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Thomas Such

Age: 39

Occupation:Quality Systems Analyst

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Sun

Sailing Date: August 26th, 2006

Itinerary: Panama Canal

NCL - Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Sun Cruise Review
Panama Canal

Thomas Such

Making the Reservations: My cruise partner and I made our reservations through one of the online discount travel agencies. They were having a sale, so we booked our August 2006 cruise in January 2006. Making the reservations was easy, and making changes was easy too. Our original balcony stateroom was port side of the ship, but after re-thinking the trip, changed to a starboard side balcony stateroom. Very glad that we did that since it was nice to wake up each morning and see the place we would be visiting later that day.

Our airfare from Boston was on Alaska Airlines, and was a very comfortable flight. There were a few extra seats, so we were able to spread out on our non-stop trip to Seattle. Everyone was given a complimentary breakfast, even though the in-flight magazine said we would have to pay for it. We chose to embark in Seattle since it would be a less expensive flight, and also shorter flight time. (Not to mention that we wouldn’t have to go through customs just to get on the ship.)

Transfers: Once in the Seattle/Tacoma airport, while waiting for our luggage, we enquired as to where cruise ship transfers were located. Everyone was very friendly and helpful in telling us where to go. We had prepaid for our transfers to the ship, so that we wouldn’t have to scramble for taxis or the like, since we had never been to Seattle before. Seattle appeared to be a pretty, clean city, and it was a bit of a shame we hadn’t decided to spend at least one day there, but we were on this trip to see Alaska, after all. After getting on the bus, it was a quick 20 minute ride +/- to the pier.

Embarkation: Getting onto the ship was virtually painless. There were lines in the terminal, but that’s to be expected when a ship can hold 3000 people. We had to show ID, and give a credit card for our onboard account. Next we had our pictures taken, and were given our credit-card style boarding passes, and were then allowed to get right onto the ship. Even though they say that embarkation starts around 1pm, we were able to get on board as soon as we arrived—in fact we took our time, but still beat our luggage to our stateroom. (It arrived a short time later, and being able to get onboard early is worth the short wait for your luggage.)

Our Stateroom: As stated earlier, we had a starboard side (right side, when facing the front of the ship) balcony stateroom. It was the perfect size for two (and we are two fairly tall men), and was spotless. There was plenty of room for all of our clothes (and we brought a good deal, since we had some very active excursions planned). The bathroom was small but very efficient. The only thing that could be considered ‘wrong’ with our room was that the remote for the TV was for a different TV, so it didn’t work. We didn’t even bother to say anything since we weren’t on this trip to watch TV anyway. And since we were there to see Alaska, it was worth it for us to have paid extra for the balcony. We kept the door and curtains open almost the entire cruise. It was nice to wake up with such beautiful scenery just outside your window.

The spotless when you arrive, and throughout the cruise. It really was gleaming. I am not going to go into much detail about the ship itself, since as I keep stating, we were on this trip to see Alaska. It was nicely decorated, clean, and comfortable. A few areas on the ship did require some thought as to “how do I get there from here?” But if you take the time to tour the ship at a leisurely pace at least once, it was no problem.

Restaurant Dining: Having been on a few other cruises before this, we thought that the “Freestyle” idea would be interesting. Although we are not usually the type to wear suit & tie, it is occasionally nice to dress up for a meal—but just as nice to NOT have to do so. We did eat in a number of the specialty restaurants onboard. We were traveling with some friends, so it was nice to be able to have a table for four all the time (we are the rare cruise-ship passengers who prefer to keep to themselves while dining). All of the restaurants were excellent. We had impeccable service in both specialty restaurant, as well as the main dining rooms. If you are considering spending the money on specialty restaurants, I will say this: The food is great in all the dining areas. The main difference in the specialty restaurants is that they are much less crowded, and you will have a much more specific menu. So look at their menu before you decide to go. If you like what you see, try it. I must admit that we did not go to the French restaurant “Le Bistro.” Their menu really didn’t appeal to us.

Public-area Dining: The buffets were usually well stocked, and with a nice assortment of food. Of course the selections were much simpler than what was offered in the service restaurant areas, but that’s a given with buffets. There were also always a lot of people in these areas almost all of the time. Getting a table could be difficult. We made a habit of ordering coffee from room service at breakfast (it’s free), and then grabbing whatever else we wanted from the buffets, and returning to our room with it. It was much simpler than waiting for tables to open and we had that great balcony. One drawback to the buffet seating areas and bars were the numerous servers who kept on asking for bar drink orders over and over.

Excursions & Ports: This section is the reason I’ve written a review! I wanted to let folks know how much fun we had on our excursions. One thing I will say initially is that we planned our Alaska excursions to take up as much time as possible. We were not there to go T-shirt shopping; we came to Alaska to see the great outdoors. So we also didn’t choose our excursions due to cost…that was secondary to what was offered. With that said, our first port was Ketchikan, and our excursion was: Tatoosh Islands Sea Kayaking (~$135pp). This was a really fun excursion. The ship docked in the harbor, and we had to be shuttled to the docks in Ketchikan, so it was a good idea to get to the departing area early, since it gets crowded (due to the shuttles).

