Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: July 18th, 2003
Itinerary: Alaska Northbound
This was our second cruise with Celebrity. Our first experience in the Caribbean (Mercury) was fabulous so we decided to stay with them. The Summit did not disappoint. The staterooms were clean, the general areas were state of the art, the food was delicious. In short, any and all of the aspects of our vacation that the cruise ship itself had a hand in were perfect.
Unfortunately, the weather did not entirely cooperate. We had heard prior to disembarkment that the first port, Ketchikan, was the precipitation capital of North American. In fact, it did rain, but it was not a soaking rain. Rather, it was one of those all-day misty kind of rains. Four of our seven days were similar weather conditions. We traveled in mid-July which was supposed to produce the warmest average temperatures for the destinations, but the temperature never reached 70 degrees. On the bright side, it never really fell below 55 either. It was quite comfortable and perfect weather for a mid-term pregnancy! However, if sun and swimming are what you are looking for, I would recommend the Caribbean destinations.
We were advised to take the Northbound cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage. I have to agree, the scenery definitely improves as the ship pushes North. So each morning provided new and even more beautiful scenery.
Our first port, Ketchikan, was a bit of a disappointment. Due to weather conditions, none of the airborne excursions received clearance to fly, so the passengers were left with no choice but to tour the town or go rafting, fishing etc. We took the opportunity to see the totem poles that Ketchikan is famous for. They are much larger than we imagined. We also took a guided bus tour of the city. Generally speaking, the city did not appear to have much life. The tourist areas just off the boat were just that...very touristy and over-priced!
The next stop was Skagway. This was a far more lively town. We took the single engine air tour over the glaciers and were amazed at how large they are and how they seemingly go on forever up into the sky. We also took a moderate hike up a mountain to a little inland lake where I took an exhilarating dip. It was COLD! The plane ride was about an hour and we booked it on our own - saving about $40 off the price that the ship charged for the same flight. The hike was recommended by some employees at an outdoor sports shop. The trail is well marked once you find it! The entrance is on the west side of town just over a bridge. It was a moderate climb, but not too rigorous. It was actually tougher coming down.
So Skagway was a treat and infinitely more beautiful than Ketchikan. I suppose the weather had something to do with it as well since it was the nicest day of our trip.
The next port of call was Juneau - the capital city. If ever there was a time to spend the money for a helicopter ride, Juneau is the place to do it! We booked through the ship since we did not want to risk the possibility of missing out on the adventure (As it turned out, there were plenty of less pricey trips available on shore). The helicopter landing on the glacier was the highlight of our trip! They are so big! It was not nearly as cold as one might think. Maybe 5-10 degrees cooler. Typically, they allow you to try your hand at dog-sledding, but there was not enough snow on the glacier this day. But just walking around on one of these glaciers is awe striking. The crevices are enormous and sometimes 50 feet deep. This is not Disneyland either as there are no markings as to where you may or may not go. I would recommend taking a sip of thousands-of-years-old-glacier water too....it was so crisp!
The next day was another day at sea through the inside passage to the Hubbard Glacier. This is the granddaddy of the glaciers on this particular cruise. It is mammoth! Our recommendation, do not try to catch a glimpse from the ships' deck as everyone is up there. Rather, go down to deck 10 a little early and relax in the indoor heated hot-tub. There were less than a dozen people there and you can easily relax in a reclining beach chair, eat fruit, etc...and the view is every bit as spectacular!
The last stop was Valdez. If you can get a ship that stops in Sitka instead, we would highly recommend it. And we have never been in Sitka! It can't be worse than Valdez though. There is simply nothing in the town. We stopped at the public library to e-mail some friends as internet usage is free in the libraries.
The cruise ends in Seward and you will need to book either a train ride or bus ride into Anchorage. We opted for the more scenic train ride. The train leaves very early from the ship and they say it takes about four hours. Actually, it is more like six with all the stops! However, it was very scenic and was probably more comfortable than the bus as you sit at a table and have others to chat with, play cards, eat a meal, etc. The bus ride is only about two and a half hours so if you are the type who likes to sleep in, definitely take the bus.
Overall, the cruise was fabulous, but here are the tips we would recommend if we were to do it over:
1. See if you can get to Vancouver a day early, it really looked like a fun town and we would have rather spent the extra day there as opposed to Anchorage. Check out Water Street for unique shopping.
2. Save yourself hundreds if not thousands of dollars by booking an interior cabin. How much time do you really spend on the balcony or looking out the window? Especially when it is cool outside! And don't forget, there is usually only about 4 to 5 hours of darkness so if you are dependent on darkness for your sleep, you definitely do not want any windows.
3. As much as possible, try to book your excursions on land. The ship sells out fast and is typically about 20-30% more expensive. Be sure to do at least one helicopter ride that actually lands on a glacier. The floatplanes are nice, but the helicopter was the highlight! Also, if you are at all physically able, take the hike in Skagway. There are several longer hikes as well as more difficult ones than what we went on. We were kind of pressed for time, but could easily have spent the whole day exploring the mountain! Plus it is free and you can go off on your own and at your own pace. Pack a picnic, but bring hiking shoes and a camera!
4. Plan on doing something in Valdez. Whether it be filling out thank you letters or taking a rafting trip....do not plan on being entertained by the town.
5. Remember, room service is free, very prompt, and the food is actually quite good. Take advantage of it.
6. We saw people in the casino every waking hour. Very sad! Get out and enjoy the scenery for the love of heaven!
7. If you like sushi, there is an all you can eat buffet each night on deck ten. I am pretty sure this is where I gained most of my weight! I have never seen or heard of a sushi bar on a cruise ship before! It was delicious! Kudos!
8. Finally, you should know that this cruise was definitely populated by an older crowd. We are in our early thirties and we were near the youngest on board. We saw less than a half dozen infants and maybe a dozen teens. Lots of parents were there with their kids....but the kids were in their 40's and 50's! It is a relaxing trip as opposed to some of the more traditional Caribbean cruises and perfect for a couple in a mid to late term pregnancy.
The most embarrassing part of the trip were the "Ugly Americans" among us. We witnessed one man absolutely belittling one of the crews' staff because they would not serve him the "hearty" breakfast which closes at 10:00. We witnessed this tirade at 10:30. So the guy did not make it into the dining room in time and would have to settle for the "light breakfast". One word sir, get up earlier! It is not the waiter's fault! We also witnessed a group of women who chastised one of the ships' staff because the excursion they booked would not wait 15 minutes while they went to change their clothes. Listen ladies, the world does not revolve around you. Cruises are the most brainless vacation that a person could possibly take. The ship and its' crew take care of everything. And I mean everything! All the passengers have to do is be on time. We're all adults, is it so difficult to be on time? And if you are late, don't berate an innocent employee for your failures. These people should be ashamed of themselves!