Well, we're back from a 3-night stay in Vancouver followed by an 11-night cruisetour on the Legend of the Seas. We had such a wonderful time. Although the Legend is older, I found her to be quite nice, with new upholstery and carpeting, and an extremely professional crew. We even got to see Hubbard Glacier (something that I've heard doesn't happen often with RCCL)! The following is a day-by-day review of our entire trip, from the first flight to last night. Here it goes...
Day 1 Washington - Chicago - Vancouver (Beginning of Vancouver leg of trip)
When we first reserved our airline tickets, (we got two free with miles. YAY) we were booked on Air Canada 699, wich was a non-stop flight from DC to Vancouver. However, we later found that AC699 had been cancelled, so we now had a 3-hour layover in Montreal. This was not good. We wouldn't even get into Vancouver until 4 Pm, and we wanted to spend as much time there as possible. So we called United, (who we booked the ticket with) and they rebooked us on a United flight through Chicago. Although we had a tight connection, everything worked out and we arrived in Vancouver dazzled by the beautiful airport. Yes, the Vancouver airport. Although there were long lines and relative chaos at the Baggage Claim area, a porter helped us (and our 9 bags) through it. But on the walk to immigration, we really liked the nice touches of the airport, such as the raised walkways, glass jet-bridges, waterfalls, and nature areas. I'm sure it also helped that we arrived on a day where no cruise ships were leaving.
We got a taxi driver (much nicer than the ones in other parts of the continent) and were driven to the Vancouver Marriott (Delta) Pinnacle. Now, here's the story with our hotel choice. We had been booked at the Fairmont Waterfront, but switched to the Pinnacle simply for price reasons. We thought we had booked one of the big xx19 rooms, with the corner wraparound windows (the room was described as a "corner view room"), but were suprised to find a room with a city view and a little corner facing the harbor. We explained what had happened, and the switched our room to on overlookinh Canada Place, Stanley Park, and everything in the harbor. It was a little small, but the view was great, the hotel staffers were extremely professional (left over from the Delta chain, a Canadian luxury hotel chain), and the hotel was in a great location right near Canada Place (even though our ship wasn't leaving from there). That said, next time I would probably stay in the Fairmont Waterfront or Pan-Pacific. Their locations right on the water seemed dazzling. Anyway, after exploring the city a little that first day, we ate at Romano's Macaroni grligg at the Mansion. Very good restaurant with excellent food and a nice setting.
Days 2 and 3: Vancouver
We went to do all the various attractions like the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mntn. (Mt. Roberts Tram in Juneau is better), Granville Island, and Stanley Park. We had mostly good (Great!) weather, and enjoyed everything. WE LOVE VANCOUVER. It is such a great city and really has everything to offer. We would go back even if we weren't going on a cruise.
To start with, I just want to emphasize how much we loved Vancouver, and also to note some great restaurants. The 2nd night we ate in a litle brewery right on the water behind the Renaissance hotel and near the mini-waterpark made up of various fountains. sorry, I forgot the name, but it was an extremely relaxing place to eat right on the water. On our last night in Vancouver, we splurged and ate at Cloud 9, the revolving restaurant on top of the Empire Landmark hotel on Robson St. The views were incredible, as was the food, but the prices were a little high. That said, it was worth it.
Now. Before I get to the vast majority of the Cruise (which was EXCELLENT), I do want to note some minor things that were annoying on the Legend of the Seas.
Embarkation: It was a little dissapointing that the Legend left from Ballantyne pier as opposed to Canada Place. Although Ballantyne is still close to downtown and check-in was as smooth as could be, it would have been nice to leave from a better neighborhood.
Elevators(Very Minor): For some reason, the two sets of elevators in the Centrum (the glass ones and the normal ones) were on two different sets of call buttons, so you had to press both elevators if you wanted to get the first one. As a result, the elevator you didn't get on would stop on the floor after you had left, and this slowed the elevators consistently. Again, ths was not a big deal AT ALL, just a little annoyance.
