Well, I’m been back from my cruise for almost a month & finally coming off of my '"vacation high”. During the course of my review, I’ll do my best to divulge as many details as possible. I’m sure there are plenty of CC members anxiously awaiting their Alaska cruise for next year and fixating on every detail (as I did).
This was my 11th cruise (10th Carnival so this was my "Platinum” cruise!). All of our past cruises have been to the Caribbean. This was our first time to Alaska. I bought this cruise for my DH to celebrate his 40th birthday. I selected this itinerary because it was the only Carnival Alaska cruise during the week of his birthday. It was an added bonus that it happened to be one of the 2 cruises per season (first & last) that Carnival cruises Glacier Bay! I couldn’t be more pleased that it worked out this way, because Glacier Bay was the highlight of the trip!
This was also our first trip to the West Coast (we’re from Pittsburgh). My DH isn’t wild about flying so we knew while planning that we probably wouldn’t be making the trip back to Seattle or Alaska anytime soon. Because of that, we wanted to make the most of our experience so we found ourselves splurging on several aspects, specifically excursions. However, I did try to find deals to save some money when I could during our pre-cruise stay in Seattle. I’ll be noting any deals throughout my review as well.
Precruise 3 Days in Seattle
During my researching, I had a difficult time finding much about pre-cruise stays in Seattle, so I’ll be giving lots of details in hopes of helping someone else who plans on doing a similar pre-cruise stay. Our cruise was Tuesday-Tuesday, so I thought it was best to make the most of the weekend before in Seattle and decided on spending Sat/Sun/Mon nights in Seattle, then boarding the Carnival Miracle on Tuesday. IMO, 3 days in Seattle was the perfect amount of time. I pretty much planned a jam-packed itinerary for us during that time in order to get the most out of our experience. It was literally like we had a full vacation, before our vacation.
Seattle Day 1
We left Pittsburgh early Saturday morning. We had a stop in Chicago. No plane change so the flight was long, but very smooth. Our flight arrived in Seattle at 11:25am on a Saturday. We did not have transportation arranged in advance. We thought it would be relatively easy to find a taxi or another form of transportation to our downtown hotel. We asked someone who worked at the airport after we collected our bags from baggage claim. They advised us that the ''"Downtown Airporter” was a shared van ride & where to go. I believe it was $36 for the both of us. It was very easy to find within the airport and was cheaper than if we got a taxi for ourselves. It was a relatively short drive from the airport to downtown. We dropped off another couple at their hotel, and we were downtown at our hotel before we knew it. There were 4 couples (including us) in the shared van.
I booked our hotel through Hotwire since I wasn’t set on any specific place to stay. I selected the options of 4-star in the downtown area & was given the Westin downtown. With all the taxes & fees, the 3 nights totaled around $575 which was substantially cheaper than anywhere I was finding on my own while researching. Overall we were very happy with the Westin (located at 1900 Fifth Avenue). Our room was completely adequate. It was really convenient to everything we had intended on doing downtown. We were only a short walk to the market. On a side note, it didn’t take us long to become acquainted with the map of the city and found everything to be much closer than we had anticipated. The downtown area is very walkable. We found ourselves totally acclimated with the area before the end of our stay in Seatte.
We arrived at the hotel around the 1:00 timeframe. When we exited our shared van, we were greeted by hotel porters that asked if we’d like them to take our luggage. We declined after having a bad experience in the past with our luggage disappearing for a period of time. We took our bags into the check-in area. We knew that check-in wasn’t until 3 so I didn’t necessarily expect our room to be ready. I had inquired in advance and was told that they’d be able to hold our luggage for us in the event that our room was not ready upon arrival. Luckily, when we arrived our room was ready. Initially they asked if we wanted to upgrade (since we booked a standard room through Hotwire that was prepaid). I said no thanks, but the girl at the front desk said she’d give us the best room available in our category. I think we were on the 11th floor and had a decent city view from our room. One side of the room was all windows. It’s also worth noting that the Westin has 2 towers/buildings and we were in the first building. They had a lobby bar & also a restaurant named Relish that was a sort of gourmet burger joint. They also had small coffee area there as well serving Starbucks and other breakfast type foods.. At each of these places, you were able to charge your room for drinks and/or food which was nice.
Before heading to our room, we inquired with the girl at the front desk about how far away the Tap House Grill was from the Westin (which is where I had initially planned on going to lunch). She told us that recently she had complaints from the hotel guests as well as experiencing it herself that service wasn’t very good. Instead, she offered up the suggestion of a place called Yard House. She showed us on the map where it was and we found it very easily. We dropped off our bags at the room, freshened up, and were on our way to lunch. It was only a few blocks away. The place was nice, reminded me of an upscale sportsbar with lots of TVs and different kinds of beers. The menu was extensive. Our food was very good. It was so good, that we even thought about going back there throughout the course of our stay in Seattle, but didn’t make it.
