(I should preface this by saying I booked all of our excursions independently. Oceania's excursions tended to be large (think 200-passenger boats for whale watching, and full-size bus tours), and the ones we took were much smaller, which was nice. A couple of the excursions I booked were offered by Oceania, but I booked directly through the vendor and saved some money.)
JUNE 17-18 = EMBARKATION IN VANCOUVER, AND OUR FIRST SEA DAY
The Regatta is truly beautiful. Embarkation was pretty painless. We boarded around 12:30 and explored the ship for about an hour before lunch at the Terrace Cafe-- a buffet of small sandwiches and salad and cheeses with little pastries for dessert. We were unimpressed.
Made it into our cabin at 3pm. Unpacked and got settled. The cabin was larger than anticipated, which was nice. We had a good-sized picture window, and the bed is supremely comfortable. I had been warned the bathroom would be tiny, and it was indeed very small, but-- again-- larger than expected.
At 5:15 we participated in the mandatory muster drill. We took one look at ourselves in our bright orange lifevests, laughed out loud, and grabbed the camera.
We scrambled up to the top deck for sailaway at 6pm, and watched the Vancouver skyline slowly retreat into haziness. Some beautiful mountains and little islands on the starboard side. An hour later we realized that most everyone around us had been blown down to lower decks by the strong wind, and we followed.
A quick sprucing-up for dinner, and we found our way to the Grand Dining Room. We sat at a shared table with three other couples, and they all seemed very nice. Conversation was easy. (There are no assigned dining times on the ship-- you eat whenever or wherever you want. But if you want a table for two, you may have to wait a bit. If you don't mind sharing with others, you can be seated right away.) The food at dinner was very good. I had a cream of cauliflower soup-- yum-- and a salad, then Jacques Pepin's signature roasted chicken. It was very simple, but very delicious-- tender, moist, lots of flavor.
By the time we made it back to our cabin, it was 9:45. We looked through the newsletter of things to do for the next day, made some plans, and headed to bed. Slept very well.
We woke to a foggy morning and a rolling ship. I medicated with Bonine and did pretty well. I attended Terry Breen's introductory lecture on Alaska, and went to Waves Grill for an early lunch. I had a Cuban sandwich-- very yummy-- with a black bean/corn salad, and my husband had a blue cheeseburger, which he ordered I think three more times over the course of the cruise, so it must have been good.
The sun tried hard to break through and dominate the afternoon. I went to another lecture (on glaciers this time) while DH napped, and then I napped while he grabbed the binocs and went up on deck. He spotted at least dozen whales, but they were about a half-mile off and looked very small.
Dinner was in the Grand Dining Room again. We shared a table with another couple, and all four of us ordered the Peking Duck, which was tasty but not terribly authentic. Dessert was amazing-- a dense little chocolate cake with ganache and fresh raspberries.
JUNE 19 = KETCHIKAN
The Regatta dropped anchor outside Ketchikan. Our first day in Alaska. There were FOUR other ships in port here today!!! A Carnival ship, a Disney ship, and TWO Celebrity ships (which seemed unfair to me). Those big monster ships positively dwarfed the Regatta, and we had to be tendered in.
After a big breakfast (smoked salmon for me, eggs and bacon for DH), we tendered in and found the van which took us to the Alaskan Rainforest Canopy Zipline. It was about a 15 minute drive, and the van was packed-- although I think we were the only Regatta passengers. Everyone else seemed to be from the Celebrity ships.
The Zipline itself was awesome. I was a little nervous on the first two lines, but by the third one I was having a blast. Seven lines in all, with three suspension bridges. Some beautiful views to be had there in the treetops. I spotted a bald eagle in a nearby tree, who judged and sneered at us as we zipped by. H"Humans. They think they're flying."
The van took us back to town, then we were tendered back to the Regatta, where we lunched (roast lamb for me, fish and chips with "mushy peas" for DH). Then back into town for some walking about.
