We traveled on the Norwegian Pearl to Alaska on August 11th through 17th and in general had a good time with a few bumps in the road. We were a group of three adults, two of us first time cruisers.
Our flight into Seattle got in very early on the morning of the cruise so we took our time getting down to the cruise terminal. A good tip if you are flying into Seattle: Use the Link Light Rail to get to Downtown (http://www.soundtransit.org/rider-guide/link-light-rail). It's only $2.75 for adults and will take you all the way to Westlake Center. It takes about 35 - 40 minutes because of station stops, but you get to see a bit of the Seattle area on the way. Much cheaper than a taxi and it's a leisurely walk to Pier 66. We did the walk to the pier with one large bag each and a small carry on. Again our group was three adults, this might not be a good option for you if you are a large group or traveling with small children and luggage though.
We were at the pier so early that people were still getting off the boat - this made things feel disorganized as there weren't signs out telling us where to go to board because we were there too early. Our fault not Norwegian's. The staff on the pier directed us where to go and where to wait. Because we were so early we got to meet Jean - an extremely helpful woman who was 80 years young and worked for Norwegian. She told us where to put our luggage and checked in our luggage early. She was very helpful, matter of fact, and there was never a complaint that we were there too early from anyone.
After that we stood in line to go through security - which was quick and we were the first one's through. We were also the first one's to get registered and receive our ship cards. This was fun - but it really only meant that we got to wait in the holding area a bit longer. In the waiting area they had water and orange juice and lots of chairs.
Once on the boat it was a short walk to Level 7 where we were greeted and walked down a makeshift red carpet on deck. We immediately went to the Summer Palace (free dining room) for lunch and our rooms were ready soon after.
Once people were on the boat it turned into a festive atmosphere. It was a very warm day in Seattle and the pools filled up, food was being served everywhere, and the views of the Seattle skyline was wonderful as we pulled away.
We were in room 11022 which is a mini suite with a balcony. This was the larger of the room sizes with a balcony which helped. It was conveniently near the elevators as well. We found some items left behind from the previous cruisers in the drawers that should have been cleaned up - and we chalk this up to the quick turnaround but it should have been cleaned better.
The room is fine for three people - two single beds pushed together, and a pull out couch for the third. I would not put four people in this room even though there was sleeping space. We were constantly skirting around each other. We have a good sense of humor so we just laughed about it when we needed to shuffle around. I would mention that the pull out bed was very hard though. My mom was a trooper sleeping on it but it surprised me how hard it was. The room would be perfect for two people who want a bit of room - with the couch closed up it would be very comfortable.
The balcony was totally worth it - when our neighbor wasn't on his balcony. The views are great and being able to step out of bed and look out on the ocean, or have the door open a bit at night for fresh air, was great. Our neighbor was very loud though. He was on his phone, arguing with his wife (who argued right back) and yelling with his small children. We never complained as it was sporadic and we did have lots of quiets moments on the balcony - we just shut the door when they kicked up again.
The bathroom was large with separate areas for the toilet and tub/shower. Only one outlet in there though. The shower was nice with lots of hot water and water pressure. It didn't feel small at all.
My mother had been on a few cruises before and she said this cruise had the most children she had ever seen. Lots of young children and babies - not too many teenagers. This was a double edged sword - it meant loud mealtimes and hallways but some funny moments as well with the kids having fun. There were two groups of teenagers that formed and constantly roamed the ship but were just kids hanging out - like a summer camp group.
I did get my fill of small children after awhile though. Once I walked out of the elevator and saw a child about 10 years old sliding down the banisters, and kids would race each other on the elevators and stairs. I think most of this was due to children staying in separate cabins without parents supervising them. At some point my grumpy old man mood kicked in and I thought I was paying quite a bit to deal with other people's kids.
Eating at the Buffet:
Because of the large number of families and children on our boat the buffet felt like the Mall of America at times - crowded and loud. The food was good though, lots of options, and it changed regularly. The trick to the Buffet was to either get there early or late to miss the big crowds. We always found a table first, and then sat one person there while the others got their food. There was an eating area on the back of the ship which was great - but people would move tables and snag additional chairs in a territorial way! I'm pretty easy going so I just found adults acting this way humorous. There was free coffee, hot water for tea, several kinds of lemonade, and iced tea that you could get at any time.
Eating at the Restaurants:
We ate at the Summer Palace (free main dining room), the Indigo (free main dining room), and Blue Lagoon (Free) - these restaurants were all fine, didn't blow my socks off. The food was hit or miss. The Blue Lagoon got our orders wrong and we hit the Indigo at a peak time so the service was slower. Our experience at the Indigo was also marred by sitting next to a very loud group of people with children running around their table. You usually go to the sit down dining areas to avoid that kind of thing. When we went to leave my mouth dropped when I saw this group had left food, silverware, and napkins all over the floor. I felt bad for the servers who were doing their best with a very rude group of people. When we were leaving the restaurant I noticed our loud neighbor was one of this group.
