When my husband, his Mom, and I decided more than a year ago to book a cruise to Alaska, we hadn't considered a land tour, but when our wise travel agent suggested it, we started reading and decided Tour 1 with Celebrity was doable for our budget. What a great decision that turned out to be! After a year of reading these boards and planning (and a miraculous last minute change due to availability of a family view category aft cabin), we set out on our Tour 1 (4-night escorted motorcoach/traincar land tour and 7-night Alaska Southbound Cruise).
After a long delay in Seattle for our connecting Alaska Airlines flight, we took off for what we thought would be a long boring flight. The first part was just that, but then the cloud cover cleared and we were able to enjoy an aerial view of the islands, glaciers, and snowcapped peaks below. No one on that plane could complain of boredom!
We arrived in Fairbanks to be greeted by a tour representative who directed us to the baggage claim area to identify our luggage. Since Mom is mobility challenged, wears two hearing aids, and prism glasses, she requires assistance to walk more than short distances, so I had requested wheelchair assistance. We were pleased to learn that luggage had been taken from the small carousel and all we need do was identify it by applying colored stickers they provided. From there, the luggage was placed into a motorcoach in which we were driven to nearby Pike's Waterfront Lodge. Even though the forecast for Fairbanks had been rain, it was beautiful and sunny there.
The Lodge was perched on the banks of the river. The tour representative, Rebecca, met us in the lobby by the fireplace to give us keys, an orientation presentation, and explain what we should expect the next day. We were given two different colored luggage tags and told we could put one color on the bag we wanted to be brought to our room each night of the land tour, and another color on any bag to be stored until we arrived on the ship. I had been prepared for this from posts I had read on this site, so our bags were already segregated for that purpose. How efficient that turned out to be!! During our entire trip until we docked in Vancouver, we never had to lift a bag! I know many who post on these boards recommend "going independent" in your land tours, but when you're travelling with a disabled person booking through the cruiseline made our lives so much easier and allowed us to relax. Luggage for three people for 12 days of changing weather with formal v. casual attire adds up to a LOT of heavy bags. No problem this way . . .
That night we ate on the verandah of the lodge overlooking the river. The food was really good, but a bit pricey at $30 per person (including a glass of wine each).
The next morning, we arose to get ready and wheeled our bags into the hall outside our door by 6:45a, as instructed, and met our group in the lobby to board our motorcoaches to drive a couple of miles down the road to board the Discovery Sternwheeler for a boat tour along the Chena and Tenana Rivers. I have to admit I was expecting this to be a cheesy commercial enterprise, but it was far from it. The tour guide on board gave us a very informative and educational commentary on each of the segments of the trip. First, we watched a floatplane take off and land alongside us. We witnessed many floatplanes tied behind the residences we passed---it's the best means of travel in that part of Alaska.
A little farther along we stopped at the home of the late Susan Boutcher, famed Iditarod champion. Her husband treated us to a look at mushing dogs in training, some puppies, and introduced us to a woman who is there preparing for the next competition. Since there was no snow, the dogs pulled a stripped down ATV. You could tell the dogs love their role---they were running free on the property but hurried to the sled when called and jumped up and down in anticipation when they knew they were being harnessed to pull.
Shortly after leaving there, we came upon a sand bar (one that is only exposed during low tide) and were able to watch another bush pilot (this one had replaced his floats with big wheels on his plane) land and take off from the sand bar. It was amazing to see him do so on such a short, and driftwood scattered, makeshift runway. As an added bonus, there was a juvenile bald eagle fishing on the sand, and an adult one soaring overhead.
We stopped at an Athabascan Village for a fascinating walking tour and presentation of their crafts, fishing, and culture. This was educational only---not a gift shop anywhere!! We saw our first reindeer here too!
Back onboard, we were treated to a snack of smoked salmon on crackers and bought Alaskan Amber beer from the bar. Yummy. At the end of the tour we boarded our motorcoach and headed to downtown Fairbanks.
Our driver, Trevor, circled the area while Rebecca pointed out available restaurants and some of the sights before dropping us off for an hour and a half of free time. We chose to go to an Italian restaurant, Gambardella's, that had outdoor dining and good (again pricey) food. Unfortunately, it took an hour for our food to be served, so we had to rush back to meet the coach. Although the food was good, it wasn't worth the wait or the price, so I can't recommend it.
