We are not seasoned "cruisers" by any means but this was our 3rd cruise, however it was the best one we have taken thus far. We have been to Mexico on both sides and if you were to ask us which destination we preferred, it is Alaska hands down!
First let me recommend that you spend a few days in Seattle prior to the cruise. There is so much to see such as Pike Place Market, the Queen Anne neighborhood, Pioneer Square, just to name a few. If you want an aerial view of the city, I do not recommend wasting your money on the Space Needle although taking the monorail from the Westlake Shopping Ctr. to the Needle is well worth a visit. If you want to see the city from high above, I recommend going to Smith Tower, one of the oldest skyscrapers in Seattle. The architecture is amazing, the cost is nominal, and the view is spectacular!
The check-in process on the Spirit was the smoothest and quickest we have ever encountered. We were on the ship by noon, had lunch, and our cabin was ready by 1:00. We were very impressed with our Steward, Angel, as when we first arrived, he asked what our cabin number was and when we told him he said, "Oh, Kevin, Rebecca, Jessica, and Emily!". So to know our first names immediately upon arrival just amazed us! We were very pleased with their services throughout the entire cruise.
The Lido Deck was in my opinion like Golden Corral Restaurant. The food was so-so. We are there for breakfast as their breakfast items were delicious, lots of variety, overall this was above average. We had 1 or two lunches there and perhaps it was the other guests that made it so disappointing. Tables were occupied by people playing cards or just looking out the window. As the signs say and our "Fun Times" newsletter says, there are lounges for that purpose. The other guests also were like cattle herds at the lines cutting, or grabbing food with their hands. Some even test tasted while in line....ick!
The Empire Dining Room was the opposite! We had amazing staff...Katarina, Ignatius, and I'yomen. Again, they knew our names immediately. And they were wonderful to our daughters. It was nice chatting with them during dinner and we noticed they made all of the surrounding diners feel special.
The decor of the ship was beautiful with muted tones - very relaxing. One previous cruise was on the Splendor and it was all pink! The shows were good although there weren't as many as we have experienced on previous cruises. Perhaps it's because we had only 1 fun day at sea while the others were at ports. But the shows we did see were good quality and very entertaining. It is evident the dancers and singers work very hard! Our favorite entertainment was the comedy at The Punchliner. Each night there were different comedians that they would pick up or drop off at different ports - many were from L.A. The cruise director, Chris was great. He wasn't overly enthusiastic or bubbly which translates to "fake" when I meet people like that. But he was very comical and entertaining. I think it was his being so "down-to-earth" that made everyone enjoy him on the ship.
There was a naturalist on the ship named Michelle who must have never slept because she was always on the announcement system informing us of wildlife or pertinent scenic points of interest that we should see. From the ship we saw humpback whales, porpoises, bald eagles, waterfalls, etc. It is because of this I recommend a room with a balcony!
We LUCKED OUT with the weather. We did not have one day of rain at any of the ports. Our first day was cruising the Tracy Arm Fjord. The Spirit does cruise down the arm but it does not get into the nooks and crannies of it. I highly recommend the Tracy Arm Fjord Explorer excursion which has a small ship pick you up and take you further into the fjord to see the twin Sawyer glaciers. An experience you will NEVER forget. We saw a black bear up close, hundreds of seals laying on icebergs, bald eagles, waterfalls, and the glaciers up CLOSE! It is worth the money to do this excursion!!
In Skagway, because many of the excursions only went to one area or another, we were in port until 8pm so we wanted to see as much of it as possible therefore we rented a car. There is one highway. We drove all the way to Emerald Lake and back stopping at each point of interest. There are tons of lakes, scenic view points, and wildlife. We paid $120 to rent a car for all 4 of us...not bad when excursions cost so much more. We bought Murray's Guide for $5 which gives a detailed mile by mile guidance of where to stop as well as descriptions and when you cross into Canada (The Yukon) it switches to km. to km. This is a no fail system and you will not miss anything so I recommend buying the guide. We saw a grizzly bear along the way, we stopped in Carcross, stopped at the Moore Suspension Bridge which has a great view of Moore Creek. There are many amazing lakes...Mirror Lake which you have to see! It is the clearest, reflective water! Taking pictures of it does not do it justice. You will see the "Welcome to Alaska" sign which is a must for photo ops along with the "Yukon" sign. Waterfalls are everywhere! We saw tour buses for the excursion and they drove by some of the stops that we were at so I am glad we rented a car and took our time. We even had time when we returned to Skagway to see the Gold Rush Cemetery to see Soapy Smith's gravesite as well as a short hike further up the hill to see Lower Reid falls...very beautiful!
In Juneau we did a Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest excursion in Auke Bay. Of everything Juneau has to offer, I had to highly recommend this! We saw a large number of whales up close and got to witness a rare bubble feeding, saw baby whales. The sounds the whales make were unique and I will never forget them.
In Ketchikan, we shopped as this is the premier place for shopping of all the ports and we also watched the Great American Lumberjack Show. This was really enjoyable. Bald Eagles were flying above the show arena:-) We also walked to Creek Street which is another must see - it is the old bordello area for "working girls" now turned into shops. We took the tramway up the mountain and hiked down "Married Man's Trail" back to Creek Street. We also saw "Dolly's House"...she was the main prostitute that bought her house for $800 and turned it into a brothel. She also provided alcohol for the men folk ;-) It was $15 for all of us to see this and worth the 30 minutes to see it as it's pertinent history for Creek Street.
Our last port was Victoria, BC. We arrived at 7:30pm and departed at 12:30am. I wish we had more time here as it was beautiful! We took a cab to the downtown area ($8) and walked everywhere else which was in close proximity of each other. We went to the Fairmont Empress Hotel - another must see! The inside is renovated but the dining area is all original hardwood and there are also pictures of past visitors like President Ford and Queen Elizabeth. The grounds are beautiful! The marina is across the street and the capitol building is down on the corner. Seeing it at night was a plus because the entire building is lit up!
All in all, this was one of our best vacations. We have no compliants about the ship or staff...all exceeded our expectations! The debarktion process was just as smooth and we were driving out of Seattle by 9:30 am!! Everything we saw just on the inside passage of Alaska will forever be etched into our memories. We had rare luck with the weather - not a drop of rain and the temps were in the 60's and 70's. If you take the excursion to Tracy Arm Fjord, wear heavier coats and gloves for that as the temps drop by the glacier and the speed of the boat against the wind makes for a chilly ride!
If you are taking this same vacation, please know you won't be disappointed! Enjoy yourselves!!