The summary in 25 words or less - This cruisetour was just great!!!
Celebrity food did not live up to its hype. Dining room service (for our
table) was extremely slow.
Now for the details.
We made some phone calls to book an Arctic Circle flight but there were no
openings available. However, we were surprised to discover that the prices
to book direct were the exact same prices as the optional excursions offered
by Celebrity. So instead, we decided to take a ride to see Alaskaland and
spend some time there, and hopefully get to see the show in the Palace
Theater (we called and were put on the wait list). We were able to take the
free shuttle from the hotel to the salmon bake at Alaskaland even though we
weren't going to the salmon bake. Alaskaland was interesting, but the
weather was cool and raining so we did a quick tour in about an hour, and
when we couldn't get in to see the show, just went back to the hotel. We met
our tour guide, Nancy, when we got back and discussed the upcoming trip.
After having an Alaskan brewed beer at the hotel bar, we decided it was time
for some much need sleep.
The day started with a morning trip to see the Trans-Alaska pipeline up close
and personal, and then on to the El Dorado Gold Mine for a little history
lesson about the gold rush, a demonstration of some gold mining equipment, a
gold panning lesson, and then some panning for gold. Everyone is guaranteed
to find some gold in their pan, but I would have been a lousy gold miner. I
had no patience and finally just dumped my poke into the water and gave up.
Robin kept at it and came up with about $10 worth of gold dust which she had
put into a necklace. Maybe if I had stayed with it she could have put it
into some earrings also.
After stopping for lunch, it was on to the Riverboat Discovery for a 3-1/2
hour ride along the Chena and Tanana rivers. The trip included watching a
bush pilot do a shortfield takeoff and landing, seeing the home and kennels
of Susan Butcher, the Iditarod champion and having her speak to us, viewing
an Athabascan fish camp and a demonstration of how fish are cut and prepared,
and about an hour tour of the Chena Indian Village.
After some shopping, it was back to the hotel - but not for long. We had
booked an optional excursion with Northern Alaska Tour Co. for a 5-1/2 hour
tour to the Brooks Range. We were picked up at the hotel and taken to the
airport where we boarded a 7 passenger Piper. The clouds had broken up and
the visibility was excellent so the pilot was able to fly by VFR and stay
low. We took a long scenic route over some breathtaking landscapes, sighted
a number of moose (I lost count but I think it was 8), and eventually landed
in Coldfoot, which is about 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Since we
hadn't had time for dinner, we had ordered a "box dinner" which was waiting
for us when we landed. We ate it as we rode further north in a minivan along
the Dalton Highway (a gravel road) for about 14 miles (and a close encounter
with a moose and her calf) to the town of Wiseman (year round population of
27). After a quick visit to the museum (a one room cabin) we were invited
into a house for coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and cookies while meeting and
chatting with some of the local residents. They were just as anxious to hear
about our lifestyles as we were to hear about theirs. Then it was back to
Coldfoot for our return flight to Fairbanks. They gave us an Arctic Circle
certificate to remember our journey. We arrived back at the hotel a little
after 1:00 AM, and the amazing thing was it wasn't really dark - just
We boarded the Alaska Railroad at around 8:00 AM for a trip to Denali.
Royal-Celebrity has 2 brand new railroad cars (one going northbound and the
other southbound) which are absolutely marvelous. The car is two levels,
with a sightseeing dome on the top level and dining on the bottom. There are
big windows on the bottom level so you can see some of the sights while you
are eating. Our tour bus met us at the Denali station and took us to our
hotel, the Grande Denali Lodge. This hotel, which just opened a few months
ago, is on top of a mountain and the view is wonderful. Just driving up the
mountain is exciting. After about an hour to freshen up, we boarded the
school busses for our 8 hour tour into Denali National Park. The scenery was
spectacular and we were fortunate enough to actually see the peaks of Mt.
McKinley. Our bus driver told us that most people don't get to see the peaks
because they are usually covered by clouds. The wildlife we saw were
primarily caribou, Dall sheep and some ground squirrels. The big treat was
on the way back out when we spotted a blond grizzly. I wish we could have
spent more time and gone further into the park, but on the other hand 8 hours
on a school bus was pretty uncomfortable after a while.
We had the morning free so we decided to go rafting. I wanted whitewater and
Robin wanted a float trip, so we compromised and took a trip with Nenana
River Rafting which included some scenic floating and also some class II and
III rapids. The guides outfitted us with dry suits and then drove us about
12 miles to our starting point on the Nenana River. After the standard
safety talk, we set out for the trip downstream. Again the scenery was just
beautiful and the rapids were fun. I asked our guide how cold the water was,
and he replied, "Let's put it this way. Yesterday it was a glacier." The
water temperature was actually about 36 degrees. We used a disposable camera
on this trip and got some good pictures with it. We were able to toss it to
passengers in another raft who took some shots of us and then tossed it back.
In the afternoon, we boarded the Alaska Railroad again for a trip to
Talkeetna. The scenery along the way did not disappoint, but we were not
able to see Mt. McKinley as it was covered in clouds. We stayed at the
Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, and after dinner we just relaxed and took in the
scenery and went to bed early.
