BACKGROUND - My wife and I traveled with our four-year old son and other extended family. We have had one prior cruise in 1993: the Norwegian Sea to the Eastern Caribbean.
HOTEL INFO - Holiday Inn Express Sea-Tac: well-priced, clean, included two full beds, a separate living room and mini-kitchen. We had a nice, complimentary full breakfast and enjoyed complimentary coffee, tea and water 24/7. We used the very convenient $12/person shuttle to the ship.
EMBARKATION - Upon arrival baggage is checked and delivered promptly to the stateroom. Check in was organized and efficient! After a stop at the room, we found the Market Cafe (buffet) open for lunch. Shortly after departure we enjoyed the poolside barbeque and live music.
STATEROOM - We were quite pleased with our small, deck 4 stateroom. Just enough room to sleep, bathe and dress. Two singles form a queen plus there's a fold-down upper berth. Beds and pillows were comfortable. There's a surprisingly good amount of closet and drawer space and a useful built-in desk. Refrigerator was stocked with pricey mini-bar items, but still had room for our own small beverage containers. The shower, sink and lavatory were small but quite adequate with plenty of hot water. We couldn't see too much out of our porthole but the views are better in the public areas anyway!
ACTIVITIES - The daily "Freestyle" newsletter had a huge variety of activities, shows and music, although several were essentially infomercials for pricey services like acupuncture or the onboard art auction. Bingo was fun but overpriced! Unfortunately, the shows were nothing to get excited about. The fitness center and pools were nice and well-maintained.
SAWYER GLACIER - The highlight of the cruise was the Tuesday afternoon, post-Juneau departure, journey through the "Tracy Arm" to Sawyer Glacier. Favorable weather & ice conditions allowed the ship to go all the way to glacier. An informative expert gave us a guided tour on the ship's PA system. The rest of the time it was cool, quiet, peaceful and even reverent as the many passengers lining the upper decks got the view of a lifetime!
SERVICE - The ship was filled with friendly and helpful crew members. Stateroom stewards were prompt & courteous and cleaned the room twice a day! Restaurant personnel were mostly friendly and efficient.
MONEY MATTERS - Fundamentally, a cruise is an excellent vacation value: room, board & transportation all in one package! Then you actually board the ship. Cocktails, wine, soft drinks, photos, gratuities, laundry, art auction, health spa, etc., etc. all add up. Keep that onboard credit card handy!
SHORE EXCURSIONS - An incredible variety of places to go and things to do...we needed another week! As first time visitors we wanted more time to explore the ports on our own, so we only booked one tour: the White Pass & Yukon Railway. The narrow-gauge train was comfortable and the views were fabulous!
KID'S CLUB - There are two age groups: 2-5 and 6-12. Teen Club also available. Our child was in the 2-5 group. There was a great variety of activities and two well-maintained play areas. The Kid's Club is included while at sea. In port or after 10pm there is a $5/hour fee. The young ladies in charge were great with the kids and sported friendly nicknames like "Jingles" and "Coconut."
DINING - There are lots of included and extra-payment-required dining options on this ship. We used all of the former but none of the latter. The food was excellent at the included venues so we didn't spend extra for those with the cover charge. --Market Cafe: Buffet. Lots of well-prepared choices. Best for breakfast. --Kid's Cafe: A section of Market Cafe that offered a kid-accessible buffet area with kid-friendly foods and kid-sized tables. A nice feature! --The Grill: grilled hot dogs, chicken and the biggest burgers you've ever seen! --Blue Lagoon: Open 24-hours. "Comfort" foods. Service was fast and friendly to sit in or take out. The made-to-order items were tasty and freshly-prepared. Don't miss the pork stir-fry and mac & cheese! --Room Service: Not much available but nice to have hot coffee and pastries delivered when you wake up! --La Trattoria: Great Italian dishes. Reservations "required" or "strongly recommended" but you can walk in if it's not busy. Service here was excellent! --Endless Summer: Tex-Mex. Same re reservations. Menu was fairly limited and the food ok but not the best on the ship. --Versailles: Main restaurant #1 for breakfast, lunch & dinner. Four star, five-course cuisine. Multiple appetizer, soup, salad, entree & dessert items change daily at dinner. Very good service. Aqua is sister restaurant serving identical menu. DISEMBARKATION - We used the "Bags" program which checked our baggage through our final destination. Otherwise you can carry them off yourself or choose a departure time. The line to leave the ship was fast and well-organized.
OVERALL - A reasonably-priced, enjoyable and memorable family vacation! Looking forward to cruising again.