A little background, we have been on 6 cruises, 1 Carnival, 1 on Celebrity, 2 on Royal Caribbean and now two on NCL. We much prefer the port days to spending days at sea. I have never thought of myself as a "food snob", but I do enjoy my food. Now on to the review.....
We flew up to Seattle a day early. I travel up there for business on a regular basis, but haven't ever done the touristy things. We stayed at the Marriott Renaissance and due to my many stays at Marriott properties (thanks boss!) we got an upgraded room. The place was fabulous.
Embarkation on Saturday morning was easy. We got to the port at about 12:30 as we like to explore the new ship we are going on before it gets too crowded. We walked around, and our cabins were ready by 1:45. The bags arrived a little later, but we weren't just sitting around waiting for them. We were very pleased with the quality of our room, and the fact that we got a free upgrade to a balcony made us feel even better about it. This was even after receiving a price drop after our original purchase.
We had lunch up in the main buffet "Garden Cafe" area. It was OK, but I was hoping for better. That evening we ate in the Azura- one of the main dining rooms. DW's meal was OK, but my ribeye steak was not exactly gourmet. The beef was not of a high quality and had a lot of gristle to cut through to eat my meal.
The ship started sprinting off to Ketchikan. The sailing was smooth, but it was sailing. We enjoyed the first night's show with a variety of the different performers. JP, the comedy magician was pretty good, but we really liked David Naster. He was really funny- and had good messages. Not dirty, but suggestive enough to make the adults laugh while the kids in the audience had it sail over their heads.........and if it didn't it was their parents fault...........
Day Two was spent at sea all day. It was really too cold to be out by the pool so we just kind of entertained ourselves all day. Lunch was at the buffet, but the really good food was cooked on a grill outside near the pool. The grilled chicken was the best thing I had for lunch all week. The dinner that night was at the Moderno Churrascaria specialty restaurant. It was a good, fun meal. We sat a couple of tables over from the Captain, and to me that says a lot about the restaurant when he chooses to eat there rather than somewhere else on the ship. It was $20 per person. I felt it was well worth the money for me, DW didn't feel as if her appetite was worth paying the extra fee. My feeling is that NCL has a lower price, so I can upgrade the meals at the specialty restaurants a few times and break even.
Day Three took us to Ketchikan. I had booked a side tour with Classic Tours.com. It was a fun day, and our local guide showed us around town and shared information that we wouldn't have learned otherwise. Oh, by the way, our mode of transportation was her 1955 Chevy Bel-Air. We got to meet one of the premier totem carvers in the world and learned all about the town like only someone who had lived there for 40 years could tell you. We love the "local flavor" on things like this rather than the big group tours that you can book through the cruise lines. We docked at 7 AM, and not much was open in town by that time. We had to be back on board by 2:30. However if it was my first time in Ketchikan I would go to the flightseeing over the area as my first choice. 8 Â½ hours seems like a long time, until you factor in the fact that the first couple of hours aren't really usable since nothing is open. Dinner that night was in the Tsar's Palace MDR, and it was definitely nothing special. I learned not to order beef in the MDRs the rest of the week.
Day Four was in Juneau. We docked at 7 AM again, and literally there was nothing to do for over an hour. We couldn't even buy tickets to take a bus out to Mendenhall Glacier or go up the tramway until the town woke up at 8:00. Then we had to be back on board by 1:00. We effectively had 5 hours in town. We took a bus out and walked from the Visitor's Center at Mendenhall Glacier to a viewing point out closer that had a beautiful waterfall. It was an easy walk on flat ground, and the weather held up for us....until we got back to wait for the bus to return us to the dock when we got some light rain. We went back to town, walked around and poked our head into some shops and had some lunch at a little cafe. Juneau isn't my favorite stop in Alaska, but only having that much time made it even tougher to enjoy. We then cruised up in the Tracy Arm fjord and saw the glacier. It was cold and rainy, but hey we were in Alaska looking at glaciers- what did we expect. I hadn't seen that much true fjord area before, and that was very enlightening. The glacier itself was pretty far off in the distance- Celebrity takes you to Hubbard for the Glacier viewing and I was much more impressed by Hubbard than this viewing- but the fjords were amazing. We had dinner in the Tsar's Palace once again and the dinner was a bit better with a chicken dish rather than beef. My expectations are not all that high, but frankly I think the dinners should be better than what I get at home at the local Coco's or Denny's when I am out cruising. I expect a "dinner-house" quality meal, and NCL's dining rooms didn't deliver to that standard unless you paid for the specialty restaurants. While at dinner a ship's officer came around and was talking to us. I asked about the reason why we had such short stays in the ports and his basic answer was that they had a schedule they needed to meet.......not we will take your concerns under consideration, not sorry it didn't work better for you......just we have a schedule. I train customer service employees; Ignacio needs some training if he is going to interact with customers.
