NORWEGIAN SKY IN RETROSPECT

When she entered service in the late summer of 1999, the Norwegian Sky was the first purpose built mega ship for Norwegian Cruise Line, and she created quite a stir. At 77,000 tons, the stunningly beautiful ship soon became a popular staple on the week long Caribbean cruise circuit out of Miami.

But she had actually been ordered by Costa Cruises as the Costa Olympia, a sister ship for the Italian line’s hugely successful Costa Victoria. Financial problems at the German shipyard caused Costa to abandon the project and, to the surprise of many, the incomplete hull was purchased by Norwegian Cruise Line instead.

After some radical redesign that included the addition of two decks of balcony cabins, the newly renamed Norwegian Sky entered service in August 1999, offering a few sailings in northern Europe, before crossing the Atlantic to take up Caribbean station in Miami.

From here, she operated a series of alternating, seven night cruises to the western and eastern Caribbean. The Norwegian Sky proved so popular that the company ordered a pair of near identical sister ships, though only one- the current Norwegian Sun – was actually built.

The two sister ships remain among the most beautiful cruise ships at sea, with proud, gracefully raked bows and a single funnel. The upper decks remain some of the most expansive and best laid out of any ships sailing anywhere today. Both have proved to be solidly, consistently successful ships.

In 2004, the Norwegian Sky was hurriedly transferred to the new NCL Hawaii brand after the newly wrought Pride Of America suffered a major flooding at her fitting out dock in Germany. Rushed around to San Francisco, the ship was given a heavy, Polynesian style make over and renamed as the Pride Of Aloha.

From Honolulu, she spent four years sailing around the waters of Hawaii, before a long overdue scaling back of the overly ambitious Hawaiian cruise project saw the ship return to Miami in 2008.

An intended sale to the Spanish cruise operator, Pullmantur, never materialised. Instead, she resumed her former name of Norwegian Sky and re-entered service for Norwegian out of Miami.

She remains in service to this day, sailing on three and four night cruises to the Bahamas each week. Three night voyages leave on a Friday and call at Nassau, as well as the company’s ‘private island’ of Great Stirrup Cay.

Her four night Monday sailings add Freeport in the Bahamas to the same mix. And, with her Polynesian décor left largely intact, the Norwegian Sky is an intriguing, wonderfully quirky contrast to any of the other mega ships sailing from the Florida port.

With a full range of Freestyle Dining options on board, the Norwegian Sky is perfect for a quick, invigorating getaway. In some ways, it really is a shame that Norwegian does not send the ship on more varied routes occasionally. She would be absolutely perfect on a five night itinerary to Cozumel and Grand Cayman, for example; very similar to the voyages once offered from Miami on board the Norwegian Jewel.

For now, the stalwart Norwegian Sky remains on station in Miami, carrying over four thousand passengers each week on a series of sunny, fun fuelled jaunts to the Bahamas. I hope she continues sailing for Norwegian for a great many years.

Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

CHEERS! NORWEGIAN OFFERS FIRST ‘ALL INCLUSIVE’ SHIP FOR 2016

As of January 2016, Norwegian Cruise Line will be dipping a little toe in the all inclusive pool.

Year round, dedicated Bahamas mainstay, Norwegian Sky, will be going all inclusive on the drinks front at least. The 78,000 ton, 1999 built ship will now include unlimited premium spirits, cocktails, bottled or draft beer up to the value of $11, plus wine by the glass for guests aged 21 and upwards. Guests aged from 3 to 20 will be offered unlimited free sodas and soft drinks.

Interestingly, the offer also applies to all drinks consumed on Great Stirrup Cay as well. The port of call is offered on both weekly itineraries offered by the ship.

Norwegian Sky was the first, purpose built mega ship for the company back in 1999. Originally ordered for Costa Cruises, she was purchased on the slipways and completed for Norwegian. A near sister, the 2001 built Norwegian Sun, spends summers in Alaska, and winters in Mexico and around South America.

At present, the ship sails a well practised routine of three and four night cruises, round trip from Miami, each week. Three night cruises sail each Friday, and call in at both Nassau and the ‘private’ island of Great Stirrup Cay. The four night sailings on Monday add Freeport on Grand Bahama Island to the three night roster.

