DH and I took 16 of our closest friends and family on the Norwegian Joy last week for our wedding ceremony. The itinerary was Seattle - Ketchikan - Juneau - Icy Strait Point - Victoria - Seattle. We had an absolutely wonderful time.
I'll preface this with the fact that I'm a first time cruiser, so I admittedly have nothing to compare it to. However, I felt that the ship was quite spectacular, the food options plentiful, and the staff really excellent.
Food and Beverages:
For specialty dining, we ate at Cagney's for our wedding reception dinner. Many in our group (quite a few of whom are foodies) said that their steaks were some of the best they have ever had. The portions at Q were enormous, and the meal was delicious. I think if one were from a state that had world renowned BBQ it might be old-hat, but for this Canadian it was fabulous. Between the group, we had most of the sides on offer and all were really well done. The meal at Ocean Blue was exceptional (the jumbo shrimp cocktail is a must, worth the upcharge imo), and the service was very attentive. I did not eat at La Cucina, but those in our group who did raved about it. Teppanyaki was amazing. The steak was absolutely mouth watering, and our chef was very entertaining.
The Garden Cafe buffet is certainly a busy spot (if you're the kind of person that can eat at off peak times, you should consider that for the buffet), and at times it was difficult to find a table. However, as others have mentioned, it's very easy to grab a plate and head down to the Observation Lounge one floor down to find a spot to eat. Much more relaxing. The food is all adequate and satisfying, and what one would expect from buffet fare. And yes, there was a seafood buffet on night two, although we did not get to attend because we were at Cagney's. I thought the food in the main dining rooms was all very well prepared, and it was not difficult to get a seat without a reservation, even in peak times.
We bought the Premium Plus Drinks Package, and for us it was good value (top shelf liquors, higher end wines, specialty beers as District Brew House, etc). However, if you are to get one of these packages, do keep an eye on your on board account. I had to have them reverse charges three times, and that was even with purchases where we had told our server we had the PPB. This requires a trip to guest services each time, which is a bit of an inconvenience to be sure. We found out later that the computer in the District Brew House wasn't registering PPB purchases properly, and I wonder if that wasn't the case with a couple of other places too. Also, not all servers were well versed in what was covered under the package, so it is worth ensuring each time that they know what should be keyed in. I'm not sure if I had the option that I would do it again, I'd probably stick with the regular drinks package.
I really enjoyed the production of Footloose. It was certainly not the apocalyptic marathon that it had previously been described as... The leads had amazing voices, and there was an enthusiastic cast. I ran into more than a few people who went to see it multiple times. I didn't get to Elements, so cannot offer an opinion there. My brother and I went to karaoke with Alvin a couple of times at the Cavern Club, always packed, and always a supportive crowd! Although I will note there was a fair bit of turnover, so not difficult to get a seat if one waited at the bar fro a bit. Our group did line dancing at Q one night, which was a bit of fun, and the country band was very good. We steered clear from the Atrium activities because that area can be quite loud and busy, not really our scene. But there is so much going on it is easy to find something outside of the Atrium, or a quiet spot if needed! I was impressed with the varied range of activities, though. Really something for everyone, from vegetable carving to trivia, to dancing lessons.
The go-karts were closed for the majority of the week due to the rain and high winds. We did get on at the end of the week and it was a lot of fun. Do be aware to budget at least an hour for this activity. The "heats" are usually running a bit behind, and it take a while to get everyone kitted out. Don't do what we did and wedge it next to a dinner reservation that we were then worried about missing...
Laser tag was similarly closed for a lot of the time, as it's open air. We managed to get in on the last night, and while it is only 10 mins, that was enough for us! I imagine smaller, more energetic children would find it not enough time and want to have several goes on it. It was fun for all ages, though, and they do make safety a priority so little ones are (hopefully) not being bowled over by larger kids (or adults living out a Stormship Troopers fantasy).
I did not go to the Galaxy Pavilion, but DH took his niece. He described it as a place designed to separate parents from their money at an alarming pace. The Virtual Reality games are $10 a go, so it adds up quickly. The other games are about $1.60 a play.