Day 5 was off to Skagway. Once again, arrive at 7:00 AM when the town starts doing business at 8:30. I love seeing Bald Eagles, so we booked an NCL excursion to the Haines Bald Eagle Preserve. We went on the train the last time in Skagway, so this was an easy choice. We had great weather all day. We took the ferry across to Haines, bussed up to the river and then floated back down. There were a few times where we had to bounce the raft a bit to get us going again in shallow water, but it was an easy and fun excursion. Our guides- Brittany and Steve were terrific! I think their actual company name is Chilkat Guides, but we booked through NCL I am not certain. Their website is http://www.chilkatguides.com/adventures/chilkat-bald-eagle-preserve-float/ . I was able to get pictures of about 20 different eagles- most of them sitting on rocks around the river so the pictures turned out well. They also provided a sandwich lunch. We then took the ferry back to Skagway and that was our whole day. All aboard was at 4:30 and we got back around 4:15.
Day 6 was another sea day, all day. Again, not my favorite part of cruising. It was still too cold to go to the hot tubs and rush back to the room before freezing our buns off, so we stayed inside most of the day. Lunch was in the Blue Lagoon- the comfort food spot on the ship. The meal was fairly good- I was a little under the weather with a headache otherwise I think I would have enjoyed it more. We went to Cagney's Steakhouse for dinner- and it was wonderful. It is $25 p/p, but the quality of the meat was much, much better. DW had filet mignon, I had a T-bone steak. Even the side dishes were a vast improvement.
Day 7 was at sea until 2:30 when we landed in Victoria B.C. We took the shuttle bus into town and then rode the hop-on, hop-off bus to see Victoria. Not real exciting, but we got to see the town. After that was over we walked around in the tourist area, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to the ship. It was a good choice as we got back around 6:30, just about the time the thunder and lightning show started. It started pouring, and we were quite content with a short day without dealing with the weather. We ate in Tsar's Palace again and it was pretty good. The Prime Rib was the best meal I had in there all week.
We went to several shows throughout the week and enjoyed all of them. As I said, David Naster was personal favorite. He was working almost every day we were out there. JP wasn't quite as good, but I think it was just a personal taste- he got a lot of laughs and he was better than many of the comedians I have seen over the years. Fire and Ice was the music act and they were pretty good as well.
Breakfast was NOT good. We tried all sorts of different places to eat breakfast, but they all served exactly the same things. Even the specialty restaurant brunch served the same breakfast menu...but they charged extra for it.
When the suggestions say bring layers of clothing, listen! The weather was in the 50;s and los 60's thw whole time.
Overall, the good things- really easy on and off, Good service from the staff, very nice room that was kept very clean all week long. Things that made me think twice about cruising with NCL again were mainly the food issues and the itinerary. We went on NCL Pride of America last spring and really enjoyed that ship and the itinerary around Hawaii. I don't think I would book the Jewel again- just too much time on the ship going back and forth to Alaska and not enough time in the ports once we did get there. However, a OBC bonus for being a Latitudes member, plus a bonus for an open end reservation sometime in the next four years, did entice us to sign up to cruise NCL again in the future. I am thinking Hawaii is calling Aloha once again. for other places I think we are headed back to Royal Carribean.