Woke up at 3:30 AM and were picked up at 4:30 AM for a salmon fishing trip.
I had never gone fishing before so this was a real experience for me. We
bought our fishing licenses for $10 plus an extra $10 for the king salmon
stamp. We were outfitted with hip boots and rain gear (yes, it was raining),
and got into a jet boat for a trip up the Talkeetna River where we were
dropped off at a fishing spot. Our guide demonstrated how to cast and let
the line drift and we started fishing. One of our companions (an 82 year old
gentleman) hooked a king salmon with his first cast and the guide had to help
him reel it in. At that point, I thought we were going to catch a lot of
fish that day. Unfortunately, that was it for our group for the day.
However, both Robin and I can truthfully tell the story about the big one
that got away. I got the casting part down pretty quickly, but I had no idea
what it would feel like if I actually got a fish on the hook. Several times
the line got snagged on a rock, so when I felt a little tug I assumed it was
snagged again. I gave a slight pull to free it and when it tugged again, I
gave another slight pull and started reeling it in. That's when this very
large red fish jumped out of the water a few times and I realized I had it on
the hook. However I wasn't quick enough or experienced enough to set the
hook and he got away. A few minutes later, the exact same thing happened to
Robin. After about 2-1/2 hours at this spot with no luck, we got in the raft
and moved to a different spot for another hour and a half, but our luck was
no better. As I came out of the water to get back in the raft, I realized
that my hip boots had fallen down (one size does not fit all leg shapes) and
my jeans and socks were soaked. We rafted back a few miles to our starting
point for the return trip to the hotel.
We changed out of our wet clothing and took the hotel shuttle in town. The
first stop we made was at the Talkeetna laundromat where we washed and dried
the clothing we had worn that morning. After walking the entire area of
beautiful downtown Talkeetna we did some obligatory shopping and then took
the shuttle back to the hotel.
It was back on the tour bus today for a drive down to Anchorage. Along the
way we stopped at the Iditarod headquarters for a quick visit. The real
highlight of this stop was holding 5 week old Husky pups. We were only given
two hours on our own in Anchorage, which I felt was not enough time. We went
to the museum and spent about an hour going through the Alaskan history
exhibit which was really rushing it. We stopped for a quick lunch and then
walked back to the meeting point for our bus. From Anchorage we drove south
to Girdwood where we stayed at the Westin Prince Alyeska Resort. This was a
first class hotel. Our package included a trip on the tram up to the top of
the mountain, so we took it that evening and went to the lounge up there for
a few drinks and dessert. The views from the top are spectacular, but the
clouds kept moving in and out so we eventually decided to go down and check
out the hiking trails. We started out on the Winner Creek trail which is
part of the Chugach National Forest, but after about a mile it became very
muddy so we turned around and went back. We tried another trail, but I
quickly discovered that it went uphill (actually up the mountain) and I
decided that I didn't feel like walking uphill. It started raining again, so
we went back to the hotel and spent some time by the fireplace.
Still raining and cold this morning so we just relaxed at the hotel instead
of going kayaking as we had originally planned. We were able to check in for
the cruise and got our boarding passes right in the hotel lobby. Early
afternoon, we got back on the tour bus for the trip to Seward and the start
of our cruise. As we rode along Turnagain Arm, the scenery was wonderful.
We arrived in Seward and boarded Mercury around 4:00 PM. Our luggage was
delivered to our cabin within an hour. We had an ocean view room with a
balcony on deck 9 (Vista Deck). The cabin was a decent size, but the storage
space seemed a little tight. We explored the ship, had dinner (open
seating), and set sail. Unlike other cruises we've taken where we considered
the ship our destination, and the ports just places to stop; this time we
considered the ports our destination and the ship was just a fun, convenient
way of getting there.
Day 8 - Hubbard Glacier
We were tired from the land tour so I was glad this first day of the cruise
was a day at sea. The weather was sunny, but on deck it was windy and cold.
It was pretty funny seeing blankets on the pool deck instead of towels. We
bundled up and stood out there to take in this magnificent glacier. We saw
it calve several times and the sight is almost beyond description.
(Binoculars are a must!) As we left the bay, we went back to our cabin and
sat on the balcony where it wasn't quite as windy. We were on the port side
so we always had land within view from our balcony.
Day 9 - Juneau
The morning started out somewhat cloudy and the helicopter trip to Mendenhall
Glacier (with TEMSCO which we had booked through the ship) was cancelled due
to cloud cover and poor visibility at Mendenhall Glacier. They offered to
reschedule for later in the day, but we already had other plans. We went
over to the tour booth by the dock and fortunately ERA Helicopters had an
immediate opening on their 4 glacier flightseeing tour. They picked us up at
the dock and we were on our way. We flew over the Taku, Hole in the Wall,
Lemon, and Norris glaciers, and landed on the Norris Glacier. It was an
incredible trip - I can't think of any words to describe it. (And I got to
sit up front with the pilot.) When we got back to the base, they drove us
back to town and we asked to be dropped off at the Red Dog Saloon where we
had lunch. The Red Dog Saloon is quite a place. I would recommend stopping
by, even if just for a drink. After some obligatory shopping, we returned to
the ship and sat on our balcony watching a few eagles flying over Mt.
