A summer adventure to Alaska

This trip report, from a client who just did an Alaska cruise with her family of four, provides a great opportunity to compare two different viewpoints of the exact same cruise itinerary. Clare (see below) was on the 8/4/13 sailing of the Norwegian Pearl from Seattle and another client, Terry (see her review here), was on the sailing right before that — on 7/28/13.  Between the two, there are LOTS of great tips and advice for anyone considering an Alaska cruise. Enjoy!

Hi Ann,

Okay, here you go….  I am sure I will write far more detail than you ever wanted!  All excursions were booked via the cruise line.


The hotel (Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza) was great – staff was friendly, and the kids felt like they were in someplace really “fancy” – ha ha.  Not like the cheap hotels we usually get for soccer tournaments and swim meets!

  • Food suggestions – My brother swears by Etta’s – we missed our dinner reservations on Friday b/c of flight delays, so we never got there.  Serious Pie – best pizza and Top Pot Donuts for breakfast! 🙂
  • We did the Experience Music Project and both kids LOVED it.  Highly recommend
  • My brother suggested we take the ferry to Bainbridge Island, just to get a good view of the city.  We did that, walked around town, got some ice cream and came back.


  • We did one of the whale watching tours.  Allen Marine – Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest.  Apparently, we got a really good trip – we saw bubble feeding – which the naturalist was so excited for.  She said she had not seen that all summer.  We did see a ton of whales, and some sea lions.
  • Overall, we thought that it was a good trip.  Very crowded – and we had a lot of people on the boat who did not want to “share” the sights – give people turns to take photos.
  • Mark has been on a lot of whale watches – and he thought this was among the best.  The staff was excellent.
  • Town – we did some shopping (no purchases) – and ate at the Red Dog Saloon.  Very “local” – fun place – food was fine, beer was great, prices were very high for the amount of food received.  They have live music (guitar/singer) for the cruise ships – he was very fun.  A little off color, but was fine for the kids.


  • Grizzly Falls Zip line – The kid’s favorite excursion.  It was a lot of fun.  The staff was outstanding – from the person who drove us from the dock to the location to the two women who led our zip lines.  We laughed, saw some scenery, and enjoyed our morning.  On the way back to town, the driver even stopped for us to take some photos.
  • White Pass Railway – Unbelievable scenery – lots of good information and photos.  It was 3 hours, which was a bit long, but the train can’t go too fast.  I would have been disappointed if this was our only excursion, but we were happy with it since we zip lined in the morning.
  • Town – we did some shopping – same stores for the most part as Juneau – this time we purchased.  Brett was disappointed he did not speak up in Juneau that he saw something he liked, b/c they did not have the item in Skagway.  We ate at the Sweet Tooth Café (kids choice this time).  Basic Diner food – it was good – but the prices were high (but more food than the saloon).  We were just a little tired of the ship food, but in hind sight, would not have done this – just gotten a treat and then eaten a meal on the boat.


  • Zodiac Coastline Excursion – Mark’s & my favorite excursion – and the kids loved it ALMOST as much as the zip lines.  The staff was the best.  We drove over 30 miles in our own small zodiac boat, led by one of their staff.  He fed two eagles – so we were super close.  Also went to a sea lion sanctuary and got within 20 feet of them.  It was amazing.  And, even though it was against the rules – he did let the younger kids drive the boats once we were out in open water.  🙂  They loved that.   I HIGHLY recommend this one!
  • That was all we had time for – just made it back to the ship in time.  We actually would have liked a little more time in this port.  It seemed rushed.
  • We walked from the ship along the water into town.  Fun to see the modern construction then turn to more old style.  Enjoyed seeing the castles.
  • We ate at Earl’s – by far the best food we had all week.  Thirst quenching beer also!  🙂  They were one of the few places we found that we could have a beer and feed the kids –the pubs we walked by were 19 and older.
  • $9 cab back to the ship

We all agreed we would rather have had a longer stay in Ketchikan and skipped Victoria – though the food was really good! 🙂

Norwegian Pearl:

