Overview I will try to provide a quick summary so that those who want just the facts don't have to read the entire review.
Overall, I would rate the cruise an A- overall. Others may have a different perspective, but we really enjoyed ourselves. The food in Windows was consistently very good, and the buffet was average for a buffet. Le Bistro provided a fabulous dining experience, though I should have scheduled it for a different day, not during the visit to the Sawyer Glacier. There were some minor issues due to the ship just coming over from Asia. Some of the signs hadn't been loaded yet; they were replacing ice makers, etc. The entertainment was good, and the weather was perfect. The staff was consistently friendly. I believe that every staff member we passed greeted us with a smile and hello, most wanted to know how we were enjoying the cruise.
Our room, deck 9 inside forward, was fine. We had plenty of storage, 4 drawers, 5 shelves in the closet, and sufficient space for hanging clothes. We packed more than we used, but still had enough room. Our cabin attendants took very good care of us and our cabin. We didn't get any towel animals; maybe the bear-eating salmon got them. The ship was in very good shape, the crew was working constantly to maintain it, and on upgrades that were needed for the US market.
Many of the issues we encountered were due to changes for the US market. Most of the wiring in the ship was 220v which made replacing equipment more of a challenge than normal. Food preparation areas had to be modified to meet US standards, the ice makers had to be replaced.
According to the Hotel Manager, the staff was on the ship for its last sailing in Hong Kong, but they could not begin upgrading the ship till the passengers disembarked. They had 2 days in Hong Kong, 12 days crossing the Pacific, and 3 days in Seattle for refurbishing, which was not enough time. Not all of the new ice makers were installed prior to sailing, which may have been why some cabins lacked ice.
The issue that caused us to be late to Juneau was the lack of a permit to dump gray water inside of the 12nm limit. They had upgraded the waste water treatment plant, and had filed the proper paperwork, but the approval from the Coast Guard did not come through until Wednesday. That is why we could return through the Inside Passage. During the Cruise Critic meeting we were told the issue was the current between Vancouver Island and the mainland. I do resent being misinformed, but I am not sure the Hotel Manager had the correct information.
Another related issue was the fact that the longshoremen loading the ship on Saturday were only scheduled to work through 5:00 PM. They left at that time. This was in spite of the fact that there was cargo that still needed to be loaded.
Public Areas The public areas of the ship were all visually appealing, though the colors are more intense than on the other ships I have sailed. The ship has an oriental dEcor with beautiful oriental art on display. Celebrity Disco This is on the 13th deck forward. You can reach it from directly below by means of a staircase. If you are mobility impaired and need an elevator, you have to go up the mid-ship elevator and then cross open deck to get there. My wife who uses a wheelchair found that uncomfortable due to the breeze when the ship is underway. We did not attend any shows there.
There will be karaoke in this lounge once the equipment gets installed. Adrian, the cruise director, said that the equipment was onboard, just not yet installed. The view from this lounge was ok, but did not match the Galaxy of the Seas lounge below it. Galaxy of the Stars This was far and away the best viewing location on the ship. It is located on deck 12 forward. You can reach it via the forward elevator. It sits directly above the bridge, and a special feature is access to a viewing room that looks into the bridge. The only time I saw the viewing room open and with the curtains open was in Seattle before we sailed. At other times the whole room, or the curtains would be closed. There are some interesting displays when the room is open.
There is an outer area that is separated from the main lounge by glass panels and doors. The outer area has tables and chairs that are adjacent to the windows and along the inner wall. This area receives good sun light and has the best viewing chairs. In this outer area, there is a navigational display. There is a mock steering wheel as well as two electronic displays that usually had the ship's position course speed, rate of turn etc. This display was disabled when we got behind schedule. Too many of us were asking questions no one wanted to answer.
The center area had a bandstand, a bar, a dance floor and some tables. This seemed very popular in the evening and I saw several couples dancing. This area was sometimes used for events and activities in the daytime. Tivoli Pool Area The pool area was very attractive, and in a warmer climate will see a lot of action. There are four hot tubs, one at each corner of the pool. There are deck chairs and lounges area, and at the very outside, tables. This area was still somewhat breezy when the ship is underway, and with the air temperature in the 60's, sunbathing and swimming were activities for the hardy.
Moulin Rouge This is the best show lounge I have seen on a ship. The main theater seats are on an incline so that every one in that area will have a clear view of the stage. The main seating is theatre style with no tables or cup holders either. There is a balcony area on both sides, three levels, and each level has tables for two. The view from some balcony seats is obstructed by pillars, but most have a good view and some are excellent. Drink service before and during the shows was unreliable.
