Compared to the past trips and ships (Spirit, Sun and Gem, which is the Pearl's sister ship), I was a disappointed in several things with the Pearl:
- The menu options in the MDRs struck me as even more limited than in the past. The lack of variety and appeal of the daily options caused us to dine at specialty restaurants twice, which come at an additional price ($10 - $25).
- The wait service was very uneven, in both the MDRs and the specialty restaurants. The "freestyle" experience does prohibit the traditional waiter familiarity found on other cruise lines, but my gripes are beyond that. Service was often slow and spotty in the MDR, regardless of occupancy, and the waiters were something less than friendly. At Cagney's, the $25/head steakhouse on board, the waiters were extremely personable, but committed several noteworthy service mistakes that are not acceptable for a restaurant with a surcharge.
- The cocktail waiters and waitresses, while always typically forward in trying to sell drinks, were borderline aggressive this year. We often had a drink in hand or a bucket of beer, which made us prime targets. Since they do not operate in "territories" like traditional wait-staff, we were often approached back to back to back by different waiters. NCL would be wise to section off the bars and lounges and assign them to specific staff to avoid this situation in the future.
- Finally, none of our group particularly cared for the cruise director, Andy, who was a little too campy (even for a cruise director).
To touch on a few other areas:
Entertainment: We didn't attend any of the revue style shows, but did enjoy Sharkbait (a comedy/juggling duo) and the Four Seasons cover band "Oh What A Night". The comedian, Buzz Sutherland, was great on the first night, but lousy in his two subsequent performances and Second City used their normal cruise material, which we had heard on previous trips, so they were a snooze for us.
Excursions: We did ship excursions in Skagway (Laughton Glacier Hike) and Ketchikan (Deadliest Catch tour) and both were outstanding. More details in my port reviews.
Fitness Center: The gyms on the four NCL ships we've sailed on have been consistently good, with a decent free weight section, good variety of machines and large aerobic room in addition to all the treadmills and ellipticals.
Overall, a cruise is a great introductory vacation to Alaska. The Pearl, while it may not have lived up to the other NCL ships we've been on, provided great memories that are sure to last lifetimes.
It was an overcast day when we were in Juneau, so we decided not to take the Mount Roberts Tram, as many previous commenters have advised.
Once back in the town, we walked around for a little while, but there really isn't too much to see. Most of the stores on the main strip are cruise-owned tourist traps.
Once off the tour boat, we walked the town of Ketchikan, which, compared to Juneau and Skagway, was more of what I envisioned Alaska to be like. We walked to Creek Street, which was nice, and found the Married Man's Trail (which was much smaller and less impressive than I had expected, based on the reviews I'd read -- not much to see here).
On Sunday morning, we took a food tour of Pike Place Market with Savor Seattle Tours, which was excellent. Our tour guide took a group of 20 or so people around the market, tasting foods from smoked salmon to piroshkis to chocolate covered cherries, while providing interesting and humorous historical anecdotes. I found this tour on Trip Advisor and the positive reviews were definitely spot on.
Worth noting, three of us headed to the pier at 9:00 to check our bags in. The porters started taking bags at about 9:45a, so this is a good option if you want to go explore town before you check in. Also, they have a $3/bag concierge service if you can't wait until the 9:45a pick-up time.
Once we got off, we began hiking up toward Laughton Glacier. After an hour in the woods, we got above the tree line and climbed up river rocks to approach the glacier. We stopped for lunch, which we had made on the train ride, on the ice and then the group broke up -- some people headed back for a "leisurely" descent, while the rest of us kept climbing up the glacier. Between the river rocks and the glacial ice, finding safe footing was challenging -- almost everyone, including the guides, took a fall at one point or another.
The scenery was absolutely amazing, the guides were knowledgeable, funny and very willing to take pictures of everyone and the hike itself was a nice challenge. All in all, we were hiking for about six or seven hours on very uneven terrain, so it's pretty physically demanding, but if you're in good shape and want to see a glacier, this is an absolute must.
The "town" of Skagway was similar to Juneau -- almost everything there was designed for tourists.