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Cruise Ship Review

Norwegian Sky - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Norwegian Sky may be a teenaged ship, but a decidedly youthful feeling is evident onboard. The average age on this 77,104-ton, 2,004-passenger vessel is lower than on many other ships, likely because it offers such an excellent value -- a roster of year-round three- and four-night Bahamas cruises at excellent price points on a midsize ship with big-ship amenities. Other cruise lines are seeking this young demographic, but Norwegian is actually getting it, due in no short part to the flexible dining options and multiple venues for late-night drinking and dancing. This ship's short itinerary, in particular, appeals to first-timers (and those with less vacation time).

The ship offers a throng of features, from multiple specialty restaurants to a state-of-the-art children's area. Norwegian has done an especially good job separating key areas for families and adults on this ship -- with separate pools, programming and even nighttime lounges for both demographics. And embarkation and disembarkation are relatively quick with little wait time. Norwegian Sky marked the first time we were actually greeted by a crewmember ready to show us to our cabin -- not one who only said "hello" as we juggled laptops, purses and rolling suitcases.

Decorative interiors and vivid colors -- remnants of Sky's days sailing Hawaii under the name Pride of Aloha -- are still fitting for its current Bahamian itinerary. The cheerful, tropical decor -- floral carpets in the panoramic elevators; warm, island colors; and a feeling of light and air, made most dramatic by a series of beautiful, brightly hued kites hanging in the seven-story atrium -- puts everyone in a lively mood. And, thanks to regular refurbishments, including an upcoming 2013 dry-dock, this ship still shows little sign of wear.

Family

Kid's Corner was one of the first purpose-built facilities for young cruisers, and the facility, on Deck 7 forward past a row of paintings, is no less impressive today. It is one of the brightest and friendliest with specific areas for arts and crafts, movies and games, and even naptime.

Computer stations have been added, and the walls are brightly decorated with animals and clouds. Parents can look in on their children without embarrassing them via portholes in the corridor.

Age groups organize the new Splash Academy program: Guppies (6 months to 3 years with a parent), Turtles (3 to 5), Seals (6 to 9) and Dolphins (10 to 12). The Guppies area, within the Kids' Corner facility, features an Under 2 Zoo with art and dance classes that parents take alongside their toddlers. (All Guppy activities require parents.) Regular Splash Academy programming takes place on sea days from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and on port days from departure from port until 10:30 p.m. Complimentary group baby-sitting is available at the Kid's Corner on port days for kids ages 3 to 12, but there's a $6 per child charge to take kids to meals (noon to 1 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m.). Late-night baby-sitting (between 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.) for the same age group costs $6 per hour ($4 per hour for each additional sibling in the family).

Meanwhile, teens (13 to 17), likely the most demanding age group afloat, get a separate area on another deck entirely. The Zone is on Deck 11 and features video games, a jukebox, foosball tables and air hockey. At night, it is a teen disco with nonalcoholic drinks.

Gratuity

A $12 per-person, per-day, service charge is added to the onboard account for the food service team and room steward or stewardess. Amounts can be adjusted at the purser's desk. Additional tips can be made in cash or added to the onboard account. Bar service carries an automatic 15 percent gratuity, and an 18 percent gratuity applies to all spa, salon and fitness services booked in advance through Norwegian's Web site.

Fellow Passengers

Expect to see a lot of young couples, friends on girlfriend getaways and guy's outings, and European visitors who want to tour the Bahamas. The weekend sailings find lots of youngsters toting their school backpacks on Friday afternoons and then heading out again with mom and dad -- and the backpacks -- early Monday morning.

You will also find many young families (strollers abound) and some multigenerational groups. On our weekend cruise, 82 percent onboard were Americans, and 18 percent represented some 20 other countries. We heard about six different Spanish dialects and several Asian tongues.

The ship has proved very popular with first-time cruisers.

Entertainment

Expect to hear music almost everywhere. You'll listen to Frank Sinatra tunes and lilting island steel drums, piano classics and hearty soul, lots of salsa and great jazz, rock and roll and romantic Andrea Boccelli. Guitar and piano and a Caribbean group are staples in various lounges. It's varied throughout the ship, but you can hum along with something wherever you go, even in the elevator. Read your Freestyle Daily for the specific lineup.

When the sun goes down, the curtains go up in the Stardust Theater. From night to night, you might find a comedian or magician performing, or dancers and singers doing their thing in a Broadway review or a concert of southern musical styling. Soul might take center stage another night. Cream-colored swivel chairs give you a great view of the gold light-studded stage background.

After-hours crowds will find no-kids-allowed comedy, adults-only karaoke and plenty of dancing. In fact, offered onboard are ship-sponsored theme nights: White Hot Night, a dance party set in a wonderland of white, and Monte Carlo Night, centered on the casino. Passengers are encouraged to wear special outfits -- such as all white to the White Hot Night bash. (Clothing suggestions are sent with your tickets.) Didn't pack anything? No problem. Staffmembers are happy to offer suggestions, such as wrapping yourself in a bed sheet for the toga party that's held on the final night of each cruise.

Trivia games, a series of liquor-tastings ($15 fee), hip-hop dance classes, health seminars and bingo games are among the activities that keep cruisers busy throughout the day. For the young and young at heart, a video arcade on Deck 7 features contemporary games like air hockey and Guitar Hero Arcade. The machines do not appear at all worn for a ship this age. And you can even get a Norwegian-themed souvenir coin stretched onto a penny for a dollar.

A top choice for sports fans -- think snack foods, like burgers, and games on seven flat-screen TV screens -- is Longboard Bar on Deck 11. The chicken wings, served six to an order with celery and ranch dressing, in Longboard's were quite tasty, the service was excellent, and you can bask in sports memorabilia or play arcade games like Big Buck Hunter (or more traditional darts) while catching up on sports scores.

Captain Cook's Bar, Deck 6 aft, still carries out the Hawaiian theme but offers piano music with global appeal and, later in the evening, sing-alongs. Two full-scale glass-enclosed model ships sit at the entrance to the bar, while various paintings featuring George Washington and American Indians decorate the wall. A row of shelves that feature cigars, old drink flasks and books separate two large seating areas.

