Summit Cruisetour to Alaska July 6-17, 2007 Vancouver-Inside Passage-Ketchikan-Juneau-Skagway-Hubbard Glacier-Fairbanks-Denali-Talkeetna-Anchorage
There is a lot to report about Alaska and cruising there, and the Cruise Critic site has an abundance of resources on every topic from moose to mousse. So I'll not replicate what others have already said but offer my perspective.
My wife and I have been on 21 cruises since 1991 on Celebrity, Carnival, RCCL and Holland America; to the Mediterranean, Alaska, Caribbean, Panama Canal and Mexico. We've had suites, balconies, inside and portholes. I'm 61 and my wife, well...a bit younger. So we've been around the cruising world a bit and have a relatively balanced/informed opinion on cruising. We were tour hosts for 33 people on this Cruisetour, our second time to Alaska cruise and tour the first on Holland America's Ryndam in 1996.
The Summit was beautiful and nicely appointed throughout. Some of the reviews here in CC about this ship talk about negatives but we saw few worth reporting. The food was consistently good; there were a few things we didn't care for, but that happens at home too! The service was excellent everywhere and the staff was friendly. I arranged for six of us to dine at the Normandie in the cellar room, it was exceptional and the wine list quite deep. We would have gone back a second time but we also enjoyed the main dining room ambiance and our tablemates, so we ate there all but the one night. We checked out the alternative dining sites and they looked great including a marked off section of the "buffet" with white table cloths, china and glass settings ($2 pp extra charge; I assume it's for tips for the waiters).
We had quite a bit of cloudy skies and rain while on the ship with only one clear day when we drove to Canada from Skagway. Four of us rented a car and had a fabulous day, going to Carcross and Caribou Landing. CL was a bit cheesy but Michelle Phillips (http://www.yukonhuskies.com/about_us.html) is a real musher and has a camp there to allow travelers to visit her dogs. We took a sled ride. The dogs love to mush and it's appropriate training for them in the summer. It takes a lot of money to mush so many mushers have opened their camps to tourists; it was a wild ride...I couldn't stop laughing! Michelle was 6th in the Iditarod last year.
Ketchikan gets around 150+ inches of rain a year so you have to expect rain there. We did a wilderness boat ride and forest hike. Juneau also had light rain all day. Last time we were there on a cruise stop the skies were deep blue for our helicopter ride to two glaciers. Yes, the sun does come out along the Inside Passage, just not this time. Hubbard Glacier was at a distance, as the ship couldn't get close due to lots of scattered pack ice. Summit's time slot in the bay began at 6:30am and we began to leave around 9am. We were about a mile away in a slight drizzle. I had breakfast and then back to bed afterward. Again, last time we were there I'd guess we were less than 1000 feet away in full sun! So goes Alaska.
Something about dress code: All of Celebrity's pre-cruise information says that Informal Night is jacket and slacks for men. No where in any Celebrity policy or brochure does it use the word, required! On ship, the daily newsletter used that word: jackets are required. Now that set's people off who decided to bring the tux for formal night and then wear nice shirts the remainder of the nights. Some of the men in my group were not happy with this new required twist and I must agree. As it turned out, I counted dozens of jacket-less men in the main dining room on both Informal nights! I doubt if anyone was denied entry, but what's the point? At the Normandie on Informal night, gentlemen were offered a jacket upon entry. I tossed my bush jacket over my arm and hung it over my chair (at the suggestion of the maitre'd when I made the reservation). You can't change the rules after the boat sails!!
The transfer from Seward to Anchorage was by bus (opps, sorry: coach); the luggage went up on separate transport earlier. We claimed luggage at Anchorage Airport and took a 40 minute flight to Fairbanks. Luggage was picked up by Celebrity at airport where we had to ID ours with little gummed dots and they handled the rest. We did a neat museum tour (too short) and then to Sophie Station Hotel. Excellent all-suite (I think) property. A bit of useless space (kitchen & living room) for one short night. It would be great for a week or so.
Out the next am to Discovery paddle wheeler. What a nice excursion (included in tour price)...in the rain, of course. Clear skies the day before, don't you know. We took this excursion years before and they've really improved the activities along river: musher demonstration, video stations inside boat, professional commentary. Lot's of fun, but would be better with sun. Yes, it was touristy but genuine in attempting to show people about native people's lives and how the average Alaskan's live.
We then continued with the coach to Denali. We had dinner down the road at the Salmon Bake. They had a huge menu at what turned out to be a large, fun, funky diner/bar. I had huge, luscious Alaskan crab legs. Others had various configurations of salmon and halibut. Yummy! Denali isn't really a town but a gathering of hotels and shops along the Alaskan highway. Plenty of quality shopping, if you're still in the mood. Beautiful views. A Denali Park bus tour was included the next day before we boarded the train for Talkeetna. It was a nice introduction to the wilderness. We saw moose, caribou, snow show hare and a squirrel?
