After taking two previous cruises to the sunny locales in the Caribbean, we decided to venture to the Great White North and check out Alaska. It was fantastic. The Carnival Miracle is a true "fun ship" and the crew did a great job to help us enjoy our time on board.
We departed from Seattle fora 7-day cruise on May 21, 2013 and cruised to Tracy Arm's Fjord, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchican and British Victoria, Canada. According to all accounts, we caught a break with the weather, as it was sunny at each and every stop. We were constantly told that it normally rains in most of the ports, so we are happy to have enjoyed beautiful weather - at least for Alaska. The average temperatures were between 40 and 62. Not the Caribbean, but not frigid temps either.
Having previously sailed on Carnival and Royal Caribbean, I must say the Embarkation and Disembarkation were unbelievably easy. I don't know if it is because we were in Seattle instead of Florida, but it was a breeze. We were supposed to board the ship between 1pm and 3pm for a 4pm sailing. We had to check out of our hotel near the airport at 11am,, so we just went straight to the ship. There was no crowd, no standing in a long line, we walked right on the ship. It couldn't have been more than 20 minutes from the time we hopped off the shuttle bus to the time we had a seat on the Lido Deck and were enjoying lunch. We were not allowed to go to our stateroom until after 1:30pm, and our luggage was not delivered to our room until early evening, but we were able to drop off our carry on bags and go exploring in the meantime.
We also experimented with an inside cabin on this cruise, after having a balcony on our two previous cruises - Carnival Triumph in June 2011 and RC Oasis of the Seas in October 2012. I was concerned it would be too small and too detached from the outside world. I was wrong on both assumptions. The room was 185 square feet, same as a balcony room (minus the balcony). As it wasn't going to be a warm outside anyway, so we weren't going to do much sitting on the balcony anyway. After trying the inside cabin on this cruise, I don't know why I would ever pay extra for a balcony again. There were always plenty of lounge chairs outside if we wanted one, so why pay more to enjoy a balcony at the most an hour or two a day? Our room was 8261, in the rear of the ship, one deck below the Lido Deck, which is where we ate breakfast and lunch most days. Considering the buffet is in the middle to rear of the ship, and the adult Serenity Area is on deck 9 in the rear, we felt this location was perfect. The main dining room was on Deck 2 in the rear of the ship, so we were able to walk down the steps from our cabin room and were right where we needed to be for dinner. The only activity in the front of the ship is the Phantom Lounge on Deck 2 and the Mad Hatters Showroom on Deck 1. This also gave us a chance to walk off some of the tasty food we enjoyed.
Speaking of the food, it was pretty good. We had late dining, which started at 7:45pm. There were four of us and we ate dinner every night in the Main Dining Room (Bacchus Dining Room). We had the same servers - Edward and Joseph from Indonesia and Zivkho from Bulgaria. If I had a complaint, it would be that the dinner service is much slower than we are used to in restaurants we go to on land. I am not saying the servers were slow, I think the overall pace is just way slower than we are used to. It took an average 1 1/2 hours to 1 3/4 hours each meal. But, the guys knew our names after the first night and were very friendly. We ordered anything we wanted, 2 appetizers, 2 main dishes, 2 desserts, anything we wanted they would get us. My wife wanted Rye Bread instead of the rolls they brought, and every night after the first night, they brought her Rye Bread.
There were 2 Elegant (formal) nights on the cruise. Most people dressed up. The first Elegant night was the second day of the cruise, during our sea day. We enjoyed Lobster and Prime Rib as the main dish. The second Elegant night was the second-to-last night. The Main Dining Room dinners offered plenty of variety and a nice quiet atmosphere. I would highly recommend eating dinner in the Main Dining room. Also, the entire wait staff provides some sort of entertainment each night, led by the Matre D "Elvis." No, he isn't "that Elvis," it just happens to be his name.
For breakfast and lunch, we mainly ate in Horatio's Lounge, the buffet on the Lido Deck. You can choose from Chinese Food, American Food, Deli sandwiches,Pizza and more. I found the desserts to be a little dry and bland, but there was an abundance of variety. I found the pizza to be very, very good. And, it is available almost all the time. The soft-serve ice cream machine is a big hit with everybody as well. You can also eat breakfast and lunch in the main dining room and order off the menu, but again, it takes more time than eating at the buffet on the Lido Deck. Or, you can order room service, which is pretty cool. We did it once just to say we did.
