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Alaskan Cruise on the Norwegian Pearl 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

This post is incredibly freaking long.  I didn't feel like splitting it up, because you either want to know about it and you'll read the whole thing anyway, or you don't and you'll skip the whole thing.  So what's the point of making two posts, right?  In case you missed it, during the first week of August, I went on an Alaskan cruise with my parents on the Norwegian Pearl.  I loved every minute of it.  If you've been thinking that it's on your bucket list, I highly encourage you to do it.

I listed it out by itinerary, hopefully that's helpful.

Saturday - Seattle
We left Chicago midday, flying from O'Hare airport to Seattle (SeaTac) on American Airlines.  I loathe the Seattle airport, but more on that later.  I only brought a carry on, so I didn't need to wait for a bag, but of course my parents did.  Once we finally got their suitcases, we got a cab (there was no line) over to our hotel, the Seattle Marriott Waterfront.  We ended up going to Cutter's Crabhouse for dinner because we could walk over from the hotel, and my parents really liked the food.  I don't do seafood, (which honestly made the trip a bit harder!), but the spaghetti I got gets a thumbs up.  Our waiter told us there was one cruise ship that docks right outside our hotel, but that most of them are a couple of miles away and that we would need to take a cab over in the morning, so that was our plan. After dinner we just walked around the waterfront and the Pike Place Market a bit.

A lot of people wanted to know what to do in Seattle, but we just didn't get a lot of time there, so I asked Jenn at Hello Rigby, a native, for her suggestions of must see places.  Here's what she had to say:

"1. Pike Place Market: The Market is busy all the time, but for good reason. Pick up some beautiful flowers for the perfect Instagram shot, eat some freshly made cheese from Beecher's, grab a latte and a croissant from Le Panier, or catch some fish (literally) at one of the open-air fish stands.

2. Seattle Waterfront: Take the stairs down from the Market and arrive at Seattle's waterfront. The pier is beautiful and is a great place to breath in the fresh air, watch the ferries, or hop onto the Great Wheel, the water taxi, or plan an excursion to Canada aboard the Victoria Clipper.

3. Seattle Center: Depending on when you're visiting, Seattle Center is a bustling hub of fun. If you love museums and music, check out the EMP Museum. A room full of guitars, a live instrument lab, and rotating exhibits await. During the summer, run through the fountains and grab some ice cream. For those that love spectacular colors, the Chihuly Glass Museum is another can't miss spot. And for the kids? Take them to Pacific Science Center. Adults will love it too.

4. Starbucks Reserve Roastery: Full disclosure, I haven't been here yet but it's been recommended so many times to me that I may as well have! ;) For the coffee aficionado, get your roast on and grab some food at Starbuck's newest and most unique outpost in Seattle atop Capitol Hill.

5. Alki Beach: Probably my favorite beach in all of Seattle is Alki. The city views are stunning, and plenty of fun restaurants and shops line the pathway around the water. Get some exercise, then grab some fish and chips from Spud's, chowder at Duke's, or tacos at Cactus."

For more on Seattle, head over to Jenn's blog!  She's always there to answer questions and give you good tips!  Thanks for your help, Jenn.

Sunday - Cruise Leaves Seattle
When we woke up, we were planning on getting our stuff and getting a cab over to our ship, but we looked out the window and surprise!  Our ship was the one sitting in the dock right in front of us.  Perfect.  This gave my mom and I time to go over to the original Starbucks in the Pike Place Market. We got there early enough (about 7? 7:30?) that the line wasn't bad.  We waited only about 8 minutes to get inside.  The making of drinks took longer - baristas, you would not cut it in a Chicago Starbucks, I'll tell you that - but it was fun just to say we went there.  Heard the line gets way worse about 8 and 9 a.m. so go early.  Unless Starbucks isn't your thing, then don't bother because Seattle had a million good coffee places we passed.  

Once we got back, we got our bags and dragged them over to the building in front of the boat for processing.  Getting on the ship is like getting on a plane - if you don't have a carry on size bag, you need to check your luggage, which will get delivered to your stateroom on the ship by bed time, but there's no guarantee what time it'll come.  Can you tell I'm a big fan of the carry on?!  We checked my parents stuff but I kept my bag with me.  At this point we went through the line where you fill out paperwork saying you aren't sick and have the staff give you your room cards (they take your picture so no one can steal and use your card - it's how you charge everything on the boat!)  Normally they give you a boarding pass number and you wait for your number to be called and then you can get on the boat, but we were with the Caesar's Group (gambling for the win!) so we were the first ones to be able to get on.