During the planning stages, my DH had said that the only thing he wanted to do in Seattle was a "Grunge Tour” (like 90s music ''" grunge). I had searched online several times and came up empty handed. When he mentioned it again (after me not planning such a tour) several days before we were ready to leave, I searched again and stumbled upon a ''"Rock & Roll Tour” online called Stalking Seattle. The tour was $45 per person. After booking online, I sent an email request to be picked up at the Westin & the owner responded almost immediately that she would. So, after lunch, we headed back to the hotel for this tour. We waited outside the Westin and she picked us up right on time at 3:20 (the tour was scheduled from 3:30-6:30). It was only our tour guide Charity, us & another couple from Ireland. My DH in all his glory sat in the front seat of the van. Although I wasn’t fully aware of the significance of some of the things we saw or who my DH & Charity were talking about, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and getting a tour of seeing all over the city. My DH loved every minute of it. During the tour, we saw: Jimi Hendrix’s grave, Kurt Cobain’s house, many areas where the 90s movie ''"Singles” was filmed. We heard lots of stories about the 90s music scene from an insider. The best part of the tour is that Charity caters what you see or don’t see to the interests of those on the tour. I would highly recommend her tour to others.
After our tour, Charity offered to drop us off anywhere in the downtown area that we wanted. I had booked a "Market Ghost Tour with Expresso” through a deal on the Amazon Local ''" Seattle site. I only paid $9 per person for the tour. The tour was scheduled from 7-8:15. We were supposed to check in at 1499 Post Alley before the tour. Being that this was our first day in Seattle we were not familiar with where this was. We had asked several people and were unable to find it. Eventually, we found it moments before 7:00. We checked in. By the description, I thought we were supposed to have an Expresso included in the tour, but it wasn’t offered to us. I suppose I could have pressed someone, but at that point, I was just happy to find the meeting place.
There was a sizeable group that had signed up for the tour. The tour lasted for 45 minutes to an hour of basically walking around a few blocks while the guide told some haunted stories of Seattle’s past. I would say the tour was worth the $9 per person I paid for it, but I would have a hard time paying more than that (especially without the drink that was supposed to be included). I wouldn’t give this a rave review by any means, but if this fits your interests it wasn’t bad.
Afterwards, we were pretty tired from the tours and traveling so we decided to grab something to eat at Relish located inside the Westin. The food was good.
P.S. In the months before the cruise, I had signed up for any/all the Seattle deal websites I could find (Amazon Local: Seattle, Groupon Seattle, GoldStar).
Seattle Day 2
I had booked the Mt. Rainier Day Trip through GoldStar website. I had literally waited MONTHS for GoldStar to release the dates I would be in town. I knew in planning I wanted to visit the Mt. Rainier National Park one day during our trip. Some companies offered tours that were $200 per person for almost the same tour (at least based on their descriptions). This tour was operated by Tours of Seattle. The tour is originally $100 per person (when booked through them), but was only $50 through the GoldStar website per person. For what we got, this was a great deal! By calling a few days in advance, Tours of Seattle was able to arrange pickup at the Westin for us (scheduled between 7:40-7:55 pickup) rather than the EMP doors like mentioned on GoldStar’s website. The tour was scheduled to last between 8-10 hours. It ended up being 12 hours! Probably the longest tour we’ve EVER taken!
While the tour was a little long, it was a great day spent enjoying all that Mt. Rainier had to offer. We were in awe of the views of the mountain & other sights within the national park. There were several stops once inside the national park where we got out of the van (I think there was about 15 of us on the tour) and be able to take pictures, etc. During those stops, we saw had great views of the mountain. Once we arrived at the visitor center at the top, we had time on our own to eat & walk around. We chose to get something to eat from the snack shop inside the lodge. Our guide told us to meet up with him at a designated spot at a set time. Then he led us on a nature walk on the trail to get a closer view of the mountain. If anyone has any questions about the specifics of this tour, let me know.
Once we were finally dropped off at our hotel (approximately 7:30-8pm). We quickly changed clothes and went out to get something to eat. We went to Serious Pie (pizza place on 316 Virginia) that was only a few blocks away from our hotel. This was recommended to me on the message boards so I had noted the location on my Seattle map. Upon arrival, there would have been a wait to be seated, so we ordered 2 pizzas in & waited until they were ready. Once they were, we took them back to our room to eat. They were delicious! We got 2 different kinds although I can’t recall the names offhand. The size of the pizza isn’t huge. It’s a good thing we ordered 2, because there were no leftovers when we were done.
Seattle Day 3
Once we got up, we headed to Pike’s place market to explore. I had read that most of the vendors open at 10am. We got there around 9:30 & most of them were still setting up so we walked along the waterfront area first. Once inside the market, we had some mini donut bites at ''"The Daily Dozen”. We had the variety pack & the cinnamon sugar was the best! There was also a place selling bagel sandwiches a few spots away (I can’t remember the name. I think it was something like Seattle Bagel Company or something of the like). My DH & I got a jalapeno/cheddar bagel sandwich with sausage & cheese. It was so amazing we went back the next morning & got another one!
