The two ships that sailed when we were available were the Jewel and the Pearl. I wanted to leave on Saturday, so that I could have a day to recover on the back end, but after reading reviews of Glacier Bay, decided on the Pearl, which left on a Sunday.
We flew to Seattle from San Jose on Saturday. After an easy two-hour flight, we arrived in Seattle and met up with my mom, who had flown from San Diego. We had chosen to stay at the Clarion, which was basically across the street, was inexpensive, and had a free shuttle from the airport. While comfortable, it was obvious that it was an inexpensive hotel.
Sunday morning, we got up early and walked a half block to catch the light rail. Instead of taking a taxi to the pier (likely $40 plus), we paid about $10 to ride from the hotel to a block or so from Pike’s Market. At the end of the market, we found a nice breakfast place, which had a view of our ship! After eating, we walked less than 10 minutes to the pier. Even though it was only about 11:00, we were able to check in and get on the ship within about 15 minutes! Somehow, we missed seeing where to check our bags, but since we each only had a small carry-on and a backpack, we had no problem carrying them aboard.
Once onboard, we went to guest services to get our cards punched so we could carry them on a lanyard (we don’t always have pockets and have found that lanyards work for us). They informed us that although the rooms were not ready, we were welcome to go put our luggage away. So, we were in our room by 11:30. (Our cruise documents said that 12:00 was the check-in time, so we felt like we had earned some bonus time on the ship.)
We had booked a balcony for myself, DH, and my mom; with an inside cabin right across the hall for DS, age 15 and his best friend, age 16. I had to book my husband in the inside, and one of the kids in the balcony, since they require at least person to be over 21. The only time it was an issue was when my husband wanted to go to the room and had to borrow my room key. The balcony room was about the size that we expected, and was fine for the three of us. However, when the couch was pulled out to be a bed, it blocked the access to the balcony and we had to either climb over, or disassemble the bed partially to get outside. We found that there was enough storage space, since we all packed lightly. The bathroom and shower were small, like expected, but adequate for our needs. I did wonder how a large person would fit into the bathroom stall, as it was not too big.
My mom and I spent most of the next few hours exploring the ship from the top deck down. We took a ton of pictures inside and outside the ship. We took some photos of the Space Needle and the Ferris Wheel-thingie. My husband was happy to find the “buy 5 beers, get one free” table and spent a few minutes deciding what to get. He ended up visiting that table a few times during the cruise, LOL.
Around 2:00, there was a BBQ on the pool deck. We had read about it on CC, so knew to wait to eat. We had planned to eat in the MDR (also something we learned from CC), but since we had a late breakfast, we just waited for the BBQ.
We had dinner in Indigo the first night so that we could have the lobster that I had heard about on CC. We went at 6:20 and did not have to wait at all. (When we left it seemed that there was a bit of a wait). The lobster was listed as a surf and turf option. Since I don’t like steak, I asked for just lobster. The waiter was nice enough to bring me two tails since I did not have the steak. They were good-sized and really yummy. The bread pudding was really good also.
The first day was a sea day. For some reason, we all woke up super early (before 6:30). Most days, we enjoyed breakfast up in the Great Outdoors (our cabin was two floors above). We noticed that the food was basically the same as the buffet, but usually there were less people and more seating options. Note: The best (free) coffee machines on the ship are just inside the Great Outdoors. They grind the beans fresh when you push the button. I also enjoyed the caramel lattes from the coffee bar in the atrium (you can order them in the MDR and they will bring them to you-charged to your room card). They generally served things like made to order omelets, French toast, bacon, sausage, fresh salmon, fruit, oatmeal, etc. We always found something that we liked.
We did a martini tasting that first day. For $15, you get to taste 5 different martinis. We ordered two tastings and shared between the three of us. I noticed that there were other tastings during the week, with different martinis each time. We had a cosmopolitan, regular martini (which I did not like, but DH did), espresso martini (my favorite), appletini and one other that I forget. They played a game, which DH and I both volunteered for. The women stood behind the kneeling men, with a shaker. We had to dance around the men, while shaking our shaker, and then pour it into a glass that they held on their head. Since I am a lightweight and had already had quite a bit to drink by then, I spilled some on my poor husband, LOL. I was happy that we ended up with the espresso martini and were able to drink it in addition to the one that was already included. By the time we were done, I was stumbling and laughing back to my room. Even though I had planned on getting the daily drink of the day each day, after that I did not really feel like drinking much.
