Denise, 40, traveling solo for the first time. I ran out of people to drag to Alaska.
I arrived the day of the cruise at Vancouver airport. I met two ladies on the plane who were going on the same cruise. We waited in line about 45 minutes to go through Canadian customs. We were quickly loaded on a bus to Canada Place, and that's where the nightmare started. The line for customs was huge. Both Spirit and the HAL Vollendam passengers were in the same line, so figure over 4,000 people and from two to eight slow, surly customs agents. While we were waiting in line for three hours, one of the ships' officers was watching and looked really, really mad. But there was nothing Carnival could do. They promised it will not happen again.
I boarded the ship minutes before 4, which was when I was supposed to meet up with my internet buddies in the Atrium. I dropped off my luggage and made it there just a couple of minutes late, and we had a great time finally meeting each other!
The next night at the Captain's cocktail party, he informed us that to make up for the long lines (which weren't even their fault), they were granting us an extra two hours in Juneau and Skagway. I thought that more than made up for the delay, since I got to do more stuff! But before we got to Ketchikan, he announced he'd try to make it two hours early there too. We made it an hour early, which still allowed me to see the lumberjack show, which I would have missed. Kudos to Carnival for that very kind gesture.
I booked the starboard aft wrap-around balcony cabin on Empress deck. The room was lovely and I miss it! See my pictures. The only thing I didn't photograph was the bathroom, which had two sinks (I could brush in one and spit in the other) and a whirlpool tub. Since this was my 40th birthday trip, I had two dozen roses, two bottles of wine and a bottle of champagne waiting in the room from family and friends. Awww! Almost made me cry.
The balcony is large enough for lots of people, and I had plenty of parties with the CC folks and some other people I met onboard. Unfortunately, it's not covered, so when it rained in Glacier Bay, I was up on deck instead. It's worse than not covered--the small overhang pours water. But, when it was nice outside, it was luxurious. Deck 4 is covered, and if I ever get one again, it will be on deck 4. And people, quit throwing stuff off the lido deck. It just lands on the balconies.
I had two room stewards for some reason. Maybe one was training. One was very nice--he was always smiling. The other looked like she was on her last nerve. She always tried to smile but looked more like she was going to cry. On the last evening, when people had put out there luggage, she swore as she was trying to move her cart. I just felt sorry for her. If I had to do that job 7 days straight for 6-8 months I'd be swearing and crying too. Anyways, my room was always clean and stocked with ice. I had tipped in cash the first night the amount of another passenger, since it wasn't their fault I was traveling solo.
There are lots of pictures online. This was my third time sailing the Carnival Spirit to Alaska, so obviously I like the ship. The carpet is a little more worn and things are not quite as bright and sparkly as the first time I was there, but it's still lovely. I took the Ecstacy Ensenada run once and Spirit blows that ship away in every area. There are so many window areas all over the ship that it really makes cruising Alaska a joy.
There were 300 Australians who did the back-to-back Hawaii-Alaska cruise. They were such fun people. I really enjoyed meeting quite a few of them. I thought our time at Customs was bad, but not only did they have to wait 3 hours in Hawaii IN THE SUN, they were also told they wouldn't have to come back through US customs in Canada but Customs didn't agree and they did. They're not happy at all with travel in the states anymore, and I met a few couples who won't be coming back. Very sad. A few said they enjoyed Alaska more than Hawaii, because Australia has better beaches.
I didn't see any shows, unfortunately. I spent time in the casino playing blackjack and time with my new Aussie friends.
The CD, Michael Mullane, was pretty bland and mostly unseen except for his talks. I heard he apologized for that and said he had a lot of paperwork to do. Dunno why. I adored Dana Hodson my first time, and I think he's on the Victory now. He's extremely entertaining. This was my third time with Captain Pier Paolo Scala, and I adore him. Sweet man.
