We Have Sailed on Two Alaska Cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line – Here’s Who Will Love It!

Discover if NCL is right for your next trip way up north with our look at the pros and cons of Alaska cruises with Norwegian Cruise Line.

Pros and Cons Alaska Cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line

We have sailed to Alaska six times, twice with Norwegian Cruise Line. While we’ve enjoyed our cruises with the brand, an Alaska cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line isn’t right for everyone. So, before you put down that deposit, you need to know the pros and cons of Alaska cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line. Armed with all the details, you can pick the correct ship, and your Alaska cruise will be smooth sailing.

The Pros and Cons of Alaska Cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line

Freestyle Approach

Norwegian Cruise Line is the pioneer of flexible dining on a cruise ship. The brand’s freestyle approach to cruising means there are no set dinner times. Cruisers are free to dine whenever and with whomever they want during the cruise.

In Alaska, this freestyle approach offers more options than the traditional main dining on other cruise lines. Given that port of call times can vary daily, this flexibility becomes invaluable. For instance, one morning, you might be up for a 6 AM shore excursion, while the next day, the ship could be docking in the afternoon until 9 or 10 PM.

The Pros and Cons of Alaska Cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line

During our voyage on Norwegian Bliss back in 2018, we had the pleasure of cruising with friends. Throughout the week, we shared some dining experiences as a group of six, others as a table of four, and some nights it was just the two of us. Freestyle dining makes switching up the table arrangements in situations like this very simple.

Yet, for those of us who like to plan ahead, there’s no need to fret. You still have the option to pre-reserve dining times. This means you won’t miss out on that coveted dinner at Cagney’s Steakhouse, or you won’t have to wait for a table when you return from a long day ashore in Skagway. During our voyage on Norwegian Encore last year, we had most of our dinners reserved before boarding the ship. But we still had the flexibility to adjust a couple of those times when our plans changed.

Onboard Viewing Areas

We always suggest cruisers opt for a balcony when sailing in Alaska. On all six of our Alaska cruises, we went with this upgrade. This was true on both of our Alaska cruises with Norwegian Cruise Line. But even if you don’t want to splurge, you won’t miss out on the scenic cruising and Alaskan landscapes when sailing with NCL.

Several Norwegian Cruise Line ships in the region offer a variety of viewing areas scattered throughout the ship. Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore offer indoor and outdoor viewing areas for all types of weather.

Norwegian Encore Alaska Cruise Review

The Observation Lounge at the front and top of the ship provides excellent 270-degree views. There is plenty of comfy furniture to unwind, not to mention snacks and complimentary drinks throughout the day. There is also a bar for those premium beverages.

Outside, the multi-level pool deck offers plenty of space for sightseeing, but there is also the Waterfront which we think is even better. This outdoor promenade, which is closer to water level, wraps around most of the deck and has various seating options. Not to mention, there are several bars and dining venues just a short walk away.

Norwegian Encore Cruise Ship Scorecard Review

Further, the Vibe Beach Club offers an exclusive outdoor deck if you want to upgrade your Alaskan experience. With limited capacity, you are all but guaranteed a spot in the hot tub with a glacier view and a private bar. We think this upcharge deck is a hidden gem when sailing in Alaska. We had access to this spot on our Norwegian Encore cruise last year and loved it.

While smaller, Norwegian Jewel also offers several viewing spots throughout the ship, including indoor and outdoor venues on different decks. This helps to disperse the crowds and offer various vantage points.

Visits Glacier Bay National Park

While the various cruise lines offer different onboard experiences in Alaska, these trips are really about the destination. For us, picking the right itinerary is more important than what is on the cruise ship. So, we are happy to report that many of Norwegian Cruise Line’s sailings offer scenic cruising to Glacier Bay National Park.

For first-time cruisers in Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park is a must.

Norwegian Cruise Line offers itineraries visiting Glacier Bay National Park on mega-ships and medium-sized ships. Regardless of the size of the ship, the programming is the same. This includes park rangers coming on board for the entire time in the park. Along with lectures in the theater, other rangers provide narration as the ship glides down to the main attraction, the Marjorie Glacier.

