Cruising on board of modern ships is already quite exciting. Visiting Alaska is one of most unique sightseeing one can imagine. Combine both, and you get truly once in a lifetime experience!
We decided to book our Alaska cruise with NCL for very simple reason: we cruised on Norwegian Spirit in 2005 and were pretty satisfied - so you can call us loyal NCL customers.
With the party of 5 we could not fit one cabin, and NCL site does not allow you to book two at once, so my wife decided to call. Overall, dealing with NCL over the phone was quite pleasant - live person picks up the phone quick, and is able to address your questions and issues quickly. However, net win was marginal, because they had to make two separate reservations anyway. It is not a big deal, however created us some hiccups trying to book shore excursions from two accounts at the same time.
Either way, booking of the cruise and shore excursions as well as on-line check-in on the NCL web-site were overall quite pleasant and convenient.
Cruise was rountrip Seattle, so to get there from Boston we had to fly, which I generally hate - especially speaking of 5 hr long flight. Jet Blue made it as nice as possible - simple on-line booking and check-in, no lines to drop-off luggage, leather seats with reasonable leg room... The only thing one needs to keep in mind is the fact that they cut costs by all possible means - so, they charge you for meals and even for headphones (bring your own, any standard headphones will do).
- capital of Washington state (I can never understand why Washington City and Washington state have to be 4ooo miles apart - sorry, could not resist :) ).
Given that travel from Boston to Seattle is about 9 hours "door to door" we decided not to challenge the fortune and stay overnight in Seattle both before and after the cruise. So we have had two full days there - plenty of time to admire the Emerald city.
We used an opportunity to visit most popular tourist attractions: Seattle duck ride, Space Needle, monorail, Seattle Aquarium and Underground Seattle tour - detailed report of our experience in Seattle
can be found on a separate page.
Our overnight stay in Crowne Plaza hotel was also pretty nice - rooms are clean, personnel is knowledgeable and friendly, there is a bar and a restaurant on the second floor and value for the money was more than reasonable - I suspect we paid way below the street price because we have booked via NCL.
Transfer from the hotel to the pier was a little disorganized. First, cruise line (or lines?) place 100+ people in the hotel, so lobby in the morning was pretty packed with people waiting for shuttle buses and it was not quite clear which bus is for whom etc.
Secondly, it is normally 15 min walk
from Crown Plaza to the piers, but there happened to be a street parade on 4th avenue
, totally blocking the traffic. It took us about an hour to get to the pier, and even though bus driver tried to entertain the crowd with improvised city tour, sitting in a traffic jam is not most pleasant part of the trip.
Boarding the ship was another long wait. Even with on-line check-ins and plenty of people preparing travel documents at the pier, having 2000 people to go through security checkpoint, photographed, key card printed etc. takes a lot of time. While I do not blame anyone and can call boarding well arranged, it is still just a boring waiting time - we spent somewhat another hour there to get on board.
Everything changes as soon as you are passing checkpoints and board the ship - you feel on vacation from the first minute. I need a separate page to tell about the
Norwegian Pearl - if you have never been on a cruise ship, it is something that is hard to explain in plain words. "Floating town" is probably most accurate analogy, and all big cruise ship are somewhat similar in that respect.
Picture on the left is our ship, but it is taken in Ketchikan, not in Seattle - please do not get confused by the shore view. But it gives some feeling of the size of the ship.
I also have gallery of pictures taken right after departure from Seattle
on a separate page.
Sea Day - "cruising the Inside Passage"
One thing that cruise companies do not want you to pay attention to, is the weather. The ship is great, food is great, entrainment program is amazing - but you went to Alaska Cruise
and you are expecting extraordinary scenery, right? Well, Alaska has about one sunny day per week, so your ability to do sightseeing is quite limited.
First day of sailing was announced in the itinerary as "cruising the Inside Passage". In reality, we were within sight of land for 3 hours during the day. Plus, weather was foggy to say the least - you can judge for yourself from the photo on the right, and if you like to see more, I have whole gallery of "cruising the Inside Passage" day
. Given not-much-to-see conditions, we spent the day making ourselves familiar with the ship. which I consider time well spent. On the same day we also had a dinner at teppanyaki on board of Norwegian Pearl, and we find this traditional Japanese restaurant one of the best of its kind.
Norwegian Pearl has arrived Juneau at 2 pm sharp (if you can apply "sharp" to the docking procedure that takes more than half an hour). Before that, we have had one of the most beautiful mornings of the whole cruise - starting about sunrise, ship was traveling the Alaska inside passage for real
. Norwegian Perl was traveling between Baranoof, Kuprianoff and Admiralty Islands, slowly unwinding beautiful views of snow-covered mountains and sapphire-blue straits
while approaching capital of Alaska.
Juneau itself is nice tiny city, slightly disfigured by one and only 15-story federal building in the state.
Nevertheless, we left the ship, boarder a bus and went all the way to Glacier Gardens Rainforest and Mendenhall Glacier adventure
- our first shore excursion of the cruise.
On the scale of any mainland state, Skagway (or Skagaway - you can see both spellings) is one of the tiniest towns possible - about 800 permanent residents. Emerged from fishing village during gold rush at the end of 19th century, town now leaves on selling memorabilia of gold rush to the tourist - successful enough to triple its population during the tourist season. Seriously, there is nothing in the town but few restaurants, gift shops and famous tourist attractions.
Norwegian Pearl was docked in Skagaway for the whole day - 6am to 8pm, leaving plenty of time to take shore excursion and explore the town. Photo on the right depicts very famous for 100+ years "Red onion saloon" - and there are much more photos of Skagaway
on this site.
Glacier bay is probably most beautiful part of the whole cruise, and we were very lucky to have beautiful sunny weather there. Norwegian Pearl has entered Glacier Bay national park early in the morning, and spent most of the day cruising narrow inlets left out by retracting glaciers. Combination of emerald water, blue sky, white clouds, sparkling ice and rocky mountains is a must see of the cruise - you will see for yourself at glacier bay photo gallery
Ketchikan - salmon capital of the universe and yet another rainy day of the Norwegian Pearl Alaskan cruise.
Our excursion in Ketchikan was a boat trip to the Misty Fjords, and it was amazing despite the weather (photo gallery of Misties is here
While much bigger than Skagway, Ketchikan is still mostly tourist-oriented town: whole "downtown" of Ketchikan is an amazingly beautiful collection of gift ans jewelry shops, sparingly interleaved with bars and restaurants. If you have few thousands to spare, you may find downtown Ketchikan a nice place to spent your money - I can't say that I like it a lot - may be I do not have enough to spare :). After the excursion we took a stroll through downtown and have found beautiful samples of sculptures made by native Alaskans out of Mammoth bones, neighbored by huge offering of rare ammolites. There is also very good selection of fur coats and jackets - all in all, it is cold there in Alaska!
Victoria - the capital of British Columbia, Canada.
After leaving Ketchikan the day before, ship spent most of the day sailing, with arrival to Victoria scheduled for 6pm. So, we were limited to about 4 hours in this beautiful old city, which is unfortunate - I'd say, it deserves more. Despite much less exotic climate, city exhibits very charming old architecture and nice landscaping throughout - not to mention beautiful Butchart gardens where we spent most of our time ashore (see photos
Since this is the last slide of the story, there should be some sort of the line drawn here. So, here is the bottom line
: Alaska Cruise worth every penny invested in it - it is most amazing vacation week one can imagine. Go for it if you are in doubt!