This is my 3rd cruise (all with NCL), my 2nd on the Pearl, though my first on the Pearl was out of Miami.
This was a girls trip with my mother and aunt (in thier 60's, me in my 30's). We shared an aft penthouse suite with large balcony to take in all the beautiful scenery.
We started the day before, landing in Seattle around 11:30am, took a taxi from the airport to the Hyatt Place Hotel ($312 for Saturday night), the taxi was $40+tip. We chose the Hyatt Place because it was close to the space needle and included a free shuttle to anywhere within 1 mile. This included the Space Needle, the Pike Place Market, and Pier 66 for NCL. Saved us a ton in shuttle/taxi costs!
At 10am on embarkation day, we arrived at the dock. The Priority table wasn't set up, but a porter took our bags and took us to the right person. The handed me a 1/2 sheet of laminated yellow paper that said VIP PRIORITY or NORWEGIAN on it, and so once in the terminal we were directed to a special security line and whisked through. Up the stairs, our VIP paper was spotted and we were led to the Priorty Room.
We were immediately seated at a desk with a rep who checked us in, got our credit cards for our on board accounts and verified our passports. We were then given our first Freestyle Daily and told to enjoy the buffet until the concierge was ready to take us to lunch.
The buffet consisted of coffee and juices, cookies, cakes, brownies, etc. Within 30 minutes, Monica our concierge brought us our room keys and led us straight onto the ship and to Cagney's for lunch. Cagney's is only open to suite guest for breakfast and lunch. It is a pay-restaurant ($30) for dinner for the entire ship.
We ate here several days, as the food was excellent, and because the buffet was no longer self serve, it made more sense. (more on that later)
During lunch it was announced that our rooms were ready, so we took off for our first look at a Penthouse. Previously I have sailed in a mini-suite and balcony room. There is considerably more room, especially for 3 people, in a PH. At least 5 feet wider.
We were in a handicapped room, which may have given us even more space. We were not disabled, but this was the only PH left when I booked. Cabin 9672, an AFT PH, is said to have a large balcony, but unlike the cabins just one deck up, we didn't have a deep balcony, just an extra long one. This acutally worked better for the 3 of us, as we fit 2 chairs and a lounger out there, plus the small balcony table (1.5x1.5') and the small (3ft) coffee table from the room. We could all enjoy the view without blocking each other.
handicapped rooms have electric doors for the balcony, which is very tricky to operate and very slow opening/closing.
In our room, we had a desk, a bar, a dining table (smaller than the normal suite table because of being HC), and a lighted vainty table. Between these and the closets, there were 9+ drawers for storage, 4 cabinets, and at least 5 good sized shelves. Plus the closet. Tons of storage space, even with 3 persons/7 days worth of winter wear.
There are two safes in the room. We didn't need both, but it was a nice touch.
Our bathroom was also different than the normal because of the HC setup, but we LOVED it. One big room, and the shower was the entire room. There are drains around the shower spout so no water escapes to the toilet/sink area. But it was much more comfortable than the typical 3-stall bathrooms that can be claustrophobic.
There were only 3 small shelves in the bathroom and two tiny ones in the shower, but we made due. We did have the following products in the bath when we arrived: bar facial soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and loofa/scrubbers - oh and shower caps. Still had the standard shampoo and soap dispensers in the shower as well.
I drew the short straw and slept on the pull out couch. It was made into a bed when we arrived and was never put away the entire trip. I don't know if this is standard for a suite, but when I was in a mini suite last year, the bed was made into a couch every morning by the steward. I didn't mind it here because we had so much room to get around we didn't need the bed put up and it prompted me to take a nap almost every afternoon. I had requested additional padding on the couch before we arrived, and with it , I found the couch to be more comfortable than the regular beds! Between the down comforters and the special pillows we chose from the suite pillow menu, we slept very well.
Being an AFT room, it had its advantages and disadvantages. We had the most amazing views of the Alaskan landscape, but we were soooooo far from everything. Getting to/from the Casino, Stardust Theatre, Spinnakers Lounge, and the Tradewinds shops was exhausting. Given the choice, I think I would chose mid-ship again before aft.
