I'm a "butt in the sand - toes in the water" kind of person, so when my husband said NEXT TIME, WE ARE GOING TO ALASKA - I had to give in. We live very far from any port, and typically spend as much on air fare as a cruise ticket, and therefore, only have the financial ability to cruise every other year. As my TA and I were debating on Alaskan cruises, she had talked me in to trying Celebrity. (Carnival, NCL are or only other two experiences) Ironically, the Concierge Class Balcony was LESS than what the other options were. So, we took the leap of faith and tried the "Luxury" line.
Pier 91 is a cluster. Period. RCCL and Celebrity were both disembarking and embarking at the same time. So, your experience in the "herd" begins. Confused people, screeching whistles, taxis, semi trucks, hotel buses - just realize that once you get on board, you will be beyond this. Right?! Due to rides/parking/blah blah, we arrived a little early - about 9:45. The terminal, as you are standing south, is RCCL on the LEFT and Celebrity on the RIGHT. The building has 3 entrance/exits. The CENTER is where people that have just cleared customs and picked up ALL their luggage appear from - and most have that look - post-traumatic cruise disorder or a severe hangover. The last thing on their minds are manners for people in the way. So, give them their due - and just understand - your turn is next. The outside entrances are where the boarding process will start. Also, when the security dude with the blonde curly hair says NO PARKING, by golly he means business! And the traffic guards screening their whistles to alert people to STOP - I was surprised no one was killed, or worse. Please just be aware of your surroundings. And don't try to pet the drug dogs! That is frowned upon!
We had a concierge balcony, so we got shuffled to the front of the line...WOO HOO! (The doors opened about 11:00 am and there was a line behind us) Not without some staff confusion about who goes where - but nevertheless, it was up the escalator and to security. No need to take off your shoes, but they do have you empty your pockets. After we received our sign and sail cards, we didn't even have the opportunity to sit down before we were shuffled aboard. I have to give Celebrity an A++ for their Embarkation. It was phenom! They did check our passport 3 or 4 times...so don't shove it in your pocket after the security checkpoint. Champagne and Mimosas as you boarded the vessel - nice touch. So far, I'm thoroughly impressed with our "Luxury" cruise.
As you board the vessel, there are elevators. Duh. Know that there are 4 on the port side as well. If there is a line, just walk around. There was often no one there! We grabbed an elevator and headed to the Buffet - got our "squirt" of hand sanitizer, (get used to that) and grabbed a window table and we watched all the people in the boarding process as we grazed on the goodies, drank our mimosas. We were on board, had established our territory/table in the buffet, drink in one hand, food in the other by NOON. BUFFET FOOD - Not bad... I certainly have had "not such a high quality" on other lines. Wasn't impressed with the pizza or the pasta - tried something different all the time. LOVED their cheese and dried fruits layout! (That I do miss) My husband has a sweet tooth, and well, we know where he spent his time. There were a couple of carving stations - I did try the stir fry once. Not a lot of flavor, but good and spicy just the way I like it!
Someone started making announcements around 1 that the rooms weren't quite ready and continued in nearly 15 minute intervals until a little after 2:20. I thought it was a nice touch keeping everyone posted. Off to a good start!
Our room - 9291 on the Port Side near the AFT - was a Concierge Balcony. Holy Moly - The balcony was HUGE! 2 chairs (both of which did recline) and a table and room to spare. Nice, clean room. Bathroom had a round shower enclosure - no curtain. Then again, where the toilet was positioned, I was glad my butt wasn't any bigger than it was - NOT a lot of room. Storage area was ok - couple little drawers and a closing shelf (not open) - But what killed me was the fancy sink. Upscale and enjoying it! The bed was standard - but way too HARD! Bedding was nice - not a lot of blankets and fluff, but the room was warm enough we never really needed that down comforter I had imagined for Alaska. Nice flat screen TV and it was on hinges that moved out so one could adjust it and see it from bed. One thing I will say - there is a MASTER SWITCH on the wall. If you shut this off before you go to bed, and have to get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, we are talking "potty by braille" - there is NO LIGHT anywhere if that MASTER SWITCH is off. So look at the light switch set up right by the door once you get to your room, and understand how they work.
