[NOTE: this review was first posted 1st on the boards (http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1039684) and received positive feedback, so I am sharing it here. This review may not be in the "perfect" form, but we put alot of work into it during and after the cruise and THEN we saw the review form. We know, bad move, (and we've probably violated a few newbie posting rules) but we have admittedly run out of gas (and wine) and just want to get it out there and unfortunately get back to our day jobs. Here goes....
We cruised on the NCL Star the week of July 25 thru Aug 2. We were a family of 4 (2 boys, 9 and 6) under 10) and travelled with another family (also two boys, 11 and 9). This was our 6th cruise, our 2nd to Alaska. Previous trip was 1999 on Royal Caribbean. We've also been on Princess and Carnival (and planning a January Carnival cruise as I write). But this was our first NCL cruise. Our travelling partners had done one cruise many years ago. So we had both a semi-experienced and novice view points.
We tend to do cruising on the cheap. We all approached this as a budget vacation (we felt we got a really good deal on the tiks), so we didn't do any of the NCL excursions or pay for any extras except alcohol and two restaurants. We had unusually awesome weather (~80F+) in all ports and the seas were very calm.
Overall we were satisfied with the cruise, the boat and the NCL service. Our kids had a great time, especially in the pool and at ping pong. We felt they were safe. There was enough to keep us entertained. We loved Alaska and would very likely do it again.
But the ultimate criterion is whether we would travel NCL again or recommend it to a friend. And the answer is....possibly.
Overall the ship was good, in fact great in some places, as were the amenities, but we were disappointed in the food—we just thought it would be better than Carnival and it wasn't. And there will be one major annoyance standing in the way of us booking again: The "fourth" bed in the standard staterooms is a TRUNDLE that comes up BETWEEN the two lower beds. This is instead of a second bunk which we have experienced on other lines. Why NCL thought this was a good idea, we'll never know. If this is becoming standard in the industry, you might not see us on the high seas as a family again.
Now on to the rest of the specifics. We've broken the review into categories and disseminated the, "likes," "neutral," "dislikes," "things to know," and "Cruising Pet Peeves/things we wonder." Hope that's helpful for readers. The last area, pet peeves and things we wonder, is a mix of real pet peeves, things we really do wonder, and small blog-ish riffs. We were getting punchy on $10 martinis, $26 buckets of Alaskan Amber plus 18% gratuity. Forgive us.
Our two families had adjacent inside rooms on Deck 5 port side toward the back. We were generally pleased with the accommodations as compared to other ships except for what is noted below.
- Style. With the exception of the green nautical carpet it had a much more modern feel to it than other ships we've been on. Darker woods, trim, etc. Didn't feel cheap.
- Beds were firm and very comfy. Big closet, lots of cubby storage, shelves, and hooks in room and bathroom (although could have used another high shelf or two on blank wall in bathroom.) - Light in closet helpful for seeing there but served as a night light.
- Shower door instead of the usual sticky curtain (although it came off the tracks a few times).
- Safe that required only a code. (Was on a Carnival ship in January that needed a credit card or driver's license to open the safe. No logic in that. Hello Carnival! The reason we need the safe is to STORE those things, not carry them around with us on the ship.)
- Shampoos and soaps. Love the "spa" flavors. The more minty and citrusy, the better. AND we loved that they were in wall dispensers, not individual bars or bottles.
- Nice, powerful hairdryers.
-Fridge in room (but see below).
- The dial on the outside of the room indicating our status. (Do not disturb, etc.), Kinda cute.
- There was a little engine noise on Deck 5 aft. But nothing that kept us awake.
- Would have liked a bigger safe to fit a laptop.
- Mixed emotions on the required $12/day per person gratuity. On one hand its easy. On the other, there are no incentives for room stewards and per comments sprinkled in the review they could have used some.
- Per the showstopper at the beginning...we specifically selected a room made for 4 as noted on the Star deck plan. We expected TWO bunks beds, but the room only had ONE pull down bed. The other was a TRUNDLE that pulled out between the two beds. This made moving around the cabin a bear and accessible storage under the beds useless. This one thing may negate NCL (or at least the Star) from future consideration. Not sure how they thought was a good idea. Did we survive through it? Yes. But we had two small-ish kids, the trundle wasn't elevated and you couldn't combine the beds for the adults. 2am trips to the potty was tough. And apparently the trundle mattress wasn't so comfy. Not sure if we could hack it as they grow and not sure 4 single people cruising on the cheap would like it either.
- And no ladder for the bunks too boot. Lots of scrambling on table tops and hitting glasses, etc.
- There was a HEAVY smoke smell either from the cabin(s) across the way or from the crew area at the end of the hall a few doors down. If the source is the crew area, they should be banned from smoking there. We know people can smoke in their rooms but it DOESN'T STAY in the rooms. Our collective opinion is that there should not be smoking on the ships save a specific smoking lounge like they have in airports. Even outside, with the wind/breeze in play, smoke wafted around.
