Norwegian Sun - Alaska: Norwegian Sun Cruise Review by Connie G (Donna)
Overall Member Rating
Norwegian Sun - Alaska
I was amazed at the number of people I met on the ship who complained and were disappointed mostly because of their own ignorance. The first complaint I heard was that the food was shabby. I asked Mrs. Beetch (more of her complaining later) where she was eating and she had been grazing at the buffets for all her meals because her family thought the main dining rooms cost extra. Many people never learned about the nice breakfast options at Las Ramblas (the omelette station) or Pacific Heights waffles. I feel like Im preaching to the choir because you all know the importance of doing your homework and learning about More the Sun and all the ports before you go. Many people didnt and you will know where to position yourself, where to eat, etc. by following the great advice on CC.
I have the review journal organized by ports with important topics embedded in between.
We arrived at Sea Tac airport and found the Grey Line Bus pick up point right outside the baggage claim area, door 00. We had arranged for this service before we left on the internet. I believe the cost was around $17.00 per person. We left immediately and were at our hotel, the Crowne Plaza in less than 30 minutes. They drop off at the main hotels in town and their schedule is on their website. Very efficient and highly recommended.
The Crowne Plaza is a very nice downtown hotel for which we had Capital One Rewards points to use after we had purchased the airline tickets with the points. It is close enough to walk down to the Pikes Place Market but remember it is almost all down hill. I have a knee that is a bit testy and it was really stressed out just going down that steep grade. I had the advice from others that Seattle is not a really walking friendly city and they were right. We took a cab back up for about $9 plus tip.
We arrived later in the day and while there were many visitors, the fish guys looked like workers at any other market. No one was buying and so they stood silent in a rather glum way. I had seen that whole FISH philosophy video at work and it reassured me that these guys were totally different when the cameras were rolling or people were buying. Just like the rest of us! We enjoyed the atmosphere of the market and the lovely flowers and produce. We ate a simple meal that evening and walked around the downtown area and found a cute bakery to go to the next morning. I believe it is around Union and 5th. Fantastic pastries. We went there the next morning and it was just as we hoped. Nice food, great coffee, etc.
Our room at the Crowne Plaza was on the 26th floor and was outstanding. Fluffy duvet covers, a sleep system CD and all the usual things one would expect in a better room. The view was fabulous out of both of the windows as it was a corner room. I bet you could get this room for around $100 if you tried early in your planning.
Seattle is a very nice, clean city and we enjoyed walking around the shopping areas and business districts. I would recommend spending more time there if you were able. Many people from Cruise Critic also like the hotel at Lake Union, so give that whirl too.
We checked out at about 10:15 on Sat. thinking the trip to the pier would take longer but were swooped up by a cab ($7 plus tip) and let off at the pier. It was a glorious, sunny day and the NCL curb staff took our luggage off to the ship. Be sure to have your luggage labeled with the tags that are sent to you by NCL. We spent the next hour walking around and watching the ship be loaded with all the supplies. We saw a rep from Shuttle Express right outside the pier terminal and took his business card for the return trip. It cost just $28 for two people to be taken by a van to the airport. Great service and probably the cheapest way to go.
We were allowed to check in around 11 AM and that took maybe 5 mins. We received our room key that should be kept with you the entire trip everywhere you go. We are Latitudes members but the other lines seemed to go fast also. You will love the easy embarking process. We sat with the other excited passengers waiting to go onboard. We were served lemonade, water and cookies.
Passengers were allowed to go on the ship early, at about 12 noon. Suite passengers were first and then others were allowed on board according to how early you arrived. We were in one of the early groups and went right to our room. Our luggage arrived sometime during the muster drill around 3:45. We walked around the ship to orient ourselves which is a worthwhile experience for those of us who have to learn the nautical terms and which elevators will take you to the target locations.
Our room was on deck four (Biscayne) and had a large porthole. Each room has a minimum of a small refrigerator, safe with a pass code lock, 4-cup coffee maker (Folgerss), hairdryer, phone and only one outlet. A strip outlet was a great idea. I used it for charging the cell phone, my other hair equipment, alarm clock, etc. There was no alarm clock so be sure to bring one. The cabin stewards were low key but extremely attentive to any requests. My first request was to ask for an egg crate foam mattress to be added to our beds. I understand you can also ask for feather pillows. They kept the room in top shape and were always available. The light duvet covers were also very comfortable and appreciated.
As experienced NCL passengers, we went quickly to the Seven Seas restaurant. I had the baked tilapia with a bean sauce w/vegetables- excellent. Dessert was bread pudding with vanilla bean sauce. My husband had the skirted steak on a roll. He thought the meat was not very tender, but still enjoyed it.
