Regatta Cruise Review by dlb237
- Sail Date: May 2011
- Destination: Alaska
- Cabin Type: Veranda Stateroom
We have family in Silicon Valley and hence used an airport hotel from which it was easy to visit them and get to downtown SF, Marriott's Fairfield Inn in Millbrae. We recommend this hotel, as unlike many SFO airport hotels, it's in a neighborhood with interesting (mostly Asian) restaurants nearby - many other hotels are isolated between 101 and the Bay south of the airport. The Millbrae BART/Caltrain station is within walking distance - no waiting for the hotel shuttle. We found a good Vietnamese restaurant close to the hotel for dinner after we arrived (La Petite Camille). This hotel was originally built as a Comfort Suites, so the rooms are small suites - the hotel did a fine job and we will likely stay there again.
Embarkation in San Francisco can be easy if one plans ahead. We went into SF the day before on Caltrain and rented a car from an Enterprise location near the cruise terminal (pier 35). On embarkation day, we had lunch with my family and then drove into SF. I-280 becomes the Embarcadero and goes right by the pier. We dropped our luggage off with a porter, and returned the rental car. Enterprise then happily drove us back to the pier and dropped us off right at the front door. Check in at the pier and on-board (Regatta lounge) was quick. Unfortunately, the HVAC in Horizons was turned off, causing cigarette smoke to infest the entire lounge; we wound up waiting for our cabins in the Library. Smoke in Horizons was a recurring problem during the cruise - Oceania's head office in Miami is going to get a blunt letter from us about this problem, as afflicted Horizons at multiple times throughout the cruise, keeping us out of that area, as DW is physically allergic to tobacco smoke.
Our B2 balcony cabin worked out very well - while we didn't spend much time out on the balcony, the wall of glass provided wonderful views of Alaska, much better than through smaller windows in the C oceanview cabins. Regatta's recent renovation resulted in much better beds, a headboard that one can comfortably lean against, useful bedside reading lights, and usable bedside tables (the stupid lamps built into the center of the tabletops are gone!) - big improvements, well done Oceania! Regatta's a relatively small ship, and wasn't full - about 550 passengers (full capacity would be 684). We don't know where those 100+ missing people were, but they missed a spectacular Alaska cruise.
Getting to Alaska took several days (two at-sea days, plus a port day in Astoria, Oregon). Departure from San Francisco was in picture-postcard-perfect weather - sailing under the Golden Gate bridge was spectacular, and the best views were from the terrace in the rear (!). The sea was a bit choppy, especially the first night out, but by the afternoon of the third day, we had the Queen Charlotte Islands (officially Haida Gwaii) between the ship and the Pacific, and all was calm. The next morning we awoke and the view out the windows was clearly Alaska.
The timing and weather in Alaska were near perfect. Around Memorial Day, all the peaks in Alaska still had snow on them, and the snow-melt resulted in waterfalls down their sides in places. Despite predictions of rain, it was clear for almost the entire cruise. In fact, it was very clear - one could see the Chilkat mountains to the north of Juneau from Mt. Roberts, a sight that locals said is rare!
Details on ports are in the port reviews below, but here's a summary:
- Astoria, Oregon. Interesting place to break the journey north. We liked the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
- Wrangell, Alaska. A working fishing town, real Alaska, including a visit from the state ferry (blue canoe). The chief's house was interesting, Petroglyph Beach wasn't.
- Juneau, Alaska. Spectacular weather for the Mt. Roberts tram and Mendenhall Glacier.
- Icy Strait Point (Hoonah) Alaska. For a port built for the cruise business this was surprisingly well done. Great whale watching with Allen Marine.
- Hubbard Glacier. Unfortunately, the spectacular weather increased the glacier's calving; we couldn't get as close as we would have liked to.
- Sitka, Alaska. Great wildlife watching with Allen Marine including an active totem pole carver's studio in the visitor's center
- Ketchikan, Alaska. It had to happen, we finally got rained on. Make sure to get out of town - downtown Ketchikan is starting to resemble a Caribbean cruise port. There are interesting totem poles at Totem Bight Park and the Totem Heritage Center
- Victoria, BC. Butchart Gardens and the Royal BC Museum are both wonderful must-see attractions.
The ship's shore excursions were generally good, but not cheap - we had a lot of use-it-or-lose-it shipboard credit that we mostly used for shore excursions. As noted above, Allen Marine ran two very good wildlife watching excursion cruises.
