Background: We have cruised several times before, most recently on the Miracle in 2007. My wife is 39 and I'm 38. We left the kids at home for this trip. We booked the cruise about 3 months out and used CC to plan all the excursions. Since we were cruising without kids this time, we didn't feel the need to use Carnival excursions and we also used credit card points to pay for most of the cruise, so we splurged a little on the excursions.
Inbound: We flew nonstop from Atlanta (7.5 hours) to Anchorage on Delta in coach using FF miles on Tuesday 6/16. On the whole, it was not a bad flight considering the distance. We did get a free hot meal (shocker!) and free movies on the seat-back on-demand screen. We watched Benjamin Button (overrated) and Gran Torino (quite good). Unfortunately, it was cloudy as we flew in, so we couldn't get a great view of the scenery on approach to Anchorage.
Anchorage: On arrival, we waited for our luggage, and waited, and waited. The conveyor stuck so we had to wait about ½ hour, but we finally grabbed a cab and headed for the Marriott downtown (also using points). On the way, we made a quick pit stop at a liquor/convenience store to grab some soda and a bottle of rum for the cruise. The cab was around $25 with tip. After checking in, we headed out to explore Anchorage. We had a bite and a beer at Humpy's. I highly recommend the salmon pizza and halibut tacos. We finally got to bed around 11PM AK time (3AM at home). Anchorage was OK with some nice galleries and stores, but a little seedy after 9PM. The next morning we had breakfast at the concierge lounge (an unexpected bonus that our key worked in the door) and took a cab to the train station ($5).
Train to Whittier: After checking in our suitcases, we waited a while to board. You could probably arrive at 9:45 for the 10:00 train and not have any problems. The train was comfortable and they had plenty of snacks and drinks for sale - including some good coffee! I spent much of the ride between the cars taking pictures. We went through the tunnel and emerged in Whittier, in the pouring rain.
Pre-Cruise PWS Tour: We walked over to the 26 Glacier Tour boat and boarded fairly soon after we arrived. We had to switch from the PWS tour at the last minute because our original tour was cancelled. In the end, we were glad we took the faster boat. We were seated at a table for 6 with only 2 other people, both independent travelers, not cruisers, so there was plenty of room. I'd say the boat was about 2/3 full. We quickly made it about ½ the way up College Fjord and saw a huge raft of otters. We then were served a decent fried cod lunch while we went to the next set of glaciers (Surprise & Marjorie, I think). We got extremely close and I got a great calving picture. Because of the speed of the boat, it seemed like we spent a long time at the glaciers. We went to another set of glaciers and stopped at the bird colony across from Whittier on the way back. All in all, it was a fantastic way to get close to the glaciers. As soon as we got a few miles away from Whittier, the rain stopped. Of course, when we returned to Whittier, it was still pouring there.
Cruise: I will break the review down into daily highlights, then specific reviews of food, service, activities, etc.
Embarkation Night: We were able to board immediately after we left the smaller boat and our luggage was waiting for us (direct from the train station in Anchorage). We unpacked and met our steward, Gusti from Indonesia, who was very nice. I removed all the minibar stuff to make room for our sodas. We had a midship 7A cabin with an obstructed balcony, but the lifeboat was below the balcony rail and we had a clear view to the ocean from part of the balcony because we were between two lifeboats. We had this same category on the Miracle so we knew what to expect.
We went to dinner around 8PM and we were using anytime dining. This was only the second week on this ship for anytime, so I expected a few problems. We had no problems at all, and only waited 5 minutes twice, otherwise we were seated immediately. Anytime is set up on the left side of the Deck 3 dining room. I'll discuss the food and service in more detail below.
We sailed late because (as I found out later), some flights were late causing buses to miss the tunnel opening. I think we sailed around 10PM, but as we already knew, College Fjord is only a few miles from Whittier, so we basically spent all night going in circles between Whittier and College Fjord anyway.