We walked around the market enjoying the fish flying, flowers, stores, etc until it was time to make our way back to the hotel for our tour of the day. I had booked the afternoon Boeing Factory tour directly with Tours of Seattle. The cost of the tour was $65. We were scheduled for pickup outside the Westin between 12:30-12:45. The tour was 4 hours and scheduled to take place between 1 and 5. A van picked us up during the scheduled window. There were only 6 of us on the tour which was nice (another couple & 2 men). There was a relatively short drive to the location (20-30 minutes if my memory serves me correctly?) When we first arrived we were given about 30 minutes to explore the future of flight aviation center which was more than adequate time. At our scheduled time we were told to go to the auditorium area where they split the large group into two. They shuttled us over to the Boeing Factory. From there we got to see the inside of several areas of the plant, ask questions & hear all about the production process, etc. The whole tour was very interesting. The only downfall is that you were not allowed to take any pictures during the tour. You’re not allowed any cell phones, purses, etc with you during the tour. We were told that was because before they implemented this procedure, someone dropped a cell phone from the viewing area down onto one of the planes and cause something like $3 million worth of damage ''" hence the rules. After the tour, we had a bit more time to explore the gift shop before being shuttled back to our hotel downtown. I would recommend this tour to anyone visiting Seattle.
After the tour, we were dropped back at our hotel, changed clothes, and were on our way. We went to Pacific Place (600 Pine Street ''" level 4) for dinner & a movie. After a very busy few days of touring we were looking forward to a more relaxed ''"date night”. Based on another cc recommendation & our love of Mexican food, we went to Mexico Cantina y Cocina for dinner. We arrived during happy hour so we had a few drinks & dinner. The food was very good! It almost seemed too good for being inside a mall food court. The atmosphere of the restaurant was very nice though. A more upscale Mexican restaurant (at least compared to what we’re used to around home). We then saw ''"The Conjuring” at the AMC theater. Great movie. We were familiar with Lorraine Warren from Paranomal State on TV and had been wanted to see the movie (I checked the movie times online before arriving in Seattle the week prior to).
Seattle Day 4 & Embarkation
Back to Pike Place market to get another one of those bagel sandwiches was first on our agenda! We had asked them what time they opened the prior day. I believe they said 8am ''" so we went as soon as we got up & moving! I got the same one as the day before while the DH tried something different. Just as good as the day before! We also got an order of the cinnamon sugar donuts from the daily dozen. After we ate & walked around the market a bit, we headed back to the hotel to grab our luggage. We checked out of the hotel. The only charge to my credit card (since the hotel was prepaid through Hotwire) was our food in Relish and bar tab. It was a relief since I had not used Hotwire in the past, I wasn’t sure if there would be extra taxes, resort fees, etc outside of what I had paid Hotwire. Hotwire gets 2 thumbs up for giving me the hotel at the deeply discounted rate. We had a great stay there. In conclusion regarding our stay in Seattle, we had a fantastic 3 full days! My DH asked jokingly at the end of day 3 if there was any way I could have squeezed anything else into our 3 days? I told him I couldn’t! I like to preplan as many of the details as possible before cruising. I even had various options of possible things to do, places to eat, etc. Some of which we never made it to. There are only so many hours in a day!
Onto the port…It was easy to get one of the taxis lined up outside our hotel. The ride was cheap! Under $20. I think it was $12-15, but we just told him to keep the change as his tip. We arrived at the terminal around 10:15ish? It literally only took us 10 minutes or less to get to the port. As our taxi pulled up to the curb we were immediately greeted by a porter. He was happy to take our luggage for us. Typically, we carry on our small suitcase/carryons, but this time we checked in all 4 suitcases with the porters. Upon entering the terminal we were immediately greeted and directed to the VIP line. I feel like I’ve been waiting for YEARS for this day…then again, I have! There was NO ONE in front of us at the security line so we were through in literally seconds. Then to the VIP desk to get our sail n sign cards. Seemless! They gave us a priority boarding card and were ushered to a seating area to wait until the boarding started. We sat there for 20-30 minutes before the ship was cleared by customs and they started boarding. When the time came, we were literally among the first handful of people to board the ship! This was literally the EASIEST & FASTEST checkin we’ve EVER experienced! It wasn’t even just because we went to the VIP line, There was literally no one there at the time we had arrived to the port. I would recommend to others doing precruise stays in Seattle, arriving at the port between 10-10:30. Once onboard we headed directly to our room. Our room was ready upon arrival which was REALLY nice! Our suitcases didn’t arrive until later on that day.
Total Side Note:
I few weeks before the trip, I decided a needed some new luggage. Sort of like an impulse buy. Best part is that my old luggage was pretty much packed when the new stuff arrived. I bought the 21.5 & 28” Croc Embossed Uprights & carryon bag in Tangerine color. The color is very eye catching. Literally the entire trip people would complement me and/or comment on the color. There was never any confusion about which suitcases were mine on the conveyor belt at the airport. The pieces held up on their first vacation/trip. And I’m really looking forward to using them again. Figured this was worth mentioning in case anyone else is in the market for new luggage.
Weather in Seattle & Alaska Cruise:
Overall, the weather was much better than I had anticipated based on everyone's remarks about September weather on the message boards. I understand this can vary, but Carnival's last Alaska cruise of the season had great weather (or so I thought). There literally wasn't one drop of rain the entire trip ''" not in Seattle for the 3 days nor while onboard the ship (at least that we experienced). The only times on the trip I was cold was Glacier Bay day. On that day I had my fleeced lined waterproof jacket, scarf, jeans. It was very windy that day which made it feel colder. The only other time I was cold was while on the glacier landing/hike in Juneau. The rest of the trip, jeans (or active pants) with thermal top and light jacket was plenty warm enough. Everyone in port kept saying we lucked up with the weather each day. I’ll comment more later about what I packed, didn’t wear, etc. I stocked up on Alaska wear for months before we set sail. Returning with at least half of it unworn!