My husband re-christened Ketchikan "Kitsch-ikan," because it is so packed with chintzy T-shirt shops and an astonishing number of jewelry stores, all of which promise a "FREE PAIR OF PEARL EARRINGS" just for coming in to look. (We did not go in.) We quickly bypassed all the shops and headed up to Creek Street, whose kitschiness was tempered by its lovely surroundings and situation into a mountainside with a stream running through it. We took the tram up the mountain (only $2), and explored the City Park and admired the totem poles. We walked back down on the "Married Man's Trail," which claims to be the path beaten by Ketchikan's husbands looking for an undercover route to Creek Street (the historical red light district).
By 5pm, we'd seen pretty much everything that might interest us, so we were tendered back to the Regatta. Dinner was at Toscana, and it was excellent. We had a five course meal (which sounds huge until you see how tiny the little portions are). Carpaccio (perfection), risotto with lobster (which I found to be dry), gnocchi (delicious), salad, filet mignon in a Brunello reduction with polenta (nearly perfect, but it needed more sauce), and then chocolate ravioli and lasagna for dessert. Aces.
JUNE 20 = WRANGELL
We woke Monday morning to find the little town of Wrangell outside our window. Wrangell, although only 90 miles away from Ketchikan, is lightyears away in character and development. It is very small, with no tourist shops or attractions, and it was nice to see a thriving, working class Alaskan town. Children sell garnets they have mined themselves right by the dock (and apparently only children native to Wrangell are allowed to collect garnets from the old mine.)
After another fortifying breakfast, we walked off the ship (no tendering this time) to meet with our tour group. About 20 of us altogether booked a trip with Breakaway Adventures to see LeConte Glacier. We left around 8:30am and pit-stopped in Petersburg for an early lunch (another very small, untouched fishing town).
We spotted some deer on the shore as we passed, but excitement really mounted when we saw some floating ice. First just one little piece. Then another. Then a string of them. More and more as we went deeper into the LeConte fjord. Soon the icebergs were bigger than our boat, glowing from within with that unearthly blue (which we dubbed "Tidy-Bowl Blue"). One looked like Superman's Fortress of Solitude.
We spied a harbor seal and her pup on a small floe (everyone grabbed their cameras). Before the afternoon was out we saw dozens of those fat, whisker-faced cuties. Some looked alarmed and plopped right into the water at our approach, but others were more jaded. The best and most heart-breaking one was a little grey, spotted pup who swam right up to our boat all by himself (the engine was off and we were drifting). He looked up into our faces and barked at us with little puppy noises. Irresistible. I hope his mother found him.
LeConte Glacier itself was huge and impressive. Three-quarters of a mile across the face, and a quarter-mile high. It was hard have a sense of scale as we looked at it. We were still about a half-mile away from it (the ice was so packed in that our boat simply could not get any closer). We saw a couple of calvings. They looked so small and far away. But then about two seconds later we heard the thunderous sound of the enormous chunk of ice as it broke off and fell. It took that long for the sound to reach us.
It was cold there in the glacial field, surrounded by majestic granite cliffs rising thousands of feet above us, and we were glad of our winter coats and gloves. The faces of the cliffs were gouged with scratch marks made by the retreating glacier (who says you can't move mountains?). Waterfalls everywhere.
By 4pm, we were back in Wrangell and aboard the Regatta. We dined at the Polo Grill, the other specialty restaurant aboard-- it is was easily the single best meal we had on the entire cruise. We ordered five courses again, but were a bit taken aback when we realized the portions in Polo are larger than we saw in other restaurants. Erik thought the French Onion soup especially fine, and I savored every morsel of my lobster. We watched the sunset and spied some whales!
JUNE 21 = JUNEAU
Juneau what was outside our window? We woke to sunny skies and snowcapped mountains. Juneau may be the most beautifully situated city I have ever seen.
Breakfast (and yes, I had salmon again), then a van ride to the airport. It was time for our Level Two Glacier Ice Trek with Juneau Sportfishing. They outfitted us with some seriously bad-ass looking hiking boots, windproof pants and jacket, and harnesses. Then a helicopter ride.
