Flew to Seattle and spent 3 nights in Seattle. Great town great time, but this is a cruise review. Used SeaTac car service to get to hotel downtown. Cost was about $40 + tip. This was real late at night and we have found the car services to be about the same cost as a cab, but much nicer, cleaner, and we feel safer. Doesn't mean we are any safer, but we feel it so who cares. Did take Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver. DW booked the ticket and paid extra for business class. I highly recommend this. The extra cost (minimal, about $10 or $15 per ticket, can't remember) got us early check-in with no waiting (bypassed a long line,) early boarding onto a crowded train station, $3 each off of anything in the bistro car. However, eat something before you get on the train and use this just for a snack or coffee. It also allowed us to get off the train first and get us through Canadian immigration prior to the coach passengers getting off the train. Took a cab from the train station to the cruise terminal. It was right out front of the station and dropped us off right at the terminal. Gave the cabbie $13 US and we were both happy. Very pleasant ride. Baggage porter met us at the cab and took bags (as we had luggage tags on already.) There were about 10 people in line. Would have just done it myself with less people in line, but was expecting it to be further away like in Miami. Probably should have done this myself and saved the 5 bucks, but hey, it is vacation. Next in through security. This was a long winding line, but it seemed to keep moving. There were 3 ships in port, maybe that made it longer. Probably took 15 or 20 minutes. Got in the terminal through security and went straight in to get our room keys. We had a mini suite AF, so we got to go on the side of the suite passengers. No wait. Other line looked like a fairly short wait. But we were on early.
Day 1, Vancouver. Went right on the ship and DW asked if the restaurant was open. He said yes, deck 12, directing us to the buffet. I then asked, "Is there a sit down restaurant open?" He said' "Versailles." Of course we figured it was, but didn't know what time it was at the moment. So we went to Versailles for lunch. Not very crowded and of course it was very tasty. We have learned from Cruise Critic members to always go to the restaurant the first day for lunch ,as it is less crowded than the buffet. They try to get everyone in the buffet and out of the way of the entry deck. While we were eating a message came on the loudspeaker that cabins on Decks 11 & 121 were ready, so a lunch, we went on up to our cabin. This was our first time in an AF, our biggest cabin yet. We loved it. Luggage came fairly quickly and not all at once, so we had ample time to unpack. I went downstairs to order some surprise chocolate covered strawberries for DW. Went to dinner around 6:30, which is late for us. We went to the Aqua, and it had a line of about 7 parties in front of us. Line went fairly quickly and for the first time in a while, they asked if we minded setting with others. We said no and sat at an 8 top with 2 other couples. We had a great meal and a great time. Went to bed early. Skipped the show.
Day 2, Victoria. Got up late so we just headed up to the buffet for breakfast. It was pretty good, and of course, quick. Coffee was nasty so we came back to the room and made a pot that was fairly decent. On both meals on Day 1, coffee was fairly good. Just the buffet coffee is nasty. Did our only ship excursion, which was the hop on/hop off bus. Great buy as it is only 10 bucks a head and gets you to downtown and back as many times as you may need. We only needed once. We found out that the world's largest Wal-Mart is in Victoria, unless the one in Texas has opened, but did not go. Don't like to go at home, so we really don't want to go to the world's largest one. We did go to Don Mee (www.donmee.com) in China town for a Dim Sum lunch. We don't usually eat off the cruise ship, but I had heard Dim Sum is a good lunch. We didn't know what it was, but this was a great place to try it. One, it was crowded, usually a good sign of good food. 2. When the waitress sat us down, she put a piece of paper in a glass. On the back it explained what Dim Sum was. For those that don't know, Dim Sum is where you sit and girls bring by items on carts. You look at these and just pick out what you want, if anything. They mark on your ticket what you got. In the end, you pay just for what you take. It costs us about $28, but we were stuffed when we left. It was really good and I will definitely do it again some day. Bought a Tea Pot and some tea at a place called Silk Road. Other than that, just walked around town and enjoyed the sights of this town. Came back on ship. I went to the ping pong tournament. However, there were some real table tennis players there and beat up on this old ping pong player. Then we went and watched "Sing it if you can." Was a decent way to waste a few hours. DW saw the seals on the rocks while I was away playing ping pong. The chocolate covered strawberries were supposed to be here at 4:00. They got to the room about 4:45. Not really a bad thing, just used to getting such superb service that you come to expect things to happen like they say. They were wonderful! Had dinner at Versailles. As usual was an NCL style dinner. Done right. I tried something new, only because it was something I had heard of but wouldn't think of paying for it in a restaurant. It was ok. One of our table-mates had it for the same reason and loved it. I just have different taste buds. Went to the Jean Anne Ryan show "Band on the Run." Was fairly good as it played some oldies. Of course, if you've seen one JAR production, you've seen them all. Went to the dating game after that. Well worth the visit. We enjoyed it.
