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Jewel: Summer in Alaska - Southbound - Review 2019

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We just returned from a summer trip/cruise in Alaska aboard the NCL Jewel, southbound, inside passage.  The cruise went from Seward to Vancouver, July 22 - 29, 2019.  I use Cruise Critic a lot for researching and planning the cruise, destinations, events, excursions, and tour operators.  I wanted to write a review of our journey in case it helps others thinking of a similar trip, or to help you relive your past trip.

 

A little about us; my son just turned 12 on the pre-cruise portion of this trip, I am 50.  We travel with my Mom, 72, and my sister, 49, in 2 rooms.  We leave the husbands at home for our yearly Mom & Girls & Grandson Trip.  We are seasoned travelers and have learned not to sweat the small stuff, which allows our trips go very well.

 

Mom had been to Alaska previously, but it was new territory for the rest of us.  It did not disappoint, it was even more beautiful and stunning that anything I had read or seen.  You have to experience it to understand how captivating it is.

 

Our southbound trip started with a pre-cruise land trip surrounding Anchorage, followed by the 7-nt cruise (Seward to Vancouver).  Temperatures ranged from 50-75 degrees through the trip and it rained at least part of the day for at least half of the cruise.  Because Alaska just had a heat wave, I packed more shorts (which I didn’t need) and could have used more pants.  I was glad to have my warm raincoat and umbrella on several days.

 

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Pre-cruise


We were tossing up doing the land tour to Denali through NCL or do our own DIY land tour.  We decided that creating our own custom land tour on our own schedule would suit our family better.  In a nutshell, we ended up selecting the sites we wanted to see and building hotel and transportation options around that.  Our destinations were; Alaska Native Heritage Center (Anchorage), Visit cousin Lee (Anchorage), , Helicopter Glacier Dog-Sledding (Girdwood), Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (Girdwood), Kenai Boat Tour and/or SeaLife Center (Seward).  We left the last day in Seward open in case the sledding tour had to be moved due to weather.

 

We did 3 nights in Anchorage as our home base and 1 night in Seward.  In reflection, we could have skipped the night in Seward, and come straight in on the day of our cruise to do either Kenai or SeaLife before the cruise left at 9 PM, but it was nice to have the extra day in case the sledding tour was moved, get a sense of this lovely, small coastal town by staying the night, and be right there at the cruise departure point.

 

We stayed at the Comfort Suites Airport in Anchorage 3 nts, and I would highly recommend this place.  It was only 4 miles from the airport but nestled in the pine trees.  There was a lounge to eat dinner with limited bar-food / entrees which also doubled as the included hot breakfast area.  There was a shuttle that picked us up from the airport and the driver offered to drive us to a local restaurant and took us back to get a rental car at the airport the second day.  The staff were all helpful.  We would stay here again.

 

The first day was a travel day into Anchorage.  Three of us came from Northern and Southern CA, and sister came in from NC.  Both of my bags were held in SMF and did not arrive in ANC until late in the evening after I had gone to bed.  Luckily the hotel gave son & I complimentary toiletries to get through the night.  The hotel held my bags in a locked room until I came down for them in the morning.

 

The next morning after breakfast, we headed out to the Alaska Native Heritage Center (Anchorage).  It was a wonderful stop.  We learned about the Alaskan Native tribes and how they lived, including the types of home they lived in, which were actually built here around a pond on a walking trail.  We watched live tribal dances and games on the center stage and saw handicrafts and talked with artist’s at their booths.  There was a theater and a nice gift shop.  It took about 2 hours to go through.

 

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That afternoon, we stopped at Mom’s cousin Lee’s house near the Cook Inlet (Anchorage), and went to Simon & Seafort’s for dinner to celebrate kiddo’s 12th birthday.  Talk about the best King crab of the entire Alaskan trip! Overlooking Cook Inlet (of Captain Cook fame), the restaurant had a large share of tourists dressed in all attire.  It was loud inside and would be great for those with children, though prices are on the steep side but not too far off from food prices overall in Alaska as we came to find out.

 

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I will continue to write the review in the evening after work and hope to be complete in just a couple of more days .. 

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Looking forward to reading more....we are also doing a Southbound on the Jewel but not until next year.  I am beginning to research and have not found many southbound reviews.  Thank you for taking the time!

