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William Peterson

Age: 55

Occupation:psychiatrist

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Star

Sailing Date: 2009-07-4

Itinerary: Alaska Inside Passage

My wife and I were delighted with our cruise, taken to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Let me say up-front that I was strongly inclined to enjoy it: as a young boy in 1961-66 I was fortunate to experience Atlantic crossings on the liners Leonardo da Vinci, Independence, Constitution, France, and Queen Elizabeth, and as a young parent I brought my family across on the QE2 in 1994. Simply being on a ship, any ship, with a fresh sea-breeze blowing fills me with cheer and happy memories!

We opted for an inexpensive inside cabin. This is Alaska, not the tropics, so how much time are you going to spend reclining languorously on your private balcony? As it happened, the weather was unexpectedly gorgeous most days, so we used Deck 13 as our spacious public 'balcony'. There were always plenty of deck chairs available, the views were fabulous, and we worked off our calories with brisk power-walks around the jogging track. Nothing is more invigorating than cool sea air and sunshine! The sign says 'Joggers Only' but we carefully made way for our younger, faster shipmates, who were invariably gracious when we flattened ourselves against the wall to let them whoosh by.

Our favorite indulgence was our 7-day membership in the Barong Spa Thermal Suite: for $140, the two of us had unlimited access to the sauna, steam room, hot and cold soaks, Jacuzzis, pool and lounge (with a splendid view over the stern). The powerful bubbling water-massage pools, especially when turned up to the max, do a great job of relaxing tense muscles. We spent at least an hour there every day, and always departed feeling privileged, pampered, and renewed.

We took breakfast and lunch daily at the Market Garden buffet. We loved the informality and wide selection of dishes. If one must quibble, the croissants were not as light and flaky as those you'd find at a French village bakery. At lunch, we wished that more of the extensive buffet space had been devoted to offering a wider salad bar selection (note to NCL: a bigger salad bar would make for happier vegetarian and health-conscious passengers, and probably save money, a win-win situation!). Our usual dinner spot was the Versailles Restaurant. The food was always well-prepared and tasty enough, if unadventurous. The portions seemed a tad on the small side, until we realized that we were welcome to order appetizer, soup AND salad (the menu organization makes it look like an either/or option), entre, and dessert. The dining experience was enhanced by the skilled and friendly multinational staff, and the wonderful view out the enormous windows over the stern --- the matre de was happy to place us at a table near the windows on request, if available. The view was especially dramatic the evening a Coast Guard helicopter flew close to the stern, in preparation for landing on the helipad on Deck 13 aft, apparently to evacuate an ailing shipmate to a hospital ashore. For our anniversary dinner, we had an excellent meal at Le Bistrot, well worth the additional $15 apiece and $28 for a bottle of superb Alsatian wine.

By far the best entertainment on board is simply being on deck enjoying the fresh air and the spectacular coastal scenery, weather and darkness permitting. The Library has a small but high-quality selection; we always had a book apiece checked out for reading on deck or in the Barong Spa lounge. We retired to the Game Room on Deck 12 several times for a match of Scrabble; at the same time, it was fun to observe nearby families enthusiastically enjoying their games of choice. As an unexpected bonus, the big windows of the Game Room afforded us our most thrilling nature encounter: a group of at least a dozen porpoises cavorting right below us, including four who leaped out of the water together like the Blue Angels aerobatic team in formation! We took in one movie at the cinema (hint: if you want popcorn, get a bagful at the Red Lion Pub and bring it with you). We caught all three of the Jean Ann Ryan Company shows, our favorite being 'Music of the Night' featuring an excellent Irish tenor. 'Cirque Pacifique' should properly be retitled 'Cirque du Pacifique' (the present title translates as 'peaceful circus' rather than the intended 'circus of the Pacific' --- please excuse an old French major!), but was well worth watching, particularly the breathtaking feats of the Chinese acrobats. 'Band on the Run' was, well, exuberant, and a nice prelude to the sinful delights of the Chocaholic's Buffet! We took in two shows by the Second City improvisational comedy team, and wished we could see more --- these young people put loads of energy, wit, and creativity into their act!

On shore in Ketchikan, the things we liked best were the Soho Coho shop on Creek Street for outstanding t-shirt designs, and the Saxman Totem Park. There is no need to book an expensive guided tour; a $2 all-day ticket for the city buses will take you to Saxman Village and back.

In Juneau, we caught the first (8 AM) ride up the Mount Roberts Tramway. There is a fine network of walking trails up there, leading to breathtaking viewpoints and meadows full of wildflowers, not at all crowded in the early morning, when the light is also best for photography. The trip out to the Mendenhall Glacier is another must, and does not require a guided tour: the port area has several shuttle-bus lines offering inexpensive round-trip transport.

In Skagway, we took the White Pass & Yukon Railway excursion. The pass is well worth seeing, but it might be wiser to rent a car and drive up the highway, getting equivalent views and stopping where and when you want.

In Prince Rupert, we took the float trip down the Skeena River. This involved a scenic bus trip 50 miles inland along beautiful wooded valleys, then an easy ride on sturdy rubber rafts for about 2 hours along this magnificent and little-known river, with a personable young guide manning the oars on each raft and giving commentary. When we returned to the ship, we watched the group paddling a large voyageur canoe around the harbor; they too looked like they were having a load of fun!

The best excursion of all was the ship's Tuesday afternoon passage up the Tracy Arm fjord to the Sawyer Glacier. Rugged granite cliffs, pine forests, waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, floating ice, and the blue-white glacier meeting the sea: it was all too beautiful to believe. The ship-handling was awesome, as we navigated smoothly though sections of the fjord that seemed narrower than the ship's own length! The only flaw was my own lack of foresight: I had donned shorts and a light shirt for comfort in the 85° heat of Juneau; once we were sailing up the Tracy Arm, I was too enthralled by the passing beauty to run down to the cabin for warmer clothes --- I couldn't bear to miss a minute of it! The temperature dropped steadily as we approached the glacier, so I finally had to make a run for it to ward off hypothermia. A word to the wise: even if the sun is blazing, have long-sleeved apparel and a warm jacket on deck so you can enjoy the Tracy Arm in comfort!

This was a first-rate experience for us, one of the best vacations ever. I was the guy walking the deck with a big smile, occasionally singing the first line from Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore: 'We sail the ocean blue, and our saucy ship's a beauty". We liked it so much that we immediately started planning for next year's cruise around the Hawaiian Islands on the NCL Pride of America. Aloha oe!

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