Our first cruise to Alaska on the NCL Sun May 10-17th.
We are in our 30s. It was my DH's first cruise and my second (my first was over 10 yrs ago on the Jubilee from Carnival) and it was a great experience overall. We arrived in Vancouver a couple of nights before to attend a friend's wedding and did some brief sightseeing (more like eating) during the weekend. On the day of embarkation (Sunday), we arrived at the port at around 3pm and saw our first glimpse of the Norwegian Sun, our home away from home for the next 7 days. We checked our luggage and promptly boarded the ship. It was a rather pleasant experience, probably waiting for maybe 15 minutes at the customs line. We did beat the rush though, as more people showed up after us and the line got longer. As we walked onto the ship after sliding our cruise card to check into the ship itself, we saw people mingling with glasses of champagne or orange juice. Some people were at the excursions desk, others just roaming around. We decided to walk around and acquaint ourselves with the layout of the ship. It is rather big, almost 80,000 tons. I think there was supposed to be a bit over 2,000 guests and about 900 crew members on board. There was a handy dandy pocket map that displayed the decks and where the restaurants and gym and lounges were. We definitely used that during our trip.
Activities and entertainment:
I can't remember them all but here's what I do remember. They had two pools, one for adults only and one for whoever. Nestled between the two pools were four Jacuzzis/hot tubs that were under a tarp. Above that deck included a basketball court, an area for ping pong, a small golf driving range (2 nets), and a place for shuffle board. Inside, there was the Mandara Spa, which we did not use during the trip, and the well equipped gym (which we used once). Every day there was some activity to partake. The fitness team offered yoga, pilates, and spin classes for a nominal fee of $12 per class. They also offered a total body conditioning class for free (which we thought about going to but never made it to). They had seminars about losing weight and dance classes taught by their ballroom team. (We learned the Cha Cha). There's a casino, a library, and a game room with games like Scrabble, Rummikub, cards, Mah-Jong (I was surprised at that one), and otheres. Every day they had a Sudoku puzzle, a scavenger hunt, and a crossword puzzle printed out. I think there was Bingo available too. In the evenings, there was a list of shows that were available. We missed the welcome show, which was apparently really good. We LOVE the crew's rendition of The Producers…there is some serous talent on that ship. We saw Jane L. Powell (blues singer), Sam Grisbaum (Comedian), Jean-Pierre Parent (Magician/comedian). I think we watched every show after the first day on the ship and we were entertained. Not all the shows were great, but we did enjoy most of them. The cruise director though, was very entertaining.
I think there was as kid's club, but know nothing about it other than the fact that they had Nintendo Wii games to play with the staff.
The service on board was good overall. You are always greeted by whoever sees you and many of the guests on board seem to have made friends with some of the staff. We never had an issue with anyone. I can't say that the regular staff went over and above what they had to do (at least not in our limited experience), but they were solid.
We decided to save some money and purchase an inner room. I believe we were in category K and WAAAAY down at the end of the ship. We were surprised at the size of our room…it was bigger than we expected. Our bed was two twins put together but both were firm AND comfortable…with no squeaking or bulges in unexpected places. There was a small couch to the left of the bed, a small coffee table, one full length closet, one closet full of drawers and a half closet with drawers on the bottom. We had more than enough room to put our clothes. I kept my suitcase out, though I could've put my suitcase into the full length closet along with my DH's suitcase. The bathroom was to be expected…small, but suitable. The ventilation wasn't the best in the bathroom, but it was fine. We got two folded towel animals, a rabbit and a mouse…only on two of the nights. The good and bad thing though of the stateroom was the announcements. It was good that the announcements were not piped into the room to wake you up. However, it was bad bc if the announcements were going on and you were watching TV or in the restroom, you really wouldn't be able to hear it unless you turned down the TV or opened the stateroom door.
The food was overall between good to very good. We ate at the Garden Buffet often, especially for breakfast and maybe a snack later. The food was buffet style, so presentation wasn't an issue of importance. You had your typical breakfast fare of eggs, bacon, potatoes, sausage. They had an omelet center and that was good. There was always some kind of fresh fruit or cut up fruit available, with yogurt, cereal, etc. Lunch menus varied per day. My DH also tried their BBQ that was being cooked outside and that was only ok…things were overcooked, I believe.
We ate at Seven Seas Restaurant (one of the main dining areas) a few times too. Seven Seas and Four Seasons are the two restaurants that serve courses from Cooking Light recipes. The times we did go, we were lucky to always end up with a window seat, so we had a fantastic view of whatever was around us. In fact, that was where we saw dolphins one day, and whales another day. The staff was courteous and the food was good. The presentation of the courses was nice and the dessert was pretty good (some were hit or miss). We also went to Four Seasons Restaurant (which apparently serves the same menu as Seven Seas but is a smaller venue), and I would say the same for that one too. We did have to wait once for Seven Seas as we showed up at around 7pm, and there was a line. I think we waited about 15-20 minutes, and we ended up with a window seat so we were fine with the wait.
We went to Las Ramblas twice, once for their Spanish tapas, and another for their soup and sandwich. Las Ramblas is only for light snacking, so don't go there expecting a full lunch meal. The tapas were mediocre…and on the cold side. The sandwiches could either be made to your choice, or you can pick ones already premade.