From there we enjoyed a scenic ride to Denali, where we checked into the McKinley Village Lodge. This hotel consists of several log buildings clustered along the Nenana River. Our keys were handed to us as we got off the coach at our assigned building (this was another advantage to the prearranged tour---no check-in or out hassle), and our bags were delivered within a half hour. Our room had a beautiful mountain, river, and wooded view. We took a walk before dinner along the river enjoying the sound of the rushing water, the glorious autumn colors, and spectacular views. They had adirondack chairs placed along the verge of the river where we met and chatted with fellow travellers before going to the main lodge for another delicious (alas, another $100) dinner. We set a wake-up call for aurora borealis activity and turned in early knowing we had a very early departure.
At 4:30am our phone rang to alert us to the aurora borealis!! DH and I threw on a few clothes and got outside in time for a brief, but remarkable display. There were straight lines of what appeared to be pale green clouds above us. We weren't sure we were actually seeing northern lights until they suddenly rippled (like when a stone is thrown into standing water). It was a WOW moment. This was the first, and best, of two consecutive nights we saw the northern lights. The following night's display was just after midnight.
Prior to our trip I had read that the Tundra Wilderness Tour (this is the best choice of tours, by far) was given on a converted school bus and to expect a rough ride. Well, this was like no school bus I had ever seen---the seats were individual, high-backed, upholstered ones similar to our motorcoach, and we experienced no discomfort. The day started out cold, misty, and cloudy, so we were prepared to be disappointed. Again, we had a pleasant surprise---the cloud cover lifted enough that visibility was no problem. We saw grizzly bears grazing on berries, many moose, several caribou, and migrating dall sheep (usually they're so high on the mountains they are only white dots, but these were in the valley and close enough to see detail without binoculars). The tour stops for bathroom breaks and overlooks about every 90 minutes, and the portapotties are clean and well-maintained.
As we approached what was to be the turnaround point of the trip, our coach driver (her name was Rebecca too and she was equally charming and gave a great commentary) excitedly announced that she had just received a call on her radio approving her to extend our tour to (I think it was) Stony Pass for a surprise. We're all pretty keyed up already after experiencing so much wild life, but nothing could compare with the surprise in store----only 30% of visitors to Alaska see Mt. McKinley (or as I now prefer the native name of "Denali") peek out of her usual shroud of clouds. The majesty of it brought tears to my eyes. The day had remained overcast, with occasional mist, but once again, we were blessed with what felt like a miracle. We took photo after photo.
The return trip added more wildlife sightings (including a caribou with bright red antlers---they had just shed their velvet and the blood vessels were still visible until the sun and weather would dry them), and a flock of ptarmigan (the Alaskan state bird) with their puffy white feathered boots on the ground next to the bus. The driver kept remarking about the foliage being at the height of it's autumn colors---I'm running out of new words to describe the splendor of it all.
We were pretty tired when we returned, but after a nap we got on a small shuttle bus to go to the Cabin Nite Dinner Theatre. The ride there was enhanced by the sighting of a big bull moose alongside the road drinking from a pond---how exciting to see the beast so close to us!!
I am torn on whether or not to recommend our dinner/show that evening. The "all you can eat" ribs and salmon were pretty good for mass-produced fare, but served in such a hurried and bustling manner (the show can't start until all the tables are cleared, folks!), that you couldn't really savor or enjoy it. The young people who served, and later entertained us, were very talented singers and their operetta was based on an interesting history of the gold rush, but it had a little more "audience participation" than is my preference. It was the usual "is that the best you can do?" prompting for louder audience response---over-used and over-dramatic. Had it been in a theatre setting without all the noise and chaos and audience participation nonsense I think I would have enjoyed it much more, but I am fairly certain I was in the minority. It was my impression that the majority had a rip-roarin' good time, so don't let my negative reaction be the sole basis for your decision whether to do it.
By the time we returned to the lodge and were walking back to our cabin, the northern lights appeared. Mom hadn't seen them that morning, so we were thrilled she got her chance.
They let us sleep in before leaving at 10:15am for the drive to Anchorage the next morning. Our driver, Trevor, was born and raised in the town of Wasilla, which we drove through on the trip. He entertained us with anecdotes of what his dating life (dates in Alaska are quite different than the usual movie and dinner in the lower 48---snowmobiles and salmon fishing, anyone?). He had us all laughing aloud at his outrageous stories. The day was cloudy, misty and cold in the morning, but, as we had come to expect, clear and sunny in the afternoon.
