June 20, 2003
CRUISE – EVENING DRESS:
Celebrity representatives took care of claiming our luggage and transferring it to the pier for us. All we had to do was take care of our carry-ons. Celebrity reps were readily available to assist with questions and direct us. We went through Customs and security, and then met the Celebrity transfer just outside. We waited less than 10 minutes for the Celebrity transfer coach. Enroute from the airport to the pier (about 40-minutes), the driver treated us to a delightful mini-tour/history lesson of Vancouver.
Land Portion of Trip
We were able to take carry-ons with us and had the option of storing larger carry-ons (such as rolling pilot cases) on the coach during the day. We also had the option of either keeping all of our check-thru luggage with us or of putting one or more pieces in storage (on the coach) for the duration of the land tour. Pieces that we designated for storage were not accessible during the land tour. We chose to keep everything with us, but a lot of people put some of their luggage in storage.
Last Day – Returning Home
Airport transfers ran all day and were coordinated with flight schedules. Luggage had to be outside our room door by 11:00 a.m. for pick up by the bellhops. For those of us with later flights, the bellhops stored our luggage (and carry ons if desired) so that we could go out and explore the town. We had to be on the Celebrity coach 2-1/2 hours prior to our flight time for the drive to the airport.
Once we arrived at the airport and got our luggage off the coach, we were completely on our own (no longer had Celebrity Reps to assist us). We immediately found a very helpful bellhop who took care of our luggage and walked us through the check-in process.
The boarding process was very exciting and not at all confusing. They took our "welcome aboard" picture just before we reached the gangway. At the end of the gangway, security took our photo again; this photo was used later as part of the security process when reboarding at ports. After our security photo, we were escorted to our cabin. Our carry-ons were carried for us. We were also offered champagne; what a delightful way to begin a cruise!
Breakfast began early (5am) the next morning to accommodate those with early departure times. We had breakfast about 5:15, took some final photos, and then met in our designated area. Each waiting area had two Celebrity Reps--one to answer questions and announce when it was time to leave the ship, the other to lead groups off the ship. We only had to wait about 10 minutes for our color-number group to be called. Five minutes later we were (sadly) off the beautiful ship. We proceeded to a large warehouse-type building where luggage was grouped by color-number tags.
The next step depended upon travelers' specific plans. In our case, we were taking a Celebrity landtour that included a flight to Fairbanks that day. We claimed our luggage, then got in a line for Alaska Airlines. (There were plenty of helpful Celebrity Reps to direct us to the correct line and answer questions.) The line took awhile to get through, but we passed the time by chatting with other happy passengers about our wonderful cruise.
We checked our luggage with an Alaska Airlines rep, then were directed to a waiting coach to begin our cruisetour. Our baggage was flown directly to Fairbanks. We took the coach to Anchorage where we boarded our flight.
Debarkation was much easier than I'd expected. With so many passengers and so much luggage to deal with, I was very impressed with Celebrity's organization and planning.
Ketchikan – Totem Bight State Park
Skagway – Dog sledding and Historical Tour
I went on the glacier/dog-sledding adventure. Incredible! I had never been in a helicopter, on a glacier, or gone dog sledding before, so every bit of this excursion was new and exciting. We were only on the glacier for a little over an hour, but it was an absolutely incredible experience and well worth the money.
Skagway is also a shopper's paradise – lots of darling shops, friendly shopkeepers, and decent prices.
Juneau – Gold panning, Salmon Bake, Whale Watching, Mt. Roberts Tramway
We explored the town for about 45 minutes before our 10 a.m. Gold panning/Salmon Bake combination excursion. Gold panning was a bit touristy, but still a great deal of fun and educational. It was in a beautiful location, and our guide was terrific—shared local history with us and taught us how to pan. (It was more challenging and more fun than I'd expected.)
From there, we were driven to the all-you-can-eat salmon bake. Yum! The food was delicious and there was plenty of it. Coffee and lemonade were included; beer was extra. After eating, we followed a short trail to a beautiful waterfall where we took pictures. Then we returned to the outdoor eating area and roasted marshmallows with other guests.
You can stay at the salmon bake as long as you like; shuttles go back and forth to the pier about every 30 minutes. (Shuttles are included in the price of the salmon bake.)