The Atrium Bar on Deck 7 features classical music and is probably one of the best people-watching locales on the vessel because it's in a central location. In fact, it is the perfect place to get your bearings at the start of the cruise: grab a drink and a seat, and take in the crowds walking past.

Our favorite lounge is the Outrigger Lounge, Deck 11, forward. There's one hidden gem on every ship, and the tropically themed Outrigger is Sky's. It's very quiet during the day and is a good place to settle in with a book on the straw chairs and occasionally watch the wondrous seas through floor-to-ceiling windows. In the evenings, you can join friends for a drink, do some dancing or test your karaoke chops. It has a Tiki hut feel, with orange upholstery and a wooden dance floor. Cave-like drawings are situated atop the bar, and there is an array of festive plants and flowers.

A gold pineapple welcomes one to the Plantation Club on Deck 12, which offers a premium selection of Champagne and wines along green wooden swivel seats. It feels like you are on the inside of a pineapple with a decor that includes pineapple paintings, pineapple carpeting and tropical plants.

Dazzles Nightclub on Deck 6 is home to a disco, late-night "adult" comics and musical performers, dancing, Nintendo Wii tournaments, movies and art shows. The ubiquitous "Newlywed, Not So Newlywed" game, always a hit with passengers, also takes place in Dazzles, which boasts the longest Cabaret Bar at sea. New York-themed artwork and signed sports jerseys, featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Elway, line the walls.

Sky Club Casino, Deck 7, was added during dry-dock and features blackjack, roulette, three-card poker, Texas Hold'em and craps, plus more than 160 state-of-the art electronic slot machines (and some still with pull handles for purists). A variety of tournaments take place on each cruise, and non-traditional games like Pai-gow Poker and Mini Baccarat are available on request. Need a gambling break? The casino also offers free late-night bites like BLT sandwiches and pigs in a blanket.

You can even gamble after swimming with the smaller Pool Side Casino on Deck 11, which features two card tables.

Champs Bar offers a full selection of drinks poolside. And for those tanning on Deck 12, Breakers Bar has two flat-screen televisions, a couple tables and more drinks.

Whether you are on the three or four-day voyage, a guaranteed port of call is the cruise line's private island, Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. Shore excursions can be booked below the atrium on Deck 5 and include snorkeling, parasailing and kayaking from as little as $19. Nassau offers more options on Paradise Island with the resort Atlantis, including swimming with dolphins (pricy at $199 for adults) and snorkeling.

Cabins

Cabins on Norwegian Sky are smaller than average, with insides starting from 121 square feet. Oceanview cabins measure 149 square feet; balcony cabins each have a 154-square-foot interior and a 48-square-foot balcony, which has two deck chairs and a small table. If you are considering an oceanview cabin, keep this in mind: even if the numerical difference in square footage seems negligible, those cabins with balconies or even floor-to-ceiling windows will simply feel larger than those offering just a picture window or porthole. All standard cabins, however, do feature sitting areas.

Storage for the short itinerary is more than adequate in all categories. Drawer space is a bit tight, but there's ample room in closets to hang garments; bathroom counters offer additional storage. All staterooms include hair dryers, safes and mini-bars. They also feature old-school tube (not flat-screen) TV's that are a bit hard to view from the bed.

Decor is tropical with soft hues in the bed skirt, drapes and carpeting. Island blues, greens and pinks predominate. Wonderful Bliss Bedding includes a comforter and soft bed linens in addition to a truly comfortable mattress; we slept soundly every evening.

Standard bathrooms offer generic lavender shower gel and soap. Despite the sweet smells, you'll have to contend with the dreaded shower curtain, as opposed to sliding doors. Towels could be fluffier, but they are clean, unfrayed and refreshed twice a day unless you choose to hang them up for reuse.

On the higher end of the accommodations scale are penthouses at 306 square feet, each with a sitting area, private balcony at 96 square feet, dining area, separate bedroom and luxury bath. Finally, Owner's Suites have a 482-square-foot interior, and each offers a private balcony at 353 square feet, dining room, hot tub and separate shower. Both categories offer butler and concierge service.

If you book a suite, you'll receive a fruit basket that is refilled upon consumption, a bathrobe and a warm chocolate chip cookie at turndown on the last night of the cruise. Suite-holders also receive Elemis bathroom amenities, which include shower gel, shampoo and lotion.

Dress Code

Resort-casual is the term Norwegian uses, and it covers everything from nice jeans to a bit of glitz. Shorts aren't permitted in specialty restaurants, but the ship promotes a casual attitude toward dress entirely. Pack some nice collared shirts for men and a dress or pants and a cute top for women, and you're good to go. Daywear is shorts and a T-shirt -- if you are not in the pool.

Family

Kid's Corner was one of the first purpose-built facilities for young cruisers, and the facility, on Deck 7 forward past a row of paintings, is no less impressive today. It is one of the brightest and friendliest with specific areas for arts and crafts, movies and games, and even naptime.

Computer stations have been added, and the walls are brightly decorated with animals and clouds. Parents can look in on their children without embarrassing them via portholes in the corridor.

Age groups organize the new Splash Academy program: Guppies (6 months to 3 years with a parent), Turtles (3 to 5), Seals (6 to 9) and Dolphins (10 to 12). The Guppies area, within the Kids' Corner facility, features an Under 2 Zoo with art and dance classes that parents take alongside their toddlers. (All Guppy activities require parents.) Regular Splash Academy programming takes place on sea days from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and on port days from departure from port until 10:30 p.m. Complimentary group baby-sitting is available at the Kid's Corner on port days for kids ages 3 to 12, but there's a $6 per child charge to take kids to meals (noon to 1 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m.). Late-night baby-sitting (between 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.) for the same age group costs $6 per hour ($4 per hour for each additional sibling in the family).

Meanwhile, teens (13 to 17), likely the most demanding age group afloat, get a separate area on another deck entirely. The Zone is on Deck 11 and features video games, a jukebox, foosball tables and air hockey. At night, it is a teen disco with nonalcoholic drinks.

Fitness and Recreation

Two pools (one for families and one for adults) and four hot tubs are available on Deck 11. Splashes Kid's Pool is just right for pint-size water games and features a waterfall and a children's hot tub. At the adult pool, it was not hard to get a chair during the day.