Shore Excursions: This was probably our biggest complaint. Although the Misty Fjords Seaplane Adventure with Promech Air was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we would repeat again and again, the White Pass and Yukon Route was a little slow for us, and took a LONG time. Also, we all got seasick on the Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest in Sitka. In addition, the Helicopter Glacier Walkabout was not what we expected. We thought it involved a long hike, when it was really just a little tour. The Trek probably would have suited us better. Oh well, better luck next time Wink !
Embarkation Embarkation at Ballantyne Pier went as smooth as can be. We arrived at Ballantyne arout 11:30 - 12 NOON, and were #2. We were on the ship by 12:45. The only thing that annoyed us was that, while RCCL had 25 check-in positions, there were only 4 US Immigration officers, and that line was a little long. So, after taking our picture with the "We're Alaska Bound!" sign, we were on the beautiful Legend of the Seas.
Cabin: We were in cabin 8526, a Cat. C handicapped cabin which was a "Superior Ocean View Suite with Balcony." Because it was a handicapped room, it lacked a few things (no marble bathroom, no tub) but also was much more spacious and had a slightly different layout than the other Cat. C rooms. (the sofa bed was facing the bed, as opposed to being next to it). The balcony was indispensable on the Alaska cruise. Not only did we have our own private place to view the beautiful scenery of Canada's Inside Passage and the port in Skagway, but we also didn't have to fight for a place on deck when the ship was viewing Hubbard Glacier. The decor was very nice, and it seems that RCCL has taken a leaf from the Navy/Gold decor on the Radiance Class, as the bedspreads were that color. Note that the Legend was reupholstered and recarpeted last year.
Public Areas: I'll say it once and I'll say it again: THE LEGEND IS A BEAUTIFUL SHIP. It really is. Actually, we found the layout and decor to be extremely similar to Celebrity's Galaxy, with many greens, a LOT of glass (perfect for Alaska) and use of wood tones. The Romeo and Juliet Dining Room was pretty standard (but the glass walls were a nice touch), and the Centrum (as well as rooms off of it) was an excellent place to sit and relax. The That's Entertainment Theatre, although it was only one deck, had very comfortable chairs (so comfortable we fell asleep during a Naturalist lecture) and good sightlines from every seat. The Windjammer was a little small and it was often hard to find a table, but that wasn't a big deal at all, as it had big glass windows and great views of the bow. Both the Adventure Ocean and Optix kids areas were wll designed, our son loved the RCCL kids program. The Solarium and Spa areas were really truly beautiful, and we loved the ancient Greek theme, complete with statues of Greek Gods and Godesses. Also nice was a 2.5-D diagram of the ship by the Centrum areas, it really helped you get your bearings the first couple of days.
Food: Let me say this: Our family does not go on a cruise for the food. We go for the travel experience on a floating city. That said, the food, although we thought it was good if not great in the dining room, was not as good as Celebrity. In addition, the lunches in the Windjammer Buffet Restaurant were very heavy and not great. Breakfast was quite good, as were the Pizza and Burgers in the Solarium. We heard so many people complaining about the food. IMHO, What was their problem? The food was FINE, if not great (in the dining room) and was certainly not BAD at all. If you want gourmet food, go on Celebrity. Otherwise, don't worry about the food so much. Food does not make or break a vacation. (However, in the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, the food was overpriced ($30), and tasted like water.)
Service: We found the service to be quite good, especially with our Stateroom Attendant, Arturo, who had been on the Legend since 1995. Towel animals were expertly made, and Arturo was very pleasant to be around.