Service on-board was up to Oceania's usual fine standards. The food was still very good, particularly in Toscana (we're not steakhouse people, so we don't eat in the Polo Grill). The inclusion of the next day's Grand Dining Room menu in Currents (nightly newsletter) was very helpful in determining where to eat - we wound up eating more in the GDR than on past cruises. Portion sizes seem to have been reduced somewhat but are still generous. There was fresh locally caught fish available for dinner starting after we got to Juneau - tasty! Oceania's sorbets are still excellent, particularly the chocolate (yes, sorbet!) and mango. As usual, afternoon tea was amazing - this is where the pastry chefs show off.
Entertainment was a diversion in the evening, and a bit inconsistent. We started the cruise with a fabulous singer who was an original Christine in one of the Phantom of Opera traveling companies . OTOH, we didn't bother with the pianist, and thought the comic magician was OK (the one on our previous cruise was much better). The concert guitarist put on a nice show, albeit to recorded accompaniment rather than live. In contrast, the ship's entertainment staff were all talented singers, and their show on the last night was a tour de force. The string quartet was pleasant to listen to, particularly during afternoon tea and when playing in the atrium area before dinner.
Disembarkation in Vancouver was at the Canada Place cruise terminal. This took a while, in part because the luggage with the Yellow 1 and Yellow 3 luggage tags had gotten slightly mixed up in the luggage claim area, plus the terminal is a large facility. Eventually we made our way out and took a taxi to the airport Hilton, where our room was ready and waiting. That worked well - the hotel is convenient to the Canada Line rapid transit to go downtown and has a shuttle directly to the airport. On the day we went home, United had weather problems in Chicago and had already re-booked us via Denver by the time we got to the airport. The trip home was routine, and Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounge in the YVR airport was a nice convenient place to wait for a flight.
All-in-all, it was a wonderful cruise, and we'd do it again if we could. Unfortunately, Regatta's not going to Alaska next year, so we'll probably be on her Panama Canal cruise over Memorial Day.
The following two port reviews are here because Astoria and Wrangell aren't on Cruise Critic's port list.
-- Port Review: Astoria, Oregon --
This was a pleasant place to break what would otherwise be a long stretch at sea between San Francisco and Alaska. There's a trolley along the waterfront, but no overhead wires - it tows its own diesel generator on a trailer. The main attraction in town is the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which is focused on the history of navigating the mouth (bar) of the Columbia River - we had no idea how dangerous this could get or the skill required of the pilots, but on sailing away, we noticed a small fishing boat bobbing in the bar area on an otherwise relatively calm day.. Not many ships call in Astoria, and the locals seemed genuinely pleased to see us.
-- Port Review: Wrangell, Alaska --
This was our first port of call in Alaska, and we didn't arrive until mid-day making for a spectacular morning of sailing through straits with forested hills and snow-capped peaks in the background. Wrangell is a small working fishing port, so there's not much there. The local historical museum and Chief Shakes house were definitely worth visiting. On the other hand, Petroglyph Beach was disappointing - the reproduction petroglyphs in the overlook area were better than the real ones on the beach. To see a stunning collection of real petroglyphs, go to the Royal BC museum in Victoria. A nearby garnet deposit with large garnet crystals has been left to the children of the area, and hence there are plenty of children selling garnets, both loose and in the original stone matrix. Late in the day, an Alaska State Ferry (blue canoe) arrived, and left at the same time as Regatta, making for lovely views of the ferry against the mountains of southeast Alaska. This was a nice half-day introduction to Alaska before going on to Juneau.
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
Icy StraitThis port was a pleasant surprise - as a terminal built for the cruise business, we were expecting the sort of tourist trap that one finds in the Caribbean. However, we found a fish cannery that had been nicely renovated with interesting displays about how fish canning was done, a reasonable number of small shops, and a nice trail along the beach and through the woods.View All 336 Icy Strait Cruise Port Reviews
We went on a whale watching excursion with Allen Marine (their catamarans are bigger than other tour boats, and more stable). This was wonderful - we saw lots of whales, including a baby humpback that was repeatedly spy-hopping (head rose out of the water to have a look around) with the occasional breach (jumped completely out of the water). The baby humpback and his mother were one of at least a dozen whales that we saw, along with a sea otter or two and a few bald eagles. I walked down the road to Hoonah (local town) late in the day, and watched the local bald eagle glide in and out of the trees.
