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Celebrity Millennium Review

4.0 / 5.0
Editor Rating
1,696 reviews
8 Awards

Alaska, 7-day cruise, 4-day landtour

Review for Celebrity Millennium to Alaska
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First Time Cruiser • Age 60s

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Value for Money
Public Rooms
Fitness & Recreation

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Sail Date: Aug 2010
Cabin: Aqua Class

I loved the 11-day trip with a 7-day cruise and 4-day land tour, and would go again on this particular itinerary with Celebrity, but would do a few things differently. After reading other traveler reviews, I want to address a few issues I don't remember seeing discussed.The number one thing I would do differently on this tour would be to get a real travel agent. Since I've had travel agents that were less than satisfactory, this is a lot for me to say. I thought that since I've been on several cruises before, and I didn't think my agents did much for me, I could do this myself on the Celebrity website. The "professional agents" accessed by going directly to Celebrity are not helpful. Although the Celebrity website is easy to use, I suspect their "Agents" actually just answer phones for multiple cruise lines and may not really specialize in cruises. They gave me bad information on multiple occasions that cost me money as well as losing valuable vacation time and experiences. Perhaps they were intentionally misleading so they could sell their product, maybe they're just incompetent. Best lesson—if it's not in writing, don't believe anything they say.Celebrity's website and associated electronic reminders are a mess and a nuisance. Several times every week, I received invitations multiple to sign up for spa treatments on line (never available on line) with the admonishment that if I don't reserve NOW, I was in danger of not getting an appointment of my choice, or to call their Agents (spa appointments cannot be made until you actually board) or elaborate descriptions of shore excursions that were not available for our cruise and would not fit into our timetable. (It's a shame, too, because I would have loved to go on them). Also making this difficult is the absence of a real time-sensitive itinerary that would help schedule shore excursions. The Agents said, well it would not have been offered to you if it would not be available for your itinerary (not true again). What a waste of time. One example of the gross inefficiency of Celebrity's "certified travel agents" is the following example where I received bad information, possibly so they could sell me a hotel stay prior to my cruise. I called several months before the cruise to find out what would be the benefit of arranging a hotel in Vancouver (prior to the cruise) thru the cruise line at $388 rather than directly (which would have been about $300). Representative said we would get transport from the airport, they would pick up our luggage and transport to the ship—we would only need to carry what we needed for the overnight, so it would be cheaper and more convenient than arranging it all yourself. So not true. When I received the cruise docs, they were silent on the transport. Called and found out they only transport from the hotel to the ship. The representative was unprofessional and kept telling me not to worry about it, just go and you'll have a great time she kept saying and laughing--a big HA HA HA for her. Absolutely no help there and by the time I found out about it, too late to change plans. If I cancelled out my hotel room reserved through the cruise line, it was too late to get a room at the hotel I wanted. Since the hotel was only a couple blocks from the ship, this was really not a deal and we had to take our luggage from the airport to the hotel and then to the ship, which would have been fine, but it was not what was sold to us. Cab fare from Vancouver airport to Marriott Pinnacle was $35 plus tip.As long as I'm complaining, I might as well add this comment here: The soda package is a complete waste of money on the cruise—it takes 20 minutes to get a drink. I'd go up to a bar, and the bar would be completely vacant, give the server my card, and not see them for 20 minutes while they got my drink (bottled water) and charged the card. Same problem in the dining room at lunch. Oh, and you can't get two drinks at once, even if you both have cards. I don't know if people had similar problems on the alcoholic packages. Our soda/water/juice/coffee package was about $115 per person. I seriously doubt we were able to get more than one or two drinks a day. We saw some passengers actually buy cases of water or soda, slap their luggage tags on them, and have them delivered to their rooms with their luggage. A much better idea.It was a 7-night cruise followed by a 5-day land tour. We left Dayton on 19 August, and started the cruise portion of the trip in Vancouver, BC, the next day. Marriott Pinnacle was very, very nice and just a couple blocks from the ship. I had called them ahead of time and gave them Tom's membership number. We have a very nice concierge room on the corner with a lovely view. Stayed at the Marriott Pinnacle so Tom could get his brownie points to maintain his Super Duper Elite status with Marriott (ok, it was very nice). We have a very nice concierge room on the corner with a lovely view. Walked to Gas Town and bought some maple candy and syrup, and a nice Cuban cigar from Gassy Jack's Cigars for a friend. Didn't know at the time that it's not legal to bring these back to the US. Very picturesque, old town just about 4 or 5 blocks down from the hotel and the cruise dock. Saw the famous steam clock, a two-ton brass grandfather clock that plays Westminster chimes on the quarter hour. We went by it a couple times and missed the chimes each time. Had a wonderful Italian dinner at the El Portal restaurant with a glass of local Pinot