September 2014 - Norwegian Pearl to Alaska - Inside Passage
This was my first cruise, as it was for many of the people I met on the ship, and in many ways it was a good learning experience for future trips. This was also my first trip to Alaska. As far as the cruise goes we had an inside stateroom and I was really pleased with it's size and space. The same for the bathroom. The shower was the size of a standard shower, there was plenty of room in the bathroom for drying off and dressing, and décor was very nice. In the bedroom section there was room enough to store our belongings as well as room to dress and get ready in the mornings. The crew and staff was excellent! Everyone was very friendly and helpful, willing to stop whatever they were doing and take a few minutes to talk to you. The shows were fun and entertaining, and the one show featuring "Oh What a Night" was so good I would pay to see in future. The food was as good as expected, but be prepared for crowds at the floor buffet (especially at breakfast) and plan according. Getting on and off the ship went smoothly except at the first port, where everyone tried to get off at the same time. I would suggest waiting to depart the ship by 30-60 minutes after docking unless you have a shore excursion scheduled.
For those looking for the Alaskan experience I would suggest a different cruise or trip. On the inside passage the towns we stopped at were all about the shopping, and other then Glacier National Park the places we went to looked and felt like any other small Western town. In the open ocean we were able to see whales on two different days, a few otters and seals, and I saw a few bald eagles while on land. Once there I realized that we were too far south and west for any real snow or ice, and the ship traveled too far from the shore to clearly see if any bears or other animals were along the coastline. We did take one of the train rides inland at Skagway, 40 miles round trip by train, which allowed us to see more of the landscape; however, we only stopped at the turn around point and were not ever allowed to get off the train which was confining and made picture taking difficult. I plan to take a train up though the middle of the state, probably to Fairbanks, on my next trip and hopefully this will allow me to see and experience more of Alaska.
As I expected I don't believe there's a better deal for the price; however, come prepared to spend some cash unless you plan to sit and do nothing else on the ship or on shore. The ship offers some really nice events and/or packages onboard but they are costly for many people, plus a lot of activities are planned involving onboard shopping and in the shops in port. Be sure to ask prices for anything not included in your trip package (and make sure you know what is and isn't included in the package) or you will end up like I did with 5 bottles of water at $4.50/per on your bill. Besides that, I one thing everyone seemed to do was over pack.
I would recommend this trip to anyone looking for the cruise experience and not wanting to head south in the summer; however, if it's Alaska you want to experience I would suggest looking into the cruise/land packages offered by the cruise lines or plan a different method for exploring the interior of Alaska that will take you more northeast.