I’ve gotten a healthy dose of wanderlust over the last couple years after I travelled to Connecticut in 2016 and then road-tripped across Canada and the USA in 2017. After getting back from the road trip, there was this pressing sense of eternal denouement and nothing would ever top that trip (it was pretty epic). To help combat that feeling, I brainstormed different places I wanted to travel to and the ways to get there. My dad is my partner in crime when it comes to these hypothetical trips: we egg each other on and regardless of my mother’s ever-present scolding and reminders to be realistic, things like driving to and camping at Disney World mysteriously come to fruition when my dad and I are behind the blueprints. My parents are frequent cruisers and my dad, to add to my travel bug, suggested I look at cruise websites.
I’d been toying with the idea of going on a solo Alaskan Disney cruise as they generally leave from my hometown of Vancouver. However, even with the Canadian resident discount, the prices are still absurd (think $2,000 per person for a seven day cruise to Alaska). I was hooked on the idea of taking a cruise out of Vancouver because it would remove the expense of airfare and accommodation before and after the cruise docks. We went on a handful of family cruises over the years and these generally meant flying to Florida and building a whole holiday around the cruise rather than the cruise being the holiday in itself. When I was semi-sold on the solo Alaskan Disney cruise, my dad was taken aback by the price and claimed I could do a trans-Pacific for that. A whole new world was opened to me and I found that there were cruises out of Vancouver (which became my main criteria) that went to Alaska, but then carried on to Japan. And the girl who spent much of her childhood obsessing over anime dubs and her teenage years finding and binge-watching subtitled versions of those (and other) shows and even dabbling in manga… Japan has always been on my “one day” list but unobtainable due to the distance and cost of airfare. I was smitten.
In March 2018 my parents got home from their latest cruise and revealed that they’d booked my brother and I on a cruise with them (they get frequent cruiser discounts, so we got a bit of a deal but had to reimburse them). The itinerary started in Vancouver, went to three different places in Alaska in addition to cruising around the Sawyer Glacier. The ship would then cruise along the Aleutian Islands for five sea days and then spend a day in Russia. (RUSSIA!!!) After two more sea days there would be three back to back days in different Japanese ports, and then finally docking in Yokohama (just outside of Tokyo) after one more day at sea. The same ship would then carry on with a second cruise, leaving Yokohama and going to two more Japanese ports before continuing on to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Singapore.
At that time I wasn’t sure if my work contract would be extended, but I wouldn’t be able to take two months off if it did and if it wasn’t, I couldn’t afford the price tag of the two combined cruises. The first one, however, was too good to pass up. Since my brother and I would be sharing a stateroom, the cost would be relatively reasonable and we decided to stay in Tokyo for a few days after the cruise, and then because most flights home had a layover in Hong Kong anyway, we extended our layover to be a couple extra days and got to experience an additional city (ironically overlapping one of the days that my parents were there with the continuation cruise), before flying back to Vancouver. Imagine the sticker shock after seeing that my airfare was more expensive than the nineteen day cruise!
Originally I was going to head to Waterfront (where the actual port of Vancouver is) via the West Coast Express on the morning of. If you’ve watched any of my vlogs, or even some of my Wreck This Journal videos, you likely will have seen me feature the good ol’ WCE. I have a lot of thoughts about our transit, but (in my opinion) the WCE is the best of it. Since it’s a commuter train, it heads westbound from the ‘burbs (where I actually live) and into downtown. Since I took most of my university classes at the downtown campus, I frequented the early morning train and the Waterfront area of Vancouver is where I am most familiar. However, this would mean a) waking up excessively early and b) storing my suitcase somewhere. My brother and I ended up joining my parents and took a chartered van downtown (we don’t have ridesharing yet and taxi service is terrible).
The ship was scheduled to leave at 4pm, and it was recommended that everyone be on board around 1pm. We arrived downtown with plenty of time and went through the check in process, but once you went through security, you weren’t allowed off the boat. After checking in, my brother and I decided to go walk around for a bit. We took the skytrain to Granville Street and bummed around Starbucks and Pacific Centre. We made it back and went through security shortly before we had to be on the ship.