Oh my goodness. I had never been in a helicopter before. Feeling yourself lift straight off the ground is like nothing else. We soared over the mountains, catching glimpses of shaggy mountain goats impossibly perched on craggy peaks. We saw four different glaciers from the air before we finally landed on the surface of Mendenhall Glacier.
After more gear distribution (helmets, crampons, and ice-axes) and more safety briefing, we began our two hour hike. It was very very cold and windy in the flat and exposed landing area, but I found it surprisingly warm as we hiked along the bottom of a small ice canyon, where we were more sheltered. Waterfalls and little streams everywhere.
My husband's favorite bit was a moulin (French for "mill")-- it's a weak spot in the surface of the ice, and gravity leads all the little rivulets to that spot. It's a conflux-- a vortex-- and you can see multiple streams of water coming from multiple directions all pouring into a single cobalt-blue ice chasm.
We spent $400pp for what was supposed to be a two hour hike on the ice, but we thought too much of it was spent standing around waiting for everyone in the 10-person group to take turns having their picture taken-- first in front of this waterfall, and then next to that crevass, etc. And the ice-axes were more of a costume piece, really, than a necessary tool. I wish we had done the Level Three hike and gotten an extra hour of ice time, but then again, that may have meant simply more standing-around time. The helicopter ride was thrilling, though.
We decided to spend the afternoon just walking around downtown Juneau. As there were four other cruise ships in port, the streets were choked with tourists. Crazy insane. More disgusting jewelry shops everywhere. After 30 minutes, we got the hell out and went back to the quiet and comfort of our cabin where we dozed the rest of the afternoon away.
We dined in Toscana again. My pumpkin risotto was utterly forgettable--- I think they forgot to add any pumpkin. Blah. But our grilled sea bass was very good. The white bean soup was okay; I've had better. The best part was an artichoke-parmesan souffle timbale with truffle oil on top. Incredible.
JUNE 22 = HOONAH ("ICY STRAIT POINT")
Hoonah is a very small uncommercialized little town at Icy Strait Point. We had the morning free, so we tendered in (no cruise ship docks here-- it's too small a port) and walked a winding trail through the cool and tranquil woods. We found a rocky beach and tidepooled for a bit. My husband found a starfish as big as his hand!
At 12:30 we met with the F.I.S.H.E.S. tour-- it's a small operation consisting of a man, his boat, and his wife who handles the money. There were only six of us on board. Captain Warren took us about 45 minutes out, and, armed with cameras, we looked for whales. And boy did we find them. (Or did they find us?) Several pods of humpbacks (although DH thinks they may have been minke whales) all around us. My favorite part was the sounds they made. Sometimes when they spouted, they trumpeted like elephants (or like velociraptors, according to DH). And our captain had a hydrophone under the boat, and we could hear the whales "talk" to each other underwater.
Three whales were swimming parallel to us, fairly close. Then they suddenly made a hard turn and went right along the stern of our boat. I mean RIGHT along the stern. We could see the markings and scars on their backs. We could have jumped out and landed on one of them. I stole a quick look at my husband's face. Priceless. He was covering his mouth, looking very serious and intent, but his eyes were shining. I will remember that moment as long as I live.
That was the climax of the excursion. We stayed out there for another 30-45 minutes or so, and eventually the whales moved on. We headed back to Hoonah, tendered back to the Regatta, and pored over all the photos and video we'd taken. My husband fought the brave fight and managed to get a load of laundry done. Long, long lines to use the laundry room. It took three hours to do a single load; there are only four washers and four dryers for the entire ship, and one of those was broken. Not cool, Oceania.
Dinner was in the Grand Dining Room. I went nuts for a quinoa/black bean salad (made with lime juice and olive oil-- so delicious), and DH savored his salad garnished with foie gras and slices of smoked duck. Entrees were Thai-braised pork for me (pretty good) and steak au poivre for DH (amazing). Another sunset promenade on the upper deck. Stunning, stunning views.
JUNE 23 = SKAGWAY
Our daily pattern had established itself. Up early, dress in jeans and T-shirts, breakfast on the Terrace (I always had cured salmon on baguettes with cream cheese, lemon, capers, tomato, and onion; Erik always had an omelette with mushrooms, chives, blue cheese, and bacon), then back to our cabin to gather our gear for the day: camera, maps, etc. Then we head out into the Alaskan wilderness.
