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Alaska Recap, Celebrity Millennium, June 2017

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Alaska Southbound, Seward to Vancouver, June 2017
Celebrity Millennium 

Given the upcoming Royal Caribbean Blog Alaska Group Cruise, June 22, 2018 I decided to do this post-trip blog from my Alaska cruise six months ago plus Celebrity is in the Royal family. 

I’ve booked the upcoming Group Cruise through MEI Travel and I’m looking forward to returning to Alaska.  Some of the ports are the same and this time I get to try excursions I could not on my previous trip.  There are so many great excursions to pick from and next year I’ll get to try some of my alternate or backup excursions from last year.

For years I had thought about but never booked an Alaskan cruise.  The Caribbean always seemed so warm and sunny.  Bikinis versus Parkas?  Early in 2017 I asked myself why I hadn’t done Alaska and I decided this will be the year.  I’m so glad I did.  Now I ask myself why I waited so long to cruise to Alaska?  Doh!  If you are the type that doesn't like booking the Caribbean during hurricane season, Alaska is the perfect solution for a summer cruise. 

As I researched it I learned there are two primary types of Alaska cruises. There are round trip cruises from ports like Seattle or Vancouver, or one-way Northbound or Southbound itineraries.  One of the glaciers I wanted to see was Hubbard Glacier.  This destination is pretty Northerly as glaciers go and very few round trip itineraries include Hubbard - the distances are too great.  Alaska is big.  

The few round trip cruises that do make it that far North did not have some ports or time in port that appealed to me.  I had started to look at Seattle departures because its very easy to fly to Seattle round trip versus the burden of planning a multi-city type flight to or from Anchorage with an international flight involving Vancouver.  It takes a little more work to plan a one-way North or South itinerary but for the itinerary I wanted I ended up doing the extra work at a slightly higher cost.  


As I focused in on the one way cruises I narrowed it down to Radiance of the Seas or Celebrity Millennium.  I had never sailed with Celebrity and I had always heard great things so ‘Millie’ won and I booked a Southbound cruise in the June date range I was looking for.  

Seven nights originating in Seward, AK.  Seward, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Straight Point, Ketchikan, Inside Passage, ending in Vancouver.  

I found it cheaper to book airfare as two distinct one-way trips.  Fly into Anchorage, fly out of Vancouver.

I had originally booked this cruise with someone I’ve cruised with a couple of times.  She is my dive buddy and we had just cruised on Allure the week before this cruise.  Unfortunately at the last minute she couldn’t make it due to a family situation.  I would have to do this cruise solo.  Originally booked in Aqua class some last minute suite guarantees opened up so I upgraded a few months before we were to sail.

A few words about the Royal Caribbean Blog Alaska Group Cruise

The itinerary for the Explorer of the Seas is pretty ideal, otherwise I wouldn't have booked it. 

June 22, 2018 Seattle round trip - Sea day, cruising the Inside Passage, Juneau, Skagway, cruising Tracy Arm Fjord, sea day, Victoria BC, back to Seattle.

When looking at Alaska cruises you need to pay attention to arrival and departure times at each port.  Cruise ships are almost exclusively foreign flagged.  In the U.S. the Jones Act passed by congress in 1920 and the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1888 requires an international port of call for foreign flagged ship itineraries and for Alaska cruises that means stopping in Canada.  What sets itineraries apart is when the ship calls on each port.  Many other cruise lines have awkwardly timed stops in an effort to maximize time in Alaska but also satisfying the PVSA and the Jones Act.  Sometimes they'll include an extra port but you have a relatively short time in that port. 

To experience  Alaska you need to get out of the port area and see Alaska.  Many other cruise lines stop in Canada with times like 6pm to 10pm.  That's right at dinner time, local businesses are closing, it's getting dark and it's only 4 hours.  While it satisfies the Jones Act it doesn't satisfy cruisers and you'll see many negative reviews resulting from it.  This never fails to amaze me - people book a cruise with advertised time in port then they complain when the cruise line delivers exactly what they purchased.

Not so on the Explorer of the Seas itinerary.  No stop has less than 9 hours in port and they are all in daylight hours.  Do an excursion, come back for a meal, go do something else.  Lots of time.  

