This was our 3rd NCL cruise to Alaska (in 10 year) and 2nd on the Pearl. I had such fond memories of the last time on the Pearl to Alaska in 2009 and this wasn’t as great, maybe because this wasn’t anything new.
We booked only 4 weeks in advance as I saw the prices drop lower and lower, to about ½ of what we paid in 2009. I booked everything (cruise, hotel, air) through our awesome NCL PCC. Luckily he was able to change our initially horrid flights to a decent hour.
Embarkation: Ballantyne Pier in Vancouver wasn’t nearly as unpleasant (for us) as it was back in September as we embarked the Jewel for the Pacific Coastal. We had stayed at the Holiday Inn Vancouver Airport and once again our transfer was delayed and I wasn’t looking forward to Ballantyne. To our great surprise, we got to skip the 1000+ strong security and check-in lines. When we got onboard and went to the buffet, the crowd hadn’t arrived yet. It was almost eerie how quiet the ship was. Our departure was delayed though because of the crowds at check-in. They just kept coming and coming… and coming. And why did we go through CBP for an Alaska cruise but not for the Pacific Coastal?
Ship: Well, she’s 4 years older than the last time we sailed and it shows. She had been in dry dock just a couple weeks prior but no one had details on what was done. The only thing that stood out for me was new carpet in the stairwell landings (but obviously not on the stairs themselves). Otherwise, she was the same old Pearl.
Cabin: I was excited to get a midship balcony, port side, just what I wanted. This was good and bad. Last time we were on deck 10, this time on deck 9. I prefer 10 with cabins above and below. This time we were close to the midship elevators one deck above the Crystal Atrium, convenient location, but I’m a light sleeper and I could hear the loud music from the Atrium which made for some late, unpleasant evenings. The beds were comfortable as always. The room was worn. The balcony railing needed some varnish, there was pencil writing on the toilet stall wall, and the bathroom sink was chipped and the basin was cracking all over. The cabin had robes, but one was so worn out it was almost see through so we left a note for our steward who replaced that evening. Speaking of the steward, my mother met him, but I never did. I did leave a note requesting extra towels be left daily and he did for the duration. He just didn’t compare to the sweet guy from the Jewel who earned a Vacation Hero card from me.
Service: A couple things stand out for me. Eddie and Rowena on the cruise staff always brought a smile to my face. They were so cute and funny. On the flip side, there was one surly hostess/waitress in the Blue Lagoon who stood out for all the wrong reasons. Maybe it was her bad attitude that got her banished to the BL.
Food: I’m no foodie. We didn’t eat at the specialty restaurants. A few things: NCL hasn’t figured out scramble eggs (lukewarm and appearing undercooked), but the made to order omelets were good (and hot). NCL doesn’t seem to ever change the standard menus--same old stuff on the Jewel, Epic, and Pearl (all within 2 years). As for room service, I wish they’d take the turkey hoagie and grilled cheese off the menu. They are both embarrassing (one piece of turkey, cheese that’s not melted). Yes, I was on a cruise and actually ordered such items, lol. Breakfast and lunch in the Garden Café was a mob scene, but luckily we knew to go to La Cucina. More and more people figured that out by the end of the cruise. It was just too cold to sit outside.
Ports: Repeats for us. This trip was to be a budget trip for us so we didn’t go overboard on excursions. Skagway: We walked all the way to the Jewel Gardens, which were open (and free because it was too early in the season and there were no flowers!). Took a shuttle back to town ($2), shopped, and walked back to the ship. Did some bowling onboard. Juneau: Our first whale watching trip. Booked independently through Orca Enterprises. Only 14 passengers total on this trip, which allowed us to move around freely. Mainly saw orcas and just a couple humpbacks. The office is conveniently located across the street from the Mt Robert Tram. Oh, and before the tour, we took a short walk over to the Juneau Library for the free WiFi. Ketchikan: Walked over to Creek Street, rode the funicular ($1-2) up the mountain and walked a trail back down. Glacier Bay: So beautiful. Great calving at Marjerie Glacier. We weren’t as lucky back in 2009 so this time was a treat! In the afternoon heading back out of Glacier Bay we saw humpback whales, just at the onboard naturalists had said, around 2-3pm. Victoria: Because of the short evening port time, time was ticking. Onboard we had booking a Butchart Gardens excursion using some OBC that was gifted to us. We were instructed to meet in the Stardust at 6pm for a 6:30 tour departure. We waited and waited. We were told the delay was due to the ship being cleared. We were losing daylight. 7pm came and went. Finally our tour was called and then we joined the mob of people in the stairwell down to deck 4. It took at least 20 minutes to get off the ship. We didn’t get to Butchart until 8:15pm. We had 2 hours on our own, and the first hour the sun was setting and the last hour it was dark so that was disappointed. The roses weren’t blooming yet. If you book a Butchart Gardens excursion, no need to book the one with “and city highlights”. We saw the highlights to and from the port. Victoria is a beautiful place.
Entertainment: Didn’t attend any shows, but played lots of trivia (have a new mug to show for it), did some bowling and gambling. We did watch Deal or No Deal and gasped when someone turned down a $450 offer and ended up with about $100. The “Majority Rules” game in the Spinnaker turned out pretty funny.
Disembarkation: Our NCL flights included airport transfer. We were given colored tags but carried off all our luggage, handed in our customs forms, and walked straight to a waiting bus. Quick and painless. Our flight was at 1:55 so we were with the “flights before 2” group at 8:15, which means we got to the airport too early to check our bags.
Final thoughts: I wish the fitness center would open before 6am. Why not 24 hours for us early risers? In NCLs defense, I didn’t put a lot of effort into planning, so if it wasn’t exciting that’s my fault. My mom at one point said maybe it’s time to try another line, but I did purchase a FCR as I’ve been eyeing the NCL Baltics itinerary. Hopefully a (new to us) ship and new ports will bring back the excitement. We’re just comfortable on NCL, where we’re free to…whatever.