Last year, my travel agency had a contest, and whoever booked the most Norwegian cruises within a particular time frame won a cruise to Cuba (and I won!) I am not one to turn down a free cruise, so off we went, on the four-night Norwegian Sky cruise from Miami to Havana and Great Stirrup Cay.
To minimize waiting in line, I chose the earliest boarding time possible, 10:30 AM, during my online check-in. Arrival and check in was a breeze. We waited in virtually no line, met a charming check-in agent (who gave us a brief Spanish tutorial as she worked her magic), and then found a couple of seats in the terminal as we waited to board the ship. The set up in the terminal makes for a relaxed and comfortable wait, with ample seating, and a beverage station. Plus, we both had our fully charged and loaded Kindles.
The Norwegian Sky entered service in 1999, and by cruising standards, that is old. She sailed Hawaii as Pride of Aloha for four years before returning to the Caribbean in 2008. Remnants of her days in Hawaii show up in the (somewhat dated) decor and the floral, lei-inspired, hull painting.
The ship is in excellent shape, overall. One thing we noticed immediately – and this is something that you will only find on older vessels – is that the upper beds in our ocean view room, meant for a third and fourth guest, extend from the wall about four inches. That may not seem like a lot, but when you stand up and smack your head on them in the middle of the night, it hurts. Newer ships have these upper bunks embedded in the walls or ceiling.
Our cabin was tiny, even by cruise ship standards. Measuring 149 square feet (not including the space taken up by the extra protruding beds), there was ample space for our clothing and luggage. We even had a small loveseat and desk. The small bathroom was serviceable and offered enough storage for plenty of toiletries.
Pro Tip: If you are only two people, look for a cabin meant to hold only two, and you won’t have the issue of upper beds.
While we never made it to the show theater, the Piano Bar was a favorite evening venue and a nice place to sit with a book during the day. Live music could be found all over the ship. The cruise director and staff did a marvelous job of dance parties, theme nights, and engaging the passengers.
The Norwegian Sky offers open bar service throughout the ship. No drink package necessary, as there are many included beverages available at all of the bars. I admit that I was initially skeptical of the wine choices, but there turned out to be several good selections. The bourbon selection was severely lacking, but a couple of decent cognacs are included. Vodka drinkers will have no trouble finding something to their liking.
PRO TIP: The open bar concept does not include bottled water or specialty coffee.
We encountered friendly service at the bars, and bartenders always wanted to refill drinks. This was also true in the restaurants, where the wait staff figured out what you were drinking and never let a glass sit empty.
Specialty dining has become big business in cruising, and the Norwegian Sky is no different. With three specialty restaurants aboard, we tried them all. Il Adagio, the Italian restaurant that serves pizza at lunchtime (delicious pizza, no less), surprisingly, was our favorite. Offering salads, pasta, pizzas, and proteins, there is something on the menu for everyone. We started with salads, and a glass of Tomassi Valpolicella, aerated through a handy device (for sale onboard). Entrees included Bistecca Fiorentina, a delicious ribeye, better than the steaks in Cagney’s, and a seafood pasta. We were way too full for dessert. Both food and service set a very high standard for our cruise.
Pro tip: Dining reservations open online 60 days in advance of your sail date, but they only release about half of the tables. If you don’t see what you want, make the reservation immediately upon boarding.
Other dinners at Le Bistro and Cagney’s steakhouse were also very good, although Il Adagio remained our favorite. Le Bistro offers delicious French classics, like onion soup (tasty), and other unique items, like roasted salmon with a morel mushroom sauce (fantastic). Cagney’s is also good, and frankly, exactly what you would expect from a steakhouse.
The restaurants on the Norwegian Sky are all priced a la carte, but you can save money by purchasing a dining package, as each meal will include an appetizer, entree, and dessert.
This particular cruise is port-driven. People (me included!) go because they want to go to Cuba, and this is an easy way to do it. We docked in Havana Tuesday morning at 8 AM, and by 9 we found our guide and were en route to Viñales. The Norwegian Sky stayed overnight and left the port of Havana on Wednesday afternoon at 5 PM, so we had a full day in Havana on day 3 of the cruise. More on the ports in upcoming posts.
The final port was to be a beach day at Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island. By 10 AM, I noticed that we had not dropped anchor, so it seemed likely that we would miss this port. My hunch was correct, as the winds were too strong to tender everyone ashore. Instead, we spent a lovely day at sea. (What to do on sea days? Check out my transatlantic recap – that cruise had twelve sea days!)
Most of my clients want to travel on the newest ships, and while the Norwegian Sky is not shiny and new, she is a wonderful ship and a fantastic choice for a weekend getaway or short trip to Cuba.
Do you want to go? Give me call.