The Mandara Spa is a full-service spa with a thalassotherapy bath and thermal suite, offering traditional treatments and salon favorites. There are 10 treatment rooms and a waiting room with hot tea and a ceiling pattern that makes you feel like you are looking up at the sky. Each room features a Buddha statue, reflecting a relaxing atmosphere. Our Hot Stone Heaven massage was absolutely wonderful; the warm stones get right to the core, baking in that good feeling without having to be manhandled. The spa also offers teeth whitening and acupuncture.

Prices for treatments are in line with those on other ships, in the $100 to $115 range for most entry-level massages and facials. The spa is well cared for and clean, and staffers are well trained, which is a testament to Steiner, the conglomerate that operates the spa facilities on most mega-ships.

The sauna and steam rooms, which are both complimentary, are tucked to one side of the spa. Each area (separate for men and women) features green lockers, three showers and a bathroom. Shower caps and cotton swabs are set out on a table for your hygiene needs.

One caveat: The fervent pitch to sell products is still a turn-off. If you have no intention of purchasing something, speak up and say so right at the onset. It'll save time for both you and your therapist or aesthetician.

The Body Waves Fitness Center includes a separate aerobics room that features spin bikes, yoga mats, and steppers -- all while overlooking the water. Mirrors complete either side of the room, making it feel like a dance studio.

The general gym area includes weights up to 75 pounds, and the treadmills and stationary bikes all have television monitors. A signup sheet is available at the front desk with classes like cycling and spinning offered for $12 on multiple days. There is even a mini-fridge with cold towels for when you really work up a sweat.

A full basketball court, shuffleboard and multiple golf driving nets are on the Sports Deck, Deck 12. Deck 11 also features two table tennis tables near the gym. Jog 3.5 laps to equal one mile around the jogging track on Deck 6, which you may not see until you disembark.

Public Rooms

The public rooms are airy and relatively spacious. You don't get that "crowded" feeling often present on older ships that have been retrofitted to accommodate more modern spaces and amenities. Most public rooms are located on Decks 5, 6 and 7 and include a descending Atrium area, complete with a piano and multiple photo background choices for formal night.

Both the shore excursion and reception desks are located on Deck 5.

The cozy Mark Twain Library on Deck 6 offers a healthy selection of books (though you won't find too many new bestsellers), a pot of coffee, tea and trivia handouts. Try your hand at Monopoly or other board games available there.

Next to the library is a makeshift photo gallery, which you will see when you embark on Deck 6. The wooden panels fold in and out of the wall for pictures.

Past the library are three meeting rooms: Maui, Oahu and Kauai. They can be fused into one giant meeting room or left individually. The professional setting includes a sea view and a tropical atmosphere.

Shopping wise, on Deck 6, there is a fine jewelry store featuring Colombian Emeralds International and a duty-free store with items starting at $10. Deck 7 includes a gift shop with everything from toothpaste to candy.

There isn't shipwide Wi-Fi, but an Internet Cafe with five computers and an all-in-one printer sits on Deck 7 (next to the Coffee Bar). Rates start at 75 cents per minute; packages can be purchased: 60 minutes for $24 or 30 minutes for $16.50. Internet speed is not particularly fast, but computers are available most of the time if needed.

There is one mistake on the cruise maps near the elevators. There is no chapel on Deck 7, but, rather, an Art Gallery that features work from Michigan-based Park West, which lines the adjacent walls leading you to the Kids Corner.

Tip: As on other NCL ships, following the fish in the carpet design will help you navigate the ship. If they are swimming forward, you're headed forward. The tails lead you aft.

Dining

All restaurants onboard provide Freestyle Cruising dining with open seating and flexible, extended hours. Lobster is offered every night of the cruise in at least one restaurant.

The term "alternative dining" has become synonymous with "fork over anywhere from $15 to $95 per person to get a better meal." Still, the concept works on Norwegian's ships. Why? Well, first and foremost, the idea of eating what, when and where you want is really the cornerstone of the entire Freestyle Cruising experience that now defines the cruise line. The meals are served in a more intimate -- and usually much more elegant and attractive -- setting than what's found in the main dining facilities.

And, most importantly, you'll get your money's worth. At Italian outpost Il Adagio, for example, an entire team works each table, and the food and service matched what we'd expect in a high-end Italian eatery with a celebrity chef, direct from Italy. Wine and water glasses are filled regularly, and individual French-press coffee is brought to each table. Wine lists are comprehensive and include several favorites, one of which we had sent from one dining venue to another.

There are three for-fee restaurants on Norwegian Sky. The aforementioned Il Adagio, Deck 11 aft, specializes in Italian cuisine. Menu items include a varied and high-quality antipasti (mushrooms, salami, prosciutto, eggplant, olives), marvelous chicken parmigiana, lobster ravioli and tiramisu, among the best we've had anywhere. The fee for Il Adagio is $15 per person.

Cagney's, on Deck 12, is Norwegian's signature steakhouse, proffering a variety of steaks, chops, sea bass and seafood, including Alaskan king crab legs; expect to pay $25 per person for dinner.

The most impressive for us was Le Bistro, Deck 5, midship. Within the hibiscus prints and gaudy colors so prevalent onboard, this charming little bistro feels a world away. The Mediterranean and classic-meets-nouvelle French food is done beautifully. The escargot appetizer and a steak with bleu cheese scalloped potatoes were particularly lovely. The room, done in regal purple and gold, is beautiful. All seats overlook the water, the chocolate-colored booths face the two-person tables along the windows, and French music plays softly in the background. Mini-statues decorate each booth, and lights on the wall model nature items like leaves. A $20 per-person charge applies there.

Reservations are required at all specialty restaurants. Suite and penthouse cruisers can enjoy breakfast and lunch in Cagney's at no extra charge, and all passengers can dine on pizza and pasta free for lunch in Il Adagio.

Norwegian Sky also offers two main dining rooms for those seeking more traditional dining experiences: Palace and Crossings. They are very flexible. You can make reservations each night for the same time or different times, based on your schedule, or simply show up when you feel hungry. Both are open nightly for dinner, and each day, one of the two offers open-seating breakfast and lunch. (Check your newsletter for details and times.)

