by Jeff Coudriet
August 11, 2000
Earlier this year I decided that a cruise through the Inside Passage might be a nice idea since the summer is so hot and humid here in Washington, DC-a cool little getaway. We booked this cruise around February or March and who would have known that this summer was going to be so cool and rainy! Nevertheless, it was a wonderful vacation.
We had previously sailed on the Galaxy out of San Juan in December 1998. It was interesting to compare cruising on her in Alaska to the Southern Caribbean. Although both were great cruises, I'd honestly have to give the edge to Alaska based on that state's remarkable beauty. Having a few more days at sea (two sailing the Inside Passage and ½ after visiting Hubbard Glacier versus the one sea day on the S. Caribbean route) allowed us to explore and enjoy the Galaxy more this time without rushing around to go into a new port every day. I'd say we got to experience the staff somewhat more again and were nearly universally pleased with the experience.
Day One - Vancouver
Two years ago we had stayed in a Cat. 2 (again with a veranda) on the Penthouse deck and liked this cabin very much. Our cabin was on starboard side so we would see much scenery on our veranda for days to come. The cabin was clean, and the beds were made up as a king as requested. Our cabin stewardess was Maggie from Poland, but I don't think we saw her at all that first day. I noticed just a tad of wear and tear--a missing strap on one of the veranda chairs, a slight deliberate scratch on the marble desk, a slight deliberate scratch on the wooden headboard of the bed. Who would do such things? In any case, they did not detract from our enjoyment of the cabin. We had some additional paperwork waiting for us (have you sailed in the past kind of thing) so we filled that out and we had our table assignment for dinner--second seating on the upper level of the beautiful Orion Restaurant. We seemingly received invitations for different parties all week-some of which we went to and some we didn't. We dropped off our paperwork at guest relations and went upstairs to the Oasis Cafe for the buffet, which was good.
The lifeboat drill was at 5 pm and our station was in the Casino--sadly the slots weren't working yet! After a demonstration of how to put on the life jacket (in about 5 languages) we then proceeded to go out to the promenade area in no particular order--not nearly as organized as on Holland America I must say, but we memorized where our lifeboat was so we could be prepared to jump from our veranda if necessary! Our sailaway was at 5:45 so we went up on deck to watch the Galaxy pull out of Canada place, make a big turn, and head out under the Lions Gate Bridge--what a wonderful sight that was. At 7 pm we went up to the Stratosphere Lounge, on deck 12 forward to meet up for cocktails with some folks I had met on the internet. It was great meeting Alisa and her gang from New Jersey! The Stratosphere Lounge is a gorgeous room (in my humble opinion) which is perfect for an Alaska cruise. Huge windows for sightseeing during the day. The cool blues of the carpet and upholstery and the warm woods of the decor make for a very favorable impression. It is one of my very favorite rooms on the Galaxy and I'm glad we spent more time there this cruise.
At 8:30 we went off to dinner, table 686, in the Orion Restaurant. Our waiter was Mario from India and asst. waiter was Kumar, also from India. At our round table for six were a family--the parents in their 50's (?) and two sons, aged 18 and 23. They were very pleasant company to spend the week with. Our sommelier was Toni from Croatia (I think!) and the cocktail waiter we really didn't get to know since none of us did cocktails at dinner particularly. Our maitre'd was John from Columbia-he did the usual things like coordinate the anniversary cake for Ed and Angie and freed the lobster from its tail. All I can really remember from dinner that night was the Swan Puff at dessert (of course!) and that I ordered iced tea at dinner and decaf with dessert--which Kumar delivered promptly ever night thereafter without prompting. He was great. Also that first day we met the onboard lecturer, Phyllis, a native of Ketchikan. She was to provide commentary over the PA system throughout the cruise and she was just wonderful, approachable, knowledgeable, and articulate. Since we are big fans of Celebrity's policy of few onboard announcements, this type of thing could run the risk of being intrusive--but Phyllis' voice and manner was so soothing, somnolent to some, but we found it quite pleasant and enjoyable. We also enjoyed running in to her on the ship and chatting and she happened to be sitting at a table near ours for dinner as well. She was joined on this cruise by her daughter who was from Washington, DC as well and we knew some folks in common--small world!