In the posts that follow you'll see the excursions I chose.  Excursions are important in Alaska.  To experience Alaska you need to get out out of the port and see Alaska.   You don't have to do expensive excursions to experience Alaska and really enjoy it but if your budget affords it there are some outstanding excursions in Alaska.

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Day -1, Flight to Anchorage

I flew through Seattle to Anchorage.  Alaska gets a lot of rain.  Clouds are common and our flight initially was above the clouds but just before we began our descent into Anchorage the clouds broke and we were treated to amazing views of the Alaskan coast.  I later realize there were dozens of glaciers in my photos from the plane.  Flight advice - window seat on the right side.

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For Alaska the weather was amazing and I later discovered that was Mount Denali in the distance as we landed at ANC.  

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With an early afternoon arrival I rented a car and headed up to Chugach State Park which overlooks the Anchorage area.  Sunset was after 10pm so I had lots of time to explore. 

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Denali is roughly 180 miles away but was very prominent on the horizon looking over the City of Anchorage below.  Visibility was incredible.

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I stayed in a hotel chain I frequently use for business so I was able to use points for my hotel stay.  Anchorage is two time zones beyond Colorado and four time zones from Eastern time.  The extra two hours and the long summer days gave me extra time to explore the area.  

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16 minutes ago, twangster said:

Alaska Southbound, Seward to Vancouver, June 2017
Celebrity Millennium 

Given the upcoming Royal Caribbean Blog Alaska Group Cruise, June 22, 2018 I decided to do this post-trip blog from my Alaska cruise six months ago plus Celebrity is in the Royal family. 

I’ve booked the upcoming Group Cruise through MEI Travel and I’m looking forward to returning to Alaska.  Some of the ports are the same and this time I get to try excursions I could not on my previous trip.  There are so many great excursions to pick from and next year I’ll get to try some of my alternate or backup excursions from last year.

For years I had thought about but never booked an Alaskan cruise.  The Caribbean always seemed so warm and sunny.  Bikinis versus Parkas?  Early in 2017 I asked myself why I hadn’t done Alaska and I decided this will be the year.  I’m so glad I did.  Now I ask myself why I waited so long to cruise to Alaska?  Doh!  If you are the type that doesn't like booking the Caribbean during hurricane season, Alaska is the perfect solution for a summer cruise. 

As I researched it I learned there are two primary types of Alaska cruises. There are round trip cruises from ports like Seattle or Vancouver, or one-way Northbound or Southbound itineraries.  One of the glaciers I wanted to see was Hubbard Glacier.  This destination is pretty Northerly as glaciers go and very few round trip itineraries include Hubbard - the distances are too great.  Alaska is big.  

The few round trip cruises that do make it that far North did not have some ports or time in port that appealed to me.  I had started to look at Seattle departures because its very easy to fly to Seattle round trip versus the burden of planning a multi-city type flight to or from Anchorage with an international flight involving Vancouver.  It takes a little more work to plan a one-way North or South itinerary but for the itinerary I wanted I ended up doing the extra work at a slightly higher cost.  
As I focused in on the one way cruises I narrowed it down to Radiance of the Seas or Celebrity Millennium.  I had never sailed with Celebrity and I had always hard great things so ‘Millie’ won and I booked a Southbound cruise in the June date range I was looking for.  

Seven nights originating in Seward, AK.  Seward, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Straight Point, Ketchikan, Inside Passage, ending in Vancouver.  

I found it cheaper to book airfare as two distinct one-way trips.  Fly into Anchorage, fly out of Vancouver.

I had originally booked this cruise with someone I’ve cruised with a couple of times.  She is my dive buddy and we had just cruised on Allure the week before this cruise.  Unfortunately at the last minute she couldn’t make it due to a family situation.  I would have to do this cruise solo.  Originally booked in Aqua class some last minute suite guarantees opened up so I upgraded a few months before we were to sail.

A few words about the Royal Caribbean Blog Alaska Group Cruise

The itinerary for the Explorer of the Seas is pretty ideal, otherwise I wouldn't have booked it. 

June 22, 2018 Seattle round trip - Sea day, cruising the Inside Passage, Juneau, Skagway, cruising Tracy Arm Fjord, sea day, Victoria BC, back to Seattle.