Compared to the service and cuisine in the specialty restaurants, the dining room experience does not lag. Service in Palace and Crossings is better than that of larger cruise ships. Waiters are attentive and remember your name days after.

Both menus offer similar items, but if you fancy rib eye or pork medallions, part of the everyday selection menu, seek out Palace. Crossings instead offers a lamb shank (full of flavor) and a New York strip steak.

Quality was consistent throughout each meal. Feel free to ask for a second entree or appetizer; often times, the kitchen will have made an extra dish, which you can request from your waiter if you're still hungry. You can't really go wrong with a simple grilled salmon or steak, but also try the special nightly regional item, which includes a superb fish and coconut rice selection. Menu highlights include the surf and turf and chicken Marsala.

Norwegian Sky's buffet venue, the Garden Cafe on Deck 11, offers an array of seating options, including an outdoor patio offering extra alfresco seating. The greens on the salad bar are fresh and crisp with a variety of dressing choices and accompaniments. Among ordinary buffet choices are pastas and sandwiches, and authentic piping-hot Far Eastern cuisine (Asian, Indian) is offered regularly. The French fries are notably good -- hot and crispy -- and the carving station features pork loin and roast beef or turkey breast daily. Ice cream (vanilla, chocolate and swirl) is always available, and two dessert stations feature a selection of cakes, both sugar-free and regular, as well as a chocolate fountain with fruit and marshmallows as dipping options.

The highlight of the Garden Cafe is the late-night buffet, which runs into the early morning hours. Selections include Buffalo wings, empanadas, spring rolls, tacos and chimichangas.

Food is never in short supply, and lines are slim to none with two food stations and an identical outdoor selection in the Great Outdoors Cafe toward the back of the ship.

The Coffee Bar, next to the Internet Cafe on Deck 7, offers a wide array of gratis pastries. Coffee is reasonably priced and ranges from $2.50 for an expresso to $3.50 for an iced latte.

A limited room service menu is available 24 hours a day, featuring soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, in addition to specialty items and even chicken fingers with BBQ sauce for the kids. Watch out for the delivery charge for orders between midnight and 5 a.m.

For $5, you can also order up a hot and fresh pizza with a choice of toppings 24/7. They will even deliver to bars and lounges.

A no-cost barbecue at Jumbey Beach Grill on the beach at Great Stirrup Cay is a highlight enjoyed by passengers who clamor aboard tenders as much for the food as the sun and fun. However, the food is often room temperature at best, as the Norwegian staff lug the food and heating equipment aboard the tenders and set up hours before the designated eating time (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.).Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky has come full circle. The 77,104-ton, 2,002-passenger ship debuted in Miami in 1999, sailing Bahamas itineraries. But in 2004, the ship met with major change when it was snapped up for NCL America's program of weeklong Hawaiian cruises, reflagged for all-American service and renamed Pride of Aloha.

Now, after spending almost four years sailing in Hawaiian waters, the ship has reclaimed its original name and is back in Miami. And, after an extensive refurbishment and upgrade, it's the youngest and highest-quality ship offering short (three- and four-day) cruises to the Bahamas.

One point of interest is the fact that because Norwegian Sky changed names and homes several times, the ship seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis. Names of rooms on the ship vary from Hawaiian to Bahamian to Caribbean: Captain Cook's Lounge, Longboard's Restaurant and the Maui meeting room. Yet the cheerful, tropical decor -- floral carpets in the panoramic elevators (incidentally among the first at sea); warm, island colors; and a feeling of light and air, made most dramatic by a series of beautiful, brightly hued kites hanging in the seven-story atrium -- works with the Bahamian itinerary.

Just as Norwegian Sky has evolved since its launch, so has Freestyle Cruising, simply defined as the choice to dine where you want, when you want, and participate only in those activities that interest you. May 2000 was the trial period for the line's innovative Freestyle Cruising concept (which proved successful and went fleetwide shortly after). During two months in dry dock, NCL eliminated some of the features that were part of the ship's identity when it sailed Hawaii year-round (like its Kumu Cultural Center) and added others (like a casino). (There wasn't one onboard when it was Pride of Aloha, as gambling was not permissible on the all-American Hawaii itinerary.)

Also, Freestyle 2.0 enhancements were added, including NCL's new, plush bedding called the Bliss Collection. Passengers are greeted with a glass of bubbly when they board the ship, as well as a "Taste of Freestyle" -- a sampling of food choices from the ship's specialty restaurants, all of which now feature new menus. It's a very nice touch. Even though I don't drink, just knowing that it is offered made the welcome that much more gracious.

One of things I loved best was the youthful feeling onboard. The average age on Norwegian Sky is lower than many other ships I've been on recently, probably because it offers such an excellent value. Other cruise lines are seeking this demographic, but NCL is actually getting it, due in no short part to the flexible dining options and multiple venues for late-night drinking and dancing. This ship's short itinerary, in particular, appeals to first-timers (and perhaps those with less vacation time).

NCL has done an especially good job of separating key areas for families and adults on this ship -- with separate pools, programming and even nighttime lounges for both demographics. Also, I was impressed with how amazingly simple embarkation and disembarkation have been made. I've been on five or six ships in the last few months, and Norwegian Sky marked the first time I was actually greeted by a crewmember ready to show me to my cabin -- not one who only said "hello" as I juggled my laptop, purse and rolling suitcase.

Dining

The term "alternative dining" has become synonymous with "fork over anywhere from $10 to 20 per person to get a better meal." Still, the concept works on NCL's ships. Why? Well, first and foremost, the idea of eating what, when and where you want is really the cornerstone of the entire Freestyle Cruising experience that now defines the cruise line. The meals are served in a more intimate -- and usually much more elegant and attractive -- room than those in the main dining facilities.

And, most importantly, you are getting your money's worth. At Italian outpost Il Adagio, for example, an entire team works each table, and the food and service matched what I'd expect in a high-end Italian eatery with a celebrity chef, direct from Italy. Wine and water glasses are filled regularly, and individual French-press coffee is brought to each table. Wine lists are comprehensive and include several favorites, one of which I had sent from one dining venue to another -- all too soon it was gone.