College Fjord/Sea Day: We set up room service breakfast for 5:45AM so we wouldn't miss the glaciers. As it turned out, we woke up at 5:30 anyway because we were still mentally on Eastern Time. We sat out on our balcony eating bagels and cereal while watching the glaciers go by. We reached Harvard glacier around 6:15AM and we went up to Deck 9 and 10 to get a better look and take pictures. We stayed in front of Harvard glacier for about an hour. Michele, the ship naturalist, came over the PA with her sleepy NPR voice and gave some good info about the glaciers and the early explorations of the area. We were out of College Fjord by around 9AM, but still saw plenty of beautiful scenery throughout the day until we moved into the Gulf of Alaska in the late afternoon. That night was the first "cruise elegant" night, so no jeans or shorts in the dining room, although it didn't seem like too many people got super dressy, mostly business casual with a few suits and tuxes. The ship started rolling a little when we got into the Gulf, so you may want to be aware of that if you are prone to seasickness. We had no problems, but a few people were taking Dramamine and wearing patches, etc.
Sitka: As we were pulling into Sitka, I stepped out on the balcony and a seal surfaced right next to the ship parallel to our balcony. We arrived in Sitka around 8AM and after we anchored, the ship's tenders began to be lowered. As usual, we were up earlier than expected. I went to the specified lounge at 8:15 to get tender stickers and arrived just as the staff member came in with the stickers. We got tender #2, with the first one reserved for early Carnival tours. Our tender was called about 8:45, and it took about ½ hour to reach the dock. We tendered into the dock near the bridge, which is a couple of blocks from downtown. Our tour with Captain Davey wasn't until 1:30PM, so we decided to explore the town and make our way to the Raptor Center. We hiked through town and arrived at the Raptor Center around 10AM. We were just in time for a presentation by one of the staff holding a huge eagle that had been kept by the center because it could not be released back into the wild for some reason (I forget why). Then, we explored the exhibits at the center and received a private (because we were the only ones there at the time) tour of the flight rehab facility where they allow wounded birds to learn how to fly again on their own without human interaction. This allows the birds to be released back into the wild again once they have recovered. The Raptor Center is very interesting and well worth the entrance fee.
After leaving the center, we walked through the national park and saw some of the totems before heading back into town for lunch. We ate at Two Chicks and a Kebab Stick, a little trailer next to Ludwigs. The menu is basically great fresh fish on a stick or a sandwich, and it was delicious. Ludwigs was also selling chowder at a stand in the same area, so you could choose either one and still sit together.
We met Captain Davey at 1:30 at the main small boat harbor near downtown. There were three couples on the excursion; all of us were from the Spirit. The boat was small, but comfy. Make sure you don't have to use the bathroom on the boat, because it is a camping toilet that sits on the open back deck. We started off going toward the northern end of Sitka Sound and saw gray and humpback whales. We then crossed over to another island and saw otters. We made our way over to St. Lazaria Island, or "the center of the universe" as Davey calls it. There were at least 10 different bird species visible in various nesting areas, including eagles, hawks, and many types of seabirds. On the way back toward Sitka, we saw an otter sleeping in the water lying on his back. We got within about 10 feet of it, before he woke up, saw us, and dived under. We also saw seals and eagles on some rocks in the harbor. Finally, Davey took us to a quiet cove near the town, where we could hear just how peaceful it is in Sitka. We couldn't believe it was already 5:30, but since we were all returning to the ship, Davey brought us back to the fuel dock, which was closer to our tender dock than downtown. We were able to get right on a tender and were back on board around 6:15PM.
Juneau: This was by far our most action-packed day. We had a heli/dog-sled tour booked with Coastal for 11:15AM, but as usual, we were up early and off the ship by 7:30. We walked around downtown and bought some good coffee at Heritage. Some of the stores were open early, so we browsed a little before the crowds got there. At 9AM, we went up the tram on one of the first trips of the day. We had a wonderful hike at the top, although just a ½ mile because we didn't want to be late for our tour. We took lots of pictures and although the distant views were a little misty, we could see a lot from up there. We took the tram back down and thought we would have time later to come back up, although it wasn't to be.
Coastal picked us up on time from the dock at 11:15AM. We had a short ride over to the airport, where we found out that we were the only two scheduled for a dog sled ride at that time. After putting on our snow boots and waterproof pants and jacket, we boarded a 5 passenger heli with just us, the pilot and a dog musher returning to camp. The views of Mendenhall and then Herbert Glacier, where we landed, were unbelievable. Just as it seemed there was nothing left to see, the dog camp appeared in the snow ahead of us. We were taken on a 30-40 minute ride around the glacier with a team of 11 dogs. All the dogs were friendly, although one was a little shy. We were able to pose for pictures with the dogs and spend some time walking around the camp before we had to leave. The mushers spend the summer living 5 days at a time on the glacier with 2 days off in Juneau and cannot leave anything up there at the end of the summer, so all dog mess, human mess and dog hair has to be picked up and heli'd out. What an amazing tour. Despite the price ($450/person), we both thought it was well worth it.