Once you're on, there were a few things open.  Two buffets and a dining room, I believe it was, plus the pool area.  Everyone takes this time to explore and eat.  Once everyone was on and we pulled away from the dock, more things started opening up and they announced rooms were ready incredibly quickly - while we were still in U.S. waters even.  At that point we went to the rooms, because I wanted to unpack and my parents had a balcony so we were able to hang out out there and watch the scenery.  I believe we ate dinner in the buffet that night and also went to the casino.  Of course.

Monday - Day At Sea
They called this a 'day at sea' because we didn't stop anywhere.  This evening, by the way, was the only one where I really felt the boat moving.  We were on open water with fairly big waves, and there were a few times where I took a step and thought 'hmmm did I have one too many martinis?' and then remembered that it was the boat.  But the day at sea was great - we saw so many whales!  We were able to cover the entire boat and check out all the restaurants and bars.  Like any cruise, every day is packed with activities and you can pick and choose whatever you want to participate in, from sports to trivia to shows.

Tuesday - Juneau, Alaska
In the afternoon we made it to Juneau.  Population 32,000.  For the record, the population of all of Alaska is about 740,000.  Conversely, the population of Chicago is about 3 million.  We didn't plan any excursions - excursions are where you get off the boat and go on some planned adventure in the town that costs you extra, like hiking or snorkeling - in Juneau, because we were only there for 6 hours.  We walked around the town and (obviously) went to a bar.  It was a pretty decent day!  Overcast but about 70 degrees.  The residents told us there's usually rain (southern Alaska is a rainforest, after all) and that we made it on a nice day.

Wednesday - Skagway, Alaska
Of all the stops, we spent the longest in Skagway.  I think the boat was there for a full 16 hours, if not longer.  We booked an excursion here where we went on an old school train car and went for 1.5 hours up into the mountains, following a similar trail they did during the gold rush.  I definitely got freaked out at the height but it was one of the most fun things we did.

Thursday - Glacier Bay, Alaska
On this day, we cruised through the national park known as Glacier Bay, but didn't make any stops.  This was the coldest part of the trip, the one day we really needed coats, gloves, and hats - but only if you wanted to be outside a lot.  You could very well see all the scenery from inside the ship.  But the ship stops right at one of the glaciers and turns in a circle so everyone on all sides of the boat could see it.  We went outside for a lot of this, because I love the cold and wanted to see everything close up and smell the icy air.

Yep, right through the ice

Friday - Ketchikan, Alaska
By far my favorite stop on the cruise, on Friday we landed in Ketchikan.  Guys, I could live here.  The town is so adorable, with colorful houses and cute little shops and restaurants.  It also had the best weather, it was sunny and 70s.

Saturday - Victoria, British Columbia
By Saturday afternoon we made it to Victoria, British Columbia.  In order to get off the boat here, you had to have a valid passport.  We all did so we got off and walked to the end of the pier, where my dad talked to a few drivers to see what our options were.  We could have walked to the downtown area but it was a pretty far walk.  So we opted to get in a car (similar to Uber X, it's not a cab) and have him drive us everywhere to see the sights.  We were driving around for about an hour and it cost us $60 US (they take American money, no worries), plus tip.  I thought it was a really good deal because he was able to narrate everything for us.  If I had been with just my mom or with friends, I probably would have taken a pedicab over to downtown and bar hopped, but my dad wanted to see the whole city and also not have to walk anywhere.

Sunday - Seattle and Back Home
We arrived back in Seattle early in the morning and had to be off the boat by 11 or so.  Here is one thing I absolutely recommend - unlike getting on the boat, you can keep your luggage with you when you exit, as long as you don't need crew assistance to carry it.  Do this! Otherwise you have to pack, leave it outside your room the evening before, leave the boat exactly at your assigned time, and then pick it up curbside.  If you keep it with you, you can leave the boat whenever you want (by 11 a.m. or whatever their time it) and drag it right off the boat and out to your next stop.  Which for us was a cab and then the airport.  It's perfectly simple to roll your luggage out yourself, I promise.

The Seattle airport was another story.  Other people claim it's not that bad, but that place is absolutely disgusting.  Hands down one of the dirtiest places I've ever been in in my life, and 100% the dirtiest airport I've ever been in - and I went to Bangalore, India in 1985. (And 2005, but it was pretty nice in 2005.)  Dust and dirt covered everything, and the floors looked like the cleaning crew had been on strike for the last 6 months.  Everything is slow and delayed and look, O'Hare is like the worst for delays and luggage taking forever, so my standards and low and still.  SeaTac was worse.  The city is great and the cruise was amazing, but I'll never go there through that airport again.

Okay, I feel like that was everything. Any questions?  Ask away!