Pre-Cruise Hotel: After an uneventful flight from Providence, we were met by “Already There Towncar” and driven to the Hampton Inn & Suites, in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, arriving around 7:00 pm. The lobby was modern and welcoming. Our 2-room suite was roomy and clean, but from the looks of the tired decor, the place could use a face lift, particularly the bathroom with its worn linoleum and dingy paint color. It looks like some remodeling is going on in that area of the property, so maybe they hadn’t gotten to this room yet. On a positive note, the beds were comfortable, breakfast was sufficient, and the easy access to the Space Needle and monorail was convenient. After settling in, we grabbed a couple of delicious pies at the NY style pizza place around the corner.
Seattle – what a beautiful city! We only had a day, so we scratched a few of the must-sees off the list. We began with the Space Needle, arriving as the doors opened. There was no wait, and we went right up the elevator to the top, before the crowds. Next was the fun little ride on the monorail to Westlake, and from there the walk down the steep hill to Pike Place Market – not an easy undertaking if you have weak knees. I don’t especially enjoy shopping in crowded places, but my husband had only one goal in mind – to see the guys throw the fish. Apparently, a lot of other people had the same idea, because the place was mobbed with everyone eager for a view. Basically, this popular event consists of 2 guys in a fish market tossing a large, dead fish back and forth. I’m not sure what the fuss was all about, but it was over quick and we went to find a seat and plan our next move – the famous Seattle Wheel – and took a spin around a few times. Because my body clock had not caught up yet, we caught an Uber ride back to the hotel to rest while the girls went to the Aquarium. Meanwhile, I closed my eyes for a catnap, and slept a full four hours. Speaking of Uber, this was our first ride, and the whole experience was far more pleasant than a taxi.
I couldn’t leave Seattle without experiencing the best view in the city, from Kerry Park, and since the rest of the family was tired and I was newly invigorated, I took another Uber ride up to the viewing point. There it was – the iconic view you see in all the Seattle brochures. I watched Mt. Rainier and the Space Needle basking in the setting sun, and the Wheel light up as nighttime set upon it. Because the weather was perfect for walking, I slowly made my way back down some very steep roads in this pleasant neighborhood back to the hotel.
Embarkation: This was our first time cruising from Seattle. We arrived at 11:00 am, peak boarding time it appears, and despite some confusion as to where to go for luggage check, security and registration turned out to be an easy, speedy process. Boarding began at noon in an orderly assigned-number process, and we were on board by 12:30.
Stateroom: We had two balcony cabins on Deck 10 with with a connecting door for the daughters. We had a similar cabin on the Gem last summer, and I liked the addition of a small coffee maker, narrow hidden shelves below the TV and USB ports beneath the lamps by the bed. However, I missed the small table near the sofa which was good for holding snacks, drinks and accumulating stuff. Instead, we made use of the very small footrest, which doubled as a table when flipping the top over. Bathroom was exactly as that on the Gem and Dawn, with decent sized shower, tiny toilet stall space and adequate sink and storage area, all divided in three sections. Our stateroom attendant did a good job keeping the room neat and tidy, though I think we only saw her twice throughout the week.
Dining: The buffet had the usual fare, ranging from good to just ok. As is the case with most cafeteria-line style buffets, it was pandemonium at times, playing dodge-em with other plate holders, crashers, shufflers and minglers. Getting a cup of coffee was sometimes a challenge. O’Sheehan’s pub had tasty shepherds pie and fish & chips, but the BBQ wings were overdone, the spinach artichoke dip was watery and the Irish stew looked anything but, resembling cabbage soup. The nachos were a nice snack but light on cheese, and they were without the beans, salsa and guacamole I’m used to. The main dining rooms were good, with the exception of anything involving beef, with my prime rib and steak dianne overdone in both instances. One annoying thing about dining on NCL – especially noticeable in the dining rooms – is the practice of servers neglecting to take a beverage order before dinner. On 5 out of 7 nights, the waiter came around immediately after we were seated and launched right into the dinner order without asking if we wanted anything from the bar. It made us wonder if this was NCL’s way of rushing guests in and out. The only other dining experience we had was the complimentary Asian restaurant, which we thoroughly enjoyed, though the waitress seemed to have a hard time grasping the concept of ordering multiple dishes for everyone to share, which is our ordinary custom in Asian dining back home. Otherwise, the food was great.
