I'm a well traveled person used to higher end accommodations, but new to cruising. My wife and I decided to upgrade to a suite class and at the last minute spent the extra on a Celebrity Suite vs. the Sky Suite. Great ... Read More
I'm a well traveled person used to higher end accommodations, but new to cruising. My wife and I decided to upgrade to a suite class and at the last minute spent the extra on a Celebrity Suite vs. the Sky Suite. Great decision - I'll tell you why below.
We hit four ports - Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria BC. We did excursions in all ports as detailed below. We also cruised Tracey Arm Fjord, which was a highlight.
Hope you find this informative! Many of the things detailed below were "nice surprises" so I have to give you the "spoiler alert" warning here. If you take this cruise suite-class, you are in for a treat.
We decided at the last minute to change our plans from the Millennium to Solstice, which is a much newer ship. Another great decision. The ship was gorgeous, immaculately maintained, safe and environmentally friendly. I found the later two items out because as a suite guest I got invited to tour the engineering spaces and talked to the Chief Engineer.
Safe? Yes, the ship is double hulled so what happened to Concordia couldn't happen to it.
Eco-friendly? Thumbs up, they have some incredible water, food and emissions control technology.
Two minor critiques:
1. The ship was a bit too hot in the public spaces. We packed for cold but many of the public spaces were just a few degrees too warm for our tastes.
Tip - Since you spend a lot of time inside, be sure to pack lighter clothing and have layers because the outer spaces do get chilly.
2. The internet is way expensive and incredibly slow.
Tip - It's not worth the $299 they charge for unlimited wifi access, since you can connected in three of the four ports using your existing US plan and it's a great cruise to disconnect. Also because of our suite class, we got two certificates for 90 mins of wireless time. That was all we needed to do a quick email check every night. Other than that we were disconnected and loved being that way.
We were worried about how long it would take to board and decided to show up right at 11:00, the earliest time for this cruise. We had ordered luggage tags ahead of time. They took our tagged luggage from our Uber ride right away. We had read that some had problems with their luggage getting put on the other cruise ship in port, but this wasn't a problem for us. Everything worked very smoothly. Next we followed the signs to board the ship and went through the suite class security lines. We followed the signs for check-in, were met by Rose and escorted to Michael's club after a quick stop to give our credit card and fill out a medical questionnaire. It took about 10 min to get to the club, where we had a seat and relaxed. We were offered drinks and some snacks while we waited for our room to be ready.
I have only one critique and one tip -
Critique - part of the suite experience is a concierge to help with things, but there is only one and she was spending all her time with very large parties. Twosomes like us, who were spending less, didn't get much attention. Celebrity needs more people here.
Tip - one of the things that the concierge does for you is help book speciality restaurants. We didn't realize there would be so much demand or limited availability. She recommended that we book for Tuscan Grill pulling away from Skagway. The restaurant is in the back of the ship and offers a great view of as you depart. She called us back later and said the restaurant had already booked out for the time we requested - but we were some of the first people on the ship, so we were confused. We told our butler, once we got to our room, and he magically found a space for us. Point is that we could have booked with our pre-cruise concierge a few days before we departed, but at the time we didn't think we needed to. Next time we will.
Our cabin was amazing. Lounger on the balcony saw much action. We just hung out there for Tracey Arm Fjord and were amazed by the scenes flowing past us. Had breakfast there a bunch too. Bed was very comfortable pillow top style - you couldn't tell is it was two twins pushed together. We loved the canapés and tea every afternoon too. The best part of suite class, however, was the butler service. We didn't start thinking we would get much from it (we aren't butter type people). But Ciprian (Chip) was our best friend. Very professional, hooking us up with reservations, taking care of minor things in the room, serving us food, and literally always on the other end of any phone on the ship. He was wonderful and a big surprise.
One critique - the software system that powers the TVs (one in main room and one in bedroom) was in bad need of maintenance. TV froze frequently on menus so it was a bit frustrating.