Norwegian Sky offers the most comprehensive range of dining options of any ship sailing on the short Bahamas circuit out of Miami- she was, in fact, the first to introduce the popular Freestyle Dining  concept- and she also offers the largest number of standard balcony cabins of any ship sailing from Miami.

This looks very much like a test pad for the potential launch of ‘all inclusive’ drinks across the Norwegian fleet. No doubt, the company will be carefully monitoring the reactions to this new venture, perhaps the biggest thus far of the post-Sheehan era at the company.

Interesting times, indeed. As ever, stay tuned.

The Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

The Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

AN AFTERNOON AT GREAT STIRRUP CAY, BAHAMAS

Great Stirrup Cay has been the ‘private island’ for passengers of Norwegian Cruise Line since 1977. A novel idea at the time, it allowed passengers to disembark at an exclusive little hideaway where they would be required to do nothing more strenuous than kick back and chill out for one glorious day.

I first went there in 1981, aboard the fabulous, unforgettable Norway, and fell in love with ‘GSC’ at once. I swore then to return.

It took me until 2010, but return I did. These photos, taken over the course of a great weekend cruise aboard the Norwegian Sky, showcase this still beautiful ‘Island of Dreams’. Enjoy!

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FLORIDA SHORTS: THREE AND FOUR DAY WINTER CRUISES FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE

Cut loose on a weekend break to the balmy Bahamas

Cut loose on a weekend break to the balmy Bahamas

if you happen to have the great good fortune to be spending some time over winter in sunny Florida, or even if you happen to be domiciled there, there’s a whole conga line of short, three and four day cruise options that you can add on or indulge in while you’re there.

There’s no shortage of advantages to these nifty little breaks; they are a welcome chance to indulge in some warm sea breezes, with a side order of quality on board pampering and, hopefully, some hugely enjoyable wining and dining. En route you’ll be diverted by a couple of port stops. These destinations- typically Nassau, Cozumel and Key West, are mainly about shopping, sunbathing and time out in the sun (though the chance to see the Mayan ruins at Cozumel should not be missed).

The main ports for most sailings are, inevitably, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral, but Carnival also offers Florida sailings from some less obvious ports. From Jacksonville, the Fascination sails on four night itineraries to both Nassau and Freeport. This ship, one of the original Fantasy class, is one of the best party ships anywhere on the short cruise circuit, and it is brimming with bars, restaurants, show lounges and sun decks.

Sister ship, Ecstasy, offers an identical. four night cruise, starting from Port Canaveral. Another sibling, the Sensation, also offers this cruise from Port Canaveral, as well as a shorter, three night run that overnights in Nassau, and then spends a day at sea.

Royal Caribbean also offers four night Port Canaveral departures, on the recently refurbished Enchantment of The Seas. This beautiful ship runs an itinerary that takes in both Nassau, and the line’s ‘private island’ of Coco Cay. There’s also a shorter, very similar three night itinerary available on the same ship.

Sailing to the sun, Carnival style

Sailing to the sun, Carnival style

From Miami, another of Carnival’s Fantasy class sisters offers three and four day cruises. The Imagination sails for an overnight stay in Nassau on the three night sailings, And the Imagination also runs a more interesting, four night itinerary that takes in both Key West and Cozumel, in the Caribbean proper.

Also from Miami, Royal Caribbean sails the veteran Majesty of The Seas on a three night run that takes in Nassau and Coco Cay. The four night cruise features both the three day ports, plus a run down to Key West in addition.

From Miami, Norwegian Cruise Line also sails the sublime Norwegian Sky on a three night itinerary that takes in both Nassau and the company’s own island, the recently  redeveloped Great Stirrup Cay. A four night jaunt adds a call at Grand Bahama Island into the mix.

Any of these ships listed above will provide you will all the fun, facilities, comfort and frills for an invigorating few days away, and at a cost that won’t break the bank. In general, three night sailings depart on Fridays, and four nighters on a Monday.