When looking at Alaska cruises you need to pay attention to arrival and departure times at each port.  Cruise ships are almost exclusively foreign flagged.  In the U.S. the Jones Act passed by congress in 1920 requires an international port of call on foreign flagged ship itineraries and for Alaska cruises that means stopping in Canada.  What sets itineraries apart is when the ship calls on each port.  Many other cruise lines have awkwardly timed stops in an effort to maximize time in Alaska but also satisfying the Jones Act.  Sometimes they'll include an extra port but you have a relatively short time in that port. 

To experience  Alaska you need to get out of the port area and see Alaska.  Many other cruise lines stop in Canada with times like 6pm to 10pm.  That's right at dinner time, local businesses are closing, it's getting dark and it's only 4 hours.  While it satisfies the Jones Act it doesn't satisfy cruisers and you'll see many negative reviews resulting from it.  This never fails to amaze me - people book a cruise with advertised time in port then they complain when the cruise line delivers exactly what they purchased.

Not so on the Explorer of the Seas itinerary.  No stop has less than 9 hours in port and they are all in daylight hours.  Do an excursion, come back for a meal, go do something else.  Lots of time.  

In the posts that follow you'll see the excursions I chose.  Excursions are important in Alaska.  To experience Alaska you need to get out out of the port and see Alaska.   You don't have to do expensive excursions to experience Alaska and really enjoy it but if your budget affords it there are some outstanding excursions in Alaska.

I am afraid to continue reading....I have never been interested in Alaska but your blogs have mega potential to attract others...but it is a cold rainy day here, kids are at school, I have a hot cup of tea in front of me, so I will be brave and continue to read lol.

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Day 1

IT’S CRUISE DAY!

Anchorage is on the water but it doesn’t have a deep water port.  It’s several hours from Anchorage to Seward which was another challenge to overcome compared to a round trip cruise from Seattle.  

There are different ways to make the trek.  You can rent a car, take a bus or take a train.  My research led me to the Alaskan Railroad.  By this time the transfer through Celebrity was sold out but I was able to book it directly with the railroad.   In retrospect I am so glad I took the train.  It was amazing.  As it turns out I secured two of the last seats available, it was sold out right after I booked.  If you are going to use this train, book it as soon as you can, it’s worth it but it sells out many months in advance. 

Our train would depart from the downtown station, not the train station right at the airport.  The hotel shuttle dropped us off and there was a tent setup to collect luggage.  The luggage drop at the train station is much like at any pier.  Tag your bags, hand them to luggage handlers and you never touch them again until they reach your cabin on the ship.  

Getting up for a 6:00am train ride sounded horrible when I booked it but with my body still on mountain time it wouldn’t be so bad. 

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The train starts out slowly leaving the City of Anchorage but it doesn’t take long until you are beyond the city limits and the beauty of Alaska is presented.

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There are open air viewing platforms at the ends of each car.

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It’s hard to capture it all in photos, it’s all around you.

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As the train climbs into mountain passes we were treated to incredible scenery and glaciers.

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As we approached Seward you could see the ship in the distance.

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There are two train stations in Seward.  One is right at the cruise ship terminal and the other is 1/2 mile away.  Our station was the latter.

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They offered free shuttle buses to take us but I chose the 10 minute walk.  It was a nice sunny day and after a 3 hour train ride it felt good to stretch my legs.

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The hardest part so far in this blog has been choosing from the hundreds and hundreds of photos I took from the train.  It was spectacular.  I've thought about returning to Alaska just to ride trains around.  What an amazing way to start an Alaskan cruise.

Here is the Seward cruise terminal once on board.

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Another train pulled up very close to the terminal.  I suspect this may be the charter train booked through Celebrity.  

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The Millennium was the first in its class and she has three sister ships.  First launched in 2000 at 91,000 GT with a passenger capacity of 2,138 she isn’t a large ship by any stretch but she is well maintained.  

As I boarded the ship they offered sparkling wine and mimosa.  

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The Martini Bar with it’s frozen bar top would become well visited on this cruise.  Despite it’s name it offers just about any kind of beverage.

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I had booked a Suite GTY and was assigned an S1 Sky Suite.  There are two sky suites on Millennium class that are unique.  They are right beside the aft Penthouse Suites on port and starboard and they have an adjoining door inside the cabin to the penthouse.  They are designed to function as an extra bedroom for folks booking the Penthouse Suite who need a little more room for an extra guest.  When not needed in that capacity they become available as an S1 Sky suite.  As such these sky suites are decorated just like the Penthouse suites and are a little larger than the standard S1 Sky suites.