As far as entertainment goes, the Cruise Director Chris did a great job of putting together a lineup to suit most every taste. There is "Ticket To Ride," which is a Beattle's-Themed show, but it isn't just Beattle look-a-like's singing. It's an entertaining show featuring Beattle's music. There is also a Blues Brothers Show featuring the cruise director and assistant cruise director. There is a Big Band show that really highlights the cruise ship house band, and there is a show called Generations that features singing and dancing numbers from the 1930's - 1980''s. We LOVED this show. There were also a total of 4 different stand up comics who performed multiple shows throughout the week in the Mad Hatters Showroom on Deck 1. In short, plenty of night time entertainment.
The most difficult thing about the Alaskan cruise was knowing what to pack. Here's a tip, don't pack a weather proof coat. We found them on sale in all 3 Alaskan cities (Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan) for $19.95 each. That's a steal, and it makes for a great souvenir. All 3 ports had plenty of souvenir shops to spend time in, but the best shopping was in Ketchikan. We found the best bargains in the big shop just next to the Alaskan Christmas store. It is kind of like a mini-mall with multiple shops. They actually had key chains for a little as $0.79 each. Wow. I will say Juneau offered the least shopping options. We docked at 7am on a Saturday, and most shops didn't open until 9am or 10am. We were really disappointed about that.
Skagway is a cute little Alaskan town. And, I mean little. You literally can walk through the entire town in not much time. Lots of excursion offering there, though. Our daughter and her fiance' did two excursions and loved them both. Their first excursion was to a dog-sled camp where they were able pet the husky puppies, suited up and went into a chamber that allowed them to experience what it is like at 40 degrees below zero, and then went panning for gold. Their second excursion was to Klondike Park, where the were able to enjoy zip lines and all other types of adventure courses. My wife and I did not take a Carnival Excursion. We visited the town for part of the day and then rented a Jeep and drove up into the Yukon. The scenery is fantastic on the drive and it allowed us to create our own Alaskan adventure. We only paid $100.00 for the jeep rental (plus gas). The most shocking part was that gas in Alaska was $4.44 a gallon, compared to about $3.50 per gallon in Missouri.
Juneau was the most disappointing port. As I mentioned earlier, the shops weren't all open and it really isn't a very big place, which is surprising since it is the State Capitol. We all went on a Sea Kayaking excursion and enjoyed it a ton. Our guides were well-versed about the area and we were able to see a bunch of seals swimming around in the area we were kayaking in. It is a bit of strenuous adventure, and our shoulders and arms were quite tired afterwords.
Ketchikan looks like a frontier fishing town. It was my favorite port. I don't like to shop, but it was fun poking around in all the shops and looking at the Alaskan goods. The Christmas store has a wide variety of ornaments and other type of Christmas goodies to buy. Ketchikan also provided the best photo ops, as there are two unique backdrops (signs) you will want to get a photo in front of. This place also has totem poles in the main square and a Post Office to send post cards.
Our last stop was in British Victoria, Canada. We didn't arrive until 7:30pm and had to be back on the ship by 11:30pm. Since we had late dinner, we didn't get off the ship until after 9:00pm. We thought we would just walk around the pier a bit, but we decided to take a Pedi-Cab ride ($180 for 4 of us for 1 1/2 hours). The guide was a young man about 30ish, and he was a terrific guide. We could have just walked around the town, but we wouldn't have learned about the heritage and culture, which is what our guide provided. It was a very good way to learn more about our neighbors to the north. Very cool.
Finally, it was time to say goodbye to the Carnival Miracle. Disembarkation went just as smoothly as Embarkation. We set our luggage outside of our room on the night before we docked. We were given zone number 6 tags for our luggage. We were told we would be called around 8:15am, and we were called at 8:08.. We got up and ate breakfast at 6:30am on the Lido Deck and waited to be called. Then, we took the elevator down to level 4, walked down the steps to level 3, where we simply followed a briskly moving line and exited the ship in a matter of seconds. When we entered the luggage area, our suitcases were easily found in zone 5/6 and we were outside and walking to our shuttle in a matter of minutes. Wow!
If you have considered taking the Alaskan cruise, my advice is to do it. The Miracle provided us with a very memorable vacation and I would highly recommend it. Cruise Director Chris and his assistant Lewis do a great job of entertaining and informing you. We saw whales, seals, bears and goats from the ship. There is a Naturalist on board who gets on the p.a. and lets you know when wildlife has been spotted.
Can't miss things on board - Go to the informal conversation with Chris and Lewis on the day before the cruise ends. You will learn a ton about the life of a cruise ship employee. It is fascinating. Also, enjoy the trivia games and activities offered by the crew. We had a lot of fun, and my daughter even won a "coveted" ship on a stick during one of the trivia contests.
As the movie reviewers would say, "I give the Carnival Miracle Alaskan Cruise 2 thumbs up!"