Norwegian Sun Cruise Review by ricklepickle: Despite serious logistical issues on the land portion
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Despite serious logistical issues on the land portion
I found very little information on NCL Cruisetours (the land portion), so I'm including that in the trip. The four of us -- my parents (age 72 and 74), my nephew (barely 14) and myself (51) had a wonderful time on the Denali Express Cruisetour, but the logistics leave a lot to be desired. Unless they get their act together, I'd recommend you put together your own land tour - you can do it yourself.
The short story is: NCL outsources the management of the land tour to Premier Alaska (or most of them, anyway). No one at NCL can answer questions directly, and if there are any problems, it will take you (or in our case, your Travel Agent) hours to sort it out. I could list all of the issues, but I won't bore you. Suffice to say that the communication between NCL and Premier Alaska is lacking, Premier Alaska may or may not put you up in a "hotel" that is really just a decent room in what is otherwise a campground (complete with RV's and tents), and the Tour Director may not be More familiar with the property at which you are staying or some of the possible upgrades you may be interested in. All of the problems we had on the ground could have been easily avoided, and were made worse because of the hours spent in advance of the tour unsuccessfully trying to sort things out in advance.
That said, the Denali Express starts in Anchorage. We enjoyed the Clarion Suites as a perfectly acceptable 3 star hotel -- with a really responsive and helpful staff. We loved the glass domed train from Talkeetna to Denali National Park, and even saw Mt. McKinley aka Denali clearly from the train (apparently only 30% of visitors even see it through the clouds!).
We were less than pleased with the Grizzly Bear Lodge, which is really just a campground with a few rooms. The rooms would have been fine, if all three had been cleaned in advance (my parents room had wet towels on the floor, and my nephew's bathroom was never cleaned) (also: DON'T USE THE COFFEE MAKER, I'm sure that has NEVER been cleaned. EVER.)
We went white water rafting that evening on the Nenena River, and it was a highlight of the trip. The next morning we upgraded from the Natural History Tour to the Tundra Wilderness Tour - it was wonderful. I considered upgrading to the Katishna tour, even though our Premier Alaska Tour Director did not know anything about it (???), but I think our 14 year old would have had a meltdown if on the bus that long.
There is a lot of driving and other transportation on this tour; we could have skipped the return to Anchorage. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center was fun, but we also would have been find skipping that; we were ready to get on the ship.
As for the Norweigian Sun: we had a great time. It is an older ship, and a little dated and worn, but very clean. You have to know that in advance. We were on one other cruise, on the Royal Caribbean Oases of the Seas in the Caribbean. I would say that that was like being on a floating resort, which sometimes stopped at some islands. This was a trip to Alaska, where we happened to be staying on a ship.
We enjoyed our rooms -- three mid-ship balconies in a row -- and spent a good amount of time on the balconies. My parents & nephews beds were quite comfy, mine was a little hard, but our room steward Ruphres brought me an egg crate pad and it was fine. The bathroom is tiny as people say, but serviceable. Definitely needs updating -- the mirror, for example, is worn and the sink was a little crackly, but it was clean and everything worked fine. The couch was very worn and hard as a rock. It didn't prevent my nephew from sleeping on it every night, which we couldn't figure out as he had his own room and his own bed, but he is a teenage boy and they are a different species.
The layout of the ship is odd, but manageable. I saw someone complain about smoke and perfume smells, etc. We HATE smoke, and had absolutely NO problems whatsoever. No smoke on our balconies. No wafting smoke in the hallways near the casino -- in fact, while we had to walk through the casino to get from one end of the ship to the other a few times, there was little smoke in there (and few people). It might have been the time of day, but it was a little weird.
I was worried about the food based on reviews, but it was good. Nothing amazing, but good (although I admit I avoided the buffet most of the time). We aren't big foodies, but we do like to eat and we are discerning. We ate dinner at the MDR the first two nights, the second night was surf-and-turf, and the food was enjoyable. We realized we had a ridiculous amount of onboard credit and so ate in specialty restaurants the rest of the nights. We like Le Bistro the best, and ate their twice (my nephew would say that the 32 ounce steak he "shared" with his grandpa was the #1 highlight of the trip). Cagney's is good. My dad and I had sushi one night; we were the only one in the restaurant all night, but it was really really good. We thought Il Adagio was just so so.
What was weird, however, is that the specialty restaurants were often half empty when we were there, except the last night. And we ate at 7. We saw no lines at the MDR's. Yet the buffet was crowded. We couldn't understand that.
As for entertainment: we were entertained. It was not broadway quality entertainment, but the production shows were, well, entertaining. I think of it as where the really really really talented kids from your high school go -- the ones who are REALLY talented, but just missing that X factor that gets them to the big time. But they were great singers and dancers and entertainers. The comedian was funny, as was the hypnotist -- I highly recommend both.
The most important part of this cruise is Alaska, and Alaska did not in anyway disappoint. SPECTACULAR. We went kayaking in Icy Strait Point, which was amazing (saw a lot of bald eagles). In Juneau, we went on the Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier excursion from the ship, and loved it. LOVED IT. We did the Glacier Point Safari Adventure in Skagway - booked directly with Alaska Excursions, but they also offer the same one through the ship (for $50 more). IT WAS AMAZING. CHECK IT OUT. And in Ketchikan, went on a float plane tour of Misty Fjord Monument with Randy at Mountain Air -- ALSO AMAZING.
We also cruised Hubbard Glacier, and Tracy Arm to Sawyer Glacier. I know people say Glacier Bay is better, but we don't have any point of comparison and thought they were spectacular. We were lucky, because while we had rainy weather in port (it didn't get in the way of any enjoyment, don't worry if it rains), when we were cruising the weather was clear and sunny. Tracy Arm is exquisite.
We found the service on board to be wonderful too -- our room steward was great and attentive, the wait staff was quite good, and anywhere we went, people were kind and helpful.
Overall, I would say: as long as you don't expect the kinds of bells and whistles that you find on the newer ships, the Norwegian Sun for Alaska is a great option. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Loved the kayaking! We saw many bald eagles and even a sea otter. Really fun, not too hard.
We booked the Whale Watching + Mendenhall Glacier excursion because I was concerned about having time to do both during our only 6.5 hours in the port. Although I know people rave about smaller boats, I don't think we missed anything by being in a larger boat. We saw whales galore. Plus we had hot chocolate and hot coffee, and large indoor area to view (important in the rain), and little treats of jams and salmon to nibble on. I wish we had more time at the Glacier, but that was because we had to get back to the ship, not the tour's fault.
We went on a float plane tour of Misty Fjord Monument through Mountain Air. I can't say enough positive things about it. Exquisite scenery. Fun!
Glacier Point Wilderness Safari
PHENOMENAL TOUR. DO NOT MISS. RAIN OR SHINE. This "adventure" consists of a boat/catamaran ride (where we saw many humpback whales and some orcas!), a short hike and a "canoe ride" to Davidson Glacier, where you can walk around as close as they can get you to the glacier. The canoe holds 12 and is motorized, so you probably won't be paddling too much. Beautiful! It was raining when we went, so instead of just boots, they gave us head-to-toe rain gear, which added to the sense of adventure. Plus, the guides are WONDERFUL.
We booked directly with Alaska Excursions, but it is the same tour offered through the ship --- but we spent $50 less per person. Same exact tour, with the same people who paid the ship.