This was our second cruise (first one was Western Caribbean with Royal Caribbean). We were cruising with my in-laws (veteran cruisers on several different lines) and my sister-in-law and her husband (first-time cruisers), so there were a variety of perspectives on this particular voyage. The long and short of it is my sister-in-law and her husband liked the cruise, but got tired of the rest of us apologizing for how bad the service and food were and how they should give cruising another try with another cruise line.
As mentioned in other reviews, embarkation was very disorganized but due to inefficiency of the Port of Seattle staff. Once our bags were checked, we flew through the check-in line, but only because we upgraded to a balcony several months before and got to go in the express line. We were on ship an hour before the rest of our party and even had a private (but very unfriendly) escort who took us to the buffet.
By the way, the balcony is COMPLETELY worth More
the extra cost. We got it mostly because my wife is a touch claustrophobic, and we weren't sure if we would spend time out there on a "cold water" cruise, but we spent almost the whole day out there on the "Glacier Bay" day. The whales seemed almost close enough to touch. Also, because of the wind chill factor, the balcony was much warmer that the main decks.
Service: I won't dwell on it other than to agree with other reviews that the staff is pretty unfriendly. I even witnessed one member of the staff become visibly annoyed because someone was asking her for assistance for a handicapped guest in the buffet. She said "I only take reservations." When the guest didn't go away, she finally went and got somebody who could help, which is what she should have done to begin with.
Food: Horrible. The Buffet serves the exact same things every day, with the exception of one main dish. It also closes early. There is virtually no place to get food after 10PM, except for one restaurant (Blue Lagoon) where we had to wait one and half hours for mozzarella sticks and an order of artichoke dip. The main dining room food is barely edible. Our waiters never introduced themselves and were annoyed if we asked for substitutions or seconds. One time I even got up and to get a water pitcher myself because no one was checking on us, but the pitchers were all empty. All the free food I would put on par with Hometown Buffet. The pay restaurants were decent, but La Cucina isn't as good as Macaroni Grill and Cagney's isn't much better than a Stuart Anderson's. The midnight chocolate buffet was a complete joke too.
Entertainment: Some of the shows were decent, but it was all no-name talent. On Royal Caribbean we at least had B-list celeb's like Charro. :)
Cabins: This is about the best thing I can say about the cruise. The cabins were clean and laid out very well.
Excursions: We booked nothing through the ship and went with independent operators. I highly recommend Chilkoot Charters for a White Pass rail/bus adventure. And don't waste money on booking a Mendenhall Glacier trip through the ship ($35+ per person). When you get off the ship, there are at least 3 different independent operators that will take you for $6 per person each way. Also, don't take your kids to the Red Dog Saloon... it really is a bar and we saw a few shocked parents when the piano player started singing dirty limericks.
Overall: If I were to imagine Wal-Mart putting together a cruise, this would be it. If you're OK with that, then go for it. My sister-in-law and her husband liked it, but they admittedly had low expectations going in. If you've been on a Royal Caribbean cruise then you're spoiled like us and this one won't cut it. Less