Again, Trevor drove around the area immediately around our Marriott Hotel to let us see the available restaurants, museums, and shopping before Rebecca distributed our keys and set us free for the afternoon and evening.
What a room and view!! We were on the 13th floor with a complete wall of single pane glass allowing us a 180 degree panorama of the city, inlet, and mountains. We broke out the binoculars and scanned the gorgeous surroundings, then spied the restaurant we wanted to try---the Glacier Brew House. We were lucky we decided on an early dinner---we waited only 15 minutes for a table, but within that time the wait increased to over an hour. It was well worth the wait. The food, beer, wine, and service were all superb. My husband especially enjoyed tasting the various local beers available. We exchanged bites of each other's food, and I can attest to each of the entrees being first class in taste, as well as presentation. I can see why it is a favorite among locals as well as tourists.
Since the last leg of this land tour was to be by train, all our luggage was delivered to our room, but again, we had only to leave it in the hallway the next morning and they transported it to the train and on to the ship.
The Wilderness Express glass-domed rail cars are the perfect venue for viewing what turned out to be the most amazing scenery I have every witnessed. The upper floor of the car has comfortable seats for viewing, while the lower floor is a dining room. The group was divided into two seatings for breakfast, and we were in the first. We ordered from an ala carte menu and were served good food on fine linen.
We could hear the tour commentator upstairs talking to the second seating bunch, and he suddenly got very excited. The water of the inlet comes right up to the train tracks at high tide (the tide variation is 40 feet!!), and when we looked down into the water there was a rare Beluga white whale surfacing right next to us! The announcer said in the years he had been on this route daily he had never seen one. About five minutes later, however, ANOTHER ONE surfaced! He went on to tell us that their population is rapidly dwindling due to a cancer they are contracting and scientists are scrambling to find its cause before they are extinct. They were easy to spot since they are pure white, but they are so limited in number that sightings are scarce. That was the beginning of a day of awesome sights. We saw more moose and caribou, but more inspiring were the waterfalls, glaciers, and moutains. This is definitely a "not-to-be-missed" tour. I think my jaw spent the day dropped to my chest in wonder.
Our next stop was another that I had figured would be so-so. The Seward Wildlife Center sounded to me like a convenient stall tactic for them to have time to off load our luggage to the ship before taking us to it. I was wrong again. This center is fascinating. For those of you travelling with persons with disabilities, much care has been taken to see to it that wheelchair bound persons enjoy the center as well, or better than, those physically adept. This facility is for the study of Alaska sealife, as well as a rescue and medical hospital for them. The exhibits are terrific, and whoever designed the place was a genius at crowd flow. There were lots of buses there, but never did you have to jostle for viewing positions or wait in lines. There were lots of staff members available to answer questions and encourage human/sealife interaction when appropriate. The most surprising fact I learned was that one of the sea birds there can free dive to fish to a depth of over 600 feet!! That's deeper than submarines go! We saw puffin, starfish, sealions, and even life forms that can only be viewed in black light.
When we boarded the coach to go to the ship we had one hitch---a missing senior citizen. They searched and searched for him, but we finally had to leave. Rebecca remained to continue to search, so that was our last farewell to her. Fortunately, we had given them well-deserved gratuities before leaving Anchorage. We heard later that our wayward fellow traveller had gotten onto a Holland American tour bus by mistake---I guess they didn't do a head count, or one of their own was missing too! We saw him later on the ship and he seemed to have fared his adventure well.
By this point, we can't imagine that the cruise portion of our journey can live up to the land tour, so we were sad to leave Trevor and Rebecca behind. It was a bit intimidating to enter the building at the port to check in, but not only did they have a wheelchair for Mary, but an attendant who pushed it and led us through the entire check-in and security process right to our cabin door. It was very efficient, entirely painless, and took less than a half hour in total. The lines we saw when we arrived moved swiftly and I never noticed a lag in flow.
