Norwegian Sun Cruise Review by Travelin guy: Beautiful weather in Alaska, start to finish
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Beautiful weather in Alaska, start to finish
We are not experienced cruisers, but we are experienced world travelers. Our conclusion studying opportunities for Alaska was that there isn't much of an alternative to taking a cruise, and we booked with Norwegian partly because of their combined pre-cruise package going to Denali.
First .. during the entire time we were in Alaska there just perfect weather ... almost everyone exclaimed that 'it's usually not like this!" ... Our trip to Denali had spectacular views, and the entire 7 days going south from Whittier to Vancouver was also just perfect weather. It was great luck, but it also made things that might have been more irritating much less so just because it was hard not to have a good time being outside with this kind of scenery and wildlife.
We had a forward cabin on deck 8, starboard side, large rectangular window. For just two, the room space was fine. We requested the beds be together (sort of a queen size bed), but since one of us sleeps in the middle, More there was the uncomfortable joint where the two mattresses meet. There are lots of solutions to this, but clearly this isn't something Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) counts as a priority. I'm a good sleeper, and eventually manager with it. We thought there was plenty of closet and drawer storage space for two of us, and we are not light packers at all. We never heard the anchor drop, hardly even heard the ship ... everything was very quiet. Since our weather was always perfect, there was really never any ship movement.
A note about packing ... if you enjoy having a drink in your room, or a glass of wine or a beer, be sure you bring this on at the beginning and packed in your luggage -- not in your backpack! If you can manage without the mini-bar in the fridge, ask them to remove everything ... and voila you have your own in-room fridge! It is almost impossible to bring something on once you are underway making the point calls, ... so buy what you want in Anchorage, put it safely in the luggage. Oh, and bring your own corkscrew!!
The crew were always delightful .. everywhere you went, someone was smiling and saying hello. This is top to bottom ... the room steward and other staff on your floor, all the public areas, eating areas and bars .. great training and it was all well done. I give NCL kudos for that.
The food was just horrible, although sometimes it rose to the level of mediocre. We found that having breakfast in the room from room service was the best option for us, and to order nothing cooked. Coffee, fruit, milk, cereal ... it was great to just be on our own schedule and not worry about a schedule. There was no charge for room service, other than a nominal tip. But the food for lunch and dinner .. it's just incredible that it could have been so uniformly bad. The best strategy for lunch is the outdoor bar b que on the pool deck. Our advice would be to always avoid all buffets anywhere on the boat other than this lunch. Of course, if your weather is bad, this might not be an option .. but ours was uniformly great, and this worked. Dinner was another story ... but first, a suggestion for couples or groups of 4. The regular dining rooms have lots of tables by a window, and if you are 2 or 4 you can always get one if you are willing to wait 10 minutes or so. We always had a window table, every time in every restaurant. Large parties .. this isn't going to work for you.
More amazing about the food ... we were in Alaska .. where a large part of America's seafood is from. But in the restaurant, the salmon was either Atlantic (farmed) or, really, Norwegian (farmed). There was never Alaska crab, or halibut ... or anything. Even though it looks like the two dining rooms share the same kitchen, we found that begging for something to be cooked a certain way worked better in Seven Seas than the other dining room. Not sure why that was the case. It hardly mattered ... insipid menus, no vegetables, horrible ingredients prepared like your middle school cafeteria. It seemed to me that being on a cruise ship was just a bit expensive ... and then being fed horrible meals over and over was like a poke in the eye. (salad nicoise with canned tuna; some 'risotto' made with what had to be velvetta, and lots of it, etc. I just don't want to think about it.)
Ports ... we did not book any of the NCL excursions, but always found fun things to do, even though these are mostly cruise-ship stops with not much special. At Hoonah, the small town near Icy Point Straight, we saw Eagles, an Eagle nest, and had a great lunch of fresh caught Alaska crab .. it's the first little place to eat on the road to the town. We enjoyed the view of Hubbard glacier, plenty of time to see it, and enjoyed seals, two whales, otters along the way. In Juneau, just walk to the main bus area (big letter "C" over the parking lot) and buy a ticket to the Mendenhall Glacier park ... it's $20 round trip and there was an entertaining talk both ways. At the glacier we saw spawning salmon in the stream, and enjoyed the walk to the face of the glacier, and the waterfall. That's about all the time there is in Juneau. The ride up Tracy Arm Fjord to see the Sawyer glacier was also great. (Get on the top deck, and grab a deck chair up close to the wind protector!) In Skagway we rented a car (Avis) and drove into Canada, stopping to talk walks on various trails. In Ketchikan we walked along the creek and saw more spawning salmon, went to the totem museum, had a nice dinner at Cape Fox Lodge (need reservations .. some think Bar Harbor restaurant is better .. need reservations further ahead for that), and walked around more up to boarding. We enjoyed having a drink in the observation lounge .. great windows, great drinks.
The biggest negative from NCL corporate was the relentless, incessant selling. Over the loudspeakers, in the halls, it was just non-stop. What are they thinking? Have they tested this? I'm concerned that it must be working, but suspect that some genius in corporate decided that they weren't selling hard enough and they needed to up the number of contacts per day. It was just horrid, and always left a bad taste.
We enjoyed the exercise room ... tried to figure when the peaks were and go other times, also liked having the whole of deck 6 as a jogging/walking track.
But, overall ... we had a nice cabin, had great weather, great views of wonderful scenery. Saw wildlife, both in Denali (bears, golden eagles, foxes, caribou, moose, ptarmagan, etc), and on the ship (whales, multiple times, including Orcas, seals, otters). I didn't sign on for the food, and I learned to ignore the hawking of junk (who buys diamonds on a cruise ship?). Your mileage may vary. Less
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Cabin was fine for two. Loved the large window. Plenty of storage space, and we brought too much stuff. We made them empty the mini-bar so we had our own fridge. The beds, pushed together, had an uncomfortable place in the middle where the two twin beds joined, but we learned to live with it.
Port and Shore Excursions
Nice walk to the little town ... saw eagles, and an eagle nest ... fine lunch in a little cafe on the right just as you come into town ... they were cooking locally caught crab and making wonderful sandwiches.
Take the short walk along the main straight to the bus area (big sign with 'C') ... catch the blue bus to the National Park to see Mendenhall Glacier. We saw spawning salmon in the creek next to the parking lot, and enjoyed the walk up to the glacier and the waterfall. The stop in Juneau is too short to do much else.
Walk along the artsy area, then continue up the stairs along the creek ... saw salmon spawning, local kids catching them. Continue along the creek to the Totem museum (small, but interesting). Had a nice dinner at Cape Fox restaurant (need reservations).