Entertainment: Some time has passed and I can’t remember the performers’ names, but the show band rocked, the string trio entertained with both classics and movie music (think “Lord of the Rings” ), and the comedy guy on the first night (and a few other occasions) grabbed helpless victims from the audience and had us in stitches. The magician-comic at first made us yawn, but he came through at the end with a hilarious shoestring trick. I’ve lately been impressed with Norwegian’s big production shows, and two of those I saw were no exception – the nail-biting aerial act and Legends in Concert. A quality sound system, lighting, attractive sets, and talented singers and dancers, delivered it all together in a highly entertaining package.
Juneau: We booked an independent whale watching trip with Juneau Tours. We were promptly met at the ship’s dock and driven to the boat, a 2-level vessel that carries about 45 people. For the fast ride to and from the whale sightings, everyone was seated in the enclosed cabin, which was cramped and tight, especially for anyone of size. Otherwise, when the boat wasn’t speeding along, we were free to move to the outside decks, which was ideal for spotting the whales. We chose a good day, because we lucked out with a rare sighting of orca, a breaching humpback and bubble net feeding – all on the same trip. Our guides were informative and enthusiastic, which made for an enjoyable trip.
Skagway: The ship was docked at the pier closest to town, but there was a convenient shuttle for $2 one way or $5 all day. We spent a couple of hours in the morning shopping, and then did an afternoon Sled Dog Training and Musher Camp tour with Alaska Excursions. This was a fun way to learn about the famous Iditarod dog racing and meet the dogs and hold the puppies. Our guide was great, had a fabulous sense of humor and kept us all engaged with his knowledge of Alaska, Skagways gold rush days, the dog racing and the area in general. The dog sled ride (actually on wheels) through the wooded trail was a blast, but half the fun in getting to the camp was the ride through the steep hills and the twists and turns. As a bonus, we were given multiple stops along the way for some incredible views.
Glacier Bay: We woke up to a layer of fog, and despite being overcast with low-laying clouds shrouding the tops of the glaciers and mountains in mist, the scene was still magnificent. Deck 12-Aft outside was a popular place to be where we could relax in comfort at chairs and tables. I’m glad we got out there early, because a lot of people had the same idea. From there, a quick run up the stairs to decks 13 and 14 offered fantastic views, both forward and aft. Having done this before, we dressed in appropriate warm layers – plus hat, scarf and gloves – it’s that cold in the glaciers. Balcony cabins, of course, allow for comfortable one-sided viewing, and the ship does do a slow 360 so you can eventually see in both directions. However, I still prefer to be up on deck, where I can easily access both sides so I don’t miss any wildlife or glacier calving.
Ketchikan: We were only in port from 6:00 am to 1:00 pm, too brief to enjoy both an excursion and a stroll around this delightful town, but we managed it. The highlight of the day was an early morning, 2-hour independent flight-seeing Misty Fjord tour with Island Wings, and I can’t say enough good things about this company. Owner and pilot, Michelle, gave us the ride of a lifetime, pointing out the beautiful scenery and relating some local history along the way. We followed up with a little shopping and a walk over to picturesque Creek Street before heading back to the ship. If time had allowed, I would have liked to check out some of the totems scattered around town, as well.
Victoria: Our last stop was a short time in Canada from 6:00 pm to 11:30 pm. We had nothing planned here, so we took a relaxing walk along the harbor as the sun began to set, and stopped for an ice cream at the floating docks. The ship is in walking distance of downtown if time allows and if you’re up to it, or a shuttle is available for a fee. Our walk took us about half way, which was fine.
Disembarkation: We had a 9:15 disembarkation time, but they were ahead of schedule. The whole process was very well organized and went very smoothly. We remained in our cabin until our tags were called and were off the ship, queued up, and through customs fairly easily. We opted for the ship’s airport transfer this time around. The ride went smoothly, but next time, I’ll get a car. The bus let us off in the garage area, and it was a long hike to the terminal. It didn’t help that no one told us where to go or gave us guidance of any kind.
This was our fourth Norwegian cruise, and though they were never a first choice, the cruise line is growing on us. We like the relaxed, come-as-you-are atmosphere, and there was enough on board to keep us busy. The Pearl is beautiful, tastefully decorated, and well laid out. Alaska, for our second visit, was beautiful despite the rain showers and lack of sun, and I still have a ton of photos to upload. Although there is plenty of nature and wildlife to view on an inside passage SE Alaska itinerary, I think my next visit will be a land-tour.