Tip - as a suite guest, we got coupons for one-time laundry service up to twenty items, one complimentary dry cleaned item and two pressed items. If I'd known about the laundry I wouldn't have packed so much.
As a suite class passenger we had an amazing food experience. We had heard that the Oceanview buffet and the Epernay main dining room food was "so so". We never ate at these so I can't tell you.
Luminae - the center piece of suite class dining is the new Luminae restaurant. They serve very high quality breakfast, lunch and diner w/o being overdone or stuffy. And the service was excellent! Diner was a five course meal every night with four choices for appetizer and four main dishes; the lunch menu rotated through a three day cycle and breakfast was the same wide variety of choices every day. The last formal night diner featured lobster and chateaubriand. Don't miss this - I had surf and turf :-)
Speciality restaurants - we ate at Tuscan Grill twice; it was fabulous. One of the best views in the boat is the back window of Tuscan Grill, so book early if you can. We also ate at Silk Harvest, and were also very happy with the food and service.
Room service - We had room service for a few breakfasts and late diner once. The food was extremely mediocre, but it's nice to eat in your suite.
We both got the classic beverage package and that was fine. Neither one of us are big drinkers and classic package provided high quality wine and spirits. The premium package has a few more really high end choices but I never felt like I was missing out. There is one specialty cocktail bar only for premium packages guests were they mix all kinds of fancy booze, so if that is your thing it might be worth it. From my point of view, this is a cruise that is better enjoyed mostly sober.
We were really surprised by the quality of the entertainment. Shows were at 7 and 9 each night and there were also naturalist and a few other day shows. The ship's dance/acrobatics crew was very good. They did a Cirque du Soleil style show and two music shows. They had a comedian and a few late night comedy shows for adults too. The hypnotism show was very fun as well. The best part however was the naturalist, Brent Nixon. Not sure how long he will be with the ship, but his shows on Alaska, Whales, Bears, Eagles and more really brought the cruise to life. His show on Orca inspired us to take the Victoria whale watching cruise, which was a moving, magnificent experience. Our lives are changed forever by the knowledge he gave us on this amazing state. We in the US are so lucky to have it.
Tip - we found it was better to see the 7pm show then go to diner afterwards. The sun is out and it doesn't feel so late. Better seats at the 7 shows too, and you don't feel rushed to get diner done so you can make the show.
Tip - there is reserved seating for suite guests on the formal nights on the upper balcony on deck 5. But we found the sloping rear center seats on Deck 4 to be much better.
Despite the fact that it rained two of the three Alaska ports, we had a great time and saw a lot.
Ketchikan - we did the zip-lining. It was great, very professional and safe. Great views of the rain Forrest too. We found a bear picking through the vegetation on the ground below us - the only bear we saw. It was listed a strenuous, but we didn't find it so. They said an 82 year old woman just did it.
Tracy Arm Fjord - we only got with in five miles of the glacier due to ice conditions, which was disappointing. They off loaded 100 passengers to tour further up the fjord in a small boat. We didn't know you could do that and might have considered it so we could pull up closer to the glacier. Since our help excursion in Juneau got canx, we never got to see a glacier up close. Our only regret.
Juneau - we originally booked the helicopter glacier/dog sledding tour but it was canx due to the rain. Apparently this happens a lot so be warned. They didn't tell us until we got to the pier off the boat.
Critique - The problem was the ship only sent two people to help a hundred+ people re-book on new excursions - it was a mad house. THIS IS MY BIGGEST COMPLAINT. Celebrity should provide a better service for its suite guests because weather cancellations must happen all the time.
We did get really lucky, however. The girl from the dog musher camp was standing next to us as we wondered what we should do, and she said she had two slots available. So we jumped on her bus, traveled into the woods and had a good time meeting all the dogs, hearing about the different races, and holding puppies! If you love dogs this excursion is a must.
Skagway - the big thing is the White Pass train, so we did that; and chose the tour that lets you bike down the mountain. Again, lots of rain, but it was fun but a little nerve racking. However, after we got the hang of it, we enjoyed it a lot. All in all, there was plenty of great scenery, photo ops, and great stories about the Yukon gold rush and Skagway's part in it.
