I'm sure what follows will be a long review, even before it's written. First let me tell you that my traveling group was comprised of myself and hubby (early 40's) and our two young teens, and my brother and sister-in-law ... Read More
I'm sure what follows will be a long review, even before it's written. First let me tell you that my traveling group was comprised of myself and hubby (early 40's) and our two young teens, and my brother and sister-in-law (mid 30's) and their just turned one-year-old son. We have cruised several times before, but never to Alaska and never on NCL.
Left Pittsburgh on Friday morning and arrived in Seattle before noon with time change. Took a minivan taxi and one regular taxi to our hotel -- I think both cost about $20 with tip. I might be a couple of bucks high or low on that. We spent two nights at the Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue. I booked the rooms on priceline quite a while ago for $80 bucks a night. Hotel was a clean, great location hotel in the heart of downtown. We're all walkers so we walked all over town from this location. Elephant & Castle Restaurant is located in the hotel, but service was pretty bad so I wouldn't recommend it. Hotel also has a terrace restaurant that was more efficient for breakfast. During our time in Seattle we visited Pike Market which was fun and provided lots of gawking opportunities, the space needle, some shopping areas, and the rest of the family visited the new Sci-Fi Museum on its second day open while I took my nephew to the Children's museum in the lower level of the food court at the space needle. They enjoyed the sci-fi but didn't feel it was worth the admission price of $12.95. Had beautiful clear days in Seattle with very warm (mid 80's) dry weather. Ate dinner one evening in the food court near the space needle (which would have been good if there wasn't a Shania Twain concert in town that night overwhelming the restaurants) and the other night we wanted a good crab dinner so we headed for a place called the Crab Pot on the waterfront. It had a long wait and few non-seafood choices so we tried a place called The Fisherman behind it. This meal was a disaster. The waiter brought our main course before our appetizer and salads - about 5 minutes after we had ordered. Upon being told we hadn't had our appetizers and salads yet, he didn't offer to return our meals but simply brought the other stuff later. Four of us had ordered Alaskan king crab for $31.95. No exaggeration, there were two legs and claws on our plates. The waiter said it was sold by weight. From now on, we'll have our Alaskan crab in Pittsburgh. It's cheaper and better. Monorail was down while we were there but we followed it from below and walked to the space needle in about fifteen minutes. We loved walking around Seattle!
Sunday morning we took a cab and a town car to Pier 66. Both were about $15 with a tip. Got to the pier around 10:30 and easily dropped bags. For most people (including my brother) the process was very smooth and efficient I'm glad to report. For us, it was close to a nightmare. I had carefully read NCL's literature and interpreted it that since I am a parent to my children I could travel with them without further documentation. I still believe this is what their literature says. But... they have a different name than I do, and because they are also of a different race, adopted as toddlers and now early teens. We all handed our passport to the agent and she said, "Where are these children's parents?" I told her I was their parent, have full custody, etc., etc. Because of the name difference, she said that I must have a form signed by their adoptive father whose name they carry. Yikes. Moments of absolute panic. They kept our bags and took us upstairs to where you check in. We were taken to a back office and I was given a fax number and a form, where if I could get hold of my ex, convince him to go to a place where he could receive the fax and send it back, we would be good to go and could board. If not, we were sunk. I got hold of him, he was in a good humor luckily, he drove to a local Staples store and received the fax, signed it, and sent it back. Our delay was of about an hour but boy did I sweat. The whole thing still irritates me. The form gave ME permission to seek medical treatment for them in his absence. The irony is, I pay for all of their medical stuff and they are fully covered under my current husband's insurance policy. So the only person who has no involvement in their medical care had to give his signature authorizing treatment. So to all non-traditional families, be careful and don't read the NCL literature literally. (By the way, the agents blamed Canada for the strict policy. We never had this problem on another cruise since I have full custody so I'm not sure what the real issue was.) Even with this panic, we were on board and in our cabin by 12:30 pm.
We had booked nearly a year ago in order to get the two BA cabins dead center on the aft on deck ten. We had one and my brother the other. My kids were in an inside just down the hall. (Was supposed to be my hubby and son but we did the switcheroo.) Stewards opened the door between the two aft balconies so that we could go back and forth between the cabins. Cabins were typical small balcony cabins, but the balconies on these center afts were almost twice the depth of other BA balconies and were great. Bathrooms were OK. Toilets were in a separate little closet like enclosure and we didn't care for that. Showers were comfortable and had sliding glass doors. The bathroom in the kids inside had a more open feeling and the toilet wasn't in a closet. A person of "significant width" would probably have a problem with the toilet in a closet. My 6'7 brother found the shower manageable.