There are three for-fee restaurants on Norwegian Sky. The aforementioned Il Adagio, Deck 11 aft, specializes in Italian cuisine. Menu items include a varied and high-quality antipasti (mushrooms, salami, proscuitto, eggplant, olives), marvelous chicken parmigiana, lobster ravioli and tiramisu, among the best I've had anywhere. The fee for Il Adagio is $10. Cagney's, on Deck 12, is NCL's signature steakhouse, proffering a variety of steaks, chops, sea bass and seafood, including Alaskan king crab legs; expect to pay $20 per person for dinner.

Most impressive for me was Le Bistro, Deck 5, midship. Within the hibiscus prints and gaudy colors so prevalent onboard, this charming little bistro feels a world away. The Mediterranean and classic-meets-nouvelle French food is done beautifully. The escargot appetizer and a steak with bleu cheese scalloped potatoes were particularly lovely. The room, done in regal purple and gold, is beautiful. All seats overlook the water, and French music plays softly in the background. A $15 per person charge applies here.

Reservations are required at all specialty restaurants. Suite and penthouse guests can enjoy breakfast and lunch -- at no extra charge -- in Cagney's.

Norwegian Sky also offers two main dining rooms for those seeking more traditional dining experiences: Palace and Crossings. They're still pretty flexible. You can make reservations each night for the same time or different times, based on your schedule, or simply show up when you feel hungry. Both are open nightly for dinner; and each day, one of the two offers open-seating breakfast and lunch. (Check your newsletter for details and times).

However, particularly compared to the service and cuisine in the specialty restaurants, the dining room experience is mediocre at best. Service in Palace and Crossings is variable. Though it seemed there were plenty of staff members milling around, some mornings I'd get my coffee and get it refilled, and others it felt like a search and seizure operation just to find a waiter with a full pot.

Quality was also a bit haphazard, and these are not the venues to try out anything "exotic." You can't really go wrong with a simple grilled salmon or steak, but with a dish like, say, shrimp over pasta, the seafood might be chewy and the noodles crunchy. Also, two diners at one table might order the same thing and see their plates come out looking completely different because the kitchen forgot to drop a potato on one of them. It's almost as if the line is trying to say, "go spend the $10" without actually making it mandatory.

Even the Garden Cafe, Deck 11's lido buffet, offered a more pleasurable dining experience than the main dining rooms. There's an outdoor patio offering extra, al fresco seating. The greens on the salad bar are fresh and crisp with a variety of dressing choices and accompaniments. Among ordinary buffet choices were pastas and sandwiches, and authentic and piping hot Far Eastern cuisine (Thai, Indian) is offered regularly. The French fries are notably good -- hot and crispy -- and the carving station features pork loin and roast beef or turkey breast daily. Ice cream is always available.

The only downside is that this lido buffet is still of the line-up-and-wait variety; the made-to-order stations that NCL has been implementing fleetwide did not make it onboard during this last refurbishment.

Another top choice for casual diners and sports fans -- think snack foods, like burgers, and games on multiple TV screens -- is Longboard's Lounge. The chicken wings (and martinis) in Longboard's were quite tasty, the service was excellent and I even got to catch up on Sunday football scores.

A limited room service menu is available 24 hours a day, featuring soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, in addition to specialty items. All restaurants provide Freestyle Cruising dining with open seating and flexible, extended hours. Lobster is offered every night of the cruise in at least one restaurant.

A no-cost barbecue on the beach at Great Stirrup Cay is a highlight enjoyed by passengers who clamor aboard tenders as much for the food as the sun and fun.

The Coffee Bar, Deck 7, offers a wide array of gratis pastries. Specialty coffees are $5.95. Regular (free) coffee was not served here on our sailing; for that, you'll need to head up to the Garden Cafe, where it's available around the clock.

Public Rooms

The public rooms are airy and relatively spacious. You don't get that "crowded" feeling, often present on older ships that have been retrofitted to accommodate more modern spaces and amenities. Most public rooms are located on Decks 5, 6 and 7 and include the large Stardust Theater (Decks 6 and 7 aft), which serves as the showroom for performances by night and a locale for shopping talks by day.

Dazzles Nightclub on Deck 6 is home to a disco, late-night "adult" comics and musical performers, dancing, Nintendo Wii tournaments, movies and art shows. The ubiquitous "Newlywed, Not So Newlywed" game, always a hit with passengers, also takes place in Dazzles, which boasts the longest Cabaret Bar at sea.

Captain Cook's Bar -- Deck 6 aft -- still carries out the Hawaiian theme but offers piano music with global appeal and, later in the evening, sing-alongs. The Atrium Champagne Bar features guitar music and is probably one of the best people-watching locales on the vessel because it's in a central location. In fact, it is the perfect place to get your bearings at the start of the cruise: grab a drink and a seat, and take in the crowds walking past. Plantation Club, Deck 12, offers a premium selection of Champagne and wines.

Sky Club Casino, Deck 7, was added during dry dock and features blackjack, roulette, three-card poker, Texas Hold 'Em and craps, plus more than 160 state-of-the art electronic slot machines (and some still with pull handles for purists). A variety of tournaments take place on each cruise, and non-traditional games such as Pai-gow Poker and Mini Baccarat are available on request.

The cozy Mark Twain Library on Deck 6 offers a healthy selection of books (though you won't find too many new best sellers) and a pot of coffee, tea and accoutrements.

My favorite lounge is the Outrigger Lounge, Deck 11, forward. There's one hidden gem on every ship, and the tropically themed Outrigger is Sky's. It's very quiet during the day and is a good place to settle in with a book and occasionally watch the wondrous seas through floor-to-ceiling windows. In the evenings, you can join friends for a drink, do some dancing or test your karaoke chops.

Tip: As on other NCL ships, following the fish in the carpet design will help you navigate the ship. If they are swimming forward, you're headed forward. The tails lead you aft.

Cabins

Cabins on Norwegian Sky are smaller than average, with insides starting from 147 square ft. Oceanview cabins measure 149 square ft.; balcony cabins are 154 square ft. (including the balcony). If you are considering an oceanview cabin, keep this in mind: Even if the numerical difference in square footage seems negligible, those cabins with balconies or even floor-to-ceiling windows will simply feel larger than those offering just a picture window or porthole.