Stateroom Cabin 7300 Aft-Extended Balcony
When I initially booked, I had booked the interior with French door cabin. Once I looped my DH in that I had booked the Alaska cruise for his birthday, he encouraged me to upgrade to the aft-extended balcony. We had these rooms in the past and always enjoyed the view and wake off the back of the ship. Since it was a special occasion and we figured we wouldn’t be doing Alaska again anytime soon we changed our room. Prior to the cruise, all posts I read online said that having a balcony for Alaska was a must have! After our sailing I would have to disagree. In Glacier Bay, we found ourselves on the top decks more than anywhere else, primarily because the views were so much better. You were constantly moving from one area to the next while traveling through Glacier Bay since the scenery on both sides of the ship was constantly changing. We did spend time sitting on our balcony at points throughout the week, but it didn’t seem to be for any extended period of time. In hindsight, I don’t think the room was worth twice ($1600 more) what we could have spent for our initial room reservation. Knowing what I know now, I would have rather taken that money and used it to pay for my excursions. Don’t get me wrong, having a balcony was nice. But it wasn’t a "have to have” if you’re on a budget.
Ok, back to the cruise. We boarded, dropped off our stuff in the room. I had heard that now that I was Platinum, our room should be ready, but was still skeptical it would happen like that. It did! It was ready! Great perk! Nothing worse than dragging around your carryon/tote back for several hours before being able to drop it off at the room! I suppose you could say that my DH & I have a cruise tradition of on day 1: We explore every nook & cranny of the ship on all floors. We do so while drinking…and continue drinking for the duration of the day and into the night. At the end of said drinking, we hit up the buffet to for dinner. That’s pretty much all/exactly what we did on this cruise as well. Throughout the course of the day we stopped at our room several times to check on the luggage. Eventually it arrived. As I mentioned above, day 1 is always alittle hazy so I can’t give you an approximate time that it arrived.
The next day was a sea day which was relatively uneventful. It’s probably worth mentioning that since it was the last Alaska cruise of the season, all the Alaska items in the ship’s gift shop was an extra 70-75% off (I can’t remember which one). When we boarded the ship, I had noticed the signs inside the shop but they weren’t open while in port. I wish I had gotten up earlier to go to the gift shop that day, because a lot of things were already picked over by the time I got there. I was there in the early afternoon (after we slept in, had breakfast, got ready for the day, etc). Don’t worry, I managed to still find things to buy! Lol. I ended up with a black fleece zip up that said Alaska on the side, a black chenille sweater that said Alaska, and a reversible sweatshirt gray/black that said Alaska on both sides. The best part was that my extra percentage off came off of some other sale price (and not the original). As a long time shopper, I know what they should have charged me, but it ended up being much less! I got all 3 items for only $24! Almost unbelievable! I was so proud of myself, I went over to the non-sale gift shop and bought more stuff! ïŠ Also, the gift shop was VERY busy this day, no doubt a result of the steals of deals (as I like to call them). I also walked to the photo shop and bought myself an Alaska scrapbook. I wasn’t taking a chance on those being sold out by the end of the week. No price break on those though.
Note to scrapbookers: I’ve never been on a cruise before that literally every port had a section in all the tourist shops that had a small scrapbooking area! Now, most of the places had very similar (if not the same) items. But, I was very pleased to see such things. I ended up with lots of Alaska sticker and scrapbooking packs from all ports during the course of the cruise! I just started working on my layouts and organizing my pictures this past week.
My DH was extremely hung over from the day before so he spent much of the day recuperating in our stateroom. I took one for the team and went to the CC cocktail party that afternoon solo. I met several nice people there. I’m pretty sure I got my monies worth in drinks (even drinking my DH’s portion). That evening we had dinner from the buffet again, primarily because we didn’t feel like dressing up and going to dinner. Many times dinner in the MDR end up being a process. Next up, Juneau…
We booked the Helicopter Flightseeing & Glacier Walkabout through Carnival ($389.99 per person). I had never been on a helicopter before and it seemed as though Alaska would be a great place to experience it. So, during the researching phase my DH & I agreed we wanted to do a helicopter tour that would ideally include the glacier landing. It was between this tour and a cheaper option that only included a short landing (15 minutes) while the more expensive option included an hour ''"hike”. We decided to do the more expensive tour figuring it would hopefully be worth the additional money. It was!
OK, so we arrived in the port of Juneau around 2pm. Our tour departed around 2:30 so we immediately debarked the ship and then waiting in the area at the pier until it was our time to leave. Once we gave the girl our tickets for the tour and she checked us off the list. She immediately asked our weight (how embarrassing). At least they didn’t make you get on the scale for verification! Apparently depending on each guests weight, they arrange you accordingly into the helicopters. Once everyone assembled, they took us in a van to the location of the helicopter pad. It was a relatively short distance, maybe 10-15 minute drive. Upon arriving, they had a bag with each person’s name on it. I assume the size of each item they gave you was dependent upon your weight given upon check in? Inside the bag was a red/orange jacket for each person (they said you must wear theirs for safety reasons), a pair of wind pants (to go over the pants you wore), boots, gloves, hip/fanny pack (not sure the technical name) ''" which included a granola bar and bottle of while for when you were on the excursion. Once everyone was suited up, they took the group outside to go over some ground rules for when the helicopters arrived. They spilt us into 2 groups. Our helicopter was myself, DH and another couple. And the rest of the group went into the other helicopter.