IMO, both the gold panning and salmon bake are nice excursions for any age and would be particularly appropriate for families—fun for children and their parents to share.
The boat was small—only about 18 passengers—and our skipper and naturalist were both delightful. The seating area was enclosed, with one pair of binoculars for each 2-person seat. There was also a small deck on the back of the boat that accommodated about 8 people at a time—great for taking pictures.
The guide who drove us to/from the boat was great, too. She was an Athabascan Indian, who had lived in Alaska all her life. During the rides to/from the boat, she share fascinating tidbits with us about her culture and even taught us a few Athabascan words.
When we returned from the whale watching, we decided to take the Mt. Roberts Tramway. This was the only shore excursion that we did not book through Celebrity, and that was because it was a last-minute decision.
The ride to the top (1800 feet) took only 2-3 minutes, and the view was spectacular even on a rainy day. Because of the weather, many people had opted not to take the tram, so it wasn't the least bit crowded. At the top, there was a nice restaurant, a gift shop, a theater with an 18-minute film about native culture (very interesting), a bald eagle named "Cessna" who is being rehabbed, and hiking trails. We didn't go hiking because of the weather, but thoroughly enjoyed everything else at the top.
Valdez – Duck Flats Kayaking
With Prince William Sound's breathtaking scenery all around us, we paddled our way among tiny islets. We saw lots of interesting birds and even several sea otter and harbor seals. The seals and otter kept their distance, but we could still see them quite clearly. We also paddled up to a small fishing boat and then over for a sea level view of the Summit. Amazing!
We took water cameras with us that day and were able to hand them to our guides who kindly took pictures of us on the water.
The provider was Pangaea, and we felt they did an excellent job. They provided all the gear we needed and easy-to-understand instruction before we got into the kayaks. They were also readily available throughout the excursion to assist us and answer any questions we had about the local area and wildlife.
You can view Hubbard from the public rooms inside the ship (Revelations is a great viewing location; get there early) and from deck. Trust me on this one, you'll definitely want to spend at least some of your time (probably most of it) out on deck.
It really gets cold near the glacier, so dress in layers if you're going to be outdoors. I had four layers on top but only 2 layers on my legs, and my legs got terribly cold. The glacier is also very bright; sunglasses and sunscreen were very helpful.
The ship provided just enough excellent narration to help us understand what we were seeing, then left us to marvel at this wondrous sight on our own.
Be sure to have plenty of film, memory cards, and batteries with you for Hubbard as you will not want to leave for even a moment to return to your cabin.
Our cabin/bath were just fine for one or two people, but I don't think it would have worked for more than two.
It is in a separate, enclosed area adjacent to the outdoor pool. The aquaspa area is heated—comfortably warm, not hot.
Thellasotherapy Pool (T-Pool) – This is a salt-water/mineral type pool with lots of wonderful jets. The water is warm, not hot. There are also two hot tubs adjacent to the T-Pool. On the M-Class ships, use of the T-Pool and hot tubs is free.
At one end of the T-Pool area is the Aquaspa Café, serving a lovely lite menu. The food was delicious and beautifully presented. We ate lunch in this area twice, and it was a real treat.
Just off the T-Pool area are very nice gender-specific dressing rooms with showers and dry-heat sauna. Just outside the dressing rooms are the aquaspa reservations desk and other aquaspa services – Persian Gardens (delightful aroma-therapy steam rooms), massage rooms, beauty shop, etc.
On the M-Class ships, the T-Pool, hot tubs, and dry sauna are free. (I believe there is a charge for the T-pool and hot tubs on other ships, but check with Celebrity to be sure.) There are separate charges for the Persian Gardens, massages, beauty shop, etc.
On the first day, they offer tours of the Aquaspa, which I highly recommend. The tour shows you the spa, explains what is available, and gives you the chance to make reservations right away for special services you may want. Some of these tend to fill up quickly, so if there is something you simply must have, I recommend signing up early. On the other hand, if you're a bit more flexible, I'd suggest waiting as you may be able to take advantage of a special later in the cruise. Watch The Daily for announcements.