Muster - now that was odd. We all headed to our respective stations - we were all seated in Blu, the restaurant - and watched a video. Half the people could not see it. Set up was really poor, but I guess that was their answer to 3000 people standing 5 deep out on the deck, outside, while crew members tried to talk above the noise. Plus, there was no direct way for the cabins on the PORT AFT side of the ship to get to our muster area. We had to go clear to the starboard side of the vessel and then back around. Guess if we really had an emergency, we'd just grab a drink and wave at everyone.
Sail off was pretty awesome - it was windy and there were scattered showers all day. Every now and again, we'd see a patch of blue sky. As we pushed off from Pier 91, we began to see the mountains surrounding the area, and finally our first glance at Mt Rainier.
We had elected early Main Dining Room where we were seated at table 221 with phemon wait staff. We were seated right next to another 2-top table, and over the course of the journey, we were able to make some new friends from San Diego. The food in MDR was pretty good - there was an entire menu of items that were offered every night - the other side of the menu had the variations. Again, I was brave - tried a bunch of different "odd" things. And enjoyed some of the good ol' basics. French onion soup had great flavor (was very HOT temperature wise) and the ceasar salad was much to fishy tasting for me. I did notice that much of everything was unsalted. MDR dinner service was an A; quality was about a B. Since our luggage had showed up right before dinner, we went back to the cabin and unpacked. Then we went exploring. No shows - no karaoke... just a quiet and relaxing evening.
DAY 2 - SEA DAY - We did not get up in any hurry - had breakfast at the buffet and received our first wake up call. PS - if there isn't a line, the omelets and eggs Benedict were very good, one of the highlights of breakfast, imo. But, now the fun starts here...we had discovered ourselves on a ship based out of the good ol' USA, and we were the minority. Not saying any nationality, but over the course of our 7 days, we were FAR from the UGLY AMERICANS. I have never - NEVER - seen such horrendous behavior in public. Not just line cutting and loud arrogant behavior, but they were physical - pushing and shoving. Yes they were from another country, but they should have been TOLD about the GUEST RESPONSIBILITIES in their own language. They were even horrid to the crew, which I felt so bad - what could they do but take it and smile. It was BAD from day 1. And just got worse.
Brent Nixon, the naturalist, was the most fun, entertaining and informative aspect of this journey. The first one we went to (I don't think it was his first one though) was "Whales" and I drug my hubby along, hoping to find out what to look for (again, we are very land locked). And boy did we - and more. His first show was about half full (hour long) - the last one was standing room only. So DON'T MISS it! And although the front chairs in the theater are a little uncomfortable, it was, by far the best seat in the house. A++
The LAWN is so cool! Real Grass. Take your flip flops off and walk barefoot. Talk about a cool job - Yea, I mow the lawn every day on a LUXURY cruise liner. Has a nice ring to it.
Glass Blowing is pretty cool - I got bored quickly, though. I'm more of a go go go kind of girl - besides, I saw something in the water that caught my attention - was that, why yes - A BLOW! I saw whales! The irony of it all, was after Brent Nixon's first show about whales, we saw them everywhere. We also saw a couple of groups of porpoises - we didn't know what they were until later on, however. They don't JUMP out of the water like a dolphin, but you can certainly see something swimming. TAKE BINOCULARS! You will USE THEM!
Lunch in the MDR - was lousy. One of our table mates mentioned everything they fed us could be picked up at COSTCO - and it tasted like it too. Sad. C- because they still have good service.
