Every once in a while, parents need to have some adult time. Sometimes we get really lucky and are able to sneak away for a whole grown-up weekend getaway! Earlier this year, we got to do just that, leaving Mack at home with her grandparents (thanks, Oma and Opa!) for a whole 67 hours of fun and relaxation.
If you’ve never been on one of these weekend cruises, they are a lot of fun, especially if you like to drink. I’m going to share a rundown of our weekend with you over the next 3,000 words or so and provide insights into the Norwegian Sky and the NCL weekend cruise to Nassau.
While a little longer than our usual Friday – Sunday getaways, this short cruise by Norwegian Cruise Line is the perfect weekend getaway for us South Floridians who can’t take off a week at a time or during the workweek. All aboard is around 4 pm and the ship departs from Miami at 5 pm, so you’re within cellphone reach until the workday is over. The route then takes you for a day stop in Nassau, Bahamas, and on to NCL’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay. Then you’re back to port bright and early Monday morning without really missing a thing.
Watch our video recap of our Norwegian Sky cruise here:
Can’t see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.
On your marks…. get set…..GO!
After dropping Mack off for her weekend of fun with Oma and Opa, we set off towards the Miami Cruise Terminal. The drive from Naples couldn’t be easier and just takes a little over two hours from our home in Naples.
You really feel the excitement of the vacation heating up once you round the parking garages for the cruise terminal and come face to face with the full glory of the Norwegian Sky and its colorful hull.
Cruise Insider Tip #1: When you arrive at the terminal, do yourself a favor and drop off your luggage at the curb. It’s very simple and you really don’t want to lug it over from the garage. Just pull up to the curb, pop open the trunk, and give your bags to the porter. Make sure you have labeled all of your bags with the luggage tags provided by NCL so that your bags will easily find their way to your cabin (you’ll need to print them along with your e-documents before you leave home)
After dropping off our luggage, we parked the car in the nearby garage and walked over to the terminal. After bag screening and the queue-for-a-counter process (about 15 minutes this day) we were at the counter checking in.
Cruise Insider Tip #2: Loyalty has its privileges when cruising, so as you cruise more often with NCL, you can eventually get priority check-in (currently Latitudes level Silver and above) which can save you a ton of time.
As with most cruise ships, the check-in is a simple procedure where your ID is checked, you get your photos taken for onboard identification, a credit card will be put on your file and you get your key to happiness for the duration of the cruise: your key card. You will never want to leave your cabin without it, especially on the Sky!
Now you’re ready to board!! Wooohoooo!
Exploring the Ship
When you first get on the ship, your cabin may not yet be ready for you to hang out in. Your luggage will definitely not be there until a few hours later in the afternoon (which is why you should always bring a carry on – see the Top 10 Tips for Cruising on the Sky list coming out in a few days). But you can still stop by to find out where your room is and drop things you’ve been carrying. You may also get to meet your room steward who is probably busily cleaning rooms along the hall.
We chose an oceanview mid-ship cabin for our trip on the Sky. While we meanwhile learned that a balcony is a nice thing to have on longer trips, you are not spending that much time in the cabin over the weekend to justify the extra expense. We’ve never stayed in the inside cabins, but the thought of not having any natural daylight for a few days just seems a little weird and unsettling to me. I don’t imagine we’ll be trying them anytime soon even though it’s the cheapest option for cruising.
The basic inside of the Norwegian Sky cabin is fairly spacious for two, but gets a bit more cramped when you’re sharing with a third. Cleaning up after yourself is also a major must, otherwise everything gets a bit claustrophobic. We have heard from people larger than us that the showers are a bit tight, but we have never had a problem.
Basically, you can expect the standard hotel style amenities: a bed, a sofa which turns into a bed, a small desk, TV, mini bar (not included in the open bar package), a small safe just about big enough to lock our laptops and expensive camera stuff, and various storage compartments for your clothing. But it’s still a cruise ship so space is optimized and compact.
After our quick room pitstop, we did what anyone would do who is going on an “Open Bar” weekend cruise: We headed to the bar on the back of deck 11, a quiet spot overlooking the Great Outdoors Cafe, and enjoyed our first Mango Meltdown of the cruise.
People watching around deck, we noticed how many bachelorette parties and college sororities were on board. We briefly played with an idea for a new drinking game called “Take a shot anytime anyone takes a selfie.” But given the aforementioned groups, we wouldn’t have lasted long at that game because we’d be drunk by 6:30 pm.
