We are platinum latitudes members on NCL, and we have always loved the freestyle cruise style of NCL. We have been on about 16 cruises with them, to just about everywhere they go, and this was one of our best experiences. The ship is an older one, but is in great shape. We travelled with our infant daughter and teenage son, so we had a wide variety of interests in regard to the cruise.
What really made this cruise for us was the service. Although service on NCL has never been terrible, we haven't been happy, particularly with the cabin stewards, on our last few cruises. It seemed like they were aware that they would receive their tips (i.e. "service charge" for us), regardless of the effort they made to do their job well. This cruise was a welcome improvement. The cabin steward was very attentive, and seemed to anticipate our needs before we asked. The wait staff were great, as were just about all the staff.
Our teenage son liked the teen program, but complained a bit about the youth leaders canceling programs all the time if they felt that not enough kids showed up. Also, they have (at least on this cruise), gone back to the limited hours for the youth programs to be open. Typically, on this cruise, they were open for a few hours, then closed for a few hours, following that pattern throughout the day. Over the past few cruises, we had been happy to see that the youth programs were open all the time, except on port days, and the kids could wander in and out as they chose. Also, the kids were provided with some free time, versus just scheduled program activities.
We are from Southcentral Alaska, so this was a short trip for us. We have also been on this cruise twice before. We loved the ports, and there seemed to be plenty of excellent shore excursions. We didn't do any, as we prefer to do our own thing. We loved the program about the glaciers, where the park ranger got on the ship and narrated. The captain was great about pointing out interesting sites, like marine life or bears.
The shows were pretty good, although I've seen better on NCL. There were the standard musical programs, a comedian, and some acrobats/magicians. There were also the game shows and things around the ship. There was plenty to do for just about anyone.
One of our favorite things to do on the ship (yeah, it's terrible, but entertaining...) when we are bored is to hang out in the front desk area and listen to the people complaining to the hotel staff. I guess it gives us a barometer on how the cruise is going. Of course, there is always some curmudgeon who no one can please, but you can usually see by the line size (and volume of complainers) just how well this cruise is going. In the past, we have been on cruises when it seemed like everything went wrong, and the complaining was constant and many people were complaining. Well, on this cruise, there was very little complaining, so the entertainment value wasn't there, but there just wasn't much to complain about. In fact, as I said, the service was excellent.
Normally, we choose a mini suite or balcony cabin, but this time we chose an inside family stateroom. It was very large and well set up. It was at least as big as the balcony cabin, and set up in a way that you weren't tripping over each other. We even had a portable crib, but had plenty of space to move around.
One thing that I think is very important regarding disembarking in Whittier, Alaska- make sure you have your transportation back to Anchorage set up before you go on the cruise. There are NO busses, NO taxis, rental cars are very very limited, and there is almost nothing to do there. If you don't get a transfer to Anchorage prior to leaving the ship, you will not get one until many hours (i.e. some at 11pm that night) later. We live here, so we had someone picking us up, no problem. However, we tried to tell so many people about this, and they ignored us. Well, we saw tons of them sitting in the pier area freaking out because they couldn't find a way out. Whittier involves a one way at a time (every half hour or so) tunnel that costs $12 one way, and is the only way out of Whittier to Anchorage. Keep that in mind if you are embarking at Whittier as well, and make sure you allow plenty of time. Take them seriously. They are not just trying to sell you a transfer--transportation really is that limited.
As far as food, the specialty restaurants were great. The main dining rooms were great as well. There is a standard dinner menu that stays for the whole cruise, and an additional menu of specials for that day. We did the early sitting, and we never had a hard time getting a seat by the window. The Garden Cafe (the buffet) had good quality food, but there was very little variation throughout the cruise. What you ate for breakfast or lunch on day 1, you also ate on 2, 3, 4, etc.. It would also be nice to have something besides room service open on off hours. Many lines have a 24 hour buffet- NCL needs to do this as well.
So, overall, this was an awesome cruise. There was lots to do, and service was much better than we have seen lately with NCL. We would go on it again in a minute!
We found this port to be kind of dull. There is a nice gondola ride overlooking the water and the city that is worth your time. You can walk to it, you don't need to pay for a shore excursion. There are the usual tourist shops around, but not the cool Alaska you will see in other Alaska ports. Again, rain gear. It rains a lot here. A jacket is also a must, especially if you are from a warm climate and mind the cold.
This is authentic pioneer Alaska. Check out Creek Street, as well as the coffee shops (an Alaska tradition throughout the state!!). Also, there are plenty of other places to walk to. Bring an umbrella if there is even a suggestion of rain. It is very very rainy, and just because it's dry when you get off the ship doesn't mean you won't be getting torrential rain on the way back!
Another classic pioneer town in Alaska. Tons of shopping and cool restaurants and coffee houses. Prices aren't bad, either (for Alaska). They are no higher than what we pay in south central Alaska. Bring rain gear if it might rain, or you will get VERY wet. A jacket would be good as well. There are tons of flight tours in planes and helicopters. If you can afford it, splurge. They are well worth it, rather than the more "tourist trap" places in the other shore excursions.