- There is a fridge in the room (a good thing) but it is small and packed with bar stuff already. In our room, we took all that stuff out (having to take up valuable shelf space) and could fit a small box of wine and some smoked salmon we bought. But just barely. Our travelling partner's fridge was unplugged and was unstocked until the second to last day. Apparently, the previous passengers had asked for it to be unstocked.
- Room stewards only filled up our ice halfway and never replaced our in-room glasses. By the end, we had one glass left. Admittedly, we were using the glasses for our booze and leaving them around the ship, but they should be replaced.
- A set of sheets was really balled up on one bed. The steward removed them after a note was left, but they should have been taken out of circulation.
Things to know
- Bring a power strip. There is only one outlet in the room.
- Bring a small alarm clock. Should have learned this by now, but haven't.
- Bring a nightlight for the bathroom.
- And headlamps are useful if you are trying to sneak out to get to the weight room before the kiddies are awake.
- Be careful where you put your room key. It can be demagnetized easily by cell phones and other things. We had to have three keys replaced among four adults.
- If you want, ask for your fridge to be unstocked (but make sure they leave it plugged in.)
Pet Peeves/things we wonder
- Why don't more hotels don't go to dispenser shampoos and soaps? Yes, it's not as "shi shi" but it saves the environment, and people can't steal it. Just fill a Aveda-labelled dispenser up with something that smells like eucalyptus and people won't care.
We ate mostly in the Versailles, "French" style, main dining room. We hit Aqua, the "modern" main dining room (with the same menu as Versailles) once. We ate one night each in Teppanaki and Cagney's. We ate in the Market Cafe for lunch and breakfast, except for the last day in Versailles.
On the whole, we were disappointed with the food and think the food is better, more enlightened and creative on Carnival (our last two cruises), on Royal Caribbean (although its been a while since RC) and certainly Princess. Admittedly, we are foodies at home, but we know to lower our expectations when heading up the gangplank. We expected slightly better than what we got, and maybe that was a mistake on our part. You'll survive and won't wretch, don't worry, but don't expect to be wowed.
- French toast in Market Cafe.
- Scallops and gazpacho on night 5(?) and English strip with Yorkshire pudding and red snapper with Andoiuille sausage on day 7(?) in Versailles.
- Pretzel bread sandwiches in Market Cafe. Bangers for breakfast in Market Cafe.
- Versailles' space. Service was good. As compared to Aqua, which has low ceilings and long booths against the exterior wall, Versailles felt quieter and more comfortable.
- Constantly refreshed bin for napkins and utensils and condiments ON the table in Market Cafe. We realize this sounds weird, but we can't tell you how frustrating it is to hunt or wait for utensils or steal them from other tables on ships we've been on. You sit down and they are right there. A big kudos to whomever came up with this.
- Clean up in Market Cafe. Given the seating constraints, the staff seemed to be pretty quick to clean up to open seating.
- Ice cream availability (four flavors to choose from at scoops/Barong Spa) and then soft serve in Market Cafe)
- Nightly Chocoloate fountain in Market Cafe. Skip the restaurant desserts and camp out here.
- BBQ on deck Day 1. Hit the spot nicely.
- Free after-dinner cappuccinos upon request. Although termed average by one in our party, they hit the spot for another.
- Anytime dining. Just like it. 6pm is too early and 8pm is too late. We never had to wait. And we were a party of eight (often split into two tables of four next to each other, but it worked well for us. Adults at one, kids at another.).
- The maitre de at Versaille was always pleasant and accommodating and the waiters were fabulous with our boys. Did a few tricks (ask them to separate the salt from the pepper) too.
- Wine list looked reasonable. Really no different price-wise than at home. We stuck with the Waterbrook Chardonnay ($33 on the ship, reg $13.99 in Seattle) and Valley of the Moon Syrah. Tasty.
- The set up in Market Cafe. Can't decide if we liked it or not. It has a stylish modern bright open cafeteria style (straight non-fixed tables and chairs set perpendicular to the windows). This is unlike other ships where there are bulky fixed booths and tables. On one hand it was easy to navigate TO a table but some intimacy is lost.
- Teppanyaki. This is good entertainment for kids. Ours loved it. However, it seemed the "skilled" entertainment really sort of stopped at the appetizers and then Bennihana antics waned. The entrEe entertainment was mostly banging the spice shakers against the spatulas. We felt the food was VERY average. It took every ounce of restraint not to reach out and grab our scallops and lobster off the griddle to keep them from being overdone. We could see the tenderness disappearing in front of our eyes. Alas, we couldn't do with others at the table so we suffered through chewy seafood. Filet mignon and chicken both had a skillet grease taste to them.