Ate lunch at the market buffet. Food was OK. Honestly I don't think their buffet was as of the same quality as RCCL or Carnival but that's just my opinion. Hubby and kids went to pool and hot tubs. I explored ship. Enjoyed sailaway from our balconies and had our first dinner in Endless Summer, the tex-mex place. Appetizers were good, but we had onion blossoms and fried mozzarella sticks. Tex-mex? Hubby and brother had enchiladas for dinner and neither enjoyed very much. They were very heavy on the red sauce and it was quite spicy. The rest of us had fajitas. They were OK. I don't know if the waiter made a mistake or not, but there were no accompaniments (lettuce, cheese) except for what came on the plate - meat, grilled onions, peppers. Flour tortillas were a little dry and hard. Don't remember desserts but they were OK. No surcharge for this place so I'll give it 2.5 stars out of 5.
That night we got to visit a part of the ship most don't get to see, fortunately. Shortly after dinner our little one-year-old nephew who is just learning to walk fell and bumped his head on the sliding track for the balcony door. He hit just above the eyebrow and of course, bled profusely. His mom is a nurse and stayed calm but realized treatment was necessary so they took him downstairs to the medical center. Knowing my brother is prone to faint at the sight of blood, I tagged along, too, to pick him up off the floor if needed. The staff was wonderful. We were the only patients at the time, and I believe the Dr.'s name was Raymond. He was British. He put a couple of stitches in and was very assuring. Of course the baby screamed horribly but he quickly calmed down once it was all over. They had him return for a dressing change the next day, and on Friday of the cruise he had the stitches removed and it really looks wonderful. I'm sure the scar will be gone before long. New walkers in such tiny quarters really run the risk of this kind of injury I guess. Later that night I went to the welcome aboard show. It was OK. Kieran the cruise director was the most "human" and down to earth cruise director I have experienced. No slick G.Q. kind of guy, here. Comedian was moderately funny and clean. Learned that while there is no "midnight buffet" the buffet area is open with quite an assortment of food till after midnight. Nothing really special but some dinner like fare, desserts, cheese, rolls. Doesn't compare with midnight buffets from other lines.
Monday was a sea day. Part of the day was spent on the inside passage, part going around Vancouver. Weather was great and the water was smooth. Hooray. Breakfast in buffet was the same every day and not great in our opinions. We had lunch in Blue Lagoon and it was pretty good --- fish and chips, hotdogs, burgers. Kids menu has chicken strips but adults can order them, too, and they're good. Hubby and I spent some time in the Casino. Won my round of the slot tournament but was outdone in future rounds. Machines seemed tight and they are expensive. For full play, most nickel machines require twenty lines at five per line. Quarter machines required three or five quarters for full play, as did the dollar machines. I would have liked some machines requiring a lower investment to play with a max bet. We mostly fed the machines a little here and there all week. Last day just before they closed it down I hit for a couple of hundred dollars on a couple of machines so it came out a wash for me. Hubby played blackjack. Minimum bids at tables were $5.00. Dealers were friendly. Casino was smoky. Oh, you can purchase chips or coins on your card for no penalty but you can't get cash bills which didn't make much sense to me.
Monday evening we had reservations for Cagney's steakhouse at $20 per person surcharge. This was our best on ship meal but we found ourselves feeling like we shouldn't have had to pay that much extra for it. I had steak and lobster. Most had steaks which were large and well prepared. Desserts were very good here, too. Waiters here were very attentive. In hindsight, if you want to make sure you have a good meal, it was worth it. Skipped formal night tonight to the delight of our guys.
By Monday night my kids were thoroughly acclimated in the teen club. I'm not sure that there was really much programming, but they met plenty of kids their age and enjoyed just "hanging out." They had foosball, some video games, computers (no internet) and a lounging room. I was surprised how many kids and teens were on this cruise.