The only pay restaurant we ate at was the Teppanyaki place which was a lot of fun. Lots of interaction and humor from the chefs. Green Tea Ice Cream was very good. I would recommend it. One group of diners across the room had a toddler with them that sat on her dad's shoulders the entire time - the Teppanyaki chef kept her entertained throughout the meal, it was very cute to watch.
In general, I liked eating at the buffet better than the restaurants because there were more options to choose from and you could take your food outside or even back to your room. But if you don't like crowds, noise, and a few people in pajama pants - stick to the sit down dining areas.
We went to two shows - the Crew Member Talent Show and the Current Broadway Hits show. Both were a lot of fun and not overly crowded. The Crew Member Talent Show was a fun way to support the ship crew - there were singers, dancers, and lots of laughs.
We went to a presentation on the shopping options at port which was basically a sales pitch for stores that Norwegian has contracts with. Not bad though if you haven't been to any of the ports before and they gave away a bunch of freebies to the audience. We also watched kids play Wii on a giant screen, listened to a string trio, and took in some piano with a very funny pianist/singer. He was of the insult comic style - and zinged everyone in the audience. Reminded me of Nathan Lane.
For GLBT travelers, there were "Friends of Dorothy" meetups almost every night. My husband and I didn't go - in hindsight I wish we would have! It made the trip more comfortable knowing that Norwegian recognized it's gay passengers.
Port and Shore Excursions:
We didn't book any excursions and just took in the towns on foot. I had been to some of these towns previously so I knew I was going to see a lot of tourist shops and not a lot of locals. This was fine but expect to see lots of jewelry stores, t-shirt shops, and souvenir places. I bought a few toys for my nephew, a t-shirt, and some hats. Usual tourist stuff. Lots of places to stop and enjoy the scenery, and a few museums at each port if you aren't interested in shopping or excursions.
A good tip when at port is to buy bottled water and soft drinks to bring back to the ship for later. Since you stop at port frequently you can keep your room stocked without paying extra.
The ship was in good shape and generally clean. Some of the dining areas showed a bit of wear but it was overall bright with lots of art. If you don't like Vegas-style decor, this might turn you off, but I found it fun. Getting around was crowded at times, but even with that many people (and kids) on the boat, it wasn't difficult to find a quiet place to yourself. Walking deck 7 around the ship was nice exercise, the library was always quiet, and the views were great most of the time (we had a day or so of fog).
My experience with the staff was excellent. Lots of smiles and hellos. There were a couple of funny moments - I was opening our cabin door and dropped my card, before I could bend down to pick it up a staff member that was walking by snatched it and handed it to me with a smile. We also were walking into the buffet and doing the "washy washy, happy happy" hand sanitizer and the woman with the bottle said, "Oh, you're missing one today!". I didn't recognize her at all but she knew that we were a party of three - that impressed me. On another night, we arrived back to our cabin to find that someone had been "sick" in the hallway right in front of our cabin door. The staff were on it and cleaned it up quickly. That was a low point but the staff were there with a great sense of urgency cleaning the hallway up.
Glacier Bay day is fantastic
Ease of getting around, and getting off and on the ship
Lots of Kids
Loud Dining Rooms
One day of rough seas on open ocean
A few rude people
Hit and Miss Food
Tips for this Cruise:
Bring a variety of clothes, a water proof jacket, gloves, and an umbrella. Seattle weather can be warm - it was pushing 90 when we embarked - but Glacier bay days can be down to 50 degrees or lower. We also had rain and wind. We were coming from Eastern Washington and a month of near 100 degree weather so the cold was nice.
Buy bottled water and soft drinks at port to save money.
Use the Seattle Link Light Rail for cheap transport from the airport.
If you can't handle noise and people, make reservations at sit down restaurants. Also, getting up early helps to avoid crowds - as does an early dinner before everyone has come back from being at port.
The BAGS program! For a fee you can have your luggage taken from the boat to the airport and CHECKED on disembarkment. We did this and it worked perfectly - our flight didn't leave until 8 pm so this freed us up to wander around downtown Seattle at our leisure without our luggage. We checked out Pike's Place Market, the Space Needle, and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum - it was almost like a mini vacation on the end of vacation.
If you want to check out my photos of the trip, go here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jcwestbrook/sets/72157646608253782/
Overall, I would do the trip again!