The sights from the helicopter were AMAZING! You were literally flying right over the glaciers. You got to see forests, bodies of water, etc. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any wildlife from above. Our pilot said sometimes you can see bear, elk, etc from up above. I was alittle nervous about being anxious in the helicopter (having never been on one before) & I was totally fine. I didn’t feel any different than if I were on an airplane in terms of sensations, etc. Being in the air was very exciting. No anxiety at all. Anyways, so both of the helicopters land on the helicopter one shortly after the next. Then, both helicopters left the glacier.
Our 2 guides immediately started putting the crampons on each person. Your boots sat right on them of them, and they tied you in, gave you your walking pole (not sure the technical name) and you were off. Prior to putting them on, it was very slippy. Once everyone was suited up in their crampons, they guides walked us around to various areas of the glaciers showing us different things and answering any questions we had. We even got to drink glacier water straight from the glacier! After an hour of walking around and exploring (I don’t think I would call it a ''"hike” specifically because there wasn’t much physical fitness involved other than walking), they took off our crampons off our boots and the helicopters came back to get us. Then, there was a short flight back to the heli pad, removed our gear, then shuttled back to the port.
This tour was operated by North Star Trekking. This was one of the highlights of our trip and totally worth the high price tag. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience (walking on a glacier). Never did I think I would have done such a thing! Check that off my bucket list! ïŠ
After the tour, we walked around the town for a bit going into a few shops. I love crab legs and wanted to go to Tracy’s Crab Shack. So, we tracked down the place. Both my DH & I got their combo special (one king crab leg, crab bisque & mini crab cakes) and an Alaskan beer. Our total was right around $85! It was very good though! Just as it was started to get dark we made our way back to the ship. We were in port until 11pm that night.
Cruising Glacier Bay
After much reading on the message boards, I knew Glacier Bay day would be nonstop glacier viewing and other sights all day long ''" and it was! We got up pretty early that day, had breakfast, then went out on our balcony. It became clear pretty quickly that there was only so much we could see from our balcony, so we decided to go up to the top decks to check out the views from there. Glacier Bay was literally the highlight of the trip! The only other thing in contention would have been the helicopter/glacier hike in Juneau ''" equally as amazing. I talked to someone during the cruise that had sailed to Alaska several times. She mentioned that she wouldn’t do another Alaska cruise that didn’t include Glacier Bay. Now I know why! If you can book a Glacier Bay itinerary, do it! It was unbelievable glacier viewing literally all day long.
We spent the majority of the day on the top decks going from side to side as the view changed. Once up top, we quickly realized that you could see much more from the top decks (or at least that was our opinion of it). It was crowded on the top decks, yes. But, it seemed that everyone was constantly moving like us, so it wasn’t difficult to find a place along the railing to stand for a bit, and then move onto another spot. Plus, moving helped you from being cold! Glacier Bay day was one of the few times on the cruise I was actually cold. I think it seemed colder because the wind was blowing. Carnival did have small throw blankets on the top deck during this day. You could check them out similar to how you do with beach towels at the pool. Also, they have kiosks that were selling warm beverages for you at well on the top decks. I did have one of the caramel hot chocolate something-or-another with Bailey’s ''" pretty good. This was also the only time I wore my ''"warm” jacket the whole trip too.
At lunch time, we went indoors to take a break from the cold and get something to eat. It also worth mentioning, that all the tables inside on the Lido deck were pretty much full at all times during the day ''" at least during the times that we walked through Lido. I suppose that would have been a good way to take in the sites (at least for a period of time) without having to battle the cold. It seemed like a lot of older people where inside doing that. Being outside on the top decks were where all the action was though! It’s also worth mentioning for those with balconies, once we were at the main/best glacier (I can’t recall the name offhand) the captain stopped the ship, and turned it at all angles for a period of time so that those with balconies on all sides could view the glacier from their balcony. When the aft was facing the glacier, that was when we decided to leave the top decks and go to our balcony. After glacier viewing for a while longer, I went inside the stateroom to take a nap for a bit, and my DH woke me up at one point, because he didn’t want me missing any of the sights as we were cruising through Glacier Bay. You wouldn’t think a ''"sea day” would be so busy, or that I would have been so exhausted, but it was almost busier than a day in port! Glacier Bay was amazing though! No question about it! I’ll be sure to post pictures of this at the end of the review.
Kayaking in Alaska was at the top of our list of things to do on this cruise. We have single person kayaks at home and figured we’d really enjoy kayaking with the Alaskan scenery in the background. Therefore, we booked the Glacier Lake Kayak & Scenic Railway Experience excursion through Carnival ($219.99 per person). Kayaking in the Glacier Lake seemed like one of the best options available and it was a bonus that this included the railway. The tour company Carnival used was Packer Expeditions.