- Market Cafe. It did its job, consistently, but the consistency in the menu for breakfast and lunch became boring. On other cruises, like Carnival, there were distinct themes on a daily basis (Mexican, Mediterranean, etc.) and they devoted a whole serving section to it, but not on the Star. Maybe one or two dishes, but not enough to be noticed or add spice to the offering. On one day there were two great Indian dishes, but they were served on opposite sides of the galley so most folks didn't know they were both there. We surmise that the nice thing is that if you liked something in particular you could get it reliably, (mostly) every day. One member in our party stuck to staff-mixed yogurt and bagels/lox every day at breakfast and pretty good muffalettas and staff prepared Cesaer salad (with anchovies!) for lunch and was satisfied. The fresh fruit selection was limited. Lots of canned fruit (yuck!). There were grapefuits in Versaille, but not here.
- The free coffee. Not the worst, not the best. But not quite average.
- Dress code. We liked the open dress code, but we wonder if it would be better to restrict jeans, or at least restrict tennis shoes and require collared shirts at Aqua and Versaille. A little too casual at times in there for a white table cloth restaurant.
- Chocolate Decadence night. Line was huge. Understandable given the popularity of this sort of thing and the lack of quality desserts otherwise, but can't rate the food because we never made it in.
- Hand sanitizer machines everywhere in the food places. It's a good thing.
- There was a Jazz brunch ($$) offered in the SOHO on Sunday and Friday. We didn't go, but the menu looked appetizing and it seemed to be popular.
Disliked (or better put, "disappointed in...")
- Cagney's. Saw some raves about this place but we didn't think it was worth it. Truffle fries were tasty as was the seafood bisque but steaks were nothing to write home about. We expect filets to melt in your mouth and they didn't. Smoked salmon appetizer was shockingly large, and not in a good way. It's an appetizer folks. And it was salty and overdone. Dessert wasn't great. Espresso brownie dessert was average. In gymnastics speak: you got to nail the landing, and you didn't
- Desserts in general. Nothing exciting or compelling. And even the simple ones shouldn't be rocket science. They seemed to lose the recipe for molten chocolate cake, or molten chocolate brick---it shouldn't be dry and the inside should be hot and gooey, not stiff.
- Blue Lagoon. Again high hopes from reviews but the only above average spots were the fish/chips and Panini. Mild Wings were overdone and had no sauce on them. Thought that was a requirement. Burgers were the same as elsewhere. Interior seating is very tight and a main walkway runs right through the restaurant. There is outside seating, which is nice but is right under a very loud vent.
- Foil butter pats vs. dish of whipped butter and cream pourers vs. single serve in Versailles and Aqua. C'mon folks, dress it up a bit. Or at least help out the environment just a bit.
- Doing Versailles breakfast on the last day. Maybe this was our mistake for doing this, but the service was harried and generally felt like they just wanted us to get off the boat so they could have a few moments to themselves before the next horde arrived. The kids loved it, and one in our party went to Versaille earlier in the week and really enjoyed it.
- Versailles "international" cheese plate. Cheese selection was familiar (as in the cheddar looked and tasted like our standard sliced cheddar from home), but it was served with a 2-pack of PACKAGED SALTINES. This might have been the defining statement regarding the food. You couldn't have sliced up a couple of baguettes?
- Market Cafe sneeze guards. Yes, they are a requirement, but do they have to be THAT low? Practically pulled a muscle trying to get the lone raspberry yogurt from the back row.
- In Market Cafe, blueberries and pecans for yogurt on the first day, then, poof, no more the rest of the week.
- The Atrium coffee bar coffee was shameful. If you are gonna charge us for it, then do something special. One of our party got so fed up with the "press this button for latte" system, she walked the "barista" through making a real latte without pressing the button. Maybe the only way to make it better was to pay for a shot of Irish whiskey in it.
- Soft serve ice cream in Market Cafe was too soft or watery. This has either to do with the how the machine is set up or maintained or due to the fact that it was overdemanded by the patrons so the machine couldn't keep up. I'm guessing the latter. Buy another machine and scrap some of the other desserts. The walkway in the market Cafe is bustling, and not in a good way. It's a traffic jam (see peeves below) with accidents waiting to happen. This is a design flaw.
- Touchless dispensers for ice. Although a good idea for sanitary purposes, they were tempermental and we swear the staff was showing people that, in order to use them effectively, people should put their cup under the dispenser in a way such that one's hand was closest to the "eye" (i.e. rotate wrist to the back). So unless you hand the hands of Cinderella, you, and everyone else invariably ended up touching the dispenser back wall because the "drop zone" was very shallow. Kind of defeated the purpose. Dabble some more sanitizer on your hands and get back to the industrial design drawing board.
Things to Know
- You can only pass through the Market cafe on one side. It's shaped like a "J" not a "U." Yes, it is accurately shown on the deck plan posted on line, but we constantly forgot and kept running into the dead end. Doh! And you can't get to Versaille from deck 5 aft. Or some crazy thing.
- With the exception of Teppanaki, it didn't seem to us that any of the specialty restaurants were remotely filled. Empty tables everywhere. Maybe it's the economy, but it didn't seem like we needed to be rushed to make a reservation.
- We never had issues with getting into Aqua or Versaille. However, it seemed to us that those who were desperate to eat when the doors opened may have faced some issues. Our advice is to go at an odd time or after 7pm.