On the higher end of the accommodations scale are 10 penthouses at 364 square ft., each with a sitting area, private balcony, dining area, separate bedroom and luxury bath. Finally, four 482-square-ft. Owner's Suites each offer a private balcony, hot tub and separate shower. Both categories offer butler and concierge service.

Storage for the short itinerary is more than adequate in all categories (drawer space is a bit tight, but there's ample room in closets to hang garments; bathroom counters offer additional storage). All staterooms feature a television set, hair dryer, safe and mini-bar. If you book a cabin with a balcony or any category above that, you'll also receive a customized fruit menu, a bathrobe and a warm chocolate chip cookie at turndown on the last night of the cruise.

A nice touch in an industry that's moving toward more cabin segregation is that Elemis bathroom amenities are found in all categories -- on some lines, spa amenities are only available in suites or in spa cabins. However, you'll have to contend with the dreaded shower curtain as opposed to sliding doors.

Decor is tropical with soft hues in the bed skirt, drapes and carpeting. Island-y blues, greens and pinks predominate. That wonderful Bliss Bedding includes a comforter and soft bed linens in addition to a truly comfortable mattress; I slept soundly every evening. Towels could be fluffier, but they are clean, unfrayed and refreshed twice a day unless you choose to hang them up for reuse.

Entertainment

Expect to hear music almost everywhere. I'm not talking heavy pulsating headache-inducing music. No, you'll hear Frank Sinatra tunes and lilting island steel drums, piano classics and hearty soul, lots of salsa and great jazz, rock and roll and romantic Andrea Boccelli. Guitar and piano and a Caribbean group are staples in various lounges. It's varied throughout the ship, but you can hum along with something wherever you go. Read your Freestyle Daily for the specific lineup.

When the sun goes down the curtains go up in the Stardust Lounge. From night to night, you might find a comedian or magician performing, or dancers and singers doing their thing in a Broadway review or a concert of southern musical styling. Soul might take center stage another night.

After-hours crowds will find no-kids-allowed comedy and adults-only karaoke -- and plenty of dancing. In fact, newly offered onboard are ship-sponsored theme nights: White Hot Night, a dance party set in a wonderland of white, and Monte Carlo Night, centered around the casino. Guests are encouraged to wear special outfits -- such as all white to the White Hot Night bash (clothing suggestions are sent with your tickets). Didn't pack anything? No problem. Staff members are happy to offer suggestions, such as wrapping yourself in a bed sheet for the toga party that's held on the final night of each cruise.

Trivia games, a series of liquor-tastings (for a fee), hip-hop dancing classes, health seminars and bingo games are among the activities that keep guests busy throughout the day. For the young and young at heart, a video arcade on Deck 7 features contemporary games and machines that do not appear at all worn for a ship this age.

There isn't shipwide Wi-Fi, but is an Internet Center with about a dozen computers on Deck 7 (in the Coffee Bar) charges 75 cents per minute or $55 for 100 minutes or $100 for 250 minutes. I never encountered a wait.

Fitness and Recreation

Body Waves (also known onboard as Mandara Spa) is a full-service spa with a thalassotherapy bath and thermal suite, offering traditional treatments and salon favorites. My Hot Stone Heaven massage was absolutely wonderful -- the treatment itself is still new enough to feel more special than a Swedish massage. Plus, the warm stones get right to the core, baking in that good feeling without having to be manhandled. The spa also offers teeth whitening and acupuncture.

Prices for treatments are in line with other ships, in the $100 to $115 range for most entry level massages and facials. The spa is well cared for and clean, and staffers are well trained, which is a testament to Steiner, the conglomerate that operates the spa facilities on most mega-ships. One caveat: The fervent pitch to sell products is still a turn-off. If you have no intentions of purchasing something, speak up and say so right at the onset. It'll save time for both you and your therapist or aesthetician.

The Fitness Center offers a wide variety of stair climbers, ellipticals, life cycles, treadmills and rowing machines. Classes, such as spinning class, yoga and Pilates, are about $10.

A basketball and volleyball court, batting cage, shuffleboard and golf driving net are on the Sports Deck, Deck 12. One mile equals 3.5 laps around Deck 6.

Two pools (one for families and one for adults) and four hot tubs are available on Deck 11. Splashes Kid's Pool is just right for pint-size water games and features a waterfall and a children's hot tub. At the adult pool, it was not hard to get a chair during the day.

Family

I recall thinking on my 1999 voyage aboard this vessel that the children's center, Kid's Korner, was really outstanding and unusual. At that time, kid's centers were still coming into their own. It used to be that these facilities were afterthoughts, and youth staff was shoved into a small room for bare bones programming.

Kid's Korner was one of the first purpose-built facilities for young cruisers and the facility, on Deck 7 forward, and is no less impressive today. It's one of the brightest and friendliest I've seen, with specific areas for arts and crafts, movies and games, and even naptime; computer stations have been added since the ship's launch. Parents can look in on their children without embarrassing them via portholes in the corridor.

The Kid's Crew program is organized by age group: Junior Sailors (2 - 5), First Mates (6 - 9) and Navigators (10 - 12). Meanwhile, teens (13 - 17), likely the most demanding age group afloat, get a separate area on another deck entirely. The Zone is on Deck 11 and features video games, a jukebox, foosball tables and air hockey. At night it's a teen disco with non-alcoholic drinks.

Dress Code

Resort casual is the term NCL uses and it covers everything from nice jeans to a bit of glitz. Shorts aren't permitted in specialty restaurants, but the ship promotes a casual attitude toward dress entirely. Pack some nice polos for men and a dress or pants and a shirt for women and you're good to go. Day wear is shorts and a T-shirt -- if you are not in the pool.

Gratuity

A $10 per person, per day service charge is added to the onboard account for the food service team and room steward or stewardess. Amounts can be adjusted at the purser's desk. Additional tips can be made in cash or added to the onboard account.

--by Marcia Levin, Cruise Critic contributor

Gratuity

A $12 per person, per day service charge is added to the onboard account for the food service team and room steward or stewardess. Amounts can be adjusted at the purser's desk. Additional tips can be made in cash or added to the onboard account.

