Us: myself (39), my girlfriend (40ish) and her 22-year old daughter. We are loyal Royal Caribbean fans; always happy with the reliable and consistent product we have received on our 20+ RCI cruises. We've been on Princess twice (with nothing nice to say about either trip), Carnival several times (Carnival is, well Carnival...), and a smattering of a couple other ships.
We have been on Celebrity one previous time, a Caribbean 10-day on the Millennium 4 years ago. To this point, that was by far our favorite cruise. So much so, in fact, that I was afraid we were expecting too much from this Celebrity trip! However, we were not disappointed. I can happily report that Celebrity well exceeded our expectations.
We arranged our own flights, and flew Alaska Airlines from Los Angeles to Vancouver one day early. We always go a day early; it's just something I learned as a young buck with my parents, having missed our very first cruise, literally by minutes. We stayed at the Hyatt in downtown. Nicely updated room for around $320. Toured Stanley Park on foot, and had an incredible Italian dinner at Cin Cin (pronounced Chin Chin, but not the same chain of Chinese from the states) on Robson Street. Taxi from hotel to Ballantyne Pier was around $15 Canadian dollars. Beware of the Vancouver taxis that try to charge a $10 surcharge for handling our bags! What a racket.
The security x-ray line seemed a little long, but we may have been overly anxious to get onboard after planning for 13 months! Once through security, check-in and US immigration was a breeze. We arrived around 1pm, and it was no more than 45-minutes from taxi to suite.
Luggage arrived very shortly after us. However, it was expedited due to our being in a Penthouse Suite. I cannot state that it would or would not have been different in another cabin...
The ship was beautiful; many people have said there are signs of wear here and there. I'm on vacation, so to go hunting and nit picking for these things is ridiculous. The ship spends its time in a very harsh environment (both from the sea and weekly passengers), and I believe the crew does an excellent job keeping up with the wear and tear. The most recent pod problem is definitely fixed, as we made all our ports and spent the full time in each. The Captain confirmed the issue was properly repaired in drydock.
The Penthouse Suite
A gift to my girlfriend, I had booked Penthouse Suite 6148 some 13-months ago. As Alaska is notoriously more expensive, I figured I would go all out. It turned out to be a good idea, as my girlfriend's 22-year old daughter joined us in the suite, and we were all able to have plenty of our own space for the entire week. Not sure how things would have turned out in a standard cabin.
Our Butler Rikki (from the Philippines) and Stewardess Nicoletta (from Romania) were outstanding! Rikki anticipated everything before we had to ask, and even made suggestions for things we had not thought of. He served us lunch on the balcony in the Inside Passage, and balcony breakfast while we were in Hubbard Glacier. He was always instantly available, and almost seemed to appear out of nowhere when we left or returned to the suite. I'm assuming he was attending to others, however, he treated us as if we were his only concern.
Rikki checked to see when we were returning from port, and always had afternoon tea and snacks waiting for us. I mentioned early in the cruise that I liked shrimp cocktail, as well as watermelon and pineapple. I never again had to want for either. In fact, Rikki constantly restocked the refrigerator with more than I could eat... Those snacks, as well as the daily cheese and cracker plates, and the afternoon teacart stocked with never-ending finger sandwiches and desserts was enough to keep us fed all week!
The room was always spotless (not always easy with the daughter's clothes), and we had everything we needed. Nicoletta was kind enough to open the sofa bed every night, and return it to a sofa every morning. High marks go to both, and they always had bright cheerful smiles and good wishes for us.
They were both very well tipped when we left. I had originally considered the "pre-tipping" as has been discussed on these boards, but then I decided that it seemed like a bribe more so than a tip. The ship offered to charge your tips to your shipboard account, but that process seems so cold, so I chose to do the tipping in cash, along with a very appreciative handshake and very warm "Thank you" from us all at the end of the cruise.
The huge balcony was a wonderful bonus during our Inside Passage transit and time in Hubbard Glacier. We invited some friends and tablemates to join us, as well. With the wraparound to the side, we could essentially see 270-degrees around the ship. Imagine a clock; we could see everything from 12:00 all the way around to 9:00.
We never got around to using our Jacuzzi's, as the time and weather were not always convenient. However, Rikki and Nicoletta repeatedly pleaded with us to let them prepare the jacuzzi for our use. The in-room computer had spotty satellite service, and at 0.75 cents per minute (not free on Celebrity, not even for Penthouse passengers or Captain's Club Elite members), the charges add up quickly. Better to just leave the office, and everyone else, behind for the week and be out of touch.