Pros and Cons of Alaska Cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line

Other informative sessions occur inside the ship with exhibits and literature about the park. Additional Q&A opportunities exist with rangers as they walk the outdoor decks in search of wildlife. This several hour-visit is something you don’t want to miss. So, grab your gear and head outside for these spectacular sights!

Each visit is unique, given the weather conditions and tides. During our last visit on Norwegian Encore, we were able to sail down the John Hopkins Inlet to get some fantastic views of the John Hopkins Glacier, which is not always visible or allowed.

Free at Sea

Norwegian Cruise Line is often also a better value when cruising to Alaska. The brand’s popular Free at Sea promotion includes several add-ons that are usually an upcharge on other cruise lines.

While the promotion can change, typically, it includes a free drink package, WiFi credits, shore excursion credits, and specialty dinner credits. Depending on when you book, this promotion can include 3rd and 4th guests sail free and reduced airfare as well.

Norwegian Encore Alaska Cruise Review

While cruisers still need to pay the service charges on some of these items, we think this promotion is of great value. It is an easy way to make your cruise more inclusive. Plus, the cruise line lets you upgrade to Free at Sea Plus, offering even more onboard perks, like unlimited WiFi, Starbucks beverages, and additional specialty dining.

Another benefit of the Free at Sea promotion is it is combinable with travel advisor perks. So, you can get even more savings and value when you take advantage of promotions run by your preferred travel advisor. These can include additional onboard credit, free gratuities, and more.

Solo Travelers

Most cruise fares are based on double occupancy for each stateroom. Since Heidi and I usually travel as a couple, this is fine for us. However, it isn’t so great for those traveling solo, as it means these individuals have to pay double to cruise.

Luckily, Norwegian Cruise Line is one of the cruise lines that has devised a way around the “single supplement.” On its mega-ships, it offers studio cabins designed specifically for parties of 1.

Solo Cabin on Norwegian Encore

So, those traveling by themselves have dedicated cabins that are more reasonably priced. While smaller than a typical cabin, these studios are thoughtfully designed and feature everything travelers need to feel at home on the ship.

Plus, on NCL’s larger vessels, these studio cabins are clustered in sections of the ship. With a separate entrance and lounge, solo travelers can meet and mingle with others traveling by themselves. There is even a dedicated cruise staff manager for solo cruisers who hosts events and activities.

Of course, cruisers still have access to all the bars, restaurants, and other areas of the ship. But, having this solo area and dedicated space makes it easier and more affordable for solo cruisers to see all that Alaska offers in style and sophistication.

Specialty Restaurants

As the first cruise line to eschew traditional dining times on cruise ships, NCL is also known for its specialty dining. Across its ships, there are a variety of restaurants featuring global-inspired cuisine.

Signature restaurants include Cagney’s Steakhouse, a classic American-style steakhouse with various chops and cuts on the menu. There is also the French Le Bistro and the Italian La Cucina (or Onda by Scarpetta).

Other restaurants can include the lively Teppanyaki Japanese-style steakhouse, which includes dinner and a show at this hibachi restaurant. There is also Q-Texas Smokehouse, serving comfort food with live music and some of the best desserts on the ship. Not to mention, cruisers can enjoy freshly crafted Mexican specialties and margaritas at Los Lobos depending which NCL ship they choose.

Additionally, one of our favorite restaurants on any cruise ship is Food Republic. This fusion restaurant serves small plates, tapas, and international cuisine, combining various cooking styles, ingredients, and signature cocktails.

With the Free at Sea, most guests can dine at two specialty restaurants for free. Additional dining packages are available, or guests can pay a la carte for additional meals. However, getting an add-on dining package is a much better and cost-effective option.

Lively Onboard Atmosphere

While other cruise lines might offer more Alaska-focused onboard activities than NCL, Norwegians know how to party. Norwegian Cruise Line ships offer lively and fun activities day and night. The ships have several well-themed bars and lounges offering live music.

