My husband and I, both in our early 40s, took the Carnival Miracle 7-day Alaska cruise over Labor Day weekend. It was our third cruise and our first with Carnival. Overall I would say that it was a very positive experience.
For us, the highlights were the excursions. Prepare to spend A LOT for these ' as much as the cruise itself. They are very pricey but usually worth it. Also keep in mind that many are weather dependent and that the weather is very unpredictable in Alaska. We learned the hard way that it is better to book your excursions for as early in the day as possible'this way if they are cancelled due to weather you will have more options to book another excursion.
On the second day at sea there is a little-known option to take the Tracy Arm Fjord Glacier Explorer. Take it! It fills up fast and has limited seating. We got some of our best Alaska photos from this journey'close-ups of harbor seals basking on the blue-ice of a glacier etc. Gorgeous.
Skagway was, for most people, their favorite port for excursions. First of all, it's the longest stop. But there are many fun things to do. There are various excursions centered around the White Pass Railway. You can simply ride it or stop and take a hike (as well as other options.) We took the 'White Pass Rail & Glacier Station Exploration Hike' and it was probably our favorite part of the entire cruise. Our tour guide was Andy and he was great ' very knowledgeable, helpful, prepared, attentive, fun and easy-going etc. The hike takes you through an old-growth rainforest (through the Tongass National Forest) and also close to a glacier'so you get a few different type of sceneries to enjoy. I would call this a moderate hike and they provide you with snacks, water, even a bumbag to carry. You need to have a passport for this excursion since you will temporarily cross into BC.
In Juneau we were supposed to take the helicopter ride and walk on the Mendenhall Glacier. Unfortunately, it was so cloudy that all helicopter excursions were canceled. We ended up spending a few hours in Juneau since it was too late in the day to book something else (our bad for booking an excursion for 10:15am instead of the earlier 8:15am option.) We made the best of it and ate and hung out at a great place called The Rookery ' seemed like a lot of locals were here and we recommend checking this place out (great coffee and scones and lunch food as well!)
In Ketchikan we took the Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer. Perhaps it was because we were tired or starting to get 'cruised' or 'boated' out but this tour seemed a little lackluster. The tour guide was very nice and they emphasize local lore and stories and sell local products on board. All of that was nice and interesting but the tour felt like a lot of time traveling in a boat (which we had done already.) Many of us napped on the long ride back. We also didn't appreciate that they allowed smoking on the decks and got smoked out a few times. Due to the short time in Ketchikan, we had no time to explore the town and had to get right back on the cruiseship when we returned.
In Victoria we skipped the tours (we've been to Victoria before) and just walked around. There is a shuttle to downtown that you can take'$10 round trip'which worked well. It runs every 15 minutes for your return. Most things are closed late on a Monday night except for a few tourist shops. We passed several fun looking pubs and restaurants and wished we hadn't had dinner on board since it would have been nice to eat and hang out at one of these places. There were several pubs with live music.
Embarkation and debarkation were both quite smooth ' no long lines or issues. We boarded around 1pm, probably a busy time, and it was fine. The day of debarkation we hung out in the Lido for breakfast and took a later debarkation that went very smoothly.
The cruiseship itself seemed fine. The dining room is almost a caricature of a cruiseships' ostentatiousness. The staff everywhere were nice. It takes A LONG time to eat ' whether in the dining room or on the Lido deck. The Lido was often very crowded and it was hard to find a place to sit ' especially during the first two days. If you opt for the dining room expect a long wait between starters, main dish, dessert etc.
We didn't like that the Casino was so centrally located and was filled with smoke ' we had to walk through it a few times and it was unpleasant.
I enjoyed a great massage from Nikki at the Spa Carnival (hint: the Swedish massage is much better than the bamboo ' I tried both.)
I really enjoyed the naturalist, Michele, who gave a lot of announcements over the PA. If you are in your room you just switch to channel 15 to hear the announcements. She gave a lot of interesting info about the wildlife and geography and had a nice speaking voice.
We stayed in room 1195 ' an oceanview on the first floor ' and it was lovely, quiet, snug, with plenty of views even though it was near the bottom.
The jogging track was quite small - although you could go on Deck 10 as well.
I read many reviews that said that the food wasn't great'and I have to agree. That being said, you can find things that work. The pizza is tasty although the lines are long (it's thin-crust and you can ask for half-pizzas.) The chocolate chip cookies at lunchtime are good (in the Lido) and the chocolate melting cake in the dining room is good. Many desserts tend to be quite gelatinous. There are no berries to be found on board...all melons, bananas, and citrus. The bread and butter is good ' fresh bread ' in the dining room and Lido! Sometimes this would be my main meal ?
Layers are definitely the way to go. You could wear t-shirts one minute and need a heavy jacket the next. I usually wore a t-shirt with a light jacket and brought a heavier windproof North Face jacket with a hood to wear over it all on all of my excursions. Jeans or long pants are good. Good comfortable shoes and socks are needed. On the boat I would wear yoga pants during the day. You could stay pretty casual although some people dressed up for dinner every night. There are two formal dinners.