The mandatory muster drill was at 3:15. Your life jackets are in your room and you bring or wear them to your assigned station. The letter is on your key card. This will be your first experience with fellow passengers who are late or dont know how to follow simple directions. Take pity on them and help out.
We set sail at 4PM promptly and sat aft in the Great Outdoors Cafe. Bring a jacket, as it gets a bit chilly. There is a beverage station nearby.
Dinner was at the Four Seasons. We had French onion soup- tasty not salty, Orange Roughie- tender and really fresh. Some items are from the Cooking Light magazine and these were both on this list. Good choice. At 9PM we went to see a sampler of entertainment. Be sure to take the time to see this as it will give you an overview on how to spend time seeing acts you will like.
Sunday, July 2- Day at Sea
This day is more of a blur. This was my first time to Alaska and the first observation is that you can have your pick of 99% of the deck chairs on the ship. Our weather was sunny and very nice but it was still too cold for most of the passengers. A few members of the polar bear club tried out the pool. The kids seemed to be the most obvious users of the pool and hot tubs. Very different than Caribbean cruises. So, keep your swimsuit at home and save room for other things.
We went to the Seven Seas for breakfast and had whole-wheat apple walnut pancakes, fresh fruit, OJ and my husband had a specialty omelette and pastry.
For lunch, we tried the Garden Cafe. The hot potatoes were cold and the food is just nice pot luck/buffet style food. So many people eat there because they dont know any better! Families with kids liked it because they served kid friendly foods. They did have lots of nice offerings like a Caesar Salad station, salad bar, carving station, Asian food stir fry, nice breads, a vegetarian section, etc. Even still, it was a hectic atmosphere with lots of table saving and lots of kids. There is also an ice cream station nearby called Sprinkles. The ice cream is of inferior quality compared to that served in the main dining rooms. Much like ice milk.
This was formal night and we enjoyed a nice dinner at the Four Seasons. My husband had lobster and quiche. This is the only lobster night at the main restaurants so enjoy it. I had an excellent Beef Wellington with vegetables. Crème brulee and chocolate mouse were our selections for dessert.
The Jean Ryan Company put on Hello, Mr. Producer at 7:30 and 9:30. I like stuff like that and it was well done. The theater is really nice with a balcony and many performances have a number of seats available so dont hurry early in the week.
At 8:30 we went to listen to Don in Las Ramblas. He was one of our favorites we tried to see any time he played. Tonight was a general overview of his talent. He plays and sings contemporary acoustic guitar music and tells entertaining stories in between. Las Ramblas also serves a variety of nice quality appetizers and snacks in a very nice atmosphere located on Deck 12.
I am glad that I didnt spend too much time shopping for the trip. I would say most of the styles seen on board would be Target/ Kohls, JC Penney sorts of clothing. We followed the dress codes for the dinner times in the dining rooms and I wore black pants or a skirt with different mix and match tops and jackets and black shoes with a small heel. My husband wore dress pants each night and a solid shirt and sometimes a tie.
Formal nights on Sunday and Thursday are optional. Some people did wear formals and tuxes but they were less than 5%. My husband wore a suit and I wore a long black dress with a silky turquoise jacket. We only did that on the first night. It is nice to get dressed up and have a lovely dinner.
No shorts, jeans or tank tops are allowed in the main dining rooms at dinner. I think that is a good idea but there were many articles of clothing that were more atrocious than jeans. Ugly sweat pants, gaudy size 4x flowered capris, etc. met the rules, but they should have had a ticket from the fashion police. I think new stylish jeans were far more appropriate than some of these items. Oh, well. Far better to wear the same two outfits over and over at dinner than to dress so inappropriately.
On the topic of clothing is the issue of how to pack for Alaska. It depends so much on the month and season. A tour guide gave me the advice to tell people to pack for early spring. I found that wearing jeans during the day with a short sleeve shirt and flannel lined jacket was perfect on almost every day. Our three tour guides wore jeans and a short sleeve t-shirt. I was a bit hot on the day I wore jeans and a long sleeve shirt. Of course, if the weather is windy and rainy, you need to add maybe another layer. I had one pair of capris and didnt need shorts. I wore athletic shoes each day at ports. Bring an extra pair if you are doing water related tours. Dont think Caribbean! On the days we were at sea, we hoped to lie outside and enjoy the sun. The ship is clipping along in the ocean and it gets COLD! We experienced rough seas and gale force winds on the final day at sea and the upper decks were closed. I made it around the promenade deck ten times and it was the second time I broke out my new Lands End parka, knit hat and gloves. There werent many hearty souls on deck joining me that day. Think a windy day in the Midwest in November in Chicago.
Many people suggest those over the door organizing bags. I thought there was plenty of storage and Im just not a high maintenance person, so it stayed in the suitcase. I think they can be very useful though. The worst piece of advice was to bring a cheap pop up hamper. There is no room for that in a typical cabin. Bring wire hangers in your luggage and leave them there, as you probably wont have enough hangers in the closet.
