Andrew L Forrest
Age: 31 to 40
Occupation:Chartered Building Surveyor
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Wind
Sailing Date: 7th,
Itinerary: Sawyer Glacier, Alaska
This was our first cruise, and although we were very excited at the prospect of the cruise we were also a bit apprehensive having read a few horror stories about Norwegian and the ‘Wind’ (unfortunately after we had booked). However, embarkation was pretty quick, possibly something to do with the fact that we had been transferred to the Ballyntyne Pier some four hours before the ship was due to depart. We went straight to our outside stateroom on the Atlantic deck - room 6230, and unpacked. The room was generous enough in size with a small sitting area, two chairs and a tale, and picture window, plenty of storage space and a small but wholly useable toilet/shower room……generally it was just like it looked in the brochure.
We thought that the cabin facilities were good. Air conditioning (not that it was really needed!) and ship's t.v. which ran continuous bridge cam action (looking forward from the bridge), together with a constantly updated moving map display of our exact position, speed and distance travelled.
At night there was no audible engine noise or vibration, no noise from bars or other decks, in fact all we could really hear was the gentle (but distracting) whirr of the A/C unit over the sitting area. - unfortunately we could not switch it off. Having said that, there was some early morning noise from the promenade joggers even although the sign we read prohibited jogging before 8am. No discernable noise from adjacent cabins, like toilets flushing etc although the cabin doors do slam shut and at times you can hear them all up and down the corridor. Minor things. We were more than comfortable in our cabin.
We were allocated dinner on the late sitting, as requested, in the Four Seasons Restaurant sharing our table with 3 other couples. The menu always looked great, but the food was always disappointing and the portions were generally small. This was a general trait in all of the eating places we tried on the ship, but more about that later.
Entertainment on board the ship was, without a doubt, first class. Throughout the cruise we had a total of three productions by the Jean Ann Ryan Company and we thought they were most professionally produced. The sound and lighting effects and the action were really as good as one could get (in my humble opinion).
We had read that it was advisable to book the excursions early. Our shore excursion tickets were left in our cabin. This was good because we had seen that the two tours we wanted to go on were fully booked and we were not sure whether we had been successful or not in getting tickets. Anyway, it's expensive, but we are booked on the Mendenhall Glacier helicopter flight at Juneau on Friday ($185 each) and on a river trip to see the famous Chilcatt Eagle preserve in Haines on Thursday afternoon - hopefully we would see plenty wildlife – this, together with the glaciers, was the real reason we had travelled to Alaska.
A big plus throughout this cruise was the absence of music or other excessive noise on deck. We had almost undisturbed tranquility on the open sea. At times no wind and mirror seas – we were very lucky with the weather.
Our itinerary was the Sawyer Glacier and it is absolutely stunning. We had the best imaginable weather for this trip. In the sunshine you could really see the pale blue of the floating 'mini bergs' against the calm green sea. However due to the amount of ice floating in the water the Captain decided he could not take the ship too close to the face of the glacier so long lenses were a must to get any sort of decent photograph. We also had a running commentary by an onboard Naturalist up on the Bridge. A neat 360° rotation turned us facing back up the fjord and as the sun sank behind the fjords we headed back to the mouth of the Arm. We were slightly disappointed that we had not been able to get ‘right up to’ the glaciers – as we know is possible in Glacier Bay.
Our first land call was Skagway. We found plenty of interesting things to do which are possibly outwiththe scope of this cruise review. If anyone wants to e-mail me I can provide further information. However we elected not to take a shore excursion there for we had booked on one in Haines where the ship would be sailing later same day. Disaster. Departure from Skagway was delayed. 5pm became 5.30pm. The captain announced we had some sort of problem with the engines and that it would take 15mins to sort. At 6.20pm we finally set sail for Haines. Not to worry, we were reassured over the tannoy that the shore excursions were being held to coincide with our late arrival. It is a short sail to Haines, about an hour or so, however just as we pulled alongside the dock we were advised that ours was one of a number of shore excursions to be cancelled because the tour guides reckoned it was becoming too dark to run the tours safely. Oh dear - we had really been looking forward to that river adventure and the chance to see some wildlife. Instead we, and several hundred others, had to wander around in Haines until ship's departure at 11pm - and there really isn't a great deal to do there. In fact, the cruise director Lynette had been the one to advise us earlier that you really had to get out in Haines to experience the wilderness and see wildlife as there was little to do otherwise. Needless to say our monies were refunded but we felt the Line should have offered more in compensation to all those people that had missed out on the chance to get into the wilderness for real. After the ship left at 11pm went to the Stardust Lounge where there was a comedy act - Ritchie Minervinie - who I found mildly amusing. Some people thought he was hilarious. Hmmm.
We went to the early show, this time 'Smokey Joe's Café'. Again, technically very good and entertaining, superb choreography from this accomplished troupe. The show finished at 8.15pm and we went for dinner at 8.30 seating. After dinner we had an early night, although I did venture outside momentarily to check for the Northern lights…..but no luck!