Truthfully, while it was very enjoyable, the suite was overkill. The extra space and amenities (including such things as binoculars and umbrellas) are nice, but for two travelers, where views may be limited (such as traveling from island to island in the Caribbean), a simple cabin with balcony is more than enough. Would we do it again? Yeah, maybe, depending on the circumstances. But, certainly not as an every-time experience.
The Cosmopolitan Restaurant and Staff
We were originally seated at a table by ourselves, next to the window on the second floor. Choice window location for the week, but we thoroughly enjoy meeting and making new friends at our dinner table. We've been very lucky over the years with the other passengers we've met. A quick request was made to Maitre d' Denuta, and she seated us smack in the center of the first floor with two wonderful couples whose company we enjoyed for the rest of the week. Waiter Carlos and Assistant Ketut were outstanding. Make a request once, and you can count on consistent follow-through for the rest of the week. Very high praise for excellent and efficient service from them both.
By the way, I mentioned Maitre d' Denuta. She was the greatest Maitre d' I have ever met! Very sweet, very friendly, always around and offering a truly genuine "Hello!" She helped out with several other "non-issues" throughout the week, and she couldn't have been more gracious about everything she did for us! I can't say enough about her, and she was tipped accordingly. This is the first tip I've ever given to a Maitre d' and she deserved every bit of the $50 I gave her. By the way, the "recommended" gratuity for her was $15.75.
The dining room food was good, maybe just short of great. Certainly better quality than what we are used to on RCI, and much better than our recent experience on Princess. They appear to have cut back on quantity, which is fine by me. Better to serve less food, and have passengers ask for seconds, than to waste a lot on the first plate. You eat too much on a cruise anyway, so smaller portions at dinner may actually curb your intake. If it's not in front of you, you are less tempted. Selections and variety are good, as well.
Breakfast and lunch at the Waterfall Grill and Waterfall Cafe lacked variety, in my opinion. Sure, you could always find enough to eat, but I always seemed to be going back for the same things, day after day. And, I am not a picky eater! The pizza, however, was always fresh, hot and very tasty! The make-it-to-order pasta station was good, as well. Breakfast waffles were delicious. We never ate in the Spa Cafe.
I had a sample of Sushi one afternoon, and I was pleased with what I found; fresh with fairly good variety and quality. Not exactly what I would find at my favorite places back home, but certainly much better fare than I've seen and tasted over the years.
Small food hint from assorted crew: Celebrity does "most" of their provisioning for the 2-week Vancouver-Seward-Vancouver run while in Vancouver. Therefore, towards the end of the second week (the southbound Seward-Vancouver trip), certain food (fruit, vegetables, etc...) can get a little, shall we say, "old." Apparently, the crew passageways below decks are "a little crowded" after leaving Vancouver until they find room for everything!
We had made reservations before we left. Dinner was around a 2-1/2 hour affair. Impeccable service and delicious food. You have to try the Lobster Bisque and the Goat Cheese SoufflE! My scallop and lobster dinner was a little bland, but admittedly, I was so full by that time, I don't know that anything would have tasted good! We did not try the "wine-with-every-course" offering, as we are not big wine drinkers. We did have one bottle with dinner for $36 plus 15% tip. Dinner was $30 per person, and worth every bit for the experience, and change of pace from the dining room.
Staff and Crew
Everyone we met had a bright cheery smile and attitude. I never once saw anyone who appeared like they did not want to be there. We always got a "Good morning / afternoon / evening" from everyone we passed in the hallways or stairs. Purser's desk & Shore Excursion desk were helpful, and able to properly assist, when needed.
Cruise Director John Howell appeared to be fairly well received by most. He was very personable and friendly to talk to, although his occasional Public Announcements and incessant speeches in the Celebrity Theatre seemed to drone on forever. I am not a fan of most CD's I've met, but I gave him a good evaluation, and I wouldn't cringe knowing he was the CD on an upcoming cruise. A very interesting observation from me, considering several crewmembers had the exact same sentiment; none of the crew was very fond of him, however, they all thought that he does his job VERY well.
Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis was one of the nicest Masters we have met. We were invited to dine with him, and we were extremely honored by the gesture. We've had dinner with other ship Masters, but Captain Skylogiannis was by far the nicest. Friendly to talk to, willing to answer relentless questions, eager to share his knowledge and experience with those interested in hearing about it. He is a young family man with a wife and two small children in England. He is very proud of his command, as well he should be. The table shared several complimentary bottles of white and red wine throughout dinner, but the Captain was sure to not even take a taste.
