Our 13 day Tour/Cruise Celebrity tour 15
Wow what a trip! Our first time to Alaska (and I hope not our last). We had the best time!!
Day One - Our trip began at 7:50 am in Orlando FL. We had a long flight to Seattle with a 1.5 hour lay over. When we finally arrived in Fairbanks it was 8:00 pm (12 midnight our time). It was 89 degrees, something we were not expecting. We were met at the airport by Celebrity's reps (very organized) and taken to the hotel, Sophie's Station. There we met our tour guide, Bryn, she went over everything that was planned for the week and gave us our room keys. We had a great room, "The Jacuzzi Suite". It was the best room we had all trip. By the time we went to bed we had been up 21 hrs. But wait it's still daylight out . . .
Day Two - We met our tour guide by 7:50 am and off we went to the El Dorado Gold Mine. On the way we made a quick stop at the Alaskan Pipe Line. Very cool. Along the way she pointed out points of interest and Alaskan history, she did this throughout the trip. El Dorado Gold Mine was lots of fun, we had heard that it was a bit too touristy but what the heck we were tourists. Between my husband and I we panned $10 worth of gold which I had made into a pendant. Back to downtown Fairbanks for lunch and to tour the town on our own. In the afternoon we did the River Boat Discovery. It was a 3 hour narrated trip down the Chena and Tannana rivers. We stopped along the way at different spots, like Susan Butchers Iditorod dog camp. Very interesting. Also at an Athabascan Indian Village. Also, very cool. Back to Sophie's Station where the evening was free to do excursions on our own if we chose. A very long but good day.
Day Three - On our way to Denali! We boarded the Wilderness Express at 8:00 am. What a beautiful train. The glass dome train cars gave us great views. We chose to have breakfast in the dining car, very reasonable. The next 4 hours we rode through some great landscape, we saw lots of birds and a moose, but we were riding too fast for a photo op. We arrived at Denali at 12 noon. We had two hours for lunch and to tour the town which wasn't very big by the way. At 2:00 pm we boarded a school bus (no other vehicles are allowed in certain parts of the park), to tour Denali National Park. It was an 8 hour ride. 4 hours in and 4 hours back. WOW! What a beautiful place, the landscape and the weather kept changing the farther we went it to the park. We saw lots of Dali Sheep, Caribou, but the highlight of the trip was a Grizzly Bear and her three cubs. Beautiful mountain ranges, but no Mt. McKinley, the weather was bad. We learned that only 25 % of the people that visit Alaska get to see the mountain. We got out of the park by 10:00 pm (still very light out). We stayed at the McKinley Village Lodge, it was beautifully set on the Nenna River, best night sleep up to this point.
Day Four - We had the morning to do any number of excursions of our choice, we chose to take it easy and enjoy the ground and walk by the river. One thing Celebrity does is keep you going. Some of the people on our tour went rafting and they loved it. Back on the Wilderness Express by 12 noon. Had a great lunch in the dining car. Again the scenery to Talkeetna was beautiful. We arrived at the Talkeetna Alaskan lodge around 4:00 pm. One of my favorite places. The flowers on the lodges grounds were amazing. We were scheduled to do a helicopter ride and glacier landing around Mount McKinley, but the weather was bad so it was canceled. We took a hike around the lodge and then walked into town. The town is not very big but very quaint. The TV show Northern Exposure was set on this town. The lodge has this beautiful 45 foot stone fireplace which is where we ended another great day.
Day Five - On the coach (don't ever call it a bus, it's not a bus it's a coach) by 11:00 am. We headed for Anchorage. Again the scenery is too beautiful to waste on a nap, and I did not want to miss anything. We made a quick stop at the Iditorod headquarters. We saw some puppies there which we got to pet, also for $5 you could take a very, very short ride on a dog sled (not really it was a ATV being pulled by the dogs) but it looked fun. Arrived in Anchorage around 2:00 pm. Again, we had time to explore the town before we got picked-up at 4:00 pm, to be dropped of at the Marriott. Very nice hotel in the middle of downtown overlooking Cook Inlet. Great view. We took a long walk (about 6 miles) on the Costal Trail, saw a fox, came real close to him to take a picture, and he just sat there, I was a bit shocked. Some other people told us they saw a moose on the trail but we never did see it. Anchorage is a very nice city but everything shuts down at 10:00 pm, coming from Orlando it's way too early for us.
Day Six - We were back on the coach by 8:00 am. We did a tour of Anchorage for about 45 minutes. Then we visited the Alaskan Native Heritage Center. We learned about many native cultures that are around Alaska. I was not much into it but most people enjoyed it. Then came the drive to Gridwood to the Alyeska Prince Hotel. What a beautiful scenic ride along the inlet, down the Turnagain arm and the Chugach Mountains. We arrived at the Prince Hotel around 3:30 pm, at 4:00 pm, we were scheduled to do an excursion, kayaking in Prince William Sound. Sadly the weather at Whittier was bad so we had to cancel, luckily for us we were able to do it the next day. The hotel is a beautiful resort set at the bottom of the mountain with spectacular views. There is also a tram that went up the mountain, which we took up a couple of times. The views from up there were breathtaking. There was also a very nice restaurant up there, we didn't get to eat there but some of our tour companions did and loved it. We ended the evening at the one of the two fireplaces the resort had.
