We got an upgrade fairy call and went from 2 adjoining balcony rooms to one 2 bedroom balcony suite. This being my first cruise, I have now been spoiled for life. A suite is the only way to go. Our butler Aries and cabin steward Eliza were fantastic and always smiling. They were attentive - keeping the mini fridge stocked with low fat milk (for me), bringing fruits and berries every morning and chocolate and canepes every evening. Eliza made an effort to learn our names and would give me hugs in the hallway even when she was nowhere near our room.
I am local to Seattle, but the rest of my party was not. My family and I met up with everyone at the South Center Quality Inn and Suites. We had dinner at Maui Thai (I highly recommend it) right around the corner from our hotel. After dinner my husband and kids departed for home and we waited for our last sister to arrive from Boston (our party included WA, MA, RI, OH and CA).
Sunday morning we took a shuttle to the pier, dropped off our mega amount of luggage with a porter and then took off for a quick tour of Pike Place Market and the infamous gum wall. I made a quick dash to a Walgreens to get another flashcard for my camera (I should have bought 2 because I ended up buying another one for more $$ on the ship). We then had a comical "who's on first" moment trying to get everyone out of the market and to the pier.
At the pier the extra touches started as soon as we got to the door. We were greeted by an escort who took us up to a virtually empty VIP check in room. We had some snacks but then put those down quickly when we found out we could be sitting in Cagney's having lunch (and it was going to close soon). We got there right as it was closing. Monica, our lovely concierge, escorted us to Cagney's. Some of us had a glass of wine. We mostly had appetizers. Everything was delicious. My only complaint - we never got the coupon book that everyone else got upon check in, but I didn't discover this until Ketchikan. There are coupons in the book for free coins and stuff in each of the towns. In the grand scheme of things it didn't really matter because we had excursions in every port and then, by the time we got to the shops, all the freebees were gone... but in Ketchikan we were the only ship to dock and the businesses were begging for us to come in to their shops. I found a book and was able to get a few souvie coins to bring home to my young boys, but I was annoyed that we didn't get the same opportunity in the other ports.
My sister and a few other folks really got into making a Cruise Critic Meet and Greet extra special - and I must say that it was really nice to put faces to names and then to have more people to say hello to in the halls, the restaurants and on excursions. The organizers brought oodles of raffle prizes and most people walked away winning at least 1 prize (dang, I really wanted that rain hat!). The mardi gras beads were an extra fun touch and we hung them all over our suite and on the door. It added to the fun flair.
Food: We had Cagney's for breakfast every day (except the one morning we all overslept). We each quickly found out our favorite. I was partial to the mascarpone French toast and a side of scrambled eggs. I have now been forever spoiled on the French press coffee that kept coming. I also really liked the LaVassa coffee maker (pod system) in our room. We also had Cagney's for lunch and never had anything we didn't like. It was all delicious. The staff was wonderful. Corinna and Katherine and Delphine and a server who looked so much like Bobby Sherman that we never learned his real name - we just always called him Bobby Sherman. We meant it as a compliment as we all had crushes on Bobby Sherman back in the '70s. The staff always seemed happy to see us (maybe because I left origami dollar tips every day? perhaps but it was still nice) and made us feel special. I can't impress enough how spoiled I felt. After 20 years of marriage and never a trip away from kids for more than 2 days.... I really needed it and I soaked it all up like a sponge.
For no cover charge we also tried the Garden Buffet, Summer Palace and The Blue Lagoon. Others in my party liked the buffet, but I was not impressed. It tasted like low end cafeteria food to me. The only thing that looked palatable was the Indian food. Summer Palace was better than the buffet, but slow... slow... slow. After being spoiled by the staff of Cagney's every morning and knowing what good service felt like, it really felt as if we were just another table to serve at Summer Palace. My sister ordered an appetizer and wasn't impressed so ordered an entre' and the entre' never came and no one ever came to check on us. It was like "here's your food, don't bother us." The Blue Lagoonwas good. I liked the won ton soup and their French fries were crispy... we ate there and watched the movie "Something Borrowed" on the Wii screen while we ate. The rest of my party went to bed after eating but I stayed up to finish watching the movie. Big mistake. The movie was awful.... But that's no fault of NCL's.
Cover charge restaurants we visited included Le Bistro, Tepanyaki's and the Lotus Garden Asian Fusion. Le Bistro was wonderful and the staff were very attentive and made us feel as if we were the only people in the restaurant. I ordered up for the seafood in phillo and was happy I did, even if the lobster (hey! I'm originally from Boston. I know my lobster!) was a little over done. Tepanyaki's was disappointing, but I rationalized it by telling myself I was paying for the experience and the company. It was our last night on the ship and we were all together (most nights we all kind of did our own thing). Our chef was entertaining... but it did feel rushed "get moving, gotta get the next group in." Everything tasted like too much soy sauce and the lobster and calamari were only useful for retreading your snow tires. Someone else mentioned the green tea cakes that looked like Twinkies gone bad. Yes, they did and yes, they did. I could only get down two bites. They were BAD. The Asian Fusion was fantastic. EVERYTHING I ordered was different yet delicious.
