For my husband's birthday, we decided to go to Alaska; then our extended family thought that was a great idea, so there were ten of us on a very nice family cruise. Our group comprised one senior, three middle-aged, two almost middle-aged, a twenty-something, and three teen-agers to make sure we hit every demographic!
Since everyone lives in Seattle, there were no hassles with airplane reservations; but we did have to find parking before the trip. Smith Cove has ample parking and a shuttle system that runs to the cruise terminal, making it easy to get to your ship. Our part of the family arrived at 11:30 and was on board by noon; the rest of the family got there around one.
We went for a walk, then hit the buffet, which was appreciated by the kids most of all for they were allowed to pick whatever they wanted. As the dining room was crowded, we headed outside to sit and eat by the pool for a sunny luncheon.
We all ate in the main dining room meeting most days for breakfast, going our separate ways during the day, and meeting again for dinner. The food was lovely, with something for everyone. Lunches were ample and the salad bar, where staff made salads to order, was popular with everyone. One of our group ate two huge salads -- although with all the meat and salmon in these creations, there was hardly room for vegetables -- at each lunch.
Formal nights were not a hit with a couple of the teens at first, until their parents noted the presence of steak and ice cream. Lobster night was a hit with those who enjoy lobster; the rest of us had salmon or steak. Dancing afterwards, or listening to music; karaoke; films; and musicals in the theatre were the favored entertainments after dinner. The comedian on this trip was especially amusing as he juggled his way around the crowd.
The teen center was full on this cruise, with lots of new friends to meet. The hottest place to be for the teens in our group, besides the video games, was the table tennis table. Every day was a new adventure in ping pong. Since it was cool and rainy once out of Seattle, the outdoor pool was rarely open and the teens were a bit cranky at this, but the teen center and the presence of cousins and new friends helped make them happier -- also the presence of soft-serve ice cream and pizza helped.
Ports included Skagway, Juneau, and Victoria. The hikes and river rafting in Skagway are recommended for those in fit shape; don't attempt these unless you are able to hike uphill for an hour or more. This excursion is very strenuous, and those of us who took it enjoyed it immensely. Afterwards, we took a short walk to the glacier as a cool-down.
Some of our group took the train in Skagway and this is a trip recommended for those who like to see the sights. At the top of the mountain, everyone is encouraged to switch sides of the train so you all get to see both views when on the rails. And still others simply went shopping and recommend this as the chosen activity. They did find some nice items to make the non-shoppers jealous.
Whale-watching was the trip for everyone in Juneau, but we all took varying types of this excursion. Some went on a small boat, seating about ten people, and the rest went on a huge party boat with over a hundred folks on board. Your preference is whether you like to stay dry or get "up close and personal" with the whales -- of which we saw many. And it was cold and rainy all through Alaska, so we were glad we brought our fleece and windbreaker attire.
In Victoria, some took the walking tour (the ones who also took the hiking tour of course), and some went to eat high tea at the Empress. It's nice there is something for every taste, so to speak. There is a marvelous ice cream shop a bit north of the Empress (not the big popular one but a block farther on) that had gelato in huge huge scoops. All of the walker/hiker crowd indulged without one iota of guilt. The Empress crowd notes that it, too, ate tea without any guilt, then returned to the ship for ice cream.
We did have one rough sea night, and the teens were the ones affected the most. In our family, they wanted to lie down and skip dinner. So the parents put them to bed early and went off to watch the show in the theatre, checking in on the youth occasionally. It was almost like date night, except the kids were old enough to be on their own for an hour or so between bed checks.
The dining room wait staff and the room stewards were fantastic. Most were being transferred after this cruise to trans-Atlantic cruises. Given the superb level of their service, we can see why.
The ship was showing its age and was due for an update shortly after the 2011 Alaska season. But the staff maintained it well and aside from some worn upholstery, nothing untoward was in evidence. In fact, carpeting was being replaced on one deck while the cruise was occurring.
Debarkation was quick and efficient, and we were all home in a flash.