A great suggestion was to bring Downeys Wrinkle Release. It really does work.
July 3rd- Ketchikan
We had a cabin close to where boarding takes place and heard the sounds of someone boarding at 12:30 AM. We saw what we thought was the coast guard boarding but it turns out it was the Canadian pilot coming on board. Pilots of various regions are brought on board at a few different locations.
We woke early to get out at 7AM when the ship was at port. We went to Las Ramblas on deck 12 that serves excellent omelets and sides such as bacon, sausage, home fries, yogurts, fruits, etc. Nice atmosphere and seems like an entirely different place in the morning.
We did not have a tour booked and wanted to see some local wildlife so we walked around when no one else seemed to be up and used the local map to navigate the town. We walked along the infamous Creek Street with no other tourists around, saw the stream where salmon will soon be running, and took a free cable car up a hillside to a private lodge where they have some nice totem poles and great views of the town from above. We then walked around town as the shops were opening and came upon a costumed character from Dollys house, the old home of ill repute that seems to be so famous. She gave us an unasked for explanation of why a visit for $5 into this house would be a great experience. Commentary: why would I want to go see the 100-year-old wallpaper in an old house of prostitution? Ick. We smiled and said thanks, but no thanks.
Ketchikan is a good place to go shopping but Skagway is slightly better. It might be a good idea to get some of it accomplished at the end of your time there.
We decided on a locally operated tour that would get us back in plenty of time. It was about a 2-hour tour of the wildlife areas for $40. a person. A local guy named Josh who is half native escorted us in a 9-person van. He lives on a nearby island with no road access and was quite a colorful guy. He gave us a close up tour of many barely accessible places, stopping at waterfalls, the temperate rainforest/beach and many nesting areas of the American Bald Eagle. We saw quite a few eagles and stopped in many areas that were his favorites. He was proud to be a local operator and jeered at the cruise company buses claiming they just handed their drivers from the lower 48 a script to read. We had our first experiences with the friendly husky dogs when a local came up to us on the side of the road. It was warm sunny day and he claimed that not many salmon would be caught that day as the salmon go deeper on those types of days. The salmon also dont run in early July, so you who go later will be lucky.
Josh took us to the Saxman Native Village where we saw the expert carvers at work (charging $1,000 a foot) and got to go for many photo ops with the different totem poles. We luckily avoided the crowds that were on the buses from the cruise ships so we didnt have to fight for picture taking turns.
Josh recommended a popcorn stand in town (I believe there is only one) and we enjoyed some fine sweet and salty style popcorn. Excellent and cheap.
The dock was an easy off/on for the Sun. We had to depart at 2PM so went for some pizza and pasta at Pacific Heights. David from the Philippines was our fine waiter and we enjoyed conversing with him.
We went to Pacific Heights restaurant for dinner that requires reservations but is no extra charge. They work with Cooking Light magazine and the meals we had were very good and the calories were generally under 300-400. Our server was a lovely young lady named Indre from Lithuania who is a journalist taking a break from her profession. I chose the Pear, blue cheese and walnut salad with smoked turkey and grilled vegetarian lasagna. My husband had the Chunky Clam Chowder, southwestern style and the Pike Perch with fresh vegetables, lime and white wine en papillotte (in paper). We both had the cider apple pie that was one of our very favorite desserts on the Sun. Great choices.
The featured act in the Stardust Lounge was Sharkbait. They are a really enjoyable juggling and comedy duo that tied for ship favorites. Be sure to go to one of their shows.
I believe this was Dons Irish night in Las Ramblas. We really enjoyed this selection and stayed a long time. We wanted to wake early for a big day in Juneau, so it was off to bed at 11 PM.
The excellent crew members on the Sun make it all look so easy. I felt very welcomed and tended to. They are all quick to say hello and wish you a good day. They are a very hard working group.
The crew sign 10-month contracts and work perhaps about 10 hour days, seven days a week. They return home or vacation for the two months and then possibly return. Many are younger and are from 60 countries. I didnt see many Americans. The Hawaiian ships have to have 80% Americans, so that is why you dont see many onboard the other ships. Hawaiian ships are flagged from the USA while the others are registered in Nassau.
The Sun can carry 2,100 passengers, has 16 lifeboats plus more rafts to carry 4.000 people. Most crew live on decks 2 & 3 and most rooms have 2,3 or 4 people in one room. Denton, the exec. Chef explained that Freestyle dining is ala minute meaning that all items are prepared to order rather than on mass like many cruise ships that have specific seating schedules.
The officers work 12 weeks on and 12 weeks off. On the off weeks, they see their families but also have to attend training. Each ship has 2 captains that work the alternating weeks. Ships can sail about 30-40 years but the styles of the ships cause them to become outdated in recent years.
