CruiseClout score: 20.0
Norwegian Sky: Fun, high-quality short cruises to Cuba & Bahamas
Best known for offering 3- and 4-day Bahamas cruises, the 2,000-passenger Norwegian Sky now offers cruises that include an overnight in Havana, Cuba.
As the smallest vessel in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, this ship still embodies many of the elements you will find on larger vessels from the brand, including the Freestyle dining approach with no set seating assignments for dinner.
Over the past 18 months, Norwegian Sky has been Norwegian's highest-rated ship. Passengers can take advantage of 10 dining options, 11 bars and lounges, a spa, show lounge and a casino. Norwegian Sky also has a number of family-friendly options for kids and opportunities for to leave them well-tended during adult-only excursions. While prices are a bit higher than on ships from competing cruise lines, that's because of the ship's no-hassle “open bar” policy, which means that most alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are included in your cruise fare.
Whether you're cruising to Cuba or the Bahamas, Norwegian Sky provides a great value and serves as an excellent introduction to the Norwegian family.
Who will like sailing on Norwegian Sky
Bahamas: If you're grabbing one of the splash-and-dash cruises to the Bahamas, you'll find a mix of young couples, young families, a few multigenerational groups, travelers looking for a quick taste of the Bahamas and more than a few first-time cruisers. About 80 percent are Americans. There's plenty of family-friendly entertainment, including waterslides and a children's area on deck 7.
Cuba: If, like us, your itinerary includes the overnight in Havana, you'll find a ship filled with culture-loving adults from their 20s to 70s who want to explore a city that's been off-limits to U.S. citizens for more than 50 years. After taking part in the people-to-people activities, you're free to wander as you'd like.
Where Norwegian Sky sails
Home port: Miami
Destinations: Norwegian Sky sails the following itineraries:
- 3 Night Bahamas (Miami round trip) starting in Miami with stops in Nassau, the Bahamas
- 4 Night Bahamas (Miami round trip) starting in Miami with stops in Freeport and Nassau, the Bahamas
- 4 Night Cuba & Bahamas (Miami round trip) starting in Miami with stops in Havana, Cuba, and Norwegian's private island of Great Stirrup Cay, the Bahamas.
Top highlights on this ship
- The dining experience exceeded our expectations compared to culinary experiences we have had on other smaller ships. Norwegian Sky offers plenty of variety, fresh offerings and specialty dining options.
- Staff on the ship provided superior service. Whether it was Guest Services, one of the many busy bars, or the restaurants, the crew members were always helpful and cordial.
- The “open bar” on the ship is convenient and smart — you never have to take out your card for a drink. We suggest ordering drinks off the menu as some cocktails are pre-made to help reduce wait times.
- The new itinerary to Havana! This was our first time in Cuba and the experience will stay with us for years to come.
Top dining options on board
Norwegian Cruise Line revolutionized the cruise industry with its Freestyle approach to dining, meaning you can dine whenever you'd like and sit solo or with a group -- or you can choose traditional dining times in the main venues. Dining options include:
Main dining rooms: Norwegian Sky also offers two main dining rooms, Palace and Crossings, with menu choices that generally stay the same. Palace is the place for pork medallions or fancy rib eye, while Crossings features lamb shank and a New York strip steak as part of its regular fare. One or the other features open-seating breakfast and lunch each day (for us it was Crossings).
Alternative dining: The ship features three restaurants with a surcharge for dinner: Norwegian's signature steakhouse Cagney’s Steakhouse ($30 per person), the Italian restaurant Il Adagio ($15 per person) and Le Bistro ($20 per person), specializing in French cuisine. We ate dinner at each one of these venues and had a wonderful experience. If you're a lobster lover, it's offered every night of the cruise in at least one restaurant.
Elsewhere: For casual complimentary dining, there is the buffet at the Garden Café (deck 11, aft) and the outdoor extension of the buffet known as the Great Outdoors. These venues serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Other complimentary options offered during the day include a waffle and omelet station for breakfast and a pasta and pizza station for lunch in Il Adagio as well as snacks and small bites into the evening at the Longboard Bar.
