Young 25 year old first-timers. We're trying to decide between the Sun Princess 7 day Inside Passage and Norwegian Wind Alaska and Sawyer Glacier cruises.
Here are our preferences:
1) Biggest priority is the "nature" and seeing neat things like glaciers and wildlife from the ship itself, preferably on our private balcony. We're not big into excursions and dont really want to pack a ton of stuff into a 7 day cruise. Mostly, we want to chill and relax and take the nature in. Think Ralph Waldo Emerson. With that said, we'd like to do some excursion stuff but the from-boat scenery is by far the most important.
2) We like food. We like good food. We like a lot of good food.
3) Entertainment is good but not very important. We'd like to see some good revues but its not a dealbreaker.
4) Size of room isn't a huge deal to us. But we really do want a balcony. I should rephrase. We think we want a balcony but we're not sure if we're overrating the whole balcony experience since we are first-timers. Is it more of a gimmick? Or is it really worth the 800 dollar per person difference, given our preferences?
5) We want "neat" things on the ship, for lack of a better word. Want it to be fun and feel like there is some hustle and bustle.
6) The itineraries are important. For example, Sun spends a day in Victoria (something we don't really care about) while Norwegian spends more time in glaciers (goes through Sawyer Glacier) and the Inside Passage, which admittedly is more important to us.
The price difference, we have found, is pretty huge. Taking into account airfare and everything, for a balcony in a Norwegian it's about 2600 per person (stateroom with picture window being about 1800). Balcony on the Sun Princess is about 1700. We want the best value obviously. Our instincts tell us to pick the Norwegian stateroom at this point since it is reasonably priced and gives us (what we think) we like in nature and scenery. It seems Princess is more excursion-savvy than Norwegian, something which isnt a big plus to us. But then the key question is, is the balcony worth the huge price jump? Would we really be missing out if we didn't have a a balcony?
And a related question: would it just be better to get the Sun Balcony over the Norwegian stateroom? Both are about the same price.
Princess has the better reputation in Alaska, but the itinerary is better on Norwegain... also, out of Seattle the Sun must dock at a Canadian port by law, thus the Vicoria stop.... not a plus, but the balcony is a big plus in my opinion.... it is after all Alaska, the views from the balcony will be astounding, but you'll have your window on Norwegain. I'm not a big fan of Norwegain but I'd do the inside passage and Sawer glacier given the choice
IMHO a balcony is a must for Alaska. Yes you can, and should, go all over the outside decks, especially fore and aft, but nothing is more relaxing than sitting on your balcony watching the awsome scenery go by.
We're not into gambling, art auctions, games, etc so spend a lot of time on the balcony just vegging out.
How locked are you into the Princess or Norwegian decision with the itineraries mentioned? If you are more flexable then I really think you should book a ship going to Glacier Bay. IMHO a must for first (and maybe only?) cruise to Alaska. The best of both worlds is some HAL ships go to both Glacier Bay and the Sawyer glacier if you can find a good deal.
We felt that the time in Victoria was a waste. We'd have preferred our last evening sailing. But it was only a few hours out of the whole trip so not so bad to deal with. We didn't do any tours in Victoria however.
Vancouver cruises are more scenic since they go inside Vancouver Island and are more in the inside passage. Seattle trips are outside the island and while the scenery is still great, you're not as close to land.
We had no complaints from our Seattle home port nor with NCL as a cruise line. I wouldn't hesitate to use NCL from Seattle at all if the price and itinerary was right. Many people complain about NCL but for our needs, if they weren't as good as Celebrity or HAL, it wasn't by much.
It seems like you guys think the balcony is pretty much a necessity. Quick question about that: are the balconies private or am I going to be kissing my girl while Joe Neighbor is breathing down my neck from his balcony? I'm assuming they space out the rooms with balconies to ensure privacy but just wanted to make sure.
Peter, you brought up Glacier Bay. Is that an actual stop where you get off the boat or is it just cruise through? And just curious, why do you think it's such a must? Is it substantially different than Sawyer Glacier?
Also, on the rooms with "picture windows," you can open the window and feel the breeze, right? Is a balcony substantially better than a window?
On our 3 trips to Alaska we had balconies and they were covered from above. This is good for privacy and for cover on the rainy days. If you're leaning on the rail and look left, right, down, you will see other sailers. So they're not totally private but if you stand back from the rail it's very nice.
It seems to me that the new Princess ships have the majority of the cabins staggered so your neighbors above can look right in to your balcony and you can easily look down on your neighbors below. I've only seen photos of this however and have not sailed Princess yet.
Glacier Bay is stunning! As you slowly glide in to the bay you'll see many glaciers on the port side of the ship. You'll pass Johns Hopkins inlet and go on to visit the Margerie glacier. Certain times of the year you'll enter the Hopkins inlet as well. You'll stop at Margerie for about an hour. The captain will pivot the ship so both sides get equal viewing. You'll hear moans and cracks and with luck will see calving. I have to admit we haven't been to the Sawyer glaciers. From what I've read the ships can't get as close to the glaciers. Very beautiful in there as well. We've also visited Hubbard glacier. Also quite spectacular but we enjoyed Glacier bay much more. Go into the photo areas and you can find postings of all these areas.
I always get a cheap inside cabin, and never have any limitations on tours I take. Frankly the tours are a BIG part of Alaska travel, in my opinion, you get only half a trip without them. You also have been looking at too many Alaska travel brochures You are not likely to see ANY wildlife by just sitting on your balcony. First off, you have cut your chances by over 50% with side viewing. It also requires a great deal of invested time and knowing the areas.
As for your two ship selections, I give the Wind an edge for the Vancouver sailing- far more scenic sailing compared to the Sun Princess. But I do suggest you consider other than Tracy Arm if glacier viewing is a priority, a great number of sailings do not get a Sawyer viewing. And by far Glacier Bay is my top pick, having sailed all the glacier areas of the major cruise ships. With that perhaps look at the NCL Star?? A compromise with sailing out of Seattle, but Glacier Bay is superior to both the other two ships. As for the best itinerary sailing Alaska this year- I pick HAL round trip Vancouver with both Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm.
Plenty to think about- the freestyle of NCL is excellent in Alaska, and Princess has the similar Personal Choice. So- for your priority of scenic sailing, definately pick Vancouver, as for the $800 balcony difference?? That could buy some great excursions, only you can decide what is more important. Happy sailing!!!