I cant forget the cute towel animals. They made me a bunny, a bat and some other mammal that was pretty general. I greatly appreciated them all and kept them on my window sill. It got crowded.
July 4th- Juneau 4th of July!
Many of you will decide to do the whale watching adventure in Juneau with Captain Larry or Captain Harv and Marv. If you REALLY want to see whales, be sure to do this. We spent a lot of time looking from the ship many days and saw only dolphins. It wasnt that important to us, but I know a lot of people think the whale experience is their highlight.
My husband has his masters in geology so he really wanted to do the gold panning experience. This was the only tour we booked through the ship. We really enjoyed it and my husband lamented it was only about a 2 hour experience. An elderly gent all dressed up like a prospector met us in a van at the pier and drove us around town to get to the area where many locals also go in search of gold. There was one local there already. He showed us the technique, gave us our pans and let us have a go. Most everyone found gold flakes because they settle at the bottom of the rusty pan in the grooves. You suction them out with an eyedropper and put them in a vial to take home. The streams were COLD and the work really was hard on the back and legs.
My experience being in Juneau on this major holiday will be very different from yours. The town essentially closes down for the parade and the main streets are blocked off and all the locals want to be there and many tours on the ship are cancelled and the local buses to Mendenhall glacier refuse to run because of traffic problems. Generally, you can get a bus for $12 round trip right at the docks, but not today! We found a company who was sending off their last bus that did the Mendenhall glacier, Douglas Island, a tour of the city and the Chapel by the Lake for $20 pp. I didnt really want the other things, but it was our only choice. The driver was a bit unkind to people asking obvious questions but was generally okay. The town tour was just okay, Douglas Island was not worthwhile, but the rest was really wonderful. Im sure you know the only way to walk on the glacier is to helicopter in, but the view from the lake is also fabulous. A naturalist explained some of the features and we walked around the hiking paths. I would recommend spending more time there by taking a regular bus and hike nearer the glacier. We didnt have that option. A man who wasnt wearing a watch didnt show up on time and we left ten minutes later without him. Others had connections and it isnt fair to wait. If you go private, be aware of the time.
Our last stop was Chapel by the Lake which is a lovely Presbyterian church with a wooden cabin like chapel that has a full front window overlooking the lake and you see the glacier. It is a great wedding site.
We were a bit edgy about making it to the ship on time because of the traffic but the driver navigated the back streets with patience and got us to the main dock that had a shuttle to the Sun. Go to the website that tells you where you will be docked at each port. It also lets you know if you have to tender. We did not have to tender but our pier was not an easy walk. I dont know if I saved this resource. Keep an eye of CC or ask on the Alaska board. Not essential info but nice to know.
On the food side, we went to Pacific Heights for breakfast and enjoyed the waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. They are made right there but tend to be kept in a steamer. Sides such as bacon and sausage are available.
We ate lunch when we got back on ship. There was a delicious barbecue going on deck and most people enjoyed the tender ribs and fixings. It was quite warm and more people were on deck in the pool and hot tubs. There was a big Fourth of July bash on deck.
This was the time to rest and then decide where you want to be for the Tracy Arm/Sawyer Glacier part of the cruise. My CC friends advised us to be on the starboard side of the Observation Lounge. Dont sit in the bow section as you will soon discover that the windy section out front will be jammed with people willing to brave the cold breezes for some amazing views but will totally block yours. We had no one in front of us and had a great view the entire time. After you get around Tracy Arm, you will begin to see the ice floats becoming more numerous. Seals on their homes float by and the captain tries to navigate slowly through the ice to get as close as possible to the glacier. A vessel was sent out to get close up photos for later purchase. The crew slowly and carefully turned the ship around to leave the area and by this time (8PM) most of us were ready to head down to dinner.
The restaurants featured the Klondike dinner. I chose a Summer Berry Compote, Ketchikan Seafood Chowder, Pork Tenderloin in mustard sauce with glazed carrots and bacon served over egg noodles and Strawberry Cheesecake. My husband had crisp Northern greens, fiddle head ferns and forest mushroom salad with smoked onion vinaigrette, smoked salmon with lemon butter and the cheesecake. We enjoyed every item.
We went to Las Ramblas to listen to Dons folk night and then turned in early as we had an early day on Weds. We skipped Que Noche, the Jean Ryan production.
Your fellow passengers: the good, the bad and the ugly NCL passengers tend to be casual and Alaskas crowd is a bit more of the empty nest crowd. There were lots of couples in their 50s and 60s but families abounded too. The Sun offered many tables for two by the windows. We were never asked if we wanted to join a group and I sort of missed that part. Many people nearby want to talk and share their experiences. I found most people to be considerate and friendly.