Victoria - we were originally going to just go into town, but got inspired by Brent's talks so went whale watching - which really means Orca watching this time of year. We probably saw 10 over two hours; we got great photos and saw one whale they call "Granny" (because she is over 100 years old) breach three times. We will never go to Sea World again. These whales are so much like us. It was moving to see them. Did you know that they remain with their families their whole lives, celebrate new births and morn their dead? It's criminal we make them perform like circus animals.
Tip - the excursions booked through Celebrity are the way to go. They are a bit more expensive, but since the excursion companies work with the ship, they ensure you make it off to your excursion and back smoothly. Also, if there are delays, Celebrity will ensure you get back on the ship. Also they are really good about quickly processing refunds if things change.
Tip - Regarding tipping for excursions, we called ahead to Celebrity and they said that tipping was not expected. However on our excursions, the hat was passed a few times and others we decided to tip just because the kids who ran the tours were so welcoming and professional. A $20 for two we felt was appropriate and well received.
I worked out four times to offset all the eating. The facilities were well maintained and there is a great view from the cardio machines. It could get crowed though. The Persian Garden is a combined hot stone recliner relaxing room with a hot and cold sauna, but it costs extra unless you are Aqua Class. If you like that thing, it cost $99 for the entire cruise. Attached to the fitness center is a nice heated solarium with a pool, hot tubs and lounges for reading. Its also only for adults except for three hours a day, were families get to come in. Problem is that, during these times, I observed so many little children in the hot tubs that I couldn't bring myself to go in. We all know what kids do in hot tubs. Yuk. Celebrity should limit hot tubs to adults in the Solarium.
This was very smooth. We were off the ship and in a bus headed for the airport in less than 30 min.
Tip - take advantage of the luggage valet service. For $40 they pick your luggage up the night before and you don't see it again until you arrive at you destination airport. Very easy. We also took the shuttle buss to the airport instead of messing with taxi. It was smooth and efficient. Well worth the $25ish bucks it cost.
Other miscellaneous items and tips:
1. You can take money out against your ship's account for the casino, but you can't use on board credit so it comes off your credit card.
2. They don't authorize your credit card in advance, but authorize it daily based on the amount you have spent once you have exhausted on board credit.
3. If you book another cruise while you are there, they give you some nice perk package alternatives, plus the give you a deal that we took. We put $400 deposit on a future cruise and got $400 on board credit to spend on this cruise. So the deal paid for itself immediately.
4. For poker plays, they run single table sit and go's and low blind no limit cash games all the time. They use totally electronic tables, which I was wary of but turned out to be very fun.
5. You definitely want to do a Solstice class ship if you can.
6. We were concerned about dress - we had read that people really dress up. But I didn't want to bother with a tux, and found a jacked and tie just fine. My wife had a few long dresses and was fine too. Some folks wore more formal attire, but others stayed in jeans.
7. The passengers included of all ages. A ton of kids (we were surprised), also lots of 70+ guests. The only thing that was missing was a lot of 20 something party kids, which was fine with us. This was a definitely a family cruise.
8. Tipping - we pre-paid our gratuities, but because of the excellent service decided to leave extra for our butler, our room attendants and the staff at Luminae. We thought there would be envelops or something in our room but there weren't. We ended up giving cash to each group. There wasn't any pressure, however, to give extra tips; and each person seemed really appreciative.
Other than a few small snafu's and points of improvement as noted above, we found the experience amazing. Ship, cabin, food, service, excursions, entertainment - all big winners. We plan to do Greece on Reflections next. The highlights for me were Brent Nixon (the naturalist), Chip (our butler), the all suite Luminae restaurant, and our amazing balcony.
Highly recommend this cruise.
I'll end with a quote from the last day's journal entry:
"Alaska had always been something I had heard about and understood from books and movies. Now I can say, 'Alaska, I've seen you and you are awesome!'" [thanks to Celebrity for making that possible!] Read Less