--by Marcia Levin, Cruise Critic contributor

Gratuity

A $10 per person, per day service charge is added to the onboard account for the food service team and room steward or stewardess. Amounts can be adjusted at the purser's desk. Additional tips can be made in cash or added to the onboard account.

--by Marcia Levin, Cruise Critic contributorNorwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky has come full circle. The 77,104-ton, 2,002-passenger ship debuted in Miami in 1999, sailing Bahamas itineraries. But in 2004, the ship met with major change when it was snapped up for NCL America's program of weeklong Hawaiian cruises, reflagged for all-American service and renamed Pride of Aloha.

Now, after spending almost four years sailing in Hawaiian waters, the ship has reclaimed its original name and is back in Miami. And, after an extensive refurbishment and upgrade, it's the youngest and highest-quality ship offering short (three- and four-day) cruises to the Bahamas.

One point of interest is the fact that because Norwegian Sky changed names and homes several times, the ship seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis. Names of rooms on the ship vary from Hawaiian to Bahamian to Caribbean: Captain Cook's Lounge, Longboard's Restaurant and the Maui meeting room. Yet the cheerful, tropical decor -- floral carpets in the panoramic elevators (incidentally among the first at sea); warm, island colors; and a feeling of light and air, made most dramatic by a series of beautiful, brightly hued kites hanging in the seven-story atrium -- works with the Bahamian itinerary.

Just as Norwegian Sky has evolved since its launch, so has Freestyle Cruising, simply defined as the choice to dine where you want, when you want, and participate only in those activities that interest you. May 2000 was the trial period for the line's innovative Freestyle Cruising concept (which proved successful and went fleetwide shortly after). During two months in dry dock, NCL eliminated some of the features that were part of the ship's identity when it sailed Hawaii year-round (like its Kumu Cultural Center) and added others (like a casino). (There wasn't one onboard when it was Pride of Aloha, as gambling was not permissible on the all-American Hawaii itinerary.)

Also, Freestyle 2.0 enhancements were added, including NCL's new, plush bedding called the Bliss Collection. Passengers are greeted with a glass of bubbly when they board the ship, as well as a "Taste of Freestyle" -- a sampling of food choices from the ship's specialty restaurants, all of which now feature new menus. It's a very nice touch. Even though I don't drink, just knowing that it is offered made the welcome that much more gracious.

One of things I loved best was the youthful feeling onboard. The average age on Norwegian Sky is lower than many other ships I've been on recently, probably because it offers such an excellent value. Other cruise lines are seeking this demographic, but NCL is actually getting it, due in no short part to the flexible dining options and multiple venues for late-night drinking and dancing. This ship's short itinerary, in particular, appeals to first-timers (and perhaps those with less vacation time).

NCL has done an especially good job of separating key areas for families and adults on this ship -- with separate pools, programming and even nighttime lounges for both demographics. Also, I was impressed with how amazingly simple embarkation and disembarkation have been made. I've been on five or six ships in the last few months, and Norwegian Sky marked the first time I was actually greeted by a crewmember ready to show me to my cabin -- not one who only said "hello" as I juggled my laptop, purse and rolling suitcase.

Gratuity

A $12 per person, per day service charge is added to the onboard account for the food service team and room steward or stewardess. Amounts can be adjusted at the purser's desk. Additional tips can be made in cash or added to the onboard account.

The 77,104-ton, 2,002-passenger Norwegian Sky debuted in Miami in 1999, sailing Bahamas itineraries. After a four-year stint in Hawaii from 2004 - 2007, during which the ship was reflagged for all-American service and renamed Pride of Aloha, the ship reclaimed its original name and homeport. And, after an extensive refurbishment and upgrade, it's the youngest and highest-quality ship offering short (three- and four-day) cruises to the Bahamas.

One point of interest is the fact that because Norwegian Sky changed names and homes several times, the ship seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis. Names of rooms on the ship vary from Hawaiian to Bahamian to Caribbean: Captain Cook's Lounge, Longboard's Restaurant and the Maui meeting room. Yet the cheerful, tropical decor -- floral carpets in the panoramic elevators (incidentally among the first at sea); warm, island colors; and a feeling of light and air, made most dramatic by a series of beautiful, brightly hued kites hanging in the seven-story atrium -- works with the Bahamian itinerary.

Just as Norwegian Sky has evolved since its launch, so has Freestyle Cruising, simply defined as the choice to dine where you want, when you want, and participate only in those activities that interest you. May 2000 was the trial period for the line's innovative Freestyle Cruising concept (which proved successful and went fleetwide shortly after). During two months in dry dock, NCL eliminated some of the features that were part of the ship's identity when it sailed Hawaii year-round (like its Kumu Cultural Center) and added others (like a casino). (There wasn't one onboard when it was Pride of Aloha, as gambling was not permissible on the all-American Hawaii itinerary.)

One of things I loved best was the youthful feeling onboard. The average age on Norwegian Sky is lower than many other ships I've been on recently, probably because it offers such an excellent value. Other cruise lines are seeking this demographic, but NCL is actually getting it, due in no short part to the flexible dining options and multiple venues for late-night drinking and dancing. This ship's short itinerary, in particular, appeals to first-timers (and perhaps those with less vacation time).

NCL has done an especially good job of separating key areas for families and adults on this ship -- with separate pools, programming and even nighttime lounges for both demographics. Also, I was impressed with how amazingly simple embarkation and disembarkation have been made. I've been on five or six ships in the last few months, and Norwegian Sky marked the first time I was actually greeted by a crewmember ready to show me to my cabin -- not one who only said "hello" as I juggled my laptop, purse and rolling suitcase.

Cabins

Cabins on Norwegian Sky are smaller than average, with insides starting from 147 square ft. Oceanview cabins measure 149 square ft.; balcony cabins are 154 square ft. (plus balcony). If you are considering an oceanview cabin, keep this in mind: Even if the numerical difference in square footage seems negligible, those cabins with balconies or even floor-to-ceiling windows will simply feel larger than those offering just a picture window or porthole.

On the higher end of the accommodations scale are 10 penthouses at 364 square ft., each with a sitting area, private balcony, dining area, separate bedroom and luxury bath. Finally, four 482-square-ft. Owner's Suites each offer a private balcony, hot tub and separate shower. Both categories offer butler and concierge service.

