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Notes from Star cruise 05/30

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Notes from our NCL Star May 30 Glacier Bay sailing. I meant to have this up before today’s sailing, but it was not to be. As this is my first attempt at posting a review, I discovered what an undertaking that writing a full chronological review can be, so this will just present some highlights and observations of our experiences. Others who have posted reviews from this cruise have done a great job of chronicling and detailing the whole sailing. Hopefully, my notes will contain an item or two that will be useful or prompt a question that I or someone else can answer.

Our party: My wife and I (previous cruises on NCL Sun to Sawyer Glacier, May 2003 and S.S. Independence in Hawaii, Sep 2001.) We traveled with another couple who had their own mini-suite and had not cruised before. We pretty much did our own thing as couples, but we did eat together a few times.

Stateroom: Mini-suite #11512 (port side.) We were pleased with it, although we would have liked a little more storage space, more drawers, etc. It didn’t help any that I brought too many shirts. Our mini-suite on the Sun last year had had a separate vanity for my wife and a separate tub and toilet area that could be completely closed off, something that we missed this time, but those are just differences between the ships, I suppose. Our bathroom on the Star did have a nice tub and my wife enjoyed soaking after long days out and about. Also, our sitting area seemed a little larger than the one in our mini-suite on the Sun. Over all, our cabin was comfortable, clean and still felt quite new in all respects. Cabin stewards were pleasant, friendly and took good care of the place. We had access to the concierge, but only called her once to find out if our friends had come on board and to have our 2 single beds changed to make a double. Our balcony was of good size and had nice sling chairs to relax in; these dried out quickly when they were wet from rain or spray. The T.V. conveniently had a video jack on the front, allowing me to connect our digital camera and look at the pictures that we had taken during the day.

Restaurants: We ate dinner every night in the specialty restaurants as follows:
· Le Bistro twice - our favorite restaurant without a doubt; service was excellent and food was very good, presentation was nice and we really liked the atmosphere.
· Teppanyaki twice - food was good quality, the chefs’ preparation of the meals was very entertaining and the service was excellent.
· La Trattoria once - food was good, our waiter was very attentive, and our desserts were quite good. Note: La Trattoria shares space with the Market Café’ and “disappears” during the day to make room for the buffet. Some people came in while we were at dinner, expecting to find the buffet and wondering what had happened! There is no cover charge for this restaurant but it was quite busy so a reservation is recommended.
· Cagney’s once - the fillets that we had were excellent, of superior quality (I thought that they very well should be, since there was a $20 cover.) The sides were good, but really seemed to take a back seat to the steaks; desserts here were very good and presented nicely. A good meal here, but we thought that the steaks in Le Bistro tasted just as good.
· Our least favorite meal, unfortunately, was at Endless Summer. My wife had been looking forward to Tex Mex and we really wanted this experience to be good, but it just didn’t quite turn out that way. Service was friendly – no problem there. Appetizers were okay and the black bean soup had good flavor, but was nearly cold. My fajitas arrived looking and smelling great, but they had little flavor, there were no real accompaniments for them and the flour tortillas were nearly brittle. I finished my food because I was hungry, but my wife and our friends only finished about half of theirs. We probably should have sent some items back and perhaps they would have been replaced by something better, but we didn’t make a fuss. I’ve seen positive remarks about this restaurant in other posts, so maybe we just caught them at an “off” time.
· We ate a couple of breakfasts and one lunch in the Versailles dining room; food and service were mostly very good.
· We ate a couple of lunches and also a snack at Blue Lagoon and had good, hot, freshly prepared burgers (best on the ship, in our opinion) as well as some pretty good fish and chips. The arrangements here seemed a little awkward since we sat down, our food orders were taken and were served to us by waiters, but we were expected to get our own drinks and desserts at the counter. No big deal though. It appeared as though many people on the ship didn’t discover this place, which was good for us. They are billed to be open 24 hours and will wrap food to go for you if you want to take it back to your stateroom.
· We ate at the Market Café for all other breakfast and lunch meals and the food was generally good, pretty much standard buffet food. If you can get there early (when they open or shortly after) you will have a better, less stressful/hectic experience. Desserts that we had were quite good.
· Our friends ate at Versailles for breakfast and lunch most of the time and also for dinner a few times; they enjoyed the food there and I must admit that breakfast and lunch there were less hectic than at the buffet. Our friends also ate at Soho for dinner once and reported that they enjoyed their food there very much, especially dessert.

Juneau: We took the MGT (Mighty Great Trips) blue school bus (independently, ticket booths are located on the pier and buses run back and forth about every 30 min.) out to Mendenhall glacier for $10pp round trip. This is my favorite thing to do in Juneau and I highly recommend it, especially to any one who hasn’t seen a glacier and who’s going to Glacier Bay, because there is so much information about glaciers at the visitor center ($3pp). We hiked out as far as we could go toward the face of the glacier and the falls, stayed quite a while taking pictures before perusing the visitor center and seeing the film that they show. Later back in town, we took the tram up to Mt. Roberts ($21.95pp from the ship) for a look around and some really pretty views of the area. They have a good little store at the entrance to the trails that sells hot cider and some interesting and not so tacky souvenirs. They also have some educational exhibits in the store as well as a small movie theatre to the side where you can watch videos available for sale. There was an eagle being rehabbed nearby in a small shelter that is situated so that you can get an up-close view.