We had lunch at a little seafood shack near the base of the tramway. After lunch, I decided to go ziplining, but my wife had had enough and went back to the ship for a nap. I had called both companies earlier and Alaska Ziplining had room on their 4PM tour. They picked me up on time. I was with a father and daughter traveling independently and eight dog-mushers from Mendenhall glacier, who were on their day off and had worked out a reciprocal arrangement with the ziplining company. The bus took us over to Douglas Island and up to the ski area. We had 5 zips and a canopy bridge. The distances were huge - one zip was over 700 feet long. The course was built about 100-200 feet above the ground in giant spruce trees. The tour leaders were very safe and entertaining as we made our way around the course. I was a little apprehensive on the first zip, but by the last one, I jumped off backwards. I even got a free beer at the end of the tour because all of the dog-mushers got one as part of the deal between the tour companies. The van dropped me off near the tram and I met my wife again. We decided to eat dinner on the ship rather than in town, even though we were in port until 11:00PM. It had been a long day in Juneau.
Skagway: We had a car rented with Avis, so we got off the ship and walked over to the Avis office around 8:15AM. They had promised to be open early on that Sunday when I called, and they did not disappoint. I had booked a car using the special code seen on CC, but the rate I was shown was the standard rate. I didn't complain, because after all, I'm not a travel agent. It was $106 for the day + tax, still cheaper than a train trip for two. We had a Corolla (which shouldn't really be a midsize), and left town on the Klondike highway. We were careful to keep our speed below the limit, especially in Skagway. Murrays Guide was very helpful, although I had read it prior to leaving, so I didn't use it as much on the road itself. We stopped at the Yukon Suspension Bridge (which is actually in BC) and I got a private tour of the facility from a "ranger" (actually a retired Canadian veteran). We were the first ones there after it opened at 9:30AM. It's a little expensive (C$19) but very informative with some great views of the raging river.
After the obligatory stop at the "Welcome to Yukon" sign, we made it to Carcross. We had some great ice cream at Matthew Watson's and wandered around the town. Not far past Carcross is Caribou Crossing, where we toured the museum and played with the husky puppies. We passed Spirit Lake and stopped to take pictures of Emerald Lake. At that point, we turned around and stopped at Cinnamon Cache, where we ran into our tourmates from Captain Davey! We split a great cinnamon bun and chatted with the owner for a while. Apparently, she is selling the place and moving to Whitehorse. Her husband died two years ago and it's just too lonely out there for her.
We got back to Skagway around 2PM and returned the car after filling up at the one pump in town. We walked around Skagway, but I was glad we didn't have too long there. It was very touristy on the main street and very quiet everywhere else. We were back on board well before the 4:00PM deadline.
Ketchikan: We waited until after lunch to go ashore, because we expected a long line at the gangplank for our 11:00AM arrival. Our tour was not until 3:45PM, so we had time to explore. We walked to Creek Street and then up to Totem Heritage Center. We decided not to pay to enter the park and just walked around nearby instead. We did some shopping using the free and reduced price coupons from the books we picked up in Whittier and then went to lunch at Burger Queen on the other side of the tunnel. We had great halibut burgers and a shake. We went back on board to drop off our purchases and then met our van at 3:45 at the rain gauge. We bboked a floatplane tour with Island Wings. We were driven to the floatplane dock (near Burger Queen!) and then Michelle and the plane arrived right at 4PM. Of course, who gets off the plane - our tourmates from Captain Davey again. I guess they read CC too.
We had a group of three joining us, so Michelle invited her boyfriend and her dog to hop on for our tour as well. We flew over the channel and out to the fjords. The views were spectacular, and I got to sit in the co-pilot seat. Michelle gave us the choice of landing on a fjord where bears had just been spotted or landing and going ashore on a lake. We voted for the bears, but unfortunately, they must have left by the time we got there. It was still very peaceful standing out on the pontoon in the fjord. She started to fly us back, but saw a possible bear on another shore, so we landed again, and this time saw a bear. We couldn't get too close because of the tide, but we all saw it through binocs and zoom lenses. She then flew us back (while eating her snack - so casual up there) and we were driven back to the ship around 6:30PM. We did a little more browsing in the shops and then headed back onboard.
