Pre-cruise: We flew into Seatac and split the cost of a mini-van rental with another couple from our roll-call. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express near Seatac. They had an Entertainment discount available, so our one bedroom king suite was less than $60, including a free breakfast bar the next morning. Having our own transportation allowed us the option of dining away from the hotel Saturday night and stopping at the store for our carry-on sodas and water. We returned the van to the downtown pier location of Thrifty the next morning, and caught the waiting shuttle which dropped us at the pier. Grade: A
Embarkation: We were checking in by 11 AM, arranged payment terms, received our key cards, sat in the waiting room for a fairly short time, and were on the ship by noon. Easiest and smoothest embarkation we've experienced yet. Grade: A
Cabin: We were in cabin 8027 on deck 8, an inside cabin. A little cozy, but plenty of storage space, more than one electrical outlet, a flat-panel TV, a very efficient hair-dryer, and comfortable beds with those wonderful NCL duvets. The bathroom was arranged with a shower area separated from the toilet and sink by a sliding glass door. The shower worked very well, with lots of nice hot water which stayed a consistent temperature. The sink and toilet area had a fair amount of storage space. The toilet was set at an angle, slightly facing into the main bathroom area. There wasn't a lot of leg room, but my DH and I both have very short legs, so we had no complaints. If you are a tall person with long legs, I can see where this might be a bit of a problem. Grade: A-
Room Stewards: Gene and Authoreen did a great job keeping our room cleaned, but it wasn't always made up quite as promptly as our previous cruises have led us to expect. I think they had quite a few cabins, and our room was probably near the end of their stretch of cabins, which may have influenced the slight slowness in making the room up for the day. We had wonderful towel animals almost every night (I think boarding day was the only night without one), and my guess is that Authoreen was instrumental in assembling those. They smiled and said "hello" when they saw us, but didn't call us by name, which the stewards from our previous two cruises had amazed us by doing. I sympathize, however, as I'm horrible with names. Grade: A-
Itinerary: The Pearl sailed from Seattle on Sunday night, up the outside (west side) of Vancouver Island, had a fairly short sailing of the inside passage near Juneau, and called at Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and Ketchikan. We had picked this cruise specifically for Glacier Bay, knowing in advance that we weren't going to get the same inside passage views that we'd had in our previous sailing from Vancouver. Grade: AFood: Everyone's favorite subject! We certainly didn't lack for things to eat on this cruise. Suffice it to say that we brought lots of it home with us in the form of thickened waistlines. We ate the majority of our meals in the main dining rooms, tried the buffet once or twice, tried the free specialty restaurants, and were invited to join friends with concierge perks in Cagney's for one lunch meal. Chilled soups are back on the NCL dinner menus, and also available on the lunch menus. I can't think of a meal I had that I wasn't very happy with. The hamburgers on the lunch menu had definitely improved from the last time we sailed. I tended to eat more beef and lamb, while my DH ate mainly chicken and fish. Everything was delicious! Hot food was served hot, cold food was served cold. I meant to take a journal along to jot down specific meals, but didn't remember to do so. No one meal comes to mind as better than the others - I liked them all! Grade: A
Restaurant service: I'm breaking this down into different areas, as we had varying degrees of service. Room service: Received as ordered, with a nice telephone call about 5 or 10 minutes before telling us they were coming. Grade A: Dinner: We ate the majority of our dinner meals in Indigo. At the embarkation day lunch, we had a great waiter (Prasad), who was assigned to Indigo each night. We requested him for the meals we ate there. One night he was unavailable, but the other nights, he and his co-worker (Rostan) provided us with great service, great suggestions, and lots of great conversation. Our dinners routinely took two hours, but considering how much we were chatting with the wait staff, I'm surprised they weren't longer. The waiters in the specialty restaurants were also good. Grade: A Breakfast/lunch: Here is where one of my few complaints comes in. We ate the majority of our breakfast and lunch meals in the Summer Palace. I don't know why, but we had routinely poor service. I don't know if it's because they're pulling wait staff in who don't normally work in this restaurant, or if work assignments just aren't being handled properly. We all eventually got what we ordered, but the order taking process was slow, as was the delivery of the food. I don't mind spending two hours for dinner, but wasn't planning on spending almost that much time at breakfast and lunch. Grade: C
On-board activities: Here's my second complaint. This was our fifth NCL cruise, and the nightly entertainment is starting to seem the same. I attended the first night's introduction show, the Second City presentation and the magician's show. I skipped the juggler, both the ship's production numbers, and the review show. The introduction show was fine - nothing spectacular, but I didn't fall asleep in it. Second City's skits were mostly the same ones we saw on the Jewel in November, and I didn't think the improvisation was particularly funny this time around. The magician was fine. I wasn't interested in the production show with music from Frank Sinatra, Beyonce, and Justin Timberlake -- anyone else find that a strange combination? Since I was tired, I knew I'd be sleeping, so I chose to whale watch from the library instead. I wasn't in the mood for the juggler, but the rest of my party enjoyed him. Garden of the Geisha didn't appeal to me either, so off for more whale watching.
