My mother always dreamed of seeing Alaska; after my father died, I invited her and my daughter on an Alaskan cruise. My mother had never been on a cruise, but had friends who had shared about their travels. My daughter needed a break ... Read More
My mother always dreamed of seeing Alaska; after my father died, I invited her and my daughter on an Alaskan cruise. My mother had never been on a cruise, but had friends who had shared about their travels. My daughter needed a break before starting nursing school; she'd been on one cruise, the Caribbean for her honeymoon. This was my 7th cruise (all on NCL), the 4th to Alaska, and my first on the Jewel.
Embarkation was a breeze. As a Latitudes member, we went to the express line. Cheerful staff greeted us and directed us to the appropriate lines. (Since we live near Seattle, I thought that would be a fun retirement job!) My one complaint was having to wait awhile (maybe 15 minutes?) in a large room after checking in and before boarding. Once onboard, we headed straight to Tsar's Palace, which would become our go-to meal spot for most of the cruise. Our cabin was almost ready by the time we got there after lunch.
We were able to upgrade to a balcony using my NCL credit card points, and then successfully bid to get a mini-suite. So glad we went for the mini-suite; when the third bed was made up, we could barely move around. It was my first cruise with a balcony, and I'll never see Alaska without one! When we cruised up Endacott Arm, we could watch from the comfort of our room and not get rained on or jockey for a spot on the deck. Our steward gave us top service.
The ship itself was bigger than most that I'd been on, but not as massive as the Escape which we took on our last cruise.
My mom and I had the Specialty Dining Package, so I bought one for my daughter even though she's a vegan and I wasn't sure she'd find anything to eat. But staff at Tepanyaki, La Cucina and Le Bistro were great about adapting dishes for her. Mom and I enjoyed the food there as well; I thought the service at Le Bistro was a bit slow, but daughter said that's just French. Most of our meals were at Tsar's Palace. Food and service were great. I was surprised more people didn't eat there; we could always get a good seat. Tried Azura for dinner one night; good food and service - but noisier and more crowded. My daughter had a few meals at the Garden Cafe because she could choose her food (said the veggie burgers were great), but had to ask staff what was in each dish to know what was vegan. She found the main dining room would cater to her diet, and even had a staff member assigned for special diets. She also was able to get soy milk in her specialty coffees, though wished it were available in more venues. My mom enjoyed her coffee in the Garden Cafe every morning while we slept in, but wished there was a way to save her seat when she got up for a refill.
I'm not one who takes a cruise for the entertainment venues, but traveling with a young adult I did more than normally. Enjoyed the comedian; my daughter loved "Fire and Ice." We hit the Fizz Lounge one night, and my daughter repaid me for 8 years of voice lessons by singing Karaoke. She and I also went to the wine and chocolate tasting, and learned a lot about wine selection. Good value for the cost. Daughter used the gym several times. Shops were great, and had 25-cent postcards, which is a great value and almost as low as on shore. (I don't buy art, jewelry or luxury goods on ship, but did pick up some duty-free liquor for my husband.)
Service as always was excellent. Our steward was hard working, and called us Mama, Grandma and Caroline. All the other staff were great, although the person at the shore excursion desk wasn't able to tell me whether there would be vegan food available on our Yukon stop. (There was.) In his defense, I didn't ask until the night before and he hadn't received a response to his e-mail by the time we left the ship. The top officers were very visible, and had one or two Q&A session, in addition to being at the Cruise Critic reception.
Internet service was slow but satisfactory. The three of us split 250 minutes (plus an addition 30 for Latitudes members.) You can log onto the ship's ap for free. We learned that you could text to and from iPhones without being on the Internet (and of course, being on airplane mode except when close to shore).
All of our shore excursions were great. In Ketchikan, we took the Eagles, Lighthouse and Totem boat tour. We saw many eagles. Two warnings: You don't actually go into lighthouse, but watch from the boat; and the salmon dip isn't as good as they make it out to be.
In Juneau, I had booked a trip to Mendenhall that was at the glacier for 2 1/2 hours - which is a great amount of time if you want to hike out to the falls, but way too much if you just want to see the glacier. That didn't leave us much time in Juneau to shop or see other sites. Second mistake of the day: Our bus driver dropped us in town to shop, and said we could take a shuttle to our ship or take a "10-minute walk." Seeing the long line for the shuttle, I thought we could just walk to the ship, but it was much longer than we thought. I finally hailed a taxi (who stopped illegally for us) and gave him an outrageous tip.
Because of water conditions, we traveled up Endacott Arm instead of Tracy Arm. We saw the same sorts of floating ice, seals, eagles, etc. Daws Glacier is not as impressive as Sawyer, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Because we were in our rooms, we didn't hear the reason for the change of route. This is where the balcony was worth the money.
In Skagway, we booked a bus to Yukon, where we had a chicken dinner and then stopped in Carcross. We took the White Pass railroad back to Skagway. The bus ride was a real highlight, not the least because of our driver, Savino, who was superb. He said that maybe 20 percent of tours see bears, but we had FIVE BEAR SIGHTINGS! So exciting. The railroad trip was also a highlight. The one drawback was it filled our entire day in Skagway, with no time for shopping (I'm a postcard collector).
In Victoria, we took an excursion to Butchart Gardens. Our bus driver gave us a great narration on the way out. It was Friday afternoon, so traffic was terrible. It was a sunny day so the gardens were beautiful, but bright sun is not the best for photos. Again, not enough time in Victoria.
We splurged on the photo package, and were delighted to find the photos were put on a USB drive so that we could print/scrapbook the ones we liked. Photo staff did a great job. One disappointment was the souvenir photo taken in Tepanyaki was not included in the package, but purchased separately (which meant it wasn't on the drive).
Debarkation was extremely efficient - maybe too efficient. We live an hour away, so I texted my husband when we got in line thinking that would be enough time. We were on the curb in 20 minutes. Had fun people watching, but no place to sit (and no restroom once you get past security.)
All in all, it was a great cruise, and I'm already booked on the Jewel next year for our 40th wedding anniversary. Read Less