Skagway is not very wild. It seems much like Juneau and Ketchikan-- too many jewelry shops (all owned by the cruise lines, we found out), too many stores selling "ALASKA!" hoodies embroidered with mooses (meece?) and tacky little Eskimo dolls. But we did not spend much time in Skagway. We immediately boarded the White Pass Train, a narrow-gauge railroad built to move men and mining materials deep into and out of the Yukon Territory during the gold rush. (It continued to run passengers and freight until the early 1980s before it finally shut down, only to reopen about 10 years later as a tourist train.) The views from the train were truly spectacular. We wound our way high into the mountains (DHspied a mountain goat and her kid on the bluffs), chugged past the hanging Carmac Glacier, and emerged onto the beautifully lonely and wild tundra of British Columbia. We disembarked at Fraser, where we were picked up by our guide (we booked through Chilkoot Charters).
Seamus (who sometimes introduces himself to folks as "James") is from Tuscon, but we could tell by his accent that he was born in Ireland. He is in his late 50s, maybe-- bald, and quick to reveal a crooked and charming smile. A brilliant storyteller. As he drove us into the Yukon in a small shuttle bus, he spun one yarn after another. We stopped frequently for photographs of jaw-droppingly gorgeous landscapes. Huge lakes created by glaciers stood as still as glass, creating perfect reflections of the snow-capped mountains above.
Lunch was in Carcross, a tiny little Tglingit town. My husband and I enjoyed playing with husky puppies and strolling through a taxidermy museum before our little group all got back in the van for the return drive to Skagway-- punctuated with more photograph stops and enhanced by more stories from Seamus, who encouraged us to make the most of the time we are given and to "eat the heart of the watermelon." It was a special day.
We headed back to the ship and resumed our daily pattern: chilling out in the cabin, dumping photos/video onto the laptop, showering and dressing for dinner. Back to Toscana. We got a prime table this time-- just us, no sharing-- and right by a window with a view of the Regatta's wake trailing behind us as mountain after mountain slowly faded from view.
We did break from our pattern at the end of the day, though. Instead of our usual sunset promenade on the upper deck, we went to the ship's big cocktail party. Lots of half-price drink specials, and several silly and fun little contests (like "guess the number of nickels in this jar"). The glittering climax of the evening was a raffle drawing (you got the raffle tickets from buying drinks) for cheesy prizes like Oceania T-shirts and casino cash. We did not win anything, but we had fun drinking, cheering on the winners, and drinking.
JUNE 24 = SITKA
If you put a gun to my head, and said, "Move to Alaska," I'd say, "Okay, Sitka." But I wouldn't need a gun put to my head; Sitka is charming. It is large enough to feel like a proper town, but smart enough to stay uncorrupted by the cruise industry. A few years ago, some developers wanted to build a dock large enough to accommodate large cruise ships. But the citizens voted it down. Only ships willing to anchor out in the harbor and tender in passengers come here. Sitka still has gift shops and jewelry stores, but in far fewer numbers than in Juneau or Ketchikan or Skagway-- all of which feel like "Epcot Alaska." Sitka savors of authenticity and hard-won prosperity.
No big excursions today. I will admit to being tempted by a local man standing on the the dock (dog at his side) holding a sign reading "Sea Otter Expeditions," but Sitka has enough history and character that just walking around town is entertainment enough (at least for us). We enjoyed the small museum at the National Historical Park, walking the totem trail, and tidepooling along the beach (no starfishes this time). It was grey and foggy and drizzly and chilly all day.
The Alaska Raptor Center was interesting. They rehabilitate injured birds-- eagles, mostly, but also owls, hawks, terns, puffins-- pretty much any bird native to Alaska-- and when possible, release them back into the wild. Not a lot to see here: several outdoor habitats for the birds, and one large indoor area, but I did not mind the $12 admission fee; it goes to a good cause.