Skagway: We had previously taken the WP&YR train ride up and back through White Pass; this time we waited too late to get tickets and it was sold out. We ended up taking an alternate excursion, a bus coach up the highway through the White Pass to Fraser and then the train back down to town. The weather cooperated and the views from both the highway and the train were beautiful. A side stop of the coach trip was at Liarsville, old trail camp of the gold stampeders; this is a very touristy stop with a little show and “gold panning”, but worth a couple of laughs if you do go. They have one of the largest types of husky dogs there that we have ever seen and my wife loved petting him (he was very friendly and used to crowds). It was an extremely windy day back in town, so since we had seen most of the town (it is small and easy to see) on our previous trip, we went back to the ship and called it a day.

Glacier Bay: An ideal day for us here; weather was forecast to be not good, but we got a break. Park Service people narrated our cruise through the bay; they were also available for questions. Views were fantastic and Margerie glacier calved several times while we were there. We were also treated to a relatively rare (we were told that it was rare) view of Johns Hopkins glacier, said to not be approachable all of the time. We stayed on our balcony and watched and took pictures the whole time. Note that port side had first viewing of the glaciers here, although the captain turned the ship around and gave the starboard side the same views on the way out. Many people went on deck, but if you have a balcony, you can really use it to your advantage here to get the pictures that you want; it can get a little crowded on deck at this time with people posturing for the best position and not relinquishing good views when they find one. Seeing it from the comfort of your stateroom is ideal.

Ketchikan: We had toured the town on our last trip here, so we independently booked an Island Wings floatplane flight out to Misty Fjords. We ended up being worried that we would be late for this because of the time required for tendering; however we made it to our pick-up for the flight after just hopping onto one of the early tenders for the NCL-sold excursions. On our flight to Misty Fjords, the views of the old-growth forest, mountains and mountain lakes were beautiful and our stop on one of the mountain lakes there was scenic and memorable. Because of some delays before the start of our flight, we only had about an hour back in Ketchikan afterwards, so since we had toured the town on our previous cruise here, we decided to just bag it and head back to the ship. There were long lines for the tenders and it took quite a while to get back (this ultimately delayed our arrival in Victoria). Note about tendering: it’s very busy in the ports at this time of year and tendering is simply necessary for the ships that don’t get dock positions. We took printed port schedules, knew that there would be several ships in port, but somehow I still didn’t anticipate the tendering as I should have. We also missed the notice for it in the Freestyle Daily, our own fault, but the notice was tiny and there were not onboard announcements about getting tender tickets like there were in Juneau. When we approached the service desk about our concerns with being able to make our (non-NCL) excursion, it was obvious that we were on our own. I would just advise that people be aware of the reality of the situation and not let themselves be disappointed. Alaska is such a great destination and you shouldn’t let something like tendering detract from the experience. If you have NCL-sold excursions, then you will be fine; they will take care of any schedule slips, etc. If you book independent tours, then I would advise that you plan carefully and either not try to schedule too closely to your scheduled port arrival times or else arrange to get on an early tender. I scheduled our flight based on the assumption that we would dock, not a good assumption in our case.

Victoria: The ship was 1½ hours late arriving in Victoria (at least partly due to leaving Ketchikan late), we were determined to have a nice farewell dinner at Le Bistro, which we did, and between our dinner not finishing until 9:30-10:00 and my wife not feeling particularly well, we decided to not go ashore here, so can’t report about Victoria, except that there was only our ship and another in port. We wish that we could have at least gone out and walked around, but it didn’t work out.

We didn’t spend any time in the casino, really didn’t go to any of the activities or shows on board, only to a couple of lectures in the cinema about wildlife in Alaska and the Iditarod race. We also spent some time in the library one day while we were at sea. Other times we just roamed the ship (the Galleria had some decent souvenirs and lots and lots of binoculars if you need a pair) or looked at the scenery along the way. Frankly, we typically woke up very early and were pretty much worn out after a long day and by the time that we were finished with our late dinners each night.

In all, our experiences on this cruise were very good. When we returned from Alaska on the Sun last year, I was ready to turn around, go back and do the same things all over again. This year’s cruise wasn’t quite as hitch-free, but experiencing Alaska on the Star, seeing Mendenhall glacier again, cruising Glacier Bay on such an ideal day and flying out to Misty Fjords far outweighed any minor problems that we encountered. Alaska is such an overwhelmingly beautiful place and I hope that everyone enjoys it as much as we did.

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Thank you so much for the review, it really helps all of us who are yet to go. We leave on the 20th of June, such helpful information. Thank you,

Elation 3-30-03
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Jubilee, Tropical

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thank you for your review it was very good and gave a lot of good information. This is our second trip also we are going low key not taking too many excuisers. My husband was in the cabin at glacter bay when the captain turned the ship around and did not see the glacer cap so he is going on deck this time for sure. I have one questions I read somewhere there were coffee pots in the room and then I read somewhere there are not which is it?

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We had a coffee pot and regular and decaf filter packs, also some tea. We also brought back a couple different types of tea from the buffet to make in the room.

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