We flew from Orange County to Seattle 2 days early on Alaska Airlines. Alaska Air insisted on only checking in one bag until we mentioned we bought our tickets in January, before they changed the rules, so we were allowed the 2 bags. Otherwise it would have cost us $25 for the 2nd bag ($100 for the 3rd). We were given a small bag of pretzels and a drink, otherwise one could buy a snack pack for $5. We booked Shuttle Express ahead of time with our AAA discount, $90.10 each way for a 10 passenger van. This was a great way for the 10 of us to travel together. (The remaining 4 flew in at a different time.)We stayed at the Inn at Harbor Steps, just a couple blocks down the street from Pikes Marketplace. Our room looked over the steps and had a slight view of the water. The room was huge, perfect for 4 people! We had free wine, cheese and fruit at happy hour, and a delicious breakfast included. We had a dinner with 12 of us at Wild Ginger, an excellent asian restaurant. We had a large round table with a huge lazy susan in the middle, which made it easy to pass the food. Not inexpensive, but fantastic food and service!
We took 2 taxi vans to Pier 66 around 11am and the porter took all our luggage, which made embarkation very easy. We got our free Mimosas and were ready to start the party! Our cabin was 6053, the one with the triangle shaped balcony, which was really nice. I asked the steward for 2 lounge chairs, which arrived by evening. My room tag had fallen off my luggage, so I went to search for my luggage, and found it by the concierge desk.
The buffet was quite nice, except crowded at all times we went. People were rude and pushy, more so than any other of the 15 cruises I have been on. This is probably my biggest complaint. The staff was very friendly and accommodating. The waffles were the best!!! Our dining room waiter was friendly and at first I thought the wine sommelier was a bit rude. I mentioned it to the waiter and the sommelier was standing next to me on the other side and overheard. He profusely apologized for the remainder of the trip, even though I told him to forget it, that we would start over. He was very friendly, and we tipped him at the end. Our food was so-so, service was slow, even seemed to stop after the salad. We had early seating at 6pm and didn't get out of there until 8:15. We didn't care for many of the desserts, so our waiter brought us creme brulee every night. We also asked for shrimp cocktail every night, which we did get. 6 of us spent one night in the SS United States restaurant, in the private wine cellar room, which was a treat. We loved the food and the synchronized serving...what a treat! Since we arrived in Victoria on our last night at 7pm, we told our waiter ahead of time that we would be in a hurry to get off the ship on time, so he arranged to have our main meal prepared right away when we ordered the appetizer, and we were done by 7:15. Our table was 508 and 510, overlooking the windows at the back of the ship, and the captain's table. One night we saw a whale, and many in the restaurant got real excited, clapping as the tail was straight out of the water.
PORTS: SITKA: We arranged a boat ride with Captain Davey and had a fantastic time. I was thrilled to have gotten the coveted "whale tail" shot! As Davey was explaining that it was rare to see Orcas, or killer whales, near the kelp, my daughter spotted one. Davey was so excited he immediately got on the horn to notify his buddies. Seeing him excited made us even more excited, as we realized we saw a rare sighting. There were several orcas swimming right past the many sea otters, who didn't seem to mind at all. I got a cute picture of 3 sea otters facing the camera, which later won me 2nd place in the photo contest on board! Davey took us by beautiful St. Lazaria island, where we saw a lot of cute puffins, thousands of murre birds nesting in the rocks, oyster catchers, sea lions, etc. It was a wonderful excursion, highly recommended! We still had time to see the town of Sitka, and also enjoyed a nice Sushi lunch there prior to Davey's trip. We were surprised that the store employees at a few places we entered did not bother to greet us, and we were the only people in the shop! One would think that they would appreciate the tourists! Oh well, their loss, not mine.
HUBBARD GLACIER: After reading on these boards about possibly not getting close enough, I was extremely happy when I thought we were at a good distance. The weather was perfect..sunny and clear..fantastic! I got some great shots of the glacier calving with kayakers right in front! My brother got a great picture of that too and won 1st place in the photo contest! He had cabin 7202, the aft facing corner cabin with a sweeping view. We all hung out on his balcony and viewed the glacier..what a treat!
