Alaska by Cruise Ship
Alaska Inside Passage
May 5-13, 2001
We wanted to go to Alaska so that Rich could “get” his 50th state. Since we also love to cruise, we thought that a cruise to Alaska would be the way to get there. Most cruise ships leave from Vancouver, BC but it can be problematic. When we discovered that the Norwegian Sky was sailing from Seattle, a mere 3-hour drive from our home in Oregon, we booked it. We also invited Rich’s parents along with us for the adventure, which required a cross-country flight for them.
The Norwegian Sky is the largest ship on which we have sailed to date. It is 77,000 gross registered tons. It is 12 decks high and almost 900 feet long. It first sailed in August 1999. It was the first ship that we have sailed with glass elevators in the atrium. It was also the most elegant ship that we have sailed.
Our favorite places on the ship: Windjammer piano/martini bar connected to Churchill’s cigar room, the Observation Lounge, the Seven Seas dining room at the aft of the ship, and the wraparound promenade deck.
The food on the Norwegian Sky was much better than we had anticipated based on comments from previous cruisers on the Internet. The food was well seasoned and there was a good variety.
Food service was very good also.
Service highlights: At breakfast, a server coming around and pouring syrup on our pancakes; at dinner, our favorite waiter removing the skin from our trout; servers bringing salad dressing selections to our table.
Favorite dishes: Steak Classique (prepared the French way with melted butter), ice cream coupes (sundaes), butter pecan ice cream with butterscotch sauce, caviar (some with deviled eggs, some with baked potatoes), and mountain trout. Many of the soups stood out as well. Cruise ships seem to prepare soups better than they prepare salads.
Dad surprising the waiter with his choice of decadent desserts, strolling musicians, and the view out the aft of the ship.
The Sky has a plethora of dining venues, many more than other cruise ships. We ate at both of the main dining rooms, the Four Seasons and the Seven Seas. We preferred the Seven Seas because it was at the aft of the ship and had many more windows.
We also ate at several of the alternative dining venues, including Horizons Italian restaurant and Ciao-Chow.
The only disappointment we had with the dining venues was the Garden Cafe (the buffet restaurant). It was entirely too small for the number of people on the ship, especially in Alaska where the outdoor buffet could not be used. And it was designed poorly – for example, the drink stations run into the line for the food.
Norwegian Cruise Line is said to have the best show entertainment at sea. We were quite impressed with the shows we saw, especially “Hey, Mr. Producer,” a show containing highlights from the shows of producer Cameron Mackintosh, including “Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon,” and “Cats.”
Performer Jane L. Powell was magnificent. She has quite a voice.
Arnie, the piano player in the Windjammer Lounge, was one of our favorites as well.
Although small, our stateroom was well designed and comfortable. We had a balcony that had 2 chairs and a small table. There were only 3 storage drawers, but we managed to hang most of our clothes in the closet. The bed was hard, but we had the stateroom steward put a mattress pad on it and that softened things up a bit. The welcome-aboard champagne waiting for us in our stateroom in an ice bucket was a pleasant surprise. Our stateroom steward did a fine job, including presenting us with our first ever towel animals.
Unlike our previous cruises, which were “traditional,” this cruise was “freestyle.” Freestyle means that there are no mandatory formal nights and dining is more like restaurants on land where you eat when, where, and with whom you wish.
Positives: we were not locked into one dining time every night and we could eat whenever we wanted; we did not go through the normal ritual of racing to the dining room the first day of the cruise to find out where our table was; we did not get stuck with awkward table mates with whom we had nothing to talk about.
Negatives: we did not have a chance to bond with a particular wait staff who would then know our preferences. Also, the stateroom steward who usually knows when we are going to dinner so that he can use that time to make up your stateroom can no longer know the time that you will be away from your stateroom.
Saturday, May 5 – Travel to Seattle
This morning we drove the 3 hours from our home to Seattle. We picked up the parents at SeaTac airport and drove to the Airport Marriott where we spent the afternoon enjoying the indoor pool and spa.
Sunday, May 6 – Embark the Norwegian Sky
At 10:30 AM, we drove 15 miles to the port in downtown Seattle. It was a gorgeous day in Seattle – Seattle at its best! At noon, we boarded the ship.
We spent the afternoon eating lunch in the Four Seasons restaurant, relaxing out on deck with ice cream, exploring the ship, and unpacking. At 3:30 PM, we attended the obligatory lifeboat drill.
We ate dinner at the Sevens Seas restaurant.
After dinner, we were debating whether to attend the Welcome Aboard show, knowing that they spend much of the “showtime” introducing the cruise staff (yawn). Dad, remembering the welcome aboard show on the Westerdam, said, “We’re not going to fall for that again are we?” But, since there was no other interesting entertainment being offered, we decided to give the show a chance. The first part was OK, but when the raunchy (and unfunny) comedian came on stage, we made a quick exit.
Monday, May 7 – Sailing the Inside Passage
Today we enjoyed our day at sea. We walked around the promenade deck, relaxed in the Observation Lounge, read the NY Times summary, and helped Mother with her crossword puzzle.
