We had booked stateroom 6236 through AAA Miami Valley in October 2017 for $4123 for both of us. The cabin was a deluxe veranda room on the continental deck in the rear center of the ship on the right side (starboard). We opted for a $262 ... Read More
We had booked stateroom 6236 through AAA Miami Valley in October 2017 for $4123 for both of us. The cabin was a deluxe veranda room on the continental deck in the rear center of the ship on the right side (starboard). We opted for a $262 trip insurance that we didn’t use. We had to pay $500 down and the rest by June 24. We chose the prepaid gratuities (~$200 value) and the classic drink upgrade (~$200 value) packages as our free bonuses and also got a $50 shipboard credit. We could have selected the $249 Wi-Fi package instead of one of those. Excursions were optional and extra cost. Choosing to eat in one of the four specialty restaurants would also be an up charge. Choosing expensive top shelf alcohol or wine would also be n extra charge.
We signed up for “Select Dining” vs “Traditional”. Select dining allows you to eat in the main restaurant when you want vs having the set seating times of 6:00 or 8:30 pm. Traditional “set time” seating is best for large parties or if you don’t want to wait during peak dinner hours.
On the ship, we chose to purchase the ship WIFI service for one device for the entire cruise for $249. We were able to sign on our phones and iPads, one at a time, with reasonable network speed.
After we did the Celebrity on-line check in mid-August (we signed up for a 12:30 check from the 10:30 to 2:30 window), AAA was able to print out our travel documents that included an express check-in receipt and Celebrity luggage tags with our cabin numbers printed on them.
We flew out of Columbus, Ohio on Southwest Airlines taking advantage of their two bags fly free policy. Southwest requires you to check in 24 hours prior to boarding to receive a “boarding position”. This is where you will stand in line to get on the plane. There are no assigned seats. I hit the button online exactly 24 hours prior and was only able to get a position 65 back out of 175. On our return flights I got online about 18 hours prior and got 85th of 175. Kathy and I were able to sit together on all the flights although near the back of plane.
August 30 in Seattle, Space Needle, Chihuly Gardens, Museum of Pop Culture
We returned our rental car to the Sea-Tac airport and used Shuttle Express for a ride ($51 two people, reserved for 7am, but you can show up anytime within 24 hours) to our Homewood Suites (208 Western Ave. West) hotel near the Space Needle. We were lucky to be able to check in to our room at 9:00am instead or placing our bags in storage. We walked the one-mile to the Space Needle, Chihuly Gardens and Pop Culture Museum. We purchased City Pass ticket bundles for entry into all three places plus the Seattle Aquarium and a Argosy harbor cruise ($89 per person total). You have nine days to use the five admissions so we planned to visit the remaining two when we returned from the cruise.
The Space Needle ride to the top required us to trade our tickets for a “time to return” pass. Since it was not very crowded, our time to return was immediate. Great views from the top as well as a glass floor section that slowly rotates around.
The Chihuly Gardens were very impressive and well worth visiting if you are into glass sculptures. We had an excellent although expensive lunch at their Café.
The Pop Culture museum was right up our alley with sections on fantasy, science fiction, horror and rock and roll. Lots of props and costumes from movies and television. The temporary exhibit was about Marvel comics and movies.
August 31 Set sail from Seattle
We used the Homewood Suites shuttle ($7 each person) to get to Pier 91 and our cruise ship. We took the 11:30 shuttle and got there around 11:45 with a 12:30 check in reservation (it didn’t seem to matter what time we had signed up for). The shuttle dropped us at the luggage area where the bags were collected in short order. We walked to an entry queue where our express check in and passport was checked, then another queue for airport type security screening, then a really long queue where we were issued our Seapass ID / credit cards. We got on the ship about 1:00. Several workers stopped us on our way into the ship offering the drink package upgrades but they were not pushy about it. Since we already knew the Classic package offered all sodas. frozen drinks, Captain Morgan rum and Jameson Irish Whiskey, we weren’t interested in the upgrade to premium. We did end up paying an extra $2 for a couple of “premium” fancy drinks during the cruise. The premium drink upgrade cost was $12 a day per person and not worth it for us.
We were able to get food immediately at the Spa Café on deck 12 (healthy alternatives, tuna salad, salmon salad etc.). The Oceanview Café (buffet) on deck 14 was also open. Being so close to the spa on the pool deck early was a good thing as the spa people were circulating in the area. Kathy was able to book a massage at her choice of time for the next day (all day at sea). The pool bar was open and also the pool / hot tubs if we had thought to keep our suits with us.
