Our Celebrity Cruise

As I reported earlier (see “So Long Alaska, and Thanks for All the Fish”) my family of three recently took the Celebrity Millennium cruise from Seward Alaska to Vancouver BC.  Here’s the story…

Day 1: All Aboard

The journey began in the small town of Seward Alaska.  We arrived in Seward in the morning and spent the day walking through town and visiting the aquarium which was very nice.

Seward Alaska

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Aboard the ship, our stateroom was on level 7 in the very back (Okay, okay, “aft”) of the boat.  The room was quite large (about the same size as a standard hotel room if not larger).  We had paid extra for a room with a veranda (which is a more expensive way of saying “balcony”).  Despite the high price, we were not disappointed.  The balcony veranda was almost as big as the room itself!  In the photo below you can get an idea for how large it was.  If you look closely, you’ll also see me in the glass-door reflection with water and mountains behind:

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Our stateroom attendant brought us fruit and hors’ devours (and again every day of the cruise).  We ate an additional snack at the welcome buffet.  Then, we explored the ship, and eventually dressed for the 8:30 seating.  Dinner was good, but unmemorable.

Day 2: Hubbard Glacier

The second day we were at sea en route to the Hubbard Glacier.  When we arrived, the skies were crystal clear.  Photos and videos can’t do justice to how amazing it is to float up close to a huge glacier like this one.  The thunderous roar of calving icebergs made the experience even more amazing.

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As we left the Hubbard Glacier, we had an amazing view from our Veranda:

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Day 3: Juneau

On day three, we docked in Alaska’s capital, Juneau.  We headed first to the visitor center where a helpful guide asked about our interests and then gave us a map showing a nice walk through town followed by a hike in the hills above Juneau where an old log flume still conducts water down the mountain.  This was one of the highlights of our trip.  It was the only time we really got close to nature outside of canned tourist experiences.

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In the afternoon we took a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.  There we saw salmon jumping their way upstream, bears relaxing (probably after eating some of those salmon), a waterfall, and of course a glacier.  This one wasn’t as awe inspiring as the Hubbard glacier, but very cool nevertheless (no pun intended).

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Day 4: Skagway

In the morning we explored the small town of Skagway.  Years ago, this was a boomtown which catered to prospectors making their way to Canada to find gold.  Today the town caters to cruise ship tourists with the usual assortment of fudge, food, and souvenir shops.  Despite this, the town has done a great job in preserving its past with many original buildings still intact, a replica saloon, and more.  In the afternoon we took an excursion to a dog sled camp where dogs are bred and trained for sled races.  There we rode a modified golf cart that was pulled by a team of sled dogs.  Afterwards, we got to play with some puppies.  One cute one fell asleep in my son’s arms.  We were sorely tempted to run off with it… 

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As we returned from the dog sled camp, a thick fog descended upon Alaska.  Below is the view we saw for the next couple of days…

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Day 5: Icy Straight Point

Icy Straight Point turned out to be nothing more than a few shops and restaurants built for tourists looking for more ways to part with their money.  A small nature path on shore, and whales frequently surfacing in the ocean did their part to redeem this otherwise dismal stop.  I considered riding the zip line, but the thick fog made this unappealing.  Have you ever noticed that virtually all zip lines are the “world’s longest?”  Strange…

Day 6: Ketchican

I think that Ketchican would have been interesting if the rain had ever stopped while we were there.  We killed an hour or so at the Lumberjack show (which was actually kind of fun), but otherwise couldn’t bring ourselves to brave the dismal weather.  On the boat, we played ping pong.  We exercised in the fitness center.  We relaxed in the hot tub.  We played cards.  We ate.  In the evening, as the boat pulled away from Ketchican, the fog finally lifted, and we saw sun again!

Day 7: Inside Passage

On the final full day of our cruise, the weather was perfect.  We spent as much of the day as possible outdoors on the deck and on our veranda.  Views of the Inside Passage were beautiful.  We went indoors only for meals and to see the Celebrity Chef competition (similar to Iron Chef, but with chefs from the cruise).  This was a lot of fun, especially since I was picked to be an assistant chef!  Under the direction of the real chef, I turned over lamb chops a few times while he did virtually everything else.  And we won!  I’m sure it was my great lamb chop flipping that made the difference. 