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We are also looking forward to the rest of your review--we are Northbound on the Jewel next year. Particularly looking forward to your review of the glacier dog sled trip and why you pick the one from Girdwood. Thanks in advance! 

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Ditto on being hugely thrilled to finally see a recent southbound review!  We're doing this in early June next year, also with a few days in Anchorage beforehand.

 

(And I completely didn't even notice the 9PM departure time, so thanks for noting that.  That gives us pretty much another day to explore.)  Please keep the details coming especially on Seward, since now I have to (ok, be serious, I *get to*) plan something fun to do there now too.

 

Happy late birthday to your son!

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I am all for reviews of the Jewel! We are NB next summer and will be onboard when my DH celebrates his 45th! We are planning a DIY post cruise in the same area your family stayed so I am excited to hear what you did and how it turned out!

 

HBD to your son!

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DH and I and our 2 DF will be embarking on our South bound Sept. 2nd, and like you, we have fashioned a DIY pre-cruise agenda of Anchorage, Talkeetna and Seward.  Keep it coming, reading with enthusiasm!  

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11 hours ago, TSUmom said:

Looking forward to reading more....we are also doing a Southbound on the Jewel but not until next year.  I am beginning to research and have not found many southbound reviews.  Thank you for taking the time!

 

You are most welcome. I also did not find many southbound reviews.  Hope it helps and have a great time!

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9 hours ago, RussNJodi said:

We are also looking forward to the rest of your review--we are Northbound on the Jewel next year. Particularly looking forward to your review of the glacier dog sled trip and why you pick the one from Girdwood. Thanks in advance! 

 

Thank you, just about to post what will help explain why we picked this sled tour.  I am sure any of them will be awesome!

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8 hours ago, LeesaB said:

Ditto on being hugely thrilled to finally see a recent southbound review!  We're doing this in early June next year, also with a few days in Anchorage beforehand.

 

(And I completely didn't even notice the 9PM departure time, so thanks for noting that.  That gives us pretty much another day to explore.)  Please keep the details coming especially on Seward, since now I have to (ok, be serious, I *get to*) plan something fun to do there now too.

 

Happy late birthday to your son!

 

Ha!  I can relate to how much time it takes for research.  I hope this helps.  Thank you for the son's B-day wishes!

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8 hours ago, Dawnya00 said:

I am all for reviews of the Jewel! We are NB next summer and will be onboard when my DH celebrates his 45th! We are planning a DIY post cruise in the same area your family stayed so I am excited to hear what you did and how it turned out!

 

HBD to your son!

 

The Jewel is such an awesome ship, the perfect size for me.  We were so happy with all of our travels pre-cruise around Anchorage, it worked out really well.  Thank you for the b-day wishes!

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8 hours ago, misha1 said:

DH and I and our 2 DF will be embarking on our South bound Sept. 2nd, and like you, we have fashioned a DIY pre-cruise agenda of Anchorage, Talkeetna and Seward.  Keep it coming, reading with enthusiasm!  

 

Awesome, have a great time, thanks for reading along.

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The big excursion that we built most of the trip around was a Helicopter Glacier Dog-sledding adventure.  We knew son would love dog-sledding, but in summer many options were on gravel, and we preferred having an experience in the snow.  We looked at tours from Seward, Anchorage, and through ports via NCL excursions.  We also enjoy smaller excursions that don’t crowd us with too many other people.  Safety was important, so we scoured the FAA and NTSB records.  We researched the companies via the Internet to get first-hand tour accounts.  

 

We came across, and settled on, Alpine Air Alaska.  They had excellent safety records and excellent reviews.  Alpine Air Alaska partnered with 3-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey with the glacier dog-sledding tour through both the cities of Seward and Girdwood.  Girdwood is about 50 min. from Anchorage.  We read that sometimes the tours are pushed out in bad weather, to the following day and didn’t want our last stop before the cruise (Seward) to find the dog-sledding had been deferred, so wanted to do it earlier in our trip (Girdwood).

 

So, after our visit with cousin Lee the night before, the next destination was a day trip from Anchorage to Girdwood for both the Helicopter Glacier Dog-Sledding adventure and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  The drive to Girdwood was beautiful.  All along the way, the highway runs next to Cook Inlet, the train tracks, and beautiful glacier-filled and snow-capped mountains.  There are many places to pull out and take pictures.  