And if you really want some enjoyable quality time, then why bother to get off the ship at all? Few things beat the sheer enjoyment of watching your fellow passengers pour ashore in a human tidal wave, while you just kick back and enjoy the space and fun on your own ‘private yacht’?

Make winter history...

Make winter history…

These trips do pass at a frantic rate of knots, and nobody could ever seriously call them a relaxing break (unless you splash out for a suite, or just spend all your time in the spa, that is), But they are something a little different, and can easily be combined with, say, Walt Disney World, a stay in Miami, or even time on the west coast at Clearwater Beach.

However you mix it up, just get out there and enjoy…..

A NORWEGIAN ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW’- SHIPS YOU LOVED AND THOUGHT YOU’D LOST (Updated)

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

In the legion of seemingly lost and vanished ships, few companies can equal the turnover of Norwegian Cruise Line. And yet, again, you would be surprised how many of their smaller, mid sized ships still survive to this day, and exactly what they are up to now.

So, here we go; a Norwegian edition of ‘where are they now’. If an old particular favourite isn’t listed, then apologies in advance, but the likelihood is that the ship in question has been scrapped. Sorry.

When Knut Kloster started his barnstorming, revolutionary Caribbean cruise line in 1968, it was known simply as Norwegian Caribbean Line, or NCL. Kloster fired the starting gun with a quartet of white hulled, racy little dream boats that were space age at the time. And, incredibly, some of these are still doing the rounds today.

His funky little Sunward II actually began life sailing for Cunard, as the Cunard Adventurer. Bought by Norwegian in 1977, the Sunward II spent many years on the short, three and four day cruise runs from Miami to Nassau, and the company’s private island of Great Stirrup Cay.

She’s still in service with Louis Cruises, as the Coral, but will be renamed as Louis Rhea next year for a full programme of Mediterranean cruises. Externally, she’s almost as she was in her Norwegian days.

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Several of her fleet mates have made the trek over to Louis Cruises, to such an extent that the Louis fleet is almost an NCL Part Two. The Starward, built in 1968, is still sailing as the Orient Queen. Shortly due to be renamed Louis Aura, the veteran ship is off to Brazil over the winter to operate a series of three to seven night cruises for a local tour operator.

Louis also has the Louis Cristal, at one time the Leeward. She was the successor to the Sunward II on the short cruises from Miami and now, by a supreme irony, she is part of the same fleet. This winter, she is off to operate a series of ground breaking Caribbean cruises from Havana, in Cuba, under charter to a Canadian tour operator.

Last for now in the Louis beauty pageant is the Thomson Majesty, chartered by the UK based Thomson Cruises, but still owned by Louis. The ship, fondly remembered by many as the Norwegian Majesty, sailed for many years on the Boston to Bermuda run, and she also offered winter cruises out of Charleston. Like her fleet mates, she is essentially unchanged from her Norwegian days.

The other great beneficiary of old Norwegian Cruise Line tonnage has been parent company, Star Cruises. Back in the early nineties, Norwegian built a pair of more or less identical sisters, the Dreamward and the Windward (they were nicknamed ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’ by industry wags). Later, after being lengthened, these two ships were restyled as Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind, respectively.

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Norwegian Wind was transferred to Star Cruises and renamed Superstar Aquarius. Slated to go to Louis, Norwegian Dream was declined, and spent five years in warm lay up, before finally re-entering service for Star Cruises this year as the Superstar Gemini.

Another Norwegian stalwart found her way to an unlikely new life with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Their feisty little Braemar actually spent a long period as the Norwegian Dynasty, a ship that sailed summer itineraries in Alaska, and winter Caribbean cruises.

And the current flagship of the Fred. Olsen fleet is yet another ex-Norwegian stalwart. Although originally built in 1988 for Royal Cruise Line as the stunning Crown Odyssey, Balmoral spent two full decades as part of the extended Norwegian ‘family’, including two spells with the now defunct Orient Lines. Stretched during the course of her 2008 conversion, many of her interiors are still instantly recognisable from her early days.

So, there you go. And if some of your fondly remembered favourites are in this list, now you know where they are. And if you’re hankering to renew old acquaintances, now you have what amounts to an absolutely perfect excuse. Have fun, and happy sailing.