Star to Alaska 7/2/11-7/9/11
Background: there were 9 of us travelling
Balcony #1: Uncle, Aunt and Cousin (12yr old)
Balcony #2: Me, Aunt, Niece (11yr old)
Balcony #3: Grandma, Grandpa and Cousin (16yr old)
Half of us were seasoned cruisers taking a few first-timers on a cruise.
AMAZING. We stayed at the Waterfront Marriott, basically across the street from pier 66; the bellhop loaded all of luggage onto 2 luggage carts and brought it all over for us, including my grandfather who was using a wheelchair from the hotel. We didn't even have to wait on line; a porter came right to us with a cart and took it all. And another employee met us with a wheelchair for grandpa. Then we got on line to check in. Super smooth, right to the wheelchair accessible desk. Pretty easy check-in, considering how many of us there were ?. There we made another wheelchair switch (not quite sure why) but our check-in agent was very nice and shocked that I had the correct paperwork for bringing a minor that wasn't my own on board.
Then we stopped for the photo and WALKED RIGHT on. Wow, that has never happened cruising out of New York. We were headed for Versailles we they announced that the rooms were ready (another pleasant shock) so we went and dropped off our carry-ons. Two of our rooms (9088 and 9090) were next door so we asked the room steward, Joseph, if he could open the balcony, he said yes, after the inside passage because it would be too windy (and he remembered and did it with no reminder.) My grandparents' room was 9110 and a little closer to the elevator. The accessibility at sea people delivered his actual wheelchair that we had rented ($75) while we were admiring the rooms.
Only problem came when one of our bags didn't show up by our room, I found it myself at the opposite end of the hallway.
Versailles - Meals- Lunch Day 1, Dinner Day 1, Breakfast Day 2, Lunch Day 2 and Dinner Day 2 (I think)
Okay so the main problem with Versailles is stairs. If you are travelling with a person in a wheelchair it can be a little tricky because only one elevator goes to the correct floor, but getting that elevator to stop for you and have room was impossible. Also the Maitre D was located at the top of a staircase, but you are seated a level lower, so if you do not have able bodied people with you, you are basically out of luck.
***Please note we eventually received a special wheelchair accessible key card that made it so the correct elevator opened and you could go to Versailles, but it came after so many failed attempts that we ended up eating most of our remaining dinners at Aqua. I'm not sure why the special key card took so long to get to grandpa, or why it wasn't given at check-in.
We were thankful to have so many problems at Versailles, because then we experienced Aqua and it was incredible!! While Versailles had decent food, it had extremely slow service. Forget getting coffee with dessert, buy the time it came, you were already done.
Aqua - Meals - All the rest of our dinners (except 1)
Great food, very similar to Versailles, but they called it more contemporary. Amazing wait staff, Jonolito was incredible. Friendly, efficient. Never had a problem getting a table at 8:30 for a large group. The only restaurant where we were actually told what the Chef Specialty was every night. I cannot say enough about how much we enjoyed Aqua.
Endless Summer - Thursday Dinner - ½ Off Night
The only reason we decided to try endless summer was the promotion of ½ Off. And it was well worth it. The best meal of the entire trip, but let me say it wouldn't have been worth $90 for us, but for $45 it was great. We had very special service because of a food allergy, the only restaurant that offered to make something special because of it.
Best of All (at La Cucina) Friday Lunch $15 each
The idea is you get a sampling of the specialty restaurants, while the food was good; there was nothing there that inspired me to go to any of the restaurants featured.
Market Cafe - All the time ;)
Interesting selection, part of the group really enjoyed the Indian buffet. Took us a while to figure out that at lunch time the first two sections are the same, but the 3rd is different, sandwiches, etc.
The Grill -
At breakfast they have an omelet station and a waffle station.
At lunch they have burgers, hot dogs, wursts, etc.
Blue Lagoon -
The only restaurant where I ordered soup and it came out hot. I didn't like the set-up compared to the Spirit and Dawn.
There is plenty to do and walk to easily on your own. We walked through town and picked up all of our free jewelry and then walked over to Creek Street. Creek Street is an easy walk (hard to find a bathroom,) there's Dolly's, some shopping and a tram up the mountain to a hotel. The tram is $2, well worth it for the bathrooms!! There are some totem poles and you can walk back down to Married Man's Trail, if you go right you will end up at the fish ladder to see the salmon as well.
