Background: June 3 Summit NB from Vancouver was 3d AK cruise with X. Previously with X, the DW and I have noshed to Nassau, burped to Bermuda and punched thru the Caribbean. Like many, we were again drawn to this last outpost of the rugged individualist, an attitude aptly captured on a Tee shirt: Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms -- who's bringing the chips? And the AK guys are even tougher! I also prefer the Alaskan itineraries because I am not blessed with the rugged good looks of Dr. Phil. In the Caribbean it's embarrassing when I lie on the sand and cats come over and keep trying to cover me up.
My inclinations for Celebrity sprung from early experiences as a bathtub admiral at age two. My azipod was failing once and I had to skip Port Rubber Ducky. Some pax complained and I had to give them a time out. Even then I had a habit of wearing formal diapers two nights every week. Being only two however, circumstances beyond my control often prevented me from wearing the formal diaper all evening.
Embarkation: Our party arrived a day early and took a limo from the Vancouver airport's ground transportation area (limos were waiting like cabs). It's a fixed fare of C$45 to downtown hotels and a good value for four adults with four large cases and four small roll-ons. I doubt one regular compact cab could have handled all this. The same limo cost C$64 for the 20-min trip to Balantyne Pier from Hilton Metrotown (at C$125 for standard room, Burnaby section of Vanc). We arrived at 12:30pm and lines were short -- we processed on board in about 15 minutes. Our last-minute cabin switch meant that our preprinted bag tags were wrong but the loaders had blank bag tags to fill out.
I was growing anxious because everything was going too smoothly so far. I will explain at the end of this report.
Staterooms MIL/SIL had Cat 2C -- 6016. This is the first of eight Penthouse deck forward 2Cs that feature the oversized balcony not depicted on the M-class deckplans. We upgraded 30 days before sailing (at big discount) to Corner Cat FV 9197 that popped up available on the X-website. This FV had the large partitioned sitting area - it was great to be able to lay my clothes around on the sofas just like at home.
All the 9000-level aft Cat FVs have the issue of being below the patio of the casual Waterfall Cafe. This outside seating had nice but heavier wooden tables, chairs whose movement transmitted dull scraping noise through the Cat FVs ceiling. This was an occasional distraction from 7:30am to 9pm during cafe hours but we were in the cabin for limited periods then.
CruiseCritic Connections Social: We had barely gotten over the 25-minimum registration. About 12-15 attended the visit held in Michael's Club at 10:30am the morning after sailing. CD Howell hosted and, in response to questions, indicated how difficult it had been for the staff to be pleasant while dealing with some over-the-top pax during the mid-May cruise when Summit had Azipod trouble.
Captain's Club Had the usual socials and ship tour opps. Roxanna indicated there were 74 combined Elite and Select members on board. The couple with the most X cruises had 23 (I didn't get a chance to ask them if they thought X was a premium cruiseline. Now we'll never know.)
The Summit's senior staff shook hands with pax in the receiving line whereas in May the Galaxy senior staff had announced an intentional no shake approach to reduce Norovirus risk. Would it have been bad form for these Summit hand-shakers to place an antiseptic dispenser at the end of the receiving line?
Ship's Medical heard a couple reports of very high fees for medical treatment. Don't know all the details, but those reporting were very unhappy. Trip insurance sure would be helpful.
Besides the Norovirus risk and other global health concerns, I am curious why no one is alerting pax to the early symptoms of Avian Bird Flu? A human indicator of bird flu is the urge to go to the bathroom on car windshields.
X Security Some real backsliding by Summit security on this AK trip. There were over a hundred kids on board. On our May Galaxy Transatlantic Security had managed to keep all but 22 young'uns off - I suspect some collusion by the parents in those cases -- an inside job of a sort. After the low kid count on Galaxy and the general aging of the population, I entertained fanciful illusions of blessed finality to the diaper controversies if X would convert the kiddee pools to seniors-only. But I guess it just depends.
Entertainment Skipped the musical productions but caught Taste of CdS, two comedians, one who combined juggling with short one-liners. The better was Jeff Nease (sp?) who early on commented about how young the X audience looked (and got a laugh). He then said X crowd was definitely young compared to his audience on QE-2 recently. There, when the bright stage lights came on, many in the QE2 audience started walking towards the light. Maybe you had to be there.
