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