My sister booked this cruise well in advance and her husband had to cancel due to unexpected business. The younger brother (that's me!) was asked to fill in. I did upgrade the room from an inside cabin to a port side cabin #9584 with a balcony. This is my second cruise and my first balcony...it was worth the $120 to upgrade the week before we departed. The cabins at this level are small but functional. The balcony really helps with the size. The checking in experience was organized and pretty quick. We checked in as early as we could and then went exploring Seattle for 3 hours (Pike Place Market...a must!) before we boarded the ship.
Most employees we encountered were friendly and from all over the world. The public areas of the ship are in good shape but always crowded. The pool area was the least crowded and that's because it was in the mid 40's. My biggest critique of the whole experience is the "nickle and diming" throughout the entire cruise. The amount of time the cruise line put into selling things was unbelievable! The art auctions were a total scam (selling unconditional credit to finance art at a nominal 23% interest rate.) Who would buy jewelry on a cruise ship?...hundreds if not more were getting roped in. Liquor, wine and beer are not just expensive, they are outrageous! We could have easily spent well over $500 on booze (and we are not super big drinkers). Fortunately, we were able to beat the system and brought our own alcohol on board. Google how to do that...many people have many approaches.
The "free" restaurants were adequate, but nothing amazing. The restaurants you paid additional for looked nicer, but you could spend $100 to make a reservation for dinner. Crazy! Lots of activities were at additional cost ($40 to play bingo and you got a few cards...you could spend a lot more for more cards. Everything that was for sale was very high priced...I paid $19 for a $6 cigar. Laundry service was offered midway through the trip for $30 for an 8 gallon size bag of laundry. We did our homework and carried our laundry off the ship at Skagway to the local laundromat that is located in the gas station at 2nd and State Street...$6, 2 loads and a great conversation with the local owner.
The excursions offered are plentiful and very expensive. I booked my own excursions directly with the operators and saved more than $600 had I booked through Norwegian. We did a helicopter tour in Juneau (expensive but saved $ by buying the Alaska Tour Book) and it was worth every penny. We rented our own car in Skagway and drove to the Yukon Territory up to Carcross (greenjeeptours.com or Avis)(Greenjeeptours.com has a cd that you listen to while driving and it shares important sites, etc. They didn't have any vehicles available so we rented from Avis and then rented the cd and maps for $10...it was nice to have things pointed out.) In Ketchikan we chartered a fishing boat for salmon fishing...we didn't catch much but we had the boat to ourselves with a captain. There wasn't much time in Victoria, BC.
You pay $12/day/person for service...it is added to your bill automatically and when I went to the main desk to lower that amount (you can request a lower amount if you have the gumption to ask for it) they couldn't have been ruder!
The destination is amazing...I will go back through a different venue...you won't be disappointed with Alaska. The ship is crowded (as most ships are) and unfortunately, food is the main focus besides the scenery. The free entertainment was good to excellent and the closing night with intros of all the crew members was "touching"...they do work their butts off. Based on my calculations, the cost of the cruise is 1/3 of what you will actually spend while on the cruise unless you get creative and take certain matters into your own hands. So as you have gathered, I am not a cruise person...it's just not for me. My sister and I had a very good time and made the best of this cruise adventure.