Day Two - Inside Passage
We were also invited to a party for honeymooners and anniversary people but we skipped that. They noticed we weren't there and sent us another handwritten note inviting us to another anniversary party, which I thought was nice of them, but we skipped that as well! Somewhere along the way I bought a very nice flower bouquet for our cabin at a flower stand they had set up near the shops--beautiful (and fragrant) Casablanca lilies, white roses, and other white flowers, which I put on the glass table near the loveseat in our cabin. It lasted the whole week and filled our cabin with a wonderful scent. Now that it seems both Millennium and the Infinity are going to have flower shops, and all that, it was nice to see that they added a little something to the Galaxy as well. I did notice the ship seemed to have more live plants and flowers than it did 2 years ago in the S. Caribbean.
Tonight was going to be a formal night so there was the Captain's Welcome Aboard cocktail party in the Celebrity Theater so we got all dolled up and headed over to that--skipping (again) the photographer who was standing there to snap your picture with Captain Iordanis Adamidis. We headed straight for the balcony seats and a waitress promptly offered us a selection of drinks--we took a glass of champagne each. Apart from absolutely loving the decor of the Celebrity Theater, I also love the bench style seating and would be appalled to see drink holders like in a stadium on each seat and I love the little cocktail tables they have installed there with the light coming up through the table's shaft to the glass table top. When the tri-folded cocktail menus are put on top of these tables they almost look like japanese lanterns or some such thing. This type of seating is also great for nuzzling up with your loved one during the show. I did notice some definite upholstery cleaning that needed to be done in this room since both the seats and the carpeting are such a light color--but it looked like they were either doing that or replacing the upholstery and carpeting in places as parts looked brand new. At the party the Captain introduced the staff and all that usual stuff.
We left to go to dinner and stopped in the Rendezvous Lounge for a bit. Every night a duo from Argentina, Loa and Piero were playing there. I found them a bit...hmmm, how to describe it? Only semi-talented. Loa, the lady singer, also played the bongo drums. Quite a talent I must say. In any case, they were humorous to laugh at I suppose. If you ever seen the movie "The Ritz", remember the character Googie Gomez and you have a picture of what Loa is like. Far better were the acapella group, the High Cs, and the harpist Colette, who often played up in the Stratosphere Lounge before dinner and in Michael's club after dinner. We went to dinner but I didn't write down what I had at all although I will say on this cruise there was no shortage of Alaskan seafood, from copious amounts of salmon, to King Crab, halibut, char, and all sorts of other things. Seafood eaters seemed to be in heaven and 2 of the late night buffets featured Alaskan seafood as their highlights. We were too late from dinner to make it to the Broadway trivia contest at 10:15 (I guess we enjoyed dinner) but I noticed the questions I did hear were virtually the same as on our Horizon cruise to Bermuda last September--which we won! Oh well, maybe next time. Tonight's show was "Broadway Express" which was about par for the course on these type of things. One of the white male singers started chanting in Swahili as they started their "Lion King" numbers, which was slightly disconcerting to me..., but it was a halfway decent show nonetheless. It just didn't say "Lion King" to me somehow. Tonight was going to be a "Gourmet Bites" night, which our waiter hilariously in his broken English referred to as just "bites". Was he trying to send us a message? In any case, we didn't stay up late after the show so we didn't get to partake. There was a midnight champagne dance going to be held in the Savoy Night Club but we were too pooped to party at that point.