We then just ventured out and did some more exploring. Beautiful ship. Not over decorated and ALWAYS CLEAN! Really liked the front of the ship - lots of places to sit and some very creative and comfy chairs to just watch the water! Until the "other people" showed up. Time to leave. There is an indoor pool - an "adult" area - that is very zen, very relaxing. It also has some amazing seating and creative lounge chairs - smells like chlorine, but is warm, humid, and has some great music (very faint) in the background. The water fountain is almost mesmerizing.
First Formal Dining - I was surprised; there were a lot of folks dressed up. I guess I shouldn't have been - after all, it is a LUXURY ship with a completely different kind of clientele, right? Mostly. Dinner was pretty good - Lobster night was the 2nd Formal night. But the lamb was excellent! We turned in early because Ketchikan was bright and early.
The buffet hours do vary based on the ports. So check your daily schedules if you want to eat on the way out. They serve fruit and juice about half an hour before the hot food - and because of some of the behavior issues, they actually had to rope off most of the buffet because "other people" were removing covers and helping themselves anyway.
Ketchikan - As we pulled into the bay and were preparing to dock, we were greeted by a couple of bald eagles! FINALLY! They were sitting on a red buoy off the Port side. They were chattering back and forth, and that is a nature sound that made me want to cry it was so amazing. Ketchikan is an island - you can only get there by air or boat. And let me tell you, the float planes were like mosquitoes! We booked the flight-seeing and crab feast (Celebrity Tour) We had some time before our tour, so we did some shopping and exploring. We opted to rent a vehicle that resembled a golf cart. We drove around for an hour - went to the totem pole museum, saw some deer in the middle of town. Cute little town. Stopped into a grocery store to grab a soda - decided to wander and check out prices. 7 BUCKS FOR BOLOGNA - WOW! Milk, eggs, cheese, produce, meat - were just a little high, but I was very surprised how close they were to back home. No Bologna for me though!
We got on a bus that took us to the float plane company headquarters. We were all sat down, and watched a safety presentation. We were then assigned to a pilot. The planes hold 5 people including the pilot. For one very unlucky person that gets assigned the back seat (its HARD to see anything) I'd have asked for a discount. One LUCKY person rides shotgun with the pilot. They say its based on WEIGHT distribution. We were in the air 20 minutes, maybe longer. Pilot was a hoot! (Mike) We weren't the last to leave, but were the last to land. We landed on a lake inland, and made our way up to the fishing lodge for lunch. (I don't like flying - but this was not bad at all. You don't get the turbulence and the g-force like a large commercial jet. It was ok and I'd do it again!) There, it was Dungeness crab for everyone. As MUCH as you could eat. Soda and Beer, Salad and Cheesecake. Beer was ok - a little stout for my lightweight taste, but was very very good. Service was amazing. And thankfully, the 20 other people on our tour were great! The bus ride back to town, on a full stomach and a windy road, did not set well for my poor hubby. No MDR tonight - ran up to buffet for something light - salad and cheese - good grief, I was NOT HUNGRY after eating like 345,923 crabs. (Just kidding) The line to board the ship was crazy bad - they only had ONE security station set up? First epic fail. Also, pack pepto bismol - they don't sell it in the gift store, and if you try to get it from the medical people, they want to do a 48point physical to make sure its not noro-virous. (That was fun trying to get out of that...Over Eat + Windy Road = indigestion and motion sick! Not NORO!)
