Carnival's late May sailing to Alaska from Seattle had ideal timing, itinerary and pricing for our agenda. We booked a starboard balcony cabin and spent two pre-cruise days in Seattle, which included the Seattle Folk Life Festival, a ferry to Salty's on Alki Beach for fabulous copper river salmon, the Public Market, original Starbucks, old friends, and the monorail before a fast cab ride to Pier 91. Embarkation was a breeze, with the terminal in high gear and people moving onto the ship as fast as their suitcase wheels could fly. And of course, up to the Lido deck for the first of many food indulgences. We hung out on the adults-only Serenity Deck and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine and views of Seattle.
Cabin ready on time, steward Samad introduces himself, all is shipshape. Seize the towels and back out to the deck for some bubbling hot tub and chat with fellow passengers. We chose the any time dining option for this cruise, a departure from our usual late seating, to allow for flexibility with music, shows, Alaska's late sunsets and shore visits. It was an excellent choice. We had ocean view windows every evening, and sighted whales on several occasions. We attended the opening night show and laughed uproariously at Cruise Director John Heald's emcee-ship.
The first sea day was fairly typical, and we enjoyed the gym, deck, Captain's Celebration, live music, and too-much-food. The second full day was our tour of Tracy Arm Fjord. Although chilly on deck and mostly cloudy, we spent the entire day outdoors with cameras and binoculars glued to our faces as we saw porpoises, bald eagles, whales, a hint of a bear on the shore, waterfalls, icebergs and the Mendenhall Glacier. The ship's naturalist, Michele, made quiet announcements of sightings fore and aft, port and starboard. It was Deck Aerobics. No time to visit the buffet! We watched as ice pilots boarded the ship from a moving vessel--impressive! The ship sailed as far up the fjord as the ice would allow and then performed a 180 degree turn to head back down. The views came to us in that display. Our day in Tracy Arm Fjord had the feeling of being on a National Geographic expedition, which is something we would love to do. We also attended Michele's presentations in the theater, which were informative and interesting.
We attended a cocktail party for gold members and above (there are also platinum and diamond levels) which was nice. I don't think we'll cruise often enough to reach any higher levels because although cruising is fun, it isn't the only kind of travel we enjoy, and it really has its drawbacks as well as advantages. We've been to similar events on Holland America and they're certainly pleasant. Food, drink and entertainment along with meeting fellow cruisers from all over the U.S.
Friday was Skagway and a shore excursion that combined hiking and a raft trip. We saw bald eagles in their nests and the markings of bear claws on trees. We were both relieved and disappointed not to have seen a bear, because we think the experienced guide could have shepherded us safely through a sighting. Likewise our excursion in Juneau, which involved a highly successful whale watching voyage in Endicott Bay and a hike to Mendenhall Glacier. A bear pair had been sighted seconds before our arrival at the lake, but were gone by the time we made the scene. Again, our guide was knowledgeable and prepared.
Back to the ship for a quiet day at sea with stunning views of Southeastern Alaska's towering snow covered mountains, whales in the water, fun things to do aboard the ship and as always, an abundance of tasty food, including brunch in the dining room and another trip to the ship's gym. We celebrated a birthday (his) and an anniversary (ours) on this vacation, and the cruise director marked the occasions by forwarding a bottle of champagne to our cabin along with a personal note. The comedy shows again were a hit and we made a point of attending as often as possible, both the family friendly and adults only sets. The live music in lounges was again a highlight for us on this cruise. We missed out on the Jazz Under the Stars, collapsing into bed before it began at 10:30 pm. The event also featured cigar smoking, with the seating carefully separated, but even so, any whiff of cigar smoke is nauseating.
We had a leisurely last day, arriving in Victoria at 3 pm for a sunny tour of the town and a stop at a brewpub before a final evening aboard the ship. Debarkation in Seattle was as efficient as boarding had been, and we quickly found ourselves en route to the airport and homeward bound. We're following John Heald on facebook and his blog, which is good post-cruise entertainment.