My wife and I selected this cruise to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Before sailing, we spend a few days at Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks. The night before departure, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza Seattle-Downtown, which we booked through the cruise line. The room was great, and the staff were very helpful. It was nice having our luggage picked up around 9:00 and delivered to the ship. Our bus departed around 11:30, and we were checked in and on board by a little after noon - very efficient!
This was only our second cruise, and it had been 15 years since our last one, so our frame of reference is limited. First of all, let me list the "winners" on the trip:
- The service in The Summer Palace and Indigo was generally excellent. While we never had the same server twice, it was nice when one from a previous evening would stop by and say hello.
- We also had an excellent waiter in the Spinnaker Lounge, where we spent many evening looking for whales and half-listening to the entertainment. On our second visit, he greeted us warmly and took great care of us. Needless to say, we made sure to sit at one of the couches in his area for the rest of the trip!
- Our cabin steward was fantastic. He always greeted us by name and asked if everything was satisfactory. When my wife complained of some back pain, he brought her some medicated pads from his own medicine cabinet! The towel animals appear to be a tradition on this ship, and I think he was one of the pros, since he was among those demonstrating the craft late in the cruise.
- The entertainment was generally good, but the "Oh, What a Night" Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tribute group was great. The "Second City" troupe that was on board kinda left me cold, but I guess I'm not into improv.
- Of the four ports we visited, Ketchikan and Victoria were real winners. In Ketchikan, we visited the Totem Heritage Center, which, while small, was an excellent introduction into the culture and craft of the local First Nations. It is a short, but uphill, walk from the docks. In Victoria, we visited Butchart Gardens, which were absolutely fantastic. We were a little wary of being able to find efficient transportation, so we booked through the ship. Admission to the gardens is $30, and NCL charged $80 per person for transportation and admission - wow!
- In general, I'd rate the food in the complimentary restaurants a solid good, but not exceptional. I guess this is NCL's way of steering you toward the upcharge restaurants. We heard great things about them, but preferred to spend our money in some restaurants on shore. We had great meals at The Harbor House in Skagway and Annabelle's Keg and Chowder House in Ketchikan.
Well, on to the "clunkers":
- The only bad meal we had on board was from Topsiders Grill, poolside. The burgers that they were grilling next to the pool smelled great, but they appeared to be partially made of textured soy - I've had better burgers at fast food joints. Also, the buns were left in the open, and became stale very quickly.
- We only ate at the Blue Lagoon (the 24-hr, comfort food restaurant) once, and had a pretty poor server. We started with a couple of orders of Buffalo Wings for, and my wife wanted a side of potato salad to make a meal out of it. I ordered the meatloaf. The wings came quickly, but it was another 20 minutes before the potato salad came. When my entrée hadn't arrived after another 10 or 15 minutes, I flagged down our server, who looked embarrassed and said "I'll check on it". She brought it right out, obviously having forgotten about it.
- Of the four ports, Juneau left us cold. We wanted to see Mendenhall Glacier, and the cruise line only had expensive bundled excursions. So, we booked on our own through one of the hawkers right next to the Visitor Center. I would not use "Juneau Tours" again, as they overbooked their buses and had no organization to get people on board.
There were two items that I would consider major "fails":
- Lunchtime at the Garden Café (the buffet) was VERY popular, and it was often impossible to find any place to sit. We heard that it was like that every day, so avoided it after the first experience.
- We were overjoyed to receive an upgrade to a balcony cabin. My wife and I are very sensitive to cigarette smoke, so you can imagine our disappointment when we found that we were situate between two cabins of smokers, including what appeared to be chain smokers forward of us. Despite the velocity of the ship, the smoke curled directly onto our balcony, and into our cabin if the door was open. For this reason, we probably will not book with NCL again. Note: from what I've read, Celebrity and Princess are the only lines that prohibit smoking on their balconies - they will definitely get my business in the future!
Despite the few clunkers and fails, my wife and I had a great time. The best thing was the friends we made while whale watching from the forward sundeck.