Where we went & what we loved
Cruiseable classifies the 2,000-passenger Norwegian Sky as a large ship, though it's less than half the size of some of today's mega-ships. That said, you'll find plenty of outdoor public spaces. Whether you want to tan, take a dip in the two pools or four whirlpools or just enjoy a cocktail with a view, decks 11 and 12 provide ample space for all on board. Crowds are nicely dispersed among the different venues and activities.
Since we had an inside room, we spent as much time as possible in different venues, and we made good use of the open bar, testing out each venue in pursuit of the best drinks. Our dinner at Cagney’s Steakhouse was one of the most memorable meals we have had on a ship. If you go, ask for Bosco, he is an amazing waiter.
Our main purpose in booking this itinerary was so that we could be among the first to travel to Havana on a mainstream cruise line. (Royal Caribbean, Carnival and various luxury vessels also now cruise to Cuba.) Our two days ashore were spent getting to know the people, history and culture of this historic city.
On our first day, we took a wide-ranging tour of Old Havana as well as some other neighborhoods with a multifaceted tour guide from Havana Journeys. On day two, we took a self-guided tour of the two forts located across the bay. This trip provided a great introduction to the city, and we're certain that we'll be back soon.
The final day of the cruise was a much-needed beach day at Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. After two days straight of sightseeing, an afternoon of lounging in the sun and sipping margaritas from the Patron Bar was exactly what we needed.
Norwegian Sky has two large outdoor swimming pools with large amounts of deck space, sun beds, deck chairs, a hot tub or two and the longest poolside bar at sea. For families, the Splashes Children's Pool features a waterfall and a kid-safe hot tub.
Activities on board
Given the port-intensive four-day cruise, our participation in the daytime activities was a bit limited. If you stay on the ship during the day, there are your typical trivia sessions and demonstrations that occur throughout the ship. It would have been great if the ship had some enrichment talks featuring historians or cultural experts offering more insights into the Cuban people and the island’s history.
As with many cruises, the shops and most onboard retail (including the casino) are closed during the stop in Havana. If you want to get onboard souvenirs, we suggest going to the logo shop on the first night of the cruise. There were some great NCL Sky Havana T-shirts available for purchase.
After your daytime wanderings, you'll return to the ship and find a variety of lounges and bars offering plenty of nighttime activities. Captain Cook’s Lounge has live piano music as well as classic guitar in the evenings. The stage at Dazzles is home to onboard game shows like “The Perfect Couple” and “The Not So Newlywed Game” by day and dancing by night. For live sports and a few bar games, head to Longboard Bar for a nightly watering hole. One of the largest venues on Norwegian Sky is the Outrigger Lounge, forward on deck 11. Showcasing amazing views with floor-to-ceiling windows, this venue offered live music and plenty of room for dancing. The Plantation Club also hosts regular karaoke.
In addition, entertainment was offered in the main theater on the ship each night of the cruise, which included pretty standard cruise ship shows (see below for more details).
We didn't take advantage of Mandara Spa, which offers spa treatments from the traditional to the exotic in spa and salon amenities., but you may want to.
The children’s area on deck 7, Splash Academy, is for children ages 3-12 with staff members who create personalized onboard activities for your little ones based on their ages. The area was quite small and tucked right next to the Arcade. For older children, the Entourage Lounge can be found on deck 11. This small area is designed for kids ages 13-17 and is open only in the evenings.
Along with the various musical acts in the lounges and bars, you'll find a show in the main theater at 9:30 each night. Shows in the Stardust Theater (decks 6 and 7) include a traditional “Welcome Aboard” variety show, a comedy show and two production shows. Of the two production shows, “Showdown,” a singing competition modeled after “American Idol,” was our favorite. The last night of the cruise also featured a late night adults-only comedy show.
Another staple of Norwegian cruises, there was an open-air deck party known as the White Party held on the third night of the cruise. Here you can find many cruisers donning their finest white and glowing apparel and dancing to a mix of music under the stars.
We stayed in a mid-ship inside cabin on deck 10. Compared to cabins on mega-ships, this room was small and cramped, coming in at somewhere between 121 and 140 square feet. Let's just say it took a little bit of creativity when unpacking! Still, we managed for the four days. If you are claustrophobic, you will probably want to spend a little extra money and opt for at least a balcony stateroom, which has a 154-square-foot interior and a 48-square-foot veranda.
