Embarkation was slow (yes, Seattle has ONE security screening station so it does get backed up). We spent two nights at the Marriott Waterfront before leaving. Nice hotel with a GREAT location across the street from the cruise dock and within walking distance to Pike Place Market. Enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Matts at the Market and enjoyed a great food tour of Pike Place Market with Savor Seattle (www.savorseattletours.com). I had read not to arrive between Noon -1pm but we had friends who lived in Seattle who dropped us off after brunch and it just worked out we arrived at the worst time. If you can, come early (11a) or later (1:30p) to avoid the lines.
We had a starboard balcony room on the 9th floor that was comfortable for two with adequate storage and we were very well cared for by our room stewards. We were early birds but our room was always cleaned quickly in the morning and turndown happened while we were at dinner, often with animal towels ?. I read that the port side is better viewing but don't be concerned if you're in a starboard room. Gorgeous views cruising up to Juneau in the Inside Passage, in Glacier Bay and fantastic sunsets cruising back. Some of my favorite moments on this cruise were on our balcony watching whales spout in the distance and soaking up the vista's.
We really enjoyed the intimate dining in the specialty restaurants and the variety and atmosphere they offered. You almost forgot you were on a ship with 2000+ other people! We had dinner in Mambo's, Le Bistro, La Cucina, Cagney's & Lotus Garden. We ate between 6-7pm (great to be able to schedule different times based on shore excursions & itinerary for the day) and found the food and the service were very good to excellent. Teppanyaki had a $25 cover which we felt was excessive for a Japanese steakhouse (we have a great one locally) so we passed on that. We paid an extra $70pp for 5 nights at the restaurants mentioned and felt it was well worth the additional fee. The only negative (MINOR) was the onion rings in Cagney's-they should take them off the menu or improve the quality. The filets and au gratin potatoes were delicious. We had quite a few of our breakfasts and lunches at the Great Outdoor (aft deck) when it wasn't too chilly or the Garden Cafe. By far the best buffet we've had on board a ship with made to order omelettes and eggs, pasta, etc and many choices. We did eat dinner there one night and my husband enjoyed the prime rib they were carving. Buffet's are not my thing but I give them high marks for making this better then most. We also ate breakfast & lunch in the main dining room, both were very good with excellent service (it is slower so plan accordingly) and a couple of times in the Blue Lagoon-great for late night snacks (potato skins and spinach & artichoke dip were favs), fish & chips were so-so. We also loved the cappuccino/espresso machines in the back of the Garden Cafe (aft). We took turns going up and filling our insulated coffee mugs in the morning and bringing them back to our deck.
For excursions, we waited until a couple of weeks before our cruise and didn't get our 1st choices so I'd recommend reserving early! In Juneau we booked the helicopter/glacier walk (we wanted the longer tour with hiking time on the glacier but it was sold out). This was definitely a highlight of our trip and I highly recommend it! The helicopter ride & experiencing the glacier up close was a truly amazing experience. We were invited to drink the water running thru the crevasses on the glacier (which we did). Loved it!
We booked the train in Skagway (again, not our 1st choice) but ended up really enjoying this excursion. I thought we'd be stuck sitting inside the train the whole time but you were able to get out on the platform to take photo's or just soak up the beautiful views and the fresh air. We left around noon so spent the morning exploring the beautiful and historic town. We took a free ranger tour of the town -just stop in the visitor center and pickup your free tickets. I believe they were every hour on the hour. Short (you only walk a few blocks), interesting and free ?.
Glacier Bay ...hard to find words for this place. We got up very early (we were on East Coast time anyway!) and spent the day outside enjoying the fantastic views. Chilly but we were prepared and we were VERY lucky with the weather. It's been a rainy and unseasonably cold summer for Alaska so we were expecting the worst but lucked out. I would recommend spending some time up on deck when you get to Glacier Bay. You literally are surrounded 360 degrees by snow capped peaks-it's incredible. The park rangers' come on board and provide commentary -loved every minute of this day.
In Ketchikan we had booked a seaplane on our own to tour the Misty Fjords. By the time we called we were left with the 1st run of the day at 7:45a which we knew was risky (morning fog is very common) and sure enough our flight got cancelled. It was a shame because the fog burned off quickly and it turned out to be a gorgeous day. BOOK EARLY and wait until later in the day to do this excursion to avoid the morning fog. We still had a great day exploring the town. Walked up to the Totem Heritage Center and the Deer Mountain Hatchery (felt our admission went to a good cause but these wouldn't be on my list to return to) but we really enjoyed the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center (only $5). If you have time stop by this wonderful museum. Wandered thru the shops around Creek St. then headed back to the boat. Ketchikan is the most southern port in Alaska and we were told has weather more like Seattle then what you would expect in Alaska. A beautiful day and the only day we were able to wear shorts!
Our final stop was Victoria. I'm sure Butchart Gardens is truly lovely but we live very close to Longwood Gardens in PA and had never been to Victoria so opted for the Royal BC Museum and walking around town. The Museum was excellent (you could spend hours there) and it is a beautiful, very clean city on the inner harbour with literally thousands of hanging flower baskets. When the sun sets the sprawling parliament building was lit up as was the Empress hotel-a great ending to a fabulous trip. One note-there are shuttle buses that take you into town for $6 round trip right as you get off the boat that dropped us within a couple of blocks of the Museum and right in front of the Empress Hotel. These same buses will take you to Butchart Gardens for $49! Yes, that includes admission, they wait for you, then bring you back. The admission is only $26.50 to the gardens so charging over $100pp to provide a bus ride + admission is ridiculous! Worth checking out for the savings.
We only went to 1 show, my husband did a little gambling and played bingo and we had fun trying out the bowling. We also went to one of the lectures (wildlife in Alaska) -I'm glad to see they're adding more options that don't involve selling something. I had a fabulous massage in the spa and used the fitness room several times which was well equipped (I never had to wait for an elliptical). I heard good things about the comedienne and other shows but with the 4 hour time difference from the East Coast we were getting up early and going to bed early!
We used the BAGS program (they pickup your suitcases, deliver them to the airport and print your boarding pass for $20 ea.) and had a 1:30p flight so took our time getting off the boat. Only problem was most everyone else waited as well and it made disembarkation slow. If you leave in one of the early groups you will have no problem getting off quickly. The BAGS program has been in existence for 2 yrs now and the airport staff had only positive comments about this co. Worked well for us and made it very easy.
Thank you to all the many on these boards who wrote reviews and gave advice. If anyone has any questions I'll do my best to answer them.