There was a mandatory muster drill at 3:30, you report to the station number printed on your seapass card and watch a video on life jackets and what to do in an emergency. Our meeting place was in the Grand Epernay restaurant on deck 5. There were many signs directing traffic to the various stations. The briefing didn’t start until everyone had checked in.
The select dining option worked well for us. We walked into the Grand Epernay around 8:00pm the first night, gave our names and cabin numbers and were given a table for four within a few minutes. On our first night we were lucky enough to be sat at table 444 with Ramburn and Nadiia as our wait staff. They were a joy to talk with and really made our meals enjoyable. On the following nights we were asked if we wanted the same wait staff and we always requested Ramburn. One night we had to wait about 30 minutes to be seated (prime time around 7:00) but otherwise it was a short wait.
September 1 at sea
Clear to partly cloudy all day. Caught the sunrise and sunset at sea. Excellent massage for Kathy at the Canyon Ranch Spa ($209)
September 2 in Ketchikan Alaska, Rainforest Canopy and Zip Line excursion ($179 each), shopping for a Totem Pole
Our day in the rainiest place in Alaska started out in drizzle and overcast skies. It was a short 5-minute walk into Ketchikan from the ship and we had two hours to shop before meeting our excursion bus on the pier. We had some trouble finding our bus as the excursion ticket said “meet at 9:15 on the pier”. The pier was a mile long with three ships and a long line of buses. After walking up and down the pier, we finally found the person to direct us to the correct bus at the kiosk area nearest our ship.
We rode the excursion bus through drizzly Ketchikan on the 30-minute trip to the Rainforest Zipline / Wildlife Sanctuary / Totem Park. The driver narrated on the way, making special mention about how Ketchikan was the rainiest city in Alaska with rainfall measured in feet vs inches.
After we arrived at the zipline facility and totem park, we were loaded into a track vehicle that took us up the steep muddy road to the start point. At the start building there were real restrooms. We were outfitted with the zipline harnesses, hard hats and gloves and divided into two groups. My wife and I were in Paul and Emma’s group of eight riders. We got some zipline training and proceeded to the first short (35-ft) test ride. Paul went first on each ride and basically caught us. Emma snapped each of us onto the cable and sent us off then came across last acting like a wild woman. Riding the zipline requires you to step off the platform while steadying yourself holding onto a two-handed handle and letting the harness support you. You use one gloved hand to press down on the overhead cable to brake when Paul started yelling “brake” as you approach the end of the ride. There were seven zip lines of various lengths and three suspension bridges to cross. The light misty rain stopped while were zipping and Paul said we were lucky because the wet cables are faster. You can get up to 50 mph on the longest line if you ball up and keep your weight directly under the attach point.
I’m 59, don’t like heights and get a little vertigo looking straight down but really enjoyed the rides. I zipped a camera into my jacket and took a few pictures and video from the platforms as we went. We saw a black bear foraging in a stream 100-ft below us. Standing on the 150-ft platforms and having the tree sway slightly was unnerving as was walking across the three narrow (15-in total width) suspension bridges. I’m not sure why Celebrity listed the excursion as “strenuous”. There weren’t any flights of stairs or ladders to climb up or down. Walking the upward portion of the sagging suspension bridges was the only taxing thing, roughly the equivalent of climbing two flights of stairs. Maybe the excitement and adrenalin makes it strenuous.
After the last zipline, we repelled down to the ground, turned in our gear and were awarded souvenir medals. We had about 30 minutes until the return bus arrived in which we shopped in the gift shop, purchased our zipline photos (3 at $15 each) and explored the totem displays and animal pens. Rain started falling as we loaded the bus and we drove back in heavy rain. It was our good fortune that the rain stopped by the time we got back to Ketchikan and the rest of the day was sunny and in the 60’s.
I’d give the excursion a 5-star rating, the views from the tree tops were spectacular and the rides were exhilarating. Paul and Emma obviously knew / loved their jobs, were great fun and took very good care of us.
Later that day back on the ship, Kathy made a glass flower during the Hot Glass Show on the lawn deck 15. The two glass blowers assist volunteers to make flowers, ornaments and other blown items. Your choices start around $60 and are delivered to your cabin after they cool down for two days. You must sign up for a spot and they only work glass while the ship is moving, not while you are in ports.