Our favorite couple were fellow Cruise Critic fans and I take my hat off to Mark and Esther for getting an even cheaper price than we did for the cruise (mine was chosen about 3 months ago, so the price had gone up.) We bumped into them because Mark had on his Indians cap and that struck up a conversation. They used the binder organization method like we did but theirs was even more extensive than mine. I love organized people who research vacations. We both used dividers and pocket with top loaders. They were a prime example of the best way to cruise for the average American who wants a great experience while being wise and frugal. They were positive, interesting (fellow Ohioans) and we wished we could have spent more time with them. We did finally hook up for the goodbye breakfast on Sat. My advice to you all is to get on the roll call board and meet your fellow passengers and try to hook up early.
For those of you considering bringing children, I will give my strong suggestion that you think many times if this is your first Alaskan cruise. NCL does appear to have a very fine kids program, but land tours in Alaska are quite expensive and can easily double your costs. Many of the children did not seem to enjoy or appreciate this experience. We were on the van in Skagway for the Yukon trip with a family of 17 and got an inside glimpse of a typical group. The children tended to stay in the van while the adults went out for the fabulous views and photo ops. At one point I went back to the van before the other adults and here were quotes from the kids, ages 5-20: Im hungry. This is boring. Whyd they bring us on this? Are they really enjoying it? Shut up. It was a gift. One of the moms later said: The next time I come to Alaska, it will be child free. Grandpa had bought this trip as a gift to his family and it was not appreciated by those younger than 21. They sat in the van playing video games or listening to their Ipods while we were enjoying the amazing Yukon Territory. My suggestion is to leave the kids home with the grandparents and promise them a trip to Chuckie Cheese or buy them a new Game Boy. The guide told me that these kids were typical of what he saw and that Alaska is working hard at keeping the Disney Cruise line out of Alaska for that reason. The fear is that it will change the flavor of Alaska.
That said, I thought the children were relatively well behaved on the ship. They tended to eat at the buffets and most who ate in the dining rooms used their good manners. As a teacher, I think only 10% of my students would appreciate Alaska and be well behaved enough so as not to ruin their parents experience. Know your own child and dont expect them to be better than they usually are.
The most irritating passengers tended to be the ones who didnt know how to tell time and held up the tours because they either couldnt get up in time or took too much time at the stops. If you are on an independent tour, the driver MAY leave you behind. Our bus driver did just that at Mendenhall Glacier. He waited ten minutes and then left. A few passengers appeared to not make it back to the ship on time in Juneau and at Prince Rupert. The staff made an all ship call for those people but promptly left the port on time. The captain told us that those late people have a port consultant that facilitates the transportation to the next port and I assume it is an their own expense. Ouch.
The complainers were next in line for the irritating award. I overheard one woman complain that they didnt serve popcorn on the ship. This same person would likely complain about the smashed popcorn onboard if they did allow it. The NCL food bashers tended to be people who grazed the buffets not realizing they had other superior options for dining. Being ignorant was the culprit. Another passengers only comment about Ketchikan was that it was too hot. The temp was about 74 degrees. Where do these people live if 74 is hot? Our infamous Beetch family was on two of our tours but huffed off the bus in Juneau before it left wanting their money back because they didnt like the bus driver. Silly people. This would have been their ONLY chance to see the Mendenhall Glacier because of the July 4th parade issues. She tried to intimidate us to also leave with the comment You arent going to go on a tour with a rude driver, are you? He turned out to be an okay guide who was just a bit curt. Thank goodness this was the last we saw of them. The driver didnt ask for tips and I doubt he got any. Most of the tour drivers wouldnt even go out and cancelled their trips, so I give him credit for being available!
Wednesday, July 5th, Skagway
This day was my favorite. Once again, we were blessed with a beautiful day. I made the mistake of thinking the Yukon Territory would be colder than the port and my long sleeve top was not appropriate. We followed the CC advice and went with a private tour company, Chilkoot and were glad we did. The cost for the 7 ½ hour Yukon adventure was $159 pp. The van driver, Kerry, met us in the 20-passenger van at the dock and drove us to the train station. Try to sit on the left side for the best views. You can also go outside and stand on the platform for the best shots. The White Pass railroad experience took us through some great vistas and after 90 mins we arrived at Fraser, CA and were met by our van driver. You need a quick check at customs-bring a passport or birth certificate.
This is a day to have on some mosquito/bug repellant although it wasnt a huge problem.
You will see the worlds smallest desert (Carcross Desert), which was made after a glacial lake dried up, and the fierce winds prevented vegetation from growing. It was a still day for the wind when we were there.
