This was our first trip to Alaska; it was on my bucket list for a long time and took a little convincing to persuade my wife to buy into it. It was our 14th cruise and our third on Celebrity; we chose the Solstice.
We flew into Seattle the day before and stayed one night at the “Inn at the Market”; the hotel is only one block from the waterfront and is conveniently located to some great restaurants and of course, the famous (and amazing) Pike Place Market. The hotel also has a very nice roof-top terrace and is a great place to enjoy the fresh air and sunset over the mountains. Staff is great – friendly and helpful; the room is a bit pricey but very quiet and comfortable. Taxi fare from the airport to downtown is about $50, depending on traffic and from there to the pier the fare is about $20.
Embarkation: While some have claimed that the port scene is “chaos”, our check-in was very efficient; pier arrival to boarding was under 20 More
minutes. We stayed in a Sky Suite (#2155, aft); maybe the process is a little faster depending on the cabin booked or the Celebrity passenger status. But regardless, the whole process seemed well organized and nicely executed.
Cabin: As mentioned, we booked a Sky Suite; # 2155 aft (deck 12). I was encouraged to book an aft cabin by the Celebrity cruise planner. He mentioned that the 180 degree view from an aft balcony cabin was the best way to experience an Alaskan cruise. And I would totally agree on that; it certainly was a marvelous view and the cabin was very, very nice. It was spacious and clean; there was plenty of storage space throughout the entire cabin. Nice toiletries, linens and always impeccably clean!
My only negative about this cabin (and location), and it’s a biggie, – is the relentless noise of chairs dragging across the deck from level 14 above. It sounded like a heard of small elephants; every 15 to 30 seconds you heard what sounded like the growl of some creature above you. Over and over again; it never stopped. Finally, we commented to Guest Services and it became significantly better almost immediately. This validated to us that it was the crew cleaning, servicing or whatever they were doing on this deck that was creating the ruckus, not the passengers. This is the first time we have ever complained about something like this; it was that bad. But to Celebrity’s credit, the gracious and polite Guest Services representative called us no less than 3 times about this to see if things improved. And they did improve considerably until the last evening.
The cabin category comes with “butler service”. And while this seems a little excessive to some, the butler can, and will do many services to make your cruise experience very special. In our case, we were celebrating an anniversary and the decorations in our cabin and on the door when we returned for the evening on that special day were memorable. Thank you again Vishnu!
Ship: The ship is beautiful – easy to maneuver, spotless throughout, bright and cheery. The deck 15 lawn area is really unique and is a great area for relaxing. On several days, it was practically empty and laying on soft green grass, enjoying a glass of wine and reading a good book surrounded by the beautiful Alaskan scenery was something I could not have imagined before this cruise.
The smokeless casino was also very nice with slot machines that occasionally gave some decent payouts. Table games were well run and casino crew seemed knowledgeable and well trained. Another feature of the ship layout we really liked is that the specialty restaurants are all centrally located in one area on deck 5. This makes finding them a breeze and last minute decisions for dining easy. There is a very nice bar (Ensemble Lounge) that often featured entertainment adjacent to all of the specialty restaurants. It is a nice venue for a pre or post dinner cocktail or to listen to some music.
The Al Bacio is a lovely venue for tea, coffee, pastries or a glass of wine. And finally it is hard to describe the Molecular Bar – imaginative and very tasty drinks served up by a couple of interesting guys with some techno music background setting the interesting mood.
Dining: We dined in Murano and Silk Harvest and enjoyed both, especially SH. We had dinner in Blu several nights; the food was very good and we appreciated the smaller portions. Service in Blu was exceptional. The Aqua Spa Café also became a favorite for a mid-day healthy snack or for lunch. The occasional visit to the Mast Grill for a delicious cheeseburger was hard to resist! The only disappointment was Bistro on Five. On our two previous Celebrity cruises, this venue was a favorite but the crepe’s we were served were dry and chewy. The host graciously gave us a refund.
Entertainment: We only attended one show – Doug Cameron and really enjoyed it. Doug is a great performer; he plays the violin and has a great repertoire of Celtic, Klezmer, Bluegrass and show music. He was backed up by the ship’s music ensemble and the show was well rehearsed, well executed and very entertaining. Another group played modern dance music throughout the ship. Finally, we also enjoyed a guitarist/singer that did some great Neil Diamond, Bobby Darrin etc. tunes in some of the other venues.
Drink Package: We were offered the drink package as an incentive when we booked the cruise back in the fall; we upgraded to the premium package for a modest fee. It was nice to simply hand the card to obtain a beverage. We used it for bottled water, teas, wine and an evening cocktail or two. Everything we ordered was always covered.
I read a few comments about how difficult it is to order a drink. Nothing could be further from the truth. We used the package a lot and never had one issue with the bar service at any venue. The sommelier in Blu (Alex) was exceptionally professional and always friendly, helpful and very attentive. As I mentioned, the Molecular Bar was very unique and the drinks served are so imaginative and tasty – also, fully covered.
Disembarkation: Very fast and well organized; Celebrity has an efficient process to clear the ship and reunite you with your luggage. We assembled in the MDR about 8:00 AM and were through SEA security by about 8:45.
Alaskan Ports: Finally, a few comments about the ports. Admittedly I fretted about the weather; but we were fortunate to have no rain and pleasant daytime temperatures except on sea days. Shorts and a light jacket worked every day.
The scenery is spectacular; it is hard to imagine such pristine, rugged beauty. The view of Mount Rainer at departure is memorable. The inside passage is breathtaking and the glaciers gorgeous.
Ketchikan was a quaint town and we chose to simply walk the port. Creek Street was especially nice. There were some nice shops in town and lunch at Annabel’s was very good for fresh fish and Alaskan beer.
In Juneau we chose a tour that included the Mendenhall Glacier and “Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure”. We enjoyed this tour; afterwards we looked forward to trying one of the famous restaurants recommended on Trip Advisor, but with four ships in port, the lines at some of the top spots were way too long and we ended up eating on board.
Skagway – a little historic gem of a town; we decided on the White Pass & Yukon train ride to Frazer BC. This views were unbelievable and probably the highlight of our trip. However the very next day, there was a derailment. Fortunately according to the news reports, no one was seriously injured.
Finally, and this may seem like a strange recommendation but one of the best meals I had all week was at the Seattle airport on the morning of our return flight home. We had breakfast at a place called Anthony’s – the salmon and fried eggs entre is absolutely outstanding.
While we enjoyed Alaska and feel privileged to have the means to go, this will likely be our only cruise there. The scenery was great, the people we met along the way very nice and the local flavors memorable. But in the end, we still enjoy the topics. Less