Celebrity Cruise Lines - Cruisemates Reader's Cruise Reviews
Celebrity Cruises

by Max
June 20, 2003

A friend and I recently discovered that we had both always wanted to go to Alaska and had also always wanted to take a cruise. An Alaska cruisetour seemed just the ticket. We are middle-aged, active, and love the outdoors. We wanted a more traditional experience for our first cruise. And to the extent possible, we wanted a no-hassle vacation. After doing our homework, we decided that Celebrity sounded like a good match for us…and it was!

We chose Celebrity's cruisetour #6, Frontier Spirit—northbound cruise out of Vancouver followed by a 4-night land package that included Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Talkeetna, and ended in Anchorage.

• Casual – 4 nights (our first night onboard and three of our four port days)
• Informal – 1 night (one of our port days)
• Formal – 2 nights (the days we were at sea – Inside Passage day and Hubbard Glacier day)

We booked just about everything through Celebrity—cruisetour, air, and shore excursions. We chose to fly the same day we sailed. We used regular air, not custom. Celebrity booked us on an early morning Alaska Airlines flight direct from LAX to Vancouver. For the trip home, they booked us on a direct flight from Anchorage to LAX.

Day #1
We arrived at LAX 2-1/2 hours before flight time. Check-in and security went very smoothly and only took about 45 minutes. We enjoyed coffee and people watching while waiting for our flight. Our flight departed on time and arrived a few minutes early.

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
All we had to do was set our luggage outside our hotel rooms by a specified time each day, and Celebrity took care of the rest. They loaded our luggage on the coach, transported it to our next destination, and delivered it to our rooms within 10-15 minutes of our arrival.

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
Again, this went very smoothly. We arrived at our last hotel (Anchorage Marriott) on a Monday. Our tour director provided each of us with a card that had specific instructions based on our flight schedules, etc. Our tour director and bus driver then left us. Other Celebrity Reps were available to assist us as needed the day we flew 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.

Embarkation was not at all the nightmare we'd been told to expect. We had completed most of our "paperwork" online, and that really helped. After going through security yet again (keep those passports handy!), we were directed to a large waiting area where we filled out additional paperwork and then waited to board. We arrived at the pier about 11:00 a.m. and boarded about 12:30—didn't seem bad to us at all.

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!

Debarkation instructions were delivered to us with The Daily the night before. Instructions told us when and where to meet the next morning and included color-number coded tags for our luggage. We had to put out luggage outside our cabins by 11:00 pm on the last night. We put ours out before dinner (2nd seating) so that we could enjoy the evening without feeling pressured by the clock.

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.

We booked all of our shore excursions through Celebrity's Website well in advance and got everything we wanted.

Ketchikan – Totem Bight State Park
We are both very interested in native cultures and thoroughly enjoyed this excursion. We arrived in port at 7a.m. and were scheduled for the 9a.m. tour, so had to time to explore the town on foot beforehand. Even with that, everyone arrived at the tour coach 30 minutes early, so our driver/tour guide started early. That in turn put us back in town early, and our driver/guide treated us to an additional 30-minute tour of Ketchikan. It was great. Our guide was both knowledgeable and personable and had a delightful sense of humor. After the tour, we did some shopping, then reboarded.

Skagway – Dog sledding and Historical Tour
We went our separate ways this day. My friend took an historical tour of Skagway (the yellow bus) and loved it—fascinating tour, terrific tour guide. If you enjoy history, seriously consider taking this delightful, informative two-hour 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
This was one of only two rainy days on our trip, but that didn't slow us down one bit. We tendered here, and it didn't take nearly as long as we'd expected. Once again, we were very impressed by Celebrity's organization.

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.

After the Salmon Bake, we went whale watching. The provider was Dolphin, and they were just great. Viewing that day happened to be quite good; everyone who went out had multiple sightings. We saw so many that we lost count.

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
This was another great excursion. There were about 18 in our group plus two excellent guides. Two-man and three-man kayaks were available. Duck Flats is in a quiet area of the sound very near the port. It was extremely calm the day we were there, but I've heard from others that it can get quite windy at times.

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.

Hubbard Glacier
Hubbard Glacier is not a port, but it was an amazing highlight of our cruise. This is something you must experience; neither words nor photos can come close to doing it justice. Hubbard is breathtaking, wondrous, spectacular. If you've never seen or heard a glacier calve, you're in for quite an experience. Our captain got us much closer than expected to the face of Hubbard; it was an amazing, memorable morning.

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.

College Fjord
We went to College Fjord the same day we visited the port of Valdez. (Valdez in the morning, then College Fjord in the afternoon.) It was spectacular. My photos do not do it justice, but they'll have to suffice. Same advice regarding clothing, sunscreen, etc. as for Hubbard. We saw lots of sea otter in College Fjord and even an eagle perched on an iceberg. Amazing!

We chose a category 11 cabin—inside, down on deck #2—and were delighted with it. It was larger than we expected, had ample storage space, TV, small refrigerator, and even a small but functional sitting area. Though the bathroom was small, it was also larger than we expected and had plenty of storage for two people. We were glad we had not taken an over-the-door shoe bag with us as we definitely did not need it. The hair dryer in the bathroom was fine, but we were glad we had our own with us as the bathroom got quite steamy.

Our cabin/bath were just fine for one or two people, but I don't think it would have worked for more than two.

I've received a number of questions about the Aquaspa so wanted address it separately. It is absolutely wonderful!!!

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.