Day Three - Juneau
Robert walked over to the Alaska State Museum, which he enjoyed, and I went up the tramway to Mt. Roberts. He wasn't wild about the concept of getting on the tram! At the top of the tram, which I guess is about 2/3 way up Mt. Roberts there are a number of trails to follow, including one that goes near the top of the mountain. Not being particularly inclined to climb upwards, I decided to hike down the trail back into town. They had warning signs about some bear sightings, and they warned that the trail down was physically challenging and that hiking boots were recommended. In short, they were right! It was definitely physically demanding! Downhill sounds easy doesn't it? Well imagine going downhill like a mountain goat!! That trail was STEEP in places, and muddy too in parts. But honestly, I thought it was a heck of a lot of fun, it was off the beaten path of the tour buses, and I got to see some nature up close and personal. In short, I greatly enjoyed it. This was one of our few truly clear days but in the forest it was rather shady. Nonetheless I had to take off my sweat shirt as I was getting a very good workout going downhill. Along the way I saw some nice plants on the forest floor, including wild blueberries (I thought I'd save them for the bears!) and the 2 mile trail took me about 1.5 hours, just as the sign said at the top. I would not recommend this trail for small children or anyone who is not in decent physical shape. Along the way I met a Juneau resident, I would say a late 50's male, who stopped and chatted for a bit. He was somewhat surprised to see a cruise passenger on this trail! In any case, I felt good about doing a non-tourist thing and went on my way. I must say, the sounds of helicopters sometimes rudely intruded upon the peace and quiet of my forest journey--I certainly sympathize with the folks in Juneau who don't like all of the noise these things sometimes generate. At the bottom of the mountain the trail comes out at 6th Street and you have to walk a bunch of wooden stairs to get onto a paved street as Juneau's streets sometimes become stairs! I was quite hot and sweaty by the time I finished (next time I'll definitely wear shorts!) and so I went to this building downtown that had a bunch of stores in it (and an internet cafe) to go use the restroom and at least wash my face--I wanted to look semi-respectable for a little shopping. After nosing around the stores a bit I went back to the ship--truly exhausted by my hike-everything from the soles of my feet to my lower back ached for several days.
That night was an informal night at dinner and the ship wasn't going to sail until 10:45, so if you wanted to eat dinner in Juneau or knock back a couple beers in town you could. We ate onboard and went to the "Ultimate Trivia" after dinner, which we won! We got little metal Celebrity key chains. The show tonight was Jacob Konviser, "From Russia With Love", who I guess was some sort of violinist. We ended up going to gamble instead! They held some sort of Tropical Swing Dance party in the Savoy Night Club but we skipped that as well.
Day Four - Skagway and Haines
After lunch we went to the train--which was parked right by the docks and climbed aboard. Many of the cars are restored cars from the "olden days" and others are reproductions of period cars. They were nice enough and I marveled at the woodwork and design of the cars. While still in Skagway you passed an old cemetery, and the railroad yards where you could see some old cars and steam engines. Soon we began our climb into the mountain and although it was still rainy and somewhat foggy I must say it was spectacular. I often stood out on the train platform between the cars to take pictures. When you looked down you were often looking straight down a high cliff--not for the vertiginous! I guess all told the train ride was 3 hours or so total and quite well worth the money we thought. If it were a clear day I would have entertained doing the shore excursion that involved a ride up in the train and a ride back downhill by bicycle, but not in the heavy rain like today. That is one advantage to not "booking up" to early--you get to see what the weather is like and what your mood is like that day.
At 6 pm or so we sailed away for Haines, which is only about 15 miles back down the Lynn Canal. We decided to hop upstairs to the Stratosphere Lounge for a good view. This was a room which was very well utilized on this Alaska itinerary. It was like having a big picture window on all that spectacular scenery. The bar staff was also friendly and efficient. Since it was still pouring out we didn't decide to go into Haines that evening and just hung out and prepared for dinner. Tonight (and last night) which were both late nights in port there was alternative dining available by reservation up in the Oasis Pool area. Not wanting to miss the wonderful experience of the Orion Restaurant we did not bother with alternative dining on this cruise and I didn't hear of anyone who tried it. Often during dinner our table mates described their adventures during the day, which we enjoyed. They also seemed to enjoy the Aqua Spa treatments quite a bit, which I skipped this time around as I could not find my bathing suit while packing!