Noir. Tom had rack of lamb and I had a seafood combination (red Coho salmon, scallops, prawns, halibut) and Israeli couscous.Friday, 20 August. Boarded the ship at about 1230. Cabin was a concierge class cabin, category c2, room 9092. Despite all the cruise ship sales hype, what that really gets you is a slightly nicer cabin, a balcony, full service room service for breakfast (but no cappuccino), 6 tiny little canapEs at 4pm, and a nice fruit bowl that is refreshed every day. I'd do it again, but don't expect preference in the spa or restaurants, shorter lines in boarding or debarking, or better rooms on the land tour. My research prior to the cruise reflected many concerns about our cabin placement on the ship. It was on level 9, sky deck, right below the main outdoor deck. Some people complained about noise—deck chairs scrapping, people talking/running, and others said it was never a problem. I'm a very light sleeper, and don't like noise, but the most we heard was one person running once. The other concern is the deck overhang that went out about a good 10 feet past our balcony. The good thing was, it could be raining and it would never rain on you. The bad thing was, you would miss a lot of the night sky and you had to maneuver around the overhang and supports (between some of the cabins) when taking pictures. But not really a big deal. I'd do it again. I would avoid the cabin next to us that was angled in such a way that it looked into the "sky suites". If I had the sky suites (complete with butler) I would be mad that people could look down into my living room). Cruise line had given us a letter when we checked into the hotel the night before with elaborate arrangements to pick up our luggage at 0900 then bus us to the cruise terminal at 1130 but they were changed at about 1015 the morning we boarded. We were run around again for no good reason even though the cruise line knew about the traffic/construction issues that prohibited busing us to the terminal for several week. They did nothing to notify us, but kept to their standard arrangements that they knew wouldn't work, and then had us do a lot of unnecessary hurry up and wait when we could have just caught a taxi and gone to the ship at our appointed time. Per our instruction letter that we received when we arrived at the hotel the night before, we got up early to be up when the bellman came to our room for our bags, then waited with dozens of other passengers to meet the cruise agent between 0900 and 1000 in the hotel lobby—and she didn't show. She showed up past 10 and called our room. Change of plans, due to street work, no bus to the terminal. We had to pick up our luggage, where the hotel bellhops had it stored outside and take a taxi to the ship (so why did we have to put it outside our door at 9 only to have to retrieve the luggage and take to the ship? If I had known, I would have just brought it downstairs with us. ) They gave us a voucher to pay the taxi driver. He didn't look happy about it. Boarded the ship very easily and quickly. Found our room and settled in. Had the mandatory lifeboat drill (thank goodness you no longer have to carry the stupid lifejackets with you). Our mandatory muster point was the casino. They must have been thinking about Tom, like he needed directions to the casino ? We had dinner at the late seating at 830pm. Table mates were Matilda and Miguel (who we never saw at dinner again), Illmas and Anita, from Australia; and a young couple, Eric and Natalie, from Michigan, they were just married about a year ago. Nice dinner with the usual half dozen choices of appetizer, salad, soups, and entrees. We endured the wine steward's ploy to get us to sign up for wine tasting (we didn't go). Lovely dinner. I had prime rib and Tom had lamb shanks. Went to bed soon after we finished with dinner and passed out. This became our standard throughout the cruise. (Tom added - because we ate so late and we were 4 hours behind in time, so it was 3AM Eastern when we were done with dinner - although I was able to make it to the casino a few nights).Saturday, 21 August. Sailing all day today through the inside passage. A few narrow straits through British Columbia. Woke up at 6 am (OK, I woke up, not Tom) and caught beautiful views from our stateroom balcony. Tom added, and while Barbara was getting a massage, I got some really nice pictures along the way, and I saw a school of porpoises). There were layers and layers of mountains, clouds and sea done in every shade of blue. It was like sailing to Middle Earth. We passed many little islands and peninsulas. Our room is on the starboard side of the ship, and we are traveling northbound, so we looked to the east. Everyone talks about all the Alaskan ports, and the Alaskan portion of the Inside Passage, but the British Columbia portion was gorgeous. We cruised through the Hecate Strait around 0800 near Queen Charlotte Sound (Island) on the Inside Passage in BC between Vancouver and Ketchikan. Went to the ships casino today and made our contributions. Tom lasted much longer than I did. One of the reasons we selected this ship and cruise line is that most of the ship, including the cabins, balconies, and even the casino are designated as non smoking. We signed up for the Persian Gardens, Turkish bath, and steamed ourselves to a bright pink. I lay in the thasso therapy pool (warm bubbling, filtered sea water) and was in heaven. . (Tom added, and Barbara sat in the pool while I worked out in the gym every day on the cruise. Then I sat in the Turkish Bathhouse, ahhhh.). Another wonderful dinner in the Metropolitan dining room. I had Alaskan pink salmon, done to perfection. Our ports in order were Ketchikan, Icy Point Strait (aka Hoonah—an Indian Village— near the front of Glacier Bay), Juneau, and Skagway. They were followed by another sea day, when we cruised up to the Hubbard Glacier. The ship's captain told us on the loudspeaker that he was able to get us closer to the