Our family view aft stateroom was a pleasant surprise. We entered into our sleeping quarters (with a king-sized bed), complete with art display cabinets with lower dresser drawers, a generous closet, a bathroom with lots of storage, and large dressing table. The big mirror gave the cabin the appearance of being even larger than it was. We had our own TV built in over the mini-bar. Beyond that, through a sliding divider door, was a living room large enough to house the full-sized sofa, loveseat, and tables, as well as dresser, two end tables, and coffee table. The loveseat would later be made into a bed for Mary, and she had her own TV in there.
Through the glass patio doors was an enormous balcony with three chaise lounges, a dining table and chairs, with room left for easy passage in and out---another WOW moment. The tuxedo I had pre-arranged for my hubby was waiting, as promised. We oohed and aaahed at our good fortune for a few minutes before heading out to explore the ship and grab some late lunch.
Our cabin was just one floor and almost directly below the buffet area. The food selection was varied and could appeal to any diet or preference. There was a pasta bar, grill, pizza station, ice cream parlor, and salad bar, just to mention a few of the offerings. There were glass circular cutouts in the deck alongside our table so you could look down and see the water. The floor to ceiling windows in nearly every public area allowed unobstructed scenic viewing for the entire trip. Even the spa had great views! The ladies' sauna (saunas in locker rooms are free to all passengers, by the way) had a porthole that was 5 foot in diameter so that you wouldn't miss a sight even in there!
That night we had open seating for dinner and the dress was casual, since some were still awaiting delivery of luggage. Ours was delivered less than two hours after we arrived. When we returned, our invitation to the Cruise Critic Cruise Connections party was waiting. It was scheduled for the next morning at 10:15a, sadly meaning that I had to miss the culinary demonstration at that time---I had heard it was good (see the review by tapia). It was fun to meet the more than 50 folks I had corresponded with in the past year, and Celebrity furnished coffee and pastries, as well as souvenir pins and an appearance by the Cruise Director, Allan King.
I just realized that this review is taking on novel proportions, so I'm going to take a new tack. I will describe each facet of cruising in general, and go into more detail on the port excursions.
Cabin: First rate and better than expected. The balconies on the corner aft cabins had an even larger area, but the ones next to us complained that the wind whipping around the corner prevented them from leaving anything out there---even the furniture was blown into a heap a couple of times. Ours was one in from the corner and protected from wind every side. Inside we had lots of storage---we didn't use it all. Our cabin stewardess, Elizabeth kept a low profile and did her job impeccably. She was there when we needed her, but didn't try too hard to be our buddy like some stewards do.
Main Dining Room: Our waiter, Armand and assistant, Budde, went above and beyond our expectations. They even helped Mom remove the lobster from the shell and the lamb from the shank! The food was better than average, but not as good as I've had on previous cruises. I was relieved in a way since it did not tempt me to overeat and I only gained 2 pounds! Our greatest disappointment was they did not serve Alaskan King Crab---my husband's favorite dish.
Spa: These folks are the hard-sell bunch. They weren't obnoxious about it, but it was there. I signed up to do an ionotherapie treatment that had always intrigued me (they're far more expensive at home, so it was an opportunity to try it for less $$), but afterward I didn't see any benefit to it at all, and it was rather uncomfortable. I wouldn't do it again. We used the hottubs, saunas, and thalossatherapie pool daily. I thought from the description that the Thalossatherapie one was warmer---it's not shockingly cold, but it's pretty cool. It's a beautiful facility. They did not keep up with filling the soap and shampoo dispensers in the shower, but otherwise, I can't complain.
Martini and Champagne Bars: Another daily ritual---visiting Virginia, our server in the Martini Bar. She has a knack for remembering names and greeted us by ours whenever she saw us. The ambience and presentation make for a thoroughly enjoyable time. Try the apple-tini!
Entertainment: The show I expected to enjoy least turned out to be best---the ventriloquist was terrific and soooo funny. The Cirque de Soleil show advertised was not on the schedule the entire week, so that was disappointing. The broadway-type shows were pretty good. The singer/comedienne, Judy Kolb (I think that was her name), was pretty bad, and the quartet, the Voicemails, need to revamp their repertoire. They had the talent for singing and harmony, but it was misspent on lame corny numbers. They need to stick with singing and stop failing at comedy. Again, this is my opinion---lots of older folks really liked them.