Age Restrictions: During the day, children are allowed in the T-Pool and hot tubs only with adult supervision. After a certain time in the evening, children are not permitted at all. On our cruise, we only saw a handful of children in these pools. All were supervised and very well behaved. Because we had late dinner seating, we did not use the aquaspa in the evening, so I do not know if the evening age restriction was enforced or not.
SUMMIT – OUR ONLY DISAPPOINTMENT
We also had them transfer digital images from memory card to a CD and were disappointed in that process, too. At our request, the Summit gave us a partial refund on the transfer charge.
Although we were disappointed in their technical work, the photo dept staff was very nice about things and accommodated us financially.
LAND PORTION OF CRUISETOUR
There were roughly 150 people on our cruisetour, and we were sub-divided into 3 groups of approximately 50. Each group functioned as a separate tour group but followed the same itinerary and stayed in the same hotels. Each group also had a Tour Director (guide) and bus driver who remained with the group for the duration of the land tour.
Our tour guide was the one disappointment on the land portion, but we decided not to let this individual put a damper on the trip for us. We talked to people on the other two coaches, and they were very happy with their tour directors, so I suspect our experience was an unfortunate exception. I'd prefer not to share specifics here, so please don't ask.
The drive to Anchorage was beautiful, but long—3 hours without any stops, not even to stretch our legs or take photos.
We stopped in Anchorage for lunch at 10:30 a.m., and the two restaurants that our tour director recommended were both closed. As we had only an hour for lunch (tour director said that we'd be left behind if we were late), we had to quickly find another place to eat. We wound up in a coffee shop that was serving breakfast only. That was better than nothing, especially since we didn't know when we'd be eating again, so we quickly downed some pancakes. As it turned out, our next food stop was not until we got to our hotel around 6pm, so we were very glad we had forced down that 2nd breakfast.
Anchorage Airport security was very tight. All passengers were required to remove their shoes. If you're wearing anything metal, be prepared to be pulled out and go through a separate security check. I knew about my metal belt buckle but completely forgot that my eyeglass frames are also metal. At LAX, I was able to just remove my glasses and walk through the metal detector again, but at Anchorage, I was pulled aside and thoroughly wanded.
The flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks only took about an hour. At Fairbanks, we boarded the coach again and were taken to a museum at U of A, Fairbanks, then out to see the Pipeline, then finally to our hotel.
This was the one day that I felt could have been done differently. It was a very long day. The lack of even brief stops to stretch our legs and over 6 hours between meals made it even more challenging. Though it was an interesting day, I don't think I've ever been so tired and hungry in my life.
After Discovery, we had a little over an hour in downtown Fairbanks for lunch. But if you eat an early lunch on the Discovery, you can use this time to instead explore the town a bit and do some shopping.
After lunch, we were taken by coach to Denali National Park. Arrived about 5:30 p.m. and had the evening for optional activities—local hiking on our own, horseback riding, rafting, dinner theater (completely booked up so couldn't get it), etc. We ate dinner at the lodge (pricey but excellent), then went for a delightful walk along the river. We heard that the Cabin Night Dinner Theater was excellent and that people who went hiking saw lots of wildlife.
We had an excellent tour guide from the Park Service who made several0 stops along the way for picture taking, restrooms, and brief presentations by locals about life in the wilderness. On our way back, our guide gave us lovely books that summarized what we had learned on the tour and included beautiful photographs of the areas we had visited. If you do not have time for one of the longer tours, I definitely feel the Natural History Tour is worthwhile.
After the Natural History Tour, we boarded Celebrity's dome train car on the Alaska Railroad. The four-hour ride to Talkeetna was one of the highlights of our trip. Celebrity's dome car is great—lots of legroom and excellent viewing of magnificent scenery and even some wildlife (waterfowl, beaver, and such.) It also has a restaurant downstairs—excellent food, reasonably priced. (Approx $10 - $15 for lunch; $18 - $25 for dinner). Bar service is also available both upstairs and down. We loved the "Moose Kiss," a coffee/Kailua drink. Alcoholic beverages ran about $5 - $7. Non-alcoholic beverages were about $3. (All of the cruiselines have their own dome cars, which looked very similar. The cruiseline train cars were definitely bigger and had larger dome areas than the "regular" Alaska railroad cars.
