Our group of 7 persons traveled from Pennsylvania through Toronto on our way to Vancouver. We stayed overnight at the airport Travel Lodge in Richmond which offered a complimentary shuttle from the airport. The hotel was super-there was also some shopping available withing walking distance for those last minute items! We then took a Vancouver Shuttle bus to the pier which had stops at 7 other hotels and worked great for only $15 per person---it dropped us off inside Canada Place only steps away from the very long check-in lines. There were 3 ships on the Monday of our embarkation which all shared the same baggage scanning lines and we also went through US Customs at that time. That took about 90 minutes and then put us in the NCL Sun line which was short by that time. By 3 pm we were on the ship!!! The luggage arrived more quickly than expected and we had ample time to explore the ship before the life boat drill. There was an opportunity to sign up for the "wine package" near the restaurant reservations desk. Basically you are buying wine in advance at a discount by the bottle. It is a great opportunity to receive a 25% average discount on wine from 3 different price levels. Since we had 4 adults in our group we bought 8 bottles from the low end and 8 from the middle. The average cost was about $24 per bottle---they give you slips of paper with each bottle name. You then just give that to any waiter anywhere on the ship and it comes to you quickly. We had our first bottle of wine in the Observation Lounge (which became a favorite spot for us) and had a super view of the Vancouver port area and the sun set. The first night on the ship both Main Dining Rooms (MDRs) serve Surf & Turf which everyone in our group ordered---the lobster was cooked just right we also ordered 2 appetizers and 2 desserts each (oh, and another bottle of wine). The entertainment was an introduction of the cruise staff, the production dancers and band along with short previews of the other entertainers.
Day two we got acquainted with the ship and the dining options. We had breakfast in the MDR which I liked, but the family thought it took too long. Several in our group had lunch 3 places including the MDR, the Garden Cafe (buffet) and the poolside BBQ (which is really super). This was a lovely day which you could be out on the deck chairs relaxing. Dinner again in the MDR which was good.
Day three started with a quick breakfast at the buffet (where you can get eggs to order and lots of very good stuff!). Then into Ketchikan. Back on ship my boys wanted to try the pool since the weather was so hot and sunny. To my surprise, the sea water pools were HEATED and quite comfortable--lots of fun. Later, my DW and I had dinner at Le Bistro which was fantastic!! The boys (12,16 and 17) actually ate in both MDRs, one at 5:30 and again at 8 (oh to be young again!). Our other couple had signed up for dinner with the senior staff and really enjoyed it sitting with the chief navigator and the manager of the shops.
Day four - again quick breakfast at the buffet then off to Juneau. All of us att in the Italian Restaurant which sits in a sliver of space between the 2 MDRs with great views out the windows. The food and service was perfect with lots of menu items. I think we had 2 or 3 appetizers each and several desserts (which let us to decide to come back again later in the cruise)...also more good wine.
Day five - Early arrival in Skagway and another breakfast in the buffet. Very convenient docking spot right at the town. Short walk to the bus for our bus/rail excursion. That evening we went to the Moderno for the most meat I have ever eaten in one meal. The amount and quality was amazing!! There was chicken, sausage, lamb chops (the best), filet, braised beef, 3 kinds of ribs, and roasted pineapple!
Day six - make sure you get up early and pick a window seat in the Observation Lounge (by 6:30 or 7 at the latest). We took turns running to the buffet and bringing back breakfast. The Park Service Rangers had been picked up before 6 AM and were setting up in the lounge. There was excellent commentary by the ranger, plus an opportunity for my 12 yo to get a junior ranger pin and passport stamps. There was some light rain, so we were vary happy to be able to sit at the window inside for a great view and walk outside whenever we wanted! By 8 am we were starting to see glaciers with arrival at the giant Marjorie Glacier around 9:30. There was some major calving activity which sends out a thunderous noise. The weather was so good that we got within 1/4 mile of it and later went up a fjord towards the Johns Hopkins glacier which is rarely possible to do. It was wonderful and we have 4-500 photos of the morning! Outstanding. We were back at the MDR again where several of us had the Lamb shank (my favorite entree of the MDRs) - another very good dinner.
Day seven - once again, you need to get an early seat in the observation lounge as we arrived at the Hubbard glacier area before 8 am. This time, cruise director Richard gave the commentary. Once again, the weather and iceburg activity allowed us to get extremely close (1/4 mile) from this massive glacier which stands 350' above the water line and extends another 200'+ beneath it. It is 7 miles long. The captain took us all along the face then turned around to give the other side of the ship the same view! We then headed full steam towards Whittier. The seas were a bit rougher than the rest of the trip, but not bad at all. We went back to Il Adagio (Italian) for the second time and had an equally great experience!
Debarkation was the simplest I ever experienced. Having cleared US customs on departure, we simply walked off the ship claimed our luggage and met our shuttle (from ABC Motorhome Rental) to Anchorage. This was great---it was staggered enough that there were not even lines for the elevators!
I found the land packages offered by the cruise line to be both expensive and shorter that I wished for our group. Thus we picked up a 32' RV from ABC Motorhome Rentals and after shopping for food and doing laundry headed off for 10 days on the mainland.
Highlights from that adventure included 3 nights in Denali at the Teklanika Campground with great experiences on the park shuttle system seeing lots of bears, caribou, eagles and mountain sheep. We saw up to about 17,000' of the mountain!
We then headed north of Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs Resort which is an amazing relaxing place to enjoy mineral springs in a natural setting. That evening we actually saw the Aurora in a modest display after the skies cleared having been cloudy all day!! Then next day we drove all the way down the Richardson Highway stopping to see the pipeline and also at the Wrangell-St. Elias NP visitors center. Next stop was Worthington glacier--an easy walk right up to its face from the parking lot--very cool. You then drive through the scenic Keystone Canyon on the way into the fishing crazy port of Valdez. Some kind fisherman gave us some of their bounty which we grilled for dinner! It is a beautiful port town with incredible views of the mountains.
On our way back to Anchorage, we stopped along the Glann Highway at the Matanuska Glacier where we took a 3 hour+ guided hike onto the glacier. I highly recommend this to everyone! We drove past Anchorage to The Kenai River and took a scenic float down it---very enjoyable. Then we drove down to Homer and thoroughly enjoyed our beachfront camp site on the Homer Spit--very relaxing! On our final day we headed to Seward with some time at the Exit Glacier then to a 5 hour boat trip on the Resurrection Bay where many birds an mammals including puffins and seals were easily viewed--lots of fun.
We found ABC Rentals easy to work with and the RV was affordable and worked very well for us. It only got 8 miles per gallon but did everything we needed it to do!
All in all a trip our family will never forget. We hope to get back again some day!!!