Sherman's Food Adventures: NCL Norwegian Bliss Alaska Cruise

NCL Norwegian Bliss Alaska Cruise

Viv loves cruising.  From the very first time we took a cruise together, she was hooked.  However, she is indifferent about cruising to Alaska.  In fact, she may have stated that she will never do another Alaskan cruise (we've done 2).  So when the NCL Bliss started doing the Alaskan run from Seattle, I was afraid to ask her if she wanted to go or not.  You see, I really wanted to cruise on that ship...  She begrudgingly agreed after I sold her on the 18 different restaurants on board as well as the 2-deck go-kart track.  Oh and we booked a Mini-Suite, which included a full-sized shower and balcony.  Yep, let's travel in style, it really doesn't matter where we go!

Now about that Cabin, it was not really a "suite" as it was no bigger than the regular balcony cabin at 249 square feet.  As such, the cabin was pretty much what you'd find in any other cruise ship in that particular category.  Since we had the kids with us, the cabin was a quad where there was a pullman bed above the sofa bed.  Our 2 twins combined into a king.  We really enjoyed having USB ports at each side of the bed.  Still only one electrical outlet though at the base of the vanity.  Closet space was pretty limited located just to the left of the sofa bed.  It was enough, but barely.  The real highlight of the room (other than the balcony) was the large Washroom with full-sized shower.  Finally, I could move around and not hit my shoulder, head or butt into the wall or shower curtain.   Loved the multiple spray nozzles as it provided a full-body wash.  The double sinks also allowed for 2 people to get ready.  The fact that the toilet was not pushed up against anything was also a plus.

Although the NCL Bliss isn't as big as the Oasis class ships from RCCL (I've been on the Allure), it is still one of the larger cruise ships in the industry.  Although there were plenty of public areas, I found many of them rather crowded and with many bottlenecks when activities overlapped.  One of the worst locations was the Atrium (not pictured) where it seemed that they used for almost everything.  This included trivia, live shows and seminars.  Trying to get a seat would require one to stalk the previous session and hope people would leave.  There was not enough seating at times for the amount of people who wanted to attend/participate.  To further complicate the situation, the same area also contained guest services, Starbucks and the photo studio.  As a result, people just passing through would be stuck in the crowd around the atrium.  One of the ways to avoid this is to sit above in the Local Bar & Grill and look down into the atrium when there were are shows.  Whenever we wanted to grab a quick bite in a more tranquil setting, we headed over to the Observation Lounge.

Boasting 18 different restaurants, there was no need to worry where our next meal would be.  However, most came with a cover charge or a la carte pricing.  We ended up getting the 3-Restaurant dining package included with our cruise.  For the kids, we had to add 2 more packages to cover them since each cabin only comes with 2 free packages.  Even though one could pick any 3 restaurants, Ocean Blue required an extra $10.00 surcharge.  We decided on Cagney's, Le Bistro and La Cucina as our 3 specialty restaurants.  To ensure we sampled as many dining options as possible, we went a la carte at Food Republic and Q Smokehouse.  Moreover, we visited all 3 main dining rooms (complimentary) including The Manhattan Room, Savor and Taste as well as the Garden Cafe (buffet) and Observation Lounge (light buffet).  For lunch, we paid the cover charge for Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville.  Other than Ocean Blue (focus on seafood), the other spots we didn't get to try were The District Brewhouse, Los Lobos (Mexican), Teppanyaki (we tried this on a the Pride of America) and The Haven Restaurant (only available to those staying in The Haven).  In the following days, I will address every restaurant we ate at as an individual post.

In addition to the many restaurants, we found the aforementioned Starbucks, Coco's, Dolce Gelato and The Bake Shop.  At Coco's, one could feast on desserts, milkshakes and custom sundaes.  Adjacent to each other, Dolce Gelato featured 8 flavors and The Bake Shop boasted an array of macarons (12 varieties) and other pastries.  These were all extra charge and I only got to try the macarons.  They weren't necessarily on the level of the finer macarons in the world (like Pierre Hermes), but they were still legit.  So all the food was a big part of the cruise and so it should be, yet, one cannot go aboard the NCL Bliss and not be aware of the 2-level Go-Kart track at the back of deck 19.  These were electric go-karts and were able to go pretty fast, but limited by the staff.  I found it to be quite fun albeit frustrating due to the variety of racers on the track.  Some clearly have never done go-karting and hence do not know how to drive nor move over when they are going slow.  This was an extra $10.95 per race.  If you want to book a time, do so immediately when you get on the ship at many of the touchscreens near the elevators.  Otherwise, you will be on standby.

