ABOUT US: I've been on three prior cruises, and my husband has been on two. All were NCL cruises, which we like because of the Freestyle dining. Previously we've always cruised with our children but this trip was with my sister and brother-in-law. It was their first cruise ever. We picked this repositioning cruise because it was a reasonably priced get-away that would give us the opportunity to see several great cities on the Pacific Coast during a beautiful month of the year. I wouldn't rate this cruise as highly as my others - Alaska, Hawaii and Mexican Riviera - simply because the itinerary wasn't as exotic. However, the ship is beautiful and immaculate, the NCL crew provided exemplary service, we had the best stateroom we've ever had, there was plenty of wonderful food, we saw some good entertainment, and fellow passengers were friendy and courteous. This was a rest and relaxation cruise, and we definitely got that from it!
PRE-CRUISE: The cruise departed from Vancouver, but instead of flying from Milwaukee to Vancouver, we took a much lower priced flight to Seattle, and spent two wonderful pre-cruise days exploring that city, then took the scenic Amtrak train ride up to Vancouver on our cruise day. We loved Seattle. We stayed in a condo downtown which we had found on vrbo.com. It was in the Belltown district, a wonderful area within walking distance of everything. We enjoyed Pike Place Market, the fun and quirky Underground Tour, a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, an entertaining city tour on a WWII DUCK, taking the monorail to the Seattle Center, and eating wonderful seafood meals at outdoor tables in waterfront restaurants. The four-hour Amtrak ride up to Vancouver runs along the coast and the views are beautiful. Anyone planning this should be sure to make an advance reservation, as the train was fully booked. After checking in at the station, you can pick seats. Sit on the left for the best views. The train cost only $33 per person because we reserved pretty far in advance and had a 10% AAA discount. Amtrak raises its prices as seats book up, so some passengers on the same trip paid $63. The train left Seattle at 7:40 a.m. and arrived in Vancouver at 11:40 a.m., getting us there in plenty of time for the 2 p.m. deadline to board the ship. There were a lot of cabs at the Amtrak station and we easily caught one to Ballentyne Pier, a ten minute, $10 cab ride.
EMBARKATION/CORKAGE FEES: The line was incredibly long, snaking all over the port-side building, but we tried to be patient with the process, realizing that it can't be easy to board 2,500 passengers onto a ship all at once. There was very little complaining in the line, so that helped. One NCL employee did rush about barking orders at people to keep moving so that those outdoors could move into the building. It would have been nice if the first NCL employee we encountered would have been friendly, smiling and welcoming, instead of curt and bossy. Oh well. She ended up being the only unpleasant NCL employee we met on the whole trip. Embarking took an hour. It included a quick stop at a table to pay the corkage fee for the four bottles of wine we purchased in Washington to take on board. This cost $15 per bottle and we ended up being glad we did it because on board, the cheapest bottle of wine would have been $28, plus all bar orders have a service fee added on, so the total for one bottle would have been $33. The wine we brought on board was better than the house wines that were priced at $28 per bottle. We could carry a bottle of wine into any restaurant or bar on the ship, and a waiter or bartender would open it and provide glasses, and well as a bucket with ice to keep it chilled if it was a white. Cabins weren't ready yet when we got on board, so we went to the Crystal atrium where the Packer game was being shown on the large screen. My husband and brother-in-law were immediately endeared to NCL for showing the game of their favorite football team. They went up to the Market Cafe for a plate of food and brought it down to enjoy while watching the game.