We met our tour operator at the end of the pier. After about 10-15 minutes of waiting for everyone to gather, we headed on our way to the White Pass Depot. It was a short 10 minute walk. Our tour guides hopped on the train before it departed to introduce ourselves. They were going to meet us at the glacier lake for kayaking. Once the train got moving, everyone passed around the chipboard that had the waivers for everyone to sign. We were on the scenic rail for alittle less than 2 hours. Before going on this excursion I was worried the scenic rail wouldn’t be long enough based on the distance on the train before arriving at the glacier lake. I had no idea the rail experience was as long as it was. 2 hours was more than enough time on the rail imo. The sights from the train were pretty outstanding, however, I was glad at the end of the 2 hours I hadn’t booked one of the longer train rides.
Once we arrived at the train stop in Fraser B.C, we debarked the train where we were greeted by our guides. Everyone was given a safety briefing, got their gear, etc. Luckily, everyone in our group claimed to have kayaking experience so they didn’t have to go into much detail. The kayaking on Lake Bernard was fantastic. I can’t say enough about the sights we saw on and surrounding the lake that day. We kayaked from one end of the lake and back to the starting point. We were paddling for about one hour. The time was about perfect. My arms had just started to get tired by the time we got back to the starting point.
After kayaking, we returned our gear to their respective areas. It was really nice that they had hot chocolate and apple cider packets for you to make a drink. Also, they had bags of snacks and granola bar for you to help yourself to as well. We had about 15 minutes before the bus was there waiting for us to take us back to the ship. The bus took the Klondike Highway back to Skagway. It was a nice scenic drive that lasted about 50 minutes. Important: you must have a passport for this trip since you go into British Columbia. There was a checkpoint upon returning back to Alaska. Once we were back in Skagway, we strolled around the town for about an hour or so before returning back to the ship.
During the researching phase, there were no excursions that were blatantly standing out as a must-do in Ketchikan. We had a hard time deciding which we’d like to do most. Since we spent a lot on excursions in Juneau & Skagway, we didn’t want to overspend on one of the elaborate tours in Ketchikan. We thought the Misty Fjords sounded nice and would have ideally wanted to do one of the flightseeing tours, but figured we’d pass since we already did the helicopter tour in Juneau. Anyways, we ended up booking the Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer through Carnival ($184.99 per person). I’ll preface this by saying that this tour was the only part of the cruise I would have done differently in hindsight. Not to say it wasn’t an ''"ok” tour, but our expectations based on the pictures online and tour description were entirely too high for what we received in return (especially for the cost) in our opinion.
In the past, all of our excursions have always been booked directly through Carnival (we don’t mind the extra cost for peace of mind). Generally speaking, there’s always a representative waiting with the sign at the pier or dock immediately upon getting off the ship. In this case, we couldn’t find anyone. We asked someone with signs, they gave us some convoluted directions to find someone with a specific colored jacket standing outside of a Christmas in Alaska store (whom would be collecting our tickets). Luckily we found the person, and shortly were on our way to boarding the boat. It was a double decker boat. We immediately went to the top floor since that is where the viewing area was. Since we were among the first handful to board, we had our choice of seats. There were binoculars left on each set of seats for people to use. This tour was operated by Allen Marine Tours. It lasted 4.5 hours. Typically that amount of time is a shorter excursion for us. Not in this case. We felt like the tour was never going to end.
So, we wait in our seats until the boat is fully loaded (past the time in which we were scheduled to depart I might add). The boat gets going, some people sat in the few seats they had outside. There was enough room for 3-4 people to sit on the bench outside on the viewing deck. Once we got moving, it didn’t take long before they realized it was too cold & windy to be sitting outside and they came inside. My DH & I are looking out the window enjoying the scenery. At one point I said to him…”we’ll go outside when there’s something to see”. In my mind, I thought there were supposed to be all these great viewing opportunities based on the pictures. Little did I know the scenery we were viewing was going to be pretty much the same the duration of the trip.
I will say that it was nice that they came around with different tastes of ''"snacks” during the course of the cruise. Early we had some sort of cookie, the followed by soup (we passed on the soup) mid-way through, and at the end we had smoked tuna on a cracker. Each was just enough for a taste.
Once we actually got to the Misty Fjords, we did go outside and take some pictures. Not to sound like a complainer, but the day was full of sunshine (which has it benefits) so there was no ''"mist” like we had expected. Also, all the pictures showed this area where there were waterfalls ''" no waterfalls because it was dry that season. So as we saw it…it was more like this is where the waterfall normally is, but today you’re just seeing this big rock. The part at had me most upset was the fact that the description says you see harbor seals (which is one of the main things I was looking forward to on this trip). They show pictures of the seals, sitting on a rock, close enough for you to almost reach out and touch them. That my friend was not the case! So we slow down the boat to an area where these seals apparently frequent. Everyone rushes outside. The issue was we were so far away you literally could not even see if there were seals there. It didn’t matter how much I zoomed in on my camera, you couldn’t see the seals. What a disappointment.
About an hour into the trip as we looked around in our seats, we saw a middle-aged woman chugging a beer. My DH looked at me and said ''"I think she has the right idea”. He immediately went down below and bought us both an Alaskan beer (at $6 each). There was a snack bar below where you could buy drinks & food. After about another 4-5 beers each, the excursion became a little more tolerable. Mid-way through, we couldn’t help but notice others sitting around us, literally sleeping with their mouths wide open. We laughed realizing it wasn’t just us. Even the old people on the tour weren’t entertained by this. Also, its worth mentioned that a woman spoke over the intercom the entire trip. Some of what she spoke about was interesting, however, 4 plus hours of talking got to be a little much and you couldn’t help but tune her out at some point. As the end of the tour drew near, we went downstairs to find a seat (so we could debark the boat as quickly as possible). It was that bad. And we weren’t the only one. As the boat pulled into the slip, there was literally a line of people waiting to get off.
