So in reading other reviews, it occurs to us that we are not the "typical" cruiser. We have only had one cruise previously (well actually one of us) and it was with Carnival to Mexico. We are mid-forties (traveling sans children), we aren't into shopping, learning about or buying jewelry, gambling or big-time drinking. We do like each other, meeting other interesting people, relaxing, exercising, visiting and learning about interesting places, and trying new things. In this review we expound upon our experiences so that you can hopefully make the best of your cruise.
This was a somewhat last minute trip. We booked in March for a cruise that started on July 6. We booked through a local cruise travel agent, which was a great move since they did all the pre-cruise paper work.
We got The Alaska Cruise Handbook by Joe Upton (newly revised in 2012) and found it to be really useful. We brought it along and used it to find out all kinds of cool stuff about where we were each day.
Bring binoculars (8x40 is good) for each adult and carry them with you whenever you are in the common areas. You never know when you will see whales, and we saw Orcas several times.
As far as attire goes, other than dressing for the weather, this cruise was more casual than the one I was on to Mexico. Dressing for dinner is nice, but not really required even in the dining room as long as you don't show up in shorts and a T-shirt. We dressed up a bit because we like to. Cocktail dresses rather than gowns seemed to be the norm and the first formal night was a bigger deal than the second.
First off, the whole Seattle hotel/sight-seeing thing is moot for us since we live in Seattle. So, we'll start with embarkation. It took quite awhile, but that is generally par for the course. We got there toward the end of the boarding period, which was a mistake. It was a beautiful day and it would have been much nicer to be hanging out by the pool and eating a leisurely lunch rather than waiting in line, which is what we did.
Our Home Away From Home: 3063
We booked an inside cabin mainly to save $$ and it was fine, but next time we would probably spend the extra to at least get a window, mainly because it would have been nice to be able to see where we were each morning instead of having to get dressed and go up to the common areas. The room was small, as expected, but still fine for just the two of us. The bed was comfy, linens were pretty new since the refit, fluffy towels and the like. Shower was tiny. Room was very quiet and our steward, Conde kept it ship-shape, complete with requisite towel animals. No Ipads in the rooms yet, but the Compass told us everything we needed to know.
Common Areas: relax and mingle
We followed tips from other cruisers and explored a lot of the ship early so we would know where we wanted to spend our time. Here are some of our favorites:
-The Centrum: This large circular area in the heart of the ship was a great place to watch the scenery, people, or to listen to live music of all kinds.
-The Solarium: We spent a lot of time here, given the weather up north. Hot tubs were delightful, lounge chairs were the best on the ship and the decor was fun too. One thing to be aware of is that although it says Adults Only, they open the area up to kids from noon to two and from four to eight each day due to the weather. While this kind of sucked for us, it seemed fair as no one wants to swim outside in the rain and cold. And sometimes the adults were louder than the kids.
-The Pool: If you are lucky enough to have some warm weather (and we did on the last full sea day), the pool is a great place to hang out. Water is heated and warm. If you are NOT a smoker, steer clear of the starboard side of the ship.
-Fitness Center: Treadmills, ellipticals, weights etc. Since it is in the back of the ship you can watch the water while you work out. We saw whales twice from the treadmills. It can get busy, so try to choose off-times to work out. Don't miss the sauna and steam room which is located in the spa. You do not need to pay extra for these and they were terrific. Towels and locker are provided.
-Viking Crown Lounge: We never actually visited this at night (when it is a disco), but enjoyed it during the day when it is a quiet place to read and relax. It is at the top of the ship, so the view is great. We realized after the fact that it would probably be a great place to view the glacier if you don't want to go outside since the windows slant downward and so would not get hit with rain.