Tracy Arm - The HIGHLIGHT of the trip. When you are looking to book a room, I suggest a cabin on the starboard side. Granted, it's all very beautiful and pristine, but early in the morning, the way the sun comes up, the SOUTH side of the arm is breathtaking. The glaciers polished the sides of the rock so much, they looked wet. But they weren't. Waterfalls, amazing rock structures, pieces of blue ice bobbing up and down in the water. Ahhhhh. We had a port side balcony, and I didn't want to sit outside. So hubby grabbed a very early table in the front of the buffet area and we sat there the whole time. Windows were a little dirty, but we were close enough to the outside, we could grab pictures quickly as needed. Pieces of ice floating in the water was eerily reminiscent of the TITANIC, but the Captains' experience and talent were FIRST CLASS. Another A++. He took the vessel back into the canyon further than most and then he stopped and rotated the ship so both sides could get photos. CRAZY! Even a little wildlife too - we saw several seals. We were there early June, and passed several floats covered in blood - which at first was a little shocking. But the seals were calving - lots of new babies somewhere! I also managed to find a large grizzly near the actual glacier, but without binoculars, you couldn't really see it. I did get a picture of his butt though! The only complaint - there is narration about Tracy Arm all morning - and that was very nice, very informative - definitely trying to set the mood. But as soon as the soothing, quiet narration took a break, that nasty crappy loud piped in music came on. Really annoying. So much for setting the mood for what I think should be one of the seven wonders of the world. Narrator - B (some of his readings were a little cheesy) - Annoying piped in music - F!
After the ship was turned around and headed back down the Arm (we did see another glacier up to the north in a smaller crevice) we headed up to Juneau - which is also an island that you have to take a plane or boat to get to.
Now, I will come right out and say it - the TENDERING situation was NOT ACCEPTABLE. For any company. I understand there are limitations for unloading 3000 people in a very small area, but here's the problem. We were informed that we needed "tender tickets" - OK. No biggie. And that the Celebrity Excursions had priority. Again, OK. So we get in line - and watched all the "other people" walk around us, and jump in line with their friends. Really? Is this acceptable in YOUR country? Guess you haven't been to Disneyland huh? We get our ticket (22), and figure about 4 numbers per boat - that puts us about 5 boats out. Again, OK. We were warned. We had an independent fishing charter scheduled, and had them delay our time because of this. So with ticket in hand, we make our way to the central lobby and find a chair with the other 2500 irritated people waiting to get off. And we waited. And waited. I looked at my watch - it was 2:00 and the ship was still moving? (We were scheduled to start tendering at 1:30) We hadn't even anchored? 2:15 - still moving. So I walked to the starboard side, and watched them lower an emergency boat into the water. At first I was startled. Then I overheard someone stating that our tenders were the life boats. Well this is new - I've tendered in Cayman, Belize - and had never had any issues. Ever. I relay the information to my hubby and told him they had just barely lowered the first boat into the water. A Celebrity employee (how I wish I'd got her name!) was walking around handing out shopping material - so I asked "any ideas?" She told me they'd already started taking people ashore. I then replied -" really? Isn't that a little difficult to do when the ship hasn't anchored and the tenders aren't even in the water yet? Wish they'd "beam me up Scotty" ashore!" I don't tolerate lies very well. But the epic failure on Celebrity's part was not the ditz that was told to push the shopping agenda, but the fact that they could have easily made announcements about a delay. Passengers were pissed at this point. A little love could have gone a long way. I mean, they were great about the status announcements on embarkation day - what was so hard about some fyi information for their passengers? I would expect the lack of communication from other companies - not Celebrity.
Once we got to shore, it cost us $40 to grab a taxi to take us to the rendezvous point for our fishing charter. PS - Fishing was GREAT! Catching...not so much. But a couple of fishing poles in the water and trolling around, watching the eagles, and the sea lions - who can complain, right?! The tendering back wasn't quite as bad - but we were like the second to the last tender. And by the time we got back to the ship, there was pretty slim pickings at the buffet (dining rooms had closed by then) Sushi, salad and a hot shower. I was DONE.
