We had arrived in Vancouver one week prior to the cruise, therefore had gotten acquainted with the city and had no problem finding Canada Place. We arrived for embarkation at approximately 1pm and found ourselves in quite a lengthy lineup. One consolation was that the line did appear to "move"; it just felt like everyone arrived at the same time. After getting through all the various stations, we were on board by about 3:30pm.
Our room was rather nice, a superior inside cabin I had arranged six months prior. The stateroom was spotless, and remained as such throughout the cruise so accolades to the cabin staff. My husband missed that there wasn't any towel creatures but I was just as happy with chocolates on my pillow. I'll say, as it was a concern to me, that our room was over the casino so I was afraid of having issues related to excessive noise. We really didn't notice much at all; only during the slots/cards tournaments when someone won. Not a problem, to our minds. We brought earplugs but never had reason to use them. The ship in itself was very nice although less stunning in appearance then some other ships we've been on. It took some time to get our bearings, so to speak. Part of our trouble was the aft elevator which didn't reach all floors, but did reach one of the main dining rooms. Also on that floor, you couldn't traverse to midship or forward as you always needed to go up one floor. That being said, the ship was in tidy order. It was obvious there were a few changes made prior to the Alaska sailings; new carpeting, hull spic-n-span white, etc. They have a real emphasis on sterilization so you'll see lots of waterless cleansers and towelettes available for that purpose (as a note don't use this as you enter the ship and then fumble with your plastic shopping bags that have print on them... you'll be wearing the ink from the bags for some time afterwards on your hands, I've discovered).
We dined mostly in the main dining rooms during our stay for breakfast and dinner, but generally ate at the Garden Cafe or Las Ramblas for lunch (nice spot for some made to order sandwiches, and out of site of the dessert station if you're trying to leave room for dinner ;-). The buffet could be a bit cumbersome at times, very busy... head over to the sports bar with your tray should you be in the predicament of having lots of food and no place to sit and eat it. The fare was okay... fresh fruit was plentiful but sometimes the main dishes were a little heavy for lunch or a bit bland. But of course that is a personal preference. You could also choose the outdoor buffet, which was no problem for us as our weather was fabulous however I've heard from the staff it can be horrid when the Alaskan fog and rain is present. In the dining rooms, the fare had hits and misses. The President's Menu was lovely; we didn't go wrong with any of the choices but other nights were somewhat lacklustre. When we dined earlier, it seemed to be a bit more "fresh", which we thought was part of the issues relative to the food served. One night they served petit fours prior to dessert which in our opinion were quite stale. The observation we made was that the staff were not as attentive as a whole as on previous lines with assigned seating. The concept of freestyle was great and I did appreciate dining when and where you liked but I couldn't help thinking the service and freshness of the food was a penalty of instituting this system. Certainly, I now understand you could have arranged to be seated at a table to have the same wait staff but we didn't recognize this until the end of the cruise. Again, this means reservations (i.e., a set time) which isn't really true to the freestyle idea. They cared that you got your food and if they offered you pepper or not, but didn't seem to genuinely care about your dining experience. Now we did have one dinner where she was very helpful and thoughtful, but that wasn't the norm for us anyway. As another note, unless you traditionally drink espresso, you'll likely find the coffee is strong enough to dissolve nails, or stomach lining for that matter. Be prepared to water it down. For tea drinkers, you're in luck. You get a pot of tea of your choosing that gives you more than one cup, so you can always keep your tea hot by refreshing it as you linger over dinner. We didn't take advantage of the other restaurant choices, most of them being fee-for-service.
The entertainment was pleasurable, of a higher quality then we had previously experienced. It included 3 shows by the Jean Ann Ryan company (Mr. Producer, Cirque Pan and Que Noche) along with a comedian and a comedian/juggler. The comedy wasn't always to our taste but seemed to appeal to many. We had a few laughs to be sure. There were also some game shows for guests to partake in that were lots of fun. Of course there were the craft options, guest speakers on Maritime history, exercise classes, a well-stocked library, etc. You were not of want for things to do. There was also a talent search contest on the last night which was fun, along with twisted karaoke (think American Idol, with the twist of one song of your choosing and another song the judges picked). Worth a few giggles!
The gym was very nice; a large assortment of machinery and a decent aerobics area. Athletic programs were available, some with a cost ($5 per session of yoga, pilates). We had the best intentions to counter our eating with some gym time, that seemed very robust at the beginning, and faded near the end of the trip. The photographers are everywhere; they don't seem to take no for an answer the first time but will concede if you say it twice. However, if you are looking for a nice couple/family portrait, you won't be at loss for an opportunity (although I can't say it won't have a person dressed in a lumberjack, eagle or bear costume in it :-)
As for the ports, we had beautiful weather! We did kayaking in Ketichan (Orca's Cove with SouthEast Kayaks), whale watching in Juneau (Capt. Larry) and did a bus tour to Carcross in Skagway (with Frontier Excursions; we were the only two... talk about personal attention). All were very enjoyable in our minds. We didn't arrange anything for Wrangell which was rather underdeveloped for tourism, in our opinion. We went to see the petroglyphs but there isn't much else that easily accessible. Don't wait until then for shopping... there is very little and the scenery wasn't as stunning in port relative to the other three destinations. Now we didn't do a tour so I'm not sure if the area had more to offer if you did arrange an excursion.
Debarkation was smooth... the lineups were minimal and we were off in less than 30 minutes.
Overall, our experience was very nice in terms of destination but relative to other cruises we've taken, we found this vacation not of the same quality. It was still nice, just different. I won't say that we will refrain from using NCL again but all things being equal (i.e., similar itinerary, price), we'll likely pick another line.