My family, eight in all, ranging from 83 to 16, had an amazing time together sailing from Vancouver to Seward. I'd like to point out that my mother-in-law has difficulty walking for very long due to osteoporosis. We rented, much to her dismay, a walker with wheels, brakes and a seat. This saved the trip. She grew to love it very quickly, and decided to buy it upon her return home. This walker gave her a great deal of independence on the ship, and it allowed her to join us in ports and on excursions. There's a lot of walking and waiting in line on a cruise. We also got her a cabin adjoining ours which made life a whole lot simpler for all of us.
Embarkation: Getting on the ship was a piece of cake but we were prepared. There was a little confusion checking in my step-daughter who was in a cabin with her cousins but that was quickly cleared up.
Dining: The main dining room food is quite good and the buffet on Deck 10 was average. Upon reading recent reviews, a few days prior to our cruise I switched us from open dining to an 8:30 reservation. This was a really good decision. We had wonderful service and my elderly mother-in-law really appreciated knowing what time to expect dinner each night. It also gave everybody time to enjoy their day without rushing for a 6pm dinner time. It left time for exploration, reading, naps, etc.
Entertainment: We went to a show each night. The ship's performers got better and better. I was impressed from the start but my hard-to-please New Yorker mother-in-law took some time to warm up. In the end, she loved it. None of us enjoyed the Horizons, a Motown act that the ship brought on board for a couple of shows. The juggler was fantastic--and really funny, too.
Ports: To be expected, the ports have been overtaken by the cruise industry. I knew this would be the case but I was still disappointed. The only way to really get a feel for a particular town is to do an excursion that gets you out of the port.
In Ketchikan we had pre-arranged (on our own) a seaplane ride through the Misty Fjords with Alaska Seaplane Tours. This was an exceptional experience. Our pilot, Mike, gave us a 1 1/2 hour thrill through the fjords. Alaska Seaplane Tours is one of the few outfitters with a permit to land on the lakes within the park. Incredible! We got out of the plane on a remote late and hung out on the pontoons for a bit. You might find a less expensive seaplane tour but I'm not convinced that a budget plane ride is a good idea. We had a nice lunch at the Alaska Fish Co. right at the ship's dock.
Icy Straight/Hoonah was an interesting port. We didn't dock, just tendered, and took the life boats to shore. The my stepdaughter and her cousins (16-22) had a zip line ride booked (you can only book via the cruise line). While we were there, a 92 year old woman rode the zip! Impressive, and what a thrill. My husband and I walked around the shops and nature trails near the Icy Straight buildings. We then decided to walk the 1.5 miles into Hoonah. This is a nice walk on a paved sidewalk. There wasn't much going on in town but it felt more like an Alaskan town. It's definitely a poor town, and I was disgusted to find fellow cruise passengers posing for pictures in front of the homes of locals. Grab some ribs and an Alaska Summer Ale at the Landing Dock back at Icy Straight. Also, look for the kitty that lives in the cannery building. We had a rough ride back to the ship because the wind picked up to something close to gale force.
Juneau: This was our only rainy day on the cruise which was perfect for our whale watch. We booked directly through Orca Enterprises and were lucky enough to have Captain Larry and Kelly as our guides. They did not disappoint, and neither did the whales. The shuttle bus that took us to Auke Bay for the watch was a great way to see beyond downtown Juneau. He pointed out the sites along the way--the Capitol building, Governor's mansion, Mendenhall Glacier, etc.
We had lunch at the very tourist-oriented Twisted Fish at the ship's dock. Although a little pricey, the food, service and dÃ©cor were great. I loved the halibut tacos...and another Alaska Summer Ale (or 2). After lunch. we got my mother-in-law back on the ship so we could explore the "real" Juneau.
Skagway: This is a neat little town but it is totally overrun with cruisers. With a population of less than 1,000, the place is turned upside-down when six cruise ships are in port at the same time. This was disappointing because we skipped checking out the town after our excursion--To The Summit. This is a narrated bus tour to the top of the Klondike Highway. Rayme, our guide, provided some great information about the town and the area. We booked last-minute through the cruise line. We were disappointed to see how many people did not tip the guide at the end. This was pretty typical for all excursions.
Lesson learned about following reviews too closely: I had read in a review that the railroad excursion was a waste of time. We regretted not booking it once we were there but it was too late. Whatever you do, keep in mind that the 8:30 train returns at lunchtime, bringing thousands of passengers that will want lunch. The lines for restaurants were out the door. We skipped it and went onto the ship.
Hubbard Glacier: This was one of the top five most amazing experiences of my life. We had perfect weather for the trip into Yakutat Bay to the Hubbard Glacier. Be up early for this so you can be on deck for the approach. Dirk Younkerman, the ship's naturalist, was an invaluable resource throughout the week. I would have paid to have him at our dinner table each night because he was so interesting.
Seward: We did not have time to check out Seward since we had to catch our transfer to Anchorage right away for a 1:45 flight. The harbor is breathtaking, and I am sure the town is worth seeing. The drive to Anchorage is incredible. I was completely exhausted but I forced myself to stay awake so I could take in the scenery.
Stateroom: My husband and I had a veranda cabin (9009) adjoining my MIL's veranda cabin (9005). A balcony is worth the extra money on an Alaska cruise, especially if you enjoy getting away from the crowd. I was on ours a lot. As for the room, I loved ours. Yes, they're small, but I would expect that on a ship. That said, we had all the space we needed, even when other family members would stop by for a visit.
Fitness Center/Spa: I enjoyed the gym later in the day as it was packed in the morning. A really good time to go is when the ship is in port. My husband got a great deep tissue massage and my MIL enjoyed a hair appointment.
All in all, this was a wonderful family trip. If we cruise again, we will choose Celebrity.