The Normandie Restaurant: For an extra $30 per person, you can enjoy a night in this specialty restaurant for a truly exquisite dining experience. We chose to do the recommended wine pairings, so with gratuity, our bill for the three of us was $200, but worth every penny (and we added additional well-earned gratuity to that). It was not to be missed. The goat cheese souffle and steak diane I had were the best meal I have ever eaten. Some of the dishes (like the Caesar salad, Shrimps Flambee, and my steak) are prepared table side. The waiters choreograph the serving of the main course so that the silver domed covers over the dishes are removed simultaneously exposing the stunning presentation. The decor is tasteful, the harpist plays softly and well, and the staff are true artists. If your budget will allow, go to this restaurant. I'm glad we waited until later in the cruise (the night we left Skagway) because the main dining room would have really paled by comparison.
AquaSpa Cafe: Everything we ate from this mini-buffet of healthy choices was great.
WEATHER: The forecasts for every port were for rain, rain, and rain, but it only rained on us, briefly, at Hubbard Glacier. The night before was stormy with 10 to 15 foot seas, and my husband was glad to have his Bonine and seabands. He was relieved to have a seasick-free holiday, so they worked well! Hubbard Glacier was overcast and sleeting when we arrived, but stopped after a few minutes, allowing us a very close-up viewing of the glacier---we were in polar fleece and rain jackets and pants and even the sleet didn't cause us discomfort. Juneau started out very cloudy and foggy, but burned off by noon. As a matter of fact, after the first couple of cool days, we enjoyed sunny days in the 70s where we whale-watched from our balcony in bathing suits!!! I had to chuckle at myself for having fretted over the forecasts so much----they couldn't have been more wrong! Now, don't get me wrong, we used our rain gear and made good use of the layers many mornings on the land tour as well as at Hubbard Glacier, Juneau and the morning of Icy Strait Point, so pack them! I'm fairly certain we enjoyed a rare weather exception.
Ship Public Areas: I had read in some reviews about wear and tear, but while there was some, it was very minor and not worth mentioning, in my opinion. I found the ship to be clean and well-maintained. The design was ideal for scenic travel---everywhere you look in Alaska is a postcard view, so the care taken to keep views unobstructed was appreciated.
Staff: Our cabin stewardess, waiter, asst. waiter, the Normandie staff, and Martini Bar server were excellent. I found the staff at the photo gallery desk, shops, spa desk, the guest relations desk, the bank, and buffet, however, to be abrupt, curt, and almost unfriendly. They did their jobs well, they just didn't seem happy about it. Since I have read so many accounts of how friendly the staff is on Summit, I have to guess that it is the end of their Alaska season and they're tired and ready for their new Hawaii itinerary to begin. I had no complaints to offer them, so I'm not sure how they would have handled problems. Mainly we just went for change, information, and purchases---routine interactions. Their service was adequate, but not outstanding in any way. They needed a pep talk.
Itinerary: 1st night casual dining, next day Hubbard Glacier with formal dining in the evening, next Juneau with semi-formal dining that evening, then Skagway (we chose this night to go to the Normandie Restaurant), next Icy Strait Point and our second formal dining night, then Ketchikan with semi-formal dining, Inside Passage cruising with a casual dinner, and last Vancouver.
Now for shore excursions---we booked them all through Celebrity and were never disappointed.
Juneau: My husband and I had a bet about whether or not our Wings' floatplane to Taku Lodge would be cancelled. Due to the two recent crashes and resulting deaths, I thought it was far too cloudy and foggy to hope for our trip, but DH was certain we would go. We three bundled up in our rain gear and fleece, and, sure enough, at the schedule 10:30am departure time, we boarded the plane. I had worried about Mom having difficulty boarding, but there were portable stairs with handrails and plenty of assistance. The pilot looked like Santa Claus, with white hair and beard. He announced we could take any seat but the left one, so DH rushed to the co-pilot position. Because of the low cloud cover, we flew low for a while, but he soon found a hole in it, and we were able to enjoy scenic flying over the five glaciers and wilderness below. The Taku Lodge is a log cabin structure set up on a hill directly across the water from an enormous glacier, so the setting was enough to get us excited. Inside, the roaring fire and the rustic, but tasteful decor was done using pelts and sled equipment to reflect the history of its previous owner, Mary Joyce, who is famous for a 1,000 mile dogsled trek across Alaska. During our DELICIOUS meal of grilled salmon (it was cooked over the outdoor fire while we first explored the area), fresh lemonade cooled with glacial ice, beans, warm breads, and fresh-baked cookies, we heard about the history of the lodge and each of its current and prior inhabitants. After lunch, we left Mom resting in the porch swing enjoying the view, while we went with a naturalist on a walk through the forest to the foot of a huge waterfall. The lodge's golden labrador retrievers entertained us by playing in the water at the base of the falls. On the return flight, no one was hurrying to ride shotgun, so this time I rode up with the pilot and it was awe-inspiring. The weather had cleared very much by now, so we were surprised to hear that all the helicopter tours had been cancelled for that day when we returned. Once again, we found we had been blessed with an opportunity. Speaking to locals later, we heard that Wings is so respected that when they cancel their flights, everybody else follows their lead. We were lucky they had scouted out that hole in the weather that allowed us one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. If you're on the fence about taking a floatplane ride---I'd recommend it with no hesitation, whatsoever. BE AWARE--THE COACH DOES NOT TAKE YOU BACK TO THE SHIP!!!
