This was the second cruise for the kids and for my husband and I - our fifth. Cruising suits our vacation style; ability to visit many different places (we now have a list of places we would love to return for a week or two at a later date), not paying high prices for a hotel room you never spend any time in, the variety of food is always great, as little or as much activity as you want and the kids have always enjoyed the kids club giving mom and dad some "free time". We spent the night at Cascadia Hotel and Suites downtown Vancouver, typical older downtown hotel, small pool and fitness room, pay underground parking (you could park at the street meters from evening to early morning for free), had a great breakfast included (waffles, sausage, bacon, eggs, fruit, yogurt, cereals). Would stay again because of the price and the location was nice for walking to downtown restaurants, a movie theatre a few blocks away and corner store across the street. We used Cruisepark to park our vehicle, as good as any park n fly at the airport. My only worry was boarding the bus without our luggage as the staff was responsible for transporting your luggage to the ship. Until my luggage arrived at our cabin I was sure it would end up on the wrong ship, I think there were passengers from 2 other cruise lines using Cruisepark departing around the same as NCL. My luggage was late to our cabin, I think after 8pm but the rest of the family had there luggage by 6pm. Tip: I always pack our carry on as an overnight bag with extra set of clothes, toiletries and bathing suits (more so for the kids).
Embarkation was a breeze, on the ship in 30 mins. Overall our cruise experience was great. Service in the main dining room and the sports bar were always exceptional, quick and courteous staff. We enjoy the free style cruising as we tailored our meal times at the "non-rush" periods, often eating a late breakfast (we like to sleep in), late lunch or early snack. Kids club proved to be a big hit again this cruise and usually ran nightly from 7-10:30pm (along with other times during the day) so the kids often grabbed a bite at the buffet before 7pm, which left the adults with some alone time to have a nice meal and attend the nightly show. Most of the evenings, we attended the early show in the Stardust Lounge and then had dinner. A few nights we did go for dinner around 7:30pm (had to wait 15 mins tops once for a table) and service usually prompt (the lobster night was the slowest but also busiest in the main dining room), and window seat almost every time! My husband did point out, that for being on an Alaska cruise we did not see any Alaskan king crab on the menu. We did not eat in any specialty restaurants as we have always found on our cruises that the main dining room's menu has something to please our palette. The buffet was your usual slow line ups and typical food fare, don't expect anything exceptional, in food or speed of service, and you won't be disappointed.
There were many activities on the ship, to playing cards, art auctions, casino, various music venues around the ship, daily suduko, and crosswords at the library, fitness centre, spa, shopping, organized board game and WII play, to simply relaxing. The kids loved the outdoor hot tub and pool, my husband and I enjoyed the floor to ceiling window seats at the sports bar enjoying the amazing scenery. Lots of pictures were taken; make sure to bring lots of film/memory cards. The weather overall was very good, a few chilly days requiring long pants and light jacket but very little rain and although our day would start out cloudy in some ports, it did always clear up allowing us to take in the beautiful views. We had a problem one evening with our toilet and although we made two calls to maintenance, we are unsure if anyone did come to assess the situation. It seemed to clear up on its own, we think it may have been from the cabin steward emptying the ice bucket into the toilet, a mystery but never again a problem. The staff we encountered were all friendly, one waiter entertained the kids with origami and napkin animals. The sports bar also has free popcorn throughout the day and evening, a hit with both the small and big kids in our family. The chocoholic buffet was amazing, even if you do not sample it's a must see.
We were on board for both Canada Day and the 4th of July but I feel there were a lack of festivities; they had a BBQ lunch on the back deck.
I was disappointed in the amount of time spent in port for both Ketchican and Juneau, really no time for exploring. Ketchican was a rush to hit the shops and just enjoy the surroundings. Juneau we were booked for the whale watching tour (highly recommended, the staff were very entertaining and knowledgable, and yes we saw many whales - awesome and worth the money). With our tour we had no time in the town, as we had to board by 12:45pm to head to Tracy Arm Fjord. There was too much ice to get into the Sawyer Glacier so we had to detour to another (sorry bad tourist forget the name) but it was amazing and not as cold as I was expecting. Skagway we had plenty of time to tour around and rented a vehicle for the day from Avis for just over $100 and saw much of the beautiful country side. The only down side, Canadians can not cross the Canadian border with a US rental vehicle so we were limited on how far we could travel up the main highway (to the Canadian Border) but still well worth the drive. We also drove the Dyea Road (slow going and narrow in some parts but well worth the views were amazing), spent time at the Klondike Gold Dredge where the kids enjoyed panning for gold and we enjoyed a great meal and beer from their brewery on site (all staff were cheerful and welcoming). And yes we stopped for a cold one at the Red Onion Saloon. It was a beautiful sunny day too! We spoke with a local who said he drove in the day before and the fog was so thick he could barely see 20 feet in front of him. On our return to Vancouver we headed to Stanley park where the kids enjoyed the water park and outdoor pool for a few hours before heading south to Seattle. We plan to travel with NCL again in 2011 from New Orleans with the purchase of our Freestyle Cruise Reward which gave us an instant $100 credit on board.
Disembarkation was easy and took about 45mins, customs was the only delay. We chose to carry our bags off. I don't know how NCL manages to have no lines at disembarkation time, we travelled with Carnival a few years back and it was a mess, will most likely never travel with them again.