Captain Skylogiannis courteously arranged a tour of the Bridge for us. We have had others, but this one just felt different. Usually we feel as if we are interrupting their day, and they could not be more unenthusiastic about passengers invading their space. The Summit Bridge Crew on duty actually appeared to be happy to have us there. They, like their Captain, are very proud of what they do, and they were extremely friendly about sharing it with us, showing us how everything worked, and answering every question we could throw at them!
We enjoyed the Production Shows. They had lots of imagination and energy, attractive outfits and sets, and very professional dancers and singers. Interesting tidbit of info; they were short several performers due to injuries. We never knew it while watching the shows.
A taste of Cirque du Soleil was very enjoyable. It had a variety of different individual events, some that worked, and some that didn't. Overall very good, and I would have liked to have seen more...
Aerialists Rebecca & Philippe were amazing. They do several shows throughout the week, all a small part of a larger production. Their act centers around a long piece of material hung from the top of the stage. They climb, spin, swing, balance and hang from this material. Some of the maneuvers they do are unbelievable. I can't really describe it very well, other than to say it was one of most imaginative and fascinating performances I have ever seen. I could have spent the whole week watching only them night after night. Don't miss this if you ever get the chance!
Comedian Jeff Nease was very good. Fairly standard "cruise" jokes, and other observations on life, but he put his own spin on them, which we happened to really enjoy. He mentioned that he had just been signed to do a TV program (or something like that), and I will be eager to check it out.
Thien Fu was billed as "Action Comedy." The moment we realized we had already seen him on another ship, we left. I don't recall him doing much for us the first time, and his act seemed familiar and not worth sticking around for.
My first trip to the Summit casino was after we left Juneau on Monday night. I guess we were not far enough from port yet, so everyone was just standing around looking forlorn. Within minutes, the machines lit up, and the dealers snapped right to it. It was fascinating to witness the transformation. An onboard friend and I hit the craps table. We never really got the table jumping, but we did clean-up nicely. The rest of the week was craps and blackjack, and although I started playing big (as it was Celebrity's money), I never gave it all back. The last night I hit big on blackjack, and walked off the ship very happy with my time in the casino.
The casino was much quieter than any other ship I've been on, perhaps due the older-age of the passengers or possibly the itinerary? The dealers were a joy, and they made it fun even when you were losing. Helen & Mark get high marks from us all!
The Bar at the Edge of the Earth
The bar was the venue for several events throughout the day, and it is a fascinating space. Obviously still dressed for the Cirque du Soleil shows that they used to have there. We only made it to the nightclub once, on the last night. My girlfriend's daughter and I were the ONLY passengers there. However, we did enjoy the company of several assorted crewmembers, some of which we had already befriended throughout the week.
We assumed the crowd would be older than our usual Caribbean jaunts, and it was. The ship appeared to "die" after dinner. In fact, even the dining room was never packed. The show lounge always had choice seats available, even for the production shows. The casino was virtually dead. Even during the day, the ship almost seemed like it was empty. None of the venues became busy. Not even bingo! The only lines were waiting to tender back to the ship in two of the ports. But, you can expect that on any ship, and the line moved quickly.
There were some young children onboard, but except for one minor incident, you never noticed them. We were in one of the stair banks waiting for an elevator, and we heard some noise as if elephants were roaming the ship. Soon we realized it was a gang of young kids coming down the stairs. Each was jumping down the stairs by skipping as many as they could at once. One was even able to jump from landing to landing, skipping every step! They seemed completely unfazed by the stares they were getting. The raucous was unbelievable, but it was short-lived, and only that one time. I guess some excess energy needed to be spent.
Ports and Shore Excursions
We booked all of our shore excursions online long before the cruise. We had chosen what we wanted to do, and we did not want to be disappointed by fully-booked excursions.
Juneau: We were due in at noon, but we actually docked shortly after 11:00am. The morning had been gray and overcast, and it started to rain shortly after we arrived. The rain continued all day and night. Our first excursion, Dog Sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier via Helicopter @ 1:45 ($468 pp) was canceled due to the weather. Disappointing, but anticipated... So, we took the Mt. Roberts Tramway ($23.95 pp, purchased there, not onboard) up the mountain. Magnificent views of the city below (despite the weather), and we took a 1/2-mile hike on a designated trail. They also had an injured Bald Eagle in a sanctuary up at the top. Very sad for the eagle, but beautiful to see her so close!
We came down the mountain, did a little shopping in town, and hit the Red Dog Saloon for a drink or two. It's just something that needs to be experienced when in Juneau...
