Before boarding, we spent several days in Alaska on our own. The day we boarded, we traveled from Anchorage to Seward via the Coastal Classic route on the Alaska Railroad. Although we booked independently from NCL, they still checked our ... Read More
Before boarding, we spent several days in Alaska on our own. The day we boarded, we traveled from Anchorage to Seward via the Coastal Classic route on the Alaska Railroad. Although we booked independently from NCL, they still checked our bags straight through from Anchorage, and they were waiting for us in our cabin when we boarded! The Coastal Classic train 100% surpassed expectations, it was absolutely breathtaking!
Once in Seward, we boarded an independently booked excursion through Major Marine Tours, the 6 hour Kenai Fjords tour. Again, absolutely exceeded our expectations, it was fantastic! So many marine creatures that we saw: otters, sea lions, seals, whales, eagles, puffins... And Aialik Glacier was awe-inspiring. The blue ice was so vivid, and in the smaller boat we were able to get much closer than the cruise ship could get, so we could easily hear the sonic boom when it calved!
Embarkation went very smoothly, we were through the line and on the ship in probably 10-15 minutes. We missed the main muster drill because we were still on our excursion, so we attended the make-up drill just before sailaway.
The dining was typical, no complaints, but the only really memorable meals were at the specialty restaurants (we ate at Cagneys, La Cucina, and Moderno this cruise).
We had the social media internet package, and it worked well for Facebook, texts, Instagram, Twitter, etc, but I was surprised that it wouldn't let me update my Wordpress blog. No complaints on speed, it worked reasonably well.
The entertainment was generally excellent, especially the shows. Velvet was interesting, although I wouldn't have paid an upcharge for it like I think is happening on other ships. Vlad and Anna, the acrobats, were absolutely fantastic, both in their own show and in the Cirque Bijou show the last night. We found the comedian on this cruise, Larry Omaha, highly entertaining as well. My only criticism for the cruise director's staff would be the scheduling of activities - inexplicably, while we were in port, there were a bunch of activities scheduled (including our personal favorite, trivia), but on the sea days, there seemed to actually be fewer activities scheduled, which seems odd. Not the end of the world as I'm perfectly capable of entertaining myself on sea days, even in Alaska, but it was a bit weird.
Service was fantastic, absolutely no complaints. Every crew member we encountered was friendly and helpful.
The ports were a bit more hit or miss in my opinion. Seward was great, as previously stated. The next port was Icy Strait Point, which was not a favorite. With the Joy in port at the same time, it was very crowded, and everything seemed even more overpriced than the rest of Alaska. We attended the In Alaska's Wildest Kitchen excursion through NCL, and it was interesting, but not nearly worth what it cost in my opinion. We then walked the Memorial Trail into Hoonah, where we had been told we could catch the shuttle back one-way. First of all, there's basically nothing of interest in Hoonah, or if there was, it certainly wasn't obvious. Secondly, the shuttle system was a big cluster. TWICE, we had a shuttle appear only to be informed moments later that she couldn't take us after all, as she had to pick up customers at the airport. We waited a good 20+ minutes for a shuttle, in a long line, and then two more showed up immediately after. We heard of others waiting 45 minutes or more. In addition, the shuttle pickup was not marked. At all. We just saw a bunch of people heading that way (I assume from where they'd been dropped off), and followed.
Next stop was Juneau, where we rented a car at the nearby Avis rental and drove to Mendenhall Glacier. You can't get very close to the glacier without an excursion directly to it, we found, but we were able to see it, and to hike the area, including Nugget Falls, and the salmon ladder, where black bears were evident. The Visitor Center was interesting, but couldn't occupy one for more than 30 minutes. We drove back to Juneau and stopped at the Juneau city museum, which was interesting - probably a 30-45 minute stop. We then headed back for a 1pm all-aboard so we could go to Dawes Glacier on the ship that afternoon. Both Hubbard and Dawes were nice, but not comparable to the experience we had getting close up to Aialik.
Next port was Skagway, where we booked the White Pass and Yukon train through Chilkoot Charters. Very professional and well done, the train ride is very scenic as well as interesting to hear the narration of the history of the area. We then boarded a bus that headed further into the Yukon territory, including lunch near Carcross and several photo stops. Our driver, Jennie, was great, very informative as well as entertaining. I had managed to injure my leg that morning running back to the ship to get our passports, so we weren't able to do any real exploring in Skagway, unfortunately.
In Ketchikan, we had booked a Black Bear tour through Kiwanti Adventures, and definitely saw the bears. Of course, so did a lot of people who paid a lot less for a rainforest tour, as well as some that may have just happened to be in the parking lot at the right time. That said, we were much closer to the bear and probably got much better photos. If seeing a black bear is important, it's a good tour to book!
We disembarked in Vancouver, and did the Vancouver City Highlights tour through LandSea Adventures. In retrospect, we should have booked their Vancouver Delights tour instead, as it has very high ratings, but it's a longer tour and would have started to make me nervous about getting to the airport in time. In any case, the City Highlights tour was good, we got to see a lot of the City, including Granville Island, Stanley Park, and the English Bay area. Our driver, Ira, was very informative and entertaining as well.
Overall, we will definitely be back, although may try to mix things up with some different ports if possible! Read Less