Post updated with complete trip report – I’m finally able to publish again! Yeah! I think my laptop is the problem Booo!
James spent the week at a back-up daycare that graciously took us in until our school was repaired. Luckily the city was incredibly supportive, came through with permits at the speed of light, and James will be back to his classroom this coming Tuesday. All the babies are just fine too, thank goodness.
So back to the original topic, cruising. Week before all the drama, we cruised to Alaska, round trip, from Seattle, on Celebrity’s Infinity. Overall, the whole experience was nice, but we wouldn’t cruise to Alaska again. More about why later.
The good. The service was great. Being out on the open ocean was cool, even when the water was rough. All the staff from our butler, the waiters, the people checking us in, were warm, incredibly quick, and very professional. We felt taken care of. The food was great considering that thousands of people were being served all at once. The scenery was beautiful. Cruising thought the Inside Passage was surreal. The mountains in Alaska were stunning, lots of snow capped peaks and waterfalls. One thing that was interesting was watching the water change. Water in Seattle is a dark greenish blue. Water in Alaska is clearer, paler blue, not like the Caribbean, but definitely blue.
We’d also heard horror stories about embarking and disembarking the boat, people waiting in line for hours. We didn’t experience any issues. We arrived an hour before our published boarding time and walked right on the ship. We couldn’t go to our cabin right away because the rooms were still being cleaned, but there was plenty of exploring to do. Whenever we left the ship or came back, lines were very short and moved briskly. We did miss our appointed departure time the last day, but that wan’t a big deal because we didn’t have to make a connection to anywhere, so we spent some time snooping around, seeing what other classes of staterooms were like. The Presidential Suite is stunning by the way, if you have $15,000 for a week, it can be yours. It includes a baby grand piano in the living room, marble floors, a huge deck that takes up half the width of the back of the boat and wraps around one chunk of the side. Anyway, finding our luggage at the end of our trip was a little daunting, but that was the toughest part.
The outstanding. Dinner in the SS United States. The SS United States is a specialty restaurant that required reservations and charges an extra fee. Paying $60/per person for dinner without a wine paring, or $90/per person with wine was worth every penny. The decor was very refined and elegant. The service was old fashioned, butlers carrying silver platters… white-golved perfection, and as we’d come to expect, friendly. The meal was one of the best we’ve had in years. I had sweat breads and Tim had steak that was “finished” at our table. Where was James during dinner? He was hanging out at The Fun Factory, Infinity’s version of daycare.
The Fun Factory was James’s little slice of heaven. They had a ball pit, and twisty slides (one inside and one out). There was a wall of craft supplies, Leapsters galore, movies, a stage with costumes, computers, and a TV studio. The staff all seemed fresh out of college, were attentive, and kept the kids busy with projects and pretend, and general running around. James went on a tour of the bridge, and had a behind-the scenes tour of the ship. He even went to two sleep-overs. We had to work hard to get him interested in hanging out with us.
Cruising to Hubbard Glacier was AWESOME. Finding cruises that travel round-trip out of Seattle, that also go to a glacier, is really difficult. Some stop at Icy Strait, but the entrance to the strait is narrow and if there is too much ice in the water, the ship won’t go in, and you don’t get any glacier action. We didn’t care about shopping for fur or diamonds during port days, we wanted glaciers, and didn’t want to miss an opportunity because of crappy weather.
Well, we got an eyeful. We got to see it up close, I think we were within .3 of a mile and it was awesome. The captain turned the boat from one side to the other so that everyone got to see the glacier, and we were there for about an hour. Hubbard is one of the few glaciers that is still advancing and it is simply huge, 78 miles long, and 6 miles wide when it reaches the bay. The ice is a brilliant blue and dangerous looking. We managed to catch some huge icebergs calving. Tim an I were in awe, James was not. He couldn’t get back to The Fun Factory fast enough.