We walked-- still in the rain-- back to town. We explored Castle Hill-- site of where Russia officially handed the keys over to the US, and also of where, several decades later, the first flag with 49 stars was raised, marking Alaska's official statehood. We stopped in a chocolate shop, and then tendered back to the ship.
We decided to stay casual, and went to the Terrace for supper. Tapas, sushi, a few entrees, and lots and lots of desserts. We put a serious dent in all those desserts.
JUNE 25 = HUBBARD GLACIER
A sea day. The big event of the day happened early: we went up into Yakitat and Disenchantment Bays to the Hubbard Glacier. Nearly the entire population of the ship was up on deck-- everyone bundled against the cold. We slid up into the bay and could see some small chunks of ice in the water around us. The big, impressive icebergs were pretty far off, so my husband and I felt especially glad we'd done the LeConte Glacier tour back in Wrangell. W e got within a half-mile of the LeConte; the Regatta stopped about twelve miles of the Hubbard. It looked pretty far away to us, but still impressive (the Hubbard is six miles long across the face).
By 11:30am, everyone headed back in for lunch. I curled up in the library for a read, and DH went to the gym for a bit. Then we watched a documentary about the Klondike gold rush, had a late lunch, and --- well, that's about it. All the activities on board were lame things like Bingo and shuffleboard (well, lame to us). So we holed up in our cabin and watched National Geographic specials (and I found some time to journal). Not much else to do, but having a day off was kind of nice.
JUNE 26 = COLLEGE FJORD
More of the same: another sea day, this time into the College Fjord. (We slept in, and opened our window at 10am to find we had already arrived and were surrounded by glaciers.) College Fjord is cool because you can see five different tidewater glaciers (and a few hanging ones) all in a single vista. Very impressive. We threw on some clothes and went up on deck for pics and video, then had some lunch (which served as breakfast for us). I had an incredible turkey burger with garlic-curry aioli. Juicy and turkey-y and so very very good. Best turkey burger ever.
I holed up in our cabin to watch a movie while Erik walked about a bit and got some coffee ice cream. We sorted through pics, and chilled for a bit. Dinner in the GDR.
JUNE 27 = SEWARD
Another port! Today we docked at Seward, but my husband and I did not see much of the town itself. Instead we boarded a small chartered boat (about 12 passengers-- booked through Kenai Fjords Tours) and went out to explore the Kenai peninsula. It was a grey day-- lots of drizzle. We saw cormorants, puffins, a handful of humpbacks, a few sea otters (one happily crunching on a crab), and some sea lions. One sea lion bull was especially majestic as he sat alone and enormous on his rock. The fresh blood staining his chest suggested he may have recently emerged victorious from a fight with another bull. As our boat circled him, he raised his head as though he were being painted by Holbein.
The dramatic landscape was full of craggy coves, tall rocky spires, and dark caves capable of harboring 18th century pirates. Cataract Cove was especially magnificent, with six cascading waterfalls crashing down all around us.
Some porpoises joined us for a bit, riding our wake. It was thrilling to stand at the bow, one hand gripping the railing, the other my camera as we sped along. I got video of the porpoises racing along beside us, just visible under the water, then breaking through the waves in joyful arcs.
The highlight was the Aialik Glacier. Either the Aialik is far bigger than the LeConte, or we were far closer to it than we got to the LeConte. Either way, it seemed impossibly large. I didn't know how to photograph it. It took my breath away. And it sounded alive. We heard creaking, cracking, pops, groans, whispers-- I was sure there was a beating heart and nervous system somewhere buried in that wall of ice. Our eyes frantically searched for the origin of each new sound, hoping to see where the next calving would happen. The suspense was wonderful. I could have stood there for hours, absorbing that sense of Presence.
The ride back to Seward was rough and choppy. I stayed aboveboard for most of it, so I could keep my eyes on the horizon and feel some fresh air on my face. The captain pronounced me a "good sailor."
Back on board the Regatta, we supped with all the CruiseCritic folks in the GDR. My roasted lobster tail was rather dry-- it needed more cognac sauce. But my husband had a beautiful steak and was kind enough to share a few bites. Drinks after in Martini's.
