Alaska was beautiful even though most of the excursions we booked through NCL took you to tourist trap style places. We decided to book our excursions thru NCL because I had read if your excursion is delayed for any reason, the ship will wait for you if (and only if) it is an NCL excursion. Not to worry! In the future we may do our own excursion booking as we get to port. There are always many, many companies hawking their trips & from what I could gather, they are much cheaper. The excursions we did are as follows:
Port 1 Ketchikan: Magnificent Misty Fjords Seaplane- We found out after being on the ship & checking our excursion tickets, that anyone that weighs over 250 lbs. has to pay an extra $100.00 or you can't go. My husband is 6'4' and weighs over 250, so guess what ' At the excursion desk, they couldn't merely add the $100, they had to totally refund the entire excursion & recharge the whole thing at the higher price. (Dumb) The wait for the seaplane took almost an hour as they had 'mechanical problems' and had to bring in another plane. Even though there were still 5 planes sitting there at their dock. We were unfortunately in the very last group to be called & I felt we got gypped out of some of the tour time. We were one of the first planes back to the dock. So others left 15-20 minutes before us & were still out flying when we got back. (Aggravating) The flight was nice enough & we landed on a quiet little lake in the middle of nowhere. The pilot lets you out of the plane to walk on the pontoons. I declined. I was the only fraidy cat to stay in the plane. The ladder was tiny & those pontoons were too narrow for this grandma! I had never flown on a teeny tiny airplane so that was fun. There was room for my husband and me, a family of 3 and the pilot. All in all, it was fun.
Port 2 Juneau: Four Glacier Adventure by Helicopter ' This was by far the best excursion of the whole trip. (and no extra charge for my big hubby) You have to wear special glacier boots that go over your shoes unless you already have on hiking boots. The scenery is gorgeous & flying over the glaciers was amazing. Then to land on one & get out & walk on it was just incredible! You could drink the melting glacier that was flowing in little rivers on the glacier (we did) It was worth every penny it cost just to walk on that glacier. They are beautiful! The helicopter held me, hubby & another couple and the pilot. You wear headphones in the helicopter & listen to some music and sometimes the pilot gives updates. If you want to talk, you have to push a button on the ceiling of the helicopter. I mention that because I've never seen that happen on TV or in the movies. If you go to Alaska, do not miss the chance to walk on a glacier!
Port 3 Skagway: White Pass Railway & Yukon Expedition ' This was just OK & don't recommend it much. The bus ride up is very long (the lady in front of me was playing candy crush saga which I thought was funny as there was plenty of gorgeous scenery out the windows! But maybe she was bored) (also - there is a microscopic bathroom on the bus) and the stop for lunch is at a tourist trap type place. The BBQ chicken lunch was OK, nothing spectacular. You get a leg & a thigh. The taxidermy 'museum' is just run of the mill stuffed animals. I zipped right through it but did take pictures of the bears so we could say we 'saw bears'. There are a few miniature horses you can pet but then you have to declare on your customs forms coming back into the US that you had contact with livestock! (No big deal, they didn't ask about it, the customs agent didn't even look at the forms) There are 4 or 5 puppies that they said were 11 weeks old you can pet, but watch out for dog poop in the yards everywhere! They were cute. Lots of sled dogs to see, but if chained up dogs bother you, don't go. They are all chained up at their dog houses. From what I gather, that is the norm for sled dogs. The bus driver did pull over once when he saw another bus pulled over and there was a black bear cub foraging for food. I got a few blurry pictures but that is the only live bear we saw all week. We saw a brief glimpse of a caribou from the train on the ride down the hill. If you go, sit on the right side of the train (as you get in from rear of car as we did, when walking in, sit on the right) as that will be the side with the best views going down the mountain. Unless you go out to the platform on either end of the train car. (You are not allowed to go off your assigned train car) My husband spent almost the entire trip on the platform. There isn't much room out there & the people that were first ones out there ' stayed out there so don't delay getting out there or you won't get a turn! They did offer complimentary bottles of water on the train, which was nice, since a bottle of water on the ship costs $2.50 - $5.25!