We traveled to the Yukon Territory and reached about the 60th parallel- 800 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Emerald Lake was spectacular, but the excessive minerals that caused the lake to have its color results in a rather life unfriendly environment. A beautiful log home was built on the lake and it is owned by a Swiss couple that only lives there 3 months a year (VISA issues).
Even though you are not driving, check out Murrays guide to many of the stops you will be seeing on this trip. The photos I was able to take rivaled these.
I wouldnt be afraid to rent a car and travel this route using Murrays guide. The road is being repaired in places making a cracked windshield or ding a possibility, so go for their extra insurance. The highway is sparsely traveled and generally is a good 55 MPH road.
The Yukon adventure was very worthwhile and produced the best photos in Alaska. I can highly recommend the Chilkoot Tour Company. They give you a guarantee to get you back to the ship on time or they pay your way to the next port.
I wish that I had more time to visit and shop in Skagway. It was the nicest town of the four ports and the Skagway Outlet Store on 6 or 7th and Broadway was probably the cheapest store of the trip. We had only 45 mins to shop because the adults on the tour needed their smoking breaks that extended our tour time. We were with that family of 17 on the 20-passenger van, so were overpowered.
Back on board, we rested and then had an early dinner at the Four Seasons. It was Italian night. I had cantaloupe, melon and fresh strawberries in Cinzano Vermouth, the Cheese Lovers Lasagna with Chicken Parmigiana and tomato fettuccine pasta followed by Italian cream cake. My husband had the minestrone, grilled swordfish and a chocolate soufflE with Brogans sauce.
We went to the 7:30 show in the Stardust Lounge. Bill Hildebrandt was an adequate comedian (some of his jokes were old), but the highlight was Fabio Zini. Fabio is from Argentina and plays an amazing acoustic guitar. Some of the best fingering I have seen. He has a high energy show that both genders enjoyed and appreciated. Fabio thinks he is quite the Latin lover but doesnt get too carried away. He developed quite a following as shown by the totally packed and wild crowd that attended the 10:30 show on Friday night in Dazzles. I had my picture taken with Fabio and he was very gracious to all his fans.
Entertainment and Activities
My only regret is that I didnt make it to see more performers. I would say that the Sun has some very high quality shows and performers. The favorites appeared to be Fabio Zini and Sharkbait. Be sure to get a seat for both on Friday as it will be standing room only by then for these two acts.
The fitness facilities appear to be extensive and used frequently. I chose to walk the deck to keep an eye on the waters. Be sure to check out some of the daily activities esp. the days at sea. Skip the port consultants talks as you would think we all were cruising just to buy diamonds, watches and artwork.
The gallery shops offered many items at a reasonable price, so dont lament if you forgot something.
We enjoyed the behind the scenes talk given by the staff, the captain and the chief engineer. It answered many of the questions we all have about the details of how the ship operates and is run. Afterwards, the captain and chief engineer were available for questions and we got to ask them many questions privately and it was another nice photo op.
Thursday, July 6th Prince Rupert
Today is more leisurely because the port isnt till 4 PM. We ate at the Seven Seas and had a fresh fruit plate, banana oatmeal pancakes and scrambled eggs. My husband had bacon, scrambled eggs and the pancakes. We spent lots of time in the observation areas and then attended the Latitudes party at noon. Free cocktails and hors d'oeuvres were offered followed by door prize giveaway. Dont expect a free cruise to be one of the gifts. Things like a free dinner for 2, champagne, etc.
There was a cooking demo put on by the chefs in the observation lounge that we saw. Pacific Heights becomes the pizza/pasta station for lunch. I was disappointed that the pasta portion closed down 45 mins early.
We disembarked after 4PM at Prince Rupert. Many people on this board have criticized the choice of this port as it has few tours. It is an ordinary fishing port where real people live and shop in town. The downtown section is disappointing unless you need to go to a drug store or a Safeway supermarket. They have a few jewelry stores and galleries. If you just want shopping, go to Cow Bay where the touristy shops are. You will find the more native items there also and a unique store offering items that features Royal Canadian Mounted Police themed items. This was our only port where we experienced any real rain and even then it was a drizzle at best. It was charming but not at all developed like the other three ports.
Dinner was at the Seven Seas. My husband had steak (good, not great) and a baked potato. We shared the coconut crusted chicken strips as an appetizer- excellent choice. I had the lasagna rollups with sausage and pine nuts and broccoli soup followed by cherry cheesecake. Probably our least favorite dinner.
We went to see Cirque Pan at the Stardust. I appreciated the dance teams and acrobats and gymnastics on ropes. My husbands eyes were closed half the time. It might remind one of the 18th century bourgeois theatrical productions that are garish and a bit avante garde.