JUNE 28 = HOMER
Today was Bear Day. The Regatta docked at Homer, and we took a taxi to the K Bay Air hangar at the airport, where we were given thigh-high rubber wading boots. Then we flew in a Cessna to Katmai National Park (about an hour away). My husband called our plane "a dune buggy with wings," because we landed on a narrow strip of sandy beach, and then the pilot suddenly turned and brought the plane to a stop facing the water.
Katmai is remarkable. The topography is beautiful-- it is a wide open meadow of a place, with grassy knolls and shallow streams, ringed all the way around by distant mountains with hanging glaciers. And hundreds of Alaskan brown grizzlies make this their home. Because these bears have never been hunted, they do not view humans as a threat. And because the humans are required to pack out everything they pack in, the bears do not view humans as a food source. Generations of bears have grown up here not knowing about garbage dumpsters or pic-a-nic baskets, nor about guns and pepper spray. Humans, to them, are just packs of 10 to 20 animals who stand in one area for a while, and then walk a bit and stand in another area.
So it was amazing to walk among these giants. They were aware of us, but entirely unconcerned. We watched them graze on goose-tongue grass (12% protein!) and interact with each other. Two males shadowed a nearby female while they also kept a wary watch on each other. A mother with two small cubs worked hard to keep a safe distance from another female, who kept approaching. At one point we counted 20 different bears all around us.
Most of the time we were about 50 yards away from any given animal. Towards the end of the day, our guide led us into a shallow stream and told us to sit still. We knelt in the water. A few seconds later, a mother and her three-year-old cub suddenly walked out of the grass above us and onto the muddy flat. They were only 10 yards away. I held my breath as the mother knelt and took a drink from the stream. I could hear her soft breathing and grunting as she used her great tongue to lap up the cold water. The cub also drank, then went and sat next to his mother. They both lay down for a nap, with the warm sun on their backs and the cool mud under their bellies.
Our guide wisely observed that it wouldn't "get any better than that," and led us back to plane on the beach. We flew back to Homer. This excursion was VERY pricey ($650pp), but I have to say it was worth it. Truly once in a lifetime.
It was only mid-afternoon, but my husband and I decided to head back to the Regatta. T he next morning was Anchorage and disembarkation, and we had to have our packed luggage set out in the hallway that night by 10:30. As we packed, a friend phoned and asked if we'd like to meet for dinner again. The four of us had such a merry time at the table that I was surprised when our friend suddenly looked at his watch and said, "Gosh, it's nearly ten, and we're not packed yet!" (The bright sun was still streaming in at the windows.) We exchanged farewells and contact information, and my husband and I headed up to Martini's one last time. We took our drinks outside. The sun finally slipped behind the mountains at 11:15.
JUNE 29 = ANCHORAGE, DISEMBARKATION, AND GIRDWOOD
Last day. We disembarked in Anchorage, rented a car, and drove south along Highway 1 to Girdwood, a small town with a giant and posh ski resort in its backyard. We took the tram up to the top of Mount Aleyska and enjoyed the view, then went back down into town for lunch at Silvertip Grill. It was excellent-- a BLT with pesto and avocado for me, and a fresh halibut sandwich for DH. We chilled in the local coffeehouse for a bit and began to fantasize about moving there.
We continued south on Highway 1 to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, home to bison, porcupines, musk oxen, bears, moose, elk, reindeer, and many acres of empty habitat. We walked the loop deep into the property and passed one deserted paddock after another. We decided to hang out at the bear nursery pen and wait for a promised "Training Session," which never came. Our patience was rewarded, however, when the sleepy two cubs emerged on their own from their den. They were about a year old, and watching them play in the water and climb over things and chew on logs kept us entertained for quite a while.
The rental car had to be turned in by 7pm, so we reluctantly headed north around five o'clock. We pitstopped at Pepe's Turnagain House for a last bit of fresh Alaskan seafood (oysters on the half-shell, salmon, halibut), and continued on to Anchorage. The rest of our trip is boring airport stuff, and trying to sleep on planes and waking with stiff necks, and feeling like zombies the next day. I slept for a solid twelve hours our first night home.
