When the opportunity to take a Cruise Holidays training class was offered in Seattle this month, we decided to take advantage of the training and re-visit Alaska as well.
This was to be our third sailing on the Celebrity Solstice – the second time this year. Needless to say, Celebrity is our favorite, big ship company, and the Solstice is still one of our favorites. The ship is 5 years young and as beautiful as ever!
We had arrived very late the night before our ship sailed. After a short night, our friends, Ned and Carolyn Nelson, who are also our clients, picked us up at our hotel and took us to Pier 91. Although the traffic was heavy, once at the pier, check-in was a breeze and we were onboard in under an hour after leaving our hotel.
We boarded the Celebrity Solstice on Friday, 31 May. The news on CNN about the tornados in the Oklahoma City area (again…), our sail-away enthusiasm was slightly diminished. Only when we received a call from friends that our neighborhood was spared, could we relax and enjoy.
The departure from Seattle was a picture perfect, chamber of commerce post card. We departed as the sun was casting the warm orange glow on the Seattle skyline. Since we chose Celebrity Select (anytime we prefer) dining, we didn’t have to rush to dinner. In fact, made our dinner reservations for each evening when we completed our pre-cruise registration. It worked out perfectly! We had 7pm dining, table for 2 every evening except 2 when it was 7:30pm. The food and service were exceptional with lots of choices each evening along with the usual, “Always Available” menu options. Garry was able to enjoy escargot every evening!!
Our first night out was very smooth sailing – not the usual high, rough seas typically encountered on round trip Seattle departures. The last 2 sea days were also smoother than expected. Because a Seattle round trip departure sails on the west side of Vancouver Island (not between the island and mainland British Columbia), out in the open Pacific Ocean, the seas are usually rough all year round. Because of this, land is not visible and there is nothing to see but water – unlike the sailings that depart from Vancouver, BC where land is visible for the entire voyage, coming and going. Our recommendation is always to sail from Vancouver, BC, however, you cannot beat the convenience of sailing from Seattle.
On Sunday, another client, Doug and Doris Vig, met us in Ketchikan and took us on a tour of the area. This was our 5th visit to Ketchikan and it was nice to see it from a local perspective. After our tour and a stop at Totem Bight State Historical Park, http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/totembgh.htm, we headed for a stop for lunch at the home of another client and friend, Marlene Scanlon. She greeted us, along with Lynn Clay and Diane , both also clients. Except for Marlene, we’d never met the others. Our business has always been done over the phone and via email. It was really nice to put a face with the voices of these long time, loyal clients. Thanks Marlene for the wonderful lunch of Alaska Halibut and to Doug and Doris for chauffeuring us to/from the ship. It was a sunny, warm day in Ketchikan – unusual considering Ketchikan receives nearly 200 inches of rain per year!!
Early the next morning, we arrived in Tracy Arm Fjord and the twin Sawyer Glaciers http://alaskancruiser.com/glaciers-in-alaska/tracy-arm-fjord/ . This was our 3rd cruise into Tracy Arm and our very first to get up close to the glacier. It was an awesome sight! We spent over an hour in front of the glacier where we witnessed it ‘calve’ many times. Although we prefer Glacier Bay over Tracy Arm, they are both unique and equally beautiful. If you want glacier overload, opt for a cruise that includes Glacier Bay. If you want a ‘taste of the Norwegian Fjords’, opt for Tracy Arm.
In the Afternoon, the ship arrived in Juneau where, due to the number of ships in port, we were required to take a tender to the shore. We arrived about 1PM and fortunately our tour didn’t start until 4PM. We were concerned about the time it would take to get off the ship and we didn’t want to miss our tour. We had arranged for a whale watching tour with the Shore Excursion Group http://www.shoreexcursionsgroup.com/Articles.asp?ID=143&Click=7502 (not part of the tours offered by the ship). We were pleasantly surprised. Our group numbered 13!! We had a small, comfortable boat with the driver and a guide. We especially liked the size of the group and the quality of the tour. Shore Excursion Group guarantees to get you back to the ship in time for departure, or they pay to get you to the next port. And, they are similar in cost to tours booked through the cruise lines. However, they were fewer people in both tours. We are glad we booked thru Shore Excursion Group.
Our next stop was Skagway, and again, since we’d been there many times before, we opted for another tour booked with the Shore Excursion Group. This tour was a Wildlife Photography tour that took us to Haines. We docked at the Railroad Dock and followed the instructions on our tickets to meet up with our guide. This time there were only 4 in our group, plus our guide. He took us to meet the ferry to Haines and then to his van where we spend the next 6 hours driving to different areas in search of wildlife. We photographed numerous bald eagles and hoped to see bears, but they were not to be found.
The last port of call was Victoria, BC. Since the ship docked at 6:30pm, we opted to stay onboard to enjoy our last few hours onboard the Solstice. Bags packed and dinner at 7pm followed by one last stroll through the ship. No evening show…the casino was closed, as were the onboard shops. Only the bars were open while we were docked in Victoria. The ship sailed at midnight, but by then we had our bags in the hallway for collection and had retired for the evening.
We awoke to another glorious day in Seattle, and our friends, the Nelson’s were at the pier to take us to our hotel to begin our training.