This is my fourth Carnival cruise, and I've always enjoyed the food. I had room service coffee every morning and it always arrived in 5-10 minutes. Pretty impressive. I also had a BLT from them twice. I dined in the dining room for breakfast twice, lunch twice and all but one dinner, and enjoyed each one. I really like the open seating breakfast and lunches, but I skipped both meals a few times--too much food! I met people that I then saw throughout the cruise, including another single lady. They did seat singles together for dinner. One lunch was very funny--a lady (and I say that loosely) ordered calamari, but didn't know what it was. When it arrived she pronounced it disgusting (Squid? Disgusting!) and sent it back. She had ordered the salmon with some kind of sauce for an entree, and it turned out the sauce was green. Dill maybe? I don't know. She pronounced it disgusting without trying it and went up to the Lido deck to eat. The rest of us at the table had a nice laugh when she was gone. Remember--if you don't know what something is, ask the waiter. I'd hate to see the person who ordered escargot and didn't know what it was. I only went to the Lido twice, once for pizza at 3am (don't ask) and once for Indian, since I love their Indian food. The head waiter on the ship is from India, so go figure.
My waiter was a much better entertainer than waiter. He never told us the specials, forgot my soup once, many times had one person served and not the rest for 10 minutes or vice-versa, and just didn't impress me. The assistant waiter was great. Some Aussie friends had the same waiter for 19 nights and he was so wonderful he brought cheese trays up to our balcony party! They just adored him and exchanged addresses. Luck of the draw I guess.
The Grand Gala Buffet is beautiful but not all that great to eat. Take pictures, then go get pizza. I didn't get to any of the other midnight buffets.
This was my third trip, so I didn't do any town walking.
Mt. Roberts Tram
The tram is within easy walking distance of the pier, and you can see it from all over. It's easy to find. For $23.95 you get an all-day pass and yes, your hand stamped. At the top they have a partially blind eagle, restaurant, shop, mini theatre and nature center. There are hiking trails, but it was still snowy and some were 'at your own risk' or closed. I thought it was a beautiful view from the top. During the CD's excursion spiel, he said that even if it's foggy, it may not be at the top, and showed a lovely picture of a view of the clouds from the top. I'd probably still go if it was foggy.
Pilot's Choice Helicopter Tour (Temsco thru ship)
Since it was so early in the season, our helicopter pilot seemed very excited about being out and about. This was only his third run. We saw not only glaciers and spectacular mountains, but some very interesting things going on with a couple of them. The pilots know where the neat stuff is. Herbert has blown a giant hole in its terminus, and water is pouring out at the rate of one olympic swimming pool per minute. We actually landed right at the terminus to see it. We landed on another glacier which had a gigantic hole in the top of it. Everyone agreed it was well worth the money, but it does seem to just fly right by and soon you're back to reality.
Evening Whale Quest (Allen Marine thru ship)
For the third time, I set out on a large catamaran to see the whales. Once again, we had a real character for a bus driver. I do like the ship's excursion. The captain and naturalists narrate it well. They had a large appetizer spread including a steaming roast beef, crab dip, cheese tray, etc. etc. They also have a bar, and a glass or three of wine in the evening is a great way to take off the chill of the deck. There are two inside viewing areas, first and second level, and two outside viewing areas, second and very top level. The very top is not opened while we're moving. Most people chose to stay indoors and not go out on deck.
We saw a group of transient orcas, some humpbacks, eagles, stellar sea lions and a bear speck. I do say speck because as soon as you get close, they get up and leave. That happened three times on my trip. Shy bears!
The earlier group saw the transients teaching the young one how to kill a seal. They were tossing it in the air and... just eww. Kinda glad I missed that.
I was talking with the naturalist and told her about my experience with bubble-net feeding and she wanted pics, but I wasn't able to snap them fast enough, so she asked for my Email and will Email me pics if she sees it this season. She has a list of passengers' Emails and said that some of her best pictures have come from passengers. Very sweet ladies.
Eagle Preserve Float & Scenic Cruise(thru ship--dunno!)
This was the most special excursion this trip, and it's hard to explain why. This was my third time in Alaska, and I do many excursions, but I just felt like I got to know the area, the history, the current residents of Alaska so much better, and had a feeling of being there.
We walked to the catamaran ferry, where we were met by Scott, one of the rafting guides. He comes over from Haines to escort us back to Haines. The catamaran ferry is owned by a native Tlingit tribe, and fully narrated for 45 minutes along the goreous Lynn Canal by a native Tlingit. He spoke about his tribe and culture, and it was really fascinating.
When we arrived in Haines, we hopped in a bus to the river. Scott narrated the bus ride, and he's quite a character. This is his 13th season in Alaska, mostly in Haines, and he's wintered there also. He has ALL kinds of fascinating trivia. He's a great speaker and has a fun sense of humor.