Port 4 Victoria BC: Orca Whale Watching & Wildlife Tour ' The boat took about a 25 minute ride out to where there were reports of whales. It turned out to be one measly whale that surfaced every few minutes. Barely visible except for one quick surfacing where we did get a few photos. (nothing spectacular but at least you can tell it's a whale!) Keep the shutter on 'sport' (continuous shots) as the view of the whale is brief. There were 2 other tour boats from other companies at same spot. The 'wildlife' were a few seals on rocks in the distance on the trip back to the dock. Hard to tell what was a seal and what was a rock. The boat ride was very bumpy & several people were obviously sick & laying down on the benches. I took a Dramamine before going just to be safe even though I've only had motion sickness once in my life & I was pregnant then too so who knows. Some of the reviews on this company's website were out of this world but we were not so lucky. I also heard another co-passenger that went whale watching in a different port tell of a wonderful tale of seeing whales bubble netting. She lucked out!
Enough about the excursions, now onto the ship and cruise line itself. The 'free style' cruising was nice as we didn't have to adhere to scheduled meal times, but the buffet was always packed & hard to find a free table. Sometimes there wasn't silver service & napkins in the trays on the tables either. The food didn't vary much at all from day to day, so what you see on the first day ' you will probably see every day after that. We did eat in the other 'free' dining rooms and they were nice enough. Sometimes there were lines waiting to get in. The food was decent & service was 'just ok' ' nothing great. Four of the nights we ate in the extra charge dining rooms. The Teppanyaki (Benihani- like) Japanese dining room was the best of the extra fee dining rooms. The service was great & food was excellent plus the added fun of having the chef cook your food right in front of you & put on a little show. We also ate at Cagney's Steakhouse (it was good) and Le Bistro French (food was good but service was totally awful!) and what is called 'Mama's' (Italian) on the website but it isn't called that on the ship. It was OK too.
Our room steward was OK but I had to ask for ice almost daily. He filled the ice bucket half full once a day & that was it. I like ice water at night & it was all melted by then. The towel animals were cute but nothing extraordinary. Same thing as every other cruise ship. The duvet cover on our bed had a hole in it (over an inch long) and the cover on the sofa bed was very worn and faded. The clear plexiglass on our balcony was dirty & didn't look like it had been washed in a good long while. We used one of the bath towels to wipe it down so we could see better. When I cruised on Royal Carribean, the stewards were like ninjas & were mostly unseen but gave excellent service. The stewards on the Jewel were always in the halls, as were the big bags of trash & their carts with the cleaning supplies on them. Very unsightly & were seen way way too often! Comparing Norwegian to Royal Caribbean, I like RC much better for the service, and the ship was in better condition. On the Jewel, they were always trying to get extra money out of you with their games & their 'free seminars' which were only ploys to get you to buy their very expensive health products. They were even hawking their products when we went for our couples massage that cost almost $300! Like that wasn't enough, they wanted you to spend even more. It was very very annoying We did go to play Deal or No Deal (cost $20 per card to play) one of the first nights & it was a total disaster. The computer went down & it took them almost half an hour to fix it and then it goofed up the entire game & the poor lady that was on stage lost a couple hundred dollars thru no fault of her own. They didn't offer to fix anything for her. We saw her on land at one of our ports & talked to her & she did say they offered her a free dinner to make it up to her. They should have given everyone in the audience a free do over game because it was totally goofed up with the computer going down. We didn't play any more of their overpriced games after that.
We took our daughter & her husband along with us as a graduation present for her & told them (NCL) that at the time of booking the cruise. When we got on board, there was a card in the slot by their door telling her happy birthday (what?) and telling her to bring the card to an art auction to receive a free gift. Well, there was no 'free gift' but all they gave her was a 'chance' to win a piece of art in a drawing at the END of the auction, so she would have to sit thru an entire auction that she had no interest in (who buys 'art' on a cruise anyway?) to wait to see if she won anything, something they called a free gift. Very disappointing, not to mention it wasn't her birthday! She did get a little slice of some kind of fluffy icebox cake & the waiters sang happy birthday to her in one of the restaurants. Again, not her birthday but oh well, hey ' free cake! The shows in the main Stardust Theater were OK. The comedian (Dave Naster) was the best. He was very funny! The same dance crew perform at every show, even the "cirque" show. They were talented but just run of the mill cruise type entertainment.
All in all, it was a nice vacation, but I will not cruise with NCL ever again. Alaska was beautiful and worth seeing. Pack warm clothes even if you go mid July! I wore my winter coat with the hood on & gloves when we were on our balcony going up the fjord or whatever it was, Tracy's Arm maybe? On the way to Sawyer's Glacier that we barely got a glimpse of from very very far away. The Captain said there was too much ice in the water to venture any closer. He was probably right as there were lots of large chunks in the water. It was very cold that day on that balcony & I was glad I had my coat & gloves to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. It was definitely worth the extra money to have a balcony on this cruise!