Well, first of all, we were on a different cruise line this time. Last time we went on Royal Carribbean's Serenade of the Seas, and this time we went with Celebrity's Mercury. There is a big difference, so take note if you're planning a cruise vacation of your own. I'll tell you more in a bit.
We hopped on board early and avoided all of the long line ups. The upside is that we had toured most of the ship by the time we left port at 5pm, the downside is that we got on board before the Port guides were available so we missed out on the Port and Shopping Guide book which has all the coupons for freebies in Alaska.
If it's your first time to Alaska and you like freebies, make sure you pick up that book and scope out all the coupons available on board for other freebies. It makes your Alaskan trip more like a scavenger hunt (and rather fun that way...)!
Food on the boat is pretty good. Cruise vacations include all of your food so it's a non-stop smorgasboard all the time. I treated myself to some scrumptious french toast one morning, mmmmm! If you don't like buffets, you can head over to the restaurant for some fine dining. That's included in your fee too!
I had well over 5 courses every meal. I usually had 2 appetizers, a soup, a salad, a main course, and 2-3 desserts. Talk about being greedy! But BOY was it fun! You can order as much food as you like, the portions are small so that you can do this kind of thing. The service was exceptional (they even de-shelled my lobster for me!)
Of course the highlight of Alaska is the glaciers. On our way to Hubbard Glacier, we had to pass through a gauntlet of ice floes. Many moments felt like The Titanic because massive glaciers often felt too close for comfort. Not to fear though, the captain knew exactly which ice floes were safe or dangerous.
See this ice floe above? A lot of the workers leaned over the ship to watch it nervously as it passed by, but nothing happened when we seemed to go over it.
This is Hubbard Glacier! It's so beautiful. As we went towards it, the wind was icy cold and I had to run back to the cabin to grab an extra jacket. I was fully bundled up in woolen hat, gloves, scarf, hoody, jacket, and I was STILL freezing! But it was totally worth standing at the front of the boat watching it. We got 1.8 miles close to it (maximum legal distance is 1.5) and we could see the glacier break off huge chunks that avalanched into the ocean. The cracking sound was like thunder! It was amazing.
The view the whole way was spectacular. Open oceans, ice covered mountains, and vivid blue skies made for many picture-perfect moments.
At night, after dinner, we headed to the theatre for live shows. One of my favourite acts was an acrobat couple. They were so strong, flexible, and beautiful to look at (as you can see from above)!
In Hoonah, Icy Strait, I took pictures of any little critters I could find. This was a little beetle sitting on some of the slate rocks. Hoonah is covered with a lot of slate. There also seems to be a lot of iron in the rocks here so it's often reddish every where you look. I'm not sure if the iron is from the rocks or from old rusted material scattered abundantly all over this area. It used to be a huge cannery location.
Along the beachline, you can find many interesting rocks. This one is so smooth on the sides and carved out to form the different rock layers. I imagine that this must have been caused as the glaciers carved out this particular area a long time ago as they passed through.
I found many of these along the beach too. I'm not sure what they are. My dad thought maybe it used to be a sea urchin, but all the spikes are gone. Either way, they are pretty to look at. Inside, they are hollow.
This little chipmunk was busily eating something. He didn't care that we were all snapping pictures of him. It must be a tasty tid bit.
The bulk of the Hoonah visit is spent in the old cannery, which is a tourist spot.
You can also take a bus for 8 dollars to see the downtown area. We decided to try it this time since we had already seen the cannery. To our surprise, this is what Hoonah downtown looks like. It's an old fishing village, and the lifestyle is simple. I couldn't spot more than a corner store to really explore (the rest was people's houses...) so we didn't get off the bus. It was enough to observe from the open bus windows.
I must say though, these houses might look decrepit, but they have an amazing ocean view.
In Juneau, Alaska, V. surprised me with a whale watching expedition. It was fantastic! I saw so many humpback whales that were so close! They were right in front of me and swam under my boat!
You can usually spot a whale when they breath and spray water into the air in a noisy hiss.
It was so much fun! I highly recommend a whale watching expedition if you ever go to Juneau.
We also stopped to ogle a whole herd of sea lions. They are so noisy and curious. I was particularly amused by the giant, pale coloured ones that acted like they owned the place and all the sea lions on it. They hung out in the water most of the time watching us, but they would climb onto the rocks with much occasion, shoving everyone out of the way to claim a coveted sunning spot.
On the way back to the ship, we were treated with hot cocoa, coffee, donuts, and some smoked salmon on ritz crackers. It was yummy and very fun :) We all had a jolly good time.
Much of the trip was spent lounging on deck in the sun, sipping on coffee or tea and watching the ocean.
With amazing weather and skies like this, it wasn't hard to relax. I can't wait until the next vacation when I can relax again.
Oh! On the topic of different cruise lines, here's my opinion...
I found Royal Carribbean more suited to my age group of young adults and couples. There was simply more to do during the day and the activities were more suited to a younger crowd. Celebrity was more suited to a much older crowd - mainly retirees and people that sleep lightly at night (wake early, sleep late) and might take a nap during the day. I found that I missed many of the early activities by sleeping in after a late night, and there wasn't much to do during midday. I actually took a nap some afternoons like my ship mates because there was nothing to do and everyone else seemed to be taking a nap.
Common activities on Celebrity were things like Bingo, Casino, Art Auctions, and Name That Elvis Tune. There was Name That 50's/60's Tune too, and most of the music on board was catered to an older crowd.
In terms of the food, I enjoyed the food on Royal Carribbean more. I really like fine dining and I found Royal Carribbean impressed me more on things like freshness, taste, and flavour. The presentation for both were quite good, but I wasn't wowed when I actually ate the food on Celebrity. On the other hand, I was often wowed by the food on Royal Carribbean. Escargot for sure was better on Royal Carribbean, but the ladies across from me didn't seem to mind the Celebrity escargot seeing as how they ordered it every day. I only ordered it once and reacted with a "blech!"
Celebrity does a good job with their salads though. All of the salads I tried were good. Their soups, however, are not as good. I didn't find a single great soup until the last day. And even then, the corn chowder was only good. The blueberry soup at lunch the last day was worth mentioning, but the rest of the fruit soups were so-so. The major soup disappointments were the seafood soups like lobster bisque, which ended up being too fishy and salty. I had a potato and leek soup one night that was cold, which I found kind of gross. I expect a potato and leek soup to be hot and creamy.
The pastas were also disappointing, but I tried a garlic and chicken pizza on the last night that was was fantastic. I went back to the pizza joint to get more, but they were closed by then.
Desserts were a hit and miss. I had an apricot tartlet on the first day that was sooooo good. Most of their tartlets are really good! But the cheesecakes were either good or blah, never perfect. I had a chocolate pudding on the last day that was quite good though. V. wasn't impressed with their version of the key lime pie and said Royal Caribbean was better. Next time, we might try Princess Cruise Lines or Norwegian. Our dinner friends said that Norwegian had phenomenal entertainment.
Anyhoo, I hope that gives you some insight into choosing a cruise line for your Alaskan vacation. And you should go! It's totally worth it :)
Have a happy week!