There isn't a place to write about Tracy Arm Fjord, so I will put it first. In my opinion, it made the whole cruise worth it. But be prepared. We were in the Fjord at 5:00 A.M. and to the glacier by 7:30. We only stayed at the glacier for one hour, and then left the Fjord, which took about 4 hours to cruise out of. If you like the outdoors and nature - and this is the reason you took the cruise, be prepared for an early day and a nap. IT IS BEAUTIFUL BEYOND DESCRIPTION.
Our room was ready at 1:00 PM, and though small, every inch of space was well utilized and comfortable.
The ship is kept in excellent shape and to be the age that it is, I think it is very nice. It is also clean as a whistle. It IS a smaller ship. It has to be to get in to Tracy Arm Fjord! If you want to be on a huge ship, the Alaska Inside passage isn't the cruise for you. As for vibrating, I did notice a little bit in the 4th floor dining room, but I don't think it will bother you at all unless you are VERY sensitive.
I heard from several crew members that the pacific ocean part of the cruise is most often a bit rocky, and on our cruise it was with seas from 3 to 12 feet. If I were prone to sea sickness, I think the rocking of the boat would have done it. IF YOU ARE PRONE TO SEA SICKNESS I WOULD DEFINATELY BE PREPARED.
Also, BRING A WINDBREAKER, GLOVES AND HAT OR SOMETHING TO PROTECT YOUR EARS. It's windy and chilly, so BE PREPARED because if not, buying warm clothing on the ship is very expensive!
Here is my opinion of the food and activities. I will start with the GOOD first.
DINING ROOM: The food was not consistent. Overall, it was good, but there were some dishes that I thought were marginal at best, and a couple I thought were awful (example, roasted turkey with apple dressing YUCK). My daughter had the same experience The service was absolutely FANTASTIC at all times. They go out of their way to remember what you like to drink to have it at your table and are funny and entertaining.
WINDJAMMER: I was expecting a lesser experience, but was pleasantly surprised. They even have fried eggs and an omelet station at breakfast that is pretty good. In the evening, they have a selection of cheeses, and a variety of meals. They have a variety of cereal, breads and pastries. If you are southern, you should know to stay clear of the biscuits.
I didn't eat anywhere else on the ship, except for room service on one night, which was passable.
STATEROOM SERVICE: Was absolutely excellent. Very friendly attendant who had a crystal ball to tell him exactly when we were leaving so he could come in twice a day and tidy up ... and the towel animals were delightful for my daughter, and even for me (a peacock one night ... VERY cute).
SHOWS: I heard several people complain about the shows, and I think it depends on what you enjoy. Personally, I had a good time at all of them except the last. I didn't care at all for the crew skit. I thought it was corny. I thought the singers and dancers were talented, and the comedians were very funny! We went to every show except one. My daughter is 14 and I am 49, and she liked the shows as much as I did. Nothing too vulgar, but some shows not for small children, so I'd check that out.
ONBOARD SHOPPING: Mostly overpriced, especially the fine jewelry and watches. If you're a drinker, they have some good deals on alcohol. I did very little shopping due to the shopping.
SHIP ACTIVITIES: WARNING: IF YOU DON'T LIKE TO GAMBLE OR BAR HOP, AND YOU AREN'T IN TO SPA TREATMENTS OR BINGO, PREPARE TO BE BOARD. OR BRING PLENTY OF BOOKS!
Oh my gosh was I ever board during the days at sea! I heard a lot of complaints about this, so I know I was not the only one having a time finding something to do.
The art auctions were, in a word, HORRIBLE! Most "art" selling at outrageous prices i.e. $10,000 and up (not much that was less expensive). Not much was selling outside of to collectors. Personally, I didn't think the art offered was all that good, but I'm no expert. If you are, be prepared for expensive pieces. But hey, they'll ship it to you!
The shopping seminar??? SKIP IT! It's a huge waste of time. The "great deal" on freebies for $30 bucks that is "limited supply" is ridiculous. The "lithographs" are nothing more than cheap color copies on glossy paper, and the 2 northern star pendants worth $50 each couldn't possibly be worth more than $5 bucks. It's just a way to hype stores that are owned, or backed by the cruise ships. The sales people in those shops were pushy and rude. Don't expect to just waltz in and get your lithograph without being pushed to try something on - after all, it's free to try on, right?
