We did the three night Vancouver/Victoria pre-cruise tour. We stayed at the Four Seasons for two nights. We arrived about an hour before the official check in time so our room wasn't quite ready. They sent us to the bar for a complimentary drink while we waited. The room was beautiful - a corner room on the 14th floor. The view was great!
We had one day to explore Vancouver on our own, and then boarded a motorcoach (then ferry) to Victoria.
Timing is everything. We happened to be in Victoria for Victoria Day, so everything was packed with people. They even had a marching band competition going on across the street from the Empress hotel.
Our tour guide, Billy Raegh, was fantastic. Very entertaining, very friendly, very accommodating. In Victoria, we spent a few hours at Buchart Gardens. I don't think there is ever a bad time of the year to visit the gardens! Some of our party was anxious to get to the Empress in time for High Tea. Instead of doing the city tour immediately following the Gardens as planned, Billy took us to the hotel. For those of us that skipped the tea, we had some time to rest and have dinner before regrouping at 7pm for an evening tour of Victoria. This was a terrific idea - the tour was so much more leisurely and enjoyable without the crowds.
My only critique of this pre-cruise tour was that the Empress is on the shabby side. We had furniture in our room that was scratched, torn, or broken. It wasn't just that we got a bad room either. One of our cruisemates had a toilet on the blink. Another had a mini-fridge that made horrible noises.
We had been warned about wet weather in May, but the drive to the ship was the only time that we were rained on all trip!
Embarkation was very smooth. Maybe just 15 minutes from the time we left the motorcoach until we were boarding the ship.
This was our first time cruising in a full suite. It will be very hard for us to do anything less in the future! Having all that extra space, including the extra large balcony, was worth it. The other perks were appreciated as well. One of our favorites was the complimentary laundry service - going home with clean clothes was a real treat!
We did Anytime Dining, and never had to wait more than a couple minutes. We typically asked for a table for two, but those tables are very close to another table for two. It's more like a table for four. We didn't mind though. We enjoyed everyone that we met on board. There was a nice variety of options on the menu, but food tended to be a little on the bland side in the dining room though.
We tried the Bayou Cafe - this was definitely our best meal and well worth the cover charge. We ate at the Horizon Court once for lunch. No complaints. We did pizza once too. Also good.
We decided to renew our vows and opted for the Deluxe Package. Irving coordinated all the details for us, and it was really special. The ceremony was in the chapel. We had stuck our head in the chapel earlier in the day when it was set up for computer classes. We were a little worried about how it would look for the ceremony, but there was no need. It was very nice. The flowers were beautiful, and very long lived. We had the bouquet in our stateroom all week, and it never faded.
As part of our package, we were able to do a Bridge Tour. Very fun. There was a group of about twelve of us. Lots of interesting tidbits to learn on that tour.
Also, the package included a massage or facial for each of us. We decided to upgrade to a couple's massage. We were on tables, side by side, getting a massage at the same time.
We did the Misty Fjords Explorer in Ketchikan, Whales and Trails in Juneau, and Explore the Yukon in Skagway. We really gave the digital camera a workout in all three places! This was a great sampling - we saw glaciers, wildlife (whales, sea lions, bald eagles, otters, a black bear, and sled dogs), the rainforest, waterfalls, and gorgeous lakes.
Another highlight for us was meeting Libby Riddles (and her dogs). She autographed books, and gave a nice talk about her experiences in the Iditarod.
Cruising through Glacier Bay and College Fjord were both incredible too. You felt like you were so close to the glacier, but when it calved and the sound took so long to get to you, you realized how far away you really were.
Disembarkation was as smooth as embarkation.
Overall, this was a fantastic cruise. The ship was beautiful, the service was excellent.
Good location close to the elevators and laundry room, without being too close. Quiet location. Great balcony.