We had clear skies and smooth sea that evening and saw a breath taking sunset and some humpback whales from the Solstice deck on 15.
September 3 – Tracy Arm Fjord Catamaran to Dawes Glacier Excursion ($209 each) and Juneau
We were up early on a lovely clear morning to have a full breakfast delivered to our room at 6:00am. Each day you can fill out your choices and hang the form on your door the night before. We ate on the balcony as we approached Tracy Arm Fjord. The ship television was broadcasting commentary by the ship naturalist as we entered. Unfortunately, we missed some of the scenery going in as we were assembled and waiting in the Grand Epernay for the catamaran from 7:15 to around 7:45.
Once the couple of hundred of us were on board the smaller ship, the Solstice left us behind and proceeded to Juneau. We were able to navigate through the icebergs to within ¼ mile of the Dawes Glacier. The majority of the glacier was a brilliant blue in the sunlight. We saw three calving portions of the glacier hit the water as well as some otters and porpoise in the calm waters. After 45 minutes or so, the catamaran left the glacier area and sailed for two hours back to the Solstice docked in Juneau. During that two hours, we got up close looks at a bus sized iceberg, a couple of glacier in the distance and several waterfalls. There were free hot chocolate, coffee and donut holes available throughout the trip. You could also purchase hamburgers, reindeer dogs ($6) and drinks.
I’d also give this excursion a 5-star rating. We don’t know how far the Captain was able to take the Solstice into Tracy Arm Fjord but seeing the glacier up close was worth the extra money.
We toured Juneau for a couple of hours but returned to ship for dinner with Ramburn. We didn’t like Juneau as much as Ketchikan, Juneau was much busier and less picturesque.
September 4 – Skagway Golden Glass Experience ($199 each) and White Pass Summit Train ($139 each)
It was another clear sky day although chilly in the morning when we toured Skagway. Meeting up with D in a well-marked area on the pier for the glass blowing excursion was easy. D was very nice and a pleasure to speak with. We took a short bus ride to the Jewell Glass and Gardens where we met Spenser, the glass instructor. Kathy and I blew a glass ornament, choosing our own colors and design from a large selection. You have the no cost option to add real gold flakes to your globe. The ornament and shipping home were both included with the excursion along with coffee, tea or soft drinks and a plate of pastries. We had time to tour the gift shop and the gardens before returning to the pier. If you like glass blowing, this was a five star excursion due to D and Spenser, but except for the gold flakes, it wasn’t much different than the glass blowing offered on the Solstice.
We had been on the fence about signing up for any of the White Pass Summit excursions offered by Celebrity. Train rides up and back were offered along with train one way and bus the other way. At the last minute, we decided to ride the 12:40 train only to the summit and bought tickets around 12:20. This trip takes close to three hours round trip and only stops at the summit long enough for the engine to switch ends then returns, there is no exiting the train. People sitting on the left side of trains swap sides with the right side people on the way down. There are toilets on each train car. They sell a snack box as well as souvenir hats / videos. Several trains run on the same line and some continue to the next stop for people to exit and take a road vehicle. The ride was interesting with some great views but a little too long. I’d give this version of the excursion 4 stars. Frontier Excursions, an independent company, offers an excursion that is train one way and a SUV ride the other with stops for photos and wildlife viewing that is a little less expensive. We would have taken that versions but it wasn’t offered the day we were in Skagway.
After the train ride, we only had about 90 minutes to get on a shuttle ($2 each) into town, shop and return.
September 5 – at sea
The return day at sea was not in the inside passage, so there wasn’t any land close to the ship. We used the day to rest up, watching a couple of the free recent release movies in our cabin and eating all three meals in the Grand Empery restaurant.
September 6 at sea and Victoria BC Canada, Butchart Gardens Chinese Lantern Excursion ($89 each)
It was another sunny day when we arrived in Victoria about 5:30pm. We walked though the customs building to a well-marked area with all the different excursion buses. No one checked our passports. It was a 45-minute bus ride to the Butchart Gardens, the bus driver gave us narrative on the way (and the way back). We were given our garden admission ticket and a Chinese lantern as we left the bus. We had about 2 and ½ hours to tour the gardens. We chose to eat a sandwich when we arrived. In hindsight we should have eaten on the ship and left more daylight time to tour the gardens. The Butchart Garden were spectacular. We had wondered if things would be in bloom in late summer, but we were not disappointed. A 5-star excursion for us as flower fans.
