This was not my first cruise with NCL and not my first to Alaska, my most favorite destination. But it was my first cruise with mobility issues. Several months before the cruise, arthritis started in my left knee and then on to my right knee. Never had this much trouble with arthritis before, but this time it came with a vengeance. Got a shot of Cortisone in the left knee prior to the cruise, but I thought the right knee was due to favoring it too much, so I didn't get a shot for that knee. So I knew I was going to have problems getting around mostly because of the right knee. With this, the thought of a getting a week's pass for the thermal suite on the ship was sounding really good but I wondered if we could board early enough to get a couple of those coveted passes. Luckily, I had my cane with me because both knees were wobbly and when they announced that people with mobility problems could board first, I grabbed my sister EL and daughter AD and we headed for the ship. We were the first group of people to board and the first thing we did was sign up for the thermal suite! Our "girls" cruise was off to a good start.
We had our first lunch at the Summer Palace by the large window with a glorious view of the Seattle skyline in front of us on a lovely, Sunday morning. Couldn't ask for anything better. By the time we finished our lunch our cabin was ready. Our balcony cabin seemed smaller than I remember, but then the last cabin we had was a mini-suite, so in comparison, the space seemed very small. And with a third person in the room, it seemed even smaller. But we found plenty of storage and closet space. Then it was time for the emergency drill. I was afraid about standing for a long time during the drill because of my bad knees. But it was different this time, we didn't have to put on our life jackets and our drill station was at the Summer Palace. That was way too easy but what a relief. We relaxed for a while and then stepped out on our balcony as the ship left the pier.
We had our first dinner at Le Bistro. It's half-price on the first night of the cruise. We then saw the "Oh What a Night" Frankie Valley tribute show which was very entertaining. After that we decided to go to bed early so that we could try out the thermal suite first thing in the morning.
The thermal suite was wonderful. It's definitely well worth the extra $99 for an opportunity to just relax and pamper oneself. However, for short people take caution entering the large thermal pool. Your feet won't touch the bottom and the bubbling current can easily make it seem like your in the rapids with your body bobbing around like a cork. Hold on to a bar and don't let go! Plus - there are two personal whirlpool baths but unfortunately one was out of order. But there were so few people there it didn't take very long for it to be available again.
Now going back to the fact that my knees were in bad shape, this is what I experienced for the first time as someone with mobility problems. The Summer Palace entrance is on the 7th floor and you have to go down the stairs to the 6th floor to the dining hall. Anyone having trouble with stairs can take the elevator that goes down to the 6th floor and only one of 4 elevators in front of the Summer Palace goes there. Once you're down on the 6th floor, there is no access to the rest of the ship other than by that one elevator or the stairs. When we got down to the 7th floor for dinner at the Summer Palace, I stood there in front of the elevator that goes down to the 6th floor while EL and AD checked in for a table. I waited forever, but no 6th floor elevator arrived. Since EL and AD were already below waiting for me, I decided to try the stairs. I made it down, but almost lost my balance on the way down. Then after dinner, I waited at the 6th floor elevator, this time with EL and AD. No elevator arrived. There was another lady with a cane also waiting. The elevator never came. So we all made our way up the stairs, which was painful for me but even more painful for the other lady. By the time we made it up to the 7th floor, the gal at the restaurant registration desk said, "Sorry that you had to walk up the stairs, the elevator's not working." These things happen I suppose - but why weren't we informed before going down to the 6th floor? Why wasn't there a sign saying the elevator was out of order? Why did they allow us to go downstairs to the dining hall without a word of warning about a broken elevator? It was a puzzle. I wondered what might have happened for someone in a wheelchair. Perhaps they were informed, but I guess they thought people with canes could handle the stairs just fine. It could be there was another elevator that could be used, but no one bothered to tell us.
We reserved tickets to see the Lumberjack show at Ketchikan. Our ship was closer to where the show was located the first time I was in Ketchikan but this time it was much further away. I asked someone at the excursion desk if there was a shuttle that would take us to the show. I was told that when I got to the meeting place outside of the ship they would have a shuttle there for folks with mobility problems. We got off the ship early and I asked about the shuttle and the person guiding people to where the show was didn't know what we were talking about. So she called the excursion desk and she was told the show would have a taxi take us there at their expense. Good. However, when the show was over, there were no arrangements made to pick us up after the show. So we walked slowly back to the ship. It was uncomfortable, but I made it. So, back on the ship we had lunch and I soaked my achy knees in one of the thermal suite's personal whirlpool bath. Ahhh....
I would suggest to anyone having trouble getting around, don't be afraid to tell crewmembers that you'll need special accommodations for boarding or de-boarding. Being new at this, I wasn't proactive and I paid dearly for it. In previous cruises with NCL, disembarking was always so smooth and usually didn't take very long at all. The only time it took longer was in New York, which is a very busy port. I didn't realize Vancouver is also a very busy port and we stood in line forever going through customs and then it was another lengthy wait just to get in a taxi. I could have kicked myself when I saw a row of people in wheelchairs being wheeled directly to where they needed to go. So don't be proud, ask for assistance. My poor knees ached for days after waiting in all those long lines.
All in all, it was another great Alaskan cruise and I intend to get my knees replaced before taking another trip.
P.S. - Another suggestion -- Try the chicken wings at the Blue Lagoon. I've never seen so many peopleat one time chomping on wings. Chicken bones were flying everywhere! There hot like they just came out of the fryer! They're super-crispy on the outside and juicy and tender inside. They're delicious and you can get them hot or mild. If you get it mild, you can just dip the wings in as much hot sauce as you want rather than having the wings smothered in sauce. It's not as messy to eat.