Day 3, Astoria.
After a rough night at sea, we made it to Astoria. What a cute town. We had breakfast in Aqua. Was there when the doors opened. If you've never been one to go to the dining room for breakfast, you have to at least try it once. It is great. In order to get off ship, don't listen or read. You have to bring something that shows citizenship. Although they say a picture ID, that won't work with the immigration folks. Luckily, I brought my Military ID and my wife had hers in her purse. I showed mine and she showed her drivers' licenses as they said all you need is your key card and photo ID> Better bring a passport to get off in Astoria. We rented a car from Enterprise here. Great deal, only $30 total. We went to the Columbia river museum. It was $20 a head, was real nice. Bought some coats here as gifts. Very good price. $30 each when we bought two. Came back on the ship for lunch and since the sit down wasn't open yet, headed up to the Blue Lagoon for lunch. Pretty good, and the price was right. Then we headed off to Cape Disappointment. Was a pleasant drive, but can't see anything unless you are willing to walk. All in all, to do it again would probably just stay in town or go over to Ft. Clapstop. At sail away we were serenaded by the Astoria High School pep band. Also, there is a Coast Guard PX if you have PX priviledges and need it. It also has gas. Just up the road from the Enterprise Car Rental. Enjoyed sailing out of Astoria. Saw a good view of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse on the way out. Had dinner at Aqua. Simply amazing. I had the Spaghetti Carbonara, DW had the Chicken Picatta. Sat with two other couples and just had a great time. This is the day they had the laundry special, fill the bag for $24.95. However, they failed to leave the message in our rooms. We had good cabin stewards and they took care of us anyway. Good thing we asked. DW went to bed and I went to the Extreme Vegas show. It was wonderful. Maybe the best show I have seen on a cruise ship. I love the quick change aspect and someday, someone is going to have to explain this secret to me. Maybe a new TV show, Vegas unveiled, or something.
Day 4, at sea. Had breakfast in the Blue Lagoon. Won't be going there for breakfast again. Not bad, just not my style. Went to morning trivia, which is always fun. Of course I learned a few useless bits of trivia that I will hopefully never use again. But hey, I know them now! Later we went to the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet. Thanks Greg for putting this together. We enjoyed it. Much better than that was the slot pull that Robin put together. That was a lot of fun. No wonder Vegas is so huge. We put in a total of $320 and pulled the lever a total of 160 times at $2 a pop. We ended up with a total of $150 dollars or so in winnings, split 16 ways. We would do this one again in a heartbeat; much better than taking $320 of my own money and putting it in the slots. No time for lunch so we grabbed a couple of pretzel rolls (they are to die for) and some cold cuts and took it to the Stardust for the Latitudes party. That was as usual, couple free drinks and a couple of canapEs. Listened to the dumb jokes from our Cruise Consultant. Came back to the room and the laundry was there. Wow, quick turnaround. Less than 24 hours. I then went to the Majority Rules game show in the Stardust. That was quite fun. Watched some folks get upset in the black-jack tournament as some old guy didn't know how to play and cost a few guys quite a bit. Of course, it wasn't real money. They probably would have thrown shoes at him or something for hitting when he should stand and standing when he should hit. Glad I didn't get in on that particular game. Went to dinner at the Aqua tonight. I had my best meal yet. Everything was just right, including both deserts. What a life you can live on a cruise ship. Came back to the room and found a flyer for another laundry special for $19.95 a bag. Didn't need this one, but nice to know it was offered if needed. Went to see the show "Oh What a Night." This was a tribute to Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons. It was fairly good.
