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For years, I was told that I just had to go on an Alaskan cruise. Since I have been all over the world on over 35 cruises to exotic places like China, Russia and Egypt, Alaska seemed a little anti-climactic and was, therefor low on my list. However, after yet another friend told us that we just have to go, this past summer we decided to give it a try. We were very happy we did! It was everything everyone said it would be and more and after a very hot summer here in Florida, the cool mild weather of the Pacific Northwest was very refreshing!
Alaska is one of the most popular cruise destinations after the Caribbean, so there were lots of ships and itineraries to choose from. We selected a 7 day round trip Seattle cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s ship the Pearl. This trip stopped in the capital Juneau as well as Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria, BC, had 2 sea days and a full day of scenic cruising in breathtaking Glacier Bay. We selected the Pearl because of its onboard amenities and reputation for a fun crew.
The Pearl was first introduced into NCL’s fleet in 2006. It is one of Norwegian’s Jewel class ships and comes with several innovative features in its lounge and dining options and a first at sea bowling alley. There is also a five story rock climbing wall, water slides and a teen and kids club. Since we had kids traveling with us, this ship was a no brainer.
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The first thing you notice about the Pearl is its “jewel design” and color themes throughout the ship. The Pearl is in the Caribbean for a good part of the year and in Alaska during the summer months. The lobby has a beautiful Chihuly sculpture and very unique two-story video screen which features stunning high definition pictures of Alaska scenery – when it’s not showing a ball game or concert.
The Pearl’s cabins contain the latest amenities including flat screen TVs, in-room coffee makers and luxury bedding. When traveling to Alaska, I would highly recommend booking a balcony stateroom. There were a few days where we just sat on our balcony looking at snow-capped mountains with pods of whales passing by. It was very relaxing, but make sure you have a camera ready because you never know when one will pop up and breach the surface. The Pearl also offers courtyard villas at the top of the ship. Here you have private hot tubs and a plunge pool and special amenities such as butler service, private restaurant privileges and other VIP treatments.
The Pearl has 12 of its signature Freestyle restaurants and 11 bars and lounges. This allowed us to pick and choose the restaurant and time we wanted and since Alaska offered such a wide variety of excursions and activities, this came in very handy. Although the décor of the main dining room called the Summer Palace with large paintings of Czar Nicholas and his family and Faberge egg capped banisters was unique and impressive, the arrangement of the tables made it look a little like a cafeteria and the food and the service was nothing special. The buffet was good and offered a wide variety and was open pretty much most of the time. A special feature of the Pearl on their Alaska cruises is the open-air barbeque up on the pool deck. This was great. On sea days while just cruising past amazing scenery, the crew would whip up large caldrons of paella and heaping piles of barbequed chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs salads and of course desert.
A few of the venues had a modest surcharge (between $10 and $25 per person). Two of our favorites were Teppanyaki and Cagney’s Steak House. Teppanyaki is a Japanese Hibachi style restaurant were the food is prepared in front of you. Cagney’s Steak House provided traditional NY-style ambiance and the food was fantastic. Book early since these venues do fill up especially on sea days.
Entertainment on board the Pearl had something for everybody. The Stardust Lounge provided reasonably decent entertainment. In addition to the cruise ship staple tribute to Broadway, one night, we were treated to a pretty awesome magic show and they even had Chicago’s Second City troop perform some impressive improve. Not quite as spectacular as Blue Man Group and Cirque Du Soleil that NCL is offering on their flagship Epic ship, but still quite fun and not meant to overshadow the natural beauty that everyone goes to Alaska to see in the first place. The real shows where going on outside as we sailed past one majestic snow-capped mountain range after another.
Although each of the ports we hit offered something unique and visually stunning, Glacier Bay was by far, the most spectacular. The Pearl pulled into the bay early in the morning, picked up our guide at the ranger station and we spent the entire day cruising with the guide narrating over the ships PA system. It was breathtaking at times. The trick, we discovered, was to find a well located table in the back of the ship outside on the deck. This afforded the best views and was near the food and bar for day long “replenishment”. This turned out to be no small feat, but lucky for us, our traveling companions were early risers and scored a great table for all of us. It was here that we saw the amazing snow covered mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and occasional whale or sea lion pass by. There were also Eagles soaring overhead and large mammals on the shore. When we reached the head of the bay, the Pearl positioned itself right in front of a mammoth glacier. We could see for miles as the glacier meandered down the valleys between the mountains and we learned from our on-board guide what gives them the bluish hues. We were even lucky enough to hear the “white thunder”, so named by the local Indians as a huge chunk of the glacier cracked off and tumbled into the bay. Passengers on board cheered and clapped for the wonderful show that Mother Nature was putting on just for us.