Weirdly, the people behind us in line asked if we were Dutch… I’m assuming since my brother was wearing an orange shirt but that’s the only context I can figure out? And then followed that up by saying we were far too young to be going on a cruise. We’ll talk more about that later. Since we have Nexus, security was pretty quick and after we got to our room (which was nearer to steerage than my parents who had a classy establishment with an actual window) (Please don’t think it is actually steerage, it was actually a pretty nice room, I have just watched Titanic too many times to not make as many references as I can). We walked around and after a dramatic jam sesh to “Stay, I Pray You” from the Anastasia Broadway Musical Soundtrack, got ready to leave. Which didn’t end up happening until after midnight.
It was such a weird experience taking a cruise out of Vancouver. I can’t begin to count the number of times I got off the West Coast Express at Waterfront, headed to class while looking longingly (and resentfully) at a cruise ship docked next door at Canada Place as I stood up the escalator with nothing but a lecture and maybe Tim Hortons to look forward to. Also, Vancouver is one of the best cruise ship ports out there. Yes, my bias is showing but so many ports that are listed as a city (LA, Miami, New York etc) are not actually in that city. A lot of these cities are actually often a couple of hours away. In Vancouver, when you get off the cruise ship, you are literally in the heart of the city. You can walk to the main shopping district, the scenic areas, or jump on a free shuttle that leaves from the port to Capilano Suspension Bridge (which is apparently one of our major tourist attractions). So many of the ports we went to were in the middle of nowhere and required a taxi or a shuttle just to get into town. So yeah, I recommend it, you know, if you are in the market for an A+ cruise ship port-of-call or anything.
Once the ship finally sailed, which didn’t happen until after I went to bed, we were northbound and headed towards Alaska. I’ve been to over forty US states, and while Alaska wasn’t necessarily a major part of the reasoning behind this trip, it was cool to add it to the list.
On the first morning of the cruise, we saw a pod of orcas alongside the ship which was like the part in Titanic where they see the dolphins. Sorry, another necessary reference. It was a moment. We also went past Haida Gwaii (okay, this is all technically still in Canada but shh) but did not see any spirit bears. I was very (okay, not really) distraught over this…. but actually distraught over the fact that Haida Gwaii was labelled as “Queen Charlotte Islands” on the map that could be accessed via the stateroom TV set. A zoomed out map of North America also revealed that Nunavut (the third Canadian territory) was completely absent. As a Canadian, both omissions irked me, so like… Norwegian Cruise Lines really needs to sail out of 1996 and update their digital map.
I think Alaska would have been much more exciting for people who aren’t from BC. Everything from the climate, the landscape, and the animal sight-seeing tours are all things I can experience around where I live (without paying the exorbitant tour fees). It was kind of cool getting off a cruise ship to comfortable climates when I’ve always associated port-of-calls with places that have white sandy beaches surrounded by turquoise water. I did have quite the chuckle over the people in line with me to get off the ship decked out in full-out outdoorsman outfits (See: The North Face puffer jackets, toques, mittens, and brand new Timberland boots). I was more than comfortable in leggings, a hoodie, and my Blundstones… all things I wear day-to-day at home.
Since we unanimously agreed against going on the very overpriced tours, we instead opted to just wander around the towns. Our cruise was actually the last ship of the season, so a lot of the shops were having sales, had low inventory, or were already closed for the winter. My parents are more “traditional” cruise-goers and never miss a jewelry store whereas my brother and I aren’t really going to buy diamonds or tanzanite or whatever rock they’re pushing so we generally veered off and did our own thing.
Here’s my tourist report of the three stops in Alaska. Very professional. Definitely guidebook material. Watch out, Lonely Planet.
Ketchikan: Newfoundland crossed with BC and given a US passport.
The first port-of-call on the cruise was Ketchikan. My singular goal in Alaska was to get a You Are Here Starbucks mug, which had been newly discontinued. (I wrote a post about my collection HERE, and of course they were discontinued shortly after I published it) Since the ports aren’t actually major cities, my research before leaving was mainly where to find the mug. My best shot was in Ketchikan, where the closest Starbucks was in a Safeway, about a twenty minute walk from the dock. I had preloaded the route into my phone since wifi was an uncertainty, and I didn’t have roaming data. I also took a screenshot just in case. Trust me, this was a serious expedition.
