This was a fantastic trip and I had a great time. July 10 -- 17th, round trip from Seattle, WA. We cruised the Tracy Arm Fjord and stopped at Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Victoria, BC. First time to Alaska and my third cruise ever.
We came from Texas and my hat is off to any of you forced to fly in to a port on a regular basis. We flew Southwest for the two free bags and the flights were all good, but the travel was long. We stayed at the Hyatt Place/Downtown on 6th Ave, near the Space Center. Good area, but not as close to Pier 91. The hotel arranged a shuttle (Seattle Shuttle) which we also used on our return trip.
Seattle is a great place and I was glad we got to spend at least half a day wandering around. If time and money permitted, I would have loved to spend more time in the area.
Embarkation was easy. We arrived a little before noon and were on the ship in less than an hour. Many people had arrived before us and the Lido buffet was crowded this first day. I don't recall exactly when we got into our rooms and got our baggage, but it was reasonable and I think we were in our rooms by 2 pm. I will say no one was really directing us anywhere, but I had been poring over deck plans for a while and knew where I was going.
Many people on board and on shore commented that we had exceptional weather. There was a slight drizzly rain in Skagway, but clear skies and nice, cool temps in all other ports. Some fog and slight roughness on the last two days headed back to Seattle, but nothing I would consider a problem. I agree with the general advice of wearing layers. It was the wind that got to us outside; the inside of the ship and the dome pool area were heated. I brought a warm jacket and wore it on the glacier, but did not need it. A good sweater/sweatshirt/hoodie was fine. I never made it to the waterslides (there is always something I don't have time to do on a cruise) but did swim one afternoon and enjoyed the warm water. We also played a windy game of mini-golf.
The naturalist, Michelle, was good. I attended one of her shows where she previewed the types of wildlife and wilderness we would be experiencing. I missed her other show, but was hoping to attend. I also enjoyed listening to her over the intercom, but was frustrated at being unable to hear her while in my room with the door closed. Ch. 15 was supposed to carry these announcements, but I never got that to work. Nor would I have wanted to keep Ch. 15 on in the background all day long. It was elevator music and a view of the ship for me.
Our room was clean and well laid out (#4223). I believe this is an 8A category cabin on the Starboard side. The bathroom showed it's age a bit and the sleeper couch was looking a bit dingy. My cabin mate claims it was firm, but comfortable. This was my first balcony and it was nice and was used, but I do see how it makes the room smaller. With three adults in the room I would have liked to have that space back. We were also right above the MDR, but had no noise or smell issues. Very few people strolling the decks below us. Some aft movement, but nothing serious.
Food was fine. Most of it was good and a few dishes were just okay. The Lido buffet was predictably crowded on the first day, but I never experienced that crowding again. Chopsticks was wonderful, as was the pizza bar and deli/sandwich area. The morning omelet station was also very good and rarely busy. They also make non-omelet eggs to order. I missed the Chocolate Buffet completely. I must have been late to lunch that day because it was taken down before I even got there. The MDR waiters sang on two nights -- the 2nd night and the last night, I believe. They also danced on either the 3rd or 4th night, but I missed both these dinners.
We used drink tickets for the first time and had no issues. I'm not sure I'll use them in the future simply because it was a hassle keeping that extra paper around and digging it out to hand over. I like to save money, but it sure is easier to just hand over your sign & sail card.
Entertainment was okay. I tend to really enjoy the shows, but was disappointed because the Jazz/Big Band/Mardi Gras style being promoted did not interest me. I still loved the spectacle of it all and the singing and dancing was good, it just wasn't my thing. The comedians were hit and miss for me (two of these guys were just not funny at all) and while I enjoyed the hypnotist, it felt a bit too casual. I want more pizzazz and maybe some special effects! I was also a bit disappointed that I missed some minor shows entirely due to late dining (the gender show, etc.) and on the very last day there seemed to be nothing interesting on the schedule. Luckily we were tired by that time and used the day to nap a bit.
The CD, Chris, was fine, but he and his staff are not my favorite. A bit too casual for me and trying to be silly seemed to be their thing. I suspect that in real life these are funny, nice people to hang out with, but watching them try to be funny as part of their job was not as great. I do believe Chris left the ship at the end of the cruise, either for a scheduled break or a new opportunity.
The ports are what Alaska is all about. We did a 3 hour train tour in Skagway, Helicopter/dog sledding in Juneau and the Bering Sea Crab Boat in Ketchikan. I do wish we had more time in Ketchikan. I recommend any of these tours, as well as just generally walking around the towns. I had hoped to do a longer train tour in Skagway that made a stop in Canada, but some members of my group did not have passports. I booked the helicopter/sledding tour in Juneau independent of the ship. We did eat in port in Skagway (Skagway Brewing Co.) and Juneau (Red Dog Saloon). Although touristy, both of these locations served good food. Perhaps we just worked up an appetite, but the fish and chips in Skagway were the best I have ever eaten.
I didn't get off the ship in Victoria, partially due to the timing but also because the excursions seemed pricey and I didn't want to wander aimlessly on my own.
Debarking is a breeze. We should have booked an earlier flight out of Seattle because we were at the airport by 9 am without any effort on our part. Had we tried, I am sure we could have been off the ship and through customs shortly after 7 am. Breakfast that morning started at 5:30.
Overall this reads a bit more negatively than I intended. The ship is gorgeous and there is still plenty to do onboard. I swam and played mini-golf and attended most shows. Nothing really negative, but I have had slightly better experiences (food, entertainment, CD) on other ships. I'd book this same cruise again, but I'd hope for a different CD and a different run of shows.