That evening we did the Gold Creek Salmon Bake @ 6:30 ($36 pp). A little hokey for my tastes, but the food was pretty good and plentiful. The salmon was delicious! There was a river and waterfall with some nice picture taking opportunities. We didn't stay long after dinner, as they have buses running continuously back to the ship.
Skagway: Our second chance at dog sledding!!! However, once again our excursion, Dog Sledding & Glacier Flightseeing @ 9:45 ($436 pp) was canceled due to the weather. The weather at the port was nice, although it was a little windy and cold. Apparently the weather at the dog camp was not so good, although they did start flying the excursion at 11:00. Too late to get ours going, and the rest of the day was booked, as you can imagine! Others that went later in the day raved about the experience. The Shore Excursion Manager said she had never had any passenger canceled on twice in two days. Dog sledding was one of the highlights we were most looking forward to, and we thought we had covered all our bases. Obviously, we would rather not fly for safety concerns than risk our lives. Disappointing for sure, but we absolutely understand! The assorted refunds were a nice bonus, but I still would have rather done the excursions! Hmmm, I'm predicting another Alaskan cruise in our future...
Next up in Skagway was the White Pass Scenic Railway @ 12:40 ($106 pp). The weather had cleared up considerably and had even started to warm up somewhat. The train ride is long, but takes in some incredible views and vistas. The farther we went, the more snow there was. At the top of the mountain there was tons of snow. Later in the year, when the snow has melted, I could imagine this excursion being a little mundane, but we thoroughly enjoyed our experience. We even got to see a bear, who seemed fascinated by what we were doing there. The train drops you off in town for shopping (which we did, of course), or you can go back to the dock.
Sitka: Ship's Tender port. We did the Captain's Choice Wildlife Quest & Beach Quest @ 11:15 ($166 pp). We were not really excited about any of the shore excursion offerings in Sitka, but chose this one as "the bests of all evil's." This ended up being a fantastic excursion that we all really enjoyed.
The boat met us right at the tender dock. They take you out to sea, where you go searching along with the crew for any wildlife you can find. There were two very knowledgeable Naturalists onboard along with the Captain. They communicate by radio with the other boats in the area to ensure that you see the most. On our trip we encountered whales, sea lions, sea otters, bald eagles, and one woman was convinced she saw puffins... The crew said we made about a 50-mile round-trip.
Then they dropped us off on a beach for about 45 minutes of self-guided exploration. The Naturalists are there to answer questions and point out assorted things, but you are on your own. Very interesting, and entertaining. This excursion was just as well liked as all the rest we did.
Back in town, we did more shopping, of course! Great Swarovski collection at one place, if anyone is interested...
Icy Strait Point: Ship's Tender port. Here is what I've gathered about this wonderful little port. It is situated at the town of Hoonah, Alaska (population 880). Icy Strait Point used to be a salmon cannery, and Royal Caribbean/Celebrity has now turned the abandoned cannery into a private destination, along the lines of Labadee or CocoCay, but Alaskan-style. The Hoonah locals work the stores and excursions, and I suspect they are all on Royal Caribbean's payroll. They are all proud of their town, as well they should be. I find it a little humorous that these big cruise ships pull in and overwhelm their small town with three times their population worth of passengers and crew!
Since our ship does not do Glacier Bay, we chose to do the Glacier Bay Flightseeing @ 12:15 ($299 pp). Great choice!!! The view from the air was spectacular, and a very nice, different perspective from when we did Hubbard Glacier the next morning. From what we saw on this excursion, I don't feel the least bit slighted that I went on an Alaskan cruise that did not do Glacier Bay.
And, of course, we did the customary shopping...
Hubbard Glacier: This was technically not a port, but a very important, and incredible, part of the trip nonetheless. I cannot be sure of the exact times, but I will go by the timestamp on my (220-plus) pictures. By a little after 7am we were already well into Yakutat Bay headed for the glacier. The helicopter deck on the bow of the ship was opened (apparently not always?) for sightseeing. By 7:30 it was already VERY crowded. A look back at the forward facing upper decks (above the bridge) appeared to be crowded, as well. The wind and biting cold were a little tough to endure, but worth every moment when the ship actually stops in front of the glacier. Get out there and do not miss it!
We heard they were serving Pea Soup in bread bowls on the open decks, and hot chocolate was in abundance (for a price) out on the helicopter deck.
By 8:00 we were already passing some good size chunks of ice. By 8:30 we were pretty close to the glacier, but it almost seemed that we kept getting closer and closer.
The Captain turned the ship port side to the glacier, and we sat there for sometime. Then he turned the ship starboard side in, and we sat there again. There was no 360-degree spinning as I've read others describe.