When we got to the river, we suited up with life jackets and boots and met Liam. He's the other raft guide. We had two out. I went with Liam. He's also very knowledgeable about the area. We floated and watched eagles with the background of gigantic snow-covered mountains. We did see two active nests, one with momma inside and dad watching from a nearby tree.
The river is very shallow, and even as more glacier melt arrives it spreads out instead of deepens, so don't be concerned about falling out. You could stand up and get back in.
We ended with some sandwiches and cookies, no big thrill. Scott stayed with us on the bus back, then we boarded the catamaran back to Skagway.
Please don't do the jet boat. It's harming the environment.
On the catamaran on the way back, the kayakers said they had a great time, the jet boaters said they did have fun but were disappointed with the noise.
Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
If you've seen it on TV, it's about the same. The children really enjoyed it. I liked the displays of skill, and they really are skilled, but I found the narration silly and drawn out. I'm still glad I finally saw it.
Misty Fjords Wildlife Cruise (Allen Marine thru ship)
This cruise was 4 1/2 to 5 hours long, and we didn't really see much wildlife. But it was well narrated by someone who grew up in Alaska. We saw another bear spec, and some sunning seals. We cruised by some absolutely fantastic waterfalls and other scenic areas. We had a light snack of clam chowder or veggie chili on the way back in. I much preferred the float plane trip, but this is a great way to see just a small part of how big and wild the area is and hear more about living in Ketchikan.
Well, it's not an excursion, just a destination. I'm going to get flamed alive for this, but I didn't understand all of the hype. We were only able to view three glaciers, Lamplugh, Marjorie and the Grand Pacific, which is so dirty from moraine it doesn't even look like a glacier. John Hopkins inlet and thus John Hopkins glacier was closed off due to seal mating season. Or was it sea lion. I forget. Anyways, we were able to stop in front of Marjorie for a long while and observe some calving. The Grand Pacific would be impressive if it even looked anything like a glacier. The bay itself is very beautiful, with high snow-covered peaks. But I liked College Fjord (with its 16 glaciers) and Hubbard Glacier just as well. They're all somewhat different experiences, but all good.
I noticed that kids liked doing anything with anticipation, participation, spotting. The only time I heard kids were whale watching, where they squeeled with delight when a whale surfaced after waiting for it, and watching the Marjorie glacier calve, after they'd been waiting for it. Notice a trend? They also liked the lumberjack show a lot.
Champagne art auction--grab champagne, walk through and out the other door. heeee!
The Captain's Cocktail Party and Past Guest Party both had a lot of servers. I don't remember being that well served on previous cruises. Maybe they were trying to get us drunk enough to forget embarkation. They actually had two past guest parties, due to the 300 B2B'ers and large number of past guests.
Ships are not allowed to make announcements in ports. We always have very few announcements (except the Naturalist on open water) when in Alaska.
Getting off in ports was very easy, and even when there was a long line to get back on, it went fairly quickly, but in one port they had everyone trying to get back on at the same time it seemed--dinner time.
Please try to attend the naturalist talks with Michelle. They really give an insight and understanding of the area. You'll have a much better cruise experience with that knowledge.
It still amazes me how friendly people are on a cruise. When we got back to the airport, I noticed everyone clammed up and went back to reality. On the cruise, everyone says hi in the halls, talks in the elevator, and I really enjoyed all of the company of strangers throughout.
The Carnival Vacation Club. They tried to shove that thing down our throats all day every day. Notices in our mailboxes, all over the Capers, signs on members' doors, just disgusting. One of my dinner companions was 80 and had notices something along the lines of, "You have not responded!" in her mailbox three days in a row. She went to the presentation and said they were very pushy--until they found out she doesn't have $4,000.
The ship's videograher was on two of my excursions, and on the first one took all profiles of me. I have a bad profile. Hrmph.
It was over WAY too fast. I don't remember either of the others flying by so fast. I think it's because I was doing so much! Many shore excursions, many parties, much fun. On my previous two, I think that waiting for everyone else to either get ready or decide what to do took up a lot of my time.
Would I sail Carnival Spirit again? Yes, and fill out 100 comment cards about the Vacation club. But I think I'll try a different line next time, just for some variety and comparison.
Post Edited (05-21-05 19:43)