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Old June 10th, 2012, 08:55 PM
Jason Leppert
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Hello friends!

I’m reporting live from beautiful Alaska on the newly Solsticized Celebrity Millennium on a 7-day voyage from Seward to Vancouver. My parents and I began our journey with a flight up to Anchorage, an evening stay there, and then a 5 hour Alaskan Railroad transfer directly to the pier in Seward the next day.

Train travel in Alaska is quite a treat. Of course, I’m a fan of trains in general, but should you desire great sightseeing in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness – train fan or not – you will surely enjoy the experience. We’re up here early enough in the season that stretches of the rail trip our almost monochromatic with a whiteout of snow spotted with patches of dark trees and earth. The landscape varies with the summer sun beating down on dramatic terrain etched with waterfalls and ravines. You’ll gaze upon beautiful Alaskan flora and, if lucky, some fauna as well – more likely an eagle in the distance.

The train itself is very comfortable with tables for four sheltered under the expanse of domed glass. Our train was chartered exclusively to transport Celebrity guests from the Anchorage airport terminal to the pier in Seward. During the trip, two employees cater to the needs of each car with meal and drink service as well as an occasional commentary.

The Millennium’s new Solsticized features are very well implemented and really do a whole lot to revitalize the older ship in Celebrity’s fleet. With the Millennium completing the Solsticization program – with only the Constellation slated for additional improvements – the question is now what will become of the even older Century. I will be sure to ask and report on that in my followup article which will focus on the Solsticization process and features in detail.

Such new features include the new Martini Bar and Crush. It’s not immediately clear what the difference is between the two sections of this new bar. Upon asking, I was informed that the Martini Bar is specific to martinis, naturally, while Crush is specific to straight vodka tastings. The iced bar surface – chilled stainless steel topped with a thin layer of frozen water – and the ice filled trough speckled with vodka bottles remind one of a full-fledged ice bar like the one in Stockholm. It’s a neat ship feature for sure.

The first attraction of our Alaskan itinerary was Hubbard Glacier yesterday afternoon. However, our visit was one of the periodic ones that nature would not allow. The ice pack off the glacier face was so dense that the ship could only get as close as four and a half miles away.

Nonetheless, the day was sunny and beautiful, and the magnificent glacier shown bright in the distance. While there would be no photos of calving ice this trip, the weather did provide for nice shots of the surrounding ice bergs, mountains, and foliage.

Our first port of call was Juneau today on a cloudy, drizzly day that welcomed a tour of the Alaskan Brewing Company. The Alaskan Brewing Company Depot in downtown just up a short walk from the pier is home base for the Juneau-based brewery’s retail operation, brief history tour, and transportation to the small but extensive brewery itself just outside of town.

The depot is housed in the space once home to Galligaskins – formerly a retail staple in Juneau before going out of business several years ago.

The award winning brewery has done quite well to export their wonderful craft beers as far south as San Diego, my own hometown. I personally prefer Alaskan beers over any other, and it’s always nice to get a taste of Alaska year-round in the southwest. But the best way to treat yourself while in Alaska is with a tour of the actual brewery.

The depot sells tickets for $15 that includes van transportation to and from the brewery, up to six 4-ounce tastings, and a tour of the facility. Generally, all of their year-round beers are on tap plus a selection of seasonal and limited-release beers – which are highly recommended to try as they are often not available outside of Alaska and sometimes not even outside of Juneau. And at other times, certain beers are even hard to come by within Juneau. For instance, the latest limited release of Raspberry Wheat sold out at the brewery in bottles in less than an hour and in kegs in just two hours. Luckily, we found some bottles in town at a local liquor store to try.

It’s been two years since I was last up in Alaska, and since then the Red Dog Saloon has expanded their retail “mercantile” by building it all the way out to the sidewalk, and close to completion is a new information center at the pier. Also, along the bus pickup area is a new awning that is still incomplete without a canvas covering, but once it’s finished, it too will be a welcome addition to keep tour patrons dry as they wait for their busses.

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