Juneau: We arrived just before 2PM. It was a bit drizzly, but not bad. I had arranged to go on a “photo safari”, since I am an enthusiastic amateur photographer. I scheduled the rest of the family to go on the “Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Watching” excursion. My tour only had 13 people on it. We were able to stop and get some nice shots of the glacier from a distance on the way to whale watching. Supposedly the larger tours do not stop there. The tour was led by Gastineu Guiding. I looked at booking it individually, and if I remember correctly, the price was basically the same, so I booked it through the ship. Our boat was smaller than the other whale watching tours, which was nice. We had a photographer/naturalist with us all day. She was very knowledgeable about whales, having led tours for many years in different parts of the country. Unfortunately, we did not have much luck with the humpback whales. We saw one from a distance, but by the time I got my camera ready, it had gone under. I did see that another passenger managed to get a great tail shot. (I spent the next hour feeling pretty jealous, LOL). We visited a buoy that a bunch of seals were hanging out on. We did end up seeing some orcas (three of them). We followed them for awhile and got some good photos, so I started feeling a bit better J. After that, we drove to a parking lot near the glacier. We hiked about a mile on an easy trail, called “Trail of time” (I think). Our guide knew a lot about the area, even though she has only been in Juneau for 2 months. We saw the original visitor center, which illustrated how far the glacier has receded over time. It was amazing to see the glacier up close. I did not realize quite how large it was until I saw some specks near the waterfall, and realized that they were kayaks/people! It really put it all into perspective. The funny thing is, that as I walked down the stairs with my group, I ran into my family, who were there with their tour! So, we were able to get a family photo in front of the glacier. On my trip, we were given photo tips, bottled water, a treat bag (with nuts, chocolate, fruit leather), and saw a slide show during the bus ride. It was well worth it.
Skagway: I booked an independent tour of the White Pass rail through Chilkoot Tours. I was able to find a tour that did a bus/rail combo, which gave us more options for photography. None of the combo trips that the ship offered appealed to me and most were all-day excursions. The one we did was about 3.5 hours, which ended up being just right for us. The teens fell asleep on the train, so anything longer would have been a waste. After the trip, we walked around town and had lunch at the Skagway Brewing company. My husband tried the “spruce tip ale”, which is a local favorite. It is made from the leaves of a spruce tree. The town was easily walked in a couple hours, so we headed back to the ship well before it left port.
Glacier Bay: We were up early again. We were able to go to an early ranger talk (7AM in Spinnaker lounge) where we learned what we would be seeing and bought some souvenirs. We spent some time on deck, but mainly hung out on our balcony. We saw Margerie glacier calving, which was pretty cool. There was a ship nearby that looked like it might have been a scientific explorer boat of some sort. While looking for calving, we saw some dots moving and realized that there were kayakers in the bay. Like at Mendenhall, it really put the size into perspective. At 9:00, we had some coffee drinks delivered to our room (those not in a balcony room could order on the deck). Since I could not decide which to order, we had three different ones and then at 11:00, tried a 4th. They were all yummy (and alcoholic). They had regular hot chocolate available for kids. At one point, all 5 of us were squished on the balcony looking at the glacier.
Ketchikan: We arrived early in port and chose to get off before our scheduled time to meet our tour. We walked around town and took photos of the famous rain gauge and the welcome sign, and looked for where to get our charms later. We had no problem meeting our tour on the dock instead of inside the ship like our tickets told us to do. Mom and I did the Misty Fjords excursion through the ship, and DH and the two teens went on the Deadliest Catch excursion. Both boats were docked right by our ship. My boat was two stories, with an interior area and an exterior area. This was the coldest day, so we were glad to be inside most of the day. Our naturalist, Betty, was really interesting. They gave us complimentary coffee and hot chocolate, as well as clam chowder (probably the best I have tasted), and samples of salmon berry jelly. We saw a lot of awesome scenery that day. We saw a baby bald eagle in its nest, as well as an old pictograph. After the tour, we had just enough time to go get our charms and a few other small souvenirs.
Victoria: We did not book a tour this day. We arrived before 6 and exited the ship right away. We walked around the waterfront to get to the main area. It was cool to see a small village of “float homes”, which were houses on the water (but not house boats). We went to the Flying Otter Grill to sample poutine, which is a Canadian dish. Although my mother grew up in Canada, she had not heard of it before. Basically, it is fries with brown gravy and cheese curds. It was really yummy and I was happy that we were able to find it.
Random thoughts/tips: We enjoyed sitting in the Spinnaker lounge when entering and leaving ports. The views were great and it was warm. The Great Outdoors was a nice option also, but was cold sometimes. The sushi bar had good prices, good quality, but limited options. We ate there twice (a la carte pricing). The white hot party was not what I expected. I thought that there would be black lights and that we would all glow. Despite that, the music was good and the party was fun. I was able to buy a White Hot shirt in the gift shop, but had to ask for it, as it was not on display. I enjoyed the fish and chips in the Blue Lagoon. It was a nice option instead of the buffet or MDR and only had a short wait both times that we went. The entertainment was okay. We enjoyed the Frankie Valli tribute, but not the show where they did songs from Broadway shows.
The Pearl is a beautiful ship. I loved how bright and cheerful it was inside.
I would definitely recommend the Pearl and Alaska to my friends.