Cruise Insider Tip #3: Don’t overdo the alcohol on your first night, especially on the Sky. It’s an all you can drink package and we all end up there eventually, but the first night can get a bit choppy in the Florida Straights and it’s not a pretty picture.
After another adult libation (or maybe two) we set out to explore the ship. This was our third trip on the Norwegian Sky and we feel like we know every nook and cranny of the ship by now. Yet it’s always nice to kind of wander around the ship the very first day for some primo people watching and to get away from some of the hustle and bustle.
Evening 1 – New Friends
Following the obligatory muster drill (where I got the stink eye from the Crewperson in charge…. twice… and it wasn’t even me who was talking) we went back upstairs to grab some drinks and then to the front of the boat to capture some time-lapse footage of the ship leaving Miami. No matter how often we go on cruises, setting sail through the Port of Miami is super special. Maybe it’s the memories of heading over for a night of partying on South Beach during our college days triggered by the views of MacArthur Causeway and the southern tip of South Beach.
We’ve gotten used to the fact that there is always an onlooker or two when you set up a GoPro mount for a timelapse or shoot drone footage. It’s always a great way to get a conversation started. (Drones are a BIG No No on Cruise Ships btw – no, we didn’t try it but they will hold them if you bring them onboard.) A lovely international couple living in Miami (we’ll call them C and K) started asking a few questions and it turns out that C is somewhat of a camera and drone fanatic himself. We ended up talking on deck for most of the early evening with them, and we found we had a lot in common, so we made plans to grab dinner together too.
Cruise Insider Tip #4: Part of the beauty of NCL’s freestyle dining is that you can dine when you want, with whomever you choose. Only in the specialty restaurants are reservations necessary. On the Norwegian Sky, you can choose from Crossings or the Palace main dining rooms.
After freshening up and getting fancy in our respective cabins, we met and chose Crossings for dinner. It’s located at the back of the ship on deck 5 with a nice ambiance. Both main dining rooms have a well-rounded selection of food and we usually have great service. One of my personal menu favorites (that appears to be a staple in most of the main dining rooms on NCL) is the Salmon Tartar appetizer.
After a few glasses of bubbly (gotta love this “open bar” cruising) and a few very unsuccessful hands at the roulette table, it was time to return to our cabin for a bit of rest. I always find the first day aboard a cruise very exhausting. First the actual part of getting on the ship, but even more so the afternoon of just milling around, trying to get settled in.
Starting the day off bright and early, we went down to the dining room for a delicious sitdown breakfast. Most people seem to opt for the convenience of heading up to the buffet for a quick breakfast, but we aren’t huge fans of that. Mostly because there are so many delicious things on display, we have a tendency to overeat. Plus, it’s nice to be served by someone, especially if you are feeling a bit sluggish from too much, erm….sun…. the day before.
This was our first time in Nassau, Bahamas, all by ourselves – without Mack or friends/family – so we decided to do what we like to do best: explore by foot. We filled our water bottles, packed our camera bags and headed out to act like tourists.
Nassau isn’t all that big and you can see most of the sights including Fort Fincastle within just a few hours of walking and we did a lot of exploring in the morning.
We originally intended to head back to the ship after our tour to grab our towels and beach stuff for a quick stop by Junkanoo Beach (around the corner from the Cruise Terminal)…but the sweet cold air from the AC was just too tempting, so we stayed on board to grab some lunch and pool time.
Lunch/snack time is the only time we head up to the buffet, known as the Garden Cafe on NCL ships. The choices are pretty amazing and you can find anything from Chinese to burgers and everything in between. If you head all the way to the back of the ship, there is a dining patio for outdoor dining with some pretty spectacular views of the Island.
Midship on the top deck, the Sky has a large sundeck area which houses the pools and hot tubs. It is a great place to relax on port days when most passengers are off the ship and a lounge chair is easy to secure. The nice thing here is the swift bar service and the waiters are constantly circling, happy to bring you any frozen concoction or other libation you might be craving. The sun is strong, so don’t forget the sunscreen! We may have gotten a bit crispy, even though we enjoy the Florida sun year round.