Oh, the food! Glorious food! I've never eaten so much in my life! We dined in our room at least 3 breakfasts, and many lunches/dinners delivered by our butler from the Blue Lagoon. We at at the Garden Cafe (buffet) twice, upon finding out the 2nd time that there were 55 cases of norovirus on the ship and you could not get your own food at the buffet. Everything had to be handed to you by a rubber-gloved employee - even silverware and plates. That defeated the purpose and slowed the process considerably, so we opted out of the buffet.
As previously mentioned we at a Cagney's several times for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast was standard fare, but nicely prepared and they did offer a fresh fruit bar with many melons and berries you could't get at the buffet. Lunch was a very limited selection, I eneded up with a burger most days, but it was a darn good burger, much better than the buffet.
We had one dinner in the Indigo MDR, I can't even remember what I ate. It was the exact same menu from my previous Pearl cruise in Nov '13. We did hit the Summer Palace MDR for breakfast one day, but it was just a much slower identical meal to what we could have had delivered.
We at at two pay-restaurants. The first, Tepenyaki. Everyone has raved about this so I had to try it even though I have never been to anything like it and am not a big fan of japanese/chinese food. We were served some sort of beans as appetizer, they really didn't have any flavor, but I ate them because I was starving. We then receive Miso Soup (not a fan) and a weird little salad I didn't eat after one bite.
I do not like rice but I at a whole bowl of it, again becasue I was starving and at least it was slathered in butter and soy sauce. I had the chicken and steak, and two of us had to have him cook the steak longer because it was completely raw.
We also ate at Moderno, a Brazillian Churiscaria. I had Moderno on the Jade, so I was stoked about it on this trip, but was disappionted. It just wasn't the same. A very cool experience though, as they bring 10 different meats to your table and saw you off a piece.
Suite guests have a much more extensive breafast menu, including eggs, waffles and meats, along with the standard room service breakfast items. And you could write in anything you wanted, you were most likely going to get it.
The Casino is looking a little worn out. Compared to it's sister ship the Jade, which I took in June '13, it needs some help. Only one stall worked in the bathroom (women's) the entire trip. As well as only 1 sink.
The pai-gow machine and the 3-card poker machine were both broken and had to be dealt manually most of the trip. Pai-Gow is not a normal game on the ship, but by my request it was set up for me. It was wonderful for them to set this up for me, but again, it had to be dealt manually and unlike most casino games, ALL cards must be dealt out (8 sets of 7, plus 4 leftovers) before playing your hand. It took forever. Also, if you play Pai-Gow on land, you will be disappointed to know there is NO bonus. So the game dragged on terribly.
I will note, that while I don't spend 10's of $1,000's in the casino, I still receive a 20% discount on every cruise, simply for booking with Casions At Sea (an NCL affilliate). Also for booking with CAS, everyone in my room receives free drinks in the casino. Nice little bonus.
I have not attended many shows on other cruises, but I was excited about the entertainment on this cruise. The Second City comedy troupe was awesome, I saw them twice, once in the theatre and once in the Spinnaker for the adults-only show. I can't remember his name, but the comedian was hillarious. I would see his show over and over.
My favorite of all performers was Piano Man Jim, whose small show was nightly in Bar City. We first discovered him in November and I was thrilled to know he was still on the ship. His piano playing is phenomenal, but his comedy and interaction with the audience kept us coming back night after night.
Priority port disemmbarkation is awesome. As a suite guest, you get to meet in a restaurant/bar and sit comfortably until a bulter/concierge leads you to a private (staff) elevator to walk you right off the ship. So nice to skip those line! This would be especailly amazing for a port where you tender, though we did not have that on this trip.