We are fans of the drinks at the Sugarcane Mojito bar, especially its signature drinks, like the Jalapeno Cucumber and Raspberry-Guava Mojitos. The District Brewhouse has one of the best beer selections of any ship, with dozens on tap and more in bottles and cans. Not to mention, it features live piano music on most nights of the cruise.

The A-List Bar offers upscale cocktails, and the Maltings Whiskey Bar offers classic drinks. While sipping their favorite adult beverages, cruisers can listen to live music or other cruise director staff events in the Atrium. Further, the Local offers a standard cocktail menu and a complimentary pub menu featuring some of the best chicken wings at sea.  

The cruise line also has several parties and nighttime events. There are silent discos in the club, comedy shows, game shows, and more. In the main theater, NCL features production shows and headliner acts each night of the cruise. One of our favorite shows on any ship, Choir of Man, is a must see on Norwegian Encore.

Undoubtedly, the nighttime atmosphere is more upbeat, fun, and lively than many of the other cruise lines sailing the region.

Great for Families

One complaint some cruisers have about mega-ships is that they have too many distractions. However, we argue that there are definitely advantages to having a large ship with a variety of onboard attractions. For one, they can appeal to a wide range of travelers and multi-generational families.

Ships like Norwegian Encore and Norwegian Bliss are ideal for large groups traveling to Alaska. The kids will enjoy the onboard attractions, like the virtual reality games in the Galaxy Pavilion, the go-kart track, and the laser tag. Although, as big kids, we think these amenities are a lot of fun as well.

With various dining options, including casual venues and sit-down restaurants, it is easy to make everyone happy. The parents and grandparents will enjoy venues like the Observation Lounge as well as the adult-focused entertainment and late-night comedy. While the kids can hang out with friends in Splash Academy or Entourage.

Thermal Suites

Alaska cruises are filled with long days and nights. With early morning scenic cruising and long days ashore at all hours of the day, you will want some rest and relaxation. Luckily, Norwegian Cruise Line ships feature fantastic spas and thermal suites. In fact, the thermal suite on Norwegian Encore is one of the best on any cruise ship.

The thermal suite boasts several rejuvenating experiences. It has a hydrotherapy pool, steam rooms, a sauna, a salt room, and even a snow room. The best part is that the thermal suite is all the way forward, offering some of the best views on the ship. So, cruisers can even relax on a heated stone lounger while admiring glaciers.

Cruising on Norwegian

There are a limited number of passes to the thermal suite. So, you know it will never be overcrowded. While the cruise line does offer week passes, you might be able to score a day pass on a port day too. So, if you need a break from all the adventures ashore, a morning or afternoon in the spa might do the trick.

Not to mention, the spa offers a variety of other services as well. There are massages, facials, pedicures, manicures, and more. So, you can return from your Alaska cruise well-rested and ready to tackle being back on land.

The Cons of Sailing to Alaska on Norwegian Cruise Line

Not As Many Choices As Other Cruise Lines

While some cruise lines offer six or seven ships in the region, Norwegian Cruise Line only offers four ships. Most of these ships sail from Seattle, WA on round-trip itineraries. So, compared to the competition, there are fewer options for sailing to Alaska with Norwegian Cruise Line.

Whille we are fans of mega-ships and think the roundtrip route is excellent for first-timers to the region, it does mean that most ships offer similar ports of call. However, NCL Bliss and Norwegian Encore offer different glacier viewing spots, which means cruisers must choose between scenic cruising of Dawes Glacier or Glacier Bay National Park.

Norwegian Encore Alaska Cruise Review

If you are not a fan of mega-ships, Norwegian Sun offers nine-night sailings. This smaller ship sails Glacier Bay and many popular ports. But, given the extra days, this might be difficult and expensive for families wanting to cruise to Alaska.

Or, cruisers can opt for a one-way cruise on Norwegian Jewel. These southbound or northbound routes begin or end in Seward, Alaska, or Vancouver, British Columbia.

