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dave.s

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  1. My wife and I sailed on the August 31 Nieuw Amsterdam Alaska cruise, roundtrip from Vancouver with visits to Tracy Arm Inlet/Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and Ketchikan. I'm not writing a full review, but I wanted to share some notes and impressions from the cruise. This was not our first Alaska cruise. My wife and I took one on Princess in 2002, and I did two previous Alaska cruises in the 90's, one on Celebrity and the other on RCCL. I've been on many cruises but only once on HAL, and that was almost 25 years ago. It was the first time on HAL for my wife. EMBARKATION We took a taxi to Canada Place from our hotel, arriving around 11:00. The taxi waited in a long line in the parking garage to drop us off -- we should have left the taxi outside and walked. Embarkation was very quick and organized, with lots of staff directing people. We were able to board and go to our stateroom immediately after checking in and clearing Customs, so we were in our room before noon. The MDR was open for lunch from 12:00-1:30, so we ate there. Our luggage was delivered to our cabin around 2:00. CABIN We were in an aft-facing verandah cabin, #5191. The cabin was nice, with plenty of storage, a decent size bathroom with a tub/shower and handheld showerhead. Some of the space for hanging items was short, but I discovered you could fold the shelves up to make more space. Our cabin steward Jalu ("Lu") was very good. The balcony had two chairs with separate foot rests and a small table. The TV didn't appear to work correctly at first, but that's because you have to watch the entire safety presentation (just a few minutes) before you can access the menu. There was a limited selection of live TV, but we only watched the news once in a while to keep tabs on Hurricane Dorian (we live in FL). DINING Prior to the cruise, I made reservations in three of the specialty restaurants, Canaletto (first night), Pinnacle Grill (mid week), and Tamarind (last night). Once on board, we decided to try Tamarind on the second night. We had our other dinners and lunches in the MDR. Pinnacle and Tamarind were very good (Tamarind was better the first time), Canaletto was good but not great, and the MDR was pretty good. On Gala Nights people were not as dressed up as I've seen on other cruises. We had breakfast delivered to room each morning (including the last morning, which most cruise lines don't do). There's a limited selection of hot and cold items. A couple of mornings the order wasn't quite right, and a couple of times breakfast came either early or late, but overall it was fine. As with every other cruise line I've been on, there's an order tag you can hang outside your door before you go to bed. ENTERTAINMENT By far the best entertainment was the band at B.B. King's Blues Club, and we enjoyed that almost every night. We sat at the bar and got to know the bartenders (Jeffrey, Alan, and Luis). One night we listened to the dual piano players. They were good, and drew big crowds, but they didn't really play off each other like we've seen at other dueling piano shows. We were planning to listen to them a second time, but there were no seats available so went to B.B. King's instead. The only Mainstage shows we saw were the illusionist Leon Etienne and comedian Lamont Ferguson (two different shows). They were both good (the illusionist was better). My wife "volunteered" at Leon's show. They did a combined show the last night but we didn't go. Unlike some other ships we've been on, you didn't really have to get to the theater too early -- there were plenty of open seats up front even when the shows started. Bar service in the theater was more limited than what we've experienced elsewhere, and non-existent once the show started. The Orange Party was held at B.B. King's one night. Most people did not wear orange. The only differences between that night and other nights at the club were that the cruise director and some other crew members were dancing, the bartenders were wearing orange hats, and they were serving snacks. INTERNET AND WIFI I purchased the Premium Internet package before the cruise, which you can use on multiple devices but only one at a time. The service was pretty slow and unreliable, definitely not worth the money. I also signed up for AT&T's 30-day Cruise Plan, which gave me 50 minutes of voice and unlimited text on the ship's cellular (no data). They have a more expensive plan that provides some data and unlimited voice. One of the reasons I did this is because we spent a few days in Vancouver before the cruise, and I could use the Cruise Plan there (Canada is not included in my home wireless area). The HAL Navigator mobile app was useful. You don't need to buy an internet plan to connect to the ship's WiFi, and you can view the schedule of events, restaurant menus. and make dinner reservations (for specialty restaurants). You can also send messages other people who have the app (I didn't try that). If you do buy an internet plan, you can use the app to connect. I use NordVPN whenever I'm on a public WiFi network, and I limited success getting it to work with the ship's internet. The Navigator app doesn't work correctly when you're connected to a VPN. SHORE EXCURSIONS AND PORTS The only shore excursion I purchased from HAL (before the cruise) was the Tracy Arm Inlet tour. The ship passes through Tracy Arm Inlet on the way to Juneau, so you board the tour boat directly from the ship in the morning, and then board the ship directly from the tour boat that afternoon in Juneau. Overall we enjoyed the tour and are glad we did it, though it was expensive. We were supposed to meet at 8:15 in the theater and leave at 8:30 -- we didn't actually start leaving the ship until 9:15 (we could have used the extra sleep :-). We did two other excursions with local operations in Skagway and Juneau. Skagway and Juneau have become incredibly touristy since our last visit, with many blocks of nothing but jewelry stores and other typical tourist traps. Ketchikan had a bit more character, and the tourism was more integrated and not as in your face as the other ports. Glacier Bay was awesome. We spent quite a bit of time there, and they brought a naturalist on board to narrate. DISEMBARKATION We chose one of the early disembarkation groups (but not self-disembarkation) that was supposed to disembark around 8:30. Our flight from Vancouver was at around 12:30. We heard our group called a few minutes after 8:00, but we weren't quite ready to leave. When we arrived at the disembarkation point on the ship at around 8:20, we were told we were mistaken, and our group hadn't been called yet (other passengers verified that they also heard our group being called). Once they called our group (again), we got off the ship, claimed our bags, and cleared customs pretty quickly. There was no wait for taxi, and the ride to the airport was uneventful. The lines at the airport were short, and we were at our gate an hour or less after we disembarked. There was only one other ship disembarking, the Golden Princess, so that's probably why it went quickly. CONCLUSION We were happy overall with HAL and the cruise, and we definitely try HAL again. We did both get sick (colds or flu) a few days into the cruise, but this didn't appear to be a widespread problem, and we were still able to enjoy our trip.