Taste of Cirque was in theater at 9:15 for main seating. By 10 mins before show, crowd was standing room only. There were 3 10-min acts and the audience applauded as loud as I have ever heard on 11 X cruises. White Night party started at 10:45pm and, based on video, about half wore basic Mardi-gras masks.
Condition of Facilities Ship looked fine, fresh, clean. Windows in Summit's upper observation lounge were in much better condition than on Galaxy. Some rug seams separating in Waterfall cafe (I had to ding something or some readers would think I hadn't really looked.)
Tenders were used in Icy Strait Point and Sitka. I noted that Summit's lifeboats had capacity stencils 120 pax tendering, 150 pax lifeboat while HAL's Veendam, Osterdam stencils indicated 90 pax tendering, 150 pax lifeboat. This board has already established that X trails HAL in mattress thickness, comfort. For reasons only my psychoanalyst can fathom, this reminds me of the US-Soviet space missile gap of the 1960s. Now we are faced with a butt-space gap on X's tenders compared to HAL. I doubt HAL's pax have smaller butts on average, so I reluctantly conclude that X's pax are exposed to a -33% butt-gap on X tenders.
Food - Main Dining Room had upper level table for 4 at top of stairs at main seating. As mentioned, I was seated with my DW, SIL and MIL. I don't know why, but every night when I approached this table, Tennyson's famous words drifted into my head: Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered into the jaws of Death, Rode the six hundred. Go figure?
I stayed with beef entrees and found them very good, slightly better than on the Galaxy. The waiter indicated that they often see variation in quality due to different suppliers in different regions. Beef en brochette flavor was a little weak. Coq au Vin was very good. I often went with the optional off-menu shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad. In general, main DR meals were very satisfactory. We always did casual restaurants for breakfast/lunch for convenience. Dress code observance in main DR: a few odds and ends but many odd ends.
Normandie Specialty Restaurant >>> Menu Exceptionnel! This was our fourth specialty restaurant experience, including one on Zaandam. We tried the Menu Exceptionnel which requires ALL at the table to participate. This dinner costs the $30 service charge plus $27 per head for 5 wine accompaniments. We all enjoyed the experience but felt limited in the narrower choices, especially for entrees. Will stick with regular specialty menu in future. Creamy lobster broth or tangy tomato/red pepper soup, Goat cheese soufflE or pan-fried foie gras, Filet of sole filled w lobster mousse or baked rack of lamb in pastry. Selection of cheeses, Chocolate soufflE or dessert mini-samples.
Weather - Season was excellent, mostly sunny, dry, mild with one gray drizzly day in Juneau that caused early flightseeing cancellations (with refunds). The Summit encountered large rolling ocean swells when crossing the Gulf of Alaska on the last day before Seward. About half attended the main seating dinner that night.
Evening twilight started around 10pm at night and dawn was around 4am. By June 14 it was bright at midnight and dawn at just after 3am. Even with heavy cabin curtains, light sleepers will be bothered -- strongly recommend bringing the eye shades that airplane travelers often wear for darkness.
Oddest conversation overheard or Newsflash for Archimedes -- A pax at breakfast stated to companions that Summit must have at least as many decks below water as above water in order to keep itself from tipping over.
Rumored X initiatives: Tuxedo rental has been around for many years. A super-concierge class featuring full cruise wardrobe rental is in test mode - you will only need to pack toiletries and personal items. For the Baltic cruises, you would order the "Nicolas and Alexandra" outfits, "Jimmy Buffet" outfits in Caribbean. The program was first tested on Hawaii cruises where testers ordered "Don Ho" outfits. Unfortunately, miscommunications when ordering the "Don Ho" outfits resulted in a few lady testers being arrested while standing on Hawaiian street corners. These outfits will be renamed "Tiny Bubbles" outfits.