The musical productions were excellent, the comedian, Fred, was outstanding. We did not see the magician. Adrian, the Cruise Director, was great. He was funny, enthusiastic and seemed to do his best to care for the passengers. Champagne Charlie's This is small venue on deck 8 just aft of and overlooking the atrium. Usually a band played here in the afternoon. They were ok, but if you listened to the words you found they were making some of it up as they went along. This too, is an area sometimes used for shipboard activities. For example, craft projects and the anniversary party. Henry's Pub This is a small area on deck 7 just aft of the atrium. It is set up like an English Pub, has a dart board and small pool table of some kind. It is used for activities including crafts and trivia contests and occasionally has live music. The Cabin I thought our room was outstanding in size and facilities for an inside cabin. We booked the lowest available category, and would not mind it again. We left the beds divided as this seemed to give us more room. There is a chair with a small footstool, and a desk with a chair that doubles as a vanity. The desk has a lighted mirror behind it, and one drawer. Next to the desk is cabinet that has 4 drawers, an area for the coffee pot, above that is an open storage area and above that the TV.
The closet has a top shelf that covers the full width of the closet, and half was used by the life jackets. Under that there were 4 or 5 shelves. At the bottom under the clothes bar there was another shelf that held the safe, and an area under that. There were probably 10 to 15 hangers in the closet. We had more than enough storage space.
We were able to fit the luggage under one bed, and there was a trundle bed under the other one. We had the biggest luggage you could check on the airline, and 2 of them plus a 3rd large case fit under the one bed.
Our cabin attendants did a great job. I did tip them a little extra on Saturday, and I think that made a difference. We ordered the anniversary package which included a bottle of champagne. Our cabin attendant kept it on ice and ready until we drank it several days later. Dining Windows This is a beautiful dining room to eat in. It is open, with large windows along the sides. The aft ceiling is raised and the whole aft wall being windows. It is the most popular and tended to have long lines. The lines seemed to be worst between opening at 5:30 and about 7:30. Service at dinner was almost always excellent, not fast, but precise and attentive. We only had one night where we thought service was off, it wasn't bad, just not precise, they missed the ice tea spoon, and we had to ask for butter. Understand that good service is not necessarily fast, plan for one and half hours to eat. Partly because of freestyle cruising, with people coming at different times, it adds to the challenge for the wait staff. Every dinner we ate was excellent,
We ate breakfast and lunch here as well, service declined at these times, never bad, just less precise, and less attentive. The breakfast menu would have all the standard items, with a different specialty item each day. The only complaint I had about breakfast was the scrambled eggs were done in large batches, and you could not get them the way you wanted. I like mine very done. However, if you ordered a plain omelet you could get it cooked the way you want. The bacon varied in crispness from day to day. The items my DW ordered were all pleasing to her.
Lunch was consistently very good to outstanding as well. Each day brought a new menu, with four courses as well as everyday fare. The menu included hamburgers and fries, but why bother going to the dining room when there are faster venues for those. The restaurant was seldom crowded for either breakfast or lunch.
The staff in general was very helpful. They would push my DW's wheel chair in and out, and would put it out of the way during the meal. They were all very friendly to us, but we also would ask them about themselves, how long had they been on the ship, had they been to Alaska before, etc. I think the service will improve as they get used to the new ship. Most had been on the Sky and so things were different for them as well. Raffles This is the buffet, and it looked like a buffet, and the food seemed to be of buffet quality. I travel for business and many times have a buffet breakfast in the hotels where I stay. I would say that breakfast here matched what I get at a Holiday Inn. We did not eat any other meals here, and only ate breakfast there when we got up to late for Windows.
Blue Lagoon We really enjoyed the fried rice and wonton soup here. The variety of food items includes pastries and coffee, hamburgers and hot dogs, cookies and salads. Service here was only fair, they seemed to be understaffed. One day we sat outside since the indoor seats were taken and it took forever to get served. Le Bistro This is the only surcharge restaurant we tried. The food and service were fantastic. We were the only couple in the restaurant, and we had everyone attending to us. The restaurant was usually busier than that, but we made reservation right before we got to the glacier. It would be better not to schedule the meal on Tuesday night on this itinerary, or instead to schedule it very late in the evening.
We both ate the Filet Mignon with BEarnaise sauce which was perfectly done, the vegetables were not overcooked, and the chocolate fondue was so good I wanted to stick my head in the pot to lick it clean.(I did refrain, but only with difficulty). Entertainment We skipped the later shows, but we did enjoy the entertainment we saw, and we never had the opportunity to get bored. We did come to see Alaska, and that was where we placed our time and energy. Shows The opening show is a variety show, and included Adrian as the MC, followed by the comedian, Fred. The show also included musical numbers by the singers and dancers. All of it was great. Fred and Adrian comically harassed any one that was late and those sitting in the front rows.