Storage for the short itinerary is more than adequate in all categories (drawer space is a bit tight, but there's ample room in closets to hang garments; bathroom counters offer additional storage). All staterooms feature a television set, hair dryer, safe and mini-bar. If you book a cabin with a balcony or any category above that, you'll also receive a customized fruit menu, a bathrobe and a warm chocolate chip cookie at turndown on the last night of the cruise.

A nice touch in an industry that's moving toward more cabin segregation is that Elemis bathroom amenities are found in all categories -- on some lines, spa amenities are only available in suites or in spa cabins. However, you'll have to contend with the dreaded shower curtain as opposed to sliding doors.

Decor is tropical with soft hues in the bed skirt, drapes and carpeting. Island-y blues, greens and pinks predominate. That wonderful Bliss Bedding includes a comforter and soft bed linens in addition to a truly comfortable mattress; I slept soundly every evening. Towels could be fluffier, but they are clean, unfrayed and refreshed twice a day unless you choose to hang them up for reuse.

Dining

The term "alternative dining" has become synonymous with "fork over anywhere from $10 to 20 per person to get a better meal." Still, the concept works on NCL's ships. Why? Well, first and foremost, the idea of eating what, when and where you want is really the cornerstone of the entire Freestyle Cruising experience that now defines the cruise line. The meals are served in a more intimate -- and usually much more elegant and attractive -- room than those in the main dining facilities.

And, most importantly, you are getting your money's worth. At Italian outpost Il Adagio, for example, an entire team works each table, and the food and service matched what I'd expect in a high-end Italian eatery with a celebrity chef, direct from Italy. Wine and water glasses are filled regularly, and individual French-press coffee is brought to each table. Wine lists are comprehensive and include several favorites, one of which I had sent from one dining venue to another -- all too soon it was gone.

There are three for-fee restaurants on Norwegian Sky. The aforementioned Il Adagio, Deck 11 aft, specializes in Italian cuisine. Menu items include a varied and high-quality antipasti (mushrooms, salami, proscuitto, eggplant, olives), marvelous chicken parmigiana, lobster ravioli and tiramisu, among the best I've had anywhere. The fee for Il Adagio is $15. Cagney's, on Deck 12, is NCL's signature steakhouse, proffering a variety of steaks, chops, sea bass and seafood, including Alaskan king crab legs; expect to pay $20 per person for dinner.

Most impressive for me was Le Bistro, Deck 5, midship. Within the hibiscus prints and gaudy colors so prevalent onboard, this charming little bistro feels a world away. The Mediterranean and classic-meets-nouvelle French food is done beautifully. The escargot appetizer and a steak with bleu cheese scalloped potatoes were particularly lovely. The room, done in regal purple and gold, is beautiful. All seats overlook the water, and French music plays softly in the background. A $15 per person charge applies here.

Reservations are required at all specialty restaurants. Suite and penthouse guests can enjoy breakfast and lunch -- at no extra charge -- in Cagney's.

Norwegian Sky also offers two main dining rooms for those seeking more traditional dining experiences: Palace and Crossings. They're still pretty flexible. You can make reservations each night for the same time or different times, based on your schedule, or simply show up when you feel hungry. Both are open nightly for dinner; and each day, one of the two offers open-seating breakfast and lunch. (Check your newsletter for details and times).

However, particularly compared to the service and cuisine in the specialty restaurants, the dining room experience is mediocre at best. Service in Palace and Crossings is variable. Though it seemed there were plenty of staff members milling around, some mornings I'd get my coffee and get it refilled, and others it felt like a search and seizure operation just to find a waiter with a full pot.

Quality was also a bit haphazard, and these are not the venues to try out anything "exotic." You can't really go wrong with a simple grilled salmon or steak, but with a dish like, say, shrimp over pasta, the seafood might be chewy and the noodles crunchy. Also, two diners at one table might order the same thing and see their plates come out looking completely different because the kitchen forgot to drop a potato on one of them. It's almost as if the line is trying to say, "go spend the $10" without actually making it mandatory.

Even the Garden Cafe, Deck 11's lido buffet, offered a more pleasurable dining experience than the main dining rooms. There's an outdoor patio offering extra, al fresco seating. The greens on the salad bar are fresh and crisp with a variety of dressing choices and accompaniments. Among ordinary buffet choices were pastas and sandwiches, and authentic and piping hot Far Eastern cuisine (Thai, Indian) is offered regularly. The French fries are notably good -- hot and crispy -- and the carving station features pork loin and roast beef or turkey breast daily. Ice cream is always available.

The only downside is that this lido buffet is still of the line-up-and-wait variety; the made-to-order stations that NCL has been implementing fleetwide did not make it onboard during this last refurbishment.

Another top choice for casual diners and sports fans -- think snack foods, like burgers, and games on multiple TV screens -- is Longboard's Lounge. The chicken wings (and martinis) in Longboard's were quite tasty, the service was excellent and I even got to catch up on Sunday football scores.

A limited room service menu is available 24 hours a day, featuring soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, in addition to specialty items. All restaurants provide Freestyle Cruising dining with open seating and flexible, extended hours. Lobster is offered every night of the cruise in at least one restaurant.

A no-cost barbecue on the beach at Great Stirrup Cay is a highlight enjoyed by passengers who clamor aboard tenders as much for the food as the sun and fun.

The Coffee Bar, Deck 7, offers a wide array of gratis pastries. Specialty coffees are $5.95. Regular (free) coffee was not served here on our sailing; for that, you'll need to head up to the Garden Cafe, where it's available around the clock.

Fellow Passengers

Expect to see a lot of young couples, girlfriend getaways and guys' outings, as well as European visitors who want to tour the Bahamas. The weekend sailings find lots of youngsters toting their school backpacks on Friday afternoons and then heading out again with mom and dad -- and the backpacks -- early Monday morning.

You will also find many young families (strollers abound) and some multi-generational groups. On a recent weekend cruise, 82 percent onboard were Americans, and 18 percent represented some 20 other countries. I heard about six different Spanish dialects and several Asian tongues.

The ship is currently proving very popular with first-time cruisers.

Cruise Critic

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