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8/14/05


JohnG
"We thoroughly enjoyed the Norwegian Star, thought the food was very good to excellent, and service was excellent with the exception of the one dining venue, Blue Seas."

TRIP INFO

Sail Date:08/14/2005
Destination:
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RATINGS

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COMPLETE REVIEW

Inside Passage & Glacier Bay

This was our first trip to Seattle and our first to Alaska, so we flew out a day early. We used Super Shuttle to take us the hotel. ($30 plus tip from airport). We stayed at the Springhill Suites by Marriott, which was within walking distance of the downtown shopping district. We visited the Space Needle ($13 per person), and Pike?s Market. Shuttle buses in the central downtown area are free during the day.

On Sunday we had reserved a town car to take us to Pier 66, Bell St Pier, where NCL sails from, which is much more convenient to the downtown than the industrial port used by Celebrity and Princess. Arriving at 12:45pm, with the Seattle temperature 85F, we found the line for Latitudes members (past passengers) and the check-in was very quick. We found our minisuite, Cat AF cabin 11657, a port side balcony. Traveling with two teens, the two twin beds and a convertible double worked well. The bathroom is very nice, with a sliding door to the shower and tub, and a sliding door to the toilet area, with the sink in the middle. Storage area and drawers were barely adequate for four, but would have been more than ample for two. Sound proofing is minimal, as we could easily hear the people in the next cabin talking loudly on their cell phone. Unfortunately, during most of the Alaska inside passage trip, cell phones work, and were in constant use. The cabin had a coffee maker and a refrigerator.

After lunch in the Market Caf?, a tour of the ship and the various restaurants, and boat drill, the ship was underway at 4:15pm. On the water it got cooler quickly. We ate in one of the main dining rooms, the Versailles, which proved to be our favorite for the week, over the d?cor in the other traditional dining room, Aqua. Arriving at 8:10pm with Freestyle dining, we had no waiting for a table for 4. The first night dinner of prime rib, salmon, and cr?me brulee was a good start. A comedian performed in the theatre the first night.

Monday: This was an at sea day in the Inland Passage, and the weather was overcast and cool. Breakfast in the Market Caf? had the usual breakfast fare, including pre-made omelets, but no eggs to order. The day?s activities included wine tasting ($10), a martini class ($5), and a cooking demonstration. For lunch we decided to try Blue Seas wok and wings-style restaurant. We received our food items after a 40 minute wait. The tried this location later in the week for a snack and had similar service problems.

The Latitudes/repeaters reception was at 1:15pm, with cocktails, shrimp and appetizers. This was also the optional formal night, the only one of the cruise. Portrait photographers were available at several venues from 5-10pm. The Captain?s reception was from 7-8pm, followed by a show by the Jean Anne Ryan Company featuring the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber. Dinner in the Versailles Dining Room featured lobster and beef Wellington. After dinner we enjoyed a pianist in the Star Bar, and then visited a party in the Spinnaker Lounge. At dinner they offered a wine special that provided a 6th bottle of wine free when presenting the receipts for 5 bottles purchased. We set back clocks 1 hour this night.

Tuesday: We could see humpback whales in the distance, with the pod surfacing repeatedly. We anchored in Juneau at noon, as all the pier were full. The Norwegian Spirit was to leave in the afternoon, and the ship would be moved to the AJ pier at 2:30pm while most passengers were ashore. Tendering ashore priority went to those with excursion tickets, and it was 80 minutes before unrestricted tendering commenced. Shopping areas were available just off the tender, as was the tram to Mt Roberts ($23.95). I had reserved a car with Rent-a-Wreck and arranged for it to be waiting in the Juneau parking garage and for return there. We had a seasoned red sedan that was fine for the day for $56.45 plus gas. We drove to the Mendenhall Glacier and park. We found a path to hike to the waterfall near the base of the glacier. Weather was about 70F with overcast most of the time. We then continued out of town to the St Theresa?s Shrine and Retreat area, and as far as Eagle Beach. We dropped off the car and after a bit more shopping and purchase of an Ulu knife, which they confiscate for safekeeping at the ship, we retuned to the ship about 8pm. They provided a shuttle bus from the shopping area to the pier. Rack of lamb and roast tenderloin were featured in the dining room.

Wednesday: We arrived in Skagway about 8am. After breakfast I walked a short distance from the pier into town to the Avis office at 3rd and Spring St, where I had reserved a car. We drove first to Duyea, the original site of the settlement of Skagway and a park where evidence of the early settlement is still in the forest. We say numerous sea lions hunting salmon on the way. Still overcast this morning, high 60?sF. We stopped at the cemetery at the edge of Skagway, near the Yukon/White Pass Railroad yard, where the notorious Soapy Smith was buried, as well as the man who killed him. A walk through the cemetery takes you to Reid Falls, too. We continued on over the fog shrouded summit at White Pass by car, paralleling the route the railroad travels. However, the train only goes 35 miles. We continued on into Canada, and enjoyed a scenic drive in very different glacier built terrain, with large lakes, bald mountains, and the SUN!! We visited Carcross, and as far as Emerald Lake before making the return trip. Our excursion by car took us 5 ? hours for $61 plus tax and gas. For dinner in the evening we had made reservations for dinner in the French restaurant, Le Bistro, with a $15 per person cover charge. The show tonight was a singer, and we enjoyed another pianist in the Star Bar.