- Try Versailles for breakfast and lunch just to get a comparison of the menus and quality.
Pet Peeves//things we wonder
- This is the same on every ship we've been on and I'm sure nothing will change it: The main cafeteria is ALWAYS in the center (or close it) on the same main upper level as everything else (pool, bars, kids club, exercise center, etc., etc.). In the Star's case, it is Deck 12. Below is staterooms, above is disjointed levels or only exterior walkways. The problem with this is that, unless you want to walk through the stateroom corridors, you are either passing through the main cafe and have to navigate around people with trays, or they have to avoid you. And you are either eating and constantly seeing people whiz by, OR you are whizzing by yourself and have to watch people eat (and more commonly on cruise ships, stuff their faces with piles of food on their plates) at all hours. This is our small plea for ship designers to end this practice. Please. It would be nice to eat in some semblance of privacy, even in a cafeteria, not have to dodge people to get from point A to point B and not to have to constantly watch other people eat. And now, since cleanliness is such a big thing (which is ok), even if you are "passing through," the hand sanitizer staff asks you to sanitize. I think we were getting drunk on just the alcohol passing through our skin.
- Cruise ship ice. These are the "ice poops" that melt the instant they touch water. Please find a way to bring back cubes.
- Maitre di' tipping at NON-freestyle cruises. They don't do any work. Why do we need to tip them? Or even be asked to tip them?
- Humans eat too much. Wow. Please people, pace yourselves. They ain't gonna run out.
POOLS/OUTSIDE FUN AND SPACES
Kids spent a lot of time in the pool and ping pong tables and enjoyed their time around the ship.
- Lots of hot tubs (6) and generally warmer than other ships we've been on.
- Kiddie pool area. Best we've seen. At the back of the boat it is well outfitted with two small slides and wading pool. The best part is there is a hot tub where parents can soak while the kids play.
- Main pool. Good size with two slides that dumped into smaller pools. Best we can recall on our previous ships. Couldn't get the kids out. They just entertained themselves. It was a good temp (84 degrees per the ship TV). Our Carnival cruise in January seemed to pull the water from the arctic even though we were in the Mexican Riviera. (Of course, water temp is relative to the outside temp, so sometimes the Star's seemed just right and then other times a little cool.)
- Ping pong tables. There are two in a sheltered area by the kiddie pool so wind wasn't generally too much of a factor. And the box of supplies is right there. No need to run all the way back to the main pool to check them out. (One negative is that they took away one table for a tournament in the atrium and it took two days to bring it back and kids had to wait a while in turns to play on just the one. They should get another one for the tournament.)
- Two golf ranges with clubs and balls already there.
- Two chess sets (one port, one starboard) with bins right there for pieces, two shuffleboard courts and one corn-hole (bean-toss) sort of game court (see negatives below).
- Lots of interesting spaces outside. Small tables with chairs abound as do deck chairs.
- For the guys here: bathroom urinals on the pool deck (just off of the bar) have huge windows. Can't recall a more pleasurable "relievement."
- There is only one main pool and it is uncovered. We thought there were two and one with a cover (must have been looking at the Pearl layout?). Very crowded with kids at times but that's what the pool is for. But we can imagine that in NOT-above-average-Alaskan-weather, the uncovered main pool is unused or unusable.
- Sloped or amphitheatre style seating at the fore end of the pool. On the deck plan it looks like the 4 rows of chairs are on the same level, but they aren't. Can't decide if we liked it. On one hand, the deck chairs were away from the pool level (only tables down there) and it offered a good view of the pool but the pool space felt cramped.
- Biergarten is just a glorified poolbar, but the wood tables and views over the pool and to the sides were nice. Sequestered a table and spent the glacier day here.
- Two of the four main hot tubs were supposed to be for adults only but the signage was small and there was no policing. Kids in, kids out, kids in, kids out. All day long.
- Chess set and corn-hole (bean toss) game on port side had no pieces. Kind of a shame.
- Billiard table on deck 12 was always covered never saw any pool cues. Deck 13 at the back is dedicated to a helipad. For what reason we can't fathom. The NCL sister ship pearl docked next to us in port used the space for what looked like a large adult bar area. There are deck chairs up here, so we imagine this is a good sun-baking spot on Southern crusies, but the chairs were usually tied up for us.
- If you are going to call something a Biergarten, you should have at least one German beer on tap (Heineken doesn't count) OR offer some microbrews. Alaskan Amber is nothing to snub your nose at, but at least take the theme up a notch. Make it different up there than elsewhere.
- Seemed Very hard to navigate from the front outer decks of the ship to each other and to the interior. Lots of what looked like accessible doors were marked crew only. Some Sub-decks were dead eds. Kind of a maze. Maybe when the decks are full on a southern cruise this adds to the privacy. And maybe we never got our bearings, which I think is entirely true.
Things to know
- You can check out pool towels next to main pool. Pretty standard but the novice may not know.
