Hubby and I have sailed 14 cruises in 22 years - all to warm, sunny, beachy areas because we live in Arizona and I am wrapped up in a sweater whenever the temp drops below 80! When my 76-year old mother-in-law visited last fall, she expressed a desire to take a cruise - she had never sailed on a cruise ship before - and she made a point of telling us that Alaska was the only state she had not yet visited. It definitely was not MY first choice for a cruise, but I did the research on average temps and rainfall and chose the 3rd week of July, hoping for the best possible weather of the year. I am happy to report this was one of our most enjoyable cruises a 7 day sailing on the Carnival Miracle out of Seattle with day stops in Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Alaska and an evening in Victoria, BC.
We arrived in Seattle three days before our cruise. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Airport/28th Avenue opened in June 2012 and it was wonderful. I reserved both the hotel and the rental car six months in advance. We explored Pikes Marketplace, took the Locks Tour (VERY good tour and my first experience with raising or lowering a boat as it passes through locks), toured the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery (in full bloom and incredibly beautiful), ate only in local, one of a kind restaurants, attended a Mariners baseball game. It was a bit chilly and cloudy/foggy every morning in Seattle, but when the sun broke through around 11:30am, it was warm enough for me to enjoy sightseeing without a jacket/sweater. We turned in our rental car the night before our cruise, after the Mariners game, and planned to have the hotel shuttle pick us up at the airport. Airport traffic at 11pm was an absolute nightmare, so hubs and I opted to walk back to the hotel - about a mile walk and much quicker than waiting for the shuttle to make it through the airport.
I pre-booked our hotel-to-ship shuttle through Matt at Seattle Express (seattleexpress.com) at $12.00 per person (about what the cruise ship charges). The shuttle bus was prompt and the driver very courteous, pointing out local attractions along the way downtown. We booked our ship to airport shuttle after the cruise with them, too.
Getting on the ship was fast and very efficient, even though wed been notified that boarding might be delayed due to a mandatory inspection that morning. As first time Platinum guests, hubs and I boarded through the VIP lines and waited in the atrium lounge for his mother and sister to join us, just to see how much difference it made they boarded exactly 10 minutes after we did. We all enjoyed a welcome aboard beverage and then went to Lido deck for a bite of lunch. Our cabins were on deck 7, on either side of the mid-ship elevators so we could share fabulous views with each other if one side had more to see than the other. The cabin was typical of all Carnival ship layouts a feature I actually like, as we always know where to put whatever were unpacking!
The Miracle is one of the Spirit class ships - just 88,000 tons. There was only one dining room, but it also features Nick and Noras steakhouse. We booked a dinner there for our party of four (two first-time cruisers) and, although it was very good, we all agreed the fare in the main dining room was every bit as good. This was my 3rd steakhouse dining experience and Im not sure I will choose to do it again at the extra $35 per person cost.
We lunched most days at Horatios - the extensive buffet on Lido deck. Between the 4 of us, I think we tried most everything at least once.
The Miracle is a beautiful ship and the crew works diligently to keep it immaculate. The show lounge is elegant, with Phantom (of the Opera) decor. There were, I believe, three production shows during the week. We only made it to two, and both were very well done. The sets, costumes, and choreography are always far more than I expect. I am never disappointed.
The first two days were sea days, with the first Elegant Night on the first sea day. We were scheduled to go up the Tracy Arm Fjord on the second sea day, but it was announced there was too much ice and the Captain opted to tour the Endicott Arm Fjord instead. You MUST pack binoculars for the Alaska cruise!!! Of course, we have a great pair of binoculars at home and felt it totally necessary to buy another pair onboard ($59.99 - and worth every penny)!!
Having done a LOT of advance research through Cruise Critic, and by requesting information from the Chamber of Commerce in each of our ports of call, we booked most of our excursions on our own rather than through Carnival.
In Skagway, we pre-booked a 5-hour Super Tour through Discover Skagway for $75 per person. Our tour guide, Candy, met us at the dock area in a van. First stop was to see The Days of 98 Show - an eighty-six year running, approximately 1-hour, fun musical about Skagways beginnings. This was followed by an enjoyable historical tour of the town, and then a drive up through White Pass Summit into Canada - with plenty of stops along the way to enjoy the scenery and take photographs. Returning to Skagway, the tour visited Jewell Gardens & Garden City Glassworks, one of the most amazing gardens that I have ever seen, and with a resident glass-blower and gift shop. At the end of our tour, we asked to be dropped off in the downtown area - about a 1/4 mile walk from the ship - where we visited Skagway Brewing Company for an adult beverage, followed by a stop at the Red Onion Saloon and Brothel for second adult beverage and a souvenir t-shirt for the hubs, before walking back to the ship.
In Juneau, we walked off the ship and bought tickets on one of the many buses that run every hour to (and from) Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor Center. Bus tickets are $16 per person round trip and admission to the visitor center was $3 per person (total $19 p/p and we were free to go and to return when we wanted compare that to ship pricing and schedules!). We spent a couple of relaxing hours exploring the glacier park grounds and then learning a lot about glaciers in the visitor center. Again, we opted to be dropped off in the downtown area to do a little shopping, exploring on our own, and of course, to visit The Red Dog Saloon, enjoy an adult beverage and buy the hubs a souvenir t-shirt, before walking back to the ship.
In Ketchikan, we chose to walk and shop - based on CC reviewers listing it as the best shopping port. The ship docks right in the heart of the tourist area, lots of shops and saloons, and we walked the Waterfront Promenade around to the beautiful Creek Street shops neighborhood. We were lucky to see a huge bald eagle perched on a tree branch over Creek Street and dozens of large salmon swimming in the creek. After everyone in our party had their fill of shopping, we enjoyed our traditional adult beverage and hubs t-shirt purchase at Fish Pirates Saloon on the waterfront. Alas, I do not wear souvenir t-shirts, so the hubs insisted I buy an icy blue Glacier pendant and chain to balance out of his souvenir t-shirt purchases!
Our final port was a brief, 4.5 hour, stop in Victoria, Canada. Not having obtained much information on Victoria in advance, we chose to book the Craigdarroch Castle and City Highlights tour through the ship. Victoria is an absolutely gorgeous town and I would have loved to have had at least a full day there. Our tour guide was Chris, and you could tell he truly enjoyed sharing his city with us. The castle, built in 1890, is a magnificent 25,572 square feet, with 4 floors and 17 fireplaces. Youre completely on your own to walk through all 4 floors of exquisite stained glass, intricate woodwork and lavish Victorian-era furnishings. Chris then drove us through the city, pointing out highlights and stopping to all photographs. When the tour was over there was not enough time to go into town on our own (it was also nearly 11:00pm, so nothing much would have been open anyhow).