Day Seven - We started the day in a rush, since we missed our kayaking trip the day before, we were able to do it this morning. A van from the tour company picked us up at the hotel and rushed us to Whittier. There is only one way in and out of Whittier and that's through the tunnel. Cars and the train share this tunnel, and if we had missed a certain time we would have missed the kayaking. But we made it. The kayaking was ok. We were expecting to see wildlife, but we didn't see anything but birds, plus it rained almost the whole time, but we had the experience. We would have liked to see more of Whittier, and we had the time, but since it was raining we decided to get back to the hotel. Back on the coach and on our way to Seward we stopped at Big Game Alaska Wildlife Center to get close up pictures of the wildlife we did not see in the wild. The drive from Gridwood to Seward was the most beautiful drive we had taken so far, we rode along the Six Mile River ( I think). We saw some bears on the side of the road. Very exciting! You could start to see changes in the landscape the further south we went. We stopped at a scenic spot so we could take pictures of the whole group, which by the way there were only 28 of us, very good number, everyone in the group was very nice. We made some good friends. We found a lady at the scenic spot to take our pictures, she took pictures with everyone's camera, her dog is in all the pictures. We also took pictures of our tour guide, Bryn and coach driver, Billy. Finally we were getting on the ship!
Recaps on the Land Tour Coming from the East Coast not only was the time change was a bit rough on us, but the constant daylight was hard to adjust too also. The first couple of nights it was hard to stay up so late, but we were told it is better to do that so you can readjust your body to the time change.
Tour guide--Bryn, (for those of you getting ready to take this tour) is the guide to get. She is young, fun and very knowledgeable about her homeland. She made the trip interesting and humorous. Billy, our coach driver, had great timing, he also had great tunes on the coach. He and Bryn work well together.
Food--We were on our own for food for the first seven days of the tour. Be ready to spend a lot of money. Food is very expensive, and we knew that going in, so we took lots of trail mix and protein bars so we could snack on. The best thing was the water. Coming from Florida where we have to buy water, it was the best tap water we've ever had.
Celebrity--The whole trip was very organized and very well planned. We were as busy or as laid back as we wanted to be. Lots of options for tour excursions on the land tour, more than I expected. The hotels that were chosen were great, we never had a bad experience with any of the rooms that we stayed in. One thing I loved about the hotels we stayed at was the they are very much into the environment, if you wanted to reuse your towel, all you had to do was hang it up. It saves water. The only thing we did not enjoy about the land tour was packing and unpacking every day. Every morning our bags had to be out either by 6:00 am or 9:00 am depending on what time we left that town. But it was unavoidable. I would do this tour again if Celebrity had someone packing and unpacking my bags everyday (LOL).
Alaska Interior--It was the most beautiful and spectacular place that I have ever seen. The flora is incredible, I must have taken a picture of every flower I saw between Fairbanks and Seward, but what the heck it's only film (no digital pictures for me). After all we packed 56 rolls of film. I hope we get to go back soon, there is lots of things and places we didn't get to do and see due to the time schedule, but we will return, (when we get the kid of to college) maybe in an RV. We went to Alaska with an opened mind, spent a lot of time reading this board, and everybody had only good things to say about it. We also knew that due to the weather we might not get to do and see certain things, so when we didn't, we weren't too disappointed, and going in with that attitude helped us have a great time. Now onto the cruise.
Day Seven - Before we got off the coach our tour guide gave us our pre-registered package, which included our room keys. We boarded the ship around 4:00 pm. Since we where pre-registered all we did was go thru security. We had our picture taken (smile) and we were on board. Once on board we got our champagne and we were escorted to our room (we've cruise before, and never have we been escorted to our room). I'm liking this. Our luggage was in our room already (very impressive). Peter, our room attendant was there to great us and to go over things with us, he was great throughout the trip. We were very hungry because we had missed lunch, so we headed to the dining room, which started serving at 4:00 pm. Great dinner. Back to the room to unpack. After packing and unpacking for the last 6 days it was nice to know our bags weren't going any where for the next 7 days. We did a small tour of the ship, and retired early. After all tomorrow is another day!
Day Eight - We finally get to sleep in. Yeah! We got to relax a bit this morning. At 11:00 am we were invited to an Anniversary, Newlywed Party. (Did I mention that it was our 25th wedding anniversary?). It was a nice gathering with champagne and wedding cake, they also had a photographer there to take our picture, it was short and very nice. Also at 1:30 pm, Celebrity scheduled our Cruise Critic get-together, bad timing, we were just about to get to Hubbard Glacier and everyone was anxious to get on deck, unfortunately we did not get to spend enough time with the group. Hubbard Glacier! What a spectacular show. We had a front row seat, we had a verandah room, but we also went up to the top deck to get the feel of the whole experience. The waiters came around with some hot pea soup in a bread bowl. Very cute. They also, were selling hot chocolate in a mug. The hot chocolate was very good, it was dark chocolate. Tonight was the first of two formal nights. Every one looked great, except I was expecting people to dress-up a bit more than I saw, still very nice. Tomorrow onto Juneau.