- Bring goggles. It's salt water in them there pools.
Pet Peeves//things we wonder
- Why is the overhead net on basketball courts on all ships are so low? To cut down on wind resistance? The only viable shot is a short flat jumper or layup. Chuckers need not apply. What's the point? Volleyball is worthless. (Note: The Pearl looked like it had a HUGE basketball court, with soccer goals, but we couldn't vouch for the net height.)
- Why did that mother stand by while her son, aged 9 or 10, was gleefully kicking and throwing the chess pieces around the deck? No wonder there was only enough pieces for one chess board and no bag-toss pieces. Mother-of the-year to you sister.
- What exactly does "No glass or bottles" by poolside mean and who does it apply to? It did seem a bit incongruent to have the sign and yet serve beer in bottles on deck. For us, it worked out because if a beer doesn't come in a glass bottle, we don't drink it (Ok, so we're beer snobs too.)
- Shuffles card room was open all the time and had lots of games and lots of fresh decks of cards. Haven't seen that on a ship yet. Went multiple times.
- Library was full of books. Haven't seen that on a ship either. Best we've seen. Big kudos.
- The fact that the casino was tucked away on the ship. Almost never walked by it. Good from a kid perspective as well as a smoke perspective.
- The Star Bar. Deck 13, next to Cagney's. Never saw anyone in there. Great, quiet place to play cards or read with a good view of the pool. A good hideaway. Don't tell anyone.
- Free popcorn and snacks in Red Lion (and snacks in Gatsby's and possibly others). A good place for cards too.
- Plenty of elevators, but they were full and slow to arrive. Why is this a"like"? See our Pet Peeves below.
- Galleria liquor tasting. Yum. Just a mother's little helper or two to get through the afternoon.
- Kids Klub looked fun—there is a bouncy floor, a McDonald's like jungle gym, and a dedicated theatre, but we never used it like we thought we would. Our kids seemed to be self-contained.
- Library and card room were full of people like we've never seen. That's good, but seats/tables may be hard to come by.
- Generally thought the ship felt crowded. To us it seemed that it was designed with narrow passageways and not a lot of quiet public seating inside. If the weather isn't great, we wouldn't know where to spend our day that isn't a bar without people streaming by . It felt like we were constantly walking past people "loitering" in the window seats, or dodging cameramenn in the atriums
- Arcade only had very expensive games ($.50/$1.00). They might have extracted some quarters from the middle age set if they threw in a few games from our era. Asteroids and Galaxia NEVER get old. \
- The Red Lion: Good space, but if they are going to have an English pub they NEED TO SERVE ENGLISH BEER ON TAP. What's the point of a theme bar if you don't do what the theme does? Give us at least ONE. Please. Heineken and Dos Equis do not count. Also, the volume was up way too high in the back corners (along the corridor) of the "pub." Since those tables can't see the TV, there is no reason to pipe the volume there. And this is yet another space on the ship where the corridor passes right through it. Lots of traffic.
- Great to have the multitude of fresh decks of cards in shuffles, but they were kind of cheap and not coated on both sides. (Ok, this one is a little petty, we know.)
- If you look on the deck plan, there is Shuffles Card room and a "Reading and Writing room" next to it. This latter room is marked on a wall plaque as the "Card" room. However, what it actually was used for was the ship's "outlet mall/Christmas in July" room. Lots of discounted stuff on sale, all week, occupying valuable quiet interior space. Or more usable space for game playing which people seemed to be more interested in than buying bevelled alaskan chopping blocks.
- It was odd that there were no goggles on sale at the Galleria Shop, but they miraculously appeared for sale at a kiosk at the main pool on Day 3. Magic.
- No sanitizers inside our outside the restrooms that we recall. Yes, people should wash their hands, but a little sanitizer just for insurance wouldn't kill anyone. In fact it might save them. (Except the guy who came out of the stall in the restroom by the main pool on Tuesday about 2:37pm and didn't bother to wash his hands. Hey Buddy! Did you NOT see the constant reminders?)
Things to know
- Arcade games take quarters, not ship tokens. So sift them out of your piggy bank.
- Take the time to read the plaques on the wall on the starboard side of the library and movie theatre. There are a couple of gems of history in there.
- As per comments above, quiet interior space is hard to come by. You may have to hop from unoccupied space to unoccupied space throughout the day. Unused conference rooms may offer a quiet getaway.
Pet Peeves/Things we wonder
- Why was Bingo so packed? Either we don't swim in the same pond everyone else does, we are missing a trend, or there was nothing else to do on this boat. But there didn't seem to be a seat in the house.
- Can the art auctions REALLY be making the cruise lines any money? We love Peter Max, but we didn't buy a piece of his 10 years ago on our first cruise and we aren't buying one now. It's getting old and annoying. There's a sucker born every minute, but it ain't us. (Well, okay, there was that 5'x6' hand painted cell of all the Simpson's characters on our Caribbean cruise in 2001, but they stopped the free champagne so we weren't drunk enough to buy it.). WARNING SPOILER ALERT: The art room's "secret unveiling" on Friday is a Thomas Kincade, Master of Light. Don't everyone rush at once.