 

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Mom opted to stay in the warm hanger while the girls and grandson went on the tour.  9 of us in our group (1 solo business traveler, a family of 5 from Germany, and us 3) were clothed in the same type of gear (waterproof jackets, pants, slip-over boots, and gloves) and listened to an explanation of the helicopter safety instructions.  I didn’t need my scarf, gloves, or heavy jacket after all, they were put back into our rental car trunk.

 

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We took 3 helicopters up to the musher’s camp for the 9 of us; our helicopter fit our 3 passengers plus the pilot.  We had a beautiful view and flight.  The pilot kept us entertained for the short 7-minute flight, keeping an eye out for bears.  We arrived to Punchbowl Glacier, where 32 sled dogs were each tied to their personal igloo home but were outside and seemed anxious by the helicopters and new guests.  

 

1-min video arriving to camp:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/7umU7ZaRsg3KJB1f7

 

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The guides let us mix and mingle with the dogs for a while.  Then the 9 of us were called over to talk about the order of the riders on the sleds and the order of each position on the sleds should we decide to rotate positions during the sled run (2 standing and 1 sitting position).  One musher led the dogs and his position didn’t change.  A photographer was on hand to record photos from each run.

 

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While the first group of riders went out, four of us moved into a large heated tent to play with a husky puppy named Brownie.  There was Iditarod memorabilia & gear to view as well.  The first group came back in about 35-40 minutes and we traded spots with them, our group of 3 on 2-sleds pulled together with 1 musher and the solo rider on her own sled with 1 musher.  We went around the glacier bowl outside of view and away from the camp.  


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It was the most amazing ride over the glacier, close to trees and mountains, with dogs excited.  We stopped three times during the run, with the musher allowing us to rotate positions each time.  One standing position was a little precarious and required the standing rider on the back sled, using a foot pedal to slow the sled down from running into the first part of the sled all while going around hills and curves and in and out of the sled tread.  Son and I traded our report of that position and both felt like we almost fell off, which would have been OK, since the snow was soft.

 

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We arrived back at the camp, full of excitement from the incredible ride, and with worn out sled dogs and the excited dogs that did not go out sledding.  We mingled among the dogs again, went back into the heated tent with the option to download photos from our tour for $40 (Airdrop to iPhone), and waited for the choppers to come back for us.  The helicopter ride back was just as exhilarating as going up.  This was, by far, the best excursion we’ve ever taken.  We felt welcomed by the staff and given exact instructions of what was happening when and what is coming up.  The total time at Punchbowl Glacier was ~ 1.5 hrs.

 

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Thanks for reading so far, will be back soon to continue..... next up, more in Girdwood...

 

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Girdwood & Seward


We headed to the small Girdwood town for lunch at the Picnic Club, staff had recommended it.  We had salads and sandwiches and reflected on our fantastic tour.  We then went to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, an open-range way to see animals in their natural habitat.  The center can be walked or driven, with pull-out spots for cars.  We spent about 2 hours here and got a view of bears up close, our only bear sighting during our Alaskan trip, then headed back to Anchorage.  

 

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The drive to/from Girdwood was incredible, with many places to pull the car over to take in the incredible water and mountain views.  It ran along the same route as the Anchorage to Seward train takes, much of it directly next to the train tracks.  

 

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The next day we took the rental car back to the ANC airport and switched it for a reserved one-way SUV rental to Seward.  We headed to Seward, about a 2.5 hour drive, and passed Girdwood again.  The scenery was stunning, it can’t be described, with all the water and mountains, granite slabs, waterfalls, and pine trees.  All I could think of to describe it was that it was like Lake Tahoe on major steroids.

 

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We arrived in to small Seward and had the option of a Kenai Boat tour and/or the SeaLife aquarium.  We decided on a leisurely self-guided tour through SeaLife.  Being fans of the Monterey Bay Aquarium to compare to, SeaLife was a lovely 2-story aquarium with a lot of potential.  They had great displays, interesting facts, various feeding times, a view with a couple of large viewers overlooking Kenai harbor, and a big gift shop.  We really enjoyed ourselves and went through it in about 2 hours.  