The next morning, we actually docked (thank God) in Skagway. We had another fishing charter. Nice boat, guide had the personality of a mud pie. Again - fishing was phenom; catching not so much. There was some bad weather moving in and he actually had to cancel his afternoon trip. That made me sad for them - but the wind picked up and was bouncing the boat all over! I'm not one to get sea sick, but I had taken some Dramamine just in case. And was very thankful I had! We got back to town, took the shuttle bus into town (same shopping as the other ports) grabbed a burger at the brew pub on the north end of town (nothing to write home about) and then caught one last tour bus to the Canadian border. Full bus held about 20 people - big windows. Driver was a young lady from the states - she stopped several times for photos. One of those stops, my hubby found a Mountain Goat with her baby about 100 yards off the road! Pretty awesome - and then...the bear. Young black bear right by the road. So close, we couldn't get OUT of the bus. Had to take pictures from inside. Drove down the mountain - passed a nasty bicycle wreck (passed the ambulance a little later) Last stop - the cemetery. A little creepy, but it was history and still very beautiful. We did a little shopping, - all the authentic Alaskan items made in xxxxx. It is what it is. I liked Skagway - but it was dagum windy!
2nd sea day - we didn't do much - hung out in our cabins. Every time we tried to go somewhere, someone was cutting, or pushing, or trying to MOVE YOU out of the way. I saw one instance that I thought would come to blows... Pretty sad - we'd see them coming down the hall and we'd turn around and go the other way. Not right. Not right at all. It wasn't the fact that they were everywhere or their complete disregard for anyone other than themselves, but the fact that Celebrity did NOTHING about it. What, you ask, could have been done? I could write a 30 page dissertation about that - in fact, I will be sending a very detailed solution to their Corporate. It was such a problem, that you will find several other posts - reviews - and just the forum - about the same situation
2nd Formal night - not so many frills and suits - but it was lobster night. And Celebrity does LOBSTER right...except - what is lobster without butter?! They drizzled a little on your plate - but nothing to dunk in. Yes, I may be nit picking - and lobster without butter is one of the most lean and calorie and fat free proteins you can have - but its just not the same.
We did the GALLEY tour - which was the first sea day like at 10am. Ask your waiter about it. Interesting. And we did the cooking show in the comedy theater. They pick TWO guest chefs from the audience to help with this IRON CHEF type contest. JUMP UP AND DOWN and make a BIG FUSS! They also choose 3 guest judges out of the audience. JUMP UP AND DOWN and make a BIG FUSS! And the back seats are NOT the best seat in the house - sit close to the front! Entertaining if you like cooking shows. There was also a grand brunch buffet 2nd sea day - and it was GREAT! Get there early! Lots of people - but the food was very good. They had a chocolate fountain AND a white chocolate fountain and a desert display...OH MY. A+
Canada - they called...and called...and called...and called (over the intercom that they should have utilized in Juneau) looking for people that had to be cleared for customs in Canada. Those people should have their butts kicked, because I was told that was one of the reasons we were delayed getting off the ship was because these people had to be cleared by the Canada Authorities first. Really - After the 43rd announcement, everyone on the ship knew their name and cabin number. Once we got off, there Isn't a lot of time to do much of anything there - some went out whale watching, but we just shopped. Interesting - Pretty. Lots of Candy stores. Chinatown is nothing unusual. Indoor mall was like 4 levels - Because it was such a late stop, everyone packed before they got off. And that sucked. Plain and simple.
Debarkation - was a nightmare. I understand they want you out of your cabins so they can get them turned around for the next group, but putting 2500 people in waiting areas all over was not cool. And we waited and waited. Really? Epic Fail. I would have walked off and taken all my luggage with me to have not had to sit there for 2 hours.
So when I came out of that debarkation door, I was tired, angry, and just ready to be done. That may explain some of the looks on the faces of some you may pass as you are trying to get on.
All in all, the ship was beautiful, and clean - not gaudy and obnoxiously decorated. The food was good, not great. And the cabin was always clean - with fresh flowers and 5pm appetizers. Our dining room service people were phenom. And that was about all the good I can say about our "Luxury" vacation. I hope Carnival will forgive me for straying and take me back. At least I know my expectations will be met.
PS - Be very careful where you turn your phone on - the international roaming is very expensive. My friends have to mortgage their home to pay their bill. We put our phones on airplane mode, and then caught the signal once we were on land.