Then music activities are for 30 minutes to an hour - WHAT??? Yes, you heard me right. The bon voyage party - 30 minutes. The disco party in the Centrum - 30 minutes, even thought it was PACKED. Karaoke - 1 hour, and only three times the whole cruise. Not even enough time for everyone to sign up! There were lots of kids and adults who didn't get to try it out because there wasn't time! Dance music in the Shall We Dance lounge, 1 hour. I went to the Viking Crown Lounge one night for DJ music at 10 PM and there were about 3 people there. No wonder, who does an activity for one hour?????
The music in the Centrum was mostly classical music and almost NOTHING offered was upbeat. Slow and almost depressing for the most part!
GET THIS! Bingo, $22 bucks for the cheapest game!
Just about every activity on board is geared toward them making a sale. Spa seminars geared toward educating you as to why you need to buy a spa treatment.
The first scrapbooking session is free, but afterwards it costs. If you are a beginner, this might be okay for you. But if you have ever scrapbooked, just go get your free stuff the first day and be on your way. They don't have even basic supplies like a cutter or sharp scissors. And the old fashioned decorative scissors have been used so much that most won't cut an edge any more. The only adhesive they have is glue sticks like those used by elementary school students.
TEEN CENTER: I think it is a mistake to group 12 through 17 year olds together. It is too much of an age gap. My daughter had a good time, but I was nervous about it. She's 14 and from a small town, and there were boys (several of them) much more worldly and 17 years old in there. You'd think they wouldn't be interested in hanging with younger kids, but there isn't anything to do! My daughter was on a tight leash, and depending on your parenting style, I'd advise keeping a close lookout.
Bottom line, I was COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY BOARD STIFF on the "at sea" days. The most exciting thing I did during the day was go to the seminar Q and A of the crew members and Captain. Maybe they think you should rest between ports. Maybe I was expecting too much, since the cruise I took to Mexico was packed with activities that were FREE!
ALSO, it's too cold to be in the outdoor pool, and the indoor pool is for adults - so unless you don't mind chilly and windy, don't expect to be in the pool much. My daughter was in the pool in Seattle and in the hot tub a couple of times, but that's it. And she LOVES to swim.
We found a great store there called Fred Meyer and it's on the main drag. They had souvenirs that were much less expensive than all the tourist shops that were packed down with cruisers.
We went to the Shrine at St. Therese, which was just beautiful. Then we went to the Mendenhall Glacier and took our time, and hiked to Nugget Falls. If you have time, DO IT! It was worth it. I think the Glacier is just stunning, and we really enjoyed it. For us, a couple of hours here would not have been enough.
We also drove a pretty good way through the Tongess National Forest, which was beautiful.
It was overcast, so we did not do the Mount Roberts Tramway.
It didn't rain though, so even though it was overcast, it was nice.
We rented our car from Rent-a-Wreck, and the car, though a bit older, was in good repair, and we felt safe and reliable. It was an easy walk from the ship, and if we ever went again, we would DEFINATELY do it again.
BUT we have gone whale watching before, so that's the reason we didn't do that. If we hadn't gone whale watching, that would have been what we would do because it's almost 100% you will see whales!
Do your research and plan at least a visit to Pike Place Market.
One word of advise, I wouldn't go up the Space Needle unless I were going to eat lunch. If you eat in the restaurant, tickets are included - but beware - buying drinks won't do it, you do actually have to eat. It's expensive to go up, and for the price, I'd at least eat while I was there.
We also really enjoyed the tour of Seattle. It's a good way to get familiar with the city and figure out what you will be interested in from there.
We downloaded the Murray's Guide on the internet and rented a car from Avis. This was SO worth it. The guide was right on the money, and we had a beautiful day! We stopped at every pull out and took photos. I'm in to photography, so I didn't want a tour where I couldn't stop where I wanted to.
It's one road out, and just about impossible to get lost. Drive all the way to Emerald Lake and then turn around.
It's SO beautiful, with water falls, wildlife, lakes with the most beautiful water - just wonderful.
BE SURE YOU DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE AND TAKE IT WITH YOU. It even points out restrooms for breaks, and where to stop for lunch. We just bought snacks in town to eat along the way. But be careful. You are in BEAR COUNTRY, so you don't want to eat outside of your car.
I highly recommend this if you have time (we had 12 hours in Skagway) because the scenery is breathtaking.
We took the shuttle to town and then walked to the Empress tour, where we took the Grayline (best in my opinion) to Butchart Gardens. In my opinion, you can't possibly see it in under 4 hours. Especially if you enjoy gardens and taking your time to stop and look. The best in my opinion is the Sunken Garden and the Japanese Garden. We spent 5 hours in the garden, but we did have lunch there.
We had 45 minutes to hit some of the tourist shops before having to get on the shuttle back.