The second night's show was also music and dance, and was very good. I am not typically a song and dance guy, but the performers were very good. They also performed on two other nights.
Fred performed a second full show, and also performed a late night routine. We missed the late night show, but the second show was great. We laughed till we hurt, and then we had to buy his CD.
We missed the magician, we were just to tired to stay up, I think he performed on Tuesday night, and we watched glacier until we went to bed.
Music There were three groups performing on board, one was a guitar player, another was a band from the Philippines, and the last was a group from Canada. The Canadian group was very good and played at night in the Galaxy of the Stars. They also performed for the sail away party at the pool. Activities A variety of games was offered around the ship, including several rounds of trivia. The putting contest, called the Ryder cup, was played in several areas around the Galaxy of the Stars, including down the staircase. Craft activities with lessons and supplies provided, included crochet, beading, and origami. They also offered language lessons in several different languages.
Ports Ketchikan This is a very compact port, and you can walk to see most of the sights. There is an abundance of shopping, ranging from cheap tourist stuff to fine jewelry. We did walk over to Creek street, and found it very interesting. If you are pushing a wheel chair, the hills will limit your range. We saw some of the sights, and then went back to the ship. Juneau We had booked whale watching with Capt. Larry and Orca Enterprises. This was one of our best decisions of the whole trip. When we were approaching Juneau (4 hours late) I called and talked to Carol. She said not to worry; they had a boat and crew standing by just for those arriving on the Spirit. We went straight across the street, and checked in. She refunded part of our fare since they were going to have to shorten our trip a little. There were ten of us on the boat, and it was beautiful. We saw whales at a little distance, and some seals floating on the surface right by us. The crew got us back to the ship in time even though we arrived in Juneau 4 hours late.
The captain had to make a decision here. He could have stayed the full allotted time in Juneau and cut the time at Sawyer glacier, or possibly eliminate it totally. That would have been most profitable for NCL since they could have gotten all the revenue from the shore excursions. Instead he cancelled most of the shore excursions and gave us the full time at the glacier and I am glad he did. This part of the cruise was truly breathtaking and words do not do it justice.
Skagway We used the guide to Emerald Lake and drove over to it. This is one beautiful drive. You see just about everything they can see on the train, you are just on the other canyon wall. You also see quite a bit more. If you drive yourself, you can control where you stop and take pictures. We were able to stop about 50 feet or so from a bear along the side of the road. We took his picture and for the most part he ignored us, other than to make sure we weren't getting to close.
Emerald Lake is beautiful, and so are about 100 other spots on the drive. If the weather is good, with little or no wind, there are a handful of locations where you will see the mountains reflected on the water below. If the afternoon the wind picks up you no longer have the perfect reflections so take the picture when you have the opportunity. We also stopped and saw the world's smallest desert in Carcross. Prince Rupert We just went shopping in Prince Rupert, there is a Safeway right above the dock, and a little art gallery off to the left as you exit the ship. Every one was very helpful, and we got quite a reception as we arrived, brass band and all. They had a variety of activities in a park right above the pier. They set off fireworks as we sailed.
Issues There were a variety of minor issues through out the sailing, but they had no impact on our enjoyment. The only one that concerned us was the delay into Juneau, and if we had booked a different tour, and especially one that we couldn't get refunded, that might have been a bigger issue. As it was, we would rather of had more time there, but such is life. I am sure as they finish upgrading the ship, such inconveniences will go away. The staff did all they could to make up for it. Summary This is a great ship with a great crew. The ship is very attractive, and quite a contrast from most in this market. The crew went out of their way to help my DW in her wheel chair. Every time we got on or off the ship, they would help push it, and at times just about carried her in it. Even Adrian helped her on and off the ship when he was by the gangway. I do not think we passed a crewmember that didn't greet us and inquire about our day.
I have heard some complaining about getting on and off in port. Any time you try to get 2000 people through one door there is going to be a wait, either in or out. We have had to deal with this on every cruise we have been on, and it is a little worse now that security has been tightened. It seems as though a good number of the passengers were deaf or chose not to follow directions. Many would crowd into the gangway area, and the congestion slowed down the process. The only occasion where it may have been the crew's fault was Prince Rupert. There was not a gangplank on the dock, and the ship's was stored where the crew had to take it out a forward hatch, slide it along a rail, and then set it up which took almost an hour.
I would take this cruise on this ship anytime.