This was the third cruise on NCL for my husband and me. Previously we've cruised aboard the Pearl (our first-ever cruise, in 2010) and the Jewel (in 2011). We would've rated both of those ships excellent. We are a bit concerned that either the Sun has not been maintained to the level of those other two ships, or the entire maintenance of NCL has slipped in the intervening four years. The Sun shows some obvious "wear and tear" and a lack of some good thorough cleaning in the public areas (like around the gorgeous panoramic lifts on deck 8, where the carpet was very dusty and the hallway was used as a staging area for housekeeping's linen carts and cleaning supplies). The observation lounge on deck 12 shows some serious damage at the very forward set of seating, looking out over the bow, where the wood at foot level is broken and chipped in several spots. All that said, we LOVE the freestyle cruising and all the options aboard any NCL ship. The food is really excellent, whether in the main dining rooms or the Garden Cafe. (We don't use the specialty restaurants because of the cover charge.) The staff in every area and venue is friendly, always smiling and greeting us (the cabin steward called us by name from the first day, and recognized us in the halls!) The spa is great, and I enjoyed my exotic hand ritual from Mandy. The entertainment choices were awesome. We especially enjoyed Amber Strings, a trio from Poland who played several times a day in the Atrium on Deck 5 - an amazing range in their repertoire, and all of it just excellent. We submitted a commendation on them, and purchased a CD. We also enjoyed Into the Drift, playing in the Observation Lounge. Our shore excursion to Icy Point Strait, Hoonah, AK, was just simply awesome. We took a whale watching tour on the American Eagle, and saw a pod of whales. Incredible. They also had a Tlinget cultural historian on board, Kevin, who gave an excellent talk on his people and the history of Hoonah, Icy Point, and how the Native corporation that owns Hoonah achieved a place on the cruise ship ports of call. Our opinion: this is the BEST port of call in all of Alaska, with a Zipline, ATV and wilderness cruises, boat cruises, excellent shopping (all Alaska products and local artisans), delicious food, nature trails in the rainforest and on the beach, Tlinget history and culture -- just can't say enough about this port of call. We spent more money here than in any other port on any other cruise, getting our holiday shopping done 6 months early with good value for our money and nothing "made in China." This cruise was coupled with a land tour of Denali National Park first, and that 4-day excursion was also excellent. We had a great NCL tour guide for the entire four days, Michael Krudwig; were housed at three very nice lodgings in Anchorage, Denali, and Girdwood; and had several great excursions associated with this (an 8-hour wilderness tundra tour with an Alaska resident, Lisa Frederic, who was full of interesting facts, history, and knowledge, including having run the Iditarod once; a visit to an Iditarod kennel owned and operated by Martin Buser, an Iditarod champion; a visit to the Wildlife Conservation Center; a tram ride to the top of Mt. Alyeska.) Altogether, this would have been an excellent cruise rating were it not for the maintenance issues we observed on the Sun, and they did not markedly detract from our enjoyment of "cruising like a Norwegian." Of two cruise lines with which we're familiar (Princess and NCL), we will choose NCL again without hesitation.
Well appointed and well maintained. Our steward was a gem, and we gave him a commendation (Arsenio del Rosario). He never failed to greet us respectfully by name (Mr. [first name], Mrs. [first name]). How he remembered our names when he spotted us in the hallway, not even near our cabin, was a mystery! A true people person. One of NCL's features is leaving little humorous greetings for us on the evening room make-up: animals created from towels and washcloths -- two swans forming a heart on the bed, an elephant, a dog, a mouse in a coffee cup, a monkey swinging from one of the cupboards. They are fun even for adults, and the kids who were on-board were just thrilled with them.
Easy embarkation. We had rented a car prior to our cruise/tour, and drove to Seward from Anchorage so we could see the town. Not much there, but we did have a nice picnic in a day use area of a state park there.
Juneau is our least favorite place, although in previous tours we have ridden the tram to the top of Mt. Roberts and taken a tour of Mendenhall Glacier and the visitor center there, all very nice.
On previous tours we rode the White Pass and Yukon Railway (excellent trip) and took a city tour (also excellent), but the Liarsville visit included with that was a total bust. We would never recommend that. On our next tour we took the trolley tour, which was wonderful. This time, our third visit to Skagway, we didn't arrange a shore excursion, but instead walked around on our own. Skagway is a very easy town to walk to from the port, or you can catch a little cart from the ship if you prefer, and it's easy to explore on your own, plus they have excellent shuttle service back and forth for those who don't want to walk, for a very minimal sum. We took the 20-minute tour of the Red Onion Saloon and Brothel (they call it their "quickie"), which was really fun (the girls all dress as the original inhabitants would've) and very informative, and we visited the William Moore House and the National Park Visitor Center, where we heard a 45-minute ranger talk ("Letters to Cora") and viewed a 15-minute documentary about the area, both free in the auditorium. All great stuff. Skagway is one of our favorites, exceeded only by Icy Point Strait. It's a colorful little old gold-rush town where tourism is now the big industry, and it's a winner!
On previous cruises we've taken a city trolley tour, and also Capt. Rob's Lighthouse, Totem and Eagles tour (another real winner!) Ketchikan is another colorful town (literally, with brightly painted buildings, and metaphorically, with a rich history); much of it is easily accessible on foot. It boasts a tunnel you can ride through, walk around and on top of, and float under at low tide in a kayak! On this, our third visit, we simply watched the Fourth of July parade from our stateroom balcony, as the ship docked right in town. What fun! Probably the biggest crowd all summer in Ketchikan. We learned that Ketchikan gets an incredible amount of rain annually, yet on all three of our cruises, it has been sunny and balmy! Don't miss seeing this charming little town.
We simply disembarked at the port, picked up our car which we'd driven from home and parked for 3 weeks in their covered parking lot at Canada Place, right on the pier, and headed home. A beautiful port facility, with a bit of a problem with the company that runs the parking (Vinci), in that you can pre-pay for your parking but the bar-coded ticket they sent us didn't work and their office is very hard to find, poorly marked and at the exit rather than the entrance -- an extremely inconvenient arrangement we hope they will rectify. They have "ambassadors" at Canada Place who were friendly but singularly unhelpful in directing us to Vinci's office. Traffic is crazy in downtown Vancouver, and the lanes are VERY narrow!
The ship stops in Glacier Bay for about an hour, and turns so whether you're on the port or starboard side, you get time to observe the glacier and the wildlife (eagles, sometimes a bear or sea lions) and listen to the glaciers calving. National Park personnel come on board and give very informative talks about the glaciers, as well.