  • Staff was outstanding – pretty much everyone we ran into had a smile on their face and seemed focused on making our trip enjoyable.
  • Mini-Suite – SO GLAD you suggested this size room – it was fine for the 4 of us.  Mark and I said we would never go smaller, even if it is just the 2 of us.  Room was clean, well-kept, and the bathroom size was not bad at all either.
  • Pools – the kids would have liked a larger pool to swim in.  There was an “Adult only” pool that was the same size as the kids and rarely had anyone in it, and if anyone was in it, there were only 2 or 3.  They were disappointed that even though the pool was 6 feet deep, they could not jump in.  They did love the slide.
  • Hot tubs were fine – kids thought they were too hot.   🙂
  • Food – you read a lot of mixed reviews about the food on this ship and Norwegian in general.  We would classify it as “fine.”  The poolside bbqs by far had the best on-ship food all week.  I think partially b/c they were cooking it fresh right in front of you.  We primarily ate in the buffet with maybe 6 meals in the dining rooms.  We ate there more for the peace and quiet, as the food was not too different from the buffet.  I would say a true “foodie” would probably think poorly of the food, but the average person/family would think it was okay.  The kids thought the fries were the best fries they had ever eaten (so they ate them all the time) and they also had delicious bread.  The fresh fruit was plentiful and ripe.  The crepes were delicious, but overall, the desserts just fair.  We ate twice at a place that was open all the time with more bar-like food, and this was pretty good.  The Chocolate Buffet – They had a ton of beautiful sculptures and displays.  A couple of things that tasted good, but nothing that I thought was outstanding.  Truthfully, I just find the people outrageous at this buffet!  (Brett was so disgusted by how “piggy” people were, he only tried one thing…)  Royal Caribbean did this much better as I recall.
  • Entertainment – great acts (Second City, a juggler, a comedian – all were kid appropriate or had kid-appropriate shows)
  • Kids Club – Dillon (10) – LOVED this – the staff members were terrific.  He tried to squeeze in a visit every day.  This was a life saver on days we were at sea all day and it was chilly or rainy out.
  • Other Activities – Brett was disappointed that a lot of the scheduled activities on the sports courts, ping pong tables, and golf area ended up getting cancelled b/c of weather or low turn-out.  One activity he was about 2 minutes late for had already started and they would not let him join in.  Also – he is an exercise fanatic, and it was very disappointing he could not visit the fitness center even if he was with Mark or I.  He did run on the deck/track almost every day.  (He needed to burn some energy!)
  • Rock Climbing Wall – the kids finally got to do this our last full day.  It was closed for most of our trip b/c of weather.  They were disappointed to not have done it earlier in the trip.
  • Glacier Bay – We LOVED this day – and primarily enjoyed it from our balcony.  We had hot chocolate delivered (it was gross… lol) and liked that we could turn on our TV to hear the Park Ranger narration.
  • Weather – not that you control this – but we did have great weather.  Days in port were 70 or higher.  Brett actually did not have enough shorts and t-shirts.
  • On-Board Spending – Mark and I are not big drinkers – I think we each had 6 beers the whole week and I had 2 or 3 mixed drinks – so I imagine our final bill was less than many.  We did go to Bingo a few times, and Deal or No Deal once.  We bowled and the kids did a few arcade games.  Mark and I did the soda deal – which for us is a steal.  So, our final bill was under $500 (we pre-paid our service charges, so this does not include those).  We were happily surprised with this – b/c we really did not go in trying to curtail our spending.
  • Kids did have ship envy when we were docked with one of the Princess ships and one of the Holland America ships.  🙂  But I think it is natural to see things you wished you had.
  • Embarkation and Disembarkation – VERY easy and quick.  Probably 20-25 minutes from arrival at the dock to walking on the boat.  No wait at disembarkation – we chose to walk off with our bags at 7:30 am to avoid the rush.

Ann – you provided excellent guidance for us.  We were hesitant to try Norwegian again b/c of our prior experience and just overall reviews are so mixed.  While we know it was not a top of the line ship or cruise line – it definitely met our needs.  I appreciated that you really had us think about what was important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say.  Also – when I asked about excursions – you guided us well in terms of the amount of activity and who else may select to go on certain activities.  THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family!  It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Thanks again,

~ Clare

An Epic Vacation

A very thoughful client just took her extended family (14 people!) on a Western Caribbean cruise on the brand new Norwegian Epic. Here are her thoughts and feedback about the trip:


This vacation was well thought out and well organized. The destinations were beautiful and the timing of the trip was perfect. I think it was the perfect way to celebrate with a family of 14.  