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We then walked and rode through the town and then went on to check into the Breeze Inn.  We were shown the way through the Inn to the motel portion of the property.  It was a disappointing room for the price we paid; very small, no air conditioning, with people walking by the window, able to look in on to the beds.  Everything was straight from the 70’s, although the bath linens were thick and absorbent :).  

 

We looked at Yelp reviews and decided on Ray’s Waterfront for dinner.  The king crab was a disappointment, as was the overcooked Halibut and charred scallops.  The view, however, was fun, watching the Kenai Tour and fishing boats arrive back in port.  A trip down the docks was fun for my Mom & Sis, looking at the local catch and watching seagulls chase around an eagle, away from their territory.

 

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Up next - onto the cruise!

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Cruise - Seward to Vancouver

 

Day 1 - Embark Seward

We took the free Seward Shuttle from downtown to the terminal (about 3 miles) because the Breeze Inn would not take passengers until they picked up Train passengers, which was later than when we wanted to get on the ship.  We arrived to the terminal shortly after 11 AM.  There were a small number of people inside the terminal waiting for the lines to open.  At 11:30 AM, the lines opened and previous NCL guests were ushered to the priority line.  After check-in, we went immediately on the boat, no waiting in any lobby, and were on the ship by Noon.  We later found out from Cruise Critic roll-call friends that the guests taking the land-Denali tour pre-cruise would arrive to the docks at 8 PM.  The ship sailed at 9 PM.  

 

We toured the ship, getting the layout of where things were.  We tried out the golf range (room for 1) and then ate lunch at O’Sheehans, which was not too busy.  We went to register kiddo and adults for the kid’s club (Splash Academy).  Rooms were ready around 2 PM, with a general announcement over the loudspeaker.  

 

Our group opted to download the NCL app to use between our 4 phones ($9.95 each device) to contact each other via text and/or phone.  Make sure to get the App loaded to your device before you sail.  We’ve used it in past NCL cruises but it seems to be getting worse, not better each year.  Once upon a time you could see nightly dinner menus for every restaurant, but not the past few cruises.  You can still see the daily activities by timeslot on the App, which is helpful.  You do not need to purchase Wi-Fi for the app, as Wi-Fi is included for the app only.  This cruise the NCL app logged me off unknowingly from the Wi-Fi constantly which caused a number of missed messages between my group and I.  I spent a lot of time reconnecting the Wi-Fi & app this trip.

 

There was an order form for bottled water in the room so ordered a 12-pack of 1-liters ($33) for the week and had our steward, Ace, clear out the refrigerator to put the 1-liters inside.  NCL let me take them on and off the boat at each port in plain view on the outside of my backpack.

 

We had Teppanyaki reservations for all of us at 5:30, but it was extended to 6:00 PM to allow time for the muster drill.  This was best of the Teppanyaki meals we’ve had.  The steak was the best quality and the food was plentiful.  The chef was fun and kept us all entertained.  This is my son's favorite dinner restaurant and makes for a fun family evening.
 

Here are the dailies for Day 1:

 

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Day 2 - Meet & Greet and Hubbard Glacier

The highlights of the day were the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet from 11-12P and then Hubbard Glacier in the afternoon.  Gabby organized our M&G.  She had a cruise Facebook page in addition to the CC Roll Call, which she kept lively and inviting.  NCL switched the venue after we boarded, so we may have lost a few people if they weren’t able to get the message of the new location.  We still had a lot of fun with the group that joined and did a souvenir exchange from our home-town after introducing ourselves and hear from the ship's directors.  By random pick, I got my Mom’s hometown beer opener (Palm Springs).  It was a fun event to meet each other in person and meet the ship’s directors.

 

On the way to Hubbard Glacier, we started passing random icebergs and they became more plentiful the closer we got to the glacier, with water becoming more blue to the closer we got.  

 

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The scenery was spectacular, so close to the mountains and rocks.  We went up to the Spinnaker Lounge with binoculars and cameras but it was packed 2 seats deep with people all along the windows.  