glacier than any other cruise ship this season. Not to be too cynical, but every time we went anywhere, the cruise directors, etc., were always telling us how special our trip was, that we were closer, had a clearer view than anyone else, etc, etc.. Awe, how special! But we did get a lot closer than I expected and it was more beautiful than I expected. The final port was Seward, and we took a bus to Anchorage (2.5 hours)Sunday, 22 August. Ketchican. This was an old gold rush town that became a tourist industry so we escaped. They did have really nice totem poles... Took a high-speed catamaran boat tour to the Misty Fjords National Park. A 4.5 hour trip. We lucked out and it stopped raining and was a beautiful, sunny day despite the bad weather predictions that it would rain all week. We saw a whale as we were departing and a gazillion salmon from one of the bridges in town. Ate dinner at the Metropolitan restaurant and went to the casino. Monday, 23 August, Icy Strait Point/Hoonah. Started off the day seeing a pair of whales from our stateroom balcony. We could hear them spout, then "sound" and then they would surface. This is the only port we have to "tender" into the pier. All other ports have cruise docks that we can walk off the ship. The tenders are some of the lifeboats that ferry us back and forth at about 60/70 people at a time. We were packed in like sardines—although the signs in the lifeboats say they can handle 120 to 150 people each. Took a bus ride on the wildlife tour. Saw a brown bear that was huge, feeding on spawning salmon in the river. This was our only bear so far. Went to several viewing platforms over the river, but there were no bears to be seen. Had interesting tour guide whose grandmother used to own the cannery at Icy Strait Point. He kept giving us the safety brief on what to do if we ran into bears on the trail. We were to stay with him—he would lead, we would follow, and the "chasers", two armed men in red jackets would follow. If we encountered a bear, he would "talk with the bear" and we were to keep moving. He was a white man who had been raised on the island and adopted by the Tlingit tribe. I guess it gave him special powers with bears. He lost his grandmother in 1964 when he was 5. She went to go pick strawberries on a nearby island with two friends. She wanted to take him, but his mother said no. That day, there was a 6.9 earthquake, and the island she was on sank under 80 foot of water. She and her friends were never found. It rained all day. Good thing we had umbrellas, good waterproof boots and rain jackets. Had a caribou chili burger and halibut fish and ships at the cookhouse restaurant near the pier—it was almost $40 for lunch and it was good, but nothing fancy. On our walk back to the ship, saw an Alaskan king crab stand on the pier. Looked yummy, but we had already eaten—all the customers seemed to be ship crew. That should have given us a hint it was good. Walked through the rainforest and saw a black tail deer that was very tame and Tom befriended a very furry orange and white long haired kitty at the waterfront. Had dinner at the Olympic restaurant in the ship. Despite having the "preference" the concierge level room supposedly gives you in the reservations, our table was not great. I had reserved/requested a table for two at a window, and got a table for 6 in the middle of the room. Service was professional, but they seemed to be rushing us. Didn't even ask if we wanted after dinner drinks. We took the hint and moved on. As we were leaving we saw the display of really nice ports and talked about them with someone who looked like restaurant management. The wall paneling and some of the fixtures were taken from the Olympic—the sister ship of the Titanic. Nice dinner .I had lobster and Tom had venison. We both had hot chocolate and grand marnier soufflEs with crème anglaise (vanilla) sauce. Good thing we've been going to the gym every day and then the Turkish bath steam room. We sleep really good every night.Tuesday, 24 August. Pulled into Juneau about 5:30am. Took some pictures of the waterfront as we pulled up. We were the first cruise ship into the port, but several more quickly followed. Went to the Mendenhall glacier and hoped to see more brown bears with no luck. But saw the glacier and walked the trails (Tom insisted on walking every trail in the park). As usual, he said the trail was going to be ½ mile or ¾ mile and it turned out to be miles and miles (OK, maybe 3 miles...). (Tom update - it was only 1 mile, maybe less). (Barbara update—that is so not true). Several sections of the trail were closed off due to bear activity. The sows and cubs come to eat near the ranger station because the male bears will not come that close to people. Male bears apparently will kill off smaller bears and cubs, so they are in danger until they get big enough. As if we don't have enough to eat, each day they deliver 6 little canapEs to the room around 4pm. Today's are little bits of ham, wrapped around cheese, slices of hard- boiled egg on toast rounds, and tomato salsa on toast rounds. Some days are shrimp or caviar. Always they are 6 little bites. Yesterday, I was still hungry (dinner is not until 830) so I went to the buffet and brought back some little open-faced finger sandwiches, roast beef, turkey, and tomato and basil, and cookies. Did I mention we have room service breakfast every morning? The only problem with room service is it's difficult o judge portions to order. The first day we ordered 2 orders of toast and got 3 slices, the next day we got 2. By the end we figured out that 1 order generally means 1 piece of whatever, but inexplicably, sometimes it's more...Formal night at Dinner again in the Metropolitan. Casual smart night. Most people wore slacks or a skirt with a shirt, but there were quite a few wearing jeans tonight. Had spring rolls, chilled black cherry soup, mixed greens salad with carrot and ginger dressing, and drum fish with pineapple salsa. My choice of dessert was a blueberry and chocolate mousse cake. Tom had the spring rolls also, broccoli soup, mixed greens, and linguini with meatballs. We made appropriate remarks about the source and origin of the meatball meat. Casino again. Lost our allotment, but just as we were down to our last few chips, Tom won a big hand which carried him another couple hours. I went to bed, zzzzzz, early day tomorrow. (Tom update - I was the only one in the whole restaurant who had the spaghetti and meatballs, so the meatballs got served again the next day as lasagna.