Our Southwest flights were great. On the return flight I was nervous about checking in because on the way back the internet was down the last day on the ship. But we just got in line with the family group and no one stopped us. Our attendant Thomas on the way to Ft. Lauderdale was a great guy – really enjoyed him.

Overall, the transfers went well. My brother in law was not pleased with the driver from SAS transportation when we were leaving the port, though, because he was very vocal about me getting on board to leave…I wasn’t going to leave until I had the van next to me for the Miami people since my step father was so ill. He did not explain that there was a $1000 fee for standing for transfer services until I was on board the van. It was only a few minutes.  And Miami Jet felt so bad about their mistake on the arrival transfer … Obama was in town causing a mess! Had I known that, I would have been kinder when I called them. Jackie told me the driver was afraid to talk to me at the hotel. The Miami jet folks were fine…it was out of their hands.

We LOVED our pre-cruise stay at the Hampton Inn Miami Airport South!! The pool was a bit chilly but not for my kids who are part fish. They had great menus and we called for delivery from a pizza place and a Cuban restaurant. They even had beer in the lobby for sale. It was a great property!!  The breakfast was the usual Hampton Inn fare and they had waffle makers. That dining area was terrific for us all to gather and eat dinner!

Embarkation at the Miami pier was FLAWLESS…so easy!!  The only thing is that I thought I could put our room bill on one card and the others on another. They could not allow that. Fortunately I had ample credit available so there was no crisis. But had I known that I would have been more careful to allow ample credit for our NCL check out. But as I said it there was no crisis and I was able to keep an eye on our bill tally on our room TV and if I was concerned I am sure I could have gone and closed out with one credit card and but the balance on another.

The wheelchair rental worked out well, but next time I would recommend that they get a scooter. It sat in the room a lot because my Mom couldn’t push it. People on scooters were all over. I was really grateful to have it be so easy!

We all loved the Epic. We were so lucky, though, because the attendance was around 3,000 for our week. Capacity is 4,200…I can’t imagine it with 1,200 more folks. We never stood in lines, we were waited on like royalty and it was so beautiful. We loved the entertainment options. The pool area was our favorite spot and I loved how it was laid out for kids. My husband said the water slides were the perfect stair master. He ate like a lot and didn’t gain a pound! My kids LOVE the water slides!I would have preferred the larger balcony cabin, but the one we had was nice. There was a queen bed  — which I wanted to put into my suitcase it was so comfy —  and then the couch pulled out to a bed (which I slept on one night and it was comfy) and the other was a bunk.  This was great for my kids who thought that was the coolest thing EVER, but for the family with young ones, that didn’t work at all. The cool thing about the bunks is that they are in the ceiling. There was so much storage to unpack!! But it was tricky to find. I was glad we all shared the tricks we learned….Especially when I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights!! (you insert your key card.) The toilet and shower are on either side of  the door and there was a curtain. That was odd to me because it didn’t feel very private even though there was a curtain.

When we went to see the Blue Man Group they let us take over a balcony area – move  seats and everything.  It was like being the royal family. LOVED that, and the show was so amazing!! The Cirque Dreams was fun – but I have seen the big shows they do and so I was entertained but not impressed – it was vaudeville with great circus aerial acts. There was one man who did this act in a bath tub, who was a favorite of all the ladies…OMG!! Never saw a body like that so close!!

The food was delicious everywhere we went, and abundant! I told my family if they were hungry it was their fault! We especially liked Moderno – the Brazilian restaurant! Went two times and took all 14 the last night. The Garden Cafe is really super to serve something for everyone – with fun tastes to try and always a soft serve ice cream machine going. Their nightly crepe stations were so fun to think of how to make a new taste sensation.

All our meals were lovely – we ate at the Manhattan Room as a family the night we all dressed up and had our photo taken. It was so nice that when I shared that it was my mother and father’s anniversary they brought a cake and sang “Let me call you sweetheart” We shed a few tears at that since he is so sick. It was lovely!