In town there are the normal cruise shops, nothing spectacular. Highlight there is a pharmacy right on the main street where you can pick up sundry items for a lot less than on the ship.
There was a town parade, but the rain got so bad we watched it from our balcony.
We took the free shuttle into town. Again the normal cruise shops and also a lot of tours available to book on your own. We took the 3 hour Shrine, Glacier and Town Tour through M&M tours. Well worth it. We had an amazing local guide (Kevin) who showed us all through town, the creek where they first found gold, small churches, the state house, governors' mansion, etc. Then we went to the lake that Mendenhall Glacier feeds, we got to grab some glacier ice and eat it, it was very cool. Then we were off to the Shrine at St Therese, http://www.shrineofsainttherese.org which seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. There were seals, eagles, salmon and I guess sometimes whales, but we were there at low tide. It was a great tour because we got to see the "valley" or "banana belt" where the regular people live and we learned a lot about the marine highway.
NCL Excursion: Tracy Arm Glacier!!! AMAZING!!!! You leave the ship around 1pm and board directly onto a waiting catamaran. It was really cool to walk through the crew areas. The first 20 minutes are boring, take a nap, just sailing to....WHALES!! I think we saw about 7 total whales, the captain was very generous giving us lots of time with them. We saw a humpback jump and quite a few whale tails. Once you start going up the arm you really get to admire the beauty of your surroundings. There are beautiful icebergs, waterfalls, eagles, etc. We got to spend about an hour at the actual glacier; we saw a few small pieces drop and then a huge drop about 20 minutes before we left. There was also a seal swimming about. The girls on the ship were really informative about the area, native people and wildlife. They gave us free hot chocolate and coffee. Bring warm clothes, gloves; it is so beautiful you will want to be outside as much as possible.
$2 Shuttle into town or $5 for an all day pass which includes ride to gold fields, gardens and cemetery. Well we were suckers and bought the all day pass, just so you know you need to pay an entrance fee at those places, or the cemetery you have to talk more than .5 miles from the bus stop. The main town was pretty cool, nice shops, some authentic. We left Skagway late due to a medical emergency, Paul kept us very informed and we still (unfortunately) got to Prince Rupert on time ?
Prince Rupert 7/7/11
Waste of a stop, some really cool stores, but nothing I would buy on a cruise. The only highlight was the eagles.
GENERAL THINGS I DID NOT LIKE:
Spinnaker Lounge - it's at the back of the ship, no windows, bad acoustics and all one level. Very dark and depressing and/or loud.
As previously mentioned, it is hard to get anywhere with a wheelchair
Spa - While my treatment was incredible, the entire experience was lacking. They don't do the whole robe, changing room, etc experience that they used to. They bring you to a waiting room (with a great view) and have you fill out a form and try to sell you add-ons. Then they bring you directly to the treatment room where you disrobe and get on the table. At the end of your treatment you are told to relax, get up when ready and put your clothes back on!?! (My clothes on my oily, just massaged body?!?) Then they come back with water and a sales pitch. My massage therapist gave me a great massage, but when she tried to sell me $300 worth of lotion, I immediately regretted even having a treatment. Other family members were also having treatments so I waited for them in the spa lobby, which was freezing cold.
White Hot Party - in Spinnaker lounge which is already disappointing, but on top of that the music!! Spinnaker is all ages until midnight, so please explain why they played explicit music at 11:30? I'm talking incredibly explicit. "Shots" by LMFAO and "On a Boat" by Andy Samberg. http://www.metrolyrics.com/shots-lyrics-lmfao.html and http://www.metrolyrics.com/im-on-a-boat-lyrics-the-lonely-island.html So explicit I'm only giving links because they are really bad songs.
Chocolate Buffet - perhaps the most disappointing thing the whole trip, but only because I have experienced 3 others on NCL cruises that were phenomenal. There were 2 ice carvings, no chocolate sculptures, no fruit carvings, and the worst desserts we ate all cruise.
At every show they would say "no flash photography" and then this crazy chick with a laser pointer would go insane if you took out a camera. If you mean "NO PHOTOGRAPHY AT ALL" say that.
We had a great time. Paul Scally, the cruise director was incredible. Jonolito at Aqua was by far the best waiter I've had on all my cruises. Arnold, bar staff, at the pool, stardust and spinnaker remembered our drink order after the very first time, so we always looked for him. The kids swam every day. The shows were great. And I would go again in a heartbeat, but I wouldn't have a spa treatment.