We arrived in Talkeetna in the early evening. The drive to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge only took about 5 minutes. The lodge is magnificent and has a spectacular view of Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range out back. There is lots of outdoor seating for feasting your eyes. There are also well-marked, well-maintained hiking trails. Trail maps are available from the lobby desk.
Rooms were huge, nicely appointed, and baths had tub-showers. The only drawback is that the Lodge has no air conditioning, not even wall units. It was hot and muggy when we arrived; the lack of a/c surprised us.
The Lodge is a non-smoking facility and only allows smoking outdoors. If you're caught smoking indoors, you can be hit with a hefty fine. I'm not a smoker, but I believe they said the smoking fine is over $200.
We had dinner at the Lodge – wonderful. If you like fish, I'd highly recommend the halibut quesadilla. We went hiking that evening and were accompanied by jillions of mosquitoes. Fortunately, our insect repellant worked very well.
Land–Day #4 – last full day of the trip
Afterward, we went into town for lunch and some shopping. Talkeetna is a cute little eclectic town, which you can easily see it in an hour or so. Lots of friendly people, good food, and a surprising amount of shopping.
In the late afternoon, we again boarded the train, this time taking it to Anchorage for our final night. We had a delicious dinner on the train and arrived in Anchorage around 8 pm. Our tour guide gave us individual instructions for our luggage handling and airport transfers. We stayed at the Marriott – beautiful, modern hotel in downtown.
Our tour guide and bus driver left us after dropping us off and taking care of our luggage. We had a great dinner at the hotel, then explored the town for about an hour or so.
Land - Day #5 – farewell Alaska
We had an evening flight home on Alaska Airlines (direct flight). Celebrity and the Marriott took care of our luggage. Check out time was 11:00 a.m. For those of us with later flights, our luggage (including carry-ons if desired) was stored by the bellhops until it was time for us to leave. Another Celebrity coach picked us up 2-1/2 hours prior to flight time and took us to the airport. There were Celebrity Reps in the lobby all day to coordinate airport transfers and answer questions—very helpful.
We got to the airport in plenty of time. Once we were dropped off, we were on our own. We got a bellhop for our luggage. Check in and security went very quickly. We had a very smooth flight home, a perfect ending to a perfect vacation.
TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
• We had the option of buying a video of our cruise. The video included a tour of the ship as well as highlights (many of them quite humorous) of our specific cruise. We were able to order the video onboard ship; it should arrive by mail in approximately two weeks. You can order the video at any time, but if you wait until the last day or so, you might get in on a special. On our sailing, they gave a free professional picture of the Summit to anyone who ordered the video on the last full day of the cruise.
• Sea days and formal nights go together, giving you plenty of time to get gussied up for formal nights.
LAND TOUR – OPTIONAL EXCURSIONS
We submitted our form to our tour director who later faxed it to Celebrity. The tour director later advised whether or not you got what you had requested. Though some people got what they requested, many did not.
We felt the process was cumbersome and too time-consuming. The list of optional land tours available through the cruiseline was also fairly limited. The hotels offered many more options and very easy booking. I had no trouble booking a flightseeing tour just a few hours before it left. For the land portion of a cruisetour, I would recommend booking yourself when you get there, either through the hotel/lodge or directly with the provider.
LAND TOUR – HOTELS
We felt the hotels in Fairbanks and Denali National Park were ok, but nothing to rave about. Celebrity uses several hotels in these locations, so perhaps we just happened to draw the low end. The hotels in both Talkeetna and Anchorage were terrific.
At the same time, I felt that the first day of the landtour was poorly planned. The day was way too long, meals were very poorly timed, and we needed more breaks to stretch our legs and take photos. I had also been told prior to booking that Royal Celebrity Tours (RCT) uses only superior hotels. Though all of our hotels were satisfactory, I felt that only two of them (Talkeetna and Anchorage) were top-notch.
There is also a potential financial advantage to booking the landtour separately. (This was something I did not understand until it was too late.) If the price of the cruise drops, that price drop is available to cruise-only passengers, not to those who have booked cruisetours.
Would I do a cruisetour again?