We are /were first timers and were torn between Celebrity and NCL. We chose the Bliss primarily because it would be going to Glacier Bay. And also doing extensive research including these reviews on Cruise Critic and seeing consistently ... Read More
We are /were first timers and were torn between Celebrity and NCL. We chose the Bliss primarily because it would be going to Glacier Bay. And also doing extensive research including these reviews on Cruise Critic and seeing consistently good reviews. We were also attracted to the Freestyle and no formal concepts that NCL offers. The short review is that if given a choice, we would sail on the Bliss again.
I was pleasantly surprised by a) the attention to cleanliness throughout the ship, b) the quality of the food - especially in the specialty restaurants. That doesn't mean that the buffet was below par. The variety, freshness and taste there was excellent as well. c) Friendliness of the staff, d) Didn't feel crowded, for a ship of 4000 passengers and 1700 crew. e) Modern and beautiful.
We had a mid-ship mini-suite, 12226, which is the same as a balcony room in size, except for a larger bathroom, which we appreciated. (The bed in 12226 is next to the balcony which I think is a better set up than next to the closet). Entertainment was above expectations, though we had heard that Jersey Boys was great, which it was. But the Beatles tribute band was very high quality and the two comics shows we saw were very funny. We weren't interested in Havana or Prohibition.
Ports/excursions are reviewed below. Because it was a mid-June sailing, there weren't as many kids as I expect there will be in summer. Can't address kid-related facilities. We aren't big drinkers, but I think that the drinks package is worthwhile, if you think that between two of you, you can consume three a day. Turned out to be not a problem! Take it as one of the perks in spite of the $205 gratuity you will have to pay for the perk. I'd also recommend the Specialty Dining Package - certainly as a perk. Reviews on the three we dined at are below.
My biggest fear about choosing a 4,000 passenger ship was all the people. I don't like crowds, but much to my amazement, I thought that the flow of the ship accommodated all those people without too many bottlenecks. Yes, the Observation Lounge had many people who adopted it as their daytime cabin, but we were always able to get a seat. The elevators can be jammed after a show or other event lets out, but mostly I had no problem with crowding. Our room steward was friendly and accommodating. We met him the first afternoon and he already knew our names and where we were from. We found the staff almost universally to be friendly and helpful. My advice is to treat them with respect and you'll reap the benefits. The ship itself is modern, clean and well laid out. One weird thing is that for a ship designed for Alaska, it doesn't have a retractable roof to better enjoy the pool deck.
We talked about finding one fault for this review, and that would be that disembarkation in Seattle was long. As were the lines getting back on the ship in each port if our timing was bad. Longer review below, but if you are leaving it here, we highly recommend the Norwegian Bliss for your cruise to Alaska. It truly exceeded out expectations in every way.
Specialty Restaurants - Run don't walk to get a Teppenyaki reservation. Great and plentiful food, and excellent entertainment from the chef. BTW - make your specialty restaurant and Jersey Boys/Havana reservations on the NCL app, 120 days prior to cruising when the "window" opens. I was on the app at 6 AM that day. We thought that Cagneys and Ocean Blue were also first rate, with excellent quality food and very friendly wait staff. If we went again, I might substitute Ocean Blue with Le Bistro to try something different.
Complementary Restaurants - We ate one time each at Savor and Taste. The food is good, but not as good as the specialty venues. We were in and out of these two restaurants in under an hour, which we needed for shows, etc. The wait staff always asked if we were trying to make a show etc. when we were seated. The buffet was surprisingly good - and usually not too crowded. It could get crowded though and some of the stations would be tough to get to. We tended to go there for breakfast around 7:30 when it was pretty quiet. Lots of fresh fruit, in addition to all the different stations, like Omelet, Indian, Burger and Pizza, Pasta, etc. We never got tired of the buffet. The Crepe night (Monday?) was awesome. The desserts - wow.
Pre-cruise and Ports of Call:
Seattle - we stayed two nights in nearby Bellevue and LOVED it. Clean, safe and much less expensive than downtown Seattle, yet very upscale and only 7 miles from the pier. Save money by staying there, Ubering into Seattle and still be way ahead money-wise. We rented a car and explored the Cascade Mountains just east of Seattle. Could have mad a vacation out of Washington alone. Highly recommend the Hyatt in Bellevue. Beautiful hotel, decent prices and free parking on the weekends. We arrived at the pier around 11:30, AFTER the rush, and were on board within 15 minutes. Let the crowds wait in small holding areas while you enjoy a leisurely breakfast and late morning checkout somewhere else in the city.