Unfortunately, they had sold out of the actual mugs but did have a few of the ornaments left. I was bummed, but glad to have something (and a frappuccino, of course). Once we had returned to town, which was a small touristy-fishing area, I saw a sign for “Orca Corn”. I remembered the name from one of the Trip Advisor boards I looked through when researching where I could get my mug (I’m not the only crazy mug person out there), and someone had said that they got theirs at Orca Corn, who re-sold them at an inflated rate. I hadn’t thought anything of it at the time because I thought it was sketchy to get a Starbucks mug from somewhere that wasn’t, you know, Starbucks. At the counter, I saw that they had the new version (the “Been There” Series… substantially less cool than the “You Are Here” ones) and I asked the lady if she happened to have any of the old ones. She was super stoked that I asked about it and I don’t know if she was just BS-ing me or actually “felt a positive energy” from me and that I “deserved” her very last one, but I didn’t care and was so excited to pay her inflated cost of the re-sold mug. I don’t remember what I paid for it (the pure glee has blocked out the memory) but I had rationalized that it was still cheaper than the one I got from the Starbucks at Niagara Falls. So anyway, that was the highlight of Ketchikan.
My parents were really into touristy shops and that isn’t really my thing, but one that we went into had a big sale on (well, most did) and it was like… an Army & Navy warehouse of souvineers. Partly as a joke, I suggested my brother and I get hoodies since they were like 2 for $25 and I picked the ugliest (IMO) one. The tie-dye monstrosity actually became one of my most worn items on the ship.
Juneau: (please read this in the tune of Lou Vega’s Mambo No. 5) a little bit of Victoria (is what I see), a little bit of Whistler (in the sun) and a little bit of Tofino (all night long).
The port area of Juneau was really nice. It was definitely (as per my rendition of Mambo No. 5) an artsy, touristy area with unique shops and places to eat. My favourite was the post office, which sold really cool stationery supplies, much of which featured local artists.
Something I definitely noticed in Juneau moreso than anywhere else during the cruise was the locals’ disdain for the cruise industry. I definitely joke about the tourists walking around whenever there’s a ship in port while I’m in downtown Vancouver, but some of the things I saw in Juneau made me feel guilty and downright problematic. Yes, we could definitely go into a rabbithole of all the ways cruise ship tourism is negatively impacting port towns, and even as a kid I definitely felt icky seeing the class dichotomy when going to poverty stricken areas of the Caribbean. To feel a semblance of that in Alaska, a state in a first world country that I have been to countless times was too much to unpack in this post. Anyway, because of that, I really tried to experience these places as “authentically” as possible… as much as one can when being on a cruise.
Here’s a horrible segue for you: one of my weak spots as far as tourist traps go is Del Sol. That darn colour changing stuff gets me every time! Del Sol was only in Juneau, and I picked up three nail polishes and my dad won a free swag bag on the boat which he gave to me as well. So yeah, in some ways I just had to own being a tacky tourist.
When my “tourist not traveller” guilt fully set in and my parents were all done souvenir shopping and returned to the boat, my brother and I walked around town for awhile longer. We stumbled upon one of those murals, where it says “Before I die…” and then people write their bucket list items in chalk. One entry read “end Tourist season in AK” and another said “retire to the Cayman Islands”… which is ironically a place I’ve been on a cruise.
Seward: It finally feels like we’re in Alaska
The final of the three Alaskan ports was the first that really felt like *Alaska*. Maybe it was the fact that it was more of a residential area, or the mountainous backdrop, or even just the significant chill in the air… I’m really glad we stopped in Seward.
My favourite part of Seward was the very cool library building. It was this weird oilslick metallic colour with a mural on the side. It also had the first good wifi we encountered outside of Ketchikan’s Safeway. Priorities, you know.
One of my missions of the cruise was to get a postcard from every place I went and mail it to myself, and you would not believe how much more difficult this was in practice. Mailboxes aren’t really a thing anymore and I got SO lost in Seward trying to find my way back from the very small post office (which didn’t sell postcards) after finally finding a shop that did. Anyway, Seward was a lot less touristy than the previous two places we went and while it was definitely refreshing, sometimes it’s just nice finding a rack of postcards in the window of a post office.