- Why able-bodied people (and you know who you are) refuse to take the stairs is beyond us. The elevators are full and never come in a timely fashion and rarely come at all to the bottom or top floors, so why are people waiting? WALK people. Burn off some of the buffet. The stairs are faster, especially going down. But maybe slow elevators hopefully will encourage more people to take alternative, non-mechanized transportation.
We didn't make it a point to see all the shows and entertainers and events like trivia like we have on other cruises. There may have been some highs and lows we didn't see.
- Band that played on the first day at poolside. Played fun tunes like Buffet and Morrison. Not the typical poolside reggae rehash which you see everywhere. Unfortunately they only played on first day and the stage was silent the rest of the time.
- Chinese acrobats in the Spinnaker Lounge (small stage vs the Star Theatre). Fun to see them up close. How that girl got herself through the tube the size of a wheelbarrow tire we will never know.
- Woman playing acoustic tunes in Gatsby's on Sunday night. Very pleasant, good selection. Sorry we couldn't stay.
- The Star Theatre is the best theatre venue on any ship we have ever been on. EVER. A feat of design and engineering. No obstructed views and a deep slope so you can see over the people in front. No tables to clamber around. The place was designed Broadway style to watch theatre and nothing else. Excellent.
- Juggler Bryson Lang on night three. Pretty funny and talented. Enough to get the oohs and aahs from the crowd. One in our party was called on stage. He did a juggling tutorial later in the week. Kids are still throwing balls of socks in the air to practice.
- Movie theatre. Very cool with relatively recent shows all day long. Be sure to keep up on the posted featured shows. At one point we thought all the theatre shows were the same as channel 15 movies, but that was not the case. Would be nice if they featured the schedule in the Freestyle Daily pub.
- Karaoke in the Carousel. Very fun. We wished we had done this earlier in the cruise.
- Open play Wii in the Carousel. Good idea, but someone who knows how the Wii works should manage this. And the controllers should have fresh batteries.
- Second City troupe was not very good. We know improv is very tough and we were excited to see this "famous" act on the small stage but we could only stand 5 minutes before our cringing faces hurt. We stuck it out so the kids could watch but it got no better. It was billed as family friendly but there was sexual content. We're not prudes, but the cringing continued.
- Movie Theatre could have done a better job of having true kid or family movies in the 6 to 10 timeslot. Also they screen was small for the size of the room and stage. Looked like they could have a fit a 16:9 ratio screen in there but movies showed in 4:3.
- Fifth night was billed as a Chinese acrobat redux but it was a dash of the impressive elastic people mixed in with the choreographed dancing of the NCL troupe. Theme was tropical native something or other with what appeared to be dancing salad. In full disclosure, we've never been fond of straight interpretive dancing but this put some of us to sleep and received average reviews from those who could stay awake. We missed the singing revue night, and wished we had missed this instead.
Things to know
- It seemed like you could mostly eat and do all the shows in an evening by the way they were timed. Eating at 7 will do it.
- There was a honeymooners cocktail reception in the Star Bar (for which we got kicked out). Since we had four kids playing cards with us, it was hard to talk our way in.
At least one person in our party visited the club every day. And most days three of the four of us made it. And the fourth was religious about taking the stairs. So yes, we did order two entrees on occassion.
- Plenty of aerobic machines (treadmills, rowing, stairmasters, elipticals, etc) with tvs. Only the first day (when everyone "starts" their regime) was it crowded. Then once the the majority of folks abandoned their cruise resolution, there were always machines available. Generally a good space and well laid out.
- Cold towels in small fridge. Nice touch. (Although one in our party couldn't open the fridge. Probably too drunk from night before. Hint: Open from the left side.)
- The weight equipment was odd. CYBEX brand. Not what we were used to. It seemed to have many settings or ways to customize height etc. Just felt very loose.
- Could have had more "Bosu" and balls with more space for Yoga. There is space, just not enough.
- Would have been nice to have the aerobics machines facing out the windows (many faced into the spa atrium) but the mats were infront of the windows and kiddie pool area obstructed front outside views.
- Except for the first day, after which everyone realized a smoothie habit would implode their cruise cards, the Barong smoothie guy looked really, really, really lonely. Kind of felt bad for him. Business picked up in the afternoon though as he scooped out ice cream to the kids at the outside window.
- They had ice water with cups on the first day. Then it never appeared again. There was a water fountain but it was working one day then not the next. Then it worked, but no cups.
- Spa looked DIVINE with the private pool, hot tub, soaking tubs, deck chairs with a view, etc. but it cost $$$ just to walk past the front desk. $10 upcharge per day with a "treatment," $20 otherwise. "Specials" for couples all week. Other ships we have been on allowed use of at least the sauna/steam rooms and locker rooms after working out. Not here. Got to trudge back to your room (through the Market Cafe mind you) to get cleaned up.