Costa Maya was so fun to sail into.  The port is so newly done and brightly painted and beautiful. There were three ships there on the dock with us but we were well organized and really enjoyed our outings. There was even a nice bathroom in the excursion gathering area there if you need one before leaving on your adventure.

The crew that went zip lining thought it was safe and fun – they were especially happy that they took such good care to prep them, and the girls road tandem with their dads on part of the line. It was a long zip line ride too in three parts. The sandwich they got for lunch wasn’t too delicious but they really didn’t care – they weren’t in it for the sandwiches.

The group that did the beach getaway thought that it was amazing! Such a beautiful spot – there was the most spotless bathrooms with showers and a canopy where you could order food. Open bar was included and the tequila they served was just fabulous. My favorite moment from the entire week was when the kids were done with the sand and the water and I was in the bathroom with them while they showered and my mom came in to find me….she brought us shots and we sat and enjoyed our tequila and chatted….what a memory!! The bus service was amazing – there were vendors there and a few of our party got  henna tattoos and souvenirs. It was a nice day.

The dolphin experience in Cozumel was very stressful getting there with 14 people and several children who were not happily anticipating the experience. However, in the end, everyone loved it!!!! The park is beautiful and offered a lot to do from shopping and eating, sea lion shows, beach and pool. The sky grew very dark but it didn’t rain on us which I was grateful for. The pictures were very pricey, but I ended up working a deal and getting a disc of all the pics. Can’t have a priceless moment like that and no photos!

The port at Cozumel was so beautiful and so organized. I really would enjoy going there for an extended time. Didn’t get to see much but the park and the immediate pier area and it all looked so fun!!

The park at Roatan was lovely – I didn’t go see the monkeys (my son wasn’t up for it) but I had a great time in the general area. Everyone really enjoyed the monkeys and the other animals they experienced. There is a nice beach and even a beautiful pool there. We stayed under a beautiful canopy area that had a concession area and A LOT of bats in the ceiling. Of course I had everyone else wear a ton of bug spray so they didn’t get any bug bites – my family got a few and are still itchy from them…but nothing horrible by any means. A little itch relief and it’s ok.

The dock at Roatan had entertainers there that were so fun – from the moment our ship pulled up they were singing and dancing. My step father skipped this excursion (as well as the dolphins) and he was so happy to have a show from his balcony since we were facing the port. There were also a lot of options for shopping and the guide for the park was articulate and nice.

Here are my thoughts/advice for someone considering a similar cruise:

Don’t ever take 14 people on one trip! It was very stressful to be in charge. I know a lot of that is my personality being a planner person but I would limit a group size to 8-10.  Although our group size was manageable for the staff of the EPIC and the excursions we all attended.  I think that our group was special in that we had a very sick man with a desire to be independent…and several children with ADD..

We took walkie talkies….we got the cheapest ones at Radio Shack and they were worthless on the ship. That would be a service that NCL could rent for the week to large groups and it would be so worth it!!

NCL had so many options for all the age groups in our group and that made it so easy in a lot of ways. The Nickelodeon team was fun for all ages.

I was especially impressed with the Recess kids area. My son had trouble being there and instead of suggesting he not return – they gave us a phone so if he had troubles they could contact us. We only sent him there twice because it was hard for him but the 2 year old autistic child went there without issues several times. They only got one phone call for a potty issue.

Thanks for every little thing!! Without you I would have jumped overboard planning this family trip!!

Most Sincerely,


Babies On Board

A cruise is a great option for multi-generational vacations, but what about the very youngest family members? How easy is it to cruise with an infant?

In my opinion, it depends.

It depends on the child, the parents, the ship, the destination, and whether you have other willing helpers (grandparents!) along for the ride. Granted, if you’re traveling with an infant (on land OR at sea) it’s not going to be the same relaxing experience you enjoyed pre-children, but some careful choices up front — along with the guidance of an experienced travel professional — can make all the difference.

Some cruise lines, like Disney, are clearly aimed at families and would be expected to offer kid-friendly amenities (and they do). But you might be surprised by some of the more upscale lines that also go out of their way to make things easier for moms and dads. Cunard, for example, provides nannies, late-night babysitting, and a well-stocked children’s library.

For a great round-up of some of the most baby-friendly cruise lines — and a guide to some of the important things to think about when planning a cruise with your little ones — check out this article.

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)