One of the features of going on an Alaskan cruise is often doing a glacier sail-by. For us, we cruised near-ish to the Sawyer Glacier, and for some reason even though it was scheduled after going to Juneau, we ended up doing it beforehand? I don’t quite remember why (this is what happens when you procrastinate a blog post for an entire year) but it didn’t affect me one way or another. For some people this seemed to be a big highlight, but after a couple cheesy pictures, my brother and I left and let the eager beavers do their thing. Yes, it’s cool to see the glacier (pun kind-of intended) but when compared to my experience at the Columbia Icefields or sailing amongst icebergs in Newfoundland, it wasn’t a must-do for me, personally. Oh boy, that sounds so snobby… I apologize.
All in all, would I go back to Alaska? Probably not. If I got a really great deal on a cruise, sure. But the highlight for me was definitely getting my Starbucks mug and getting to check one more state off my list, both of which are one-time activities. I think if I wanted to do the more “authentic” Alaskan adventures, I’d rather road trip to Northern BC or the territories (of which, there are THREE… jeez NCL) and keep my tourism expenditures in my own province/ country.
Also, if you’re interested in the whole “wild” vs gentrified Alaska, or just the last frontier in general, I read The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah at the end of 2018 and it was a cool full-circle way to finish off the year I travelled to the northernmost state.
If you know me, you know that like… a solid 20% of my identity revolves around my love of Anastasia. THIS POST actually goes into part of the extent of that obsession and how it led me to checking Connecticut off of my list of states as well.
Many of the trans-pacific cruises do the Alaska to Asia route, but what made the NCL one we took the top contender was that it also stopped in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia.
The city of St. Peter and St. Paul is the 100th most populated city in Russia and is located on the piece of land at the eastern edge of Russia, called the Kamchatka Peninsula. For some fun context, it’s a nine hour flight from Petropavlovsk to Moscow. Russia is BIG.
The prospect (or…Nevsky Prospect (lol jk)) of going to Russia was so exciting, and I prepared by painting my nails in OPI’s Russian Navy and celebrated by listening to the Anastasia soundtrack (both of the Broadway musical and the original ‘97 animated movie. I am nothing if not thorough when it comes to such things).
Being in Russia felt like being on another planet. As someone from the Western Hemisphere, it is so interesting to go to a place where the people learn entirely different histories, speak a different language (with a different alphabet that you can’t just type into Google Translate) and just live another culture moreso than any I had seen in any other place I’ve ever travelled to. Even simply seeing keychains of Putin and a statue of Lenin was just so… strange.
This was the only port-of-call that we prepurchased tickets for a tour. It was very confusing and convoluted, but from what we understood, in order to get off the ship in Russia you needed to purchase a visa. By going on one of the tours, the visa was included and the cost of the tour was less than what it would have been to go through the process of applying for visas separately. Apparently not everyone knew this and once the boat docked, people were allowed off the ship but not beyond a small area around the ship unless they were going on a tour. Very confusing.
Anyway, the tour took us to several places around Petropavlovsk. In order to purchase a postcard, I had to use an ATM to withdraw rubles since I couldn’t get any from my bank at home. I couldn’t figure out how to get the language setting to change to English (or even know if that was an option) so I basically just pushed buttons until some money came out. It was truly an exact science.
The highlight of the tour for me was seeing Trinity Cathedral. Not only was it a breathtaking Russian Orthodox Church, but it was also surrounded by volcanoes. VOLCANOES.
To go into the building, women had to wear a head covering. A semi-irrational fear of head lice that has followed me since Kindergarten prevented me from using one of the provided headscarves, and instead I tied my Aritzia wool blanket scarf around my head. I’ll spare you the second-hand-embarassment by not inserting a picture of that particular look.
We also went to an anthropology museum where the tour had to be translated for us by our tour guide. It was full of dioramas and exhibits, so it was cool to learn about the history of the area but also see the similarities between the indigenous peoples of Russia and the First Nations of Canada, as we learn about in school here.
I can’t fully explain how incredible it was to be in Russia. Unlike Alaska, or really, anywhere I’ve been before, it was not tourist friendly and that was, in a way, reassuring. According to our tour guide, six cruises docked on their shores in 2018 whereas, for comparison, Juneau was witness to over five-hundred.