Stop 1: Ketchikan Other Ships in Port: Ryndam and Crystal Harmony Ranking: 2nd best port Since we had 4 hours until our Misty Fjords Seaplane Adventure left at noon, we had time to explore Ketchikan a little bit. It was a cloudy, misty morning, but at least it wasn't raining as it does so often in Ketchikan. We explored the town, walking around and going to places like the West Coast Cape Fox Lodge, which has panoramic views of the whole town and is accessed by a free elevator at Creek Street, a little causeway of wooden planks with cute shops and Dolly's House, the most famous woman in Ketchikan's old red-light district. We also went to the Salmon Ladder and looked in some of the souvenir shops by the ships. However, the most fun part of our trip to Ketchikan was the Misty Fjords Seaplane Adventure with Promech Air. Right as we were taking off, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Besides the fun of sitting in the copilots seat of a tiny little DeHavilland Beaver, the views were exquisite, and the pilot was able to land on the most beautiful and secluded lake I've ever seen, which he could only access in the excellent weather we had that day. It was worth every penny we spent. I highly recommend any Misty Fjords flightseeing tour: you WON'T regret it.
Stop 2:Skagway Other Ships in Port: Summit and Infinity Ranking: 3rd/4th We had absolutely gorgeous weather in Skagway, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky when we arrived at the railroad dock between exquisite mountains and beautiful waters. However, Skagway seemed to small to be crowded with so many tourists, and, although the tiny town was picturesque, it seemed to crowded with tacky shops and stuff that it was almost ruined. We took the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad, which was a little long and slow.
Juneau Other ships in port: Norweigan Sun and Sky, Island Princess, and Ryndam was anchored offshore. We very much liked the city of Juneau, as we had ample time to explore it before our Helicopter Glacier Walkabout at 12:30pm. We walked all around the city, and up to some charming residential areas near the Governor's Mansion. We very much liked taking the Mt. Roberts Tramway, as there was very good hiking and spectacular views from the top of the hiking trail. The city is worth a look around, as it was much bigger than Skagway (where we had been the day before), and has some very interesting places. After our mini tour of the town, we went on our Helicopter Glacier Walkabout, which was not all as I had expected. We thought we were actually going to have to hike, when all we really did was look around a little. The Trek would have probably suited us better. Thems the breaks!
Sitka Other Ships in Port: Statendam and Amsterdam Sitka was probably our favorite port of call. Although cloudy in the morning on our Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest (which was nice except for the seasickness), the sun came out in full force by 11, and we loved exploring this delightful town. Sitka was nice for many reasons: A): It had historical significance that didn't involve gold. After having an overdose of Gold Ruch history on the White Pass Railroad in Skagway, Sitka offered incredibly interesting Russian and Tlingit history, and contained many historic sites. In the gorgeous weather the views from Castle Hill were spectacular. B): No touristy merchandise or atmosphere. In Juneau, Ketchikan, and even (especially) quaint little Skagway, the only things we could find to buy were t-shirts and the like, all made in China. Why would I come to Alaska to buy something made in China? In Sitka, on the other hand, we were able to find charming handmade gifts made in Alaska and Russia, all in an authentic Russian setting. The town was charming and beautiful. That being said, it is a shame that many cruise itineraries bypass Sitka. It is such a great place to go, and steers away from the Little Switzerlands of the world.
Hubbard Glacier Other Ships in Port: Ryndam Yes, we actually got to see Hubbard Glacier!!! This is something that apparently doesn't happen often with RCCl, as they need to save the sea-pups. (???) Altough it was cloudy and misty, the Ryndam stepped aside and we got a spectacular view of the calving glacier from our balcony. Although the weather could have been (much) better, it was great all the same.\
Seward Other Ships in Port: Ryndam Disembarkation in Seward was a little annoying but nothing to get too upset about. So we could have slept for 45 extra minutes while we were waiting for our color to be called. You win some, you lose some. Anyway, we were on Royal Celebrity Cruisetour #6 which went from Seward to Anchorage via bus, Anchorage to Fairbanks via plane, Fairbanks to Denali via bus, Denali to Talkeetna via train, and Talkeetna to Anchorage via train. We spent one night in each place. Royal Celebrity Tours was FABULOUS!!! Everything, from the buses to the gorgeous glass-domed trains to the great lodgings were impeccable. Our Tour Director, Shelley, was excellent and extremely knowledgeable about everything.
