I tried to break this down so you can just read the topics that are of interest to you. Hopefully our experiences with help others plan or anticipate!
The people: Pop (82---limited mobility), Mom (82---excellent health), Sis (59), BiL (65), Niece (24), Me (46) DH (46) DD (18) and two DSs (16 & 14)
Experience: Cruise #12 for my family. About #7 for my sister. Something about #50 for my parents. We cruise annually with some extended family or another. Everyone's first trip to Alaska!
Port and Embarkation: Eight of us flew in the morning of the cruise. Never recommended, but required in this case for scheduling reasons. Everything went well. Purchased Carnival transfers (overpriced---use a cab) because we were flying in that day and I hoped if we were late it might work in our favor. Didn't have to test that theory, but it was a tense day for me. My sister and her husband flew in a few days early to enjoy Seattle. Embarkation was probably the smoothest and most pleasant we've ever had. Arrived just after noon, and by the time we finished at the desk, they had already called our loading number (16), so we walked right on, and up to the buffet.
Cabins: We booked relatively late (Spring), so couldn't get three cabins next to each other. We were all on Deck 8 in balconies on the Starboard side. No complaints about anything in the cabins. Room steward was MASSIVELY overworked. His section went from my cabin (8215) to my parents' cabin (8259)!!!! Obscene amount of work for the poor guy and his assistants.
Food: We aren't foodies, and don't do food porn. We are, however, EATERS! Food was very good in the Empire Dining Room. Missed having any Alaska-specific menus, but indulged in many other great items. Lido Deck was a little repetitive with their breakfast and lunch items. Omelette station was great, as was the pasta and calzone options for lunch. Room service woke us up every morning on time, but whether we got what we ordered was hit or miss!
Entertainment: Really missed live music on the Lido deck!!! Shows were repeats of ones we've seen on other ships. The biggest disappointment was the dance club! In years past it was open early evening several times for families to use---my kids really enjoyed going to the "adult disco" for an hour or two (like 8 -- 10 pm). This year there was no opportunity at all, and my 14 yo was relegated to the "Club Cool" live music that wasn't really to his taste---lots of 70s and 80s music. LOVED Punchliners Comedy Club. They really need to move it to a larger location---it's a madhouse in there.
Kids Clubs: My 16 yo son LOVES Club O2. He said this was the very best year yet for teen clubs. They did similar things to every other year. What makes or breaks the club is the other kids that happen to be on your cruise. My son met a nice group of kids who wanted to have fun...NOT pretend they were college kids on Spring Break! The only clubs my other two ever really enjoyed were on Disney, but they haven't really tried for the past few years, either. Frankly, we usually travel with some of their cousins from the East Coast they rarely see, so that becomes their "Club". Advice from my experience: Have your kid go the very first night. It will either "stick" or it won't. For us---that child is a blur with his Club O2 activity except for dinner!
PORT INFORMATION---The good stuff!!! Our weather was, to quote Captain Golpi "zee veather...eeeet eeessss, vell.........yucky." CD kept saying "put on your coat and hat and get out there"! So, we did. The air is different. It tastes different. It feels different. The scenery is unreal. It was the worst weather vacation of my life, and you know what we did? WE GOT OUT THERE!!! That is my single most important recommendation for anyone.
Tracy Arm Fjord: Nothing can prepare you for the experience. Moving gently through a narrow passage with binoculars in hand was surreal. Thanks to the naturalist, we saw sea otters, bald eagles and a black bear. We watched and heard the glacier calving. We ran like kids back and forth from one side of the ship to the other so we wouldn't miss an iceberg float gently by. My parents were able to relax on the balcony as waterfalls and icebergs rushed by them. Sis and her people did the excursion boat to get closer to the glacier. They LOVED it, and highly recommend the experience. Got very close to shore---and the black bear, and had a small iceberg brought on board to see and touch. Magical day.
Skagway: All ten of us did the White Pass & Yukon Railway (3-hour train both ways). The tracks right next to the ship worked great for my Pop. They even golf carted him right to his desired traincar. Great scenery and overall experience---highly recommend it for extended families to enjoy something together that is not overly taxing. Later in the day went shopping in Skagway. A very quaint town that gives an interesting perspective on how early settlers managed.
Juneau: Whale watching!!!! Booked a private excursion (Harv & Marv thanks to CC) just for my family of five. Can't say enough about the experience! Having a small boat was great, especially because we could decide where to go and what to do. Saw four different glaciers while out in Steven's Passage. Visited with some sea lions on a buoy, and came across a large group of whales. Saw many backs and tails in a small area from very close to us. They were, literally, heading in our direction, so our boat just sat there and watched the magnificent show. We were comfortable in the boat, and it was a magical experience for us. Visit to Mendenhall Glacier for 40 minutes afterwards was wonderful. Never enough time, but it was just a glorious location and unbelievable scenery. Sis and family got a great view from the top of the Mt. Roberts Tram, and enjoyed some light hiking from there which they recommended very highly.
Ketchikan: Nothing scheduled, so we got the walking tour map and hit the (small) town! Loved the walk, seeing the salmon running, Creek Street and especially the totem poles. We really enjoyed walking around, and were stunned when a local fisherman handed Mom his pole and taught her how to reel in what had to be a 10 pound pink salmon!!!! She reeled it in, and he had her take it from the hook and carry it to his cooler while dozens of tourists watched and took pictures. She was laughing, crying and shaking it was so exciting. Don't ask me why he did it, or how he picked her out of the crowd, but it will live forever as one of our most vivid lifetime memories of my mother. He wouldn't take a penny from us, and just kept saying "She looked like she would enjoy it! She had fun, right?" The single best Ambassador of any location we have ever visited. Ketchikan will always be considered the friendliest city in the world to us.
Victoria: What a frustrating place!!! Dock at 7:30 and out by midnight? Everything closes at 6 pm? Really, Carnival!?!?!?! It's a beautiful town and we enjoyed walking around. Volunteer Ambassadors were on hand upon debarkation, gave us maps and guidance. Taxi ($9) downtown was quick, and we thoroughly enjoyed their tourist corridor. Don't miss walking through the Empress Hotel and grounds---so lovely.
At sea time: We enjoyed the talks given by the naturalist on this voyage---great to learn something about the area, climate, inhabitants. Boys loved the new water play area and slide that extends over the water. There was plenty of comfortable places with light background music for my parents to sit and enjoy the view through a window.
Final impressions: Definitely a trip of a lifetime. Cruises are great for multi-generational groups, and there were many on our cruise. This felt like the most relaxing cruise we've had, and there was a different kind of...silence...on the ship. It reflected, I felt, the locations we were visiting, and changed the dynamic of the entire week. According to my 18 yo, this was the best vacation of her life: "Not just cruise, Mom, the best vacation". And, that, my friends, is all I can say about that.