  2. That’s unusual. Like HAL, NCL and Royal Caribbean require everyone of drinking age in the same room to buy the same package. I’ve sailed Princess too but I might not have purchased their package.
  3. All the other cruise lines I’ve used have the same requirement. They don’t want one person using their package to get “free” drinks for someone else (which would happen).
  4. The beverage package is expensive on all the cruise lines I’ve tried, and HAL is no worse than the others. At least the HAL package includes bottled water — some of the others don’t.
  5. How old is that bar menu? I didn’t see a date.
  6. I should add that I’ve also purchased the on-board premium internet plan for data access when at sea. On HAL that plan is per cabin, and though it supports multiple devices, only one can be connected at a time. I have no experience with HAL’s internet service, but I’ve never had good internet service on any cruise line so I’m not expecting much.
  7. I posted the following reply in another thread about cell plans, but it’s relevant here too if you’re an AT&T customer: The AT&T cruise plan has two options, both good for 30 days: $100 for 200MB of data and unlimited talk/text, or $50 for 50 minutes of talk and unlimited text (no data). One good feature of this plan for Alaska cruises is that you can use the service on land in Canada. I purchased the $50 option for my upcoming cruise because my service doesn’t include Canada. I also have the International Day Pass option but that doesn’t work at sea. Details of the AT&T plans here: https://www.att.com/offers/international-plans/cruise-packages.html
  8. The AT&T cruise plan has two options, both good for 30 days: $100 for 200MB of data and unlimited talk/text, or $50 for 50 minutes of talk and unlimited text (no data). One good feature of this plan for Alaska cruises is that you can use the service on land in Canada. I purchased the $50 option for my upcoming cruise because my service doesn’t include Canada. I also have the International Day Pass option but that doesn’t work at sea. Details of the AT&T plans here: https://www.att.com/offers/international-plans/cruise-packages.html
  9. I just returned from a 5-night Western Caribbean cruise on Infinity. I purchased the "XCelerate High-Speed Internet" package online before the trip, which I think was $143 for a single device (you can use multiple devices, but only one at a time). It was awful, and I wouldn't recommend paying for it. I purchased a package mainly because I wanted to be reachable, and I thought WiFi calling would be a better alternative to paying for shipboard cellular service. I also wanted to be able to access the web and e-mail. The XCelerate service is described as high speed and capable of supporting streaming video, but my experience was nothing like that. I found the connection dropped frequently, and when I was connected it was consistently very slow, making it very challenging to surf the web or even send/receive e-mail. The one time I tried to make a call over WiFi I was unable to. If I knew how bad it would be, I would have just paid for one of the AT&T cruise packages, which would have probably been less expensive even if I exceeded the data allowances, and would have been more reliable. If your cell provider has a similar plan, I suggest you check it out before buying the Celebrity internet package.
  10. I decided to wait for the new sale starting today before booking to see if there was any difference. Based on starting prices for each cabin type, the only change I saw was for mini-suites, which increased from $2,079 to $2,239 (I booked a balcony room). I decided to book with the non-refundable deposit because final payment isn't that far off (Sept 3), and I got insurance so I'll get the deposit back if I have to cancel for a covered reason.
  11. Maybe so for Dominica, but Martinique wasn’t impacted by the hurricanes last year. I also found another NCL itinerary visiting Dominica in December, unless they haven’t gotten around to changing that one yet.
  12. My wife and I were booked on a December Southern Caribbean sailing of the Jade. We recently received a notice that the itinerary was changed because of a "berthing conflict"; instead of visiting Dominica and Martinique, we're going to St. Kitts and St. Lucia instead. We haven't been to Dominica since 2003 and my wife has never been to Martinique, but we went to both St. Kitts and St. Lucia on our last Caribbean cruise, so we're not happy with the change. We're going to cancel and book a Princess cruise. How often does NCL make itinerary changes due to berthing conflicts? I did see other threads about this for different NCL sailings. I've been on many cruises before, but most have been on other cruise lines, and I don't recall ever having my itinerary change for this reason. Is this something that NCL does more than other cruise lines, or is it just happening more because there are more cruise ships? We were actually planning to take a Southern Caribbean cruise on the Jade last December, but NCL had to completely overhaul the itinerary because of hurricane damage to the ports, which was understandable. We cancelled that cruise also, but we were past final payment so we didn't get everything back.
  13. The terms of the sale say the 10% deposit is non-refundable, so I assume that's the case unless I see something when booking that indicates otherwise. For comparison, I was also pricing a Royal Caribbean itinerary, and when booking online I was actually given the choice of two different prices, a lower non-refundable price and a slightly higher refundable price. That's what I was hoping to see on the Princess site.
  14. How do you book with a non-refundable deposit? I'm going through the booking process online and not seeing that option.
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