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On the last evening of the cruise, we finally tried out one of the ship’s specialty restaurants named Qsine (pronounced “cuisine”).  I had thought that the specialty restaurants charged an extra $12 to $20 per person, but my memory was obviously way off.  They actually charged $40 per person.  However, it was worth it!  Not only was the food amazingly good, but the whole experience was amazing.  The evening began with iPads which held the restaurant’s interactive menu.  We were encouraged to order as many items as we wanted.  Dishes were brought to the table one at a time, family style so that everyone could try everything.  Each dish was presented in a creative and fun way.  One example is the filet mignon which came on a painter’s palette with different colored sides and sauces along the side as if they were the paint.  The dessert menu was delivered as a puzzle, and the desserts themselves were presented just as creatively as the meal.  Overall, it was a fun and delicious experience.

Yeah, but…

There were lots of things to like about this cruise.  The Alaskan landscape was amazingly beautiful (when we could see it).  The ship was very nice and in good condition.  Our room was very tastefully decorated and the beds were comfortable.  Service was uniformly very good.  The food was always very good.  But…

After just one day on the cruise all three of us groaned when we realized we had 6 more days to spend on the ship.  Why?  I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what we didn’t like, but the fact is that we just didn’t care for the experience.  On other vacations we’ve always enjoyed discovering hidden gems.  On the cruise, experiences were all gift wrapped and presented to us (and to a thousand others) often for an extra charge.  The food was all very good, but (with the exception of Qsine) none of the food was memorable.  At the included restaurants there was never a single meal or dessert that I craved to eat again.  Food was plentiful, but opportunities to burn it off with exercise were few.  I know many people love cruising, but through this experience we learned that, for future vacations, we should stick with planes, trains, and automobiles.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Great post. We have always thought a cruise would limit our experience, so I am glad to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks!

  2. Nice balanced review. I enjoy cruising, but admit to many of its downfalls. A few thoughts, in case your readers are debating on cruising:
    1. A port stop is what you make of it. Yes, they are canned, touristy experiences. However (for example), a gorgeous 1.5-mile walk from Icy Strait Point will take you to the town of Hoonah, a small Tlingit community, perfect for meeting locals in the bar and sharing cold beers and cracking dungeness crab. The problem with cruises is if you don’t put in the research ahead of time, you won’t accidentally stumble onto these experiences, unlike normal travel where it can be easy to find hidden gems.
    2. I always budget to pay extra for meals exactly because the included ones are kind of boring. That means (for me) a few nights at specialty restauarants and a lot of lunches in port to sample local flavors.
    3. Even as someone who likes to cruise, I get bored on sea days. I hate fighting the crowds and the onboard activities are never adventurous enough for me. I deal with this by picking port-intensive itineraries and avoiding trips with 2-3 days of ‘nothing’.

    I don’t think cruising is a perfect vacation and it’s certainly not for everyone, but I think everyone should give it a shot once, just like Frequent Miler 🙂

  3. Great review! I feel pretty much the same way.

    I have done one cruise and it was a $79 deal to go from West Palm Beach to Grand Bahama Island and back over a weekend. It was fine but definitely not something I long for. Very touristy and sales driven since cruise companies make the most money on booze, gambling, and excursions.

    I did my research and skipped all excursions. It was $35 just for a round trip shuttle to the main area where the beach is. We skipped that and I spent $5 each way for a taxi. Laziness costs money! We relaxed on the beach and had a great day.

    I doubt I would ever do another cruise with one exception: Transatlantic boat positioning cruise. Sounds complicated but basically ships need to get from N. America to Europe. They are quite cheap ($399 for a week last I saw with $150 on board credit). I would use this as a way to get to Europe cheaply. I would load up on books and other little projects to do by the boat’s pool. Then use points to get back or to my onward destination!

  4. This itinerary looks exactly like the one I’ll be on next May on RC. Do you have any advice for booking an open-jaw ticket for this cruise? Also, how long was the train ride from Anchorage to Seward? Was it easy to go from the airport to the port using the railroad?