- A couple of the ellipticals were out of order for the latter half of the cruise. Thought the ship had a maintenance crew. Saw at least one checking paint chips for dry dock.
- Rules stated no children under 13, but it wasn't enforced. Lots of kids playing on equipment. They've got tons of people to sell me a hot rock massage, but nobody monitoring the room. Maybe the smoothie guy could earn a little extra by donning a badge. The only time we saw the exercise staff all week outside of classes was one morning when the gal was burning up the elliptical and then tore it up on the treadmill. No wonder the two elipticals were broken.
- Except for part of our party doing a whale watch in Juneau (the other part met up with a college chum for a local's tour), we did not do the ship excursions. We liked all the ports and noted the exceptional (both positive and negative) below. We used our own feet or arranged transportation.
- Ketchikan: Get a map of the self-guided walking tour. Good tidbits to see include but are not limited to: Totem Center, Hatchery/Eagle Center, Married Man Trail. Note that the Totem Center and Hatchery are EASILY reachable. No need to book an excursion for this.
- Juneau: Fish Hatchery. Holy Moly were there a lot of fish. And Seeing Sarah Palin's moving van parked in front of the Governer's house the day after she left office was a treat. A photo for the history books.
- The Tracy Arm. Slow and beautiful. Both ways.
- Skagway: The Skagway Float Tours (www.skagwayfloat.com) hike and float. Since most of the ship excursions were $$$$ and didn't take kids less than 8, we went with this outfit and did not regret it. Our guide Kelly was cheerful and had us in stitches in the first five minutes. She was chock full of information on the trail history, flora and fauna, had us try some different wild berries along the way, was great with the kids and seemed genuinely thrilled to spend time with us. The hike along the Chilkoot trail was steep in some early parts, but not strenuous and not long enough that exhaustion ensued. Our 6 year old did fine (although he can bike for 20 miles and roller blade non- stop) and the float easy. The float was enjoyable and she lets the kids steer the oars. Although the "snacks" were a bit meager (yummy smoked salmon alongside cheese, crackers and oreos) we highly recommend this local outfit. We also enjoyed the Skagway Town Museum. A small fee but neat artifacts and stories to tell. They have a scavenger hunt for kids. Nice touch. We didn't make it to the National Park museum and feel bad about it, so we don't know how this compares. In fact, we didn't plan our time too well after the float, so we missed a lot of the good stuff in Skagway.
- Prince Rupert. Okay, you may call us crazy here and throw this review out in the trash right now (if you haven't already), but we found this port underrated and charming. Unfortunately, and shamefully, the cruise line treated it like a stepchild, to the extent that "Que," the cruise director came right and said in front of the Star Theatre crowd (and I quote): "Ah, Yes, tomorrow is a port day, but ah, there's really nothing to do in Prince Rupert, but we've still got room on our wonderful shore excursions! So get to the booking desk after the show." Shameful and derogatory. Despite Que's assertion of mediocrity, we found nuggets of gold there: The in-refurbishment Sunken Garden (quite a history if you ask around), the small fire museum (This town knows how to have fires. And you thought Rome burned. Wow.), the white Episcopal church on the hill (a huge highlight--- a lovely Brit opens it up on Thursdays, plays the organ and talks church and Prince Rupert history, its worth the walk, even if it rains. Too bad the other churches don't do it.), a humble art fair in downtown with a couple of surprises, and a splendid walk along the hillside to see some beautiful homes. Forget an excursion. Use the port to take a pleasant walk away from the crowds.
- Sailing away from Prince Rupert. Also beautiful. (see tips below)
- Skagway Brewing Company. Recommended by our guide. Beer was good, but it was loud (and the music kept fading in and out, a bald eagle must have been gnawing on the wires). Get some back patio seats and try the Spruce Tip beer, made with actual spruce tree tips. Other beers looked tasty too. When in Rome....
- Dejon Delights www.dejondelights.com. Great variety of smoked salmon and local spruce tip and birch syrups, but the young gal behind the counter was a sour puss. Totally not interested in having us in there and we were interested in spending $$$. After having so many free samples and wanting to come away with the syrup, we felt compelled, but we could have spent more if it wasn't for you, honey.
- Mendenhall Glacier. Important to see, very cool (especially the bears feeding along the lower boardwalk), but it was CROWDED. With 4 ships in port, it felt like Old Faithful on July 4th weekend.
- Except Prince Rupert, towns are packed with (infested is more like it) with tourist shops and especially cruise line recommended (or "owned") stores. Our guide in Skagway showed us the row of RVs that Princess rents to house the people who run the seasonal jewelry stores (e.g. Diamonds International).
- Cruise ship whale watch. Couple of spouts here and there. But other than that, a waste of $500. Given up on whale watches for life. We'll see them on the Discovery Channel.
- No penguins on icebergs. Disappointing. Glaciers could have been cleaner. (Kidding.)
