Cruise Line/Ship: Norwegian Jewel
Cruise/Nights: Alaska; 7 Night
Room Type: Balcony, deck 8
Departure Port: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Date of Cruise: May 2012
Ports of Call: Ketchikan, Alaska, USA; Juneau, Alaska, USA; Skagway, Alaska, USA; Victoria, Canada
Return Port: Seattle, Washington, USA
I do not work for any cruise line or travel agency. I have been on 4 cruises in my lifetime: 2 with Royal Caribbean; 1 with Norwegian; and 1 cruise line that I do not recall. I am just passing on my experience as a cruise passenger to others who may benefit. Who knows, maybe the cruise line I'm writing about will see it and improve their business model. Time will tell.
This was our first vacation to Alaska and my husband and I decided, based on the encouragement of others who had been, to see Alaska's Interior Passage from a cruise ship. This is my review of that cruise.
We had fun at every port, though I would not recommend leaving from Vancouver.
Vancouver is a pretty city (except the crack town part on the way to the other port). Our ship was very, very late leaving port because U.S. Homeland Security was placed there with only 4 agents checking the passports of thousands of passengers. We arrived at 2:15 PM and didn't get on the ship until a few minutes before 5pm. First line was security and not too bad. Second line was for Norwegian to get our card key. Third line was Homeland Security ("your inconvenience is our passion") and took hours to get through. There was no place to sit, no food, no water. Norwegian staff just kept telling us that this was not their fault and "out of our control". Later we heard of a woman with diabetes who started feeling sick while in line. A woman behind us who was bald and obviously recovering from cancer was clearly stressed out about the possibility of the ship leaving us. I assured her that the ship would not leave because they would have to reimburse all of us for our cruise tickets. She was not convinced. The ship was scheduled to leave at 4:30 PM and we were already past that when she began to, understandably, express her concerns. The US and Canadian passengers had it easy compared to the "foreign nationals" who were all separated out of line and had a much longer wait than a few hours we spend standing on the cement floor. All we heard from the Australians on board was "What was up with that?" as if we, as US citizens, had anything to do with the disastrous boarding process or Homeland Security.
Ketchikan was the duck-boat tour and a walk through the old brothel area of town up to the park that houses a fish hatchery (but we didn't have time to tour the fish hatchery and would like to do that in the future). We did not book the duck-boat tour from the boat. We just walked into the shopping area and booked it there (and saved some money).
Juneau was the whale watching boat and a short (45 minute) trip to Mendenhall glacier and Nugget Falls. The bus dropped us off at the park and we hustled to try to reach the falls. No luck! We needed more time. But the view from where we were was fantastic and we have many great pictures of both the glacier and the falls. We did not use the ship's excursion service for this and we're glad. Our boat was faster (which gave us more time around the whales) and smaller (so we were closer to the water). We also saved about $80 each by booking at the dock, rather than with the ship. I have some unremarkable pictures of Humpback whales, Husband may have better pictures. But I do have a great video of our boat driving around a buoy with Sea Lions lazily sun bathing on it, while other Sea Lions jockey to get up top, and a Bald Eagle on top that flies away after a bit. I strongly recommend whale watching in Juneau.
Our cruise ship cruised down the Tracy-Endicott Arm and went to Dawes Glacier. The Tracy Arm was too full of ice to go that way, so we went down the Endicott Arm. We saw 2 Grizzly Bears on the bank on our way through the Endicott Arm to Dawes Glacier, one took off for the woods when we were spotted. The Glacier water/ice was so clear and blue it didn't look real. There were tons of seals lounging on ice bergs near the glacier. We started off viewing the scenery from the top deck of the ship. After a While, I had to add the liner to my coat and went down to our cabin. The curtain to the balcony was open and the view was incredible. I ran up, grabbed Hubby and brought him down to the cabin where we enjoyed the remainder of the trip down the Endicott Arm to Dawes Glacier with a cup of hot tea made from the electric kettle provided with the room.
We saw a Holland America ship (the Oosterdam), just ahead of us, turn around halfway in the Endicott Arm. Their captain had lost too much time and had to get to their next port. I've read that captains of cruise ships get bonuses for being on time at their ports and saving fuel. I guess that rules out over what the passengers paid for. We saw a couple who had been on the Oosterdam on our flight home and they were understandably angry that their ship turned back and never went to the glacier.
Skagway was the Yukon train excursion (only excursion booked through the ship). Very interesting; beautiful scenery; highly recommended. I have a picture of a black bear sitting on the side of the train tracks. I don't know if he was waiting for someone to throw him a sandwich or something.
There is an old graveyard that is full of Skagway history that you should walk to (it's not far). There is also a hiking path if you're the hiking type (we are).
I learned quite a lot about the gold prospectors who came up there from the museums in town and the train ride. The picture of decaying horses in Dead Horse Gulch was hard to look at. We didn't meet anyone who lived in Skagway year round. Everyone we met was from someplace else and only there for the tourist season.