Skagway: We booked the White Summit Railroad and Trail Camp excursion. As had been our routine, we started out bundled up for winter in a cloudy, misty morning. This day never really cleared to sunny, but it was clear enough we didn't miss the sights. We were glad we had read the advice to sit on the left of the train car. Alaska continued amazing us with her spectacular scenery and wildlife sightings. By the time we reached the Summit in Canada and we were ready to transfer to the motorcoach for the return down the mountain it was rainy and very cloudy. When we got to the trail camp at Liarsville the rain stopped and it was pleasant, but a bit cold. This stop was difficult for the wheelchair, so I would not recommend it if you have that particular challenge. It was a pretty cheesy show, followed by panning for gold (I could have missed that too), so while I highly recommend the train to the Summit, the stop at Liarsville was not memorable. The wheelchair we used belonged to the coach, so when he dropped us off downtown we had to help Mom walk a long distance to catch a free Grayline shuttle back to the ship. You see, since we assumed the excursion began and ended at the ship, and I had foolishly thought DH had his wallet and money (while he was certain I had mine---both of us wrong), we couldn't hire a taxi---duh. We were lucky it wasn't raining and there were benches along the way for rest stops. You can bet we were prepared at the remaining ports!
ICY STRAIT POINT: Okay---can you guess how the weather began? Right! VERY cloudy and foggy when we tendered ashore to catch our fishing boat for halibut fishing. After filling out the forms for buying fishing licenses, we boarded a small cabin cruiser (I was the only female with five men fishing and two male crew) wearing many layers and full rain gear. We all huddled in the cabin to listen to our captain, who introduced himself as Ora.
In the year I had been reading this cruise critic site I had read every post by an Icy Strait Point-born man named Ora, so I asked if he was the same and HE WAS!! I felt as if I were meeting an old friend. He is the proprietor of Alaska Raven Charters (www.alaskanravencharters.com) out of Hoonah and they book charters for Celebrity now, as well. If you haven't read Ora's posts on these boards before, you should---just do a search for his name. They were very informative about Alaskan culture, weather, trips, etc. The good news for those of you booking for 2008 is that he is expanding his fleet to include kayaking trips out of Icy Strait, also, and who better to lead them than someone born and raised there? He has been scouting for perfect routes on his off days, so you can choose fishing and/or kayaking with him.
Meeting Ora was just the beginning of a super day. Not only did the weather clear, but the sun came out and it got up in the high 70s!!! We were peeling off layers right away. I caught the first halibut, so they all referred to me as "lady luck". Ora and Ken were very helpful and fun and funny---they shared stories that were ideal for giving us a glimpse into their culture and lifestyle. Their sister boat radioed to say they had just caught an 80 pounder, so we did our best to outdo them. We had so much fun that we didn't mind when none of our fish beat theirs. The day before one of their guests had caught a 300 lb. halibut, so we got to hear the tale of landing that one too! This was my husband's favorite tour, and he keeps wishing we could go back again for the kayaking tour with Ora! Goody---maybe we can budget for a return!!! I'm ready!!
We had left Mom on the ship that day, but knew she would be enjoying the sun on the balcony, so we took the shuttle into Hoonah to look around. We visited the marina and saw eagles. Then we walked back along the sea (a little over a mile) and saw some little waterfalls and a quaint old cemetery. We made our way to the ceremonial fire to cast in our cedar chips (these are handed to you when you make landfall in ISP for the traditional rite).