 

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We ended up going back to our balconies for a better view, which worked out great because the captain rotated the ship around 360 degrees allowing everyone to have a direct view of Hubbard Glacier, which was 6 miles wide and 400 feet high.  Photo tip: If not on your balcony, go outside the Spinnaker Lounge to the staircase leading up.  A few steps up you will be able to see the Glacier unimpeded with no glass in front and no one in front of you.

 

 

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We had reservations at Le Bistro for dinner and it was also the best of the Le Bistro visits we have ever had.  The service was very good.  The food was phenomenal.  The lamb chops were large and absolutely delicious.  We usually end dinner at the nicer restaurants about 2 hours after starting, going at a leisurely pace.

 

Day 2 dailies;

 

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On 8/2/2019 at 8:39 AM, LeesaB said:

Ditto on being hugely thrilled to finally see a recent southbound review!  We're doing this in early June next year, also with a few days in Anchorage beforehand.

 

(And I completely didn't even notice the 9PM departure time, so thanks for noting that.  That gives us pretty much another day to explore.)  Please keep the details coming especially on Seward, since now I have to (ok, be serious, I *get to*) plan something fun to do there now too.

 

Happy late birthday to your son!

My dad and I did the southbound from Seward in May.   I highly recommend Kenai Fjord Tours.   We did the full day with dinner at Fox Island and loved every minute of it - even in the cold, pouring rain!  We saw tons of wildlife and got to within about 1/4 mile of the Aialik Glacier.  The crew was fabulous about giving extra info.   

 

We also book a private halibut fishing tour with Captain John and Current Affairs Charters.   He was fantastic with giving us information about the bay, all the islands, and pointing out relics leftover from WWII.  We were able to very quickly catch two halibut before we all got seasick and had to head back in.   He did take us by places that the glacier cruise didn't go to the day before and did offer to go find some whales, but that that point we just wanted land.  ha!  

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Posted (edited)

 

Day 3 - Icy Strait Point

 

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It was a beautiful voyage getting to/from Icy Straight Point.  Icy Straight Point is an island with the small town of Hoonah.  The port itself was very small and touristy.  There was another cruise ship anchored to the dock, so we tendered in from the boat.  We were in town from 9A-6P.  After tendering ashore, there was about a mile hike to get to the excursion area.

 

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We had reserved four spots on a small 3-hour van-guided Bear Search tour (private excursion).  Twelve of us were on the lookout for bears or anything wild for the duration of the trip.  Our Alaska Native tour guide tried to keep us entertained during the trip with stories of his life growing up as a Raven in the Alaska Tlingit tribe.  After 2.5 hours and no bear-sightings, we stopped for a bio-break (two port-a-potties).  The guide took us to see an eagle’s nest and then headed back to town, where it had started pouring rain @ 1PM.  There was a small downtown area, a couple of miles from the port, that had beer tasting that some people in our tour were dropped off at on the way back to the excursion area.

 

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In addition to the eagle in its nest, we ended up seeing one doe on the tour :O.  Everyone was disappointed and it ended up being an  expensive $500 bear-less Bear Search tour - but it was clear that Mother Nature was in charge.  Coming back from excursions/downtown, the walkway leads into a large gift shop to get back the pier (or you can walk out by the shoreline bypassing the shop).  We bought some small flavored donuts at a small shop that were yummy.  Son was excited to get back on board to meet up with his friends at Splash Academy.

 

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My son has been to NCL Splash Academy starting from around 6 yo, and each year thereafter.  It’s what makes NCL cruises so great for our family.  Activities change every 2 hours, with time spent outdoors, playing games inside and outside, and (usually) counselors that want to be there.  He still begs to go and stay at least between 7:00P to 9:30 (or 10:30P) as well as random times during the day based on the activity (sports court, friends agree to meet there too, or the activity that goes to the older Entourage 13+ area).  Depending on whether it is a sea-day or port day, hours and events at the kids club will change.  It’s best to pick up a schedule for your age group at the start of the week to refer to.  It was our most used guide on the cruise, more than the Dailies list of cruise events throughout the day.

 

When my son was not in the kid’s club, on an excursion, eating with us, playing ping-pong, or a little downtime in the room, he would hook up with his new friends and go swimming in the heated pools/hot tubs.  I won’t lie, it was freezing a couple of times on deck, but once in the water it was nice and toasty.  There were also adults in the pools, but mostly kids.  