We have called this trip a learning experience. I learned to always, always triple-check the details. We arrived in Vancouver a full day earlier than we meant to, and that cost us a very expensive and unhappy night in a posh hotel.
Alaska is expensive. The big ports (Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan) are so over-commercialized it's disgusting. The small ports (Wrangell, Hoonah, Seward) are so small that, while charming, you can walk around and be "done" in half a day. Sitka was the exception-- it was large and historical enough to be interesting in and of itself, but small enough not to feel overrun and Epcotified. The highlights of our trip were costly excursions on small chartered boats, busses, or aircraft which took us out to see wilderness areas and glaciers.
I think maybe a Mediterranean cruise would be more affordable. The ports there are established cities with history and culture-- places with enough to offer than you can do a self-guided walking tour and feel like you've gotten an authentic taste of the city. No, you're not going to see everything or feel like you've gotten to "know" it, but at least you feel entertained without needing to spend additional thousands of dollars on boat trips and helicopter rides.
Alaska is tricky. There are a lot of towns you can reach only by boat or plane, and Denali National Park is not car-friendly-- to really see it you need to backpack. But a vehicle would be nice for getting around other parts of the state. It would take a lot of research and planning, but a return trip for us would probably involve flying up there, renting a car and driving a good bit, traveling by ferry some, and then turning in the car and continuing by seaplane or train, and then maybe renting another car. Complicated, but rewarding.
The cruise experience itself was wonderful. It was very relaxing to return to the ship each day, knowing that the hardest decision we'd have to make was which wine to order with dinner. Not living out of a suitcase is very nice, and so is sleeping in a supremely comfortable bed. I think the biggest and nicest surprise for us was how much of the cruise experience involves meeting people. We got to know many different couples on the ship, sharing meals, lingering over drinks, exchanging stories, and-- sometimes-- actually becoming real friends.
Our chief complaints about the cruise were, in order:
-- INTERNET -- Painfully slow, and you get booted off once every few minutes, which is beyond irritating. If they are going to charge you an arm and a leg for internet access, they need to improve the quality. Or keep the same crappy internet and lower the prices. But Oceania ought to feel embarrassed to charge so much for such poor service.
-- LAUNDRY -- Only four washers and four dryers for the whole ship? Seriously?
-- COMMUNICATION -- We found out only the night before we arrived in Juneau that we would be in port there for a full day instead of only half a day, which was what O had published. Not the end of the world, but I would have planned our day differently had I known. And we also found out with only a few days' notice that disembarkation in Anchorage would require all passengers to be bussed to the Convention Center. This posed no great inconvenience to us, but it created major headaches for some of our fellow passengers who had made tightly scheduled plans in Anchorage. More notice would have been nice.
-- SERVICE -- Our first few days, we were frustrated by beverage service. Getting your water glass refilled was never easy, and one morning my husband had finished his breakfast before anyone finally brought his coffee over. But here's the thing: I mentioned this in the "mid-cruise review," and the next day I had the head waiter personally come over to our table to apologize. We never had poor beverage service again.
-- FOOD -- This was our first cruise ever, so I can't compare the food to other cruise lines. But I will make some observations. For an Alaskan cruise, there was next to no fresh Alaskan seafood. Florida lobster? Norwegian salmon? Cape Cod crab? What?
I frequently thought they were skimpy on the sauces. I don't mean garnishes, I mean dishes where the sauce is integral to the overall flavor. There ought to be enough to enjoy a bit with each bite.
The Regatta excelled at red meat, cream soups, salads, and Indian dishes. And the sommeliers were wonderful: quick to help, and never judgmental.
We loved our cabin, had fun at Martini's, and overall had really wonderful service from everyone. Warm, genuine smiles on the faces of the staff. Almost all the time. It was amazing.
We would definitely consider cruising with Oceania again. Maybe the Panama Canal. Maybe Europe. We'll have to wait and see. But I'm pretty sure our next vacation will be a camping trip. :)