Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sky
Sailing Date: July 26th, 2003
I went on a cruise with 7 other members of my family, all of whom are very accomplished travelers. I can honestly say that from my experience (and theirs), we would not choose to cruise with NCL again.
We had no problems with embarkation. It seemed to be efficient without much hassle. Debarkation was also relatively pain-free, although took a little longer than we had expected. They do let you remain in your stateroom until you are called to debark. This was nice considering that the majority of people were crammed into the common areas prior to debarkation leaving no room to sit comfortably. It did not take us long to claim our luggage and proceed through customs. We purchased two tickets ($20 each) for the airport shuttle on board. Once we arrived at the airport, Alaska and United Airline passengers were able to check their luggage immediately upon exiting the bus without waiting in a busy terminal line.
Our biggest disappointment was the food. We had read mixed reviews prior to our cruise so we didn't know what to expect. It was well-below average!! (Of course being a "foodie" from the SF Bay Area I am somewhat spoiled). It was NOT worth the extra money to eat in the two specialty restaurants on board as they offered no more reliable selections than the main dining rooms. The breakfast and lunch buffets were even worse. The buffets were very crowded with few places to sit. Service in the two main dining rooms was generally good and we had pleasant wait staff. We never had to wait to be seated, even when we ate as a large group.
Personally, I don't mind freestyle or fixed seating as long as the food is decent.
Our room was very small but we had expected this, so no surprises here. It was well-maintained for the duration of or cruise. We never actually saw our steward.
There was no place on the ship quiet enough for reading or relaxed conversation. Everywhere we moved had music, smokers, a photographer, or someone giving a sales pitch. The only thing we purchased on the ship were photos that were taken up close of the glacier by the crew (three 8x10's for $20). They were pushing everything in their duty free shops and port-related interests ad nausea!
Ketchikan was picturesque but very touristy. We had fantastic weather. We did not do any shore excursions there. Just wandered around and soaked up the sun.
Juneau, being a larger port, offered a little more to do outside of the tourist realm. Newsflash...you are better off making you own arrangements for tours once you get off the ship. The shore excursions booked through NCL were far more expensive than necessary. We did book an excursion Through NCL to Mendenhall Glacier and the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. We had plenty of time at the glacier. We left promptly to go to the Salmon Bake and no sooner than we sat down, they announced that Norwegian Sky passengers would have to leave on the next shuttle bus to make it back to the ship on time!! We were very upset, as were others from our ship. We should have been better off making earlier arrangements ourselves to the glacier. A bus was only $5 from the pier with a $3 admission fee to the glacier. The Salmon Bake by itself is $29. We paid $69 for our excursion and were barely able to get all of our lunch down!
Skagway was the most picturesque port. We took the White Pass Railway tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is very popular so booking it through the cruise may be the way to go. It was $99 through NCL and I believe it is $82 otherwise depending on the time of the year. The downtown is similar to Ketchikan from a "touristy" standpoint. By the time I had gone to these three ports, I never wanted to see a Diamonds International store again!
Cruising to the Sawyer Glacier was an awesome experience. We had great weather and the scenery alone was worth the price of the cruise. Victoria was also a great port; much larger city, and more cosmopolitan with better shopping and restaurants.
The breathtaking scenery alone made up for most of the on board disappointment.
My recommendation...if you have to cruise to Alaska on NCL eat off of the ship when at all possible, try to schedule most of your excursions as you exit the ship in each port, and take ear plugs if you want to enjoy reading.