Tuesday we had breakfast in Versailles. Pear blintzes were very good. We were on the second tender off the boat at around 12:30 pm. Had arranged with Rent-a-Wreck to pick us up at the Red Dog and they did so. We rented a minivan for around $75 a day I think it was. The woman who picked us up drove us to their office to do paperwork. For an extra $10 we left it in the parking garage by the pier that evening. We drove to Mendenhall Glacier, explored the visitor center, took a walk and lots of photos. It was really hot!!! There were lots of local kids swimming in the very cold water that day. We visited the salmon hatchery and took the tour for a couple of bucks a person. We drove along Auke Bay to the Shrine of St. Therese which was beautiful. Then we drove back towards town and had dinner at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. Because we arrived on our own in a car we got the locals rate which I think was $21 a person. We really enjoyed this meal of freshly grilled salmon with a brown sugar kind of glaze. There were a number of side dishes and ribs and chicken, too. A guitarist was playing folk music and we took a nice stroll to the waterfall. Hubby and son then went back to area by hatchery and rented fishing equipment for about $15 a person and spent a couple of hours fishing. They didn't catch anything but others did. Did some shopping in town, dropped car in parking garage, and returned to ship. A terrific day for around $250 for the six adults and teens in our party and that included dinner.
Wednesday was our Skagway stop. Another hot and beautiful day. We got off the ship around 8 am, rode the shuttle over to small boat dock and took the fast ferry over to Haines on our own. I had been to Haines as a teenager nearly 25 years ago and wanted to go back. It was a much less "touristy" place to spend the day. We were met at the dock by Steve from Absolutely Alaska Tours and he gave us a private 3-hour tour for $35 per person. He also booked the fast ferry for us which was $45 per person. He showed us the town highlights (there aren't too many!) and we drove out to the bay where we saw quite a few eagles. He tried to find a bear for us but we didn't see it. We stopped at a wonderful little bakery on the side of the road and had some great baked goods. He talked to us a lot about the local culture and it was a very personalized and interesting day. He took us to visit the Presbyterian Church where I had stayed all those years ago and we were greeted warmly. Haines seems to be struggling economically. A restaurant had been foreclosed just the day before we were there and there seemed to only be two restaurants remaining open. We ate lunch at the lighthouse by the water and while the food was good, service was very slow by the one very overwhelmed waitress. We paid $3 to visit a museum of sorts with all kinds of "stuffed" animals and birds. It was amazing and cool to see various types of bears up so close. We walked back to the pier and took the 2 pm fast ferry back to Skagway. There are bikes for rent by the pier. If I wanted a quieter day I wouldn't hesitate to take the fast ferry from Skagway and rent a bike, grab a map, and go sightseeing on my own. It would be a nice way to spend a day. Back in Skagway we did some shopping. Got good prices on souvenirs - but many were made in China. Got my $3 ulu knives (from China) to bring back to family and friends. I wasn't allowed to bring them on the ship and they were held for me until disembarking day. Think tonight was the Andrew Lloyd Weber show. It was pretty good. Found the entertainment on this ship to be of pretty high quality. Had dinner this evening in the Japanese restaurant. We enjoyed the meal. It was a little weird, but according to my brother who travels A LOT for work in Japan it was quite authentic. Dessert was good. I had a ginger crème brulee and enjoyed that.
Thursday was spent cruising Glacier Bay. Beautiful! Beautiful! Spent some time up on the top deck but much of the time on our own balconies. Captain slowly turned ship so all got a view. Saw some fairly major calving and caught it on film. Too cool. Kids spent today in the pool. Photographer's shots from glacier bay were wild... some were in parkas and some were in bikinis! This was a relaxing day. Ate dinner in Versailles. Can't remember what the theme was. We found the food here to be sort of "weird." Nothing really jumped off the menu at us this night. The baby started fussing and my kids gladly offered to leave and go to the buffet with their aunt before we even ordered. My son was very disappointed in that on RCCL cruises he eats salmon almost every night because it's one of their alternatives but here we were in Alaska and it wasn't even offered most nights. Can't even remember what I had. I felt like in the regular restaurants NCL offers strange food choices that sound really extravagant but end up tasting just a step above cafeteria food. Just my opinion, but food wasn't the highlight of this cruise. This may have been the night for the magician. Whatever night he was, he was wonderful. Don't miss him.