We couldn’t get enough of glaciers, and the next day we took a very expensive helicopter ride and spent a very rainy hour walking on Mendenhall glacier. We played in a waterfall inside an ice cave. Standing on crystal clear blue ice that is almost 2000 feet thick, between the tops of two mountains, made me feel insignificant.
The not so good On board entertainment really left something to be desired. There was an acappella group called The Dockers, who were really quite good, but James was the only one impressed by the musical review. I think it was because they were all wearing shiny costumes and he likes glitz. The magician was young, arrogant, and frequently dropped his props. The smooth jazz singer needs to retire.
We also got a little tired of constantly being pestered to buy drinks, or a candid photo to remember our trip by. We know that the ship needs to make money but we felt a little hounded.
Port days were pretty boring. Port towns in Alaska are usually nestled in some amazing scenery, and we should have taken advantage of that. I’d rather have spent less is in the spa and taken a whale watching tour, or even a bus ride out of the city to see wildlife. We didn’t and I’m still kicking myself. Don’t get me wrong, we took a walk through the old part of Katchican, which was built on stilts along a lovely river. Salmon were spawning and seeing thousands of salmon trying to get up-river is more interesting than I thought it would be. However, the towns are filled with endless fur and jewelry stores. I was not seeing any amazing deals, and the whole shopping atmosphere seemed a little desperate.
Spa services were really expensive and just OK. They also tried really hard to sell additional services, which I quickly tired of fending off. The ladies changing room was in decent shape, only a few tiles missing here and there, but Tim said that the men’s changing room was “gross.” He got so fed up with the spa’s showers that he go back to our room to shower after a treatment or a workout.
The really not so good. The ship was in rough shape, really rough shape. We’d read reviews and were prepared so it wasn’t a shock. Everything was worn, or dented, or frayed. Carpet was held down with masking tape. Tile was falling off the walls in the Spa showers, drains were clogged, shower heads were broken. The curtains in our suite were torn along the edges. The ship wasn’t dirty, just abused. We tried to turn a blind eye, but it really hard to ignore. After we got home, we heard that this is becoming more common, that cruise lines are struggling and are re-fitting their ships less, and less frequently.
Overall, we had a nice time, I just don’t think we’d cruise to Alaska again. We couldn’t put our finger on why for a while. We figured it out when we arrived in Victoria, B.C. It was a lovely, warm day, and after kicking around town for a bit, we came back to the board, pulled a protesting James out of the Fun Factory, and wandered around up on deck, sat and watched the sun set, and another cruise ship make its way into port. We’d been somewhat crabby in the days prior and that afternoon we realized why. Alaska was cold and rainy, we spent most of our time indoors, or running quickly between overhangs to stay out of the rain and we had a big old case of cabin fever. Once the sun came out our attitudes improved immediately.
If we do cruise again, which I think we will, we want to find a newer boat, one that hopefully hasn’t been beaten up too badly. We’d consider cruising with Celebrity again just because the service was so good. But, we may go to Mexico or the Caribbean, wherever is warm, so that we can be outside more.
We would willingly pony up the extra cash for a suite again. Having a few extra feet in the living room and in the bathroom kept me sane. I’m not claustrophobic but if we’d been in an inside stateroom I would have had to be medicated, they redefine small, I don’t know how couples stand it much less families. Matter-o-fact, I’d pony up for a bigger suite next time. Having some room to stretch out and relax privately means a lot to me. I don’t know if I care about having a veranda, Tim enjoyed being out on it and I might have spent more time out there if it hadn’t been so cold. I also would have spent less time in the spa and more time working out, or taking excursions.
Advice to future cruisers, choose your ship carefully, each line caters to a different demographic. Choose your destination carefully. Book through a travel center that speicalizes in cruises, they really know how to work the booking system, and will work hard to find you a good deal. We managed to get a veranda suite for the price of an inside stateroom. They are also very knowledgeable about the differences between the cruise lines.
I’ll post pictures soon.