}Wednesday, 25 August. Woke up as we pulled into Skagway around 5am. Had the alarm set for 6am and room service scheduled for 6am as a backup. Off the boat and onto a bus at 710. Drove through town to the train depot, the White Pass and Yukon Railway (WPYR). This was a 9 hour trek from Skagway along the route of the gold rush miners to the Yukon Territory. This route was built about 2 years after the 1898 gold rush to the Yukon. The cars and engines are original on the narrow-gage railroad. They built the rail narrow so it would be easier to make the tight turns and to conserve materials and labor though some very rough terrain. It was our first train ride and it was a really wonderful trip. The scenery was beyond gorgeous. Sort of like a meld of Yosemite and Tahoe all in one trip. Plus we had a nice history lesson from the conductors and narrators. We rode the left side of the train, which was the best side for the scenery. Lots of good pictures. Biggest surprise in the scenery was the tundra and thousands of lakes once we got into Canada. It was really beautiful. Had a prospector's lunch in Bennett Station of beef stew, fresh bread, cole slaw and apple pie. Then Tom and I hiked the Chilkoot Trail for a couple miles and saw a bunch of old miner's campsites complete with tools, old cans, and even an old cemetery. They are trying to preserve the old campsites and it's against the law to take anything. There used to be 30,000 people here and now it's a ghost town. You can't get to it except by railroad. Almost everyone else just milled around the train station and didn't venture out at all so they missed it. Rode the train to Carcross (formerly known as Caribou Crossing) and rode a bus back. The train ride and the 1.75 hour lunch break took about 7 hours to get to Carcross, and the bus ride back was just 2 hours. I don't think we went much faster than 30mph on the train, and we were able to really enjoy the sights. We went through two tunnels and over numerous railroad trestles. We crossed the US/Canadian border and had to go through customs both ways at Fraser. Saw a glimpse of a brown bear eating a mountain goat near Fraser. The bus driver stopped on the road, but really couldn't pull closer or let us out. As we approached the ship, we were running late, and the bus driver's boss kept calling the bus to find out where we were. We made it and are now cruising out of Skagway. The bus driver told us that we will see eagles nests about an hour out. Hope so. He might have been politicking for tips. He told us he was a college student in his 4th year, but he looked a little old. When someone asked him is major, he had a difficult time telling us what it was....Very good natured guy, and a competent driver, but he reminded me of Chumley on the Pawn Stars TV Show on the History Channel. .Had dinner again at the Metropolitan. Nice dinner. I had broiled lobster with scallops and prawns. They had flaming baked Alaska for dessert. We were going to the comedy show after dinner, but heard it was not so funny, so we stayed and talked with our table mates for at least an hour after dinner. Then, as usual, straight to bed. Might have something to do with having some really excellent wine that the sommelier recommended. It was a French red wine, a 1988 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou, appellation St. Julian controle (the left bank near the famous Rothschild vinyards.). A very soft and subtle wine, yet full bodied with enough acid to taste good with Tom's prime rib. He gave us a real bargain—half price, only $200 (I told Tom he probably bought it at the auction they had on the ship that morning for $10). The night before, we had ordered a bottle of California cabernet, Jordan winery that was about $112. It was really good, and we'll need to find it in Ohio, but the French wine was extraordinary. Did not go to the "chocolate midnight buffet" that was offered that night. Interesting to note there is a much better wine list at the specialty restaurant than at the Metro, but we were able to request wines of the other list, much to the delight of our wine steward.Thursday, 26 August. I woke up early and waited for our approach to Hubbard Glacier. We saw a couple more whales. The glacier was incredibly beautiful, the weather again was nice and the morning light while we were at the glacier was really wonderful as it gradually side light the crags and fractures in the ice. It was much more beautiful than I expected and the pictures don't do it justice. It's hard to convey a sense of scale in the pics. When you see another massive cruise ship (with about 15 floors above sea level) about a ½ mile off from the glacier and it only comes about 1/3 of the way up in height against the glacier, you get an idea of the scale. We watched from our balcony, but then decided to go up to deck 11 and it was great. A lot less crowded and cold than expected. We did bundle up in our sweater layers and zip up sweatshirts and gloves and hats, but we were comfortable without heavy winter coats. Had to laugh-- Saw some ship's crew people getting warm by passing under the laundry exhaust on that deck. They were carrying trays of hot chocolate, with bailey's on the side. That drink and a tacky plastic cup could be yours for only $10 (I think the bailey's was extra). Did not go to the mid morning grand buffet, but heard it was