Day Five - Hubbard Glacier
The rest of the day there were the usual sorts of activities, but I think I found a cozy space somewhere and continued reading my book. Robert, who discovered Tastings several days ago, would settle down there and have an espresso or two, which he said was the real thing, unlike at the Java Cafe on the Rotterdam. In the early evening was a repeaters cocktail party in the Savoy Night Club, where I enjoyed a glass of champagne and chatted for quite a while with the cruise director, David Cole. David was our cruise director last September on the Horizon and while I find all cruise directors to be overly peppy and fairly cheesy, I must say I enjoyed talking to him greatly and he seemed much more genuine in person, of course. That must be such a hard job I can't even imagine! There's not enough caffeine in the world for me to do that job! The Savoy Night Club is a beautiful room-very art deco. Went there for drinks a few other times but wish they had the Celebrity Orchestra there to play some old standards rather than the "all purpose" band they had there most of the time. They were fine as others seemed to enjoy them.
Somewhere along the way I went down to guest relations to pick up an Infinity brochure and a brochure for the Mercury sailings in South America. The Infinity looks like it will be a stunner. Before dinner we stopped by the Celebrity Theater to see the "Newlywed, Not So Newlywed Game". I always think that's pretty funny even though people really do embarrass themselves and its cheesy. Off to dinner we went and the show after dinner was Mark Preston, who was a member of the Letterman (more our parents' generation I think!) In any case, we know some folks who went who loved it. We went to see "Who Wants To Be A Gazilloinaire" which was a very clever and funny spoof of the TV show and the contestant was basically given all of the answers in creative ways. They mimicked the lighting effects of the show to great benefit. I'm easily amused!
Tonight at dinner, Angie the mom at our table was sick. Basically after we left Yakutat Bay we sailed out into the Gulf of Alaska for our overnight sailing to Ketchikan. It was stormy all day and some folks missed dinner. It seemed to get more stormy as the night went on. I loved it! I like a little "ship" action! The ship was crashing into some big waves and I could hardly stick my head over the railing of the veranda without getting my head blown off. So that was a lot of fun and neither of us got remotely sick, but I did make sure not to overeat at dinner or drink too much--wouldn't have been a good idea. After the Gazillionaire show we went up to the Stratosphere Lounge (the top and forward most point on the ship basically) so we could feel the ship "rock and roll" a bit. We were riding some good sized waves and I was loving it. They were having the 50's sock hop up there at the same time and it was actually amusing to watch people competing in the twist contest. I am always amazed what a few drinks will get people to do. In any case, their job was made harder by the ships motion that night!
Day Six - Ketchikan
I decided to hang out in Michael's Club that afternoon, which wasn't open for service then, but it was very near Tastings in case I wanted a hot chocolate (they had the real stuff there) and it was very quiet. We have only been on the Horizon and on the Galaxy now twice, but from pictures and personal experience this is my very favorite Michael's Club. It is very modern and a wonder to the eyes--sleekly designed. I love the round wood paneled room with the portholes and the curved velvet sofa and I love the steel framing and leather doors of the exterior. It's a design masterwork imho. Most of the other Michael's Clubs seem to be faux Gentlemen's Clubs of the olden days--this one is forward looking and thus less of a cliche I think. Tonight was a formal night so we did all that.
I don't know where I'm going to write about the food but we found it as good or better as our 2 other Celebrity cruises, and far better than our 1 Holland America sailing. Not that Holland America is good, it was well done, fresh, and tasty. But it was dull. There is just something about the creativity and presentation that is excellent I think on Celebrity. While there were many recipes we recognized from past sailings, I must say the beefs, veals, and porks were all quite good and cooked to order (I'm a meat eater) and Robert was very happy with the seafood and had it every night, as well as at the 2 seafood oriented buffets. One interesting new dessert I had this time was a camomile sorbet--what a treat and very interesting. I found the quality and cuts of meat better than on the Horizon last year. In fact, most evenings we ordered multiple entrees to share and most of the desserts just to "taste". Our wait staff had no problem with these requests whatsoever. The family seated at our table caught onto this after a couple of days and started to do likewise. It was like one big food tasting party every night! None of us weigh 400 pounds so we're good during our civilian lives!
