We just returned from our Alaskan cruise that sailed on May 31, 2006 from Vancouver, Northbound for Alaska.
Our family consists of myself and husband (early 40s), sons (18 & 21), my parents (65 yrs old). My family has been on 6 cruises. Three with Disney, three with Carnival. This was my parents' first cruise.
We really enjoyed the Northbound itinerary because the scenery gets better as you travel North. I completely agree with previous reviewers - you need a balcony to really appreciate Alaska. I would suggest a room with a 60 square foot balcony if you plan on spending a lot of time outside. Unlike the Caribbean where all you see is water, there is scenery most of the time. We were able to see whales swimming beside the ship many times. Also saw a bear with cub, sea otters, and bald eagles.
This is the first time we let Carnival arrange all of our transportation. It was flawless. Highly recommend taking advantage of US Direct. You go straight from plane to customs with no wait. Then you are taken to the ship. You do not pick up luggage at the airport. It was delivered to the stateroom a few hours later. One suggestion is to arrive a day early in case of delays. Although we had no problems, I did speak with several people who were not as lucky. Also heard that some people missed the ship and could not board until Ketchikan.
Prepare for rain. Also, dressing in layers is a good idea. Disposable ponchos are great because they are compact and fit easily in a backpack. My sons wore light waterproof jackets with hoods most of the time. Would also recommend packing one or two warm outfits. Had a couple of days that were really cold.
Bring binoculars, plastic clothespins for shower curtain (which keep the shower curtain in the shower stall), dryer sheets to keep drawers and closet fresh, an outlet strip.
I pre-booked most before we left home. This is nice because tickets will be delivered to your room. Just be aware that the weather is unpredictable and most excursions continue even in the rain. One tip for Juneau, an inexpensive way to see the Mendenhall glacier is the $6 bus (each way) plus $3 to get into the park visitor center. You can spend as long as you like. We hiked a short trail for better photos, which was an easy trail, even in the rain. Many tours do not allow enough time for this. Had planned on doing the tram but the weather did not cooperate.
Room steward and dining room servers were excellent.
Important tip: Do not wait until the last evening to start packing because the glaciers on the last day are spectacular and you do not want to be stuck in your stateroom packing!
Unorganized! We had a late flight and were told that our luggage would be at the Egan Center (Anchorage convention center). We had arranged the Mount Alyeska excursion in Anchorage. When a passenger on our bus asked the driver about luggage at the Egan Center, we were told by the driver that the luggage would be held at the Hilton Hotel instead. When we arrived later that afternoon, there were hundreds of pieces of luggage sitting in front of the hotel on the sidewalk. Glad it did not rain and felt lucky that our luggage was still there. Also, inadequate bus transportation to get people to the airport. We had a very late flight so it was not a problem for us, but some people were very upset. It was a shame that this was the last impression for a lot of people.
This was a wonderful cruise experience for my family. The scenery and wildlife in Alaska are spectacular. I would highly recommend the Spirit.