We were first time cruisers who live within driving distance of Seattle so we drove to the parking structure across the street from the pier and rolled our suitcases (across the train tracks) to the pier where we were able to check them about 10am. (we boarded the ship closer to noon). Parking for cruisers is pretty well marked but cost a shocking $140 for the week! (paid as you leave) We will pack lighter next cruise and take more compact rolling suitcases (one each with a backpack and handheld bag apiece), our rolling duffles were rather floppy. We packed a lot of cold weather stuff we didn’t wear, but a few items are important for cruising up to Alaska. Raincoats and fleece hoodie were worn plenty. Shorts could be worn in the sun on deck (not ashore), but capris were mostly what we wore on board. Dining was truly casual even in the main restaurants, but one could dress up and not feel out of place. For going ashore we wore zipoff nylon pants, but didn’t have occasion to zip the lower legs off. One might need more warm clothing if doing some of the shore excursions, which we didn’t do this trip. Good big binoculars were used all the time (we both took them) on this trip. I was glad I took 2 big memory cards for my digicam, I took a lot of photos! Really important were clothes that were forgiving in the waist! Don't bother with clothing that 'just fits', it won't won't be popular with you a ways into the week!
We liked the food very much, it wasn’t gourmet but that isn’t our preference; it was fresh, plentiful, good choices for everyone (even us non-meat eaters). I loved the chilled fruit soups and my travel partner loved the veg sushi and we both ate more salad and fresh fruit than at home (fresh pineapple every day!). We ate at the ‘main’ restaurant Versailles twice and the 23 hr Blue Lagoon once (limited menu there). Both were fine, and the desserts were better than in the buffet where we usually ate. (note: Blue Lagoon is closed for one hour for cleaning from 4-5am).
We liked the ship a lot, it had many areas to hang out on and the flow seemed pretty good, except going quickly out to the 13 deck from inside wasn’t easy to figure out. I didn’t much care for the piped in music all over, even in Market Café and especially loud at the pool. Who is that for, the staff? Surely not the relaxing de-stressing guests, I found it more irritating (ie, stressful) than entertaining! The fitness center was excellent, we used it every day, with good equipment and towels/spray to keep it clean, also cold towels in a refrig! Neither of us paid for spa services, but it looked good if someone wanted pampering and procedures (teeth whitening, botox, etc). Laps around the upper deck were fun for fresh air, exercise, and scenery on this gorgeous cruise. Our weather in mid-June was the usual unpredictable maritime mix of sun, drizzle, clouds/sun, and wind (especially in Skagway). The air was really chilly cruising the glaciers.
The mini-suite was rather cozy in a good sense, a bit narrow but we got used to that; I loved having a coffeemaker with as many packs of caf and decaf as we asked for and ceramic cups to drink it in, and we had a tub (I used it) and a bit bigger balcony and sitting area than a regular balcony room. There were bathrobes in the closet, but one of them needed washing. I also noticed a lot of dust on the wood tables, and candy wrappers under the bed. There are limited outlets, bring an adapter to 220 if you need to charge cell phones or a laptop. A 110 is by the vanity/hairdryer along the hall next to the bathroom and another one is almost hidden under the shelf over the sink. We didn’t realize the closet had a light, I read about it after on this forum; we used a flashlight to see our clothes on the closet shelf! There were another 2 drawers next to the vanity (which also has a stool and big mirror with a light). The big duffels empty fit under the beds out of the way and there were shelves above the closet area for more storage. The bathroom mirror had a big magnifying mirror, and the entire cabin was full of mirrors to make it feel more spacious. The TV was not flat-panel like in some cruise lines’ cabins nor did it get very good reception. We mostly had it tuned to the bow cam so we could see where we were headed, but the last day at sea I discovered the channel (?2 or 3) that showed us a map with a little ship of exactly where we were—I would’ve loved that all the way if I’d known about it! Also one of those channels had the shipboard announcements, which we couldn’t hear very well from the room (we’d stick a head into the hallway or miss it). The cabin had lots of hooks, rather dim reading lights by each bed (twins which could be made into a queen), very comfy mattresses, decent but not luxurious sheets and towels. We loved the shower which had a handheld option for the showerhead. Very nice shampoo and lavender-scented handsoap in wall dispensers in shower and by the sink, respectively. (no need to pack shampoo, but you might want to take a face soap and shower soap if you’re sensitive to body washes like I am). We really liked the little shelf next to the doorway where you could leave your keycard, or whatever item you wanted to grab when you went out. The sofa in the sitting area next to the sliding glass door was comfortable and could be made to a double bed for 1 more adult or 2 kids (any more people would overtax the cabin, I think), but room to move around would be very limited with this pulled out. It was best for just 2 people.
The ship is very family-friendly, in fact almost family-centered; there were many families with kids of all ages on our summer sailing. They were mostly pretty well-behaved and many were in their programs during the day, but it got a bit wild and noisy the last day and evening at sea with thundering feet above us (we were aft on deck 11) from the kids’ areas just above. It was convenient to take the stairs up to the Market Café a deck above in a jiffy, I could bring my meal back to the cabin with me if the café felt too crowded and busy. The Market Cafe has great views with big windows on both sides of the ship, so it's nice for scenery watching if you can take the hub-bub in there.
The main problem, and the one than may make me choose another cruise line over NCL is their smoking policy: guests can smoke in cabin/on balcony. That was the only place onboard we had a problem, we had several heavy smokers in the cabin one forward of us (upwind as the ship moved). They lit up often and not only was it awful on the balcony where we wanted to do a lot of hanging out watching scenery, it actually infiltrated our cabin, and the hallway by our door was atrocious. The dangers of secondhand smoke are well known nowadays, and there were so many children on board; smoking, including secondhand smoke exposure, is a major causative factor in most cancers and many other illnesses that can take many years or decades to affect the future health of them as well as the present health of all who breathe it! It really spoiled our trip at times (like during the highlight of the trip, cruising the fjord to the glaciers, we were forced to breathe it on our balcony). NCL is very conscientious about cleanliness when it comes to handwashing, touchless stations are all over the ship. After 3 polite complaints about the smoke we finally got a plug-in air filter in our cabin but it had already been smoky for days and the desk knew about it. They did offer to ‘refresh’ our cabin when I complained about the smell, but I declined as it wouldn’t help the balcony and would force us out of our cabin while they changed everything (to no avail, I’m sure). My requests to be moved were answered with “the ship is full” (??). NCL needs to re-think this smoke-friendly policy and get modern. They could give smokers some spots onboard to indulge their habit without subjecting others to it, like Celebrity does: specifically NOT in the cabins and on the balconies. I like a lot about NCL’s Freestyle cruising, but this is the wrong kind of freedom! Not in anyone’s best interest.
The service wasn't what I'd consider 'top-notch', more like so-so, often very perfunctory. Our cabin steward left things out and we had a bogus $15 minibar charge added to the obligatory $12/day/person on one of our charge cards but we didn't know about it until the charge card bill came 2 weeks after the cruise. When I called to ask why it was there, they believed me right away but I had to have it credited back to my card in the next billing cycle.
Debarking was really easy as we chose the "easy-walk-off" method, as long as you can manage your own luggage (don't overload yourself!) you can leave first and customs was no more for us than show our passports and go. We walked across the street to reclaim the car and were headed for home in the more-usual Seattle rainy weather in no time. Overall it was a great trip, except for the smoke pollution, and we want to cruise Alaska’s Inside Passage again someday, although we’re not sure if we want to take a gamble with our assigned neighbors on NCL again! And I would recommend a balcony for viewing the Inside Passage scenery because that is the main draw of this cruise itinerary!