The other event of note was after we had disembarked and were well on our way to Japan but still in Russian waters, we had to make an emergency stop so that a woman could be sent to shore and flown to a hospital. I don’t know the details but we were just offshore from this super creepy shipwreck graveyard and I don’t have any good pictures but here’s a low quality screenshot from a video I took instead:
Russia is really high on my travel wishlist. I have one of these scratch maps and I couldn’t bear to scratch off the entire country so the next round will feature Moscow and St. Petersburg, at the very least.
Japan lived up to expectations in every way, and exceeded them in many. While most of my thoughts come from exploring Tokyo after the cruise ended, I can still say that it’s an incredibly beautiful country filled with kind, welcoming people and I would definitely return.
The first port in Japan was Otaru. On all the literature for the cruise it said the first port was in Sapporo, which was very confusing. Ultimately, we figured out that Sapporo was actually the nearest city and was would take about forty minutes by train to get to. While my plan was originally to go into the city, the short amount of time there made it unfeasible and instead we walked around Otaru, and I’m so glad we did.
Otaru is known for glass-based art, music boxes, and sake distilleries. The main feature is a canal, and modern businesses housed in converted warehouses.
I was so tempted to buy like a million different music boxes, but I was fresh from reading Marie Kondo and was trying to avoid buying things just for the sake of acquiring things. They were beautiful though, with the most tempting being one that played “When You Wish Upon a Star” (which always makes me cry) and the runner up being “Take Me Home, Country Roads”… yup, the song by John Denver. After the great road trip of 2017, it is also a song that makes me cry. I am one weirdly emotional lady. Anyway, I resisted both. While the main shop that sold these music boxes was an attraction in and of itself, the highlight of that was when I walked outside and saw an oddly familiar sight.
In the middle of a small port town in Japan’s northernmost island, there was a replica of Gastown’s famous steam clock. It was such a surreal moment to stumble upon this famous symbol of my hometown (which you can see in action in THIS vlog). There were even music box versions of it!
After checking off all the recommended stops, my parents headed back to the ship while my brother and I explored a bit more. We found the cutest, most **JAPAN** store ever and I ended up buying…. you guessed it… a mug. It was Beauty and the Beast so I could not help myself. Sorry, Marie Kondo… I am weak.
When we got off the boat in Hakodate, we were greeted by high school girls in their uniforms (okay, I wore a uniform for high school but the Japanese sailor style ones ARE SO DANG CUTE) and they came up to my brother and I and asked to take pictures with us. I thought they were asking me to take a picture of them with him since he’s well over six feet tall and still babyfaced, but they wanted me in the pictures too. It was strange but very charming.
We met up with my parents and took the bus from the port to town. The main attraction was the morning market, which mostly contained a very impressive array of fish. We walked around and there was actually public access wifi (so we played Pokèmon Go, which felt super legit) and stumbled upon a Starbucks amongst these really cool industrial buildings.
I got my usual green tea Frappuccino, although I normally get it without whipped cream, I didn’t want to try my luck and they were so friendly I didn’t want to be rude or high maintenance in any way. It ended up just being a little bit of whip, and didn’t bother me. The cups were wider but less tall than they are over here, and of course I had to get the Japan You Are Here Mug, my first from outside of North America! They also had a really cool collection of Japan exclusive location mugs, but I decided to restrain myself and just get the one. Starbucks also provided my first experience with the absolute joy that is Japanese toilets. There is nothing quite like a heated toilet seat with a built in bidet.
We walked around some more and found this block that had a temple, a Catholic Church, and an Orthodox Church. I feel like there is a joke somewhere in there, but all three were beautiful. As someone who was raised Catholic, it was quite the experience seeing how lavish their church was when such a small percentage of the population is Christian!
We then went up the Hakodate tower, which gives incredible panoramic views of the city. We were going up at the same time as what must have been a pre-school field trip group and it was ADORABLE.
In Aomori, we went in a taxi to some of the sites that were offered on the tours since there wasn’t much within walking distance. The taxi driver was incredibly kind and just so… jolly. He totally made the experience so enjoyable and memorable. We went to the Seiryu Temple where we saw the Big Buddha and the surrounding park which was incredibly beautiful.