wonderful—I missed the Alaskan king crab legs and ice sculptures. Had a lazy day. We were in our room around noon and I was about to get dressed to go to lunch when our maid knocked once and barged into the room calling my name. I know she didn't knock long, because I was at the closet getting clothes and the closet is right next to the front door. The closet door blocked me from everyone in the hall viewing me standing stark naked, but I was not happy. I told her to get out and shut the door. We never saw her again for the rest of the cruise, which was somewhat of a blessing because she was painful. She kept our room clean, and worked long hours, but every time we saw her in the hall, even if we were in a hurry, she kept talking and talking to us. She would actually curtsy to us. Very strange little person. I recognize the cultural differences (she was Filipino and I'm half Japanese), but it was more than that. When we came back to the room around 4, there was a "welcome" letter from the concierge. Ha! A welcome letter on the last day of our cruise. Never got our cruise survey form and luggage tags or luggage and debarking instructions until we called the concierge and had to go to the concierge desk to get them, even though the ship's captain made a couple announcements saying that we should have all had them delivered by this time. They were supposed to be delivered by the maid. However, we did get an envelope from her (for tips) two days earlier, which she repositioned several times on our writing desk over the last couple days to make sure we saw it. Needless to say, we did not give her an additional tip, she was already getting the mandatory $7 per day from us on our account. According to the cruise literature, supposedly the maids at the concierge level had worked themselves up to that level and were the best. When we got back to the room at 4pm, there was a form letter from maintenance saying we should call them during a port day so they could do maintenance. There were no more port days as this was the last day of the cruise. We had taken off our shoes when we came into the room, and then walked out onto the deck, and were promptly stuck in wet paint on the balcony. There was no wet paint sign. Nothing. We annotated the incident on our cruise survey. That night, after our little incident with the maid, noticed the one remaining room service order form had disappeared from inside the cabinet where we kept our papers, books, cruise newsletters and order forms. Well! Guess that meant she had been going thru our stuff.Friday, 27 August. Disembarked in Seward at 715am and were met by our land cruise tour director at the dock. Cam is a young, funny black man. Extremely organized and genuinely pleasant. Our bus driver from the cruise ship terminal to the Anchorage Airport was also very nice. We flew to Fairbanks and were met by Andy, a grizzly Adams look alike, who would be our driver for the rest of the trip. Cam herded us through the Anchorage airport and flew with us. Basically, he accompanied us through the entire trip. I had thoughts when arranging this trip that accompanied land tours were for little old people, but this was a really nice experience. We never had to deal with luggage, checking in or out of a hotel, or even arranging transportation from the airport or train. The bus followed us everywhere and met us and took us from the hotel to the train, or the train to the airport. Easy! He had a wonderful voice, but personally, I think it was almost a Oprah Winfrey voice, rich and modulated. Anyway, he told us nice stories about his fiancEe and their plans to get married, etc. Lots of travel today. Left the cruise ship at 8am, on the bus, 2.5 hours to Anchorage, a couple hours at the Anchorage museum (included in the tour), about an hour and a half at the airport, and an hour flight to Fairbanks, then to the Sophie Station Hotel. The museum was OK, but only just. It was saved by having a really nice cafe where Tom had French onion soup, I had seafood chowder, and we split a giant mixed green, goat cheese, and fresh yellow and red beet salad. The bus ride was nice in that both the drivers and Cam narrated most of the way. That night we had some really nice Alaskan beer (Silver something) and hamburgers at the hotel restaurant, then we crashed.Saturday, August 26. Up early to put out bags. Last night they had delivered all the bags to us with instructions to mark the bags we wouldn't need with tags they gave us. We marked our two large bags (mostly formal wear and dirty clothes), and kept our small roller board for the next 4 days. Each day the small bag would be delivered to our room, and each morning we would put it out by a designated time and it would be picked up about 15 minutes before we departed. This morning we took the bus to the riverboat tour. It was kinda touristy, correction, it was extremely touristy, but had the biggest gift shop of any of our stops, had a cultural component that was nice if somewhat hokey. They gave us plenty of time to shop. HA! Shopping was available on the riverboat, too, as well as free donuts and coffee and you could buy refreshments like reindeer dogs, chili, and beer. Tom was absolutely obsessed to buy me a hat that looked like a husky dog, but I managed to escape. This stop was an example of how organized our tour director was. We were the first bus in, so we had the opportunity to shop before the crowd got there (about 10 minutes before the crush), then we were the first bus to depart immediately after the riverboat docked. That made us the first to Fairbanks for our walk and lunch in town. Tom wisely said, let's get to the restaurant first, because when the other buses rolled in, it was a crush again. We ate hot sandwiches and cold Alaskan beer at Soapy Sam's. After lunch and some limited shopping, the bus took us to the Alaska Train, beautiful, luxurious, 2-story glass-dome topped train cars. All passengers rode on the second story