Juneau and Ketchikan are also on the itinerary – we were disappointed in Juneau but clearly didn’t have time to explore it fully. It was, however, the place of our memorable helicopter flight. We found Ketchikan much more interesting.
Before dinner on the last evening we had the third of our Stardust lounge shows, this time the JAR Company performed the Sea Legs Circus at Sea, which was a musical exploration of circuses worldwide. Needless to say, brilliant once again. (We would compare it to some of the better shows we’ve seen in the UK) Some most inventive costumery and lighting effects, brilliant gymnastic displays from Lance Ringwald (a former US gymnastic team member - quite how he managed to do so many backflips on stage was bewildering). At the end of the show we were treated to a Norwegian Wind farewell starring some of the crew!
We turned in quite early for we had to have suitcases packed and ready for uplift from outside our rooms later in the evening. Also we would be docking in Vancouver at 7am and so breakfast was early to allow for debarkation procedures.
We berthed at 6.45am, had breakfast, and then had to sit around until11am waiting for our turn to leave the ship. Once again it was a beautifully hot day with clear skies so we sat on deck. Eventually, at 11am, it was our turn. We got off the ship fairly quickly and through customs etc without a hitch, however, as we were going to a downtown hotel where we would be staying until Friday we had to get a taxi - along with around 80 other people! Also, the two other big ships, Volendam and SunPrincess had come in (at Canada Place) immediately behind us and so taxis were a bit thin on the ground. When we eventually got a taxi we had been waiting in the queue for nearly 1½ hours.
I'd read selected other reviewer’s comments about the ship being 'dirty' and certainly cannot say that we found this to be the case. The ship, and certainly our cabin, was spotless, always well tended by Juan the steward with clean towels morning and afternoon, and the sink and shower washed down every day. Ok, the toilet - which is clean and new looking -is a bit on the small side, but then I'm 6'1¾".
Also, we read comments that carpets are stained etc etc. We doubt the validity of that assertion, areas that do at first glance appear to be stained eg corridors, lift lobbies, are in fact due to the nap of the carpet and the manner in which it has hoovered up. There may well be stains but we expect you'd have to be crawling around on your knees to find them. I suppose the harder you look for such faults the more you'll find, but this applies to anything.
The ship was big enough for us and with it’s full compliment of people (Quite where the 600+ crew hid we don’t know!!) never appeared overcrowded. Perhaps though that was partly due to the weather – which was always good, just not tropical enough to encourage sardine packing of sun worshippers.
Drink prices on the ship, as one might expect, are high but I suppose that’s where they make their money. Just keep a careful tally of everything you sign (although our credit checked out accurately at the end of the cruise).
We felt the facilities were good on board. Stardust Lounge is nice but I can appreciate it possibly doesn’t have the ‘grandeur’ of the larger theatres on the bigger ships. In a strange sort of way I felt it was a bit ‘dated’ looking, however it had all the best lighting and sound systems etc. Then again, you don’t go cruising to sit in a theater – or do you?
We eventually got fed up getting our photographs taken by the ship’s photographers who appear in many guises as you are getting on and off the boat etc.
Without doubt, the biggest disappointment for us was the food which, well, was average at best. We ate in a few places in downtown Vancouver towards the end of our holiday and really realized what we had been missing. We'd read someone else's critique on the food before we left and we share their opinion. The menus were certainly well prepared, always interesting - we would look at the menu and say 'Mmmm', however when the food arrived it was always a let down. On one occasion our whole table received soup which was decidedly tepid, also I had 'crunchy' coated mushrooms which were distinctly chewy. Hot and Sour duck soup was like a watery version of the regular chicken soup I make at home, without the bulk of the meat. I could go on and on and may be considered harsh given that the ship's chefs are preparing 3000 meals a day and more or less working around the clock – but so are the chefs on other Lines where we have compared notes to other friends who have been delighted with the cuisine. I honestly expected to go and put on weight but, if anything, lost it.
All things said and done we would cruise again but with a different cruise line. Alaska, well, what we saw was ‘scratching’ at the surface but we have many, many memories and we met some lovely people. We would go back sometime however it’s a long way from Scotland so we’ll probably have to make do with the National Geographic Channel for the meantime. Cruising is maybe the best way to get a feel for the wilderness – the ports of call were nice but expensive. Also, we were slightly disappointed that the ship didn’t meander in and out of the small islands of the Inside Passage as much as the ‘dotted’ line on out map suggested, but we accept there were probably good maritime reasons for doing so – at least, all the other ships seemed to be doing the same. It’s just that for long spells the ship is a considerable distance from land….
To sum up, the inside passage of Alaska is beautiful but you need to be lucky with the weather to see the scenery at it’s best from a ship. We were exceptionally lucky. If you’re a photographer take some long lenses and either a tripod or fast film. You will see some wildlife – there were plenty whales, eagles and we saw a brown bear – but all from a distance. If its ‘ in your face’ wildlife that you want, be prepared to spend some money on the wildlife shore excursions (and still take your long camera lenses).
If anyone wants any further thoughts or has any specific questions on this cruise itinerary I’d be pleased to respond – I also have some photos available for e-mailing although I plan to put them on my web site soon.