From there we went to the A-Factory, a market that showcases local goods and produce, highlighting Aomori’s world famous apples. My brother and I got ice cream in these strange triangular cones. I got matcha (because, obviously) and he got sake without knowing what saki was. Cue hysterical laughter.
After my parents went back to the ship, my brother and I walked around the port for awhile since it was our last official port-of-call. There was a cool park area and… well, wifi.
That night when the ship set said, dozens and dozens of people on the shore waved goodbye by using their phone flashlights. It was such a too, too pure moment that was impossible to capture with any camera.
The ship docked in Yokohama on October 6th, where my brother and I caught a taxi (we weren’t feeling ambitious enough to tackle the two hour metro trek with our suitcases) to our hotel in Tokyo.
Sea Days (and the ship in general)
The Norwegian Jewel has been sailing the seas since 2005 and in a lot of ways it surprises me that it isn’t older than that. It wasn’t dirty or old necessarily, but a lot of things felt aesthetically dated. After the connecting cruise that my parents stayed for, the Jewel was going to be completely refurbished which definitely makes sense (HERE‘s a video I found where they showed glimpses of the transformation and you can see what I mean, when looking at the “before” images).
All in all, it was a nice ship. My brother and I stayed in an interior room (no windows) and my parents had a larger exterior room with a window on a higher deck. To be honest, considering the different prices we paid, I would definitely be okay with an interior room again.
The number of sea days (days where the ship was sailing all day without stopping at a port-of-call) on this cruise was substantially larger than any other cruise I’ve been on before. In addition to that, this is my first time cruising somewhere that isn’t tropical. These factors made the on board experience a bit different, as well as being an adult. Instead of spending my days in the pool, lining up for the waterslide, and hanging out with my new friends at the kids club, I spent a lot of time reading. For me, this is an ideal way to spend time so no complaints. My brother mostly played games on his Nintendo DS and we each found respective spots that we enjoyed and could generally track each other down at if necessary (his was this like… half-pipe shaped couch in one of the lounges and mine was on one of the near-abandoned open air decks in a lounge chair with a blanket).
My parents are more traditional proponents of cruises and enjoy partaking in the provided on-board entertainment. While I usually checked the daily program before going to bed, my parents carried theirs around and had a continual list of presentations and events to attend. I initially joined them for trivia but the lady who came up the questions was REALLY obsessed with airport codes (none of which were ever YVR haha) and obscure facts about South Africa so I ended up boycotting most of the sessions she did. Which was almost all of them. I went to some of the cheesy games like the Newlywed Game and a “battle of the sexes” competition. When the nightly entertainment was a hypnotist, we went and my brother ended up volunteering. He is apparently very open to suggestion so he made for a very entertaining victim. The main theatre played movies each day and I went to Black Panther and Beauty and the Beast.
Each morning we met my parents for breakfast and would plan to meet up sometime in the afternoon or for dinner. We got together to play cards a couple times. Other than that, I enjoyed just walking around and hunkering down somewhere to read or paint my nails. If I was going to do a similar trip with such a long stretch of sea days, I’d make sure I had some sort of game loaded onto one of my devices that could be accessed without internet. I’m not much of a gamer but it would have been nice to have Tetris or something for the times where I just wanted to do something mindless. In lieu of that, I ended up drawing stars on my iPad with Procreate. It actually looks pretty impressive, but also kind of sad that I had to resort to doodling haha. I also had loaded some Marvel movies onto a USB and with my HDMI cord, we hooked up my brothers laptop to the teeny stateroom TV. Watching Thor on the night there were crazy huge waves and we were feeling a little seasick was the ultimate 4D experience.
Food is a huge aspect of cruises, and how you experience it really depends on what kind of person you are. The cruises I’ve been on before all had a dining room and dinner was assigned to a specific time and table, which was sometimes awkward when we were a family of five sitting with a random retired couple or a family with grown kids. Combine this with the obligatory formal nights (why?!) and it’s just a lot of work. To illustrate this, I dug up a picture from formal night on the cruise we were on in 2009. The only thing bringing me joy at that moment is the towel animal and definitely not my sunburn or that dress. I tried finding the photo (a true gem) from the cruise we went on when I was in grade six and sported long hair cornrowed and a sparkly blue floor length dress. You’re welcome for sparing us both from having that image on the internet.