Lack of Alaska Focused Onboard Experiences

Many cruise lines sailing in the region promote their onboard programming. Princess Cruises has a North to Alaska series of lectures, themed events, and special dining and drink offerings. These events occur throughout the trip and offer a more immersive way to learn about and experience the region.

Similarly, Holland America Line has its We Love Alaska series of talks, presentations, and region-focused enrichment. Whether it is learning about the history of Alaska or more about the famous Iditarod race, these talks are well-produced and informative. This cruise line offers several dining options and locally sourced food and beverages during its sailing as well.

Norwegian Encore Alaska Cruise Review

On the other hand, Norwegian Cruise Line offers very little enrichment. In fact, besides the typical Glacier Bay National Park ranger experience, our last Norwegian Encore trip had no Alaska-specific programming. We were surprised that there were no regional guests, nighttime talks, or Alaska-themed activities.

Even the food and drink menus were pretty standard. We have sailed on the cruise line’s mega-ships in the Caribbean and the onboard daytime and nighttime lineup felt exactly the same when in Alaska. We would have liked NCL to offer some onboard edutainment coupled with the ashore tours and excursions.

Time Spent Ashore

For us, perhaps the biggest drawback of cruising to Alaska with Norwegian Cruise Line has to do with its itineraries. While some NCL ships do get to cruise through Glacier Bay National Park, most 7-day itineraries offer less time ashore in other ports when compared to competitor cruise lines in the region.

While several cruise lines offer full day stops at many ports of call, NCL’s stops are often shorter or the timing is not ideal. Depending on the itinerary, you will likely have an early morning stop in places like Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, or Juneau. Some routes include the afternoon in Juneau, with the ship docked until later in the evening.

Norwegian Encore Alaska Cruise Review

Also, Norwegian Cruise Line does not have preferential berthing in many ports. This means the ship docks further away from the city center. For instance, the Ward Cove dock in Ketchikan is a bus ride away from town. Thus, you can’t get off the ship and walk to the nearby attractions like most cruise lines. So, getting to and from the ship, if not on an excursion, can be a headache.

Likewise, depending on the time of year and the number of ships in port, the ship might not always dock in Juneau. So, there is the potential to become a tender port, which is never fun.

Who Should Take Alaska Cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line?

While there are a few cons, we had a fantastic time on both our Alaska cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line.

The cruise line is great for those cruising with a large group. The six of us on Norwegian Bliss took advantage of the freestyle approach to customize our trip. We were able to do things as a large group as well as smaller groups throughout the week. Our tours of the Mendenhall Glacier and a float plane in the Misty Fjords were some of our best excursions in the region.

Likewise, our trip last year on Norwegian Encore was equally memorable. Our day in Glacier Bay was gorgeous. We were able to get much closer to several glaciers in the park than ever before, including clearly seeing the John Hopkins Glacier from a private sundeck. We took advantage of the cruise ship’s upgrades, like the Vibe Beach Club and thermal suite. Not to mention, we dined at essentially all of the specialty restaurants, took advantage of our upgraded drink package, and enjoyed the onboard attractions throughout the week!

If you’re cruising as a family, NCL’s larger ships in the region offer plenty to keep the kids entertained between ports of call. And there’s still plenty of nighttime entertainment for mom and dad too.

Although, NCL probably won’t appeal to travelers looking for a more enriching experience. If you are looking for a more culturally immersive experience or more authentic Alaska onboard programming, Norwegian might let you down.

Further, if there are specific routes or ports that you want to visit, then this cruise line might not offer the exact schedule that interests you.

But for those looking to make this vacation a mix of fun and facts, Norwegian Cruise Line is a great choice. After all, it is a vacation, not a college tour!


Have you taken Alaska cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line? What is your favorite cruise line in the region? Drop us an anchor below with your Alaska cruise tips.

Don Bucolo, or “DB”, loves everything about cruising- the ocean, the food, and the atmosphere. While he may be obsessed with doing extensive amounts of research on ships and all elements of a cruise, Don enjoys sharing his new found knowledge with fellow cruisers. When he is not sailing the high seas, he does whatever his wife tells him to do-it only took 10 years to realize this.
Don Bucolo
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