Now: I KNOW THAT WE COULD HAVE CHOSEN A BETTER TOUR. (and it drives me CRAZY)!!! We only had four days and would have stayed for seven if we could have. We didn't even see ANY wildlife in Denali. Oh well. Save the best for our next trip! Wink The only reason we chose our tour is because it ended in Anchorage and we got two FREE tickets on United!!!
Day 1 Seward to Anchorage to Fairbanks Hotel: Pike's Waterfront Lodge We got off the boat in miserable rainy weather and were directed to the Alaska Airlines Check-In line in the Seward terminal so we could check in for our flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The line was long, but we finally checked in and boarded our bus, which was extremely comfortable and had huge windows so we could enjoy the beautiful scenery around us on the way to Anchorage. At the airport, we were on the first of two flights which were chock-full of people on our tour. There were so many people that there were four different buses doing our itinerary!!! It was a good thing that we were on the first flight as the second was cancelled and the people on it didn't have the chance to see the Alaska Pipeline or the University of Alaska/Fairbanks Museum, both of which we saw after getting off of the plane and claiming our luggage. We had GREAT weather in Fairbanks both days, with partly cloudy skies. Both were excellent attractions to see. We ate dinner in the casual part of Pike's Landing, which was extremely good despite its VERY casual feel. Our hotel room in Pike's Waterfront Lodge was small, but had a balcony and a very nice view of the calm, peaceful Chena River.
Day 2 Fairbanks to Denali Hotel: McKinley Village Lodge In the morning we took the Riverboat Discovery Tour, which we thought was quite nice. It was an extremely relaxing was to spend our morning after the relatively hectic day we had had the day before. The trip down the Chena River was extremely scenic, and the visit to the Athabascan Indian Village was interesting, if a little touristy. Also interesting was Susan Butcher and her dogs. The boat stopped in front of her property and we watched how she trained them. It was very relaxing. We went into downtown Fairbanks for lunch, and then continued onto Denali, where it was pouring rain.
Day 3 Denali to Talkeetna Hotel: Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge We didn't see much in Denali. We were only on the Natural History Tour to begin with, and it was so foggy that we couldn't see anything. Oh well. However, things started to look up as we got our first glimpse of the "Wilderness Express" traincars. Royal Celebrity really did a great job with those trains. The leather seats were SO comfortable right nextt to the glass domes. The food was impeccable, and the scenery was amazing. For lunch, I highly recommend the Mandarin Chicken Salad. To make things even better, the sun started to come out as we approached Talkeetna. After settling in at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, we took the free shuttle into town of Talkeetna. There's not much there.
WARNING: DO NOT EAT AT ANY OF THE RESTAURANTS IN THE TALKEETNA ALASKAN LODGE. We ate at the VERY expensive restaurant for dinner ($90 for the three of us) and the service was horrible as was the FOOD!!! Eat in town at the Roadhouse. You won't be sorry!!!
Day 4 Talkeetna to Anchorage Hotel: Anchorage Downtown Marriott We had most of the day free for optional excursions in Talkeetna before the train came at 5 PM. we went on a Float trip down the Talkeetna River which was extremely relaxing and beautiful, although it became cold towards the end. Then it was back aboard the Wilderness Express for an extremely scenic trip to Anchorage. For dinner, I recommend the Fettucine. After we arrived in Anchorage around 9 PM, we went to bed for our 4:30 (OUCH!) transfer to the airport.
Although that may seem like the end, I have one more thing to add. On our flight from Anchorage to Chicago, the pilot got a rare flight path that took us directly over the Wrangell-St. Elias Natl. Park. He even lowered his altitude so we could get a closer look. It was like our own (free) flightseeing trip. The scenery was the most amazing I have ever seen. We saw the largest glaciers and icefields in the world, and saw all the mountains, including Mt. St Elias, in all their glory. It was the perfect touch to end a (near) perfect trip.