on top of the train. The seats were huge armchair type leather seats with enough leg room for daddy-long legged people like Tom. There was even a small elevator in the train for wheel chairs or people who would have difficulty with the small, winding stairway from the first floor to the second. It was about a 4 hour ride from Fairbanks to Denali. We had dinner that night on the train in the dining room on the first floor of the train car. We rolled out of the train in Denali and took the bus to our hotel. The hotel was nice, especially for a hotel that is only open in the summer. It was high on a hill over-looking the entrance to Denali park. We were disappointed we didn't have a room with a view of the valley, our view was a lovely parking lot scene, full of tour buses. Went for a walk, and encountered an attack squirrel, who posed for pictures after he calmed down.Then we went on an ATV ride. It was around 930pm, but it was still very light, and we expected another hour and a half of light. I wasn't too worried about the ride, because I used to have a 250 honda dirt bike. Well, I should have worried. The bikes have a hair-trigger thumb throttle on the handlebar grip instead of the classic throttle where you turn the grip. I just couldn't get the hang of it for at least 10-15 minutes. When we got there we watched a scintillating (not!) safety video that showed, in part, people riding sedately through some cones. The teenage boys who made up the whole crew of ATV tour personnel got us suited up in rain gear, helmets, gloves, and goggles. Did I mention it was raining on and off? Great. The oldest one would lead our little band of 7 to 10 old people adventurers. He sternly warned us to follow him exactly, some of the mud puddles we would be going through had deep spots on one side that were not visible, if we hit them, we could flip. OK, I was going to be following him closely, at least, that was the plan until I tried to use that stupid throttle. I got left way behind the little line of old people, with Tom behind me and a teenage boy behind him bringing up the rear. It was OK until we came to our first mud puddle that was at least 20-30 feet across and stretched all the way across the road, I remembered the guide's warning and stopped, only to have Tom and the guide screaming at me to go. I tried to tell them my hesitation—I wanted the guide to go first, but they kept screaming at me frantically and louder—"CATCH UP WITH THE REST OF THE GROUP! CATCH UP TO THE REST OF THE GROUP!" So I went slowly thru the mud puddle and went on. Pretty soon we came up to a part of the trail that had cones, like in the safety video, Tom and the guide were still screaming, 'CATCH UP! CATCH UP!" So, I took the shortest route as fast as I could go—right up the middle. Tom told me later the guide came up to him and told him he was going to have to flunk me on my safety course. Great, they never said we would be tested, and I thought I was following directions (directions from a skinny, raggedy 16-year old stoner). He then told Tom I did well enough they could let me do the rest of the ride. He then told Tom I did well enough they could let me do the rest of the ride. That would have been completely humiliating if they took me off the ATV and made be ride behind the guide. I didn't take the camera with me because of the weather, so we missed the pictures of the female moose and her calf that were just about 20 feet from the trail. We rode back to the hotel in a van, and the driver forgot to drop us off at the pizza place the tour director had raved about, so Tom forgot to tip the van driver and we skipped dinner and went to bed. Tom update: The ATV ride was fun, even though it was cold and raining. Since we were in the back, I failed to notice how the lead vehicles were navigating through the water holes (not) so I just put it in full throttle and went straight through the middle. Had to see if the rain gear worked. Engine was smoking 'cause I kept getting it wet. But, all was good and I gave the ATV "guides" a good tip for the fun. Like Barbara said, the dang bus driver failed to drop us off at the pizza joint on the way back to the hotel. By the time I noticed, we were past the only entrance road, and everyone else was tired and wanted to get to the hotel. When we got to the hotel, I didn't want to drive all the way to the pizza joint, so we just blew it off. And I blew off the driver's tip! PS - and what Barbara meant by "ride behind the guide" is that she would have the joy of ridding as a passenger on the guide's ATV. Whew, good think he let her go on ?.Sunday, August 27. Woke up early and met the group at the hotel lobby so we could go on our 5-hour "History Tour" of Denali. Did our usual leave the bag outside the hotel room door and gave our room key to Cam, we wouldn't see our room again because he would check us out of the hotel while we went on the tour and he and Andy the bus driver would wisk us away to our next destination. Well, our 5-hour tour was more like a 3-hour tour and a "history film" and a lot of waiting around. We only got to go about 18 miles into the park on the park bus, which is a converted school bus, and the only motor vehicles allowed other than park vehicles. I was hoping to see bear, moose, caribou, and maybe even a Dahl sheep or two. But the cruise forum on-line warned me about that—if we saw sheep, they'd be little white dots in the distance, and although we could get lucky because we were on the first bus out at 6am, not to expect much in the way of wildlife unless we went further into the park. We did see several caribou in the distance, some sheep (aka little white dots), and a lot of beautiful tundra. Its fall now in Alaska, and all the tundra is turning brilliant shades of gold, orange, and red. The tour was just enough to give us a taste of the park and help us make plans to return for at least a few days, if not a week. We both wanted to see Wonder Lake, which is deep