Disclaimer: It is possible that others could have totally enjoyed this excursion. My DH & I may be biased because we have our own speed boat and frequently take weekend trips to a lake surrounded by mountains and picturesque scenery (in West Virginia) many times throughout the summer months. To us, the sights were on bar with that experience we’re so accustomed to. Our expectations out of our Alaska cruise were to see new and different things we can’t close to home. Now I realize the fjords in Alaska and mountains/trees in West Virginia are very different, however I’m just comparing the viewing experiences in our opinion. To us, the boat ride could have been several hours shorter and the sights would have been virtually the same. Also, at almost $400 for the two of us combined, we would have expected a little more excitement or viewing opportunities. This tour is on par with $50-75 tours we’ve taken in the past on other cruises.
After the excursion, I was anxious to stroll around Creek Street and checkout some of the shops. From the reviews I had read and pictures posted on CC, I had high hopes of this little shopping area. To our dismay, half of the shops were closed! I’m not sure if this was because it was the end of the tourist season, or perhaps it was after 5 on a Sunday? In any case, we went into the shops that were still open, and then made our way back to the ship.
Cruise Inside Passage last day at sea
This was our last sea day and also happened to be my DH’s birthday. My last cruise on the Breeze was the first in which I had tried the Punchliner Comedy Club, and while we could have done without the "comedy”, we both loved the food that was offered. The coffee and orange juice was far superior to that offered on the Lido. You were given a basket upon arriving of fresh muffins, breads, croissants, etc. I believe this was the only day on this particular cruise where the brunch was offered. I had been looking for it in the Fun Times all week. We plotted our arrival time so that we did not have to endure the 5-minute "comedy” routine. The only thing I didn’t like on this trip was that they sat us with others at a large table without asking us if we minded sitting with others.
We do mind sitting with others. Anyhow, we both had the huevos rancheros (with sides) & loved it (just as we had on the Breeze)!
After brunch, we spent most of the day roaming the ship and having some drinks. The weather was very nice as we approached Vancouver. My DH insisted on wearing shorts and a t-shirt, a last ditch effort to have it feel like a warm weather cruise (he said).
We asked the guy operating the water slide if anyone had gone down all week. He said not a single person! My DH contemplated doing it (as he has on other cruises) but said he wasn’t in the mood to go change into his trunks. We did see a few women lying out on lido in their swimsuits on loungers. Personally, I think that was pushing it. I had jeans and a short sleeved top on and I was comfortable that day. Most of the day as we cruised you could see the coast, a few lighthouses, etc. The sights were better than a normal ''"sea day” where you don’t see anything other than water. But I wouldn’t say that that there was anything specific or phenomenal to see that day. I wasn’t sure what to expect prior to cruising.
I had sent my DH a birthday cake to the room through Bon Voyage (from our cats at home " sometimes I entertain myself by doing such things). It arrived around noon that day. I got the chocolate cake with chocolate icing and it was really good. We ate it later that night when we got back to the room.
On the last day at sea, we did book the 2 hour city tour of Vancouver and shuttle to the airport combo offered through Carnival. Since we had some time before our flight home, we figured it would be a good way to see the city and pass some time. It was. The morning of debarkation they scheduled us to meet in the main theater at which point our group departed from there. I don’t recall the specific zone (maybe 3?) but we were among the first few waves of people to leave the ship. We carried our own luggage off the ship as we normally do, so while others where gathering their luggage at the terminal and going through customs, we didn’t waste any time. We were the first people on the bus.
The bus tour was indeed 2 hours, although it felt like it went by very quickly. It was an enjoyable drive through the city. The bus driver was great at pointing out various points of interest along the way. We had a brief stop at Stanley Park were we were able to get out for about 15 minutes or so and walk around on our own. There were some totem poles there in the park. I would recommend this city tour & shuttle for those looking for something to do rather than sitting at the airport for that additional time. We got to the airport around 11 and had plenty of time to check ourselves in, go through security, & get some lunch. We flew from Vancouver to Chicago, then Chicago to Pittsburgh. It was after midnight by the time we got home that night. I will say that the airport and flights went much smoother and easier than we had anticipated.
I literally only saw one kid on the ship all week! For someone like me who isn’t wild about kids running amuck on the ship, this was glorious! I figured it would be worth noting for others who might be taking children to be aware that there may not be many others for your kids to socialize with on the ship. Also, while I expected the age of those on the Alaska itinerary to be much older than the typical Caribbean cruise, the age range was even older than I had expected. We had met 2 nice couples during the week onboard who were in the same ballpark age wise to us, but other than that pretty much everyone else was older.
It was a much mellower crowd than what we were used to on previous cruises. Most nights after we’d eat dinner, we retire back to our rooms early & rent a movie on demand (most were 10.99 each). I think we only drank on day 1 & the last sea day (my DH’s birthday) - which is also very uncharacteristic of us. We didn’t go to any shows, didn’t watch any comedians, we only watched about 2 songs worth of Karaoke (normally one of our favorite past times onboard). We didn’t swim or go in the hot tubs. We didn’t spend any time in the Casino. I bet you’re wondering what we did do onboard? Honestly, the week flew by in a flash! It was very different than our normal cruising past times when going to the Caribbean. And while it was very different, we still enjoyed our time nonetheless.
