What a great week we had! We were a family reunion of 18 people, ages 5 to 82. We loved this itinerary and loved this ship. We are first time Celebrity cruisers, but this is now our favorite line - there were so many wonderful things about our experience, with rare negative issues. Also, a huge thank you to all the CC'ers who shared their experiences on this board since all that info really helped me be the cruise director for our party. :)
Food - We found it to be really very good to outstanding. We could always find something we liked in the buffet and at Epernay. We did not eat at any of the specialty restaurants because we really didn't see the need. Wait staff was simultaneously warm and efficient. We did select dining so we didn't get to know any of the waiters, which was too bad because I would have liked to get to know some of them better, but with a lot of kids in our party, the buffet worked for us better on most nights. We did dine at the main dining room on the two formal nights and we were able to get reservations for two tables of 9 on both nights. Though I suspect because we didn't reserve until onboard, we were given a 5:45pm spot for the first night and 8:15pm for the second. Both worked well for us but if we were picky about timing, it would have been in our best interest had we reserved earlier. Our whole party decided the yummiest thing onboard was the fresh salmon you could have cooked to order in the buffet.
Ship - This is our third cruise (first on the Diamond Princess and the second on HAL - Eurodam) and this by far was our favorite ship. What an elegant ship! It feels more like a huge modern yacht than anything. There were so many distinct spaces with totally different "feels" to them. Our cabin was spacious and well designed - nice, modern bathroom too. The gym was always crowded but zumba classes were fun. I think partly because of all the kids in our party, we spent a huge amount of time on the lawn, which was really a special place. The adults could sit and talk and watch the scenery while the kids ran around and had fun. We were incredibly lucky with the weather with no rain except on one sea day - otherwise just non-stop sunshine.
Staff - With very rare exceptions, we had just terrific interactions with staff. They were friendly, helpful, and seemed to take great pride in what they were doing.
Kid's clubs - In our party of 18, we had a child at almost every level (we were only missing the toddler age group) so we can say that it was all terrific. The teens hung out in the club much more often than on other cruises, which I think is a testament to the staff there, and our youngest ones (ages 5 and 6) literally cried when it was time to say goodbye.
Entertainment - We went to several of the shows and thought most were really quite good. The dancers and the acrobats were amazing, and the singers pretty darn good. I couldn't get into the xylophone guy, but the juggler who also did comedy was really funny. Sin City was also good, but definitely not for everyone. We didn't spend a whole lot of time in the lounges, but we did really like the guitarist when we could catch him. String ensemble was also very good.
Casino - This was the one thing that was not a big hit with our party. I don't do any table games but I usually donate a few dollars at the slot machine. This casino had a very small selection of types of machines and hoo boy - was that a futile effort. No one seemed to be winning even temporarily, which I think is best-case scenario with slot machines!
Ketchikan - We did a private kayak trip with Ketchikan Kayak Company - what an amazing experience. Professional well organized with knowledgeable and friendly staff. If you go into town, don't miss the salmon ladder if you are there during the spawning season.
Juneau - This was our only so-so excursion - because we didn't want to risk a private outfit because of the tendering issue, we did the Bike and Brew. The bikes were SO squeaky, we got ordered around a lot by the main guide, the ride was mostly on a busy road and the beer tasting felt like an after-thought. But, we still enjoyed ourselves, just being out there in all that beauty.
Skagway - We hiked the Lower Dewey Trail and learned that "Alaska easy" is harder than "Cruise ship strenuous". ;) This was billed as a "moderate hike that should take 1-2 hours" so we planned on doing the whole hike. Well, we are a pretty fit family but there was no way we could have completed that hike in that amount of time. I think it would have taken us three hours at a minimum, since there was a significant amount of rock scrambling on the left hand side of the lake and the first mile is straight up hill. Then we had a truly wild experience with Grizzly Falls Zip line - WOW! That was a really fun, intense zip-line. I am a 40 something mom and even I found myself doing front flips off the platform and hanging upside down as I zipped.
Victoria - We used a Celebrity excursion to Buchart Gardens which was a cruise highlight. We visit gardens in many cities we travel to, but I don't know how we will ever be able to top the flower gardens at Buchart. The excursion itself ran smoothly with a really entertaining bus driver, but the focus on this excursion is on the gardens. If you stop in Victoria in late July/early August you are in for a treat - we had about half the time in full sun, then the garden was gently lit by the setting sun, and then we saw it illuminated with all the various lights after the sun set. Just spectacular.
Seattle - We did a private tour (due to the large size of our party) with Seattle Free Walking Tours and we couldn't have enjoyed it more. Jake was just the consummate guide and we felt like Seattle insiders while we were with him. We also did Seattle Bites Pike Place tour and that was yummy and fun.
A few random things I want to mention -
1 - The wine and cheese party for the Ketchikan sail-away was one of the most unforgettable moments on the ship. We were blessed with beautiful sunshine so sitting on the lawn, sipping wine, eating cheese and listening to the guitarist/singer as we sailed away from Ketchikan as the afternoon sun beat on our backs - well, you don't have too many moments quite like that in life.
2 - I loved the lack of an up sell. On our other cruises, every time we sat down anywhere, someone would come up and ask if we wanted a drink. As a family who probably spent $20 a person or less on drinks the entire cruise, it was lovely not to constantly be bombarded with drink offers. I also liked the lack of announcements - it made the ship more peaceful.
3 - This is not specific to the cruise, but because it made such a difference to our pre- and post-cruise experience, I thought I would mention it. While in Seattle, we used the Uber car service A LOT. It was a little more expensive than a cab, but for an essentially on-demand, private car service, it was totally reasonable. You have to download the app, but it is easy to use and the quality of cars and drivers was fantastic. When we disembarked, we looked at the line of people in line for a taxi (easily a 30-40 minute wait) decided to request a car and within 9 minutes, a gleaming black SUV pulls up, deals with our luggage and gets us back to our Seattle Center area hotel within minutes for the princely sum of $32, tip included. And if we had less luggage or fewer people, we could have fit into a sedan, which would have been significantly cheaper.
4 - The tendering in Juneau is a pain, no question. When I heard about it several weeks ago, I changed us all to Celebrity excursions because I didn't want to waste our precious time in Tracy Arm waiting in line for tender tickets. The system was pretty efficient and organized, but you do waste time waiting in the theater for your number to be called and I can't speak to what it was like for people on independent excursions.
Overall, a great experience that I would repeat in a heartbeat!!