Once in Ketchikan, our tour guide was waiting for us, and was very friendly. We then had about a 20 minute drive to the outdoor center where we would meet up with a few more kayakers. Next we were taken by high speed pontoon boat to the Tatoosh Islands, where our kayaking guides and kayaks were waiting. For a group of about 17, we had 2 guides. The guides couldn’t have been nicer! Not only were they very good at describing what to do, and what not to do, they were also very knowledgeable about the environment we were now in. After our first 5-10 minutes of paddling, the group split up in two, with each guide taking half (they watched to see who were the faster kayakers, and split the group accordingly-- we were in the faster group). During our paddle time, we saw numerous bald eagles, seals, and starfish. Not to mention the beautiful scenery that was all around. Overall a great day! At the end of our kayaking, they had snacks and hot chocolate for those who wanted it. We then said our good-byes to our great guides, and we were taken back to the outdoor center. This was a very friendly, and informal tour, and I highly recommend it! It was rated at a level 2 according to NCL, and I would say that was accurate. Since the guides split the group according to ability, everyone had a great time. I’d definitely do this excursion again!

The following day, our port was Juneau, and our excursion was the “Guides Choice Mendenhall Glacier Hike” (~$85pp). This excursion was rated at a level 3 by NCL (most difficult). Not sure I’d agree with that rating. Overall, the park we were hiking in was beautiful! Our guides were very friendly. The glacier was impressive! But I would not do this excursion again. NCL describes this hike as “brisk” and “for people who love to hike.” Well, we love to hike. This tour was more like a slow nature walk. I think the guides were attempting to accommodate all their guests at the same time, with the very very slow pace they set. They split the group in half, but never once bothered to ask which individuals were hikers. They did ask which of us were interested in botany—to which no one replied (I should have taken that as a sign). We did learn a lot about lichens, and fire-weed, and Devils something-or-other, but that was not why we chose this excursion. We love to hike, and wanted to hike. Not take 20 paces and stop. Take 20 paces and stop. Take 20 paces and stop. Take 20 paces and stop. Oh, and then, oddly after the walk was over, the guides didn’t want any of us to go into the visitors center—at all! I couldn’t figure this out, and so I ran in to quickly purchase a post card. My only thought about this, was that once inside the visitors center, people might realize that they could have bought a trail map for $2.00 and had taken a public bus to the park, and therefore avoided paying almost $100 for the NCL excursion. My advice in Juneau: Definitely see the Mendenhall Glacier. Only do it via public transportation. It’s within a 20 minute drive of the docks, and you can go at your own pace.

Tracy Arm was next on our itinerary. This was not a stop, but was a cruise up a narrow channel with a glacier at the end of it. Absolutely beautiful! We never did get close enough to see the actual glacier. The captain made the announcement that it “was getting dark, and there was too much ice in the water,” so we had to turn around. We thought he wimped out.

And then there was Skagway! We chose the White Pass Railway & Laughton Glacier Hike (~$180), rated at Level 3 by NCL (and I would say 3 was accurate). What a fantastic excursion! There were 3 guides for this hike, so they were able to accommodate various levels of hikers. We were able to hike as fast as we wanted, and had a great time. Our group was in the first car on the train, for about 30-40 minutes. This was where we were given “bum-packs,” snacks & water, and also made our lunches for the hike (a nice sandwich spread provided by the guides). At the trailhead, the train stopped to let just our group off, and we then were given more gear—hiking poles & outerwear if needed, and a lecture on what to do if we encountered bears (we didn’t). After a brisk hour-and a half hike, once on the actual glacier, we stopped to eat our lunches and found out a lot of interesting facts about the area. When finished, our guides asked who wanted to continue further onto the glacier and just under half of our group went. That was the best part of the hike, because we got to see some beautiful deep crevasse’s, and pools of glacial melt water. But I will leave that good stuff for you to find out for yourselves. We headed down the glacier the same way (more or less) that we came up, and hiked out to the train at a very brisk pace. We had to wait just a few minutes for the train to arrive, due to our guides great planning. Oh, and they had a cooler of ice-cold beer ready for us upon our arrival to wait for the train! The ride back to town was even better than the ride up; since our reserved train-car was now at the back of the train (we were first behind the engine on the way up). We were able to have beautiful views from the rear of the car, riding outside all the way back. Our guides then provided us with more snacks for the ride down. We did arrive back in Skagway with a very short period of time left to get back to the ship, but our guides transported us back in a private van. All-in-all, a great day! !
Hats off to this guided tour—I’d highly recommend it, and I would do it again!

Our last port to visit was Prince Rupert, in Canada. This port was a very small town, not really affected yet by cruise ship tourism. There wasn’t really much to do there, but we did get off and walk around even in a light rain. We spent about an hour or so in a bar on the pier, and had a few appetizers and some tasty, and (compared to the cruise ship) inexpensive beers while watching the Red Sox on TV. Very few excursions were offered here, and we chose not to do any. We figured that after 3 very active excursions, we’d want this day to rest.

Weather & clothing Advice for the clothing you should bring for an Alaskan cruise would be: Dress for early spring. The weather varies from Sunny & warm in Seattle, to rainy & cool while at sea, to virtually winter-like in Tracy Arm and on Glaciers. I used everything from my bathing suit to my business suit, and also wore a lot of fleece, and Goretex too!


 



 

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