in the park. To get there, you need to take the park bus to the end of the line, I think it's about 60 miles, get off and hike in. Then you can camp with a permit at the lake. There is also a lodge in the back of the park that was allowed because it pre-dates the park. The owners have a small plane and ferry in lodgers to stay there. That sounds like fun. Yeah, I know, my idea of camping is a hotel that is less than 4 or 5 stars. After we returned from the tour, Andy and Cam allowed us our requisite hour at the park gift shop, then wisked us away on the bus, and back to the Alaskan train. The scenery was beautiful. We had lunch in the train. The dining car has mostly booths that seat 4 people. Due to space restraints, if you are in a party of two, you usually need to share with another couple. Unfortunately, they don't tell you this in advance. So when we were lead down to the booth, we saw two people sitting smack in the middle of each bench seat who obviously were as surprised as we were that we would all be sharing a booth. The man was a craggy old guy and the woman was his daughter. We stood at the end of the benches as the host announced we'd be sitting there. The old guy looked at Tom, was a little surprised at the "sharing" development, then quickly adjusted by snapping at Tom, "Park your ass". LOL! Turns out he was a life-long farmer (retired now) from Wisconsin. When he found out Tom was from Wisconsin, you'd think he was a long lost relative. When he found out he was career military (retired), Tom was adopted. Good thing I was there or Tom would have been married off to the daughter before he got off the train. He was very proud to say he had served in WWII and was active in veterans associations. We had a very nice lunch. The benefit of sitting with an outspoken older gentleman is that if your lunch arrives cold and rubbery (I had fish), he wasted no time or lung power in calling over the server and having it corrected. I'm usually afraid to return food, but I received a new plate that was hot and fresh. We arrived in Talkeetna that night. Tom became enamored of a certain Blue Glacier drink on the train. He normally sticks to either beer or wine, so this was a departure for him. But hey, it's vacation. The drink was about 16 ounces of pure hard liquor, including some blue Curacao to give it that distinctive ice blue color, with a little ice. One would be a punch, but he had at least 4, maybe 5 drinks, plus about half of my one. When we arrived at the hotel, he just made it to our room before he crashed. The hotel was very nice and had a beautiful view of Denali. We never did see Denali the whole time we were in the park, but now we could catch glimpses of it when the clouds cleared. Of course, we had a view of the parking lot again. But, I went out for a walk around the grounds, took some pictures, and decided to have dinner in the hotel restaurant by myself. I thought this was my chance to have an Alaskan crab dinner without grossing out Tom. I ended up having dinner with a couple who were our table mates on the ship. His name was Illmas, and hers was Anita, both about our age. He is a policeman and she is a school teacher in Australia. Very nice people, and I was happy to see them again. We had an interesting conversation about all sorts of things to include the American custom of tipping (Australians either don't customarily tip because the waiters are actually paid a living wage, or in fine restaurants, they are levied a "service fee"), the tax structure in Australia vs. America (a consumption tax vs. income tax, and the practice of Australia that posted prices always include the tax), and the vacation allotment for public servants. Apparently when Australia was first colonized, it would take a sea voyage of a month each way to go home to Europe. So it became a benefit for all public servants to get 3 months of vacation time, to be taken all at once, after they had served I5 years. Then after another 5 years, they would get another 3 months, etc. Wow!Talkeetna is a nice little town just on the other side of Denali. It appears to subsist entirely on tourist business. The two main streets have a variety of quaint shops that appear to be more authentic than the ones we saw in the tourist ports. The town is famous for flight seeing tours of the glaciers. The approach to Denali and the glaciers is superior to that if you actually left from Denali (you spend more time seeing the glaciers than traveling to get there). The problem is that much of the time, the cloud cover delays or doesn't permit the flying or glacier landing that we had signed up to take the next day. Monday, August 28. We had a late breakfast, then met Cam in the hotel lobby to get directions to our charter flight. Boo hoo! The flight was delayed due to weather and rescheduled. We knew it was a 50/50 chance for us to actually get to fly, but we were hoping. The flight was rescheduled for 1:30, so We walked around town a bit, I took Tom's picture next to the Penguin Crossing sign (he was wearing his Pittsburgh Penguin gear, of course) and ended up (after a few calls to and from Cam) waiting for the flight at the flight seeing tour's office in Talkeetna. FINALLY! Yea! we are getting to go and the weather reports for a glacier landing look promising. The flight was the highlight of our trip. What an experience! The plane was a pristine, 1956 De Haviland Beaver, one of the few small planes with enough power to fly comfortably at these altitudes. The flight was amazing, the glaciers were something you just have to see for yourself. Pictures just are not enough to convey what the scenery looks like. We were able to land on the Glacier. We goofed around there for about 20 minutes. Despite being on top of a snow covered glacier that was a mile deep, it was not cold. We were comfortable in our long-sleeved Pen's hockey tee shirts. Of course, we had our mountain hiking boots and heavy socks on, but it was nice. The