This past weekend I had the opportunity to experience my first Norwegian cruise. This was the cruise line of choice for my Aunt Pat’s 70th Birthday celebration and admittedly I was excited about planning and going on the cruise because Norwegian was one of the major cruise lines I had not experienced yet. Full disclosure, cruising is not my favorite type of travel but it has certainly grown on me the more I do it. Overall, for a traveler like me who is a free spirit and doesn’t like to be regimented on my vacations and prefers to have multiple quality dining options, Norwegian hits the mark with their freestyle cruising concept. I would definitely recommend it, particularly the 3 or 4 day Norwegian Sky, to those who have never cruised and are uncertain if they would like to cruise.
Norwegian pioneered freestyle cruising with what is described as freedom dining options where cruisers are not limited to a seating time, dress restrictions or options for restaurants specializing in different cuisines. The foodie in me loves this [See Foodie Heaven]! I want to have a different dining experience each night and on a short cruise like the Norwegian Sky, you have more options for restaurants than days on the cruise so it actually makes you want to come back. Helpful Hint: If you enjoy different options like me, invest in the specialty dining upgrade or select it as one of your choices for group amenities like we did. The specialty dining restaurants were amazing and would have been well worth any additional investment. [See Having it All].
What I also enjoyed about Norwegian was that it has its own private island, called Great Stirrup Cay, as a stop. As a beach bum, this was great because I didn’t have to do any extra research about finding a hotel in the Bahamas that offered a day pass for me to lay out on the beach, catch some rays and grab a bite to eat. Because Norwegian owned the island, we could partake in the food on the island in the same all-inclusive format as if we were on the ship. Another helpful hint: If you don’t want to worry about getting to the island early to reserve a beach chair close to the ocean and be among the masses, reserve a private cabana. You can also order what they call snacks, but was quite substantial, and have them delivered to your cabana, along with waiter service for your convenience.
As a balanced review, I must offer a few words of critique here. As this was Norwegian’s first stab at completely all-inclusive cruising as of January 2016, with the premium beverage service included in the package, there were some kinks. Combining this new feature along with planned activities for a group of 17 proved to be a little tricky. In the beginning when making the reservation for the group, I could tell the representative who was helping me was still trying to work out how to explain the amenity points with the upgraded beverage package no longer being an option. That was a process in itself. In addition, we received mixed signals upon boarding the ship on what type of cruise card we should have for our specialty dining package and every night, there appeared to be a mix up with those who had the package vs those who didn’t. Lastly, we arranged to have a table seated for 19 guests for the birthday dinner and when we arrived it was only set up for 17 because they said the space wouldn’t accommodate 19. This is probably something they should have told us when we made the reservation or perhaps even before we were seated so we didn’t have to play musical chairs to figure out 2 place settings were missing. Fortunately, I was on the ship with my group to iron out the kinks but this would have caused a disaster for my client had I not been there. Hopefully, once they’ve gotten a few sailings under their belts they will have worked out all the kinks.
Even with the mishaps it is worth noting that any time we did have a challenge or needed something, the onboard staff was very accommodating and that was most appreciated. I feel comfortable in sending future guests on Norwegian knowing that if they do run into any challenges, the staff will work to resolve them promptly and accordingly. Ultimately my client was treated like the queen she is throughout her stay and raved about her experience.
The last thing to note about freestyle cruising is that it offers a number of stateroom options, including a penthouse suite, which the birthday girl reserved for her stay, and a multitude of entertainment options including a casino, shows, activities and the spa for your enjoyment. Of course I opted in for a spa treatment and it was absolutely amazing. Melissa has healing hands! Whatever you decide to partake in, everything can be arranged while on the ship for your convenience. The best part for me, if you ever change your mind on what you want to do for the day it’s ok because it’s all freestyle, which I believe is how every vacation should be.