View Cruise Critic's Icy Strait Cruise Port Review
JuneauRegatta got one of the better berths in Juneau on this cruise, in between three other large ships. We had wondered how far we'd be from the Mt. Roberts tram - not to worry - the tram's base station was right outside our balcony. The weather was near-perfect, and the views from Mt. Roberts after taking the tram were spectacular. The tram is expensive, but worth it, and the ticket is a day pass, so one can go back up later. Buy the tickets directly from the tram to avoid the cruise line's markup.View All 1,559 Juneau Cruise Port Reviews
We took a ship's tour to Mendenhall Glacier that included stops at the state historical museum, a fish hatchery and a nature walk through the woods. The Mendenhall glacier was spectacular, even from the visitor center. Having a dedicated bus with a knowledgeable and cheerful driver made a big difference; we learned a lot from his narrative between the sites. The immediate area around the docks is getting overrun with shops that cater to cruise passengers, but this is only in the immediate area of the docks.
View Cruise Critic's Juneau Cruise Port Review
KetchikanDowntown Ketchikan has been overrun by cruise-related shops - jewelers and the like. The National Forest Resource center is well worth a visit, and we took a ship's tour out to Totem Bight State Park. This was the only time we got rained on in Alaska, and the totem poles plus the chief's house still looked spectacular in the rain. We were lucky that Regatta was the only ship in town that day - on days when multiple large ships are in town, the place almost certainly gets overrun with thousands of cruise passengers.View All 1,791 Ketchikan Cruise Port Reviews
One of the local shops that is genuine is a chocolate shop (they make their own chocolates, in more varieties than we thought existed) called KetchiCandies; some of their chocolates were a very tasty souvenir. Their specialty is chocolate-covered Oreos, including mint Oreos (decadent!).
View Cruise Critic's Ketchikan Cruise Port Review
SitkaAs in Icy Strait, we went wildlife watching with Allen Marine on another of their catamarans. Sitka is a tender port, and Allen Marine picked us up at the ship. They promised sea otters, and delivered big time - dozens and dozens. We also saw harbor seals, a few whales, and the captain even found a bear exploring the shoreline.View All 344 Sitka Cruise Port Reviews
Sitka has managed to resist the onslaught of cruise-oriented stores; the town still has a genuine historical feel to it, and most of the stores are run by locals.
The restored Russian Orthodox bishops house (part of the national park) was interesting to visit, and the rest of the park (far end of town) has a very nice collection of totem poles in a woodland setting along with an active totem pole carver's shop in the visitors center. There's a recently carved pole outside the visitors center commemorating the history of the park, including an image of a buried Russian claim plate (claiming the land for the Russian Czar) that was found in Sitka.
View Cruise Critic's Sitka Cruise Port Review
VancouverVancouver has a lot of interesting things to see and do, but is a bit spread out. Fortunately, they have an excellent transit system, including a rapid transit line to the airport (Canada Line) and a ferry across the harbor (SeaBus).View All 672 Vancouver Cruise Port Reviews
We liked Stanley Park and the aquarium - the live animal shows were interesting, especially the Pacific white-sided dolphin show (they don't look at all like their Atlantic bottle-nosed brethren, e.g. Flipper). There are lots of interesting restaurants (primarily Asian) along Robson and Denman streets near the park. We had lunch at one that makes their own fresh noodles.
Instead of the heavily advertised Capilano suspension bridge, we went to the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge in a public park. This takes a while to get to (SeaBus to North Vancouver, then bus 229 to the park - the entrance and bridge are a short walk from the bus stop. The park is not heavily developed, so the bridge feels like it's in the middle of the woods (which it is).
View Cruise Critic's Vancouver Cruise Port Review
VictoriaWe organized our own visit to Victoria; there are three places that one simply must go. The first is the downtown area by the harbor including the Empress Hotel and the BC legislature building. The second is the Royal BC Museum in the same area, and the third (and best) is Butchart Gardens, which is a bit north of the city. Oceania provided a free shuttle to the Empress Hotel.View All 1,320 Victoria Cruise Port Reviews
Butchart Gardens is a justifiably famous set of landscaped gardens that started out on the site of a worked out quarry and spread into the adjacent estate of the quarry owner. It was late spring, and lots of things were in bloom; the sheer variety of plants and landscaping styles is impressive, and they have their own dancing fountains at one end of the former quarry. There are regular tour buses from the harbor area to Butchart Gardens, and buying the tickets directly from the bus operator allows one to vary the amount of time spent at the gardens, because the buses run throughout the day.
The Royal BC museum has a lot of interesting exhibits, but their collection of First Nations material is spectacular. They also have a nice walk through reconstruction of turn-of-the-century town storefronts, a cannery, etc.
View Cruise Critic's Victoria Cruise Port Review