We booked a Celebrity 7-night cruise for Alaska after enjoying our Mediterranean experience on Celebrity's Solstice. We purchased a package that also included a 5-night land tour, beginning in Anchorage and ending in Seward, where we embarked for the southbound leg of the ship's Inside Passage loop. My husband and I are in our early 60s and this may be our only visit to Alaska, as there are just so many places to go. If you've read a lot of these reviews, as I have, you appreciate that they are very subjective. I offer the following observations for what help they afford to fellow travelers.
Visiting Alaska is, in several ways, a lot like visiting China. There is a a tourist route. If one hundred tourists spend a week each in New York City they'll likely have 100 diverse experiences. If 100 tourists go to China for a week, they'll all see the Wall and the Forbidden City. And if you go to Alaska with a tour you'll see a somewhat predictable pattern of glaciers, mountains and fabulous sea and land animals. Moreover, you'll have your adventure within a 4-month timeframe - tourist season runs mid-May to mid-September. Many of the folks with whom you interact may not even be Alaskans - young people come from the world over to staff the tourist venues, restaurants and hotels. So, do some research before you book. What do you really want to see and do in Alaska? If what's covered in the tour route (sea and/or land) is sufficient, great. If not, you'll want to pay a little more to 'get out there'.
Our Millennium 7-night Southbound tour from Seward to Vancouver took us to within 2 miles of the Hubbard Glacier and to 4 Alaskan ports - Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, & Ketchekan. I'll review the ports separately elsewhere in Cruise Critic, suffice it to say that they are all 'staged' ports, colorful little tourist sections of town lined with shops and more shops. If shops aren't your thing, well, again, do your research. Each port offers a hundred opportunities to really see Alaska. Celebrity offers some great excursions and there are many private companies with competent, trustworthy staff to help you plan your adventures. Aside from the ports what is really nice about cruising Alaska is the opportunity to see whales - several kinds of whales, seals, sea lions, dolphins, --- and maybe walk out on your veranda, as we did one morning, just in time to watch a bald eagle fly overhead. Wow! Cruising the Inside Passage, mountain ranges on both sides of you, is just awesome and using your 'floating boat' to explore different areas and do different things is what makes the Alaskan cruise a good choice.
What did we think of Millennium? Frankly, we found it a bit small and tired-looking, after cruising on Celebrity's Solstice 2 years ago. Millennium's crew, however, are first rate. You'll see them everywhere on board, they'll remember your name and they'll be every bit as geeked as you are when you see that baby whale. All the services and amenities are just fine and Celebrity's website does a great job of giving you all of the details. (well - except for it's shore excursion section, which is about the worst online 'tool' you'll ever encounter.) If you want to pay, I recommend the seating option that allows you to walk into the dining room any time you please (between 6:30-9:30). It was wonderful not having to watch a clock for dinner seating and we never waited even 5 minutes for a table. By all means spend one night at the Olympic Restaurant. It is an absolute bargain -- food and service are delightful.
What one thing would I change on Millennium? Same thing I would change on Solstice -- rethink the Ocean Cafe -- the buffet section of the ship. On Celebrity this place is always crowded, always chaotic. No one helps with seating, folks often walk endlessly just looking for a table to share. Beverage lines are long and no one comes by with refills - even of water or coffee, yet there are plenty of staff selling cocktails. I never, ever enjoyed eating there -- in fact I ate a lot of pizza just to avoid Cafe food lines.Final observation. If you want a richer Alaskan experience, couple your cruise with a land excursion. In fact, I recommend booking a Celebrity cruise just so that you can book the Celebrity Land Excursion. We did the 5-day excursion beginning in Anchorage. Our tour director (Leah) was terrific -knowledgeable and energetic. She was with us every leg of the trip and this trip had a lot of legs --- Wilderness Train from Anchorage to Talkeetna (the Royal Celebrity train cars are fantastic and we saw our first brown bears and bald eagles while sitting in the dining car), --- overnight at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge (perfect), ---train again to Denali for 2 nights that included an 8 hour tour of Denali and our siting of grizzlies) --- bus ride (Royal Celebrity buses are beautiful) to Fairbanks, --- overnight and flight back to Anchorage and down to port Seward by bus to board our ship. Everything well organized, well executed every step of the way. Just wonderful.
9114 - excellent
Juneau offers a wealth of opportunities - or you can just go shopping! It's port is small and folks are helpful. Celebrity offered a photo land & sea excursion which my husband found to be excellent -- he came back with some amazing whale photos! I walked off the ship and over to the 'Big Blue Express Bus' Kiosk and bought a $16 round trip ticket to Mendenhall Glacier. There was only one other couple waiting, nonetheless they brought the bus around and the driver took us straight away on the 20-minute drive to the glacier, giving us plenty of interesting 'local color' along the way. He explained the pick up spot and times when he dropped us off. The park around Mendenhall is lovely. there is an excellent visitor's center and the park rangers will help you choose a good trail. I took a short one that led me to within touching distance of the glacier and a beautiful waterfall. Others were in pursuit of black bears, said to favor the area, and choose other trails. I spent 3 hours at the park, regretting only that I hadn't thought to bring lunch. If you've been doing a lot of touring, this is a great place to just relax and enjoy being in Alaska.
Lots of great excursion opportunities and, of course, shopping, in a port that looks right out of Disney World. We walked to the National Park's visitor center, checked out the exhibits and caught the free walking tour of historic Skagway. It's just 3 blocks of walking, but it was a sunny 70 degree day and we enjoyed our ranger's story. Also visited Skagway's sweet little museum. Lunch at Bonanza Bar & Grill - food and service were just fine.
Book a flightseeing excursion with Island Wings. Michelle Masden will give you the thrill of a lifetime with your flight over Misty Fiords National Monument. And when she lands that little seaplane in one of the Fiord's waterways, docks and steps you out of the plane, and you do a 360 -- OMG! Read all about Michelle's company in Frommer's Alaska 2010 or on TripAdviser.