Day 5, San Francisco. Had breakfast at Versailles. Then off the ship to SF. We had bought tickets to Alcatraz from home earlier, so we had some time to kill until that kicked off. We walked a short walk down to Fisherman's warf, and then bought an all day pass on the MUNI system for $13 each. This enabled us to ride the street cars, bus, and cable cars. Pretty good deal as the cable car itself is $5 each way, no transfers. I really liked the cable car ride. Especially hanging off the side, just like on TV. We also went downtown and to Ghiradelli Square. I really enjoyed Alcatraz. Had dinner at the Aqua and it was again wonderful. Was having trouble getting coffee at the same time as our desert. It would usually come after we had finished desert. Was tired and went right to bed.
Day 6, at sea. Had breakfast at Versailles. I have come to enjoy and expect phenomenal service from the cruise industry. Just not receiving it. Great service, and better than most land restaurants, but just not quite up to sea standards for me. Just going to relax today. Went to hear "How to Operate a Floating Hotel" with cruise director, Executive Chef, Food and Beverage Manager, and the Hotel Director. Informative meeting. I really like the cruise director, Ray Karr, from Seattle. May be our best CD yet. Very funny, never obnoxious. He actually stated that the cruise line is in the business to make money. They took out some non-revenue producing venues and brought in more revenue producing venues. Of course, I don't like it, but it makes sense. And, cruises cost less than they used to. I guess little old me wants the price of today with the service of 30 years ago. Of course that is not going to happen. I went up to find a good place to read and landed at Java Cafe. Great place to sit and quietly read. It took a while for the wait staff to come over and take my order, but that was just fine by me. I really just wanted to read the book. The vanilla latte was great though. The staff never bugged me. I might go back this afternoon. Then went to lunch-time trivia. Trivia is one of those activities I hope they don't get rid of. I don't go often, but always like going. It is also a place to meet some new folks. We had a great team and a fun time. Went up to the Market Cafe for lunch. I just love those pretzel rolls. This afternoon consisted of naps and walking around the ship doing nothing. It was a relaxing day, just like vacation is supposed to be. I did walk by the theater this afternoon just in time to see the grand finale, "Fountains," of the crew talent show. The first time you see fountains, it is kind of funny. After that, it is ok. A couple of the folks couldn't keep from laughing during their performance and that was pretty funny. However, the best part was this cruise we didn't have to hear John the CD from Australia keep telling us we don't want to miss "Fountains" at the crew show. Went to Aqua again for supper. While on the Dawn last year, we preferred the Venetian as it had a wonderful pianist playing for dinner. Also, we had an aft cabin. As our cabin was mid ship this time, and there was no pianist in Versailles Dining Room, we went to the Aqua more often. This was the friendliest waiter we had all cruise, and the first time for dinner we were not asked if we wanted a sharing table. Must have been because we got there earlier and there were lots of open tables and no one waiting. Unfortunately, the waitress got my order wrong. I did not complain because my wife said that I was going to get the Salmon, not the Snapper like I ordered. But hey, nothing to make the cruise bad. Just stating what happened on this cruise. Maybe I didn't speak plain enough. After dinner we went to the Cirque Pacific show. The JAR dancers are very talented. However, this isn't our cup of tea. The Chinese Acrobats were wonderful and we really liked them. Then they brought out a bunch of the crew. That was nice to bring out a stage full of folks that are not always seen. We stopped by the Blue Lagoon to get some wings for the first time this cruise. I really liked the old Blue Lagoon better. Something about sitting down at the new place just doesn't seem to fit. Bring back the old Blue Lagoon. We did skip quite a few of the shows this cruise.
Day 7, Disembarkation. The ship was cleared for walk-offs at 7:30 AM. We were sitting down having a final breakfast in Versailles when the announcement came on. Had our best server ever, and he was very attentive and made our last dining experience a memorable one. Nothing major, just made everything happen, including bringing the items together like we asked. Finding some crescent rolls that weren't in the original bread basket.
Overall cruise experience (compared to other cruises, mostly on NCL)- Average.
Overall entertainment experience-- below average.
Food compared to a land vacation-- cruise wins, totally.
Value of cruising over other vacation types--- cruise still wins hands down.
Big question, did I get what I paid for? You betcha.
Although this cruise experience wasn't what I hoped for, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would cruise NCL again. I have nothing against them. However, I would like to try some other cruise lines so I have more of a comparison. I wrote this to be what I did on the cruise and how I felt about it at the time. Cruising is a wonderful experience and I loved every minute of it, up until I had to get off the ship. Come Monday when I go back to work, I will miss the ship even more.