat, and plenty of seats available in sun and shade
Norwegian Sky sails in hot conditions, and the ship's pools come in handy. Because of the ship's short itineraries -- three- and four-day sailings to Cuba and the Bahamas -- the cruise is in a port each day, and you'll find a mix of passengers on and off the ship at any given time. This means you can usually find a lounger poolside.
The ship has two small pools on the Lido Deck (one is for adults only and more than 6 feet deep) and four hot tubs. Live music plays on a small stage nearby, and island and rock tunes are also piped through the speaker to give the pool deck its atmosphere. A small children's pool and hot tub are also available on Deck 12. Because there are usually few children on the ship, adults tend to predominate here; this space is a bit of a secret and gives nice views of the Havana skyline -- or blue skies as you sail.
Attractive space for spa treatments, with a Thalassotherapy pool, plus a functional gym
The ship's Mandara Spa features bright treatment rooms with windows, and wood floors and accents. Passengers can get a range of massages, including couples Swedish massages, reflexology, facials, hydra-lift skin treatments, salt scrubs, and cellulite reduction therapies. The salon offers men's grooming, hair and nail treatments, and teeth whitening. A pleasant waiting room helps you get in a relaxed mood with flavored waters or teas to sip. The spa also has a Thalassotherapy pool and thermal suite (charges apply), as well as showers, a sauna, and steam room (for free).
To get in your daily workout, Body Waves fitness center features a small area with workout benches and dumbbells that go up to 75 pounds. Oddly, the Technogym resistance training machines are separated from the free-weight area, in a separate space adjacent to the cardio room. Also, a universal cable machine sits in a corner of the hardwood floor meant for fitness classes.
Cardio machines include treadmills, exercise bikes, and ellipticals. The machines were filled up a couple mornings during our sailing, and a few of them were out of order. While the equipment has been added in a piecemeal fashion and isn't the most modern available, you'll find all you need to get in a solid workout. Classes (fees apply) include spinning, a body sculpting boot camp, Pilates, yoga, and TRX suspension training.
The jogging track, on Deck 6, gives a spot to break a sweat in the fresh air. Three-and-a-half laps equals a mile, and it provides nice cover from the sun as you run. There's also a large basketball court overlooking the pool deck. It's enclosed in netting, making for an obstructed view as you gaze skyward from your poolside lounger.
Few kids onboard, though there is a supervised kids' club, plus a teen hangout space
The Norwegian Sky's short sailings and included drinks make it geared more toward couples than families. You're likely to find few youngsters onboard unless you're cruising in summer or during holiday times. We saw just a handful of kids on our cruise. That being said, Norwegian Sky does have a Splash Academy Youth Center, a video arcade, and an Entourage Teen Club.
The kids' club is free and supervised for kids ages 3 to 12 (programming is different for different age groups), although there is a $6 fee for meal times on port days. Parents can accompany kids ages 6 months to 3 years to the Guppies program, but no drop-off option is available for this age range. Daily kids' programming may include activities like dodgeball and "Family Circus," where kids learn circus tricks like juggling. On Great Stirrup Cay visits, youth staff schedules events such as tug of war, relay races, and water bomb playtime. Late-night babysitting is available between 10:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. for a fee (for kids ages 3 to 12), but there is no in-cabin babysitting. Children do not have to be potty trained to participate in the kids' club, but staff will not change diapers; parents will be paged or called and must respond within 15 minutes.
Teens ages 13 to 17 have their own hangout room with video games, foosball, and air hockey.
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