JUNEAU: 3 of us went on Harv and Marv's whale watch with another cruise critic couple and their adorable 5 year old. We got great pictures of humpback whales doing the bubble net, trapping the fish in the bubbles so they could feed. Pete had the sonar on, so we could hear the whales as they were surfacing, getting our cameras ready for some awesome pictures. I got a shot of 4 whale tails this time! There were about 6-7 whales swimming all together, so this was really exciting to watch.
KETCHIKAN: The 14 of us went on the Duck Tour. It was raining and they had a see-thru roof and side walls. All of the kids in our group, ranging in age from 9-21 were bored and ended up sleeping. Our guide was just OK. I wouldn't recommend this trip. My husband and I ended up walking in the rain (suited up in hooded rain jackets) around the town, which was fun. We took the Married Man's trail, saw the fish ladder, viewed some salmon in the water (although they weren't jumping) and stopped by Dolly's House. We didn't tour this small house ($5) because our guide on the duck tour did explain a bit about Dolly. I bought a small whale tail pendant with gold nuggets and gold/quartz to commemorate our whale sightings. Ketchikan is very small and I would suggest walking off the main street and wander around.
VICTORIA: We took a taxi for $8.50 into town. The bus charged $6pp round trip. They were all right there as we got off the ship. Since we got into town around 7:30pm, we hurried around, as many stores closed up early. We had been to Butchart's Gardens before, and didn't want to spend approx $200 for 4 of us to go, especially since we would have been so hurried. I was disappointed that Murchies was closed. so we found a place and had gelato. The shops were all the same, T shirts, syrup and junk made in China. I took some beautiful night shots of the Parliament building all in lights, and the harbor with the colorful lights reflecting off the water. I also shot a full moon over the Empress Hotel, but that was difficult to capture with my Canon 710IS. (I am now requesting a digital SLR long lens camera for my birthday, Christmas-Hanukkah-Valentine's Day present.) My daughter wanted tea at the Empress, so we sat on the veranda and enjoyed the view while sipping tea. Then we took a cab back to the ship and finished packing our luggage.
PROS: Port Authority Acapella Group, Comedian Don Sherman, friendly staff, excellent cruise director Allan King (we sailed with him on our first Celebrity cruise, Century), fun trivia (Women won Battle of the Sexes...woo hoo!), Nice cabins, spacious shower, excellent room steward, good selection on buffet, excellent specialty restaurant, photo quality better than on other cruises
CONS: Food was just OK, dining room was slow, some areas of ship could use touch ups, especially wood trims, 14 year old complained that many night-time activities were for 18-30 year olds, and not much in the kids programs for her age. I also heard other teenagers complain that it was boring for them. She was able to hang out in the Constellation Lounge dancing until after their 11pm cut-off, but then eventually was asked to leave.
OTHER THINGS WORTH MENTIONING: The ship had an Academy Awards style show which featured the best joke teller (my 84 year old father tied for first with a 10 year old), best karaoke singer, best photo (my brother won 1st, I got 2nd place), best dancer, polar bear plunge, and trivia winners. We were treated with a free drink before walking the "red carpet" and were interviewed. We then walked into the theater as if we were celebrities. That was fun! We received a dvd of the show later in our stateroom. I answered some riddles which were on the TV, and received a couple art prints, which were nice and suitable for framing. Brent Nixon, the naturalist was excellent. Enjoyed his energetic talk on Sea Otters.
This was my first time on a large ship. Our cabin was mid ship, and it was a long walk to anywhere all the time. I think I now prefer the intimacy of a smaller ship. All in all, this was a great cruise, very smooth sailing, and although a little rain, not cumbersome. As the comedian said, "You pack for cold weather, jackets, umbrellas, gloves, and then get upset if it's not sunny out!" He has a great point.