 

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I usually take my son to either the Garden Cafe buffet or O'Sheehan's before the kid’s club but this night he wanted steak so we went to the complimentary Azura for a NY steak right when it opened without reservations.  It was OK food.  It shares the same menu with Tsars each night.  Tsars was a much larger, more opulent venue than Azura, complete with a 2-story aft view of the water as you eat (also complimentary).

 

Later on that night I went to look for something sweet in the Garden Buffet and much to my excitement I found made-to-order crepes at the dessert bar.  They are served every night at buffet dinner start (5 or 5:30P) to buffet close (9:30P).  Toppings change each night.  We saw Nutella, whipped cream, strawberry compote, lemon compote, and cherry compote on various night.  They were delicious.  My personal favorite is Nutella, cinnamon, and whipped cream 🙂

 

I decorated my Mom & Sister's door (sister's pre-50th Bday) and our door (son's 12th Bday) and it made it super helpful in the sea of turquoise doors to locate ours, particularly if we came in from an aft or forward elevator.
 

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Dailies for Day 3;

 

 

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Up next, Day 4  - Juneau and our 2nd favorite excursion of the trip (Historic Gold Panning & Salmon Bake)

 

Edited by netchik
moved dailies up

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Posted (edited)

Day 4 - Juneau, Endicott Arm, & Dawes Glacier
We were in Juneau between 7A-1P, along with a number of other ships.  We had a Historic Gold Panning & Salmon Bake excursion through NCL on the books, which ended up being the 2nd best excursion of the trip (after the Helicopter Glacier Dog-Sledding excursion in Girdwood).

 

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We met our tour guide in the excursion area next to the van on the pier (about a 10 min walk from the boat), 15-min. early for the excursion, when it dawned on me that I left our tickets in our room safe!  I had to hoof it back to our room, swimming upstream from all the people leaving the boat, get the tickets, get back off the boat, and run back to excursion area. I made it (I left the kiddo as collateral, ha ha) but was subject to fun harassing by the guide for the remainder of the tour :).

 

The tour guide was a great story-teller and gave us good tips along the way, such as suggesting we get snacks for the Train in Skagway before boarding (a good tip).  He drove us through town, stopping at the top of a large hill that was reminiscent of San Francisco’s steep streets, and pointing out the of the long, steep staircases which also had street names.  We were surprised to hear that the large number of vehicles in Juneau were either shipped or flown in.

 

We then went to a gold-panning stopping spot along the river.  We were soon joined by 2 other vans also there to gold-pan.  Our tour guide gave a good demonstration of how to pan for gold pan, gave each person a dirt-filled pan that was collected from a spot up stream.  He walked around helping anyone who had questions or needed more help.  We panned for about 1 hr and each person found gold flakes in their pan, which could be saved in a complimentary vial to take home as a souvenir.  It was a lot of fun.

 

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We were then driven to a Salmon Bake Camp near the bay, with a river running alongside the camp.  There was a small gift shop, large area for grilling salmon, chowder station, beverage stations for non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks, and two parallel buffet stations.  On the buffet there were hot beans & bacon, corn bread, caesar salad with salmon, pickles, and chicken legs.  The line took you to the large grill station where a large piece of fresh, grilled salmon was put on your plate, with an option of glaze sauce on top.  Between the chowder and the salmon, I could have grazed here all day.  For dessert, they offered blueberry crumble cake.  Non-alcoholic beverages were hot chocolate, hot cider, coffee, and lemonade.

 

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There was plenty of time to eat.  At your leisure, you could take a bus back to either town or straight to the pier, which was about a 1.5 mile walk from downtown.  Before heading out on the bus, we let my son go with his new friend and his family, who were on the tour too, to the gift shop to pick out a key chain for his backpack, and then followed them out to the gorgeous waterfall a little ways down the river to trade photographer duties for each of our families. 

 

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The Salmon Bake camp has been here a long time, it ended up being the exact same place that my parents had come to years prior.  This was a fun for all ages tour that the 3 generations of us loved.  We wished that we had more time in Juneau to shop.  We took the bus directly back to the pier and got back about 12:30P.
 

The boat headed out to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier next.  The views were beautiful, the glacier was not as large as Hubbard Glacier.

