Recap of our NORWEGIAN PEARL cruise to Alaska
Sailing Date: May 22, 2011
Route: 7-day Alaska (Seattle, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Victoria, Seattle)
Cabin: 10164 (Aft Romance Suite with Balcony)
This was our fifth cruise (all on NCL) and first time on the Pearl. We started with NCL in 2005 on the Wind (Owners Suite) for the 11-Day Hawaii, the Star (Penthouse) for the 8-Day Mexican Riviera and again on the Star (Mini-Suite) for the 7-Day Alaska Tracy Arm, and the Jewel (Owners Suite) for the 9-Day Southern Caribbean. We enjoy freestyle cruising on NCL and have our expectations set accordingly. The goal of this trip was to take a well-deserved break from work and relax a bit while enjoying our aft Romance Suite and seeing Glacier Bay for the first time. We had already visited Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway once before in September 2007, at the end of the Alaska cruise season.
My wife and I flew to Seattle the day before embarkation and stayed at the Renaissance Seattle Hotel (booked through NCL with transportation to the ship). We walked to Pike Place Market that evening and met local friends at The Pink Door restaurant for Italian food, wine, and catching up. Seattle is a wonderful place.
Our luggage was picked up inside the hotel room at 10:00 AM, exactly as outlined in the NCL welcome letter we received at check-in, while we had a no-rush breakfast at the hotel. The bus picked us up at the Renaissance around noon and made stops at two other hotels in the downtown area on the way to the pier. Once at the pier, chaos ensued as numerous buses, shuttles, taxis, and cars were dropping off hundreds of people going in all directions at the same time. As the bus doors opened, an NCL employee came on the bus and told everyone to get into the security line at the south end of the terminal. Then we stood in the people queue for about the next 30-45 minutes as we slowly approached the security checkpoint. (We later found out that we should have entered through the VIP Check-In gate since we were staying in a Romance Suite and could have avoided all the people and the lines - but nobody from NCL was outside helping with that information.)
Embarkation always seems to be the worst and most stressful part of the cruise experience. Once we were re-routed to the VIP lounge, everything started to get better - our pictures were taken for our room key cards and we were escorted directly onboard the ship to Cagney's restaurant on deck 13 for the VIP lunch. We enjoyed a bottle of wine with lunch while I mellowed out and started getting into the cruise mood. They announced that our rooms were ready just as we were finishing dessert.
The Romance Suites are on the back of the ship (aft) and have larger balconies equipped with two full-size reclining lounge chairs and a single upright chair with a small table. The Romance Suites are designed for 2 people with a comfortable king-size bed next to a separate sitting area (couch, table, chair) across from a dining table and chairs. A large flat-screen TV is mounted on the wall opposite the bed and includes a DVD player. A coffee machine is in the suite allowing you to quickly make single cup servings of coffee, lattes, cappuccinos or espresso whenever the mood strikes. A warming tray on top of the appliance keeps the cups warm and ready to go at all times. The large closet is accessible from both the entry hall (his side) and the dressing room with vanity (her side). The bathroom is divided into three sections with the sink in the middle, the full-size bathtub/shower on the left, and the toilet with privacy glass on the right. There is a section of cabinets and drawers in the dressing area and two in-room safes.
The doorbell rang and our first piece of luggage was delivered. Dilip, our butler, arrived and introduced himself and demonstrated how to use the coffee machine and covered all the features in the room and the DVD library. Carlos, the concierge, arrived and introduced himself (we had met him before on the Mexican Riviera cruise aboard the Star) and we provided him with a list of our dinner reservations for the week. Victor, our room steward, stopped by with our second piece of luggage and asked if everything was okay with the room.
[Ports and Excursions]
Juneau: We saw the Botanical Gardens and Mendenhall Glacier during our previous trip, so this time we took the Mt. Roberts Tramway. The snow at the top of the mountain limited our access to some of the hiking trails, but we made it to a lookout point with good views of the ships in port and the city of Juneau. Afterwards, we walked through town and did some shopping.
Skagway: We took the White Pass Railroad on the previous trip, so this time we wanted to get a bit further out - boots on the ground. We chose the Glacier Point Wilderness Safari and this turned out to be the highlight of our trip. A high-speed catamaran took us from Skagway back through the Chilkoot Inlet and around the bend into the Chilkat Inlet. During this ride, we saw hundreds of sea lions with their young babies along the shoreline, several bald eagles and humpback whales, and a group of six Orcas. Awesome! Then we reached Glacier Point at the base of Davidson Glacier and were transported from the landing point to the outfitting station where we received proper boots, raingear, and lifejackets for a short hike through the forest to the river where we got into canoes and paddled upriver into the lake where the guide could drop the outboard motor and take us across the lake to the base of the Davidson Glacier. Sam, our guide, did an outstanding job explaining the geology of the area, including the flora and fauna, and all about the formation and mechanics of glaciers. I particularly enjoyed the silence as Sam turned off the motor and just let us float at the base of the glacier with the bald eagles soaring overhead and the 360-degree panorama of incredible Alaskan scenery, including the Chilkoot mountain range, as rocks and boulders dislodged from the glacial ice and splashed into the lake. Although there were four cruise ships in Skagway with 8,000 tourists running around - here we find ourselves in a canoe with ten happy people out in the wild. A brown bear was spotted on the glacier as we made our way back across the emerald green lake. Sam educated us on the spruce tips, which are made into local microbrews (Spruce Tip Ale), which we enjoyed later at the Skagway Brewing Company once we got back to town. The weather was warm and sunny, the beer was light and refreshing, and we sat on the patio taking in the whole experience of this fantastic day and how fortunate we were to have it.
