Boarding the ship and check-in was a breeze. No lines, no hassles and we got our ID cards along with our champagne. Lunch around the pool area was salads, burgers and dogs. The was open and since this was an cruise without additional cost for alcohol, a few people tried and succeeded in drinking multiple days worth of booze in one sitting before being admitted into their suites.
The suites are huge. The walk-in closet and the nearly standard sized bathroom were just great. The staff was there to introduce themselves and the orders for the refrigerator stocks were placed – all very efficient. The event of having everyone around the ship go into the hallways and have a ship-wide cocktail and welcome party was a great ice breaker. The captain and principal members of the crew came to us and introduced themselves – a very nice touch. We spent more than an hour getting to know our neighbors, before the dreaded, mandatory safety muster. We were also able to get a load of laundry done and iron all of our clothes that were now unpacked.
Departure from Vancouver was on time and the ride out of the harbor afforded many great views of the city and Stanley Park. Exhausted from a day of walking Vancouver and being a bit tipsy, we decided to get a pizza and other snacks delivered to the room. The serviced was prompt and the food well prepared. The days are very long during June and we were off for a cruise day along the Inside Passage. Early in the morning of our first day, we had breakfast delivered to the room (which arrived exactly as advertised and was well prepared) and went to the spa to workout. Noble, the health program manager, was fantastic. We signed up for personal training sessions and multiple workout regimes that were offered. The spa had plenty of equipment and treatment rooms along with steam and sauna rooms proved to be invaluable throughout the cruise.
After breakfast and an hour on gym machines, we spotted our first pod of humpback whales and later that morning dolphins riding the wake of the ship. Alaska weather is mostly wet and 60 degrees, so the views from the ship on the cruise day were limited by the cloud cover. Buffet lunch in La Veranda was nice because we were able to sit above the stern and the wind was not an issue on the overcast day. Also, large overhead space heaters kept things nice and cozy on the deck for lunch. The buffet choices were small compared to cruises we have had with Crystal and Azamara, but it met our needs. Service at the tables was impeccable as it was the day before around the pool. We spent a quiet day cruising and playing bingo along the Inside Passage and enjoyed dinner (from the menu) in the Compass Rose main dining room where we met fellow cruisers at our open table. The service, preparation, presentation and quality were comparable to Azamara. Portions were correct and unlimited alcohol was available. The sommelier visited our table more than once to attend to our needs. Our evening meal was capped off with cordials and another display from a pod of humpback whales. We were not interested in the evening activities and were able to review our planned activities for first port, Ketchikan, from the TV and the delivered, printed materials in our room.
After our workout in the gym in the morning, the Compass Rose restaurant was the place for a quiet breakfast where they even asked what level of doneness I wanted for my poached eggs. In my 60 years of ordering poached eggs, I have never been asked that question. Needless to say, they came out exactly as I requested. The first “free” excursion we took was the Lumberjack Show. We knew it would be corny and it was. It was fun just to sit and admire their skills, while laughing at their set-up jokes. Sometimes it is just good to let your pretentiousness down and laugh like a loon over corny jokes. Rain is the most abundant item in Ketchikan with over 200 inches having fallen in the season so far, so hiding out in bars and jewelry stores is a favorite pastime of visitors. We had lunch by the pool again with service that was first rate and courteous – burgers, fries and dogs. We can’t beat that for simple and good. Our second “free” excursion was a seaplane ride to Misty Fjord. The plane flies low and close to the scenery and then lands in the fjord. We were able to walk on the pontoons of the plane before returning to Ketchikan. It was well narrated by the pilot and a beautiful trip.
We departed out of Ketchikan about 4 pm and had dinner delivered to the room where we spent five hours admiring the serene and near glass-like water conditions of the cruise north. Delicious chicken and salad dishes were prepared to our request and a bottle of wine finished off the evening. The rain went away and the sun reflected off the water like a mirrored surface. Picture postcard views from our balcony caused us to skip the evening entertainment for the second night. When Mother Nature is putting on a show, man made entertainment cannot compete.