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The Millennium offers a spacious pool deck with several hot tubs.

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There are plenty of areas to take in the beauty of Alaska on this class of ship.

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Aft there is an outdoor TV and seating area.

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For an Alaskan cruise they offer towels and fleece blankets.

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There is also an indoor solarium which would be very popular on this cruise.  It’s adult only except between 4-6pm when kids are allowed.  That’s a good thing because the outdoor pools and hot tubs were just warm, certainly not hot.  I tried an outdoor hot tub once on this cruise.  Just once.  From that point on I used the solarium.

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Forward on deck 11 is the multi-purpose Cosmos lounge with excellent views forward.

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Leaving the lounge you can head to the outside deck area.

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Mille has dry docked a few times over the years and has some very nice decor.

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Like RCI ships there are specialty restaurants.

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Luminae is a suite only restaurant and where I would eat almost all of my meals.

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Blu is the restaurant for Aqua class guests

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Somehow I made a wrong turn and found the gym

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Despite being 17 years old it a very nice ship.  It’s not brand new and it doesn’t have an ice rink or zip lines or bumper cars but it was perfect for Alaska.

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While we were still tied up in the Seward port a Humpback whale came into the port and began feeding.

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The Windjammer like buffet area is the Oceanview Cafe and Grill and it has an aft bar and seating area called the Oceanview Bar.

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Heading out of port and into the ocean just after 10pm we were treated to an awesome sunset as we headed South towards our next day at Hubbard Glacier.

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On board the Millie was a naturalist.  At evening talks in the main theater he would explain what to look for tomorrow and what to expect.  On this sailing we also had Captain Dave and his wife from the Aleutian Ballad.  This crab boat was one of those featured in the early seasons of the “The Deadliest Catch”.  He has since converted that boat in an excursion for cruise ships passengers.  He was an amazing guest speaker and his talks in the main theater became must see events.  Even the informal Q & A session with his wife in the Cosmos lounge was great.

What an amazing first day.  A fantastic train ride followed by boarding and seeing whales right from the ship before we even left port.  Then a spectacular 10pm sunset.  As RCI likes to tweet, on this cruise I would find myself frequently in Section O, Row M, Seat G many times. 

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9 minutes ago, WAAAYTOOO said:

I don't recall ever seeing photographs more profound than these, Twangster.  I don't want you to swell your head too much, but you are truly an incredible artist.

I second that @twangster!  I need to book a cruise on Celebrity!  So classy looking!  

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Day 2 - Cruise Hubbard Glacier

After two incredible days on this journey I’d already felt like I had received my money’s worth and it had just begun.  Our time at Hubbard was scheduled for 2pm so we had a typical sea day experience on the morning of day 2.  When you cruise a glacier like this there is no port to stop at and you remain on the ship.

As we approached we had rain which is to be expected in Alaska.  Once in a while you hear of someone who had sunshine every day but that is rare.

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Fortunately as we slowly approached and went deeper into the channel the weather improved.  Alaska weather is like that.

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I was amazed how close we were able to approach the glacier.  

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The Captain spun the ship in a circle almost twice so there was no bad side of the ship to be on and I was able to move to different decks viewing it from up high on deck 11 to lower on deck 4 during the hours we would spend there.  

You could hear the glacier moan and groan and a thunder like crack would precede large sections of ice calving and falling into the water with a splash.  It was very spectacular.  

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Here is a time lapse video of our approach to the Hubbard Glacier and our time there.  Over 2 hours displayed in 44 seconds.  Recorded from my balcony while I was in various places around the ship taking the photos above.

All good things must come to an end and we returned to open ocean to continue our Southward journey.  After dinner it was still daylight outside and we saw incredible views of the coast.

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With the sun setting behind us it was getting late and time for bed.

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Day 2 complete and I’ve definitely got my money’s worth from this cruise.  If it had ended right at this point I wouldn’t have complained because it was just that incredible.  