The Celebrity train cars (last time we were on Holland America's car) were beautiful with large comfy seats. For the record, the seats do not turn around to face each other (train host doesn't want to do it though it is possible, but not an easy task) and do not have head sets as indicated on the website: http://www.alaskacruises.com/alaska_celebritycruises_info.asp?pageID=602.
We got into Talkeetna in time to do the stream-fishing thing at 5:30pm. The jet boat used to get there was worth the price of the whole fishing trip; 4 people caught no fish. Denali (Mt. McKinley) was out in great splendor as we watched the sun set at midnight. The next am was a Chamber of Commerce Day with clear skies and Denali resplendent in snow white against the bluest of blue skies. We did a 4 pax flight with a glacier landing. Pretty awesome. Hard to fully describe but one could see moraines, deep pools of glacier blue pot holes, avalanche remnants, glacier scarred mountains, gravel fields and plenty of forest up and back. The view of Denali from Talkeetna Lodge was incredible. People stood outside with mouths open in wonder.
A word about luggage transport. I thought it was very organized, I just wish I knew the details before we left the ship for better planning and communication to my group. On the land portion, only the luggage you want would be delivered to your room each night. They used red and pink tags to ID which is to be delivered and which stays on the bus or goes ahead to the next stop. The smart traveler will repack just one large bag per couple (there was no limit however), to be delivered to your room. You can pack this way on the last night on ship and adjust at the first night hotel where you'll get all your luggage. On your last night of the trip, you'll get all your luggage delivered to your room for repacking, dig out clean clothes or whatever you wish to do. You'll never have to drag your luggage any further than the hallway for bellhops to pick up. Our luggage was always ahead of us and was in our room waiting when we arrived. The exception was Denali (short delay as the luggage was on the coach we arrived on) and the airport where you must claim and check your own, linking it with proper photo ID, etc.
One other critical point on luggage is that there is little room on the train for anything but a small carry on. We used modest backpacks the whole trip, including on port excursions from the ship. It was nice to have our hands free of bags, etc. Remember, the train has no overhead since it's all glass. Forget the small roller bag, even the smallest would cramp your leg space.
In general, this trip was an active one. Excursions are essential at every port to see any of the real Alaska, and they might be early morning departures, so it's up and at um if you want to take it all in. We had several times when 5 am rising was necessary to see the glacier, get on the coach to catch the train or included excursions, get your luggage in the hallway for pick-up or catch flights. Many optional excursions are also early. Remember, 18-21 hours of sunlight allows for lots of activities that wouldn't be as convenient on the lower 48 sunset schedule.
Celebrity get high marks all around. And Summit is similar to other cruise ships and cruise lines with bothersome issues: ship's picture-taking maniacs at every port, constant sales pitching on TV and in daily newsletter, fellow passengers who take in the buffet as if it were a gold plated feeding-trough, over zealous Cruise Directors (although this guy seemed to be a bit more mature and likely not on uppers like the Caribbean shift) and so on. But once observed and laughed at, we just ignore these idiosyncrasies of cruising.
Cabin Alert: A window washing machine is stored on decks 8 and 9, in between two balconies. It looks like it could be moved as it is secured simply with truck straps; nothing was designed to mechanically secure it to the ship. They have to store it somewhere, and naturally it created an obstructed view for at least 8 Concierge Class balcony cabins. What a major design flaw that was. We were amidships, 8074. Celebrity is well aware of the problem. We were offered a different cabin but after unpacking, who wants to move. To be fair, they offered to pack everything and move us to the new cabin, however. No deal. I was all settled. Celebrity should sell these as partially obstructed, but did not. Knowing ahead of time and accepting is one thing but finding out on arrival is another. Check with your TA about this issue before you confirm a balcony cabin. My guess is that it is also true for sister ship Millennium. We registered a strong and serious concern about this window rig. After declining the room change, they offered 10% off for us both on our next cruise with Celebrity. Fair enough. If it was warm Caribbean-type weather, we may have taken the room change. The weather was not conducive to balcony sitting. However, the point was well understood: design error...
To those who have reported here in these reviews about the problems the millennium class of ships are having with propulsion, I can only say we had none; perhaps it was luck our week. I understand they are going into dry dock in April 2008 to do some "fixing". The ship is wearing well. We saw no raveled carpet or worn drapes/bedspreads. One lounge design negative is the ghastly dEcor in Revelations disco lounge. What kind of nightmare caused that? It was not cool, tasteful or interesting and had a dingy, dirty look. It seemed as if they ran out of design money for the last deck (it's on Deck 11). It's worth ranting about, really!
Happy cruising...For more info. Email John: firstname.lastname@example.org