The Chinese lantern part was a complete waste of time, not giving enough light to help see and turned out to be just something we had to carry around with us. During the last hour, things were getting pretty dark. We had to skip the Japanese garden section because it was too dark to appreciate. We made sure we had 45 minutes for the gift shop.
The driver dropped us back at the pier and again we passed through the customs building without showing anyone our passports. We had filled out custom forms on the ship two days earlier so maybe filing those was enough.
September 7 - Disembark in Seattle, Seattle Aquarium, Harbor Cruise
We chose to self-embark in Seattle. This option required us to exit the ship before 7:15am and carry our own luggage with us. Our other choice would have us meet up with our luggage at the time and place designated by our cabin (around 8:20 at the theatre deck 5). We got off the ship without much waiting. I had scheduled a Shuttle Express ride ($18 each) to our Hampton Inn hotel (18850 28TH Ave South) in the SEATAC airport area (again 7:00 reservation but show up within 24 hours). We had a 15 minute wait at the very end the pier for our Shuttle Express after we checked in.
At the Hampton Inn, we were lucky enough to be able to check into our room at 09:00 instead of leaving our bags in storage. We used the hotel shuttle ($5 tip each) to get to the Angle Lake light rail station. For $6 each we purchased a round trip ride to the West Lake downtown stop near the Seattle Aquarium. The ride took about 30 minutes with 12 stops along the way. It was a short three block walk to the aquarium. We used our City pass tickets for admission. The Aquarium was worth touring especially since we arrived just in time to see the 11:40 Sea Otter feeding. Afterward we used our last city pass ticket to reserve passage on the 12:40 Argosy harbor cruise leaving from the next pier. While waiting, we had lunch at The Fisherman near the giant Ferris wheel that’s on the pier between the aquarium pier and Argosy harbor tour pier. The harbor tour was interesting but not spectacular. We saw the city skyline, a close up view of a sea lion, a navy dry dock and the giant cranes loading 40-ft steel containers. A good dinner at Dave’s Diner within walking distance of the hotel wrapped up our day.
September 8 – Fly home
We used the Hampton Inn shuttle ($7 each) to get the airport. We were lucky enough to get TSA pre-check and avoided a really long security line.
We would definitely recommend the Celebrity Solstice for the inside passage Alaska Cruise. The ship was clean, well maintained and the crew were friendly and helpful. They went to great length to encourage people to wash or sanitize their hands making us feel better about not catching something.
Our cabin steward took good care of us without being any bother. Our room was smallish but comfortable with the two beds pushed together to make a queen-size bed. We were able to unpack four suitcases worth of stuff without too much trouble, storing our empty suitcases under our beds. The bathroom was a little cramped but worked well enough. The shower was good with plenty of hot water. We didn’t notice noise from our neighbors much, just some loud talking on the balcony on the first day. The balcony was great. We noticed almost all their cabins have balconies that have two chairs and a table.
Our Grand Epernay wait staff of Ramburn and Nadiia was the stand out highlight of our on-ship experiences. We got to try many wonderful foods from a wide variety of choices and always looked forward to the meals. I really don’t know why people would want to pay more for the specialty restaurants.
We didn’t sample much of the entertainment options nightly. We attended the port shopping show (mostly advertisement for jewelry shops) on the first day at sea and saw a pretty good comedian on the last day. The variety acts and vocalists didn’t interest us nor did the lounge acts, we spent most of our spare time catching up with our brother and his wife. Having a selection of a dozen recent movie selection on the TV was nice. There were also even more recent movie selections for a $16 charge.
The casino was a good size with a good selection of slot machines and table games. I gambled a little most nights and ended up taking home some of their money.
The relaxed dress code for chic (formal) night suited us well as we didn’t care to dress up.
We posed for a few professional photos and ended up buying three for $20 each (digital download)
Spending the day before and the day after in downtown Seattle was really worthwhile for us. It eliminated the stress of missing the cruise or our flight home. The City Pass tickets saved us about 50% on entry costs since we used all five tickets. We were able to avoid driving and parking costs in Seattle by selecting well-located hotels and using the Seattle light rail system. Read Less