Regatta Cruise Review by dlb237: Alaska the Beautiful
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Alaska the Beautiful
We booked our own flight - United non-stop from Boston to San Francisco. I fly enough on United that I can reliably get Economy Plus seats w/extra legroom (nice!).
We have family in Silicon Valley and hence used an airport hotel from which it was easy to visit them and get to downtown SF, Marriott's Fairfield Inn in Millbrae. We recommend this hotel, as unlike many SFO airport hotels, it's in a neighborhood with interesting (mostly Asian) restaurants nearby - many other hotels are isolated between 101 and the Bay south of the airport. The Millbrae BART/Caltrain station is within walking distance - no waiting for the hotel shuttle. We found a good Vietnamese restaurant close to the hotel for dinner after we arrived (La Petite Camille). This hotel was originally built as a Comfort Suites, so the rooms are small suites - the hotel did a fine job and we will likely stay there again.
Embarkation in San Francisco can be easy if one plans ahead. We went into SF the day More before on Caltrain and rented a car from an Enterprise location near the cruise terminal (pier 35). On embarkation day, we had lunch with my family and then drove into SF. I-280 becomes the Embarcadero and goes right by the pier. We dropped our luggage off with a porter, and returned the rental car. Enterprise then happily drove us back to the pier and dropped us off right at the front door. Check in at the pier and on-board (Regatta lounge) was quick. Unfortunately, the HVAC in Horizons was turned off, causing cigarette smoke to infest the entire lounge; we wound up waiting for our cabins in the Library. Smoke in Horizons was a recurring problem during the cruise - Oceania's head office in Miami is going to get a blunt letter from us about this problem, as afflicted Horizons at multiple times throughout the cruise, keeping us out of that area, as DW is physically allergic to tobacco smoke.
Our B2 balcony cabin worked out very well - while we didn't spend much time out on the balcony, the wall of glass provided wonderful views of Alaska, much better than through smaller windows in the C oceanview cabins. Regatta's recent renovation resulted in much better beds, a headboard that one can comfortably lean against, useful bedside reading lights, and usable bedside tables (the stupid lamps built into the center of the tabletops are gone!) - big improvements, well done Oceania! Regatta's a relatively small ship, and wasn't full - about 550 passengers (full capacity would be 684). We don't know where those 100+ missing people were, but they missed a spectacular Alaska cruise.
Getting to Alaska took several days (two at-sea days, plus a port day in Astoria, Oregon). Departure from San Francisco was in picture-postcard-perfect weather - sailing under the Golden Gate bridge was spectacular, and the best views were from the terrace in the rear (!). The sea was a bit choppy, especially the first night out, but by the afternoon of the third day, we had the Queen Charlotte Islands (officially Haida Gwaii) between the ship and the Pacific, and all was calm. The next morning we awoke and the view out the windows was clearly Alaska.
The timing and weather in Alaska were near perfect. Around Memorial Day, all the peaks in Alaska still had snow on them, and the snow-melt resulted in waterfalls down their sides in places. Despite predictions of rain, it was clear for almost the entire cruise. In fact, it was very clear - one could see the Chilkat mountains to the north of Juneau from Mt. Roberts, a sight that locals said is rare!
Details on ports are in the port reviews below, but here's a summary:
- Astoria, Oregon. Interesting place to break the journey north. We liked the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
- Wrangell, Alaska. A working fishing town, real Alaska, including a visit from the state ferry (blue canoe). The chief's house was interesting, Petroglyph Beach wasn't.
- Juneau, Alaska. Spectacular weather for the Mt. Roberts tram and Mendenhall Glacier.
- Icy Strait Point (Hoonah) Alaska. For a port built for the cruise business this was surprisingly well done. Great whale watching with Allen Marine.
- Hubbard Glacier. Unfortunately, the spectacular weather increased the glacier's calving; we couldn't get as close as we would have liked to.
- Sitka, Alaska. Great wildlife watching with Allen Marine including an active totem pole carver's studio in the visitor's center
- Ketchikan, Alaska. It had to happen, we finally got rained on. Make sure to get out of town - downtown Ketchikan is starting to resemble a Caribbean cruise port. There are interesting totem poles at Totem Bight Park and the Totem Heritage Center
- Victoria, BC. Butchart Gardens and the Royal BC Museum are both wonderful must-see attractions.
The ship's shore excursions were generally good, but not cheap - we had a lot of use-it-or-lose-it shipboard credit that we mostly used for shore excursions. As noted above, Allen Marine ran two very good wildlife watching excursion cruises.
Service on-board was up to Oceania's usual fine standards. The food was still very good, particularly in Toscana (we're not steakhouse people, so we don't eat in the Polo Grill). The inclusion of the next day's Grand Dining Room menu in Currents (nightly newsletter) was very helpful in determining where to eat - we wound up eating more in the GDR than on past cruises. Portion sizes seem to have been reduced somewhat but are still generous. There was fresh locally caught fish available for dinner starting after we got to Juneau - tasty! Oceania's sorbets are still excellent, particularly the chocolate (yes, sorbet!) and mango. As usual, afternoon tea was amazing - this is where the pastry chefs show off.