The shops at the dock are nicer than most we had seen at previous ports, with more true Alaskan merchandise, and we bought a few gifts for our kids there. What a truly wonderful day. If you're reading this, Oro, thanks so much for showing us Alaska through your eyes. We wish you and your fellow villagers continued health and happiness.
Ketchikan: When I read that Ketchikan has an annual rainfall in excess of 150 inches, I decided it would be a waste to book an excursion here. I bought us tickets to the Lumberjack Show only. You see, I let those weathermen and doomsayers convince me that I didn't stand a chance for a sunny day. Wrong!! This was the sunniest day of all with temps in the high 70s from early morning! We rolled Mary around the colorful town and shopped and saw the sights. The Lumberjack Show was predictably touristy cornball fun, but who couldn't have fun in that setting with such great weather?? We got into the audience participation cheering spirit for our "team" of competitors and hooted and hollered with the rest of them. At one point, one of the lumberjacks presented Mom with a wood disc he had just cut off in a race. She blushed like a schoolgirl. That afternoon we returned to the ship, donned our bathing suits and sunbathed on our balcony while drinking martinis. Heavenly . . .
Inside Passage: This day of cruising was blissful. I finished our packing in the morning so that I could spend the remainder of the day enjoying the sun and scenery. I helped Mom on a walk around the 11th deck for some exercise and we heard people exclaiming and looked over the side just in time to see two Orca surface directly under us. We also saw many humpbacks---one very nearby kept slapping his fin on the water for about 15 minutes as if he were waving to us! We saw dall dolphin, seals, otter, eagles, and spectacular views at every turn.
Vancouver: Since our flight was not until 5pm on Alaska Airlines, we booked a city tour through Celebrity to give us something to do. The positive side to this was that we had a small conference room in which to wait to disembark. It was comfortable and away from the crowds. We were given an attendant to wheel Mary all the way to the bus loading area (by the way, we had this service at every port---both getting on and off the ship), so we were free to locate our luggage and stack it on the free carts they supplied. Unfortunately, our bus was delayed more than an hour and the natives got restless, so we were exposed to lots of yelling, whining, and grumbling. It always amazes me that people actually behave as if the tour operators purposefully cause the delays. Don't they realize that it is in the best interests of the employee (less hassle and better tips), as well as the company, to provide a smooth tour experience? Why would they intentionally sabotage their own tour? But we finally boarded and were given a shorter-than-expected, but nice tour.
I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the airport experience we had, because I don't want to end this review on a dour note. Suffice it to say that Alaskan Airlines and Horizon Air do a good job providing for disabled guests when they have the Aircraft Carrier Accessibility Act and Americans with Disabilities Act governing them. That's not the case when they are on foreign soil. They denied us use of a wheelchair for most of that day(even though I requested assistance more than a year in advance when we purchased our tickets). Since we had two full luggage carts and you're not allowed to leave luggage unattended by law, we couldn't provide Mom the support she needed to walk to the food court. She's diabetic and had to make do with an apple I had in my bag for hours. They refused to allow us to check our bags, stating it was too early for our flight schedule. Then, when we finally checked in, we got a wheelchair, but no help. It was a circus trying to get two carts and the chair through customs and immigration. Then we were finally allowed to check the bags and had to go up and down two elevators and walk a mile to the gate. That was when we found out they had CANCELLED our flight THE PREVIOUS DAY and hadn't bothered to tell us at the ticket counter!!! They wanted us to reclaim our luggage and overnight in Vancouver to take a flight the next day! Can you imagine having to repeat that fiasco? Suffice it to say I firmly informed them of Mom's health issues and we ended up on a flight that left within fifteen minutes, and amazingly, they lost only one of our bags in the quick change. This is NOT a user-friendly airport for mobility challenged people. If you must pass through here, be sure you have your own wheelchair and very little luggage. This was my first visit to Canada and it left me with such a bad taste that I may never return. Shame on them . . .
That day was a complete nightmare, but it couldn't overshadow what was the trip of a lifetime. My goal is to see to it that our kids get to experience Alaska while it is still pristine and unspoiled. I highly recommend Celebrity cruise line for its cruises as well as land tours.
This has taken all day, so no proofreading---I'm going to hit the "send" button! Thanks for reading if you made it this far!