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6 of us took off this May on the Celebrity Solstice for an Inside Passage Alaskan Cruise and what an adventure we had. It was a bucket list trip for a few of us and with good reason. Alaska is beyond words awe-inspiring. Everywhere you turn there is something beautiful to marvel at. The massive mountains covered in trees thicker than anything I have seen in the Rockies, whales, bears, bald eagles, float planes taking off and landing, glaciers melting before your eyes, ice that sparkles like aquamarines but are the size of small boats, beautiful Totem poles…..Alaska is beyond my vocabulary so instead I will share simply our experience and photos in this Alaskan cruise review and maybe a few hints to help you get there as well!
Here are some photos from our trip:
What To Do In Alaskan Ports:
There is SO much to do. If there is one thing that I regret not doing though it is Misty Fjords Floatplane in Ketchikan. Apparently the views are spectacular.
- Ketchikan-Hike Deer Trail. It is about a mile walk to the entrance of the trail and its a good workout. Or visit the Ketchikan museums….we liked Totem Heritage Center (people there were SO nice. Cash only) and Southeast Alaska Discovery Center (you can use a Golden Access Passport here if you have one). I unexpectedly fell in love with Totem Poles in Ketchikan. We had lunch at the Crab Cracker. The food was very good. The service was very slow–didn’t really impact our experience but something to know if you are pushing time limits for boarding.
- Juneau- The 5 Glacier Float Plane tour was amazing. Worth the $225 per person we paid. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I heard many people talking about the Deadliest Catch boat trip as well and how much they enjoyed that.
- Skagway– Rent a car from Avis and drive to Emerald Lake. You can stop in Carcross for lunch. Don’t forget your passport and camera! There are bear along the side of the road.
- Victoria, BC– we were only in port here for 4 hours. SO sad. I love Victoria. It is one of my favorite cities. In this short time you can take a taxi downtown-there are plenty right as you step off the dock. Ask them to drop you in front of The Empress Hotel and you can walk to plenty of places to eat, shop and take amazing photographs. We had dinner at the Bard and Banker and really enjoyed it! On a previous cruise here we had visited Butchart Gardens and it was gorgeous. You can’t go wrong with either choice of activities in my experience.
What’s GREAT about the Celebrity Solstice?
- Brett Nixon! He is the naturalist on board. So entertaining and we learned a lot from him. If you are not taking a cruise with Mr. Nixon onboard consider ordering his DVD’s prior to the trip. I promise you won’t be disappointed. One thing I will say is that the Totem Heritage Center does not necessarily agree with his interpretations of some of the totem poles in regards to red lips and shame poles.
- Accessibility. We really had no issues onboard which is lovely. Read more about Celebrity Solstice wheelchair accessibility here.
- Solarium. Its just always so peaceful and quiet in there. These indoor pool and jacuzzi area’s are the perfectly place to relax in a warm, kid free environment.
- Plenty of beautiful outdoor seating. Perhaps this is a function of how different an Alaskan cruise is to a warmer weather cruise but there were always nice places to sit as a group outside and we had beautiful weather most of the time.
- Embark and Disembark were a breeze.
What’s NOT SO GREAT about Celebrity Solstice?
- Room service-since when is there a charge for anything room service? On this ship you can get coffee, hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken fingers (etc) to the room for no charge but anything beyond the common bacon and eggs has a “premium” price tag attached. Room service is one of the things we love and this was a major disappointment.
- Upsell to premium drink package at every turn. Why would non-alcoholic beer be considered premium? Ridiculous.
- Not being able to make Select dining reservations more than 24 hours in advance and having our waiter changed on us. Our waiter was a real highlight and we were disappointed that despite having a reservation we were switched on formal night.
- Shops. Sure, you can buy a million different diamonds but if you want a tshirt there was a selection of 5. Having just come off Royal Caribbeans Allure though I may be more than spoiled by the shops available.
- Food. I was just not impressed this time around. Again-cost cutting everywhere. 4 sad defrosted shrimp are the “cocktail” and the escargot is full of salt and parsley. We aren’t picky eaters but this was just absolutely lack luster for the Top Chef reputation Celebrity touts.
- Shore Excursions staff–really this is the thing that burned me the most. Completely wrong info on accessibility and really acted like we were bothering them by asking. Click over here to read about wheelchair and scooter accessibility onboard the Celebrity Solstice.
The Celebrity Solstice was fine. As you can see above it had it’s highs and its lows. The trip was amazing but I wasn’t blown away by the ship or the staff (with the exception of Vernon and Mark in the Main Dining Room). We paid a fair price ($1200 per person for 7 days including free gratuities, free classic drink package, and $300 stateroom credit) and I wouldn’t hesitate to go on Celebrity again but I wouldn’t seek them out either (and we should be Elite standing at this point with them so that is saying something). Celebrity is cutting a lot of corners these days and it was a much different experience from when we were on the Celebrity Constellation a few years ago. I would however love to visit Alaska again and am seriously going to look into trying our first cruise on the Princess line since they are the only line allowed to go into Glacier Bay (from what I understand).
An Alaskan cruise has a very different atmosphere than a Caribbean or Mexican. Forget the bands on deck and the Sexiest Man contest. This is more educational and adventure orientated. We really enjoyed that. We had really foggy, depressing weather sailing on both sea days but the days in port were glorious. The atmosphere isn’t necessarily better or worse but different. If you have tried all the warm weather ports and your family loves the outdoors and nature, an Alaskan cruise should be on your bucket list. For anyone with mobility issues it was certainly one of our most accessible trips. If you can get a good deal on Celebrity, go for it. Their 1, 2, 3 Sales are pretty phenomenal. This is the first time ever we have disembarked only owing the ship $80. Last year on Allure without all the “free” add-ons our bill was over $2,000.00.
Alaskan Cruise Money Saving Tips:
- One thing many people are surprised to learn is that May can be as much as a 50% savings over the summer months. If you can take advantage of going those three weeks in May and are the gambling type, you can save a lot of money on your cruise. You are betting on the weather. This year both the first and second week Alaskan cruises have had AMAZING weather-in the 70’s at all ports but that is not always the case….then again, is anytime really safe in Alaska?
- Consider renting a car in Skagway (or even Juneau) instead of taking the Whitehorse train. It would have cost $600 for our group to take the train. By comparison we were able to rent our own car from Avis for $175 and stop where we wanted when we wanted. The road you drive on to Emerald Lake runs right along the train. No doubt the train had better views at times but being able to stop and take pictures is a trade off. The family had a lunch of elk sausage at the Bistro in Carcross and saw a bear on the way back off the side of the road.
- Look for a cruise line like Celebrity that is offering paid gratuities, drink packages and room credits for booking. These things can easily add up on your cruise and leave you with a much higher bill than anticipated.
- It’s not uncommon to book a cruise a year out and continue to watch for falling prices (especially watch around Thanksgiving). Joining a forum like Cruise Critic and finding your cruise roll call (every cruise has one) will connect you with others booked on the same cruise and often times you will read posts from people that found lower prices. Until final payment you can change the deal you are getting…just be aware that different deals mean losing perks sometimes. On this cruise I was able to change our room category about 3 weeks before final payment saving $300 a person and not lose any of our perks.
Whichever cruise line you choose I am confident that given decent weather you will have the trip of a lifetime. There really is nothing like Alaska. Go explore it.