My wife and I decided to treat ourselves and sail to Alaska on Norwegian's Pearl (Aug. 12, 2012 departure) through Kosherica -- a group tour company that makes sure that all meals for group members are strictly kosher. We cringed at the cost -- about double the normal price. The price is not just higher food costs, but you're paying for a rabbi to supervise the kashrut, four mashgichim (for a crowd of less than 80 Kosherica guests), a group organizer, and a guest speaker -- a distinguished rabbi (Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America) and his wife, a reserved room for classes, lectures, and prayers, and prayer books and a Torah scroll. For our smallish group, Kosherica had to reserve 4 chefs from the Pearl to make things happen nearly around the clock. The food was great, especially compared to the frozen kosher meals provided to us by Norwegian on past trips. Eating with Kosherica has its bad points, though, besides the cost -- you cannot take advantage of NCL's Freestyle Cruising concept where you can eat when and where you want. You are tied to a time and a table. Too bad. When we ate frozen meals on a previous cruise with our children and grandchildren, we had the ability to catch an early show, run to the room to babysit the grandchildren, allowing our children to catch the late shows.
The Alaska exeperience was amazing. I have tremendous photos of grand landscapes and glaciers, and photos of humpback whales and orcas. I saw an eagle or two, but they were too fast for my camera. We saw bears near a distant glacier with our binoculars, but they were too small for my camera. No moose, though. We were extremely fortunate with the weather. It was warm and clear at all times except our first day sailing to Juneau (when it didn't matter). At Juneau we took the excursion for whale watching and a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier. The whale watching was amazing. We saw more than a dozen humpback whales and 5 or 6 orcas. The humpbacks were bubble-net feeding -- an amazing method used only by some whales, but taught to others (google the topic, it's fascinating). We also saw 7 or more orcas rapidly swimming past our balcony, obviously on the hunt for something, and clearly working together as a team. Note that the this combo leaves precious little time to see the glacier. In Skagway we took the train to Canada and saw Liarsville on the way back by bus. The scenery from the train is gorgeous. My photos would have been better had I stood by the railing between cars. Liarsville is cute and the put on a nice short show. In Ketchikan we saw the Saxman native american village -- very educational -- and attended the lumberjack show, which is a definite must-see. We skipped Victoria as our arrival was during Shabbat, and there was little time after Shabbat to go ashore.
NCL is known for its entertainment. Frankly, we enjoyed the shows more on the Gem in December. The Frankie Valli tribute group, "Oh What a Night," was fair. One singer -- whoever took the lead on "Sherri," had some "pitchy" moments, which isn't good for a vocal group that needs to be harmonically perfect. The writing is also a bit stiff. Juggler Charles Peachock was very good, but his performance paled in comparison to his own highlight reel he showed before the show featuring his performances on America's Got Talent. Why get us expecting the spectacular when the live performance will be something less special? The comic, though, was very funny. I didn't remember his name, which is a shame. I should have bought his DVD.
All in all, I went for the Alaska experience. The entertainment was not a priority. The Cruise Director, Julie, is OK and perhaps very good compared to most. But I've been on ships with Sinam Ulucay twice, and I'm totally spoiled.