 

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We ate at Tsar's that night.  The food was pretty good, and we found the best waiter of the cruise, Reynaldo.  We sat against the windows facing aft and admired the lovely view as we traveled away from Dawes Glacier.  The ship had to traverse many icebergs, some of them large enough to cause the captain to change course suddenly, causing the boat to pitch quickly while we were eating.  Loud gasps were heard throughout the large dining room each time, and we had the pleasure of seeing the icebergs closeup being next to the aft window as they passed.

 

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Day 4 dailies;

 

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Day 5 in Skagway next ...

 

 

Edited by netchik

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Day 5 - Skagway
This stop took us to the small gold rush town of Skagway.  The most famous tour here is the White Pass Railway, fun for all ages.  From the ship, we walked quite a ways from the pier to get to the Rail station, which was also next to the town’s Smart shuttle ($2 each way or $5 all day pass), running each 15-min.  The pier also had a couple of golf carts shuttling disabled passengers about ½ mile, but there was only enough room for 6 passengers so we put Mom on it each way and the rest of us walked.

 

We rode the Smart shuttle to get the lay of the land into town, get snacks and drinks, get a "doughboy" at Klondike Doughboy (tasted like a cinnamon and sugar funnel cake), and then headed back to get our spot in line for the White Pass Train (3-hr excursion via NCL).

 

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We were very happy we listened to the Juneau tour guide about bringing snacks onto the Train.  It was a fun and informative ride, 1.5 hours each way, but the time did drag on and we were happy to have brought our own food & drinks as we were a captive audience in our own train car for three 3-hours, not being able to move between train cars.  You could move to the front and back platform to take pictures and I highly recommend touring outside to see the sights and take photos.  There was a bathroom in each car, though someone had locked ours from the inside.  A team of us got it open with a hotel key card, much to everyone’s relief.  Tour Tip: Keep your eyes open for random surprises en route atop rocks and opening of tunnels, of the plastic variety.  It made the ride humorous by the end.

 

 

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We took the Smart shuttle back to town afterwards and found a magnificently-priced, large souvenir shop called Alaska T-Shirts.  There were gifts of all kinds.  I picked up a bag of items for co-workers and hubby.
 

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Here are the Day 5 dailies;

 

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Day 6 in beautiful Ketchikan is up next..

 

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Day 6 - Ketchikan

Ketchikan was a beautiful town.  It is known as the Salmon Capital of the World.  We passed by the airport as we cruised into town, complete with ferries, sea planes, and large and small airplanes coming and going.  Vehicles also come here being flown or ferried in.  We had never seen so many float planes in Alaska as in Ketchikan.  

 

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We ended up having our 3rd best excursion of the Alaska trip in Ketchikan (after the Girdwood glacier dog-sledding and Juneau Gold Panning & Salmon Bake) on the "Highlights of Ketchikan" tour (3-hr private excursion through ShoreExcursionsGroup dot com).  We had a wonderful tour guide, Norman, an Alaska Native raven of the Tlingit tribe, who was a fantastic story-teller.  

 

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Norm promised my son (the only child on the tour) that he would see him when my son returned in 50 years as a grandfather, and Norm said he would be reincarnated as a raven in the rain forest near Saxman Totem Village.  It was a precious moment and still has my son vowing to be back in Ketchikan in 50 years to visit Norm again.

 

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Norm took us in and around Ketchikan, explaining all the major sites, to the Sourdough Tours headquarters to learn about making totem poles and see other interesting artifacts and taste two types of salmon, out to see salmon running up river, to see Rainbow Falls, out to Saxman Totem Village, and then dropped us downtown, just steps from the cruise ship.  It was a lovely tour to take.

 

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We celebrated sister’s early 50th Birthday, exchanging gifts in our cabin, then took kiddo to the kid’s club for their Survivor night, then off to Cagney’s for an adult birthday dinner.  Superb service and wonderful food, the best steak at any Cagney’s visit to date (small petite filet).  Birthday Tip: Go to Guest Services if you want to have a cake presented to the Birthday guest.  They will give you a card to hand to the hostess, who will ensure a birthday cake is brought out.  My Mom brought candles and a special sparkling light-up sign to accompany the Guest Services card that we handed to the hostess.  It made for a wonderful surprise.

