Five years ago we sailed on the Pearl from Miami to Western Caribbean. Two years ago we were upgraded on Spirit to a $5k/person suite. How can one top that? Could we possibly enjoy this trip anywhere near as much?
Embarkation was pretty good. We were late because I went to the wrong pier. I had no luggage tags because I had changed rooms just before the weekend. No problem. They printed tags for me, and the line moved briskly. Our luggage showed up right after the life-boat drill. Tip: Always bring a carry-on bag with essentials [as we did].
Our state room was exactly what we expected. We had packed wisely [prepared to wear everything a few times, and with shoes for differing occasions]. One suitcase fit in the other, and that one in the back of the closet. Lots of room for unpacked stuff. We laughed about missing the hot tub, but we never felt cramped.
We did our customary walk-about. A few things had changed, but overall we knew the boat. I noted new wooden(?) steps at the sundeck. The ship appeared to be well-maintained. Update from wife: She reminded me how on of the steps on the forward stairwell [we think at deck 10]seems to be in need of repair.
Regarding shows: We rarely attend these. We went to the Elton John tribute and the 2nd City comedy show. Most of the sketches we had seen on the Spirit two years ago. (The blow-up doll skit is still superb) The Elton John tribute was good. The sound system exhibited distortion each time.
Regarding meals: As you know some love NCL food and others don't. We ate at two specialty restaurants one-time each: Le Bistro and LaCucina. The food was great. We mainly ate at Summer Palace and Indigo. Service overall was very good. I like the food. The wine list had changed in two years: I saw lower prices, but felt no drop in quality. Great value.
Special note re desserts: Several times my ice cream arrived melted after a long wait. I dropped a note to the hotel director. The next morning the executive chef phoned me. We had a great talk. They take this stuff seriously. At end of our talk, he told me to try the German-themed lunch at the Great Outdoors. I know German food, so I figured I'd put him to the test. Wow. It was great. I wrote another note, this time praising the event. That night the chef sent us chocolate-covered strawberries.
Regarding fitness: You can stay fit on a cruise.
My wife and I generally avoided the Garden Cafe and frequented the Summer Palace or Indigo, because we wanted portion control. We worked out at the gym 5 of 7 days. It's a very good gym, and you feel great later. We also avoided the elevators. We walked up & down, and around the ship every day.I recommend you do the same. Tip: Bring light-weight ear-buds so you can actually listen to the TV's while you work out.
Regarding auctions: Attend for fun purposes only. They are really fun. Two years ago when in a suite and going to all the VIP events, I got caught up in the auction stuff. Ka-ching! Cost me a lot of money. I made the same mistake this time. I love animation cells. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Do as I say, not as I did.
Regarding excursions: My wife had a leg injury a few weeks before the cruise, so we booked only level-1 outings. Beware: Alaska outings can be very expensive. You're gonna pay around $50pp for a basic ride around town.
We were fortunate that our excursions had small groups. I recommend the outings we booked: Mendenhall Glacier and the Gardens (Juneau); Train ride to Fraser and suspension bridge (Skagway);the Bight Totem Park (Ketchikan); Craigdarroch Castle (Victoria). At Victoria, if you intend to just see the castle and then go downtown, consider just getting a taxi for your small group. Might be much cheaper.
The tour guides are what really made the excursions. They were all funny, or not (depending on what you think of the puns and jokes). They all pointed out wildlife.
Re the totem park: There's a large working area/building that was not open to the public. After our group split up, I looked in a window and saw totems under construction. I managed to get a decent photo through the window. As far as I know, no one else did that. So, be sure to check out that 'working area'. You might get something no one else sees.
Regarding disembarking for excursions: The lines moved briskly, but the P-A announcements to disembark came way too late. Either get near the disembarkation point very early, or wait for the rush to pass. Each town was well organized on the piers to direct people to the proper tour.
Regarding Glacier Bay: Awesome. Spring was late this year, and the bay had many, many, small icebergs due to glacial calving (no danger to the ship}. Park rangers came on board and provided insights, history, and tips for viewing. An excursion without having to leave the ship.
Tip: Don't hog one spot. Do as the rangers say---keep moving around. You'll see so much more.
Regarding photo night: On Monday night, we stood in line at the Crystal Atrium for a long time. No signs, no order. Some people just left. Photographers actually competed for your attention. It was bad. Maybe it improved later in the week. It was handled much better on the Spirit two years ago. Gossip/hearsay: A photographer blamed the photo mgr, and said he was glad the mgr was soon to leave. That's the only dissatisfaction I've ever heard an employee or contractor express on an NCL ship.
VERY IMPORTANT: Bring binoculars. I actually bought a very good pair on the boat. I got tired of asking my wife if I could borrow the one we brought. Latitude members get a discount!
Animals: We saw a brown bear/grizzly while on deck in Glacier Bay; we saw mountain goats through telescopes at Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center; black bears while on train, and on a tour bus. Lots of bald eagles at various times, and lots of whales while on Pearl, and a few sea otters(?). Bring those binoculars. At the totem park there was a bald eagle sitting on a totem pole for about 5 minutes. Using the binoculars it was practically in your face.
The Pearl's spa: $119pp for the cruise. It's worth it. Only 84 can sign up. It's a refuge from crowds, and a great way to relax.
Regarding people and their behavior: I was taught "stay to the right". I think some cultures must teach "stay to the left". Be prepared to bump into people now and then. Also, some cultures love photography, and thus some people take photos in bad spots at the worst time. e.g. You shouldn't take pictures of your family or significant other every 20 feet on a suspension bridge. The people who hog deck chairs in the Caribbean must be the ones who hog chairs near windows in the Spinnaker Lounge. But, overall the people were nice.
Our steward: One of the 2nd City sketches concerns how we all "bond" with our steward. Our steward did a great job and we loved his towel animals. We kept the "monkey" hanging [via a coat hangar] from the ceiling for three days.
Recommendation: Get a balcony if you can afford one. We had a semi-private view of several glaciers, one for several minutes while the ship turned around/rotated. No fighting or waiting for railing space. We often left the balcony door open; the state-room remained comfortable.
Clothing: If you take this tour you'll be in a temperate rain forest most of the time. Bring a shell with a hood. We each brought a heavy fleece sweater to wear under the shell, and glove liners. We also had silk, long-sleeve undershirts. We were both very comfortable in rainy or windy conditions.
Foot-wear: I brought a pair of loafers for walking indoors and relaxing; a pair of low-rise hiking shoes, and a pair of sneakers for the gym or walking. My wife brought comparable items, plus some nice heels for dining.
Summation: We wondered if we would have as good a time as last time, because last time we had a suite ($5Kpp). We wondered if we would enjoy the Pearl again. We wondered if we would feel we were being treated well. We feared we were going from first-class back to coach. Our fears were not justified. We had a great time and felt like valued customers. It was yet another trip of a life-time on NCL. Hope our tips prove useful for you.