Very contemporary Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) offers an informal and upbeat onboard atmosphere on two large ships, the Norwegian Pearl and the Norwegian Jewel, both sailing from Seattle. The line excels at activities, and its recreational and fitness programs are among the best in the industry. NCL recently launched a food upgrade program -- the best food is at venues where you pay an extra fee -- and has what has become a very popular "freestyle" casual dining policy that allows passengers to have dinner pretty much whenever they want, with whomever they want, dressed however they want.

In Alaska, NCL offers an Alaskan lecturer, wine tastings, art auctions, cooking demonstrations, craft and dance classes, an incentive fitness program, and bingo, among other activities. Passengers can choose from a good selection of soft-adventure shore excursions, including hiking, biking, and kayaking. Entertainment is generally strong and includes Vegas-style musical productions. The top-notch kids' program includes an activity room, video games, an ice-cream bar, and guaranteed babysitting aboard, plus sessions with park rangers and escorted shore excursions. The line offers 7-night Inside Passage cruises.

Passenger Profile -- In Alaska, the demographic tends more toward retirees than on the line's warmer-climate sailings, but you'll find families as well, including grandparents bringing along the grandkids.

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Ships -- One of the first ships built with NCL's trademark "freestyle" cruising in mind, the 2,376-passenger Norwegian Jewel has more than a dozen places where people can eat -- depending on the time of day. The Jewel also is well equipped for the sports-minded and active vacationer -- in addition to the fitness center, there are three heated pools, a jogging/walking track, and a wide array of sports facilities. The 2,394-passenger Norwegian Pearl is the line's newest ship in Alaska and has the most bells and whistles (including one of the only bowling alleys at sea!), providing a fun and lively Alaska cruise experience. Sample nightly rates per person: Lowest-price inside cabin $107, lowest outside cabin $128, lowest suite from $214 for a 7-night cruise.