 

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I had no luck in the casino.  It was pretty small with just a few game tables and only two of my favorite slots.  We did enjoy a couple of the bands on board; Fire & Ice and Soul Inspiration.
 

Dailies for Day 6;

 

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Sea Day on the Inside Passage on Day 7 ahead..

 

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Day 7 - Sea Day
This was our self-appointed whale-watching day.  This may be one of the top two cruises taken if we could see whales before we departed!  We sat at Garden Cafe visiting with those around us, all hoping to see whales.  

 

We chose sitting at the Garden Cafe to whale watch instead of Spinnaker Lounge because Garden Cafe had three large sections of tables alongside the windows, which kept most people at their tables, versus Spinnaker Lounge where people would often walk in front of others to get a better view of something, frequently cutting off visual access for those using cameras and binoculars.  We also wanted to visit with each other and room would be tight on just one of our balconies.

 

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Norman from the Ketchikan tour explained we should keep an eye out for the blow of air in order to see whales.  That ended up being the key!  We spotted puffs of air blowing up through the ocean waves and found a couple of instances of individual, smaller, shiny black and white Orcas that surfaced thereafter, a ways from the boat but close enough to be seen without binoculars.  It was quite exhilarating and we felt fulfilled having finally seeing these glorious creatures.  

 

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We also spent a couple of hours at the pool, watching the kids play.  It was packed with people on deck and finally warm enough (until later in the afternoon when it cooled quickly).  We had trouble finding chairs because everyone was also sunning on deck, but managed to find and pull three loungers together for our son's friends' Mom and sis and I, while our Mom took a nap in the room. 

 

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That night we went back to Tsar’s to eat with our favorite waiter of the cruise, Reynaldo.  He did not disappoint.  The food was good this night, not spectacular, but dessert was pretty darn yummy with Opera cake and Pots de Creme.  I was hoping to find the lava cake from a few nights earlier but didn’t find it again.

 

We did not see a single show this trip.  Every time we thought about it, we were still wrapping up dinner and enjoyed our visiting, more than running off to a show.  We heard from others through the week that all of them were enjoyable.

 

Dailies from Day 7;

 

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I'll wrap up the review with disembarking in Vancouver and final thoughts on our magnificent trip, next ...

 

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Day 8 - Disembark Vancouver

We got our luggage tags a couple of days prior to disembarkation.  That morning we got breakfast in the Garden Cafe (a zoo that morning) and then grabbed our backpacks from the room for 8:30A disembarkation.  

 

We were off the boat following a short line, then to get our luggage, and out to wait for the a private shuttle in about 30 minutes total.  We headed to the Vancouver airport, which took quite a while to get to (about 1 hour from the pier), as the ride is through downtown Vancouver on the other side of the city. 

 

We were flying directly from Vancouver to San Francisco, followed by a puddle jumper to SMF.  The time from entering the Vancouver airport, getting through the airline check-in process (United) and customs with no hold-ups, and then to our gate, was 2 hours (!). 

 

Overview
That, my friends, was a summary of our 3-generation trip to Alaska in July 2019 aboard the NCL Jewel.  Would we do it again?  Heck-to-the-Yes!  It was amazing!  It was rustic, remote, awe-inspiring, memorable, and fun.  It’s perfect for all ages.  

 

Alaska was on my bucket list, but closer to the bottom, before the trip.  Now, it’s higher on my bucket list, for a return trip!  Having been on NCL ships Dream, Escape, Getaway (x2), Spirit, Bliss, Jewel, I would say the smaller ships are more my liking.  The Jewel was the perfect size ship for me, followed next by Spirit.  My sister, however, prefers more action, people, and excitement, and chose the Getaway as her favorite NCL ship so far.  We are still happy with NCL, although we continue to review itineraries and have looked at Royal, and I have done Carnival but still prefer NCL.

 

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions about anything you’ve seen or read.

 

A few more pics from the trip:

 

Fresh halibut catch in Seward

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View in Seward, backside of Breeze Inn Motel

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Girdwood Airport Helicopter

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Dog-sledding from Girdwood

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Gold rush train cars in Juneau

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Ketchikan view

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Me & goodbye for now... 🙂

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Loved reading!  Thanks so much.  Makes me even more excited for next year!

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