Tonight was also the "Cirque du Galaxy" show which we enjoyed once again. This was our favorite show the last time on the Galaxy and was again. Those chinese acrobats are amazing. The Grand Buffet was also tonight but we didn't make it that long! On this cruise we really didn't get up to afternoon tea at all or order the pizza from room service--we were just too stuffed from meals (as you can see above!)
Day Seven - Inside Passage
On my little tour of the ship I looked closely at a number of things that had "caught my eye" earlier in the week, and took pictures of some of them. One was some of the dirty upholstery in the Celebrity Theater, an otherwise gorgeous room. It did look like they were replacing the upholstery and carpeting where necessary and I was glad of that. Between the deck 6 entrance to the Orion Restaurant and the Rendezvous Lounge there are 2 alcoves on either side which house a 3-4 foot "tree" made out of red silk roses....about 2/3 of the silk roses on each tree have been picked off and "appropriated" by rude cruisers. They actually didn't look bad and I'm sure not many people noticed and maybe they thought that was "part of the design" or something (given the wild modern art on this ship.) But I knew otherwise. In the Grand Foyer (the G is back!) there is a waterfall running behind the BIG picture on the wall--but no water! I never asked why, but hopefully it is being cleaned and rehabbed. In our cabin I noticed a deliberate scratch on the marble desk tabletop and on the wooden headboard. Minor and really not very noticeable, but that they looked deliberate was disturbing. Did any one these issues affect my enjoyment of the cruise--not one bit. Celebrity seems to do a good job at upkeep and upgrading (as our trip on the Horizon last September proved) and so I'm confident they will be taking care of such things on a regular basis. On this same day I immensely enjoyed going around the ship and looking at the art installations one more time. I'll take Robert Rauschenberg's over plastic dancing starfish any day!
Tonight was "tip night". We didn't see Maggie on our way out of the cabin for dinner so we left her envelope on the bed with a thank you note, of course. She was great. We had envelopes for Mario, the waiter, and Kumar, the asst. waiter, and tipped Kumar almost the same as Mario, who got the recommended amount. We would have given Mario more, as he was an excellent waiter, but he made "the pitch" for an "excellent" recommendation on our comment card--which is something I personally can live without hearing on vacation. I, in fact, ended up writing on our comment card how much I disliked this practice and asked Celebrity to not have waiters do this. Was it a huge issue for me? Of course not, but somewhat annoying nonetheless. It in no way compared to our bad experience on the Rotterdam last year--we didn't see our cabin steward the night before so we hung onto his tip until the morning of disembarkation--and he was our rude wake up call at 7:45 am pushing his way into the room while we were in our underwear begging for the 15 minutes more we had--he wouldn't leave! Now Holland America heard about that one from us you can be sure! Unlike others who have had bad experiences, this has not lead me to trash Holland America until my dying day.....and yes, we'll sail them again someday, perhaps when we come nearer to retirement age.
Day Eight - Disembarkation
On this day (Friday) I had started coming down with a nasty cold, so we took it a bit easy but walked around downtown Vancouver quite a bit, looked at the stores on Robson street, walked around Gastown and Chinatown (and visited the nice Dr. Sun Yatsen Chinese Garden), and we walked to Granville Island and took a nifty little water cab back to downtown and walked along English Bay and back into town along Davie Street. All and all, Vancouver is a beautiful city that we would enjoy visiting again. We didn't particularly buy anything but I did notice that the selection of native crafts seemed to be much better and of higher quality than in Alaska! I bought one framed native print in Ketchikan and some candy and birch syrup but other than that nothing else. I guess I'm not a big t-shirt or tanzanite person!