plane needed very little runway for either the take-off or landing. The landing gear had skis as well as wheels for the asphalt runways back at the airport. The landing was a little scary, as was the start of the take-off, but we no sooner started accelerating and we were lifting off. After the flight, we returned to the hotel, where we were met by Andy and Cam. They drove us to Anchorage, where we stayed the night in a Marriott (more gold points for Tom). Went to the hotel gift shop since they were advertising an "end of season" sale. Didn't buy anything, as usual, but heard all the women moaning because all the souvenirs they bought during the trip and hauled all over Alaska were now available for half price. Boarded the bus early and Andy and Cam took us to the Anchorage airport. First class again (it's vacation after all) back home. On the way back, we flew over the Hubbard glacier. The weather was fair, and we could see the miles of the glacier flow from above as we flew along the Alaskan coastline. That night, we're back home with the kitty cats, all safe and sound. Tom here now. So unfortunately, I did not see any Bald Eagles, (Barbara saw one), but there was a lady who thought she saw a group of beavers in a pond in Hoonah, but it a group of ducks. Wear your glasses next time granny!!! We did see two grizzlies, sending one picture of a grizzly catching salmon in a stream. Also saw some caribou (and domesticated caribou more popularly known as Reindeer). Also was a Cow Moose and her young, but it was too dark to take pictures. Also saw a fierce Squirrel ready to attack when I made Barbara hike up a steep hill. Best part of the trip was an airplane ride around Denali (Mt McKinley - Denali is the Alaskan and Eskimo name for it), then we landed on a glacier ride next to McKinley. Things I wish we could have done:Made arrangements through a real travel agent who specialized in cruises. This is the last time I go direct through the cruise line website. Their "agents" were not knowledgeable and misrepresented certain portions of the trip and in general wasted my time. For example what was included in the portage from the airport to the hotel in Vancouver (nothing), information about land tours, hotel room views on the land tour, etc. On top of that, many travel agents offer $200 or more in ship credits just for booking with them—and the prices are the same or better.Made arrangements to have view rooms at the hotels on the land portion of the trip. Despite having concierge level rooms on the cruise, it meant nothing on the hotel room assignments. Some of the passengers rated view rooms, but the director was not able to explain how they were assigned. In Talkeetna, I talked to the hotel and could have gotten an upgrade for $100. Take the train from Anchorage to Seward (best wildlife viewing.Take boat tours of area around Seward (bears and whales).Spend a couple extra days in Vancouver or Victoria and see Butchart Gardens and had tea (and stayed) in the Empress Hotel. The land tour was nice, and traveling with a guide was relaxing—no worries, everything is taken care of for you, but the timing was really restrictive. The 5-hour Denali History Tour was a joke. It was really about a 1-1/2 hour bus trip with a lot of waiting in between. I would have rather spent the day in Denali. Or better yet, spent several days and gone out to Wonder Lake. There are private lodging/rentals in the park that pre-date the park and fly visitors in and out. Note: the private train cars we rode on are owned by Celebrity and seemed to be much nicer than the other ones.Fairbanks. Another example of a tightly-scheduled tourist agenda. Would have rather spent the time driving the 60 miles out to the hot springs and spending a day there.Shopping—every stop is the same with the same tourist crap. If you get a chance to buy something unique and local, buy it, but there's not much. Examples: Maple products and cigars, nice sweatshirts/zip fleece/sweaters in Vancouver; some unique jams and jellies along the way, not much else. Stores with authentic art that we wanted to visit in Anchorage were all closed when we got there. Virtually everything else can be bought at your last stop. I should have packed fewer sweaters—really didn't need them and could have bought nice ones in Vancouver or on the ship.

Cabin Review

Aqua Class

Cabin A2

Cabin was a concierge class cabin, category c2, room 9092. Despite all the cruise ship sales hype, what that really gets you is a slightly nicer cabin, a balcony, full service room service for breakfast (but no cappuccino), 6 tiny little canapes at 4pm, and a nice fruit bowl that is refreshed every day. I'd do it again, but don't expect preference in the spa or restaurants, shorter lines in boarding or debarking, or better rooms on the land tour. My research prior to the cruise reflected many concerns about our cabin placement on the ship. It was on level 9, sky deck, right below the main outdoor deck. Some people complained about noise—deck chairs scrapping, people talking/running, and others said it was never a problem. I'm a very light sleeper, and don't like noise, but the most we heard was one person running once. The other concern is the deck overhang that went out about a good 10 feet past our balcony. The good thing was, it could be raining and it would never rain on you. The bad thing was, you would miss a lot of the night sky and you had to maneuver around the overhang and supports (between some of the cabins) when taking pictures. But not really a big deal. I'd do it again. I would avoid the cabin next to us that was angled in such a way that it looked into the "sky suites". If I had the sky suites (complete with butler) I would be mad that people could look down into my living room). The first day the linens were not fit to be rags, but immediately improved. The deluxe bathrobes had major rips and were worn but clean.

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