Around 9:45-10:00 we started to head away from the glacier, but the ice around the ship continued well past 10:30, and the views were still magnificent around 11:30.
Weather and Clothing
Aside from the rain in Juneau, and a squall with heavy seas (dining room half-empty for dinner) on the last day while heading to Seward, our weather was superb. Sure, a little cold in spots, but while we were in the Inside Passage, I was warm in shorts and a t-shirt. I wore jeans for the Glacier Bay Flightseeing in Icy Strait Point only because I thought the plane flight might be cold. However, it was not, and I was actually uncomfortably warm the rest of the day. What a gorgeous day!
Most of the time, a light jacket was all that was really needed. The wind at night while at sea was a bit nippy, but tolerable while outside for brief moments. We over-packed, as most usually do, not really knowing what we would encounter. I've heard many mention that the weather can change 5 times a day in Alaska. I believe it!
I brought my hiking boots, and used them extensively. I had a lightweight jacket with a hood, as well as my heavy ski jacket. While I didn't really need the latter, anything could have happened with the weather, and I was happy to have it along.
I would probably pack the same way for another Alaska cruise. Better to have more than I need, than to be missing something, and sorry I had not bothered to bring it. We were overweight on 3 of our 6 bags. I convinced the agent to not charge us on the way to Vancouver, and we only paid for one bag on the way home. Again, I'd pay the $25 charge to ensure I have everything I might need or want to bring.
Dress in the evenings
I own a tuxedo, purposely for our cruises, as I use it very infrequently at home. I always bring it, and Alaska was no exception. We were invited to dinner with the Captain on the first formal evening (second night of the cruise), and I personally, would have felt very underdressed had I not been wearing my tuxedo. However, others were in dark suits, and were dressed suitably. It's just my personal preference to be wearing a tuxedo when dining with the Captain...
There was one other formal night (on the second to last night), tuxedo, as well. Others were dressed in everything from tuxedos to dark suits to slacks with and without ties and jackets. I know there is considerable discussion as to what is "guideline appropriate." I don't prefer to get into those discussions, other than to state that I find it reasonable to follow the "guidelines" for my own enjoyment of the experience. Others can interpret what they will from the guidelines, and I don't let it bother me, either way.
The fifth night is noted as informal, but I did not notice different dress than the casual nights. That happened to be the night we went to the Normandie Restaurant, and I needed a jacket for the restaurant, which I had brought. However, I do not know that I would have worn it had we not gone to the Normandie Restaurant on that evening.
Jeans are not acceptable in the dining room, and even I bend the rules, but only on the very last night! What with packing and all, I find it tough to dress up, only to change after dinner in order to have my bags out on time. Jeans can be shoved into my carry-on, whereas I would never do the same with my dress pants. However, new, dark jeans along with a nice button-down are still mandatory, for me.
Could not have been easier!!! Of course, we technically cleared US Customs when we boarded in Vancouver a week earlier, so there was no need to do so in Seward. We had a 1:30pm Alaska Airlines flight out of Anchorage, so we were required to be in the Martini Bar by 6:30am. We arrived in the bar only minutes before 6:30. Within minutes we were led to the atrium, and right of the ship onto waiting buses. No crowd, no wait, no problem! Show your SeaPass card one last time, and that was it.
As usual, you tag your luggage (with Celebrity provided tags, specific for what your post-cruise schedule dictates) on the last night, and leave them outside your cabin before midnight. In our case, Celebrity takes your bags from the ship straight to the airport, and you claim them when the bus gets there. Walk them a few feet, and you can check them in.
The bus ride ($74 pp through the ship) was somewhere a little less than 3 hours. It was a very scenic ride, but somewhat hard to really enjoy as our adventure was essentially over. We were at the airport with plenty of time to spare. First class seats afforded us a MUCH shorter line through security. A meal at Chili's in the airport, and a 2-segment 7-hour flight, and we were home. And, ready to go back!!!
Assorted Other Things
We heard nothing about anyone being sick on our ship. We ordered very few drinks, as we were provided more than enough in our suite. The service and quality was good, however, with the standard 15% added to the reasonably priced drinks. We did not use the pools or whirlpools. The gym was never crowded, but it was rather warm.
We had a magnificent time, and everyone agreed they would absolutely go back. The scenery got better as we headed farther north. Northbound was a good choice (a suggestion I had read from many others). The ports and the weather were spectacular. Everything about the ship was very nice. I really have nothing but good to report about our trip. I give everything about it very high marks.
Due to time constraints, we were not able to do a land portion.