We decided to try a couple of their specialty paid restaurants. One was Il Adagio ($10 cover per person), their Italian Restaurant, and the other was Ginza ($15 per person), their Japanese Restaurant. As with the other restaurants, you can order as much or as little as you like for the price that you pay. Drinks from the bar are always a separate charge. Both of the restaurants were delicious, and the portions were large. Ginza only serves sashimi or sushi, so no teriyaki plates or Udons or things of that nature there. If you want that kind of thing, go to Tempanyaki ($25 per person), which is like the Benihana restaurant. They have 3 or 4 seatings per night, so you must have a reservation. We didn't have a reservation for Ginza, but was able to walk right in.
There was an ice cream bar that my DH enjoyed a lot with a limited variety of flavors and even more limited toppings. But you can't complain about having ice cream.
It was an "eat whenever" you wanted, because of the style of cruising. However, you still had to eat whenever the places were open. Some were open almost all day (they closed down during some times to prepare for the next type of meal), and some (the main dining halls and paid restaurants) were open only at certain times. Of course, room service is 24 hrs, as I think the Ice cream bar was. Any of the bars that were open would serve food, but it's not also guaranteed to be open. We were a little confused at that in the beginning, but it made more sense as we got the hang of it.
Our first stop was at Ketchikan. We went on the Ziplining and Ropes course. We bought our tickets through Shoretrips.com and paid quite a bit less than what was offered on the ship (I think we saved about $40). However, it was probably also to a different location. According to our guides, there are two outfits in Ketchikan that offer Ziplining and both claim to be the first ones in Alaska (though our particular outfit says they have the documentation to prove it). This course had some Ziplining and what they call a ropes course…you can walked between trees above ground on swinging ropes, swinging steps, and logs. It was fun, though a bit challenging at first. I wouldn't recommend this part for less active people. We had an older gentleman (probably in his late 50s-early 60s) that did the ziplining part, but passed on the ropes course. Our excursion was started at 930a, so we had some time to walk around the port before and after the excursion before heading back to the ship. We got some fantastic shots of a couple of owls and a male bald eagle that were on display at a learning booth for nature preservationists. (These animals cannot be released in the wild because of prior injuries).
Our next port was Juneau, and it was short. We had to leave by 2p, so we were unable to go on a hike that my friend had recommended from two years ago. We went on the Guide's Choice Hike and it was very nice. We were able to see the Mendenhall Glacier from afar, but the view in a couple of locations was fantastic. Mind you, you do NOT get to go on the glacier. I think some of the people on the excursion thought they would be hiking on the glacier. You'd have to pay for a helicopter ride for that. ;) It was overall about a 5 miles hike with some really icy patches of ground, so you had to be very careful. Definitely wear sturdy hiking boots. The guides said they hike in the rain too, and do provide parkas, water, granola bar, and a walking stick if needed. We felt the walking sticks were very helpful, especially when we were navigating the uneven steps and ground.
Our last port was Skagway, our longest stay in any port. We went on their Glacier Point Wilderness Safari. Started off going on a catamaran, then to the location where we geared up (after a short bus ride) with boots and an extra jacket. We canoed to Davidson Glacier (which is work in itself-whew!) and were pretty close to the glacier. Davidson, apparently, isn't a glacier that calves or corks often so we were safe to get that close. Unfortunately, due to a rockslide in 2005, about half of the part of the glacier that was actually touching the water was covered in dirt and rocks, so the magnificence was dampened a bit. But it was still a great site to see, especially from sea level. Since our excursion was about 6 hrs long or so, we were only able to see a few stores that were still open. Some bars/old style saloons were still open, but we could only window shop. The souvenir shops were still open, so that was good as we left our shopping for the last day. I would've preferred to stay longer in the other ports and less time in Skagway (we docked at 6 or 7a and stayed until 9p). It was too long to be there with not much to do.
On our sail day to Tracy Arm Fjord, we saw Sawyer Glacier. It was really neat and we got great pictures of that. We were really amazed at how close our ship was able to get! We were able to inch forward. It is also early in the season, so no calving was seen. But that also meant less ice to maneuver through which allowed us a closer view.
We were told the day before during a short presentation how disembarkation would process. We were able to choose the time we wanted to leave the ship, as long as it was before 10am. Overall, it was a relatively simple process…pick a luggage tag color that determined the time of departure, and place luggage outside of your room by 1am. Then they call your leave time over the PA system and you gather into the foyer and wait. I think we did wait about 20-25 minutes before we actually walked off the boat, and not because there were that many people, but because apparently customs didn't let us through right away. Otherwise an overall easy process.
My DH and I really enjoyed the cruise…it exceeded his expectations (though he didn't have any really to begin with). It was relaxing and we liked the fact that we didn't have to truly follow a schedule if we didn't want to. It was fabulous to have someone else cook and clean for you for a week and we would definitely go cruising again. Alaska is beautiful, but perhaps not active enough for those who are seeking more adventure hiking? We wanted to do other excursions (i.e. helicopter riding), but because the prices were soo high, we were unable to do so. However, we were very happy overall with the excursions that we took.