Our group really enjoyed the hot tub at Spice H20. The first evening it was a little lukewarm, but they had turned up the temperature by the following day. I appreciated that the staff enforced the "adults-only" rule, not because I dislike children, but because it meant that the hot tub was never packed, whereas the hot tubs in the main swimming area got quite busy with young ones.
Ketchikan is a fabulous, quirky, frontier town. I highly recommend strolling down Creek Street. I would say that if you are looking for Alaska souvenirs, this is the place to get them (for this itinerary). Sam McGees had by far the best and most interesting selection (that wasn't just a sea of similar looking tchotchkes). The Totem Pole museum is worth a visit, and if you're interested in doing some hiking, I recommend grabbing a cab and asking to go to the head of the Rainbird Trail at the University of Alaska parking lot. It's a 45 min hike of moderate intensity with a couple of stunning vistas, and huge old growth trees. Well worth it. You can arrange for a cab to come and grab you at the other end. About $8 each way and a 5 minute drive.
The Joy's itinerary has it in Juneau from 7:00am - 12:30pm or so. Most things in Juneau don't open before 9:00am or 10:00am, be forewarned. There is a free shuttle into town, or you can walk it in about 20 mins. If you want to skip the excursion costs, it is possible to arrange a taxi cab to the Mendenhall Glacier to walk around on your own (more economical if you're in a group). There's a great interpretive centre and a number of short walking trails. There is a $17 per person park fee to get in which will be collected by your taxi driver, so don't think it's a scam.
The afternoon that we left Juneau, the ship traveled up Endicott Arm to Dawes Glacier. This is absolutely a time to be near a window. We were in the observation deck for much of the afternoon because of the high winds and the rain (along with most of the ship), but the visibility was still good and the views were spectacular. There were also a number of small icebergs and a few whale sightings. Once we were near the glacier, we went out onto the "Waterfront" on Deck 8 to get a better look. There was staff there with bonebroth and ginger to warm us up, which was a lovely touch! The captain turned the ship around 360 degrees so everyone could take in the views. It was really something. It's also no small task for a ship the size of the Joy to navigate those waters, the crew really should be commended.
Icy Strait Point is a privately owned cruise ship port owned and operated by a native Alaskan owned company. There is a small museum about the history of the area interspersed between the gift shops on the main boardwalk, which I found quite informative, along with the exhibits of fish canning machinery. Most of the excursions at this port will sell out beforehand because there is no competition, and the costs will be at a premium. It is home to the longest zipline in the world, which looked terrifying to me, but may be other's cup of tea. Bring your binoculars because there are many bald eagles flying around. There is a nice beach walk along the shore for those who want a leisurely pace. The Jewel is docked here at the same time, albeit with tenders, which means that it gets VERY busy. We disembarked first thing in the morning and had a nice, leisurely walk around, with a reasonable amount of space between bodies, but by the time we were headed back to the ship at around noon, it was unbearably busy. There is a shuttle into Hoonah, a town about 1.5 miles away, for $5 per person. Unfortunately, when we were there they were only running two school buses back and forth, which was not enough to keep up with demand, and there was at least an hour wait. If you're mobile, it's worth either walking into Hoonah (along a very nice trail), or renting a bike for $15 for the hour and heading in that way.
Both DH and I have lived in Victoria before, so we chose that day to stay on the ship. High tea at the Empress Hotel is always lovely, and Victoria is home to some great craft breweries near the downtown, if that's your thing. There are also many whale watching tours about. As others have mentioned, when in Victoria the rule is only one bar per deck can be open, so be aware of that for planning purposes if you're planning to stay on the ship.
Overall, I really enjoyed our time on the Joy. The front line staff were all more than eager to assist, and bend over backwards to be friendly and kind. The ship was kept very clean, the food was amazing and plentiful (too plentiful, says my jeans...), there were definitely parts of the ship that were busier than others, but always a place to get a drink, and to get away from the crowds if necessary. And the views of the Alaskan landscape could not be beat. A fabulous cruise to be sure!