A little history on us. We are early 50's from the Chicago area. We began cruising 7 years ago on the Millennium. This was my 11th cruise, my husband's 10th and our 9th on Celebrity. We traveled with another couple from Illinois who have cruised on Princess and Disney. This was their first Celebrity cruise but their 3rd time to Alaska (our first). We chose the Cruise Tour #1, Fairbanks to Seward and a 7 night Southbound cruise on the Millennium, Seward to Vancouver.
As there are limited flights from Chicago to Fairbanks, we opted to fly in the day before and spent an additional night at Pikes Lodge. We landed at about 1:00 a.m. Fairbanks time, 4:00 a.m. Chicago time. It was warm and sunny. A little weird. Needless to say we didn't sleep much the first day. Pikes Lodge is very pretty and homey. The rooms a little dated but comfortable enough. We took the shuttle to the downtown area and did some sightseeing and stopped at the Fudge Pot for lunch. Very good. We took the shuttle back to the hotel as we were to meet with our tour guide at 3:00. The one criticism I would have in doing this type of vacation is although you leave home with every bit of information you need for your cruise, there was very little information about the land cruise portion. We met Patricia, our guide and she was able to answer all of our questions. All I can say is that Royal Celebrity Cruise Tours hires top-notch people. She and our driver, Jeremy, made this experience so special. The rest of the evening was spent getting to know fellow cruisers, having dinner at Pikes Landing (next door) and finally getting some rest.
The first day we went on the Riverboat Discovery Tour (fabulous) and spent a little time in downtown Fairbanks. We boarded a beautiful motor coach and made our way to Denali National Park. We stayed the next two nights at the McKinley Village Lodge. We were fortunate to be in their brand new building which was beautiful and a step up from Pikes. Super comfortable beds, free laundry, amazing views and a lovely deck to sit out on and have cocktails in the evening (even though it was still light out). My husband signed up to do a flyover of Mt. McKinley this evening. It was something he will never forget. The next day we were spending the day at Denali National Park. Although they provide water and a snack, they encourage you to bring a lunch with you. At this point, you're a captive audience so the only option is a bag lunch from the Starbuck's in the lobby. Although it's very convenient, $15.95 for a sandwich, bottle of water and piece of fruit seemed like highway robbery to me. The 8 hours or so we spent in Denali was beautiful but maybe a little long on a re-furbed school bus. We saw caribou, bears and Dahl sheep. Amazing.
The next day we left Denali for Anchorage. A wonderful drive which included a stop to see Mt. McKinley in all its glory. Beautiful. Arrived in Anchorage and had a nice dinner at an Irish pub before retiring to the Marriott.
The next morning we left for Seward by way of the Wilderness Express. Patricia had told us this would be the highlight of the trip and it did not disappoint. The glass domed Royal Celebrity car was outstanding. Huge comfortable seats, amazing views, bar service, wonderful breakfast. Again, top-notch. I think the common opinion was that if it was possible to get back on the train and ride it again, we would do it. Now that we were in Seward, it would be a couple hours before we could get on the Millennium. We went to the Seal Life center and walked around a bit downtown. After a very short drive we were at the ship terminal.
Check in was very quick. As I mentioned, this was our friend's first Celebrity cruise. We were excited to find they were extended the same "Elite perks" as us. We were escorted to our rooms by officers. Our room 9038 and their room 9040 were on the 9th floor directly under the spa area. Really nice location and very quiet. Our stateroom attendant, Laurence and his assistant Pablo, were outstanding. The rooms were well appointed with tons of storage (unlike the Solstice class ships). The bathrooms were remodeled to include the new shower panel and new doors (yes, they leak). The bedding was new and very comfortable.
The refurbishment of the ship is in general very nice. Yes, there are areas that need some attention but you do need to look for them. The only thing I really didn't like was the way they chopped off part of Cosmos for the kids club. It seems a little disjointed.
As we were in Aqua class, we ate in Blu. Joval, the Maitre de was very good as were our servers Milan and Juan Carlos and Sommelier, Red. We had read on CC to ask about the Chef's table on the first night and so we did. The second night, the Food and Beverage Manager, Oswald Harbrecht (great guy) stopped at our table and we discussed the Chef's table. As no one else had signed up, he arranged for us to have dinner in the wine cellar of the Olympic. It was pretty amazing. The food and service in Blu was impeccable. We never made it to the Bistro on Five but did enjoy Cafe al Bacio several times. The Ocean View Cafe was similar in setup and food selection to other ships. No complaints. We did frequent the grill outside for the best hotdogs and fries on a ship. A big shout out to Kean, our favorite bar server at the Sunset bar.
We did attend the Elite breakfast in the Olympic a couple times and it was very nice. In addition, the Elite cocktail hour that was held in Michael's club was well attended but never too crowded.
I need to mention that the Captain's Club hostess, Juliana Charles, was one of the best we've had. She was friendly and helpful and it was a pleasure to meet her.
We did dine with Sheldon Thompson, the Hotel Director on the second formal night. We've met him before and it was a wonderful evening.
The officers on this ship were very personable and stopped to chat with us at the Martini Bar in the evenings. Koray Savas, the Bar Manager was a hoot. Speaking of martinis, Wid was very entertaining and no, I don't recall any intrusive music there. Although we were drinking martinis so maybe I just don't remember. The premium beverage packages were a good investment.
My husband did have a massage and said it was the best he's ever had on a cruise.
Cruising through Hubbard Glacier was spectacular. We did need to put our down vests over our fleeces while we were on the upper deck. The pool butlers brought blankets and had hot chocolate with Bailey's. Not a bad way to spend a day. We did eventually meet our friends in the comfort of Cosmos where the view was just as good.
In Juneau we had arranged for a whale watching excursion with Harv and Marv's Outback Alaska. Outstanding! The highlight was a Mom with her baby who was playing with the sea lions. So cool!
The White Pass Railway tour in Skagway was also through Celebrity and pretty amazing. We dropped some hikers off at a stop, which you can arrange to do in advance, only to see a bear about 20 feet from the tracks a couple seconds later. Yikes. One glitch was that my husband woke up ill during the night and could not go on the excursion. I went down to the desk at 7:00 and turned in his ticket. I know there are times people are put on a waiting list. After several days of playing phone tag with the Shore Excursion desk and Captain's Club hostess, I was told I would be refunded the $225.00 when I turned in the ticket. They didn't seem to get that I already had. We let it go. Certainly not anything worth losing sleep over but it would have been nice to get it resolved.
Icy Strait Point found us at a cooking experience through Celebrity. We've done a couple of these excursions before and this was just as good. Our chef prepared 3 samples of salmon dishes and then filleted a salmon and halibut which we seasoned and cooked ourselves outside on a large grill. Afterwards we took a shuttle to the town of Hoonah where we met our drivers' Mom, Grandma and Son. Do go if you have a chance and ask the locals anything. It was a very charming town of about 700.
Our weather was nothing short of amazing. The only day of rain to mention was in Ketchikan where it poured buckets. We jumped off the ship to pick up some souvenirs and came right back. It was pretty but not worth getting soaked.
This was a trip of a lifetime. Celebrity treated us and our friends like royalty and I'm pretty sure they have some new repeat customers.