Penthouses measure 306 square feet, each with a sitting area and private balcony as well as a dining area, bedroom and bath. At 482 square feet, Owner's Suites offer a private balcony dining room, hot tub and separate shower. If you book one of these higher-level suites, you will be assigned a butler and personal concierge. Along with benefits like priority embarkation and disembarkation, you will also get to enjoy an exclusive breakfast and lunch in Cagney’s Steakhouse. Norwegian let us sample these meals, and they were certainly the best options for daytime meals on the ship.
Best bets on shore at Great Stirrup Cay
Great Stirrup Cay requires tenders, so get to the Outrigger Lounge early in the morning so that you can be among the first on the island. The private island is in the midst of undergoing improvements for expanded offerings with a completion date of September 2017. A new complimentary dining venue, Abaco Taco, features chicken, steak, and fish tacos. By the way, the open bar extends to the different bars on the island as well. The free frozen drinks make relaxing on the beach that much more enjoyable.
You only live once!
If you do anything, make sure to grab a few drinks at two of the noteworthy bars while in Havana. Near the Capitol building is El Floridita Bar, which was frequented by Ernest Hemingway back in his day and who knew a thing or two about drinking. The place is known for the “best daiquiri in the world.” About eight blocks away is La Bodeguita Del Medio, an intimate joint serving up their signature mojitos. Drinks from these two Cuban landmarks are all but mandatory.
We recommend getting the Norwegian Cruise Line specialty dining package. For the most part, the package entitles guests to all the starters and desserts they want and one entrée of your choice. We found it to be a great value and pre-purchasing this option before the cruise saves you even more money.
Norwegian guests like to freestyle. Casual attire is allowed in most restaurants. Dinner at Le Bistro and Cagney’s Steakhouse are the only exceptions, where resort casual is expected. During our overnight in Havana, it was the line’s “dress up or not night,” but we did not see many people dressed for the event. During the day on board, bathing suits, shorts, and T-shirts are the norm. While in Cuba, we suggest packing some walking shoes, a day-pack complete with plenty of water, a hat -- and a sense of adventure.
Tips & gratuities
Given the all-inclusive nature of Norwegian Sky, gratuities are steep. Starting in May, gratuities rose to $18.99 per person per day for standard cabins, and $21.99 for suites. While that's a bit high, we felt the service was solid, with staff being attentive and friendly at all times. As usual, we did provide additional tips to our servers at the specialty restaurants (even though a service charge is included in the purchasing price of the dining package) as well as our stateroom attendant, who somehow managed to always make up our room even though we only saw him once all cruise.
On our Cuba sailing, passengers consisted of mostly American (and a few Canadian) adults traveling as couples or in groups. Travelers of all ages were on board, but there were very few children. Most cruisers were on board to experience Cuba. Cruisers on NCL tend to be a bit more laid back but still amicable. Unlike other short cruises we have taken, we did not find the ship to have as much of a “party” atmosphere as we expected.
Need to know
Mainstream cruise lines have just started cruising to Cuba. There are some additional paperwork and documents that you'll need, including a visa and travel affidavit stating you are visiting for the “people to people” experiences. You can do all this through the cruise line for an additional fee of $75 per person.
During our trip, there was never an issue leaving the ship or going through Customs. You will need your passport (and cruise key card) while in Cuba. Make sure to have a back-up form of ID, as well as copies of your passport back on the ship.
Last, you will need to exchange money in Cuba, as the currency is not allowed to leave the island. Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) are the form of currency you will need while on the island. There is a 10 percent charge for converting US dollars as well as a 3 percent conversion fee. While you can try to avoid this penalty by using euros or other currencies, we found that the extra legwork wasn't worth it. We were able to get about $87 CUC for every $100 USD at the money exchange center located in the cruise terminal.
In January 2017 Norwegian Sky underwent a short dry dock for technical work and upgrades to some public spaces. Full enhancements of the ship for Norwegian Edge upgrades will occur at a later date.
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Top highlights on this ship
- Guest celebrity DJs spin till the late hours!
- At the Longboard Bar you'll find live broadcasts of sporting events
- Take your clubs out for a drive at one of two Golf Driving Nets onboard
- Stay overnight on the ship during a two-day stay in Cuba.