Juneau - Juneau was damp and foggy and cold. Maybe that's why we didn't love it. I did the Glacier Landing with Coastal Helicopters (booked thru Alaska Shore Excursions) and it was fantastic. My other half did an NCL tour to Glacier Gardens and the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and wasn't blown away by the tour. As an aside, other than her NCL tour in Juneau, we booked everything through independents. Save money and don't buy into the "what if you miss the ship" nonsense. These companies don't want you to miss the ship - it's their businesses on the line. And often, you're on the very same whale watch, train, helicopter etc. as those who booked with the cruise line. Except you'll have saved 20% or better. We avoided the Tracy Crab Shack tourist trap and ate at Deckhand Dave's, a fish taco food truck and tent in downtown, and it was excellent food and a fun atmosphere. Look it up in Trip Advisor. I think it is #2 in Juneau.
Skagway - We loved our day in Skagway, though we were only in the downtown for under an hour. We booked a Dyea Dave Tour to Emerald Lake with the return to Skagway on the White Pass and Yukon Route RR. (Book the train tix directly with WPYR and do that at least 6 months prior) . It was a great combo trip and possibly the highlight of our trip. Instead of a 50+ passenger Greyhound type bus, we travelled on a 14-passenger mini-bus with a great guide. I originally thought of renting a car or Jeep and driving the road to Emerald Lake ourselves, but am glad that my smarter half talked me out of it. Find reviews for Dyea Dave here on Cruise Critic or Trip Advisor. Once I read the reviews, I was ready to book.
Glacier Bay - Incredible, awesome. We had a cloudless, warm day to visit. Your experience could vary! Get up early (before 7 AM) and listen to the Ranger narration on Channel 2 as you sit on your balcony and take in Glacier Bay and its wildlife. We bought a set of binoculars, 8 x 42 Bushnell, on Amazon and am glad that we did. This is the number one reason to book a balcony room. Either side of the ship is fine as the ship will spin about at the two main glaciers, so all sides are good sides. We did go up on the sun deck for a while where it was sardines against the railing. Wish we had just stayed in our cabin like the smart people did. In my opinion, Glacier Bay has to be part of your itinerary. I've heard nice things about Hubbard, and Tracy Arm, but GB is the best.
Ketchikan - We walked around this pretty port and did the touristy stuff like Creek Street (very nice) and Married Man's Trail up to the salmon ladder. More ambitious hikers might consider the RainBird Trail or Deer Mountain. There just isn't enough port time to do an excursion AND explore the town, so we happily chose the latter. Totems everywhere. We heard about, but didn't visit Annabelle's, across from the pier, that had a good seafood lunch. We did shop at the huge Tongass store, next to the pier. Recommend this store for all the gifts that you'll want to bring back, at reasonable prices and huge selections of everything from Ulu knives to t-shirts, jewelry, etc.
Victoria - due to high winds, we had to spend the evening anchored in the harbor. The Captain had to abort the docking. With only three hours of usable time in port, we would have walked to the inner harbor, about 40 minutes each way, and poked around some shops or gone into the Empress for a peek. There isn't enough time to see Butchart Gardens, even if it is offered as an excursion. (I was there 30 years ago. It's a half-day minimum to see it, and 30 minutes each way by bus to get there.) Speaking of winds, the first full day at sea was rocky. She had the scopolamine patch and did absolutely great with it. I took one Bonine tablet and was in a mental fog for almost 24 hours. Next time it's the patch for me. The rest of the cruise was smooth.
Back to Seattle - Take advantage of the Port Valet program. Your bags are taken from the hallway outside your stateroom and you don't see them again until you arrive at your home airport. Google: Port Valet Seattle for more info. It's a great program and free of charge. You also get your flight boarding passes delivered the last night. Everyone loves it. SeaTac - it's as advertised. VERY long lines and hard to find a seat at the gate. We had TSA Pre so that eased the security line wait big time. I thought that Uber was the best way to get to the airport. We walked one block to Anthony's Pier 66 and caught an Uber from there. Remember, with Port Valet, you only are carrying your overnight bag because your luggage is already on its way to the airport without you.
I'm probably forgetting something. These reviews (both ship and excursion) helped me immensely in my planning of our trip, so I wanted to pay it forward. I hope it helps you. BTW - I overplanned myself out on this adventure. Planning is needed but don't overdo it. Check out Facebook group pages for more great info. The two best for me were Alaska Cruise Lovers and Norwegian Bliss Alaska Cruise. Have fun on your cruise. Read Less