We only ate in the MDR ONCE all week! Most nights we just didn’t feel like doing a long dining experience and were happy just to eat at the buffet, pizza or otherwise. The night we ate in the MDR the room was really good though (we had your time dining). The service was very good - as it always is. Actually, the next day at brunch, our waiter from the night before actually remembered me. I heard ''"Good Morning Heather” from across the dining room. I was pretty much shocked he had remembered me since we had only ate in the dining room once all week! This was also probably the quickest dining experience we had in comparison to past cruises. I know a lot of people on the message boards say that service can be slower in your time dining. That was not our experience this cruise! The food was on par with what we’ve experienced on all our other Carnival cruises. I had heard that the pizza was good on the ship per many Miracle reviews. Indeed it was! Our favorite was the 4 cheese pizza ''" I don’t recall the name they used, but it was like a white pizza with several different cheeses! Amazing! We ate it several times throughout the week!
I’m a chronic overpacker, I’ll admit it. But, with this cruise, I made a concerted effort to keep my packing under control. With the clothing being bulkier items, I really had to watch so my large piece of luggage didn’t weigh in at over the 50lb threshold. I took one warmer jacket with hood that was fleece lined ''" I only wore this once on Glacier Bay day. In hindsight, I probably should have just bulked up with layers so I didn’t have to lug this heavier jacket. I took a Columbia lightweight windbreak of sorts jacket (with hood and water resistant). I got a lot of use out of this. I wore it most days with a layers under neither. I took a bunch of fleece, thermal tops, and scarfs ''" and wore all of those. I took 2 pairs of Columbia active bottoms. I wore those a lot. I almost wished I had taken an extra pair of those. During the days I wore those or one of the 2 pairs of jeans that I took with me. The clothing on this trip was much more about comfort & warmth rather than coordinating ''"outfits” like on most cruises I’ve been on.
I bought a Coach crossbody bag before this trip. I really liked it. It was perfect to carry my camera, cash, etc while in port. I liked that you could fold a piece of paper or put travel brochures in the back pocket. It was perfect for Alaska since I wasn’t carrying around a tote bag like in the Caribbean. I know a lot of people on the boards say to take a backpack to put layers in, but I wasn’t interested in carrying around a backpack and/or layers of clothes while in port. Each day we took our best guess as to what we thought we should wear and didn’t have any issues in terms of what we had on or if we were dressed appropriately for the weather conditions.
I kept my shoes to a minimum of just what I expected to need. Therefore I wore everything I took several times. I took a pair of hiking/tennis shoes, 2 pairs of black slip on loafers (both Crocs) one of dressy (fur lined) and other other casual canvas.
When packing for all cruises, I always pack one day and one evening outfit for each day. Then toss in a few "extra” outfits, tops, etc. Since we only went to the MDR one night. I literally only wore one of my seven ''"evening” outfits. My evening outfits were 3 dresses, a pair of black dress pants with a few coordinating dressy tops. I came back with literally half of my clothes unworn. That was with me attempting to pack just what I thought I needed too. I still had way too much stuff. I also should have factored in that I would inevitably buy a few long sleeve and/or fleece tops. I brought the items I bought home unworn too.
Things I read to take on CC that I never used: gloves, umbrella, sunscreen, bug spray
If anyone has any other questions about dress that I might be overlooking, let me know. This was my biggest concern pre-cruise, making sure I packed appropriately. We really lucked out with the weather on our trip, that it was especially nice and didn’t rain, wasn’t too cold.
My First Platinum experience:
Needless to say, I had really been looking forward to my first platinum experience after many years of cruising. The best (imo) and really the only real benefit is going through the VIP line on embarkation day and being among the first to board the ship. It was also very nice that your room was ready upon arrival on the ship. Another bonus was being able to skip the line at guest services when you had a question rather than waiting in the line with everyone else. Chocolate covered strawberries and my tervis tumbler were delivered to our room during the cruise. Other than that…no different than any other cruise that I noticed. I’m not sure what I had expected, but it was a little bit anticlimactic.
I was also looking forward to trying these free bags of laundry (which I’ve never done in the past). Typically, about mid-way through your cruise, they will leave the empty bags in your room along with the costs associated with laundering the bag of laundry. I had expected this to be the case with my platinum experience, except I’d have a note or something stating how many bags of free luggage I would get. This was not the case. There were no bags for laundry period all week! Now, I’m sure if I tracked down my steward for the bags he would have given them to me, but it seems as though they didn’t want you to take advantage of this perk of platinum cruising.
This cruise was unlike any others we have ever taken. The sights in Glacier Bay were truly once in a lifetime, as was walking on a glacier! We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise to Alaska, but we’re very much looking forward to our upcoming cruise to the Caribbean. Alaska was well worth the high price tag associated with the experience. And while I do recommend others take a cruise to Alaska, I don’t anticipate us cruising to Alaska again. Now that it’s crossed off our bucket list, we look forward to venturing to new places (in addition to our routine Caribbean cruises).