Entertainment was a diversion in the evening, and a bit inconsistent. We started the cruise with a fabulous singer who was an original Christine in one of the Phantom of Opera traveling companies . OTOH, we didn't bother with the pianist, and thought the comic magician was OK (the one on our previous cruise was much better). The concert guitarist put on a nice show, albeit to recorded accompaniment rather than live. In contrast, the ship's entertainment staff were all talented singers, and their show on the last night was a tour de force. The string quartet was pleasant to listen to, particularly during afternoon tea and when playing in the atrium area before dinner.
Disembarkation in Vancouver was at the Canada Place cruise terminal. This took a while, in part because the luggage with the Yellow 1 and Yellow 3 luggage tags had gotten slightly mixed up in the luggage claim area, plus the terminal is a large facility. Eventually we made our way out and took a taxi to the airport Hilton, where our room was ready and waiting. That worked well - the hotel is convenient to the Canada Line rapid transit to go downtown and has a shuttle directly to the airport. On the day we went home, United had weather problems in Chicago and had already re-booked us via Denver by the time we got to the airport. The trip home was routine, and Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounge in the YVR airport was a nice convenient place to wait for a flight.
All-in-all, it was a wonderful cruise, and we'd do it again if we could. Unfortunately, Regatta's not going to Alaska next year, so we'll probably be on her Panama Canal cruise over Memorial Day.
The following two port reviews are here because Astoria and Wrangell aren't on Cruise Critic's port list.
-- Port Review: Astoria, Oregon --
This was a pleasant place to break what would otherwise be a long stretch at sea between San Francisco and Alaska. There's a trolley along the waterfront, but no overhead wires - it tows its own diesel generator on a trailer. The main attraction in town is the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which is focused on the history of navigating the mouth (bar) of the Columbia River - we had no idea how dangerous this could get or the skill required of the pilots, but on sailing away, we noticed a small fishing boat bobbing in the bar area on an otherwise relatively calm day.. Not many ships call in Astoria, and the locals seemed genuinely pleased to see us.
-- Port Review: Wrangell, Alaska --
This was our first port of call in Alaska, and we didn't arrive until mid-day making for a spectacular morning of sailing through straits with forested hills and snow-capped peaks in the background. Wrangell is a small working fishing port, so there's not much there. The local historical museum and Chief Shakes house were definitely worth visiting. On the other hand, Petroglyph Beach was disappointing - the reproduction petroglyphs in the overlook area were better than the real ones on the beach. To see a stunning collection of real petroglyphs, go to the Royal BC museum in Victoria. A nearby garnet deposit with large garnet crystals has been left to the children of the area, and hence there are plenty of children selling garnets, both loose and in the original stone matrix. Late in the day, an Alaska State Ferry (blue canoe) arrived, and left at the same time as Regatta, making for lovely views of the ferry against the mountains of southeast Alaska. This was a nice half-day introduction to Alaska before going on to Juneau. Less
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Cabin review: B26018
On the small side, including a tiny bathroom, like all cabins below the penthouse level on Regatta. Convenient location near the front stairs/elevators.
Port and Shore Excursions
We went on a whale watching excursion with Allen Marine (their catamarans are bigger than other tour boats, and more stable). This was wonderful - we saw lots of whales, including a baby humpback that was repeatedly spy-hopping (head rose out of the water to have a look around) with the occasional breach (jumped completely out of the water). The baby humpback and his mother were one of at least a dozen whales that we saw, along with a sea otter or two and a few bald eagles. I walked down the road to Hoonah (local town) late in the day, and watched the local bald eagle glide in and out of the trees.
We took a ship's tour to Mendenhall Glacier that included stops at the state historical museum, a fish hatchery and a nature walk through the woods. The Mendenhall glacier was spectacular, even from the visitor center. Having a dedicated bus with a knowledgeable and cheerful driver made a big difference; we learned a lot from his narrative between the sites. The immediate area around the docks is getting overrun with shops that cater to cruise passengers, but this is only in the immediate area of the docks.
One of the local shops that is genuine is a chocolate shop (they make their own chocolates, in more varieties than we thought existed) called KetchiCandies; some of their chocolates were a very tasty souvenir. Their specialty is chocolate-covered Oreos, including mint Oreos (decadent!).
Sitka has managed to resist the onslaught of cruise-oriented stores; the town still has a genuine historical feel to it, and most of the stores are run by locals.
The restored Russian Orthodox bishops house (part of the national park) was interesting to visit, and the rest of the park (far end of town) has a very nice collection of totem poles in a woodland setting along with an active totem pole carver's shop in the visitors center. There's a recently carved pole outside the visitors center commemorating the history of the park, including an image of a buried Russian claim plate (claiming the land for the Russian Czar) that was found in Sitka.
Butchart Gardens is a justifiably famous set of landscaped gardens that started out on the site of a worked out quarry and spread into the adjacent estate of the quarry owner. It was late spring, and lots of things were in bloom; the sheer variety of plants and landscaping styles is impressive, and they have their own dancing fountains at one end of the former quarry. There are regular tour buses from the harbor area to Butchart Gardens, and buying the tickets directly from the bus operator allows one to vary the amount of time spent at the gardens, because the buses run throughout the day.
The Royal BC museum has a lot of interesting exhibits, but their collection of First Nations material is spectacular. They also have a nice walk through reconstruction of turn-of-the-century town storefronts, a cannery, etc.