I still have my sea legs as I type this review - just got home at 1 am this morning. This is my first review I've ever written on anything. This might be a bit lengthy but I want to share with all the readers our overall experience.
Cruise dates: June 26 - July 1, 2012, aboard NCL's Pearl, balcony room is a MUST!!
We flew into Seattle the day before and stayed at the Crowne Plaza at 1113 - 6th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101. They also offer a ground transportation package you CANNOT beat. For $48 per person, you get the following service in a town car, no shuttle, no taxi, your personal driver! Pick up at the airport upon your arrival to hotel / hotel to cruise ship / cruise ship to airport. The drivers were courteous and had very clean cars. It was well worth the $48 per person. If you have not been to Seattle I encourage you to arrive early if you can to at least visit a few of their landmarks. We were unable to do this do to the high cost of airline but had it been more reasonable, we would have. We did visit Pike's Place Market on Sunday a.m. before we boarded the ship. Loved it.
JUNEAU - We chose whale watching with Harv and Marv's Whale Watching. I booked this on my own. Small boat for 6 people and your captain. Boat was spotless, captain was fantastic and we got to do what we wanted to do being with such a small group. Very personal. We saw orcas and humpback whales. At the end of the excursion, a driver will bring you by Mendenhall Glacier. Fantastic excursion. We even had a bit of time to shop in Juneau after the excursion. Kids would love this excursion.
SKAGWAY - Chilkoot Yukon and Train Tour. Absolutely loved this day. This was a 7 hour tour aboard a 25 passenger shuttle vs the 60+ passenger coach bus. More flexible, easy loading on and off and if we saw a bear along the way, we could pull over quickly where a large coach bus doesn't have that capability. We did see a black bear and a cinnamon bear along the way. Too much to write about, check out their website. Tour includes a drive through Yukon, a visit at Caribou Crossing to see a private museum of animals (taxidermy) from the Yukon, a great BBQ chicken lunch - LOVED the donuts, a puppy training camp for dog sledding and you can have the sled dogs pull you as well - this is how they train and then a train ride. Highly recommend this excursion for adults, kids would be bored I think with the drive and would not appreciate the scenery like adults would. NOTE: If you ride the train first, sit on the LEFT side. If the train is the second leg of your excursion, sit on the RIGHT side! When booking, try to ride the train first because your drive "home" is a bit more flexible as you do not have to make it to Frasier to board the train at a specific time. If you see wildlife, you can stop and take your time. If the train is your 2nd leg, you are on a schedule. Either is ok, but something to keep in mind. You will thank me for this tidbit! And yes, you have time to shop in Skagway after your excursion!
GLACIER BAY - WOW, beautiful sums it up. Your cruise director will tell you to be up at 6 am and on the deck to see all the beauty as we enter the passage into Glacier Bay. Yep, we did that and found out we didn't actually view Glacier Bay until 9 AM. So....to us, waking up that early was NOT worth it. If I were to do it again, I would not worry about getting out on the ships deck until 8 am or so. This is where balcony rooms are the bomb. Once in Glacier Bay, the ship spins in complete circles so you get to see both glaciers again, and again, and again! You have the comfort of your balcony, drinking hot coffee and being somewhat warm vs being on the deck with 1,000 others. Binoculars are a must. The advantage of being on the top deck is when the glacier calves. I think being up in the open to hear it (words can't describe this sound) and then to see the ice fall is just unreal.
KETCHIKAN - Bering Sea Crab Boat Excursion aboard the Aleutian Ballad. This ship was on the 2nd season of the Deadliest Catch. Check out Trip Advisor for reviews. We almost did not do this excursion due to a few reviews about it being cheesy and too touristy. I'm glad I ignored those few reviews. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip. The crew are so down to earth and just want to share with you "the life of a crab boat fisherman". Again, more great scenery! They feed eagles from the boat and you get to hear and feel them fly by you. It's amazing and beautiful. Kids would love this excursion. Dress warm and in layers. You have a bit of time to shop in Ketchikan, but not much. Shop fast!
VICTORIA - We did our own walking tour! I guess we didn't book anything here because maybe I didn't do enough research. We were a bit interested in the orca watching but did decide against it. We loved this little city! It's an easy, safe walk down through the wharf area. Lots of boats, beautiful architecture, street performers, etc. Quaint, relaxing....we had dinner by the marina/wharf area.
We loved the freestyle cruising because of the freedom, casual clothes, etc. I hate to say this but the food was a bit bland and blah in the dining rooms and buffet. However, the food at Lotus Garden(Teppanyaki restaurant) was THE BOMB!!! Henry the sushi chef was the best, very personable and the sushi rocked, both in flavor and price - well worth the lunch a la carte option. We also did Moderno Brazillian and it was "ok". The ship was always clean, staff was friendly and accommodating. Too much advertising about jewelry - we just ignored it! LOL!
I know we plan to cruise again and it will probably be with NCL. We really like the ship, LOVED the destinations and hope someday to return to Alaska!
I'll leave you with:
** Get a balcony room - I CANNOT stress this enough - pay the money, book early
** You can bring soda pop on ship with you - wish we could have
** Excursions - book as many as you can afford - take advantage of what the port has to offer, vs what the ship has to offer, just my strong opinion
** Dress in layers for excursions and while you are outside on the ship's decks, using the outside running/walking decks, and at Glacier Bay,etc - I packed coat, gloves, and a scarf. Inside the ship is normal temp and often times we were too hot wearing a sweatshirt. Saw lots of shorts on our cruise!
** If you are comfortable enough booking your own excursions, do so, it will save you money. I booked all 3 of our excursions on my own, not via NCL. Sorry NCL, but I saved a lot of money. NOTE: I did a lot of research and reading on Trip Advisor and I called each venue and spoke to them personally
** If evening events say ADULT, it means adult, don't bring your kids. These are fun events for the adults to enjoy and the crew should not have to worry about a 6 year old sitting in the audience (yes, this happened to us and the crew member struggled with some of the events during the adult scavenger hunt)
** Try dinner at Blue Lagoon to mix things up a bit if get bored with 2 dining restaurants or buffet - relaxing, comfy food like wings, chicken strips, burgers, etc. - nice view!
** Chocolate Buffet - go just to see it if you don't mind the crowd. Dessert was ok tasting, nothing spectacular but fun to see/experience
** Pack a white outfit for the White Hot Party! Fun night!