This sailing with my wife Kayla and father-in-law Cliff was the end of a saga that began in August 2018 and wrapped up in April 2022 with a successful voyage on Celebrity Edge.
I had been excited to sail an Edge-class ship since seeing one in person in December 2018, but was hoping for an experience that wasn’t as full of upsell attempts as our Alaskan cruise on Infinity. With Edge, Celebrity has replicated things we like about Norwegian Cruise Line, brought forward differences we appreciated from Infinity, but still had a few odd, unexpected, traditional, or negative elements.
Celebrity’s All Included offers, great complimentary food options, ships with unique features and decent technology will be thoughtful considerations when booking a future cruise. While I expect Norwegian will still be our primary choice for sailing, it certainly helps to know what else is out there. Celebrity is a solid backup plan if NCL devalues their overall product too much for us as customers.
Join me for my first-ever solo sailing and first time on MSC – probably the most reasonably priced and best overall value cruise I’ve taken so far. It’s certainly a cruise line with notable quirks, but they’re definitely a top contender for a future solo trip or family vacation.
Don’t believe everything on the Internet you might hear about MSC; I definitely wish my 4-day cruise on Meraviglia had been longer, and for the price it couldn’t be beat.
The opportunity to sail on a Breakaway Plus class ship with “all 5 perks” (feat. Premium Beverage Package) presented itself, and I found it hard to decline. So let’s take a bit of an alcohol-clouded, specialty-dining fuelled, Vibe pass-imbued look at a week on the “westernized” NCL Joy – with day-to-day parenting responsibilities temporarily relieved by doting grandparents.
(This post is being published over two years after the sailing, but I mainly wanted to finish it as a record of our trip – as well as to document one of the last cruises that sailed from the US in 2020 before the pandemic shutdown.)
I started writing this post in early January 2020 to extensively document our pre-cruise travel experience. After we returned home in February, I spent a few late nights writing with the goal of getting it published prior to our March 1-8, 2020 sailing on Norwegian Joy (yes, we had two cruises just over a month apart.) As we got to the end of February, I had a large chunk written and organized, but didn’t quite get it finished before we sailed again.
Returning to Canada from Los Angeles and our cruise on Joy, we were quickly thrust into a world where one night you’re out having wings with friends – and the next day you can’t find toilet paper (for bewildering reasons) and can only see loved ones through Zoom calls.
Things have improved slightly since then but I’m certainly sick of these “unprecedented times.” The cold yet carefree days of January seem like they were years ago. Much of what I’ve written here will no longer be relevant as cruises resume, but it seems like a shame to let this languish as a draft. For those of you continuing to read, I hope that it reminds you of better times on the ocean, and provides some insight into how we traveled with twin infants when they were under a year old.
We eventually settled on a 5-day February 2019 voyage that met both timing and budget requirements, and surrounded it by two days in Miami – one day before and one after the cruise.
Sky also offered a unique opportunity to compare our recent experiences with the newfangled, race-track-equipped Bliss. The Sky is one of Norwegian’s oldest ships in service – possibly the oldest depending on how you calculate Spirit’s age. Fortunately for us, our sailing was the second to happen after a dry dock from January 22 to February 7, which meant that a good portion of the ship would be newly refurbished and ready for us to enjoy.
The age and smaller size of the ship did not diminish our enjoyment, and we had a number of “Vacation Hero” experiences where staff and crew went above and beyond to make things stress-free and provide excellent service. It’s a tough decision as to whether this takes the title for “best cruise” for me, since other NCL cruises we’ve taken have their unique high points. If you’re debating Sky, though, assume that any review prior to February 2019 is prior to refurbishment, and give this ship a fair chance. My only regret is that we didn’t have a longer cruise.
As summer started disappearing in Southwestern Ontario, Kayla and I began to pine for another week on the ocean featuring better temperatures. With some finagling of work schedules and liberal use of credit card travel points, we secured an inside cabin on the new Norwegian Bliss for the week before Christmas.
This was our fifth NCL cruise, and the combination of ship and staff made it arguably the best sailing we’ve been on. We’ve gotten into a good position with pre-trip planning and now have a decent handle on Norwegian’s processes and amenities. Bliss is a decent refinement of the Breakaway class, so it was fairly easy to navigate having been on similar ships.
After finally publishing the 11,000-word epic that was the NCL Getaway review, I found there was far too much content for friends, well-wishers and Reddit stalkers to tolerate, even when split into seven parts. Perhaps I should have called it – BuzzFeed clickbait style – “7 Weird Things You Must Know About Cruising Or You’ll Fall Off The Ship!” Of course, then I’d have to pad the content with ads and create a quiz to find out which ship best represents you.
This review of our cruise on Celebrity Infinity to Alaska is about half the size, and will involve a number of comparisons between Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises (since those are the two lines we’ve sailed on so far.) I’m definitely glad we did the cruise with Celebrity, even at the least so I have a better idea of a premiumRCCL product, as well as an understanding of what older, slightly smaller “hardware” has to offer.
I would likely sail Celebrity again if the right opportunity presented itself, but with a few changes based on this experience. My wife Kayla was a bit more negative on Infinity, mainly due to the constant upsell of specialty dining.
Our last full day was at sea, involving a trip to the buffet for both breakfast and lunch. Again, there was nothing exceptional to point out at either meal, but both of us didn’t have any complaints about the food. We always seem to find quite a few things we like and the buffet has no shortage of options. It seemed like the bar stock at the Garden Cafe had deteriorated by lunchtime as there was a much more limited selection of beer available. Other bars didn’t seem to have the same issue throughout the day but it was a noticeable change upstairs, possibly indicating the impending end of the trip.
In the early afternoon we did a circuit of the Waterfront on deck 8, finding the Sugarcane Mojito Bar to be too windy, and the Sunset Bar to be less of a sunset and more of an oven-like heat and light experience. Kayla went to try and find a seat with a happy medium between the two extremes, while I milled around the Sunset Bar. Another indicator that the cruise was wrapping up was that the bartenders were actively soliciting people to fill out comment cards.
One of our more in-depth excursions this trip was to take a fishing charter while in Cozumel. We’d done some research and settled on Cozumel Charters, selecting a 4-hour bottom fishing tour on an economy-class boat good for up to 4 people. We picked the bottom fishing option over deep-sea fishing, again mainly due to online reviews claiming that there was a higher likelihood of catching something. I am pleased to report that the collective knowledge of the Internet did not disappoint and we had a great time.
After submitting our details and 30% deposit by credit card, we got a confirmation email shortly afterward, containing a list of detailed instructions including where to meet the charter, what to bring, keeping the fish (they’re yours) and where to get them cooked if you’d like to eat your catch. There was also a handy PDF acting as confirmation and an invoice. The rest of the payment is made in USD at the port when you get picked up.
Our instructions were to take a taxi to Puerto Abrigo after disembarking the ship. There’s a bit of up the stairs, dodging the shops, and down the stairs to get to the taxi pickup at the port, but the first person who asked if us if we needed a cab was in fact a legitimate port representative. The 10-minute ride there cost $10 US plus tip; there is a whole conversion racket and they don’t take credit cards, so you might do better with pesos if you already have them. As of May 2018, apparently the standard rate was $15 US so I don’t feel like we did too badly.