Thursday: Woke for an early breakfast at 6:30am as we entered Glacier Bay. Rainy, overcast, and at times dense fog. We could not see Mt Fairweather, the tallest peak there, at all. From 9-10 we visited Margerie Glacier in Tarr Inlet and the ship moved quite close. From our balcony we could see well. We also spent time on the pool deck and the teens used the hot tubs and pool slides (heated water). From 11-12 we visited Johns Hopkins Inlet and Glacier, and then passed close to Lamplugh (blue) Glacier. All was narrated by US Park Service rangers. From 1-5pm as we sailed back out I sighted numerous humpback whales slapping their tails while they were feeding, and a pod of Orcas. For dinner tonight we chose to do our own formal and made a reservation at Soho for dinner. ($15 cover charge). The captain and some officers were dining there that night. Presentation of the courses is absolutely exquisite. The show tonight was a magician. We visited the pianist in the Star Bar again, as we were finding that ballroom style dancing in various venues ends early every night, just when we would have enjoyed it.

Friday: We arrived in Ketchikan one hour late at 7:15am. We had reserved a car from Alaska RentaCar, and with a call to them they arrived in about 5 minutes pick me up to get the car from their office, about 1 mile away. We drove to Settler?s Cove and Lunch Falls, visited Totem Bight Historic Park, Ward Lake, then back through town to Saxman Totem Village. The trip took us about 3 hours for the $52.95 plus tax and gas for a 2005 Suzuki SUV. The cost of a private taxi rental for a similar tour is $50 per hour. We had an earlier departure today, and, as the lines formed to reboard, it began to rain. The line took almost an hour to clear, and we left late, about 2:30pm. We were interested in trying the Italian Trattoria for dinner, no cover charge but reservations required. (A portion of what is the Market Caf? is set to linen and candlelight for the Trattoria.) However, it was booked full, as was Cagney?s Steakhouse with its $20 cover charge. We enjoyed the Captain?s farewell dinner in the Versailles dining room again, with my wife enjoying a wonderful halibut dinner. The service every night in Versailles was superb. The show tonight was Cirque Pacifica by the Jean Ann Ryan Company. The Chocaholic Buffet was open in Versailles for viewing from 11:30pm-12:30am, followed by sampling. Clocks were set ahead 1 hour this night.

Saturday: Another gray day at sea until late afternoon. We arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, at 6pm. We decided to eat in another of the specialty restaurants, Endless Summer, but this one does not have a cover charge. Specialties included fajitas and other Mexican fare. While they advertised tapas, none were available that night. After dinner, shuttle buses were available for $5 per person to take us to the Empress Hotel in town and return. The city has many lighted buildings at night, and shops were open. However, due to Canadian laws, we couldn?t take the teens into any place, including a restaurant, which served any alcohol. Back on the ship they had an Italian buffet in the Market Caf? until midnight. I was able to print out my Delta boarding passes for our return flight in the internet caf?.

The other specialty restaurant, which we did not use, was the Ginza, a sushi, oriental, and teppanyaki restaurant with ala carte pricing. The sushi was all you can eat.

Sunday: We arrived back in Seattle at 5:45am. I had to go to a central location to pick up my Ulu knife and liquor. We had breakfast in the Versailles dining room, and because of the Freestyle, we could leave our carryon luggage in the cabin until we were leaving. Passengers with only carryon luggage were permitted to leave at 7:15am. Other tags were by the deck, and with a cabin on deck 11, we were free to go any time after 8:20. After a leisurely breakfast we picked up luggage and left at 9:30am. Shuttle Express, which we had prereserved, was waiting right outside the terminal. We left the terminal at 10am in a van, arriving at the airport at 10:30, used curbside check in and were quickly through security and at the gate by 11am for a 12:06pm flight.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Norwegian Star, thought the food was very good to excellent, and service was excellent with the exception of the one dining venue, Blue Seas. To recap, the 4 cover charge restaurants include Ginza, Cagney?s Steakhouse, Soho, and Le Bistro. The others 6, Versailles and Aqua dining rooms, Endless Summer, Blue Seas, La Trattoria, and Market Caf? have no cover charges, but reservations are required at Endless Summer and La Trattoria. An excellent itinerary with less expensive airfare to Seattle than Vancouver, a modern ship built for Freestyle cruising, and stunning scenery in Alaska.

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