Find paradise in the Pacific Northwest
By Alison Bailin Batz
Earlier this year, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) made international news by launching Bliss, the largest ship ever to cruise through Alaska. Embarking and disembarking from Seattle — with a bevy of options to enjoy beforehand in the Emerald City and/or right after sailing — the NCL Bliss visits three must-see Alaskan cities as well as British Columbia during one’s voyage while providing the ultimate in guest luxury.
But with more than 100 shore excursion options in port, not to mention nearly two dozen dining options, a full spa, expansive casino, shopping mall, two pools, six infinity hot tubs and a daily cruise newsletter with more than 50 activities running the gamut from performances of Jersey Boys to expert-led wine tastings on board, trying to fit it all in is impossible.
Here’s an insider’s guide to help navigate your trip:
What do Bill Gates, Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones all have in common? They are all native sons — along with Kurt Cobain, Macklemore and Bruce Lee — of Seattle! And, given NCL Bliss starts and ends all of its cruises in Seattle on Saturdays, there is ample opportunity to arrive early or extend one’s trip a day or two to take advantage of the city.
A best bet to stay is Kimpton’s boutique Alexis Hotel, which is near the waterfront and Pioneer Square. A Travel + Leisure winner as one of the best hotels in the country, the Alexis Hotel is set in a series of historic landmark buildings but has been reimagined to represent the vibrancy of the area, proudly displaying the works of local artists inside, offering nightly regional wine samples and appointed with elegant touches throughout. By staying here, guests can take advantage of the Seattle Art Museum down the street as well as Pike Place Market nearby. Also, don’t miss a visit to the Museum of Pop Culture, which features exhibits on everything from The Princess Bride to Nirvana.
The NCL Bliss also offers several options to tour the area through their team before or after each cruise.
Certainly, Seattle dazzles. But nothing shines as brightly as the NCL Bliss as she towers over the other ships in the Seattle port. Though almost 170,000 gross tons and able to comfortably host more than 4,000 guests, this may not be the most obvious descriptor for the ship, but once on-board, the word “spacious” comes to mind. That’s because — in addition to having larger room and extended balcony options available — the vessel was designed from bow to stern to allow guests to enjoy the 360-degree views of Alaska and Canada 24 hours a day. The open areas make the ship feel like a floating city.
While all ships offer on-board amenities, the NCL Bliss takes the concept to a new level. Cognizant that cruises through the area offer 24/7 opportunities for guests to see whales, dolphins, forests and glaciers while on-board, the Bliss offers a 20,000-square-foot observation area with the sole purpose of giving every single guest the best views Alaska has to offer.
For those looking to ramp things up between cruise ports, Bliss boasts a full-on waterpark on board, a two-story race track (for adults and kids), miniature golf, laser tag, and tons of spaces for kids to have fun spaced away from the more adult entertainment. The spa onboard is particularly impressive, thanks in great part to its “snow room,” an actual ice-cold, snow-filled room meant to stimulate circulation (and perhaps to remind you what Alaska is like during colder winter months!). Adult areas also abound with a dozen cocktail lounges and bars — each hosting nearly daily wine, beer, mojito, margarita and even martini tastings and classes — as well as an adult-only casino.
Once the sun sets, there are specialty dining options ranging from Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s Ocean Blue and a French bistro to sushi and even a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville, as well as four main dining rooms, in-room dining and a nearly 24-hour buffet. After dinner, in addition to staff-led interactive game shows, dance contests and karaoke jams, there is professional entertainment including the full-length Jersey Boys production, a Cuba-inspired dance show called Havana, comedians and live music all night long.
Certainly, the cruise ports themselves are among the biggest treats during the trip. Of course, NCL has guests taken care of from the jump, offering extensive lectures, programming and even TV shows on board (and in advance) to help determine where to go and what to do.
Juneau is both a hot spot for whales and glaciers. The best way to see it all during a visit — by authentic Alaskan bush plane! These seaplane explorations begin as one’s aircraft literally takes off from the historic downtown waterfront. En route, you’ll soar over five distinctly different glaciers making up the 1,500-square mile Juneau Icefield.
Ketchikan is small-town Alaska at its best, and most picturesque. The Zodiac Coastal Expedition, a two- and four-person mini boat adventure where you are your own captain, is perfect to see it all! Bald eagles, seals, sea lions, porpoises, sea otters, orcas, humpback whales and an amazing array of flora and fauna are often following along the boats for the two-plus hour ride.
Skagway is home to the famous White Pass Railway, so NCL is smart to offer a ride on it with almost all of its excursion options while in port. Take advantage (and lots of pictures)!
Finally, cap the trip off by booking one of the Butchart Gardens tours while docked in Victoria, British Columbia. Covering more than 55 acres, the gardens are a lush paradise of flowers, rare trees and winding paths that were created more than 100 years ago.
For more information, visit ncl.com.
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