Juneau. We booked Harv & Marv's Whale Watching Tour. 4 hours round trip $145 +tax per person. We hooked up with 3 other Cruise Critic Members for a private tour. Super awesome to not have 15-50 people fighting for a good shot (photo) of the whales. Harv & Marv's captains all talk to each other so when a whale is spotted we can find them quickly. This allowed us an amazing chance for a rare sighting of 7 Orca whales as close to our boat as the law allows. Joleene (daughter of "Harv") was our captain. And while she is only 19/20, she is extremely knowledgeable. On the way back, our bus driver stopped at the Mendenhall Glacier visitors center. Just enough time for a few pictures, but it was beautiful.
Back in town, we stopped at the Red Dog Saloon for dinner. A very cool bar with good food and beer and and endless display of alaskan memoribillia to feast on.
Skagway -Here we booked the 3.5 hour Train/Bus tour ($128 +tax). We took the White Pass Rail train up to the Yukon (Cananda) and took a bus tour back down. Our driver was full of information and stopped several places for photo ops. The train itself kind of dragged on. It was packed full and we had a very loud group of people in our car, so we didn't get to hear much of the narrative and you are allowed to stand on the outside platforms to take pictures but there's really only room for one person, so it was an endless fight. If I ever came to Skagway again, I would take the opportunity to do a private tour or boat/plane ride. You just cannot get the true feeling of this glorious wilderness on a bus of 20 noisy people.
Glacier Bay - This is not as much a port as a ship-tour of the National Park. You don't disembark, the ship just drives through the park. This is where you need a balcony! No fighting 2500 people on the top deck. Just sip your morning coffee as you view outstanding glaciers and wildlife. There is a naturalist that comes on board and lectures and they pipe it through the television, so we just turned the volume up and left the balcony door open. I think we spend at least 6-7 hours out on the balcony that day, as there was something new to see around every corner. At the Marjorie and Grand Pacific glaciers, the ship does (3) 360's - taking about an hour, so all sides of the ship gets the beautiful views. We saw calving - not big ones, but I can say I've seen it in person! This day was a wonderful bonding experience for my family and it had to been close to 70 degrees in the sun, so we didn't even need a coat most of the day.
Ketchikan - Today we had a private tour booked with Sourdough Cab Company ($225 + tip for 3 people). David was our driver and we arrived at perfect timing for low tide. This allowed us to go to a small dock and get up close and peresonal with marine life. We saw Sunfish, Star Fish, and my mother even held a tiny jelly fish in the palm of her hand! We visited the outskirts of a Hatchery for Salmon, so we came very close and got amazing photos of Bald Eagles, as they hang out near the Hatchery, naturally. David gave us a wonderful insight to the area and gave us real feel for living in a tiny town only accessible by boat/plane. He dropped us off at the beginning of a 15-minute walking trail through the Tongass National Forest (rain forest) and picked us up at the other end. This allowed us to take our time and privately enjoy the views. On to the Totem Pole Park. A great way to learn more histroy of the native indians of the area.
There is plenty of shopping to be done in Ketichkan. And as like everywhere in Alaska, souvineers were priced well. For example, right at the port, I bought a fleece jacket (among other things) for only $12.95. Ok, I bought 2. And a hoodie and a t-shirt!
For lunch, David recommended the Arctic Bar near the port. They have a deal with the Dairy "King" across the street for food orders. We drank Alaskan Brewery beer, had a burger on the back deck with awesome views of our own Pearl.
Victoria, BC - I have to admit I could not enjoy this quaint little town like it should have been due to sheer exhaustion from so many ports. We took the $11 bus ride (round trip) into the shopping central, bought our souvineers, had a Canadian beer and went back to the ship.
Disembarkation - The saddest part of any cruise. But such a breeze as VIP's. With our carryons in hand, we reported to the Stardust Theatre where we were whisked right off, skipping that dreaded line into the terminal. Quikly found our bags and took our $40 cab ride to the airport.
In conclusion, I cannot speak for the other Alaska itenerraries, but Glacier Bay is not to be missed. Just amazing. Other cruises with take you further north, but because we flew roundtrip to Seattle, we saved on Airfare compared to the other cruise that were one-way north or south.