• Revelations Lounge – excellent viewing room, nice place to meet old and new friends and socialize any time.
• Evening Dining – incredible service, wonderful cuisine, and the best tablemates anyone could ask for.
• Elegant Tea – The ship served afternoon tea several days, but the Elegant Tea was the only one that fit my schedule. Served in dining room, the very formal tea was lovely. Excellent choices of tea and beautiful, tasty finger sandwiches and savories. While we ate and talked, we enjoyed beautiful live stringed music.
• Harpist – wonderful musician. If she ever makes a CD, I'll be first in line to buy it.
• Aquaspa – ahhhhh, what a life!
• Ports and Shore Excursions – truly enjoyed them all.
• Very few shipboard announcements. A watch and The Daily were all we needed.
• We were pleasantly surprised by the prices in the Emporium. For the most part, they were about the same as we pay at home (southern California) or even a bit less for some things.

Summit's photography department – We tried their shipboard film developing and were so disappointed in it that we requested, and received, a full refund. We requested 4 x 6 with matte finish; they gave us 5 x 7 glossies. We had also taken a number of panoramic views, but they printed everything 5 x 7. The colors were poor, even on outdoor shots.

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-Day #1
Our land portion began with a 3-hour drive from Seward to Anchorage, then a flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks, and it was probably the most challenging, tiring day of the land tour. After checking our luggage, a Celebrity Rep met us and assigned us to a waiting Celebrity coach for the drive to Anchorage.

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.

Land-Day #2
Morning: Riverboat Discovery sternwheeler cruise in Fairbanks. Very interesting, lots of fun, would highly recommend this to anyone going to Fairbanks. All seats on the sternwheeler have excellent viewing. Free coffee and donuts are served throughout the 4-hour tour and a salmon snack is served at the end. A refreshment bar also offers hot dogs, fudge, pastries, soft drinks, chips, and chili at very reasonable prices. There is also a lovely gift shop on board with nice things at very good prices. The people who operate this tour are both friendly and helpful.

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.

Land-Day #3
Natural History Tour. We had heard lots of negative things about this tour and do not understand why…unless the complainers are interested in wildlife only. The tour was exactly what its title claimed; it was about Denali National Park's natural history—its vegetation, weather, geology, and how people have survived in it over the years. Along the way, we also saw a couple of caribou, a moose, an Arctic Squirrel, several Ptarmigan (Alaska's state bird), and several other species of birds. We also had beautiful views of Denali (Mt. McKinley).

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
Took a flightseeing tour in the morning. Scheduled it through the lodge after they had received the day's weather report. I took the Summit flight and found it well worth the money. Went with Talkeetna Aero (I think that's the name). They use a non-pressurized plane, so we used oxygen above 12,000 feet. Very easy to do; masks easily accommodate glasses and do no interfere with picture taking. Pilot did an incredible job, and the scenery was absolutely magnificent. This was a fairly expensive excursion, but I felt it was well worth it.

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 breakfast at the hotel – excellent. For only the 2nd time on our entire trip, we had a rainy day. We took a one-hour trolley tour, did some shopping and had lunch back at the hotel, then read in the lobby while waiting for our airport transfer. Plenty of comfortable seating in the lobby.

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.

• Read the Summit Daily, the ship's daily newsletter. It was delivered to our room around dinnertime the day before. (E.g., the Monday Daily was delivered Sunday evening). The Daily tells you what is happening when the following day—activities, enrichment lectures, port times, shopping suggestions, hours of various areas onboard ship, the evening's dress (casual, informal, formal), etc.

• 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.

• Clothing:
• I wish I had taken more casual clothes. I took 2 pairs of jeans and wish I had taken 4. People dress very casually onboard ship during the day; jeans and t-shirts were common.
• I took 2 pairs of shorts; only needed 1 pair.
• I took no sweatshirt and only a couple of t-shirts so that I could buy more when I got there. This worked out very well. I bought a sweatshirt at our first port, Ketchikan, and bought t-shirts along the way.
• I absolutely could not find a good cap for the trip so sailed without one. I found a great one within 5 minutes of stepping on shore in Ketchikan for only $6.00.
• Mosquitoes - not a problem for us on the cruise, but out in full force in Alaska's interior (Fairbanks, Denali, and Talkeetna). If you're going to the interior, take insect repellant and use it often. We found the lotion types gave us better protection than sprays. We took two types with us; one with deet, one without. Both worked fine for us.

On the first day of the land portion, our tour director gave us an order form for optional land excursions. Excursions had to be requested/paid for at least 24 hours in advance. If you subsequently changed your mind and cancelled with less than 24-hour notice, you lost your money—no refunds with less than 24-hour notice. Given that the land portion was only 4 days long, you had to move fast if you wanted to book an optional excursion through the cruiseline.

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.

Alaska's interior can be hot and muggy, and we were surprised to find that a number of the hotels have little or no air conditioning. The Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, which is gorgeous and quite new, has no air conditioning at all, not even wall units.

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.

I liked the convenience of the escorted landtour very much--not having to drive in an unfamiliar location/weather conditions, having our baggage handled for us every step of the way, and the ease of hotel check-in/check-out. The logistics of the landtour were beautifully coordinated, freeing us to just enjoy our vacation.

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.

If I were to grade the cruisetour:
• Overall: A+
• Cruise portion: A++
• Landtour: B

Would I do a cruisetour again?
Absolutely, but I would book the landtour with an independent provider, not with the cruiseline. For the cruise, I would go with Celebrity again in a heartbeat. I simply cannot say enough about them. Celebrity's ship, crew, service, food, etc. were all exceptional.