Inside Passage: It was a cloudy and rainy for the first time since Whittier on the last day, so we didn't get too much great scenery. We just relaxed on this day - went to the gym, read books on the balcony (when it was warm enough), won bingo ($140), ate, and ate some more at the chocolate buffet.
Debarkation/Vancouver: We got room service breakfast so we didn't have to fight the early crowd in the dining room or buffet. I had tried to use the direct luggage transfer process for $20 per person, but Delta did not participate. We were in group 3 and called to disembark at 8:15AM. We paid for the Carnival transfer since we had an early (11:50AM) flight. We had a great bus driver, who gave us a narrated overview of Vancouver on the way to the airport. We got to the airport around 9:15AM; our luggage was delivered to the airport around 9:30AM; we checked in and went through US customs by 10:00AM; and we were through security and at the gate by 10:15AM in plenty of time for the flight. Our flight home was uneventful. No free meal this time, although I did get to watch ESPN as the US beat Spain 2-0 (for all you soccer fans out there).
Food: The food in the main dining room was OK, not as good as we remembered on the Miracle, even though the menu is essentially the same. I still love the vegetarian Indian entrEe on the first night. Maybe it's just good because the chefs are mostly Indian. The melting chocolate cake is still as good as ever.
We ate breakfast at the buffet (except the first and last day when we had room service). The omelettes were very good and the chicken sausages were delicious. We just wished Carnival would get some decent coffee on board.
Lunch was also buffet (unless we were ashore). We did eat one day in the main DR, and it was quite good. We enjoyed the daily Asian buffet and the Indian taste of the nation day, but the pizza was not great on this cruise. That had been one of our favorite things we remembered from the Miracle.
We ate at the Supper Club one night and it was as good as we remembered. It was also the night we were leaving Sitka and we saw several whales from our bird's eye view at the top of the ship. Definitely try to eat there one night if you can.
Service: Our cabin steward was very friendly and accommodating. We didn't have the same waiter any of the nights in the dining room because of Anytime Dining. I actually didn't mind that as a I got to see some different service styles based on country of origin. All of the waiters and assistants were good and some were excellent.
Entertainment: The cruise director and assistant cruise director were really funny. They have a morning show on TV where they go through the daily caper and make jokes etc. Definitely try to watch it when you are getting ready in the morning. We tried our hand at karaoke on this cruise and had a blast. In fact, it even lead to a spot for each of us in the Legends show (see below). I went to one late night comedy show and it was funny. We didn't attend any of the shows except the welcome aboard show and the hypnotist. I did hear that The Big Easy is very good and worth attending.
We went to the captain's cocktail party and the past guest party, mostly for the free drinks. They put on an extra ½ hour show for us at the past guest party, with one of the comedian/magicians. I thought that was a nice touch.
Legends Show: OK, for your patience in reading through this review, you get an inside peak at the Legends experience. If you don't know, the Legends Show is the passenger talent show on the last night of the cruise. After getting to know the karaoke host and some of the regulars, we were asked to try out for the Legends show. Keep in mind that neither of us can sing in tune. I think the karaoke host just needed some people who were entertaining and had a personality to balance out the good singers. Since no one else tried out for our spots, we made it by default. They gave us a package containing the lyrics and an MP3 player with our song pre-loaded.
The dress rehearsal was on the last sea day at noon. We reported to the Pharaoh's Palace and were introduced to the dancers who would be working with us. We then went backstage and walked through the introductions in order. I was playing Elton John and my wife was Madonna. They made us sing through our songs once (I forgot half the words of course). We were taken back to the dressing room and fitted for our costumes and then we were free until 9:15PM that night.
We met at the karaoke lounge and were taken backstage. I made sure to have a couple of drinks first, so I wouldn't care if I forgot the words again. We got into our costumes and waited for the show to start. There was an opening number and an intro by Chris, the cruise director. I was third in the lineup, and wouldn't you guess, I forgot the second verse again, but it didn't matter, everyone laughed along with me (or at me maybe). My wife was fifth and then we all went on stage again at the end to take our bows. It was interesting to get a peek backstage at the cramped area where the dancers and singers have to get ready and make quick changes. We were also given a DVD of the show and picture of the group as a gift for participating.
Overall: What a fantastic, relaxing trip. We saw so much in such a short time. I will definitely return to Alaska someday and see some more of this beautiful state. Read Less