Entertainment: something for everyone
First off, we thought Anna our cruise director was great. Tons of energy and led many of the ship's activities. She did a great job with the parties and we got hooked on her morning show too. The shout out thing is fun. We didn't see all of the shows, but the ones we saw were entertaining enough. They are pretty short, so if you think you might find it amusing, go ahead and stop by. We tried trivia which was hit and miss, the game show things which were generally amusing (hint: if you are going to do The Quest, change out of your formal clothes and sit near the front.) If you are hoping for good Karaoke, you will likely be disappointed. The song selection is quite limited, so there were not that many people in attendance. Don't miss the 70's party, it was loads of fun. We also really enjoyed the Captain's Talk. There were many other activities (Bingo, crafts, cooking demos etc.) that we did not do, but people seemed to like them. We saw that some reviewers reported getting bored, but we just don't get that. If you don't like the entertainment, play a game, read a book, look at the scenery, or talk to some of the interesting people around you. Jeeze!
Food: or how we gained ten pounds
We clearly aren't as picky as some other reviewers. For the most part we thought the food was swell. Breakfast at the Windjammer was great. Plenty of fresh fruit and lots of variety from eggs, to oatmeal, to ethnic dishes. Lunch was not our favorite meal, some of the dishes were a little weird and heavy. But there was always sandwiches and salad available. We ate all of our dinners in the Edelweiss dining room and were more than satisfied with both the food and the service. We were on My Time Dining but still got the same staff most nights. Sheryl took great care of us. We also enjoyed our dining companions on most nights. It was fun hearing stories from people in other parts of the world. We also really enjoyed the food in the Solarium. Especially the smooshed sandwiches. And of course soft serve ice cream anytime you want it is never a bad thing. We were happy with the Edelweiss and didn't feel the need to try the specialty venues.
Shore Excursions: highlights of the trip
Juneau: After reading recommendations from other cruisers, we chose not to book with the cruise line, but instead booked a whale watching trip with Harv and Marv. This turned out to be an excellent choice. Instead of being on a big boat with 50-100 people, there were just five of us and the captain, Jayleen on a 26 foot boat. I could write a lot about this trip, but the gist is that we saw about ten humpback whales bubble-net feeding very close to our boat. And, we were the first boat on the scene and got to see (and hear because the captain had a hydrophone) the whales all by ourselves for about 15 minutes before the other 7 boats showed up. But, we should also say that bubble net feeding is a rare event and we were very lucky. On the return to Juneau the driver stopped at the Mendenhall Glacier and we got to look around. It was quite impressive.In Juneau we skipped the Red Dog Saloon (crowded!) in favor of eating at Tracy's Crab Shack, which was totally yummy.
Skagway: We had booked the train and kayak trip through the cruise line. We were met at the dock by a suitably outdoorsy-looking young man (Shane) who told us all about the area as we rode in a bus up, up, up to Lake Bernard. We got extremely lucky with the weather. Although they have rain gear, gloves and the like, we didn't need any of it - just the kayak skirts and life vests. We were also able to go all the way to the end of the horseshoe lake because it was so calm. It was beautiful, of course. Just as we got back, the weather started to kick in and by the time we were on the train, it was raining. Kind of a bummer for the next group of kayakers who were suiting up. The train ride was great, despite the weather. We were warm and dry. In Skagway we especially enjoyed the Klondike Gold Rush National Park Museum which had some really interesting pictures of the gold rush.
Tracy Arm Fjord: Here we are split. The male half of our twosome enjoyed this, while the female half was honestly not all that impressed. We got up early, had our binoculars and everything. Maybe it is better if it is not raining. From the male half: The trip up the fjord is really cool because the shore is so close to the boat on either side. You don't really have to get up at 6 as recommended. The captain does a very slow turn at the end and there is plenty of space on deck for everyone to see the glacier. Then you can find a place to sit and watch the scenery on the way out at a more reasonable hour.
Victoria: We had been here before and didn't feel the need to book an excursion. We chose to skip the shuttle and walk to town (though seriously considered renting bikes) and it took about half an hour. We wandered around the town, found the local sellers down by the waterfront and bought a whale carved by an actual Native American who signed it for us, which we thought was just dandy. Had lunch at an Irish Pub and generally had a stellar day.
Overall, we had a fabulous time and will probably be doing it again in a few years with our kids.