Check-in is mostly smooth, but if the ship is full, you may have to sit on the floor while you wait to board. Baggage delivery also seemed mostly smooth, but some passengers did have bags delayed or lost.
The annoying but necessary safety briefing is about as painless as can be done -- and not having to wear your life vest during the process helps immensely. Still, it wouldn't hurt to practice putting it on in the comfort of your own cabin, and making note on your own of how to reach your muster station.
Alaska is a scenic wonder...IF the weather cooperates. The second full day includes a run up the Tracy Arm fjord system, but the amount of fog will dictate how far the ship can penetrate. The only way to guarantee getting up close and personal with the mountains and glaciers is to sign up in advance for the somewhat pricey excursions. Otherwise, have a Plan B in mind.
Aboard ship, service is pretty much what veteran cruisers, especially veteran Carnival cruisers, have come to expect. Our stateroom steward, Andreas Wibowo, was outstanding, and most make a point of greeting you in passing, even if they aren't serving your cabin.
In the Bacchus main dining room, I couldn't help but notice some grumpiness, but in the main, things went well. We quickly learned to ask for tables served by waitress Eka, who was warm, friendly and efficient, and her colleague serving the same section was just as good, if not better. The high tea was run impeccably. Lunch service could be a bit tense, however. One session in particular featured a waiter spouting F-bombs loud enough to be heard by diners.
As for the buffet, the 24-hour pizza seemed uniformly popular, but I didn't partake. As for the rest of the buffet, there seemed to be fewer choices, but what there was seemed adequate overall. The entrees were good. The salads were average. The desserts, however, were just N*A*S*T*Y. Whoever was responsible for the "cheesecake" desserts in the buffet should be sued for false advertising.
Do treat yourself to dinner at Nick & Nora's Steakhouse. One of the best meals I've ever had, on sea or shore. Wine is not included, but at $35 each, the shipboard steakhouse is a bargain. Floor-to-ceiling windows make for a great view, as well.
I don't gamble, but the casino was always busy, as was the bar. But neither were as popular as the Serenity zone, the kid-free, adults-only deck outside aft. Get there as early as the weather allows, or you'll find "no room in the inn."
As for the ports, the smallest of them, Skagway, is the one in which you'll be spending by far the most time, arriving at 7 am and departing at 9pm. How small is Skagway? The arrival of your cruise ship will automatically double, if not triple, the town population. With each successive stop -- Juneau, Ketchikan, Victoria, BC -- the time in port shortens.
NOTE: Do not take this cruise expecting to really see Victoria. You arrive at 7:30pm and depart at midnight.
Not a lot to do in town other than shop, but there's a gondola that takes you to the top of the mountain overlooking the harbor for a spectacular view. Even at ground level, the view of the bay, with floatplanes landing on and taking off fro the water and the forested mountains in the background, is gorgeous. It's also a good place to have a quick bite and sample the beers of the Alaskan Brewing Co., which are pretty good.
Shopping, shopping and more shopping. Jewelry stores everywhere. most of them run by folks who have chains of jewelry shops in various ports on the cruise circuit and follow the ships as the seasons change. Also, lots of amphibious vehicles to take visitors on tours around town and in the harbor. If your grandfather served in World War 2, he knew them as DUKWs, or "Ducks."
On a good-weather day, you'll want to be up on deck with your camera for the 4pm departure. In fact, you'll want your camera handy throughout this cruise. The combination of Elliott Bay and the Seattle skyline will have you making your own postcards, and
Seattle has two cruise ports, Pier 66 and Pier 91. The latter pier has an industrial, non-cruise-friendly vibe to it and is by far the most distant from the downtown/waterfront, so if you arrive early, don't plan on killing time along the waterfront before boarding. If you do decide to grab a cab downtown, Pike Place Market or the waterfront, the port does have a concierge service that will stash you bags for you until it's time to board -- 730am to 330pm on sailing days only. Cost: $3 per bag. It's a great service and more cruise ports should have it.
On your return at the end of your cruise, check-out is a breeze, and tour buses and taxis will be waiting close by as you walk out. Those who recall Carnival's slow, chaotic debarkation procedures of years past will be gratified at the changes.
The smallest of the Alaska cruise ports also is the one in which you'll be spending by far the most time, arriving at 7 am and departing at 9pm. How small is Skagway? Depending on the time of year and the state of the economy, the arrival of your cruise ship will automatically double, triple, or quadruple the population. On the other hand, you will able to honestly say that you fully experienced Skagway, because you'll have enough time to cover every single block of it.
If the ship docks by the railroad tracks, you'll be about a half-mile from town. There are shuttles available, but take the hike in at least one direction. Your reward will be to see salmon up close, staging in a swift-flowing creek, preparing to swim upstream to spawn.