The Chocoholic buffet was at 11 PM and one had the opportunity to see every child that was on board at this time. I recall more individual and creative desserts on a previous NCL cruise. This one featured mostly the same set of chocolate cakes that lacked flair and flavor. One suggestion would be to have a to go line for those who want to mound up their plates and go elsewhere. It was truly amazing to see how much some people consume and explains why the average weight gain on the cruise is about 8-9 lbs. These desserts generally werent worth it. The ice sculptures and large chocolate artwork were wonderful to view though. I was somewhat disappointed with this experience. It was like gluttony at sea. Sort of like eating a plate full of Twinkies when one or two fabulously rich chocolate specialties would be so much more memorable.
Frugality and value I am writing this part for those of us on a budget who want a great experience but have to say no to some things. The first choice is cabin selection. We went for a cheaper outside cabin and had a large porthole on the fourth deck. I have to tell you that I had $2,000 in NCL/MBNA vouchers so the majority of my cruise was free. I only had to pay the $500 deposit and that was with my NCL credit card where I got 5% back to apply to my next cruise. I also used my Capitol One point rewards for one of our airline tickets and for our fabulous room at the Crowne Plaza in Seattle. Check out the NCL website for info on the MBNA MasterCard.
I have read many CC members think that a balcony is a must, but that is about $1,000 more per couple. Alaska can be cold and Im sure a balcony is nice, but that is almost enough to fund another cruise for one of us to Alaska! I was able to get fantastic views (while staying warm) of all the important ports and cruise features because of the advice on this board. Most of your fellow passengers wont have this inside info and I decided to not throw my pearls to the swine after meeting the Beetch family in Ketchikan. The info on this board is privileged info for the wise and energetic traveler.
Then, you have to decide on tours. I was surprised that many people just went on in town tours or none at all. I guess the best advice is to consider what YOU think is interesting. Seeing a whale in Alaska was optional for me but for you that may be the highlight. My husband really wanted to pan for gold above all else and I wanted the Whitepass experience. We didnt regret the decisions. One thing I would avoid are the in town attractions like visiting the brothels and the famous saloons. The locals think they are a joke and avoid them like the plague. Dog sledding with a cart on land seems lame to me. Bus tours of the small towns also seem a waste. Someone pointed out that some of them were like visiting any boring small town back home. Try to get out on a short trip to the wilderness areas if you are on a budget. For example, you can easily see Ketchikan yourself up close and personal and then pay $30-40 to go see the wildlife away from town for a few hours. The $12 RT bus trip to Mendenhall seems like a super value.
The obvious suggestion is to limit your liquor consumption on board. A few drinks from the bars or restaurants each day could have set us back a minimum of $500 easy. I didnt meet anyone who bought diamonds or art work on board or at the cruise sponsored shops in town but I would consider that a huge waste of my valuable time and money. All cruise lines work hard to make you think that is why you cruise, so stay away from the free champagne offers.
Friday, June 7th Day at Sea
A late start and then breakfast at the Seven Seas. Pastry, bacon, scrambled eggs, fruit and OJ. Be sure to always ask for a window seat. We were told it would be a wait and then were seated 30 secs later. My husband went to the disembarkment meeting that is a waste since the written instructions are clear and the meeting is replayed all day on one of the stations. I went to the casino, did some window shopping and watched the movie Failure to Launch interspersed with vigorous walking on deck. The top two decks were closed because of gale (8) force winds and only the hardy joined me on the promenade deck. The rough sea conditions hardly affected the ships movement. I never once felt any even gentle rolling. At worst, it is like normal, very mild turbulence on a plane.
Lunch was at the Seven Seas with a Pina Colada Pineapple in a cup, a vegetarian burger with salad and yummy coconut cake. My husband had a fish taco, fries and broccoli soup with almonds and cake.
At 2 PM was the behind the scenes talk with staff and the captain. You will really enjoy this and I explained a lot of this info earlier.
We had made a reservation in Pacific Heights and had the clam chowder, homemade meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes and light roasted gravy with string beans wrapped in a carrot strip. My husband had grilled pork chops, roasted cabbage rolls and applesauce. He enjoyed the cider apple pie again and I went for the Coconut Pavlova with tropical fruits that is a meringue with the fruits topped by a high quality ice cream sprinkled with toasted coconut.
The evening entertainment started out sort of sketchy. The Stardust featured the passengers entertainment that varied from cute/clever to down right awful. I left when the guitarist sang his own music terribly off key. We went to the Observation Lounge where a minimal crowd was listening to Prime Time. No comment since I didnt hear them earlier in the cruise. Shark Bait was performing in the Stardust and it was standing room only. They wowed the crowd. We were able to get to Dazzles to get a good seat for Fabio Zinis show at 10:30 and listened and danced to the great music of Harmony and Rhythm. She has a Tina Turner like act while her partner was gifted in sounding like some of the musical greats like Nat King Cole.