I did enjoy the crew's talent show and "Fountains" which followed it. If you haven't seen it, you need to try it at least once.
As far as non main-show type entertainment, I found it very lacking. The activities that might have appealed to me, like trivia and a class in towel animals, conflicted with our chosen dining times. Bingo was overpriced. The Not-so-newlywed game was funny, but the Spinnaker lounge didn't seat everyone who wanted to watch it. I wasn't conscious of seeing any other game shows like we've enjoyed before listed on the freestyle dailies. Speaking of the freestyles, I much preferred the old format, which listed everything by time - it was easier to figure out what was going on.
We had a bowling tournament for our cruise critic roll-call group, and that was lots of fun. One game of bowling, on the house, with a free round of drinks for participants.
Karaoke, which we've frequently watched, was in the Bliss lounge. We never got down there to watch it this cruise, partly because I wasn't that impressed with Bliss as a venue. The friends we made onboard did watch it some and enjoyed it.
Luckily, I was in Alaska, so my time was occupied looking at the scenery and hunting for whales. On a less scenery intensive cruise, I probably would have been annoyed that there wasn't more going on.
Grade: CShore excursions: Ah, here’s why I book an inside cabin. I wanted to spend my limited $$$ on shore excursions. I’m not into plane or helicopter rides, as I’m not really fond of flying, but we thoroughly enjoyed all of our excursions.
Juneau: We booked Harv & Marv’s whale watching tour. It’s a small boat which holds 6 passengers, plus your captain. We had Captain Jay and the Merlin, while Captain Pete was driving his boat, the Haarvendam. If you decide to use them, ask them where the Harv & Marv names came from. Jay’s FIL, Sandy, drove the 12 passenger van from the cruise ship, giving us a wonderful city tour on the way. We left Auke Bay on a beautiful, sunny, warm Juneau day. We’d gone prepared with coats, hats and gloves, but didn’t need any of them, as a sweatshirt kept me warm. The boat is arranged so that all 6 passengers can sit inside with a window view. There’s also a platform outside at the back of the boat where you’re free to ride while the boat is going, and a small platform out front which is only available for use when you’re going very slow. We started off our tour having a whale jump about 25 feet from the boat. Very startling, and none of us had cameras ready for that. We saw several whales – I stopped counting after about 6 – along with harbor seals, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, and several other birds. We were able to see Mendenhall Glacier from the water, and then we stopped at Mendenhall Glacier on our return van trip. When we say the other passengers whale watching from the larger NCL excursion boats (100 – 150 passengers) and the large Orca Enterprise boat (40 or so passengers), we were so excited that we’d chosen this personalized experience. Grade: A+
Skagway: We booked the NCL Spirit of ’98 and Yukon Explorer excursion. We took a bus ride up to Carcross, boarded the train at the depot there, and returned to Skagway via the White Pass train. The bus ride up was very informative. Our bus driver, Jenn, was a girl from Utah, of all places, but she’d really done her homework and knew a lot about the scenery and history of Skagway. Shortly after crossing the border at Fraser, we saw a black bear at the side of the road. We stopped and watched him for several minutes, as he didn’t seem concerned at all that we were there. We saw another bear climbing up a small cliff, and a third bear while waiting on the train at Fraser for some additional passengers. We again had beautiful weather, and were able to get gorgeous shots of the mountains reflecting off the mirrored surfaces of Lake Tutshi and Lake Tagish. The train stopped at Bennett for lunch of miner’s stew, bread, and apple pie. We had a two-hour stop, which we pretty much all felt was too long, but I’m hearing that if the Canada Parks people had been at the Bennett Church and the snow had been melted we would have wanted that long. Grade: A
Glacier Bay: Everyone needs to see the grandeur of Glacier Bay once in their lives. We saw the beautiful blue Marjorie Glacier, the dirt covered face of Grand Pacific Glacier, and at least 3 other glaciers whose names escape me. We saw eagles floating on icebergs, clouds obscuring part of the mountains, and the Captain spotted two bears on the side of an island, informing us that they were there. People with binoculars spotted them, but I’d misplaced my DH, who had our binoculars. Grade: A
Ketchikan: We booked the Misty Fjords cruise through NCL. We boarded a jet boat and headed for Misty Fjords, with a very knowledgeable naturalist on board. We had a little trouble getting going, as a piece of wood had been sucked into one of the jets, but after about 15 minutes the Captain was able to extract the wood and we jetted off. We saw Eddystone Rock, beautiful waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and spectacular scenery. We stopped at Seal Island to see the harbor seals, and many bald eagles were spotted in the trees. Grade: A
Victoria: The city highlights bus tour was interesting, again with a great guide. We saw the beautiful beaches, flowers and homes of Victoria. I could easily return here for a week’s vacation. Upon our return to the ship, we were blessed with the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever experienced. Nothing thrilled about this excursion, but a good introduction to Victoria. Grade: A-
My overall grade for the cruise would be an A-. It certainly has encouraged me to keep sailing on NCL. At this point in time, my only reason for trying another cruise line would be if there isn't an NCL itinerary that takes me where I want to go.