This cruise was a spectacular vacation for Kat and I when we sailed on Norwegian's Pearl to Alaska from Seattle. We did a lot of homework because neither of us had ever sailed on a large ship . We made lists of things we wanted to do and notes about restaurants, places to see, and sights not to miss. We read cruise reviews until our eyes were crossed. It paid off because we both enjoyed ourselves without any glitches.
Checking in was easy and painless. I anticipated chaos, noise, and crowds from shows I had seen on the Travel Channel but it was organized and civilized. With canes in hand we boarded in a group with other handicapped passengers. I did not understand why calypso music was playing while we boarded. Had we been en route to the Carribean it would have made sense. It may just be a Norwegian custom to play calypso music while passenger board their ships. The music did not fit the situation. I expected to hear Johnny Horton singing "North, to Alaksa" as it was playing inside my head. The first order of business was to have a seat in the first bar we found and have a cocktail. The waitress was pleasant and seemed as excited as we were to be onboard. It was sweet to sit and have a cocktail while fully absorbing our beautiful surroundings. There is a Dale Chihuly glass scuplture in the lobby and it captivated us. It is done in the colors of the sea and with its massive size became a landmark for us.
Rather than rush to our cabin we went to the buffet to enjoy our lunch. The foods were well presented; the dining room was clean; the staff kept everything organized. It all made for a lovely lunch. Had we known that within the hour a massive bar-b-que would be served on the depool deck, we would have skipped the buffet and had another drink in the bar. The bar-b-que was like nothing I had seen before. I'm talking steaks cooked-to-order, chicken, grilled salmon, burgers...it was HUGE and also available were a dozen different salads, bread, and side dishes. It would have been perfect had not the skies opened with cracking thunder, lightning, and very hard rain. Well, hello Seattle. This storm came out of nowhere! Everyone scattered for cover and Kat and I became separated. I ate by myself under an awning while visiting with other passengers and eventually we were reunited.
We made our way to our cabin without incident. Our luggage was in place so we settled in and unpacked. To say the cabin was "compact" is an understatement. It was tight, bu no space was wasted. The balcony made all the difference in the world to sway my feelings of claustrophobia. I would never cruise in a cabin that did not have a balcony. There is no better place to have ones morning coffee and a Bloody Mary than on a cruise ship balcony. The open sea, islands, shoreline, passing ships,the fragrance of salt air all await from ones balcony. Trip tip: Unpack your bags and store them under the bed. Ask your cabin steward for ice, fill your fridge with whatever you brought to drink, and enjoy!
We read our daily cruise newsletter faithfully which informed us of everything from "the Drink of the Day" (a cocktail at a reduced bar price), games and activities on board, shows and restaurant specials. Read this little gem daily. You won't want to miss the Sock Hop in the Spinaker Lounge. You will be informed and not one of those passengers walking amid ship glassy-eyed saying, "Where do I go? What do I do?"
We went out on deck for the grand sail away. The horns and whistles sounded off as we sailed on our great journey to Alaska! The ship was moving at last! I brought little bottles of soap bubbles with wands and handed them to passing children as we stood on deck ready to sail. What a great idea that turned out to be! One Mom said after giving a bottle to each of her children, "You don't know what this means to me and my kids. We had a house fire two weeks before this cruise and we almost didn't take the trip. Through the kindness of people like you and those who helped us after the fire my children are able to find some joy." I cried. Right then and there I started blubbering as she hugged me. Kat and I wished eachother a Bon Voyage and went off to explore the ship.
Nothing went wrong on this cruise. The staff, ship, food, service, amusements, cabin, room service, activities, shows, housekeeping, and cabin stewards were all pleasantly perfect. We never had to send food back to the kitchen while dining. The chef at each venue made rounds in the dining rooms every night to applause and smiles from the guests. When a chef stopped at our table to ask for our comments Kat told him he served the best bread pudding she had ever tasted. He was grateful for the comment. In fact he was so grateful that he sent a double order of bread pudding to our table. Had he known she was already eating her second order of bread pudding that night he probably would have sent flowers instead. It didn't matter as it was the best bread pudding either one of us had ever tasted. Our waiter packed it up for us to take to our cabin and we had it for a midnight snack. When Kat couldn't wear her jeans comfortably a couple of days later she knew it was time to stop eating bread pudding for dessert every night. My downfall was the lemon sorbet. It was freshly made and was served on all but two nights. I know this because I counted all the times I had fresh lemon sorbet for dessert.
We enjoyed every port of call without taking any organized tours in port. We made our own fun by visiting with shop keepers and other locals. Juneau was a highlight because that is where we found the Ben Franklin store. It reminded me of the Newberry and Woolworth stores I knew as a child. The Ben Franklin store is one of the "If we don't have it you don't need it." genre. I found a new jacket and a home for the big bulky over-insulated one I rought with me. That jacket made me look like a certain man who sells tires but I thought it was what I need for Alaska. Wrong! I needed the one I found at Ben's store. I asked the clerk if she knew of a place where I could donate the coat I brought. I didn't want it to end up in a dumpster as it was the perfect coat for someone who lives in Alaska in the winter. She told me of a friend of hers who could use my coat. I was happy to give it to her. Kat found a native-made cross-body bag with an Alaskan motif. She should have bought ten of them because both back onboard the Pearl and when she returned home everyone wanted to know about that purse! We found jewelry, post cards, snacks, a travel flashlight, and good ol' Coca-Cola. We shopped in a variety stores in Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan that offered gemstone necklaces for $150,000.00, native-made products, beautiful art (including stained glass works), kitschy souvenirs and all manner of clothing. There wasn't a better store in all of our travels than the Ben Franklin store in Juneau. Add it to your list of things to do.
We laughed, we cried, we sang, and we danced. Our cruise to Alaska was just what we wanted it to be. Norwegian gave us our money's worth and much, much more.
The only complaint I can make about this cruise is that Norwegian Cruise Lines offers Pepsi rather than Coke. When one considers all of the elements of a cruise vacation it really is not a deal breaker.
Travel tip: Tip your cabin steward well. You will be charged by the cruise line a daily fee that is shared among the service staff. This is fee is about $12.00 per person and is fully negotiable. If you do not wish to pay it at the end of your cruise you have to ability to have it removed from your final bill. When one considers the service staff who work to make your vacation as wonderful as you want it to be, generous tipping should be a given. Consider the staff who work in the laundry so that your sheets and towels sparkle, the cooks and dishwashers who provide you with memorable meals and sanitary dining, the crews who work around the clock to keep the ship in ship shape, and you will realize that although one may have glamorous thoughts of working on a cruise ship, minimum wage is the norm. The cabin stewards work up to twelve hour days in split shifts. Do you go to work from 0500 to 1130, take a break for four hours, then go back to work for another four hours? It is rough but they do it. They do it so you will have a memorable and happy vacation. Travel tip: We gave our cabin steward a gift each night during the cruise. As an example: assorted mini bottles of liquor, a tub of imported chocolates, boxes of microwave popcorn (A b_tch to pack but it makes for a lot of room in your suitcase for travel finds.) and cash. Cash is good as it allows the steward to spend as he/she wishes. I also suggest prepaid phone cards to allow for calls back home while in port. We came into our cabin to find a different towel animal every night. I loved the monkey so much that Kat made him swing from the light fixture and while I videotaped it. Corny? Definately! Memorable? Of course!