Our room. Where do I start? The suite was nice because it had a sitting area, a nice large balcony and a table with 4 chairs. I already mentioned the coffee maker. I got to be quite a pro at steaming milk, but my hearing will never be the same again. In Glacier Bay I was taking pictures out on the balcony but it got too cold so I moved into the lovely master bath. The soaking tub with a tub to ceiling window was almost as good for taking pictures... until I fell asleep in the tub, fully dressed and a sister snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook as soon as she could. It was wonderful to have the sitting area... but the sleeping arrangements... well, they sucked. 2 people got the master bed, one got the fold out couch in the middle of the living room and 3 of us crammed into the dungeon, I mean kids' room, that had a fold out couch for 2 and a pulldown bed for 1. It was claustrophobic. I woke up every night covered in sweat and unable to breath. Also, I believe we were directly below the cold dunk tank in the spa one floor up from us. With every roll of the boat I could hear the gurgling in the dunk tank. The boat rolled constantly and the gurgle was LOUD.
I did pay for a spa pass. I used it one time. What a waste of money. We had so much going on every day that I never got back up to use it because I was exhausted. I really wanted to spend time with my sisters and aunt and not seclude myself away. I would rather they charge $30 per visit.... But then again, they probably count on folks like me who don't use it to its full potential.
I also paid for internet service because I am addicted to Facebook. I am glad that I bought the 100 minutes because I was able to find out that my 9 year old son's teacher from last year died suddenly on September 18th and I was able to send email to my husband to share with my son. I was also able to share so that my sisters could check in on their accounts too. HOWEVER, a major complaint is HOW INCREDIBLY SLOW the satellite is. It would literally take me 10 minutes to check 2 pages on Facebook. It was awful. It was also a major misrepresentation to say that it is only like $0.42 per minute when you buy 100 minutes. It's more like $4.00 a minute when the system is so bloody slow. My suitemates were able to get some of their money back, but I had no luck and the computer manager was less than empathetic. I got so frustrated trying to log in on Saturday night that I just walked away. I only had 11 minutes left, but I had spent at least 15 just trying to log in. The manager said that was normal for the last night.
Excursions: my sister had buy one get one free coupons for all of our excursions and booked them all prior to cruising. ALL the excursions we went on were NOT worth paying full price and, in some cases, were not even worth the half price each of us paid. My favorite excursion was the White Pass Yukon Trail train ride from Skagway. It was worth every penny we paid. My least favorite was the Salmon Bake in Juneau. The food was mediocre and it was all outside. We were already freezing and wet from going out to Mendanhall Glacier (DON'T MISS IT!) and the Salmon Bake was outdoors. I spent all of my time panning for gold beside the river and had to be dragged away from the trough even though my hands were purple, my nose was running the Olympics and I was soaked to the bone. After disembarking the cruise, we spent a night in Vancouver. We took a tour on the Blue Bus (very civilized way to see the city) with our Tour Director, Eric. Then, with a groupon coupon we got a few months ago, had dinner at Quarter 4. It was ok, but not spectacular. I was expecting more. We rented a car to drive from Vancouver to Seattle and we were a clown car... we were sad that one sister had to depart to Boston as soon as she could get off the ship, but had she stayed, she wouldn't have fit in the car. There was a rush for rental cars the day before and we got the only car available... a sedan for 5 ladies and oodles of luggage.
I really enjoyed my cruise. I had a marvelous time with my sisters and aunt and I made my own fun. Dancing on our balcony with glow sticks when the NCL Star (I think it was the Star) was going by... that was a blast (except I found out that the bridge saw everything since they were only 4 windows away). I enjoyed the perks of the suite - the invitation to view the bridge, invitation to meet Captain Lars and his staff and the invitation to the chocolate buffet before everyone else (the crowds at the chocolate buffet were insane! People acted as if they had never seen chocolate before and I won't even go into all the waste. It was disturbing gluttony on so many levels). There was so much to be happy about - we had sunshine at Glacier Bay! Captain Lars gave us Steward Glacier as well! The Holland America ship never even GOT to Glacier Bay! Going up the Inside Passage instead of the Pacific so we could avoid a major storm... priceless! It was stunningly beautiful. Yes, it's true that it was hard to hear the captain's announcements, but once we figured out to turn on the TV to the ship channel, we were ok. It is what you make of it. I went into it with no expectations. I just wanted to spend time with my sisters and Aunt. There were negatives, but I would rather focus on all the positives. It was a trip of a lifetime. I can't wait to do it again... but next time it's Bermuda. I have to have more sun!