- Captain Lars is no geological expert. He did a satisfactory job providing appropriate accolades to the surroundings, but slipped while going up the Tracy Arm when he said over the loudspeaker: "The wasser [sic] is very cloudy here due to the glacial silt. I do not know what silt is (heavy sigh), but you can look it up on Google. All I know is that it makes the water cloudy." Uh, captain, you've been up here what, 10 times in the last four months and you don't know what silt is? Don't you think you should know if it's eating away at your hull? And you want ME to look it up? Why? So your company can charge me $15.95 per minute for access charges? No, YOU look it up or hire a naturalist to talk to us. (Ok, nitpicking here. But really, who doesn't know what silt is? Especially since you've come up here to see glaciers.)
- Short time in Juneau. There is more to see and people took advantage of every minute. We were supposed to all be on board by 1pm, but there must have been 200 people in line at 1:20. The NCL Pearl was waiting for our parking spot as people were boarding. Even had it's blinker on. Never seen that.
- Skagway railway doesn't offer its "ride and hike" passage on Wedensdays, so you are forced to pay for the cruise ships tour to do this.
- Glaciers are melting. I guess 3200 people piling on a 90,000 ton vessel, chugging up the coast and eating like vultures doesn't help.
Things to know
- Support the locals by shopping at "locally owned" stores. There are typically signs in the store fronts that will indicate which ones are locally owned or operative by residents.
- Stay out on deck (or better, in the front adult hot tub with a bottle of wine) for the way OUT of the Tracy Arm. We didn't make it all the way to Sawyer Glacier, but when Captain Lars said he had to turn around due to the amount of ice in the water (which looked to us like the ice poops from the ship's ice machine), the decks vacated. (It was 6 o'clock by then, and darn it, people gotta eat ya' know. It was only 2:30pm when we had our last meal.) The evening was quiet, peaceful and downright beautiful as the sun went down. The same can be said for leaving Prince Rupert. It's a beautiful ride south and the next day at sea is open waters (and foggy for us). So it's your last chance for the Alaskan/Canadian beauty. (We couldn't go through the Vancouver Strait for one reason or another...something about tides or currents or that Captain Lars owed somebody some money and didn't want to see them. Kidding.)
- You can get to the Juneau hatchery and Mendenhall glacier by bus. Be a local and save yourself some coinage.
Pet Peeves/things we wonder
- Cruise ship shopping recommendations. Please. Stop. It's a waste of paper. (But since there's a sucker born every minute, and I guess keeps our cost of cruising down, so it continues.)
- We wonder if people REALLY do buy overpriced jewelry and fabulously, unbelievably wondrous tanzanite while on cruises? Didn't they just pluck a couple grand down for this adventure? Do they really think they get a better deal than at home? If you don't think so, don't worry folks, they'll be a Diamond's International in EVERY port you EVER visit on a cruise ship. (Except Prince Rupert, since it's apparently the bastard child of the Inside Passage).
- We wonder if the guy who bought a 12 pack of Miller Lite in Ketchikan REALLY thought he could bring it on board and drink it? We could not suppress our laughter when the security guy said: "This is your tag, and we'll return the beer at the end of your cruise." Priceless look on the guy's face.
- Embarkation and Disembarkation was VERY smooth and easy at pier 66 in Seattle. Just make sure you are in front of the bus hordes when embarking. Pick/up and drop off is a bit narrow though. If you can haul your bags a block north, you can avoid the bottleneck.
- Glass of champagne upon embarkation. Nice touch.
- Loved that we were not ordered to vacate our rooms on the last day. Other ships we've been on, you have to be "out by 9" or some such thing so people are wondering around like vagabonds toting luggage and taking up space.
- Overall, staff was good. No complaints except some inconsistencies in the room steward duties. They were pleasant folks, we just kind of felt like we had to be proactive about things. Like they kind of got to our end of the hall, got weary and let their guard down. As noted above, Versailles Matre' di was cheerful, some waiters went out of their way to entertain the kids. Doesn't take much.
- On embarkation (and one other night), when you walk to the main pool, through the narrow entry, there were bar folks thrusting foofy cocktails in your hand as if they were free. But Noooo. Once it left their hand, THEN they asked for your cruise card. And then you find out what it actually is and how much it costs. Four problems here: It's presumptive, it's dishonest, it created a huge bottleneck and is counter to the sanitation practices as the same glass could be handed to multiple people in this shenanigan.
- Still annoyed that Captain Lars didn't know what silt was, but more annoyed that Que, the Cruise Director, derided Prince Rupert publicy the way he did. The town didn't deserve it and it was done soley to push people to the ship excursions and because there were no Diamonds International shops in town. Shameful enough to mention it twice.
Okay. That's it. Whew. We hope it was helpful. Yes, there was a ton of nitpicking and cynicsm and inside jokes, but we were getting punchy (and a little tipsy). So apologies for that.
We would more than likely, if the price is right, do an NCL cruise again, but we'd hesitate over the bed arrangement and the food, which we hoped would have been better. Read Less