As we travel north to Juneau, we placed our breakfast order for a 6:30 delivery. It was on time and perfect. Our first “paid” excursion was a Wildlife Quest catamaran trip to the Tracy Fjord that met alongside the cruise ship to transfer passengers. The Navigator continued into Juneau while we took the side trip and caught up to the main group in six hours. The Catamaran took us to the North and South Sawyer Glaciers. We saw seals, whales and bald eagles. Many beautiful icebergs were in the Fjord. We got right up the face of the glacier and watched calving. It was one of the highlight excursions of the cruise. Once in Juneau, we took a Mendenhall Glacier and Evening Whale watching (paid) tour. Our guide, Diane, from Gastineau Guiding, was very informative as we did a short wilderness walk at the glacier. Later, we boarded a speedy boat and went looking for whales. The captain found about eight adult Humpbacks and one baby Humpback feeding. We had a wonderful time watching them breach and dive. We also saw seals and bald eagles. We got back on the ship around 9 pm and had room service for dinner on our balcony as we departed Juneau to a wonderful sunset, skipping the evening entertainment in the Lounge.
The cruise into Skagway is beautiful and should not be missed. Once again, we ordered breakfast for early delivery after a workout at the gym. We took the “free” White Pass train ride and it was spectacular. Many beautiful vistas along the way and we got to learn about the Yukon gold rush and all the hardships of the men who tried to get rich from the fields (some 500 miles away). We saw a mother bear and two little cubs right next to the tracks near the summit. We even saw the original Yukon trail which is still intact at the pass. We grabbed a quick hamburger lunch in the Compass Rose restaurant and it was delicious. The staff was great. We took an afternoon “free” walking tour through Skagway that explained the bawdy times of the madams and hookers of the gold rush times. Our departure out of Skagway was gorgeous, we spent hours on our balcony with champagne as the weather was warm and we had a late dinner at Compass Rose. Every seat at every table was taken and the staff performed impeccably. Our meal was served perfectly and prepared as we requested. The entire staff from the sommelier, head waiter, busboys and waiter visited our table and exchanged pleasantries, even though the place was packed, they all took time to visit and chat with all the tables. It was a very impressive performance by the professionals of the Compass Rose both in the kitchen and in the room. We chose not to attend the Cirque at the evening show, because we were going strong for about 16-18 each day and needed to catch up on some sleep.
We arrived at Sitka. After a workout and steam at the spa, we had breakfast at the pool area. We enjoyed champagne and mimosas for breakfast as a reward for good health practices. We took a “free” sea otter boat trip and saw hundreds of sea otters, a bear along the beach, bald eagles, California Gray whale adults & newborns and a few adult Humpback whales feeding. Overall, this excursion was really very good. We docked at the ship landing at Sitka. We had lunch at an Italian place in Sitka. That afternoon, we took another “free” tour. This was a boat that had viewing windows below deck. It was a total waste of time. The water is green murky and one cannot see anything in the water. We left Sitka and ate in our room with service brought to our balcony. We enjoyed the warm climate until sunset, once again getting rid of two bottles of champagne.
The final “port” before disembarking was Glacier Bay where we saw the Hubbard Glacier. It is a very pretty entrance to the bay and we had morning workout and then breakfast in our room with a bottle of champagne. We spun around the Hubbard Glacier and took photos. It is not as impressive as the Sawyer or Mendenhall Glaciers since you can’t get close and it does not “calf” large chunks of ice. The day was quite chilly and overcast so we mostly stayed indoors and watched a number of on-demand movies on the TV. In the evening, we ate at the specialty restaurant on board and had a wonderful meal expertly prepared and professionally served. After a few night caps, we slept until we disembarked at Seward at 7am. There are a number of ways to get to Anchorage from Seward. We chose a private taxi service; PJ’s Taxi and Renee provided us lots of interesting side trips on our way to the airport. The bus from the ship gets you to the airport around 11:30 am and the train gets there later. The prices are not reasonable for any of the three options, so pricing all the options is a smart thing to do.