We spent the “ Golden Week “ in Yokohama while the NCL Jewel hosted a private charter. We enjoyed Fruhlings Fest, and the Port festivals and activities while there. We explored and experience the world famous quality from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Toshiba, Canon, Sony, Panasonic. Japan taught the world " just-in-time " manufacturing, and that organizations should value their employees.
This 21 day repositioning cruise from Tokyo to Seattle was our final cruise leg, and return home. The itinerary was 7 sea days, with visits to 4 Japanese ports, 1 Russian port, Hubbard Glacier, and Glacier Bay, and 5 ports in Alaska. Communication issues with customs & immigration , & embarkation processes, were experienced, but to be expected with so many new ports, and several countries.
Actually general communication on the ship was rather poor with instructions often being contradictory.
Embarkation process was swift and efficient. We very quickly hit our first bump when our very first Japanese port, Shimizu was eliminated, as they announced the ship would remain in Yokohama the following day for mechanical repairs.
The remining port stops in Japan were very good:
Aomori: Neputa summer festival featured enormous floats with painted screens depicting Japanese Gods, historical figures and mythological beings. Visited the magnificent grounds of Hirosaki Castle.
Hakodate: Highlights of Hakodate from the Goryokaku Tower, a 350 foot high observation point, to the busy fish market to the Mount Hakodate Ropeway.
Otaru the port city for Sapporo on Hokkaido island (Japan’s northernmost island) is known for glassworks, music boxes and sake distilleries. It is a compact and delightful village for self exploration.
Russia was a cold day, but memorable experience with our visit to Petropavlovsk ( St Peter & Paul ) A poor northern Russian city of about 200,000 surrounded by volcanoes. It is home to Russia's largest submarine base. The city proudly reflects its military significance. The gruelling hard winters, of which much snow still remains, toll on roads, pedestrian paths, and buildings is clearly evident.
The pristine natural beauty of Alaska's high glacial mountains and tree lined shores. We saw many whales, dolphins, seals, and eagles throughout the passage. The ship's tour of both the Hubbard Glacier and the following day Glacier Bay, professionally narrated by Park naturalists, were very enjoyable. Initially the several public viewing locations were extremely crowded, and people quite rude in the crowds. We retreated to the viewing privacy of our balcony cabin and ventured into the public viewing areas later. Icy Straight Point was a unique cultural experience.
Food was reasonable throughout the variety of ship restaurants. We now wonder whether it is a company strategy to have clientel pay more, and dine in the Specialty restaurants in an effort to find something of quality to eat. Cagney's was not the star restaurant on the Jewel with Le Bistro claiming that spot. Moderna & Chin Chin were also good albeit a very limited menu. Our experience with Teppanyaki was more show than food quality. There was a conspicuous absence of fresh salmon, king crab, or seafood of any sort, and much of the beef or pork served was rather tough, and often overcooked. Again we note most restaurant food was only warm - the exception being the Garden Cafe immediately upon opening. One of the most significant concerns remains " head office control " limiting the chefs ability to vary menus, and provide culinary cuisine more reflective of the area of travel. While it is nice to not deal with the logistics of transport, and accommodation in this variety of cities, we did miss out on experiencing the local cuisines – caviar, perogies & sourkraut, smoked salmon & bannock !
Overall entertainment quality and variety was good - the highlight being the Russian gymnasts. However the absence of any entertainment reflective of the oriental, russian, or native cultures, " enrichment programs " cultural , basic language , or port information was disappointing. Two enrichment seminars were given to an absolutely packed Stardust theatre - showing strong client interest. Unfortunately neither expert had ever being to the destination they were presenting on, resulting in weak, internet researched presentations.
Onboard activities have been severely curtailed, and many services had very limited hours. The focus was clearly on NCL Shore excursions, and selling additional spa, dining, or health services. For example the library only opened for one hour most days, and although a quiet spot to read it smelled of smoke. Shore excursions desk was also only open briefly, and there were often significant lines. We guess they are trying to embrace the more cost effective electronic culture and encourage you to book that way.
Most shore excursions were full bus loads and have become rather pricey. As all locations were new to us we booked primarily NCL excursions. Increasingly we discovered more guests successfully using independent guides, or venturing out on their own with taxis, and they were reporting much more satisfying experiences.
The assembly process of participants in the ship theatre, disembarkation & load the tour buses continued to be chaotic, with clients arriving late, not queuing respectfully, & not following instructions. Frankly this waiting and disorganization caused many tours to be less than enjoyable.
Using the walking or jogging track you also encounter “ smoking areas “ where your exercise and fresh air experience was dampened.
For the most part staff were genuine and helpful, however there were several encounters were it was obvious staff were not allowed to think, and responded accordingly with a " standard answer " even when it made absolutely no sense in the circumstances.
Disembarkation in Seattle was an unmitigated disaster ! We understand the ship docked on the opposite side than what was originally planned. As a consequence luggage had to be unloaded in the reverse order that it was organized. Multiple companies services are contracted by NCL to accomplish disembarkation of passengers and luggage quickly and efficiently. The lack of communication between the parties, the uncaring attitudes, and resulting chaos was a horrendous way to end the voyage. While our luggage was scheduled to be available in the first group at 8:00 am it was actually the dead last group some three hours later ! This placed passengers directly into mid-day “ long weekend “ rush hour traffic in downtown Seattle and created many subsequent problems with missed flights, and transportation connections. Not a single word of apology from NCL to its guests.