Following some downtime, we found out that the ship would remain in Nassau overnight and not go to the private island because of some bad weather in the region. We were actually quite excited about that. Great Stirrup Cay is nice, but living in Florida where we have sand and beaches at our fingertips all the time, it’s not all that special. For a brief moment we considered heading off the ship to test out the Nassau nightlife and restaurant scene, but decided to stay frugal – after all, we had open bar and great food included in the price of the cruise.
After getting cleaned up and pretty, we went back down to the main dining room for a romantic dinner and maybe a glass of or two of our favorite Chardonnay served on Norwegian Cruise Line, the Meridian Chardonnay from California. As always, the dinner was outstanding. Well fed and a bit tipsy, we ventured on to find some trouble to get into.
The entertainment on most of NCL’s cruise ships is pretty spot on and one thing we always try to do is catch a comedy show. The comedians are usually quite entertaining and often weave jokes about the cruise into their routine which is pretty hilarious. The shows are definitely not little-kid-friendly but as usual we walked out with tears of laughter from this show. Having had a great start into the evening, we were ready to continue our shenanigans. The nice thing, whatever you are in the mood for, you can find it on these ships. From mild to wild there always seems to be something to do.
One of the things you will find on pretty much every NCL cruise is a “White Party” (on some ships it’s the GLOW Party – which is essentially the same thing, just fluorescent themed instead of white). It’s pretty neat seeing everyone dressed up in white and the parties are a lot of fun. You can expect to mostly hear some pop-EDM type of music and the alcohol flows pretty freely.
Day 3 – Still in Nassau
Sleeping off the fun of the night before a bit, we met up at the main dining room for breakfast with our new friends. Eggs Benedict was originally invented as a hangover breakfast and they definitely hit the spot this Sunday morning. With another day to spend in Nassau instead of at Norwegian Cruise Line’s private Island, Great Stirrup Cay, we started making plans to hang out by a local beach for the day.
Well fed and beach bags in hand, we took off to Junkanoo Beach. This beach is most likely not going to win the awards for the nicest beach in the Bahamas, but it has many attributes that make it one of our faves every time we are in Nassau. It’s only about 10 minutes walk from the cruise terminal, has crystal clear water with some decent snorkeling around the sea walls and has magnificent views over the cruise ship port.
There is definitely no shortage of watering holes along the way, either. Unfortunately one of our favorites, the Bikini Tiki, was under construction while we were there. So we lounged on the beach for little while and relaxed.
With enough sun on our bodies, we strolled back to the dock area to stop at Senior Frogs (a staple in every cruise port) for a drink or two. Laughing the afternoon away with our new friends, Stefan started getting a bit uneasy about the time. For some reason, nobody glanced at the Freestyle Daily cruise agenda about what time we needed to be back on board.
Cruise Insider Tip #5: Always check your Freestyle Daily so you know when you need to be back on board. Getting stranded on an island is not a fun way to spend half of your vacation.
Luckily the German in Stefan makes him pretty good with times and upon some urging, we all followed his advice to head back to the boat quickly. It was a good thing too, because shortly after we boarded the ship, we were already off sailing away back towards home in Florida.
To round off the weekend, we enjoyed yet another amazing meal at the main dining room. The menus change quite a bit from night-to-night, so there are always plenty of delicious choices to be had.
Feeling happy and lubricated we returned to some of our favorite spots on the boat, catching some outstanding live band accompanied karaoke performances and a few snippets of other shows as well.
End of the Line
After a super fun cruise, the Norwegian Sky reached Miami bright and early on Monday morning. it’s just in time to respond to any emails that may have gone unanswered late Friday afternoon without anyone knowing you played hooky over the weekend.
Check out from cruise ships is always somewhat of a hectic affair, but after five cruises we seem to have our morning routine for debarkation day down pat. Leaving our “ready to roll” luggage in our cabin, we took a quick trip to the buffet for some morning nourishment and then quickly darted back to our room to grab our luggage. That way we can hit the immigration line before the masses show up.
We were out fairly quickly and our parking experience was lucky too. The parking garage seemed to have a problem with their ticket system (a regular occurrence it appears). Normally you just pay at the machine if the kiosks refuse to read your ticket. This time around though, it appears that even the machines at the guard house had trouble and we were waved through the open gate…. SCORE!
We drove back to Naples and “real life” once again. But we knew it wouldn’t be long before we were back on another cruise, having more fun.
Visit again in a few days to read our Top 10 Tips Learned on the Norwegian Sky. Have you been on the Sky? How as your experience?