My husband and I are just back from the Pearl to Alaska. As I spent hours on this board looking for reviews before we left, I figured I would give back to y'all! But forgive the typos please, I am still a bit jet lagged!
A bit of intro, this was our tenth anniversary, first big trip without the kids. My husband's fifth cruise and my third.
We got to Seattle a day early and stayed at the W, as my husband does a lot of business in Seattle and that was where he always stays. It was an easy cab ride to the pier. We got there around 11 or so and breezed right through the security lines. The ship wasn't quite ready, but we only had to wait a few minutes before they began boarding.
Once on board we did a quick tour of the public areas and then headed straight for lunch before the crowds. We chose to do the Garden Cafe instead of the sit down, and found it to be not so crowded. But it was a nice day so lots of folks (us included) sat outdoors. When we were done eating we did the spa tour, signed up for the week spa pass and then our cabins were ready. We had gotten the "romance package" and found out bottle of sparkling wine and chocolate covered strawberries in our cabin. Both were yummy! We headed up to the pool deck for sail away and had a great time.
I won't go into a day by day accounting from here on out, but will try to hit the highlights.
Overall, we found the food to be fine. My husband deemed it "A few steps above TGI Fridays." We ate in Cagney's (very good), Bistro (my husband loved his steak, my swordfish was OK), Summer Palace (we didn't like the atmosphere there at all, and the service was the worst all week) and the rest of our meals we ate in Indigo, which were all fine and the service was mixed (mostly average/good). All our breakfasts and lunches on the boat we had at the Garden Cafe. While it was crowded, we found a table all but twice and those two times we just headed across the hall to the Italian place, where there was plenty of seating. The chocolate chip cookies there were the highlight of our cruise :D. There were several nights that we skipped desert in the regular restaurant and headed there for a coffee and cookie.
We only had problems with finding a reservation in the general ballpark of when we wanted to eat one day, Glacier Bay day. But we eat around 7:30, so if you are trying to eat earlier you might want to plan ahead a bit more than we did. We ate lunch in port in Skagway (the Skagway Brewing Company, very good!) and dinner in Victoria at Darcy's Pub down near the water (also very good).
Neither of us are big drinkers, but do like a glass of wine before or with dinner. We found the bartenders at the Whiskey Bar to be very personable and knowledgeable. We liked being able to listen to the paino player at the champagne bar, but the service was incredible slow (as in 20 minutes before we could even find a server to order from) every single time we sat there so we started grabbing a drink somewhere else and then sitting there to listen. We did the Martini tasting, which was lots of fun (I would reccomend splitting a tasting instead of getting one each. We split one and it was more than we could drink!). My husband did the whiskey tasting, and learned a lot which suprised him as he is fairly knowledgeable about whiskey. The wine menu was more than adequate. We found the couches and such in the Bliss to be rather uncomfortable so we only sat in there once.
We only did a few of the shows, the opening "overview show" which was fun and gave us a good idea of what we would like and not like. Then we saw Ross Bennett, who was very funny (but adult humor, I wouldn't have brought my kids). We also really really enjoyed RootBerry, the jugglers/comedians, and the crew talent show. We skipped the dancing shows as that is not our thing. We did catch the "perfect couple" game show, which was quite amusing, and the guest talent show which was not so great, but that is totally luck of the draw. We stayed for a bit of the White Hot Party so we could see the sunset as we were pulling away from Skagway. It looked like folks were having fun but we had hiked about ten miles that day and were pretty done in so we didn't stay.
We got the week spa passes, and LOVED it. There was only one day when it was really too crowded to enjoy, the afternoon after Ketchikan. The rest of the time we could always find a place to lounge or space in the whirlpool. It was one of our favorite places on the ship. Also, if you are a reader the ship library was very well stocked, I really wished I hadn't packed all of my books as there was plenty in there and it would have saved me a ton of weight in my suitcase! In the card room there were lots of board games if you like to do that. We saw several people playing scrabble out by the pool in the nice weather.
We found the cabin service to be perfectly fine. We never saw our stewards except for a few times in the hall, but our cabin was always cleaned and turned down which is all we cared about. We didn't ask anything special of them, so I can't comment about the responsiveness. The only experience we had with room service was when we got the "hors d'oeuvres" delivered that went along with the romance package. My husband had to call to remind them to deliver them, and then they were pretty terrible. Not worth waiting for, IMO.
We only did one ship excursion, the Helicopter Glacier Trek in Juneau, which was absolutely amazing. I can't begin to tell you how beautiful it was and how overwhelmed we were by being able to actually hike around the glacier. The guides were great, and the group was small so we could ask lots of questions. In Skagway we hiked two trails in the Dewey Lake system. I downloaded info ahead of time from the Park Rangers and then stopped into the office once we got there just to check on the trail conditions. We hiked up and around Lower Dewey Lake, which was beautiful, and then over to the Goldrush Cemetary and Lower Reid Falls, which were also beautiful. In Ketchikan we walked up to the salmon ladder, then down the Married Man's Trail, stopped into Dolly's House and then headed over to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, which we thought was very well done and wished we could have visited at the begining of our trip instead of the end.
Glacier Bay was amazing. We totally lucked out and it was a clear day. The ranger kept telling us how lucky we were as we could see the Fairweather mountain range, which apparently rarely happens. Even though it was a beautiful day, it was still cold and I was glad I had packed a hat and mittens. We found the rangers to be very knowledgeable, and they spent a lot of time hanging out on deck after the presentations. We saw a lot of whales as we were approaching where the rangers get dropped off, which they said was pretty typical, at least for this time of year.
We found the disembarkation process to be totally easy, we hung out in our cabin with the TV turned to the channel with the ship's announcements on it until our tag color was called. We walked right off the ship and found our bags no problem.
I think that is it! Overall, we gave the cruise three and a half stars and Alaska five stars. It was our first time on NCL, and while we liked the fact that we could eat when we wanted and by ourselves, we found that the service and food was not quite like we had experienced elswhere. It didn't give us and reason to complain to anyone about anything, but we didn't get off the boat wanting to rave to everyone about how fabulous it was. And we felt like there was a bit too much "pushing" to try and get us to buy things. The bingo stuff didn't bother me at first, but towards the end I felt like the number of announcements about it picked up and it got a bit tiresome. But just being in Alaska and seeing all that we got to see was amazing in of itself.
Feel free to ask away if I missed anything you are curious about!