Norwegian offers “freestyle” dining where you can eat wherever, whenever, and wearing whatever. For the first few days we ate at the dining rooms, from the Tsar’s Palace to O’Sheehan’s. The dining rooms are like restaurants, where you sit down and order from a set menu, but it’s free. There are also “specialty dining” options, which are like traditional restaurants that come with a bill at the end of the night. My favourite was the buffet and that’s where we ended up having breakfast each morning. Since my parents are part of NCL’s loyalty program, they got a few free meals at the specialty restaurants. We all dined at the steakhouse for my brother’s birthday and our last night on the ship. The buffet was where I went for dinner most nights and where I enjoyed eating the most. There were so many options (and an A+ music selection), whereas the dining rooms and specialty restaurants had limited menus which is not great when you’re a picky eater haha. The buffet had Mexican night, made-to-order pasta and omelette bars (plus ice cream and crepes for dessert!), carving stations and (my personal favourite) self-serve ice cream! I had packed some treats from home (because I am a monster) mostly for Japan/ Hong Kong but being able to add Smarties or crushed Oreos to the soft serve ice cream was heaven.
Probably the weirdest thing about the cruise was the time zones. I’ve road tripped across North America and everything from being in Mountain Time three separate times and Newfoundland’s weird extra half-hour situation is definitely confusing, but nothing prepared me for this! While crossing from Alaska to Russia, we gained an hour almost every night. It was like a Daylight Savings that never ended! Since there was no free wifi (my brother and I were the sole members of the millennials without wifi support group), our phones had to be manually adjusted to the time. The first day we had to change our clocks, I accidentally set it back instead of ahead and we went to the buffet at 8 AM instead of 10 AM and wondered why our parents weren’t there! My brother’s 22nd birthday actually happened to fall on the day that we crossed the International Date Line, so he had three whole hours to enjoy it before it became the following day when we passed over the threshold around 3am (it’s very confusing, I know). You bet I did my job as big sister and played Taylor Swift’s “22” for him in our stateroom at midnight.
Cruising in general is definitely a generational pursuit. While typically our fellow millennials are backpacking Europe or Airbnbing, it is our parents and retired neighbours who are sailing the open seas in a lounge chair on the promenade deck. My brother and I were definitely among the youngest people on the boat. The demographic of this cruise was even older likely due to the time of year (mid-September to early October), since the kids are in school. There were a handful of families and at least one honeymooning couple but the majority were my parents’ age and older. Anyway, the point is: we stood out. Especially since we’re tall and my brother received near celebrity status after he volunteered to be hypnotized. We got comments almost everywhere we went, ranging from dad jokes about my “Brunette” sweater to inquiries about what grades we were in. As someone who doesn’t like being the centre of attention, it was unpleasant. With that said though, I also never felt like I needed to dress up to impress anyone (not that I had packed the supplies to do so) but it was quite liberating in a way.
I like cruising because it’s a way to see multiple places without worrying about moving your stuff, check-out times, and figuring out where to eat each night. We travelled to multiple location in four countries and still slept in the same bed every night. I got over twelve hours of sleep multiple times and read five books (including the second instalment of Outlander… and she’s big) in the three weeks. Yes, you’re definitely tourist-ing rather than travelling but I got to see and experience things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s absolutely not the only way to travel, and not even my favourite way, but it was definitely one I enjoyed. I’m not an “in-depth” traveller. I like seeing as many places as I can and if I’m interested, I know I want to go back one day. I know I want to return to Savannah, Georgia but I’m okay if I never see Nebraska again. Just like I know I want to see more of Russia, but will be okay if I never again set foot on Alaskan soil.
Anyway, thank-you so much for reading this post! It was definitely a long one but it was on a topic that I didn’t see a lot about when I was preparing to leave on mine. Let me know if you have any questions about my experience with NCL, the specific places I visited, or other cruises and I’d be happy to help!
If you’re interested in what I did in Japan and Hong Kong after the cruise, I have a couple more posts relating to those (specifically their respective Disney parks) that I couldn’t work on until this post was finished!
Thanks again for checking out this post and I hope you have a great day (and trip, if one is in the works!) ahead!