Day Nine - Juneau, the weather was overcast this day, but still very pleasant. We went up the Mt. Roberts Tram for a quick peak at Juneau from above, great view. Came back down and took a bus (five dollars each way) to the Mendenhall Glacier. It was beautiful, and by the time we got there the weather was very nice. We took a short hike to the water fall and got as close as we could get to the glacier. Back to town for some shopping and a stop at the Red Dog Saloon. We did the evening Whale Quest (through Celebrity). We were taken to Auke Bay, about 20 minutes out of town, where we got on a powered catamaran, very cool. We had a very nice buffet set up for us, something we were not expecting. It was beautiful, we saw lots of Humpback whales and a few seals, something we didn't get to see too many of. There was a naturalist onboard which made it even better. We had a wonderful time. Juneau was a nice port, would like to visit there with more time.
Day 10 - Skagway, first thing we did was get on board the White Pass Scenic Railway. Three hours of nothing but beautiful scenery. Everyone kept telling us to sit on the left side of the train, but it didn't matter because we booked thru Celebrity and the first three cars were reserved for Celebrity passengers and on our car there was hardly anyone in it. It was great, I spent most of the time on the observation deck taking pictures. Bring gloves because as you get closer and closer to the summit it gets colder and colder. Skagway is a very busy port, the day we were there their was three ships in port. It was wall to wall people which is not my favorite thing. We went in the Red Onion Saloon. My husband had his picture taken with the Girls. I felt like I was back in the times of Deadwood (a show on HBO). Not enough. time to do everything we wanted to do so we will have to go back, oh well.
Day 11 - Icy Strait Point, I think this new port was my favorite of all the ports. It's unspoiled by all the commercial stuff of the bigger ports (did I mentioned that I hate shopping?). It's a simple and beautiful place. We had to take a tender into port, which wasn't as bad as other tenders that I've taken. While we walked along the beach we saw a whale swim by, we heard it before we saw it which was very exciting. The trails there are not to be missed, they are incredible, so take the time to do at least a short walk through the woods. We walked about a mile and a half in to town, saw tons of eagles. It was great, you really get the feel of the people in the town. For you shoppers there are some stores very nicely done in a fishing village setting very quaint. By far the most true Alaska we had seen since we left the interior. Don't miss it. We left Icy Strait at 4:00 pm, this was the second formal evening. Very nice evening, the dining room staff did the a Baked Alaska Parade. Onto the next port.
Day 12 -Ketchikan, we got off the ship very early this morning, we were going to see the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show at 9:30 am. We had a blast! At first I did not want to do this show, but my husband said it would be fun, sure enough he was right, it's a family oriented show and the audience gets very involved in it, great show. In the afternoon we went snorkeling, yes you read right, my husband once again talked me into doing this great excursion. I've never worn a wet suite before, I had some experience getting into that wet suit, (I'm a bit phobic). It was beautiful, we got to see lots of star fish, sea urchins and something I never heard off, sea cucumbers. It was a guided tour and they were great, I highly recommend doing it, (by the way it was booked thru the ship). We toured the town for a bit and did some shopping against my will.
Day 13 - Inside Passage, we had breakfast in the room and sat on the veranda for most of the morning. The Inside Passage is a very beautiful and picturesque sail. We did all our packing early, so we could enjoy the rest of the day and evening without worrying about the nasty task. It was 89 degrees on this day, lots of people by the pools, no hot chocolate man today, only Pina Coladas. By the way I forgot to mention that every time you came back to the ship from a port there was a crew member with a hot chocolate table, a very nice touch, specially on those days that were cold or rainy. The evening dinner was spent saying good-byes and exchanging e-mail addresses of those we met along the way. Until next trip.
Recap The Ship - The smallest ship we have been on, it was the perfect size. It took us a while to find our way around (me longer of course) but over all it's a beautiful ship with lots of great amenities. We were very happy with all of the service that we got on the ship, from all the food staff to our room attendants. We were very happy with our room attendant and the service that he provided for us, we were kind of messy at times. All the crew members that we encountered were very friendly and courteous.
The Food - Excellent, everything from the main dinning room to the pasta bar and all the other buffets it was all very good. We especially enjoy the pizza and burger bar, many days we came back to the ship after lunch and enjoyed having those yummy turkey burgers. Oh, and my husband loved having ice cream twice a day.
Alaska is a beautiful and great place to visit. We are glad that we did the land tour before the cruise, because you get to see the true Alaska. The cruise was great doing it on the last week, it gave us a chance to recuperate from a very active week. Take lots of film, I shot 38 rolls of film, hopefully in the next couple of weeks I'll have the pictures ready to post.
Overall we had a wonderful trip, everything that we expected, and more. We had great weather, everything from rain, sunshine, cold and hot, everything you could experience. We met great people that were traveling with us. Celebrity treated us like celebrities. We would sail with them again in the future. You ask three people about the same trip and most of the time you 're going to get three different opinions. It's what you make of it that counts, for us, on this special occasion, it was the best. We thank God for all the blessings in our lives.