After lunch in the Seven Seas restaurant, we went to Le Bistro for wine tasting. We had a great time tasting and rating wines. Rich answered a questioned correctly and won us one of 3 prizes that were given away: a bottle of sparkling wine.
Here is the question that Rich answered correctly. Can you answer it?
Question: When a wine is labeled Blanc de Noirs, what does that mean? (Answer at the end of this report.)
The parents spent part of the afternoon attending a culinary demonstration.
We began the evening with pre-dinner drinks and Spanish tapas at Gatsby’s Wine Bar. After dinner in the Seven Seas restaurant, we moved to the Stardust Lounge where we saw what we thought was the best show of the week, “Hey, Mr. Producer.”
Tonight the seas were very rough. For the first time in our four cruises, Rich got seasick.
Tuesday, May 8 – Juneau, Alaska
We spent the morning relaxing in our stateroom and on our balcony, followed by a pizza lunch at Ciao-Chow.
At 2:00 PM, the parents joined us on our balcony to watch the ship dock in Juneau, Alaska.
At 3:30 PM, we exited the gangway to Juneau and Rich stepped foot on his 50th state!
We walked the streets of town, did a little shopping, and stopped in at the historical, but touristy, Red Dog Saloon.
After another delicious dinner in the Seven Seas restaurant, we spent some time relaxing in the Atrium Lounge, watching the lights and people in Juneau.
At 9:00 PM, the four of us decided to enjoy some karaoke in Checkers Cabaret. After the parents retired to their stateroom, we went to the Observation Lounge for the country music party.
Wednesday, May 9 – Skagway, Alaska
We once again spent a relaxing morning in our stateroom and on our balcony.
We ate an early lunch in the Four Seasons restaurant so that we wouldn’t be late for our shore excursion – a trip on the White Pass Railroad.
After our exciting train excursion, we decided to walk the small town of Skagway. The parents returned to the ship while we endured what felt like the coldest spot on earth – the wind was howling and our appendages were freezing. But, the town was cute and we had fun.
Back on the ship for the evening, we enjoyed another scrumptious dinner followed by the show, “Runnin’ Wild,” a tribute to Bob Fosse.
Thursday, May 10 – Glacier Bay
At 8:00 AM this morning, the ship entered Glacier Bay. A park ranger boarded the ship and pointed out the highlights of Glacier Bay National Park, including the calving of the glaciers, wildlife sightings (bears, whales, eagles).
We were blessed with a pleasant, sunny day. It was perfect for viewing the beauty of this natural wonder.
Tonight we enjoyed the musical talents of Jane L. Powell. She was terrific.
Friday, May 11 – Ketchikan
This morning we took the Saxman Native Village tour. After a short bus ride through Ketchikan we arrived at the village where we saw an informative video, watched several native dances, visited the gift shop, and watched some totem pole carving.
Note: We saw them carving a totem pole for the new Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship, Radiance of the Seas. That totem pole is now on that ship. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll sail that ship and see the finished totem pole.
Tonight we decided to have a private, romantic dinner at one of the Norwegian Sky‘s alternative restaurants, Horizons. The ambiance in this Italian restaurant is wonderful. The food was delicious, although we did have a problem. Rich ordered the risotto, which sounded terrific. But, when it arrived, Rich noticed that there was some unidentified seafood mixed in the risotto. So, we asked our waiter what the seafood was. He proudly announced, “Why, that’s lobster, sir!” Ack! Rich is allergic to lobster. So we had the waiter remove the plate and return with a plate of very rare beef – unfortunately, Rich likes his beef well-done.
After dinner we retired to Churchill’s lounge for an after dinner drink followed by some dancing in Checkers Cabaret.
Saturday, May 12 – Victoria, BC
Following a relaxing day at sea, we docked in Victoria, BC for an evening stop. This was a brief stop just to satisfy the US law that requires a ship to stop in a foreign port if it is going round-trip from a US port. We stayed on the ship and enjoyed our last night on the ship.
Sunday, May 13 – Disembark
Sadly, this was the day we had to leave the ship. Fortunately, Norwegian Cruise Line lets passengers stay on the ship longer than other cruise lines (who usually kick people off bright and early). The four of us enjoyed our last hours on the ship sitting in our stateroom, talking.
We took advantage of this more relaxing debarkation, but we learned some lessons too. We could have slept in later and had a more leisurely morning. Also, we actually got off the ship a little late because we had to rush to get our car from the garage across the street, pay for parking, drive to the airport, and get the parents to their plane. Thankfully, everything worked out OK.
We had an excellent cruise. We love this ship. Overall, it was the best cruise experience we’ve had, although we do prefer warm weather destinations. Some of the highlights: Alaska was magnificent, the Observation Lounge had a wonderful Bali Hai theme, the service was great, and the flexibility in dining was wonderful.
Answer to Rich’s wine question: Blanc de Noirs is white wine made from red grapes.