Friday was Ketchikan. It was a bit gray and cooler and some mist in the early morning. The day cleared as it went along. We had tickets for the 8:45 lumberjack show. This was a blast. My kids loved it. We all really enjoyed the friendly atmosphere. Fellow audience members added to the fun with their antics. The lumberjacks' skills were amazing. Although $29 for a show like this seems steep, in comparison with other activities we enjoyed it so much that I'd say it was worth it. We poked through some shops on Creek Street and walked to the Totem Heritage Center. Again, we found this town very walkable although hilly. Returned to the ship for a late lunch in Versailles. Again, a very weird menu. I remember their being "ox knuckles" on the menu. I had a grilled chicken salad which was OK. My kids aren't picky but they ended up leaving and hitting the Blue Lagoon. That night we ate in Aqua. Had to wait 45 minutes for a table since we went down at around 6:30 pm. I had read the menu for Versailles and knew that Filet with Bernaise was one of the menu choices but Aqua had chateaubriand with some kind of brandy sauce if I remember correctly. I asked if I could get the filet and the waiter got it for me. The two menus are similar but not exact... Aqua seems even a bit more "out there" with the menu than Versailles. (Again, in my very own opinion which isn't worth that much.) This night was to be the chocolate buffet. We went to the comedy show in the spinnaker lounge which was over around midnight I think. When we got downstairs, the lines for the buffet stretched the whole length of the ship. Sorry, I love chocolate, but it isn't worth standing in line for an hour for at midnight. We buzzed by Blue Lagoon and grabbed a pear and a piece of banana bread which were always available and good.
Saturday we slept in and did a brunchy/lunch at the buffet. Weather wasn't as warm so the pool wasn't so busy. Spent some time in the Casino until it closed around 2 pm. Ate an early dinner in the buffet since we wanted to get off in Victoria as soon as we could. It was supposed to be Italian night in the buffet but there wasn't much thematic. I had a slice of carved beef I remember. There was a crush of humanity all trying to get off the ship when we got to Victoria. We hadn't booked an excursion since we didn't think the baby would tolerate a bus tour, etc., but I had found a carriage company on line and had brought their phone number. There was chaos when we got off the ship, unless you had an excursion booked. The line for the shuttle downtown was REALLY long and it only ran every twenty minutes. The cab line wasn't a line and after the first few cabs left with customers there was a lot of space between cabs. I called the carriage company and asked if they ever did pickups at the pier and they said they would. For $200 Canadian the six of us and the baby had a horse carriage ride from the pier, all around town, and back to the pier. It lasted almost two hours I think. Converted to American dollars we felt it was a good deal. Love Victoria. Would like to go back and get out of a carriage. Lots of shopping and restaurants. Wished we had a day to spend here. Beautiful city, but plan on a tour or something if you can. Back on the ship we went to the midnight poolside barbecue. Again, long lines and disorganized. They had you pick up your side dishes (rice, baked beans, corn, baked potatoes) and then wait in another long line for the barbecue, by which time your food was very cold. Desserts which were inside the buffet were the best part. We noticed a lot of weird configurations to food lines in the buffet, i.e. butter was at the very beginning of the line, with rolls on down the way. Rolled silverware didn't include a spoon and if you didn't pick one up on your way through the line you had to go looking. Back to the cabin to have bags out by 2 am.
Arrived in Seattle on another beautiful day. Docked around 6:30 am I think. We ate breakfast in Versailles. No blintzes. Bummer. Returned to cabin. Deck ten was the third group to be called and I believe we were called around 9:15 am. Descended to the sea of bags, fairly easily found ours, porter led us to a large van which could accommodate all of our bags and people for $10 per person for the six of us (baby no charge.) Cost more than two cabs really but more convenient. We were to the airport by 10:30 am for our 2 pm flight. Had some lousy Chinese food at the airport. Avoid it.
Overall observations: Ship was beautiful and we loved our cabins. Cabin stewards provided us with what we needed and were pleasant, but there were no towel animals (not that those are that important but for some people it's a cruise tradition.) We didn't like freestyle. We were unable to make reservations at some restaurants we wanted to try, even though they appeared only half full. Not having seating times led to lines and waits for the main restaurants and I have to do that too much at home. I missed getting to know our waitstaff. Kids had drink cards and those worked fine. While the crew was friendly and helpful, I felt that the pre-paid gratuities led to a "minimalist" service expectation. Then again, having someone kiss your butt all week just to get a tip isn't that pleasant either so I'm not sure how I feel. We chose NCL Star for the itinerary and that was great and what was most important. I've yet to have a cruise experience that doesn't beat work by a landslide!! To those of you who have read to the bitter end... congratulations and good night! Read Less