We have sailed with NCL in the past and we picked this cruise because we liked the itinerary of the land and cruise. The land part was very fast paced with early days and a lot of time on buses. We liked that we got to see so much of Alaska and our tour guide Madonna and bus driver Steve were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We spent the first day in Fairbanks and the first morning at Susan Butcher's Trail Break Kennels. She won the 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990 Iditarod. Even though she passed away a few years ago, her husband and daughters continue on the tradition. We learned a lot about the history of dog mushing and got to see the dogs first hand. They are all so happy. The highlight was getting to hold the puppies. We then went on to see the Alaskan Pipeline and panned for gold. We chose the optional River Boat Cruise in the afternoon which was also fun and informative. We saw a replica of a Native Alaskan village and it was great to see all of the culture of Alaska. We also saw another presentation for the Trail Break Kennels. We got in to Fairbanks a day early and we stayed at the Rivers Edge Resort.They have a bunch of nice cabins on the river. The restaurant attached is the best in Fairbanks and it was really good!
Day 2 was a train ride to Denali National Park. The train was very nice and we had an optional breakfast on board. We then took a bus tour in to the Park. We were on the bus for about 8 hours total but we saw lots of wildlife and tour guide was very informative. He stopped anytime we saw wildlife. We had multiple rest stops and we were able to see Denali (Mt McKinley) which was so beautiful. We stayed at the Grand Denali Resrt. Beautiful views overlooking the river. The restaurant was really good as well. Try the salmon cakes!
Day 3 was another train ride to Talkeetna, a cute town where we had lunch. Think Northern Exposure. Then on to Anchorage. We spent the night and then got up to see Anchorage. We stayed at the Sheraton. It took 2 hours to get our luggage. Trying to get coffee in the morning took forever. They were completely under staffed even though they knew 3 tour buses were coming in and leaving at the same time. No apologies and complete indifference. Unfortunately being on a land part of the cruise apparently gives you last priority to board the ship. While everyone else was able to board at noon we were not able to board til about 5:30. We were stalled in Anchorage and then we stopped briefly at the Wildlife Conservation Center. Then stalled again in Seward. By then most of us were done with buses. It should be that you leave by 9am, drive to the Conservation Center and board the ship at noon for lunch.
We had a suite as we were traveling with our two adult daughters and it made better sense than to have 2 cabins. Just an FYI. If you have a 2 bedroom suite you only get 1 hotel room on the land part of the cruise which we thought was ridiculous! Luckily we figured this out before and paid more money to get 2 hotel rooms but our tour guide says that a lot of times people figure this out for the first time when they check in. We had the Ruby Penthouse suite which was amazing! Getting a suite gets you priority check in and a concierge who helps you throughout the cruise. Dinner reservations, priority disembarkation at ports etc. Our suite also came with butler service. It was so nice to have breakfast brought to our room or have hot chocolate in the afternoon. Also you had special deck privileges for viewing glaciers. Our suite had a bedroom and bath right when you got in. Think inside cabin. It had a full bed and a twin bed bunk bed. The bathroom was a decent size. Then there was a living room with a table with four chairs and a couch and coffee table and a balcony. It had a refrigerator and Nespresso coffee maker. The second bedroom was right off the living room with a King size bed and a huge bathroom with double sinks, a big closet a tub with floor to ceiling windows and a walk in shower with floor to ceiling windows as well, and multiple jets. We loved the suite!!! Also with a suite you get your own private dining room for breakfast and lunch. The food in there was really good!!! Also you get priority disembarkation and we got through customs very quickly.
The ship was recently remodeled and felt new and nice. The only problem is this is a very small ship. So there are not a lot of extra amenities. There is a spa and a casino and a theater but no other things to do. The scenery is breathtaking but unless you are into Bingo or playing cards there is not a lot to do on the ship. The game room (board games, cards, etc.) was packed. They should have made it twice as big with the lack of other activities. Luckily we had our suite. We often brought cards to a bar area and played there. The food was ok. In the upgraded restaurants the food was really good but in the main dining rooms it was just ok. I was disappointed that on an Alaska cruise there was not more salmon or King Crab. We actually ate off the ship in very port and had the most amazing meals. With all of that seafood available it should have been offered more on board. The shows were good with a mix of musical, comedy and a Cirque show. We always got seats no problem and they have people bringing you drinks right up to showtime. The casino was fun but the table had a $10 minimum and went from there. Most sat empty. We would have used the table more if maybe there was a $5 table.
The ports of Icy Strait, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan were small and could be seen in about an hour or two. Most people took excursions at each port. Since we had done the land part we just walked around, ate and enjoyed the quietness of the ship. The excursions were really expensive. Most were around $200 per person and with four of us that would mean spending another $800. The highlights were the Hubbard Glacier and Dawes Glacier. We were amazed at the beautiful blue iceberg and seeing seals float by on them was so serene. We did have a photo session at the Hubbard Glacier. It is not cost for the session and you pay for the pics only if you like them. For one pic it was $250 and it went from there. If they would reduce their cost we would have bought many more!
Beware the drink packages on this cruise are outrageous. Luckily ours were included but it was $900 per person for 7 days. The bar service was great though and you never had to wait for a drink. Ali at the mojito bar was awesome!! He had our drink order down by Day 2 and we only went a couple times.
Overall this was an amazing trip. Next time we would pick a bigger ship but that being said I do believe being on a a smaller ship let us go into see some of the glaciers we might not have seen. The service was fantastic. Everyone was very nice and most went out of their way to make sure you had what you wanted. There were 2000 passengers and 1000 crew so you definitely felt like people were there to help you.
The suite was amazing! Definitely the best part of the cruise. See above!