At two of the 3 US ports in Alaska we were greeted and escorted out of port by a US Coast Guard boat with a 50 caliber rifle mounted on the front, a man with a black mask manning it and pointing it at the ship as if we were a prison transport in a Third World country. Again, we heard complaints from the Australians, as if we had anything to do with it. We told them to write a letter and express their disappointment over the unwelcome greeting. I've been on cruises to what would be considered Third World countries and I've never seen anything so brutally unwelcoming.
Victoria was a pretty city. We just walked around the town (we were done with excursions at that point). We didn't feel like buying anything. Husband has a great time lapse video from our balcony of the boats on the waterway, taken while we were out walking the town.
The balcony was great and I would strongly recommend this to anyone going to Alaska. The Caribbean? Nah, because you're just looking out on the ocean 99% of the time. But a cruise like the Inside Passage on the Alaskan coast, for sure! The room had an electric kettle and we made hot tea and coffee and sat on the balcony and watched the scenery sometimes. The balcony was also sheltered from much of the wind (kudos to the ship engineers). The room was spacious enough and I have no complaints on this except that the bed, though tolerable, sagged a bit in the middle.
The only staff member on the ship that seemed happy, or happy to see us, was our room steward. The whole ship seemed understaffed. It was hard to flag down the wait staff to get more water, or horseradish for the prime rib (which should have come with the steak without asking as it was listed on the menu this way).
The main show entertainment was overall pretty good. There was a hypnotist who was pretty good, a comedian-magician that was mildly entertaining (though we only saw him in the finale show with other acts), and a little circus/acrobat show that was amazing (except for the dancing/singing parts). The hypnotist had two mass sessions over the next 2 days and we went to see if we could be hypnotized. No luck! One session was for relaxation and the other was for weight loss. We learned that we are over analytic and are not easily hypnotized. Those passengers that were in the main show that were easily hypnotized were hilarious, though. She didn't make them do anything embarrassing, just funny stuff.
There is a problem with a lack of adequate seating in the buffet area (Garden Cafe) and cleanliness. On several occasions we had a hard time finding a table to sit at and had to ask other passengers if we could sit with them at their table in the buffet dining area. Staff had been trained to remove dirty dishes, utensils and napkins from the table, but we had to clean our own tables from clearly visible food bits on the rare occasions when we went to the buffet to eat. They have 8 pay restaurants and only 2 regular restaurants, plus the buffet. We met some folks who had eaten at one of the pay restaurants and said the food was "OK, nothing special, but 2 hours later we felt sick." Thank you, 'nuff said. The food on Norwegian was all "OK, nothing special", though they managed not to overcook the tiny, little lobster tail we had on one night (so that was good). Food described on the menu often didn't match with what you got on the plate (sauces were omitted, etc.). I ordered Thai Curry one night and got a rice dish with some shrimp and chicken pieces, tiny cubed vegetables and a little bit of curry sauce, lightly drizzled over the rice. Sometimes, like then, I wanted to walk back into the kitchen and tell the chef how it should be done ("That is not curry!"). Dishes were heavy, overcooked and either too salty or too sweet, giving me a bloated feeling after the meal (and I'm not a big eater).
The ship is very focused on selling you everything from spa sessions to jewelry to shoe inserts to bingo games. I get that, but it was overdone. After a while, Hubby and I were making fun of the announcements encouraging passengers to attend this or that sales session. Norwegian staff used the aerobics room as their sales office, filling it with chairs for their presentations. There were a few, early morning exercise groups in there, but the rest of the day was booked for sales presentations. So I didn't have anyplace to do yoga unless I wanted to use the room after 7pm or give up our port excursions. That was a major irritant for me. In hindsight, I should have taken over the chapel and pushed the chairs out into the hallway. It had a nice view and I rarely saw anyone using it.
There was not enough to do on the ship. We are active people. We played shuffleboard a couple of times but there were only 2 shuffleboard courts on the entire ship and they were often full, with other passengers waiting to play. There is one giant chess board, also full, and a ping pong table, also full. Card/game room is too small and was often full, as well. The casino games were too expensive. I'm one of those cheap gamblers who only has fun when the risk is low. When it's a $10 minimum or more at the Blackjack table it's just not fun for me.
I completed a survey after our cruise but judging by the way they run their ships I have serious doubts that they read the surveys. I can't possibly be the only person who had suggestions for Norwegian to make things better. I heard other passengers on the ship complain, but maybe they are silent complainers and never speak up. Who's to know.
Since Husband and I are they types that make our own fun we had a good time, overall, despite some of the undesirable aspects of this trip. The Alaskan coast is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and I'm happy that we were able to share it, bundled up on the balcony, hot cup of tea or coffee in hand.
Maybe we're just spoiled on Royal Caribbean cruise lines, which is the last 2 cruises we've been on, but I could not give a recommendation for Norwegian cruise lines for a vacation.