    • MCB: I used United miles to book the one way ticket to Anchorage, and BA points to book the one way return from Vancouver. In Anchorage we took a taxi to the downtown Marriott. We booked (on our own — not through the cruise) the early morning train from Anchorage to Seward. We walked from the Marriott to the train station (about half a mile). You can stay at the Hilton instead which is much closer to the train station. The train ride took about 4 hours and was magnificent. Even though we didn’t see much wildlife, the scenery was spectacular and breakfast on the train was quite good. We arrived in Seward around 11 am and so had plenty of time to explore the town before boarding the cruise. Our luggage was checked at the train station all the way through to the cruise boat (which was quite helpful!).

  5. MCB: We did same cruise June of this year and enjoyed it (the sun was out every day for us). It was no issue to book AS LAX-ANC and YVR-LAX. Train to Seward was longggggggg. We took afternoon train and left at 1:00pm and arrived at 5:45pm. Saw no wildlife except a couple of eagles at a distance. Everyone kept telling us that the wildlife (bears etc)is seen after the salmon start to run in late July..early August. Our train actually left from the airport depot. So to clarify…We arrived at airport and took a cab to Marriott where we spent the night in a grossly overpriced room(Celebrity had them all reserved) and received no points or stay credit. Next day we boarded a bus back to the airport to catch the train.The bus fare was included in the train fare.

  6. @pssteve: Thx for the information. Looks like I’ll have to keep times in mind for flights/trains/cruise. So you booked the train directly with the cruiseline? Is that the only way your bags will go to the ship from the train station? Anyone know of a website that has alerts on multi-city flights?

  7. @FM: Thx for the hotel info. I’m coming from the East Coast, so I have to figure out what is best time wise. Don’t want to miss the boat! It would probably be best to spend one night in Anchorage and one night in Vancouver. Is the train station you used at the airport depot too?

    • MCB: No, the train station (Alaska Railroad) is downtown. I didn’t even know there was one at the airport. The downtown station is very convenient after an overnight stay since you can stay downtown. In Vancouver I stayed at the Renaissance (Marriott) which was walking distance from the cruise.

  8. We have never been on a cruise (or had the desire to be) before, precisely because of what you mentioned in your “Yeah, But …” section. But your amazing pictures made me reconsider that just a little bit – maybe we can get on a half- or full-day cruise or something like that when we visit Alaska.

  9. @MCB: you can check your bag at the Alaska Railroad train station with Celebrity Cruiseline. They will handle your bags whether you booked a trip through them or not. When you get to the train station there will be a package tent to the right of the station entrance and there will be a Celebrity booth there for checking. Make sure you put your Cruise tags on so they make it to your room. There is an early morning train ride that allows for more time in Seward and the ability to go to the Exit Glacier if you are interested. The Celebrity train is at 11:00 am. Since you will be coming from EST–it will be very easy for you to get up early for the morning train. I found no reason to pay for the higher priced ticked for the dome car and just paid for the Adventure class ticket–with access to the dome car and all areas of the train. I agree with FM that the train can be a real highlight of the trip. There is also a bus option but does not get into the interior area of Alaska. HTH

  10. My land vacations are always most fast paced than my sea vacations, even on mega ships like Royal Caribbean Allure where they provide rock climbing, ice skating, and surfing. I’m not one to linger too long in one place on land. All inclusive beach resort vacations are not really my thing. Cruises, for me, are vacations to really stop “go-go-going” on sea days mixed with a few more active port days. I also budget for specialty dining and look for DIY or remote excursions.

    Different cruise locales, lines, and ship sizes have different vibes.

  11. Thanks for your cruise review! We are looking at a cruise from Singapore to Shanghai in June 2013. If you book a cruise directly from an airline website you may received bonus miles. For example, my cruise will get me either bonus miles of 19,190 miles from US Airways or 25,000 miles from United. If you have Discover Cash Back Rewards sitting around, you could use buy a Royal Caribbean gift card for $100 that is worth $200 on Royal Caribbean. We have 2 staterooms so that’s $200 Cash Back Reward spent for $400 off the price of cruise (but you must Discover’s travel agency).

  12. Webazoid: burned a total of about 200k miles for three separate one way awards for family of three. Almost all segments were first or business. Went through UR mall to Travelocity to book cruise — haven’t received points yet from that.

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