This was our first cruise. There were three of us: my parents and I. By far the best thing we had done was extensive research on cruises and Alaska - this made all the difference. We knew what to expect, many dos and don'ts. Many, many thanks to all the CC'ers, especially on the NCL and Alaska boards for sharing their experiences and advice.
Embarkation: We were there early - reached the cruise terminal at 12:00, and were on board before 1:30 (maybe sooner). We heard there was a glitch later, delaying embarkation due to three ships boarding that day, which delayed our sailing by an hour. This seemed to be outside NCL's control, and I did not hear anyone complain. There was a lively party as we cast off.
Cabin: We loved having a balcony cabin. Our room steward and stewardess took excellent care of us, my mother loved the towel animals. We knew in advance we would not have a refrigerator and did not miss it.
Food: We are from India and More
vegetarian, so we did not expect much variety available to us. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity (experienced cruisers may not be). We ate most meals in Raffles, they have ample stuff for vegetarian and actually had one Indian item every day. We loved Raffles ... at times it was crowded, but we never had to spend more than 15 minutes between entering and beginning our meal. Electronic displays over the ship show the occupancy (and wait times if any) for all the restaurants for those who care. We didn't bother - we could always take ou trays outside Raffles on the terrace or by the pool if it was crowded inside. We had one meal in Windows, and one in the Garden Room. Both were decent. The chocoholic buffet on the final day was impressive, make sure to get there early or there will be a long line. My parents' only complaint about the food was the weight they put on. Oh well, they went to the treadmills.
Service: This exceeded our expectations by far! From the moment we boarded, we were always greeted with a smile. Several crew members would exchange the Indian greeting of namaste. The staff in Raffles were very helpful given our dietary preferences. When we went to Windows, our server went and got us a special Indian meal. We have no idea how she managed it - we hadn't even made any advance request. We had just asked her on entering if there was any day on which they served Indian food ... and she got us a fantastic meal right away. Thanks to cruise director Mike Witte and the officers who attended and facilitated the Cruise Critic member's meeting.
The only drawback was internet access on the ship did not work due to a technical glitch. We were given a 100% refund, and managed to get easy net access in ports.
Entertainment: I guess we have different likes from most people here. My mother liked the class on making towel animals the most. We were happy with a few games of bingo (almost won), donating a few $$ to the slot machine. My father enjoyed watching the Captain and officers at the bridge. We made good use of the library. There was usually some music or dancing going on in Galaxy of the Stars. We went to one show by a talented comedian and juggler.
Excursions: Thank you everyone who posted on the Alaska board, especially Budget Queen, Murray and Caroline. Anything I say will be a repeat of the excellent advice offered there. Barring inclement weather or no research, there seems no way one can avoid having a fabulous time in Alaska. We booked/arranged all excursions independently. Semi-submersible vehicle in Ketchikan, whale watching in Juneau with the world famous Captain Larry and driving to Emerald Lake from Skagway. Here are the pictures.
Disembarkation: I was concerned about this, since we docked at 7:00 a.m. and had a 1:20 p.m. flight to catch. NCL had said any time after 1:00 was safe, but being foreigners I was apprehensive of customs delay. Not a problem ... we were on shore and through customs 30 min after our color tag was called. We reached the airport 3 hours before our flight.
Overall: We had a marvellous time. Doing proper research really pays off. In retrospect, almost all complaints I've read on Cruise Critic seem to be due to a mismatch between expectations and what's actually offered, something one can usually sort out well in advance. Thanks to NCL, Cruise Critic and the weather gods for making our trip so wonderful. Less