Glacier Bay: This was our first time visiting Glacier Bay National Park and the day is spent moving about the ship as it navigates its way through several inlets so we could view different glaciers including the Grand Pacific, Margerie, Lamplugh, and Reid. An official park ranger and accompanying staff board the ship once you arrive in the park and provide narrative throughout the day. We saw mountain goats, brown bears, and seals inside the park and calving activity on the Margerie glacier. You will want to bring some good binoculars and have some patience, as there are a lot of people outside on deck (a private balcony on the port side would be nice on this day). This was the first time I have ever seen the ship's security personnel out in force, presumably preventing the inevitable brawl between two camera enthusiasts competing over the best spot to take the ultimate picture. My wife and I love visiting the national parks and monuments, and this day did not disappoint. Glacier Bay is a place of magnificent beauty!
Ketchikan: Due to a mix-up on our first trip to Ketchikan, we missed the Misty Fjords excursion. But this time we did take the Misty Fjords and Wilderness Explorer tour aboard a high-speed catamaran, which takes you from Ketchikan up through the Behm Canal and Misty Fjords National Monument. The scenery was spectacular, although this area tends to be rainy most of the time. It is fairly easy to move back and forth between the lower-deck sitting area and the upper-deck observation area on the Allen Marine catamaran. The hot coffee and clam chowder were nice treats to warm you up after you get chilled. The local tour guides did a nice job explaining the area, history, and culture.
Victoria: We received notice that our planned Butchart Gardens, Wine, and Chocolate excursion was cancelled, so our concierge Carlos suggested we hire a bicycle rickshaw once we arrived at the port for our own private tour of Victoria. Great choice! It was very easy to move through town while avoiding all the traffic in the congested areas.
The NCL Pearl features many different food styles and places to eat - for whatever mood you are in. We put some thought into dinner planning before the cruise, knowing what our port schedules, shore excursions, and expected activities were going to be each day. There is plenty of variety without having to repeat any restaurant twice, plus the main dining rooms change their menu items each day. The French-themed Le Bistro restaurant is consistently good with great service. Cagney's Steakhouse is a close second and we enjoyed a nice filet mignon. The Lotus Garden Asian Restaurant and La Cucina Italian Restaurant each provide a nice change of pace during the week (but the up-charge here is unwarranted). The Summer Palace and Indigo dining rooms both share the same daily menu. The Blue Lagoon restaurant is open 23 hours each day where you can satisfy a sudden craving for a cheeseburger and fries. The Garden Cafe is a large buffet that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, offering a lot of variety in food. My lunch routine involves constructing a large salad and then finishing with sandwiches or pizza, although the buffet offers much more than this. The seating in the Garden Cafe on the NCL Pearl is a little more private than other NCL ships, with tables for two, four, six, and eight. There is also overflow seating in La Cucina on the port side and in The Great Outdoors at the back of the ship.
We did not attend any of the shows in the Stardust Theater on this cruise. We meandered through the art exhibit, casino, galleria stores, atrium, and spinnaker lounge on several occasions. The Freestyle Daily is delivered to your room every night with turndown service and outlines all of the entertainment and activities for the next day so you can plan what you might want to do - it can be as busy or relaxing as you want your schedule to be. Since our trip was about relaxing, we just took our evenings slow and had nothing planned except watching the ocean, scenery, and sunsets as much as possible and having dinner later than usual.
We planned to stay two additional nights in Seattle after the cruise to celebrate our anniversary, so we were not in a rush to get anywhere the day of disembarkation. We packed our luggage the night before and planned to do the express walk-off where you take your own bags and leave anytime you want in the morning (having a good rolling bag makes this easy). We received our final bill, reviewed our charges, and said our goodbyes to our room steward and butler, then met our concierge Carlos for a VIP express walk-off - avoiding all lines - and it was wonderful. Then it was a quick trip through customs and through the crowds waiting for their taxis and buses, then over the skybridge to Elliot Avenue and a few blocks walk past the original Starbucks to arrive at Inn at the Market for an early check-in. Done. We were having wine and cheese later that afternoon in our new balcony room at the hotel as we watched the NCL Pearl sail away, wishing we were aboard to enjoy another week, but an amazing anniversary dinner awaited us across the street at the Il Bistro Italian Restaurant at Pike Place Market.
This was a great cruise on a great ship with a great crew. The itinerary allowed us to wake up slowly on most mornings without having to worry about the clock. We never tendered once on this cruise and that was really nice for a change - just walk to mid-ship, go down the stairs, and find your way out easily. We met Kaj, the hotel director, at one of the VIP gatherings and he has a real zeal for work and life. It seems that this attitude is abundant on the NCL Pearl. We loved this cruise.