Roberts. At around 4:30 PM, we went whale watching with Dolphin Tours
(booked through the ship). They use an 18 passenger jet boat so it wasn't
crowded and everyone could see pretty well. We traveled around Auke Bay and
it didn't take long to spot several Humpback whales. The real big treat was
when one of the whales breached 6 times within about a 10-15 minute span.
Seeing that alone would have made the excursion worthwhile. (a few of my
pictures even came out ok) Then the radio crackled with word of a pod of
Orcas a few miles away, so we took off for the site. We weren't disappointed
as we got to see 4 Orcas and another Humpback. Eventually we had to turn
around and head back in, and we returned to the ship around 8 PM (just in
time to get ready for our late seating dinner).
Day 10 - Skagway
We did the morning excursion on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Since we
had booked it through the ship we boarded the train right at the dock. The
scenery was wonderful, and I have a new found respect for the gold stampeders
who followed the Trail of 98. Upon the return to Skagway, we had lunch at
the Red Onion Saloon where we were served by one of the "working girls" while
listening to the piano player, and took a few pictures with the "proprietor"
of the establishment. The upstairs brothel was "closed for renovations." We
also stopped by the livepostcard.com booth to have our picture taken next to
the train and emailed back home. It's free. We explored the town, did some
more shopping, and eventually made our way back to the ship. We opted for
the alternative dining this night because we were growing very impatient with
our dining room service which averaged 2-1/2 hours for dinner every night.
After a relatively quick, early dinner shortly after leaving Skagway, we
stayed out on deck with our binoculars for a while and were treated to 3
sightings of Humpback whales.
Day 11 - Sitka
We had to tender ashore here. At the dock we bought a full day pass ($7 pp)
for one of the companies (Tribal Tours?) which runs mini busses around town
with stops at the most popular destinations. Sitka is a beautiful city,
although we did feel it was a little more "touristy" than the other places we
had been. We spent a bit of time at the Raptor Rehabilitation Center and
wound up becoming members and adopting an eagle.
Day 12 - Ketchikan
We slept a little late this morning, as all the running around for almost 2
weeks was starting to catch up with us. After a leisurely buffet breakfast
on board the ship we went strolling around town and did some shopping. I
wound up buying a mask carved from whale bone and decorated with baleen and
ivory. It had the silver hand symbol attached which is supposed to mean that
it was made by a Native Alaskan. We also got a brief biography of the artist
and a description of the materials used. We had a 1:00 PM excursion planned
for Saxman Native Village so we headed back to the ship for lunch. On the
way back, we stopped at a tour booth near the ship and inquired about a trip
to Misty Fjords. We were fortunate enough that Taquan Air had room for us on
the 4:00 PM flight so we booked it right there.
After lunch we visited Saxman Village with the excursion from the ship. It
was interesting, gave some insight into Tlingit history and the Totem Poles
were very nice, but I was a little disappointed. However, after performing
some tribal dances for us, when the Natives asked for volunteers to come
dance with them, Robin was right up there. They dressed her in traditional
robes and headwear, and she danced!
From Saxman we were dropped off back at the pier and we walked a few blocks
to Taquan Air for the Misty Fjords flightseeing. We boarded a 5 passenger
DeHavilland Beaver float plane and we were off. I got to sit up front again
with the pilot. Misty Fjords is just incredible. If anyone has an
opportunity to do this trip, I highly recommend it. Our pilot landed on a
lake and up on the shore, no more than 50 yards away, we saw a fairly large
brown bear eating a salmon. We assumed he caught it at the nearby creek
where we saw other salmon swimming/jumping upstream. We stayed and watched
for a while, and just took in the serenity of the area. It was a shame we
had to go back. Our pilot took a somewhat longer route back to show us a few
areas he especially liked and we wound up getting an additional 15 minutes in
the air. We arrived back at the ship around 6:00 PM.
Day 13 - at sea
Today was another day at sea, cruising the inside passage. We spent part of
the day out on deck and part on our balcony. As we sailed along, we were
joined by several porpoises and a few eagles. We were hoping for Orcas, but
didn't see any. It was a nice relaxing day, but a little sad as we realized
our vacation was coming to an end.
Day 14 - debarkation
Debarkation was the best of all the cruises we've been on. When our number
was called, we got off the ship and boarded a bus where our luggage had
already been loaded. The bus took us to the Vancouver airport where the
luggage was unloaded at curbside. It took all of 30 seconds to gather our 4
pieces, get a porter and enter the terminal. We checked in with the airline,
went through U.S. customs, and dropped our bags on the conveyor to be placed
on the plane. We were lucky and had a nonstop flight from Vancouver to
We had a wonderful time and thought that Celebrity did a great job overall.
I think that everyone, at least once in their life, should see Alaska - the