Another one of their featured activities was the Laser Tag on deck 20.   This was also a $10.95 charge for 2 games.  With the purpose-built futuristic bio-hazard lab theme course, we were placed into 2 teams (we didn't have a choice which team and who to play with).  I think they did as good of a job as possible given the space available on the top level of the ship.  There seemed to be enough room to hide and move about.  Instead of wearing vests, the guns were also the target for the opposing team.  This made is it a bit confusing who was exactly on our team and also, it was hard to aim at an opponent when they could hide their gun at their side.  Whatever the case, this was still a fun experience and worth trying out while on board.  Nearby, the 2 Watersides were pretty impressive to look at, but for us, only one was working all cruise.  The wait for it wasn't actually that bad, but we had to walk quite a distance to go from the end of the slide back to the start.  It didn't go very fast, but again, worth a few runs.

In terms of entertainment, the one show we really loved was The Jersey Boys in the Main Theater.  The production quality as well as the talent was top notch.  For those who haven't seen the play, it is about the rise and fall of the Four Seasons.  In the cruise ship industry, we find full-length Broadway productions generally on larger cruise ships (and longer cruises).  I've watch Chicago on The Allure of the Seas before and The Jersey Boys was certainly on par.  To ensure you are guaranteed a seat to watch the show, you must book in online prior to your cruise or if still available, on one of the screens near the elevators (or your room too).  Another highlight was the cover band of the Beatles playing at the "Cavern Club".  Yes, they did a version of the original nightclub in Liverpool that the Beatles used to play at.  The musicians were really good and everyone always had a rockin' good time at all their shows.  We watched them twice!  We also caught them in the main theater for their final show of the cruise where they were dressed in their Sgt Pepper's unis.

Since this was our 3rd cruise to Alaska, the ports weren't as important as the ship itself.  However, we did try to enjoy each stop regardless.  We did noticed that in Juneau, they had moved the location of Tracy's Crab Shack into an actual B&M rather than a food stand.  Over in Skagway, the town has been built-up more, but we opted to go for a hike to Yakutania Point and Smuggler's Cove.  It was moderate and offered up some amazing views.  We didn't get too creative in Ketchikan, where we only wandered around the town.  Miraculously, this was our 3rd time here and it hadn't rained each time.  You see, Ketchikan sees only 100 days of sunshine a year!  And you thought Seattle and Vancouver had it rough...  Of course, probably the highlight of the cruise was cruising into Glacier Bay where the views were spectacular.  We've done this before, so it wasn't as awe-inspiring, but for those who haven't seen it, definitely get those cameras ready.  Honestly, Victoria was a throwaway stop (only 7:00pm to midnight) because it was only on the itinerary to satisfy the "international port" requirement so that they could have an international crew.  The fact this cruise was a return trip to Seattle, meant we would have to drive back up to Vancouver afterwards, but Seattle is a great destination in itself.

Similar to many other cruise lines, we chose our embarkation time and arrived within a 30-minute window.  This really cut down the lines and amount of people arriving at the docks at the same time.  However, the cruise terminal in Seattle wasn't the best for being dropped off as the street was narrow and parking was limited.  Once inside, it was a breeze to get on the ship.  Getting off the massive ship was another story though.  There were 2 lines to get off and one was definitely longer (which we were in).  That line snaked through the casino.  We really should've used the other line which was at the front of the ship.  This process took very long and according to our time, over an hour.  Not unusual though as it took some time on the Allure as well.  Overall, we enjoyed out cruise aboard The Bliss where the food at the specialty restaurants was good and the entertainment was top notch.  There was enough activities on board for the younger crowd and plenty of shows around.  However, we found that there could've been more things planned on our daily schedule.

The Good:
- New and modern cruise ship with all of the amenities
- Lots of dining options
- Unique activities such as go-karts and laser tag
- Top notch entertainment
- All the new technology

The Bad:
- Some bottlenecks with so many thing happening at once 
- Non-specialty restaurants are so-so
- Similar to other cruise lines, the best food comes with a surcharge
- Arriving in Juneau at 2:30pm limits the activities you would want to do
- Debarkation was very long

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