Fabio put on a great show for a wild audience. It was exciting, No? Yes! Not yet! You will get those lines when you see Fabio. By then, he had his enthusiastic groupies. Be sure to see him.
July 8th- Seattle
The trip had been great. Then, on our deck a crowd gathered outside the cabin of this distraught woman who didnt want to end her cruise and she refused to leave. The security guards couldnt persuade her to leave her cabin and it was only after the captain and some officers promised her a free trip again next year that she unhandcuffed herself and came out of the room. Ill let you know if the captain makes good on the offer after I get the voucher in the mail. Ha ha&.
I was hoping to go for a walk early but the promenade deck was blocked in several areas, one for bunkering. The fuel ship comes to the Sun for refueling. We then met our Cruise Critic friends for breakfast at the Seven Seas. There are no special offerings on the last day but there was a full selection of all the usual.
The freestyle Disembarkment process is as smooth as can be. You are informed about Freestyle disembarkment which allows you off the ship first if you wish BUT you carry all of your own luggage. Most every one else is assigned a color and it goes by decks. Ours was to go at 9:45 but we were called before 9:15. We were out and through customs in 5 mins and quickly found our bags. We had them carried to Shuttle Express which offers a deal for 2 for $28.95 to the airport on a van. We were whisked off very efficiently within 5 mins and were at the airport before 10 AM, three hours before our flight.
Odds and Ends
1. Use your gut level impressions with all the advice given by me or others. Your choices will depend on your interests, activity levels and bank account.
2. Your final bill is delivered on your door by 2 AM the morning of departure. If you agree, there is no need to do anything more. Ours was accurate.
3. Consider booking tours/excursions independently unless you are cutting it really close on the ending time. Chilkoot gave a guarantee so I felt good. I DID observe late passengers being left behind, but on buses and the ship, so bring your watch and dont be late. We had no problem but the 4th of July problem in Juneau (and probably the other ports) was a unique issue that you wont have to deal with. Most tours meet you right at the dock and follow their instructions carefully. Many smaller tours can be found in town or even at the dock.
4. Dont look at the weather reports before you leave! Our forecast said we had 60% chance of rain in all the major ports and it was glorious and sunny. Do plan for dressing like in early spring though and wear layers.
5. If you really want to see whales, dont count on seeing them from the ship. We didnt and we really tried!
6. If on a budget, dont get caught up in the casino, drinking or diamond/gem/art talks. Alaska is too amazing for those mundane things.
7. Watch for the coast guard boats leading the Sun into the ports. They were at the bow ready on the huge guns. One sailboat got too close for comfort in Seattle and two coast guard vessels swiftly buzzed in and sent them on their way.
8. Take advantage of the motion detector sanitizing stations more often than you are required. You are sprayed on your hands upon returning to ship and these containers of disinfectants are all over the ship including the entrances to the dining rooms. The captain also doesnt like to shake hands to keep the staff healthy.
9. Take advantage of the BAGS program if you are flying with American, Delta, Alaska or United after 1PM. For $15 pp they take two pieces of your heavy luggage right to the airport from the ship and you dont see it again till you get home. You will get info a few days before departure.
10. Read the Freestyle Daily and know that the times at the restaurants tend to change depending on the day. At sea days have a late start for breakfast while many places open at 5:30 on big tour days.
11. A trip to the ship doctor starts at $78 so bring your meds along and stay healthy.
12. Many people thought that eating at the specialty restaurants was very important and I heard the food was outstanding. We just ate at all the main restaurants and Pacific Heights. The dress code is a bit more upscale in the $ dining areas. I ate very well and only gained 2-3 lbs.
13. It would have been nice if there were more non-smoking areas set aside on at sea days. The only non-smoking areas were the very small and crowded game room off the library and the restaurants.
14. We saw no advantage in using NCL transportation to or from the airport. It was faster and cheaper using the recommendations I gave.
15. There are no self serve laundry facilities on board. I did a few rinse outs but things worked out well. I was considering using the Weds. $20 laundry special- all you can fit in a good sized bag, but then read that the cleaned clothes were delivered by Friday night, so that really did no good except I would have clean and wrinkled laundry to unpack. But, it is a good deal if you are desperate or are staying in the area a few more days. It is valid only on Weds. (Skagway). Dry cleaning does not apply.
16. Consider that you can afford another trip back if you give up some of the experiences other people must have, like the balcony, helicopter tours, dog sledding on real snow. Next time I may do one of the later. Always hope you will return! I think I will make certain I visit the interior and see Denali. The inside passage is a great introduction to Alaska and makes you yearn for more.
17. The advice on Cruise Critic is truly more valuable than any book I read including Alaska by Cruise Ship by Anne Vipond. Get books and videos from the library for free, but ask questions of the Cruise Critic members for the most accurate, current opinions and advice. Less