Juneau Docked. Drizzly 50's low-clouds day that interfered with doing Mt. Roberts Tramway. A few pax caught up with the ship in Juneau. Because we visited Mendenhall Glacier before, I was aware that it and other glaciers throughout Alaska has been dramatically receding in recent decades.
Based on TV commercials, the solution for receding would seem obvious - ice implants or ice weave. Many pax already bring liquor from home on board - if such cruisers to AK would also bring ice cubes in a cooler. Help out like the motto "if everyone lit just one little candle" - no wait, that's more global warming. If you can't bring a cooler with ice from home, join others every morning by the restaurant's ice dispenser for an ice bucket brigade line.
Skagway Docked at 7am, five ships in port, cloudy early. We were first to pickup at 8:15am at Avis rental. We had Murray Lundberg's Photographic Road Log of the South Klondike Highway - from http://www.explorenorth.com/library/...e-photos1.html. We drove 74 miles inland past Carcross to Emerald Lake. Weather was mild, partly sunny above White Pass along our route. Had good homemade ice cream (mega-scoop $4) at Watsons General Store (built 1908) in Carcross - a town so small the dog sleeps in the road. Rental was under $100 with all costs included for four compared to about $145 each with a group tour along same routes (but they stop to let you hold a husky puppy). Road conditions were generally good (55 mph many sections) except for some areas under repair.
Sitka tendering, 9am arrival, mild partly sunny. There is a Visitors Transit bus from dock that circles the town and costs $10pp for all day on/off. It turns out the walk to downtown is less than .5 miles on sidewalks. We waited 20 mins for this bus and rode it for 15 mins in city traffic to Raptor Conservation Center where 1-2 miles of easy walking trails start, winding through an old-growth state park forest. Saw a six-inch slug (the insect kind). We walked through park back to dock in an hour.
Icy Strait Point tender, anchor at 7am, mild sunny day, only ship in port. I got wrangled into X's whale watching tour with about 200 others (cost $120pp - 4 hours). They announced they were going further into bay to improve chances for whales over previous trips. Ended up seeing a couple partial breaches at about 300 yards, several humpback pods at 300 yards or more, no sea otters, three adult seals for 10 minutes within 50 yards. Afterwards the commentator indicated our luck was much better than recent prior trips. At least we had pleasant weather, again.
Here's a tip to get rail space for a whale photo when others are crowding in front of you. When the best whale photo opp happens, yell in a loud serious voice "Honey, hand me the HARPOON, quick!" This momentarily stuns, confuses other pax causing them to clear away from you - giving you clear picture shot.
Ate big bowl ($8) of very good clam chowder at lodge past the ceremonial fire pit. As I took in the beautiful wild vista it seemed natural to wonder if movies like In the Heat of the Night or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof had been popular at ISP.
Hubbard Glacier yet another sunny mild day, only ship in Yakutat. Summit eased through a field of scattered ice floats to within few hundred yards of Hubbard face. Not much calving but remarkable thunderous booms from deep within shifting ice pack.
Opening Founders-level "Friends of Don Knotts" - The Friends of Don K. is a support group for X-pax who are anxious and nervous about how long their string of great X cruises can run. After reading these boards, I am incredulous on beating odds against having 11 great X cruises in a row. How could I be so fortunate? - just an average guy, bifocals, thinning hair, and (according to DW of 30 years) with bad breath and smelly feet. How infinitesimal the odds of getting to twelfth great X cruise - the fates must be toying with me. Is there a molar-busting rubber steak or a rogue wave lurking in my future? Did I miss a past memo that would have put me in the wrong place at the wrong time?
As this Summit AK cruise approached, knowing the extreme odds against yet another great cruise, I had premonitions of what mishap might occur and what the news headlines might be:
X-fan in fluke accident while whale watching X-fan bitten at Totem Bight X-fan trampled in stampede after glacier calving Famous Kecthikan rain guage falls, hits X-fan on head - injury diagnosed as "water on the brain". Sitka church's onion-roof falls -- hits x-fan -- everyones crying.
So "Friends of Don K.", I know I'm doomed - way overdue for a bad X cruise. As I walk up the next X gangway anxiously, I will be zig-zagging mentally like a squirrel on espresso, on high alert to dodge the inevitable.