This trip report, from a client who just did an Alaska cruise with her family of four, provides a great opportunity to compare two different viewpoints of the exact same cruise itinerary. Clare (see below) was on the 8/4/13 sailing of the Norwegian Pearl from Seattle and another client, Terry (see her review here), was on the sailing right before that — on 7/28/13.  Between the two, there are LOTS of great tips and advice for anyone considering an Alaska cruise. Enjoy!

Hi Ann,

Okay, here you go….  I am sure I will write far more detail than you ever wanted!  All excursions were booked via the cruise line.

Seattle:

The hotel (Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza) was great – staff was friendly, and the kids felt like they were in someplace really “fancy” – ha ha.  Not like the cheap hotels we usually get for soccer tournaments and swim meets!

  • Food suggestions – My brother swears by Etta’s – we missed our dinner reservations on Friday b/c of flight delays, so we never got there.  Serious Pie – best pizza and Top Pot Donuts for breakfast! 🙂
  • We did the Experience Music Project and both kids LOVED it.  Highly recommend
  • My brother suggested we take the ferry to Bainbridge Island, just to get a good view of the city.  We did that, walked around town, got some ice cream and came back.

Juneau:

  • We did one of the whale watching tours.  Allen Marine – Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest.  Apparently, we got a really good trip – we saw bubble feeding – which the naturalist was so excited for.  She said she had not seen that all summer.  We did see a ton of whales, and some sea lions.
  • Overall, we thought that it was a good trip.  Very crowded – and we had a lot of people on the boat who did not want to “share” the sights – give people turns to take photos.
  • Mark has been on a lot of whale watches – and he thought this was among the best.  The staff was excellent.
  • Town – we did some shopping (no purchases) – and ate at the Red Dog Saloon.  Very “local” – fun place – food was fine, beer was great, prices were very high for the amount of food received.  They have live music (guitar/singer) for the cruise ships – he was very fun.  A little off color, but was fine for the kids.

Skagway:

  • Grizzly Falls Zip line – The kid’s favorite excursion.  It was a lot of fun.  The staff was outstanding – from the person who drove us from the dock to the location to the two women who led our zip lines.  We laughed, saw some scenery, and enjoyed our morning.  On the way back to town, the driver even stopped for us to take some photos.
  • White Pass Railway – Unbelievable scenery – lots of good information and photos.  It was 3 hours, which was a bit long, but the train can’t go too fast.  I would have been disappointed if this was our only excursion, but we were happy with it since we zip lined in the morning.
  • Town – we did some shopping – same stores for the most part as Juneau – this time we purchased.  Brett was disappointed he did not speak up in Juneau that he saw something he liked, b/c they did not have the item in Skagway.  We ate at the Sweet Tooth Café (kids choice this time).  Basic Diner food – it was good – but the prices were high (but more food than the saloon).  We were just a little tired of the ship food, but in hind sight, would not have done this – just gotten a treat and then eaten a meal on the boat.

Ketchikan:

  • Zodiac Coastline Excursion – Mark’s & my favorite excursion – and the kids loved it ALMOST as much as the zip lines.  The staff was the best.  We drove over 30 miles in our own small zodiac boat, led by one of their staff.  He fed two eagles – so we were super close.  Also went to a sea lion sanctuary and got within 20 feet of them.  It was amazing.  And, even though it was against the rules – he did let the younger kids drive the boats once we were out in open water.  🙂  They loved that.   I HIGHLY recommend this one!
  • That was all we had time for – just made it back to the ship in time.  We actually would have liked a little more time in this port.  It seemed rushed.
  • We walked from the ship along the water into town.  Fun to see the modern construction then turn to more old style.  Enjoyed seeing the castles.
  • We ate at Earl’s – by far the best food we had all week.  Thirst quenching beer also!  🙂  They were one of the few places we found that we could have a beer and feed the kids –the pubs we walked by were 19 and older.
  • $9 cab back to the ship

We all agreed we would rather have had a longer stay in Ketchikan and skipped Victoria – though the food was really good! 🙂

Norwegian Pearl:

  • Staff was outstanding – pretty much everyone we ran into had a smile on their face and seemed focused on making our trip enjoyable.
  • Mini-Suite – SO GLAD you suggested this size room – it was fine for the 4 of us.  Mark and I said we would never go smaller, even if it is just the 2 of us.  Room was clean, well-kept, and the bathroom size was not bad at all either.
  • Pools – the kids would have liked a larger pool to swim in.  There was an “Adult only” pool that was the same size as the kids and rarely had anyone in it, and if anyone was in it, there were only 2 or 3.  They were disappointed that even though the pool was 6 feet deep, they could not jump in.  They did love the slide.
  • Hot tubs were fine – kids thought they were too hot.   🙂
  • Food – you read a lot of mixed reviews about the food on this ship and Norwegian in general.  We would classify it as “fine.”  The poolside bbqs by far had the best on-ship food all week.  I think partially b/c they were cooking it fresh right in front of you.  We primarily ate in the buffet with maybe 6 meals in the dining rooms.  We ate there more for the peace and quiet, as the food was not too different from the buffet.  I would say a true “foodie” would probably think poorly of the food, but the average person/family would think it was okay.  The kids thought the fries were the best fries they had ever eaten (so they ate them all the time) and they also had delicious bread.  The fresh fruit was plentiful and ripe.  The crepes were delicious, but overall, the desserts just fair.  We ate twice at a place that was open all the time with more bar-like food, and this was pretty good.  The Chocolate Buffet – They had a ton of beautiful sculptures and displays.  A couple of things that tasted good, but nothing that I thought was outstanding.  Truthfully, I just find the people outrageous at this buffet!  (Brett was so disgusted by how “piggy” people were, he only tried one thing…)  Royal Caribbean did this much better as I recall.
  • Entertainment – great acts (Second City, a juggler, a comedian – all were kid appropriate or had kid-appropriate shows)
  • Kids Club – Dillon (10) – LOVED this – the staff members were terrific.  He tried to squeeze in a visit every day.  This was a life saver on days we were at sea all day and it was chilly or rainy out.
  • Other Activities – Brett was disappointed that a lot of the scheduled activities on the sports courts, ping pong tables, and golf area ended up getting cancelled b/c of weather or low turn-out.  One activity he was about 2 minutes late for had already started and they would not let him join in.  Also – he is an exercise fanatic, and it was very disappointing he could not visit the fitness center even if he was with Mark or I.  He did run on the deck/track almost every day.  (He needed to burn some energy!)
  • Rock Climbing Wall – the kids finally got to do this our last full day.  It was closed for most of our trip b/c of weather.  They were disappointed to not have done it earlier in the trip.
  • Glacier Bay – We LOVED this day – and primarily enjoyed it from our balcony.  We had hot chocolate delivered (it was gross… lol) and liked that we could turn on our TV to hear the Park Ranger narration.
  • Weather – not that you control this – but we did have great weather.  Days in port were 70 or higher.  Brett actually did not have enough shorts and t-shirts.
  • On-Board Spending – Mark and I are not big drinkers – I think we each had 6 beers the whole week and I had 2 or 3 mixed drinks – so I imagine our final bill was less than many.  We did go to Bingo a few times, and Deal or No Deal once.  We bowled and the kids did a few arcade games.  Mark and I did the soda deal – which for us is a steal.  So, our final bill was under $500 (we pre-paid our service charges, so this does not include those).  We were happily surprised with this – b/c we really did not go in trying to curtail our spending.
  • Kids did have ship envy when we were docked with one of the Princess ships and one of the Holland America ships.  🙂  But I think it is natural to see things you wished you had.
  • Embarkation and Disembarkation – VERY easy and quick.  Probably 20-25 minutes from arrival at the dock to walking on the boat.  No wait at disembarkation – we chose to walk off with our bags at 7:30 am to avoid the rush.

Ann – you provided excellent guidance for us.  We were hesitant to try Norwegian again b/c of our prior experience and just overall reviews are so mixed.  While we know it was not a top of the line ship or cruise line – it definitely met our needs.  I appreciated that you really had us think about what was important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say.  Also – when I asked about excursions – you guided us well in terms of the amount of activity and who else may select to go on certain activities.  THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family!  It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Thanks again,

~ Clare