My wife and I are habitual cruisers. We mostly go in for sunny locales, but we have always wanted to take an Alaskan tour. So, we booked a 7 day excursion on the Carnival Miracle out of Seattle with stops in Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan.
We got to Seattle three days before our cruise, so that we could visit the city. We did the usual tourist things, going to the Space Needle, Pike Food Mart, and the wharf. All were a lot of fun and Seattle is a beautiful city. The weather was fantastic and we were able to also visit family in Vancouver on this trip.
Getting on the Carnival Miracle was a breeze. We were able to board the ship early and had lunch aboard while we waited for our luggage to make it to the room. We decided to get an extended balcony and that was really super. The room was very nice and our room stewards, Patrick and Kim were wonderful.
Our first "stop" was the Tracy Arm Fjord. Now, there is an excursion that you can take here, but I'd suggest saving your money and sitting on your balcony instead. The fjord is very narrow and since you travel up the fjord and then turn around to come back down it, the views that you get are on both sides of the ship.
The fjord ends at a glacier. All the way up the fjord you will see icebergs, waterfalls, and spectacular scenery. You want a good camera with you, for sure. The glacier was incredible--never having seen one before. Later that day, we left the fjord to make our way to Skagway.
In Skagway, we took an excursion with Dyea Dave Tours that we booked on line. Our tour guide, Saskia, met us at the docks in a small bus-van and we enjoyed a tour of Skagway (very small town) and then a ride up to the Yukon territory. We stopped at sights along the way to take pictures, saw a bald eagle and then made our way to Carcross, another small town. We had lunch at a little bakery in town--try the pastries and then visited the area. We then went on to the Carcross Desert (that was weird but interesting) and then to Emerald Lake. Saksia was very knowledgeable about the area and was a great guide.
Back in Skagway, we stopped off down town and had a beer at the Skagway Brewing Company. The beer is made from spruce tree berries and has more vitamin C than a glass of orange juice and is much more fun to drink. In town, we saw the sights and headed back to the ship.
In Juneau, we booked a Carnival tour to Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Watching. We had a full bus and left the dock early, so that gave us more time at the Glacier. Our tour guide was Jillian and she did a great commentary about Juneau and at the Glacier we took a hike to Nugget Falls and the Glacier itself. Very pretty and a nice hike. Once back on the bus, we headed out to our Whale Watching excursion and that was just fantastic. We saw pods of Orca whales and Humpbacks. The pictures are incredible and the boat had a naturalist who really knew his stuff. I got a picture of a baby Humpback breeching the water and had about 20 people give me their e-mail addresses so I can sent them the picture! Jillian dropped us off back at the pier and the day was a good one, indeed.
In Ketchikan we booked a float-plane trip to the Misty Fjords. Now, this was a great trip we booked with Seawind Aviation. There are many smaller independent tour operators, but you need to book before you go or you will not get a seat. We were lucky that Seawind had a spot for us and the pilot, Ralph was incredible with his flying skills and his knowledge of the area. We stopped at a lake in the fjords and saw a bald eagle and an otter. The scenery was amazing and every passenger (6) had a window seat to snap away. It was a short tour, 2 hours, so we got to spend some time shopping in Ketchikan at Creek Street and we had lunch at Mikes Pub. Alaskan beer on draft and sandwiches.
The Miracle is a smaller boat. There was one dining room, but there is also a steak house, Nick and Nora's that you can book a dinner for $35 per person. The steaks were very nice, thick and juicy. The dining was pretty standard Carnival fare, but our waiters, Luis, Felix, and Ronal were great hosts and kept us supplied with our favorite deserts and coffee.
The dÃ©cor on the Miracle is nothing special. The boat has a mixed theme. It's decorated with movie and novel pictures. The food court, is called Horatio's and has whatever your heart desires. A lot of people were eating at Horatio's but the lines moved quickly and again the food choices were varied. The sandwich deli had some neat combinations and the omelet guys were great.
One thing I liked about the Miracle is the area for adults only, called the Serenity Deck. It is a place at the back of the boat that has lounge chairs, hammocks, hot tub etc and kids are not allowed. A great place to unwind and just take in the sights.
Entertainment was ok. The shows, again are standard Carnival fare, but the new thing seems to be the Punch Line Comedy Club. There were family versions of comedy and adult versions. Two of the comics were absolutely hysterical and reminded me of my younger days when the wife and I went to comedy clubs. I never saw my wife laugh so hard.
Negatives on this cruise were the cruise directors. The push for shopping got very annoying. It is never ending and it can get bothersome. Tune it out. There are shops, other than the ones that the cruise lines tout to visit and actually get some bargains. Just don't buy into the jewelry shop push. Ask your tour guys where they shop and you will find reasonably priced items for gifts to folks back home.
I would say that there isn't a whole lot of difference between cruise lines. You are going to spend most of your time off ship, so look at the ports of call first and foremost. Make sure that you have plenty of time at each port to really explore. Our stays at Juneau and Ketchikan were shorter than I would have liked and that might be of value to you to consider. I think the next time we go to Alaska, we might take a one way trip rather than a round trip so that we'd have longer stays in ports we wanted to explore more.