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Awesome photos!!!  You captured this beautifully!  We have cruised Alaska 4 times.  Twice roundtrip Seattle or Vancouver, once out of seward on radiance of the seas like you are posting ( except yours is on Milli), and the most recent on Celebrity Millenium going from Vancouver to Seward and then we went to Anchorage and rented a car to drive to Denali national park.  I loved every single trip and did different things each time with a different perspective.  We booked a shuttle instead of the train from Anchorage to Seward because we did the Kenai Fjords national park cruise prior to embarkation which is not to be missed.  We could have taken the train and still made it.  The boat waited for passengers from the train to depart.  I was just nervous about making the tight connection and dropping of our luggage beforehand at the port.  

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Day 3 - Juneau

This is a port of call on the Alaska Group Cruise.

Heading to the upper decks I discovered we were no longer in open ocean but back in a passage.  Having sailed the Caribbean many times this is one thing that really sets Alaskan cruises apart.  

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Much of the time you are surrounded by land.  Not just land but mountains.  On Caribbean cruises you only see land when you are in port, the rest of the time its mostly water all around you.

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There would eventually be four other ships in port with us today.  We were the 3rd to arrive.

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The float plane is a quintessential element of Alaska and we would see them at almost every port.  

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From my balcony I could watch them come and go from the sea plane base next to us.

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At the Mount Roberts Tramway I discovered the local price is the same as that charged on board or in advance.   I didn’t do it this time because I had an excursion booked and by this point in the cruise I had knew I would do an Alaskan cruise again another year.  I had to leave some stuff for the next trip!

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Given that it’s the same price I’ll leave this as a game day decision based on weather.  If its rainy or cloudy I’m not sure I’d go.  

Walking around Juneau the port area is kind of touristy but fun.

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Close to the ships there are a lot of jewelry and souvenir stores so in a sense it’s not much different than a Caribbean port.   To experience Alaska you need to venture past the port and excursions are the way to do that.  Plan a healthy excursion budget if you can.  Today my excursion was a helicopter trip onto Mendenhall Glacier with a guided walk on it.

We took a 20 minute bus ride to the heliport.  There we watched a little video about our trip, took in some safety information about the helicopter and they fitted us with glacier covers for our footwear that would give us traction on the glacier.  They just slipped over the hiking boots I was wearing.

Based on weight they assigned us seating positions and we marched outside single file to staging areas waiting for our helicopters to arrive with the previous passengers returning from their trip.

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It’s one thing to see these impressive glaciers from a distance but flying over them you get to see them from a very different perspective.

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Coming in for our landing on the glacier we started to see it up close.

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As instructed we got out of the helicopter with the blades still spinning above us and went to meet the guides waiting for us there.

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There were three helicopters that flew in formation and landed together.  Here are two of them.

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The helicopters rose into the sky to get the next wave of passengers leaving us on the glacier with our guides.

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Our guide showed us her “push up” method of sampling the glacier run off water.  Trust me, that water is COLD!  

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Melt water creates cracks and crevices on the surface of the glacier.

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From a distance when looking at a glacier you can see dirty streaks where it has scraped along the side of a hill or mountain but up close you get see that dirt trail is full of large rocks and even some very large boulders.

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The state flag:

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The familiar thump thump thump of helicopters returning told us our time on the glacier was nearing its end.

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Our guides helped us re-board with the blades spinning above us.

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Taking off we flew towards the front of the glacier and the lake that many people view it from.

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At $350 pp it was not an inexpensive excursion but worth every penny.  I would see many glaciers in the distance on this cruise and having walked on a glacier and seeing one up close that knowledge and experience came flooding back with every glacier I would see.  

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Day 4 - Skagway

This is a port of call on the Alaska Group Cruise.

When I was a kid I read books written by Pierre Burton some of which dealt with the Klondike Gold Rush.  Based on facts those books told stories of many wild figures in the Gold Rush era.  Skagway played an important role in the Gold Rush and it was on a primary route through the Yukon for many who were trying to cash in and become rich.  

Ships would steam North from places such as San Francisco and Skagway is where they would drop all those seeking to become rich in the gold rush.  Most of those poor souls had no idea what they were getting into and many lost all their savings as they geared up to head towards the Klondike VIA the Yukon and the White Pass into the mountains that is now a railway. 

Unlike Juneau it’s not as touristy but still has some souvenir shops.  It is one of my favorite ports due to the history and not being as touristy.  I found the prices here for t-shirts, jackets and souvenirs to be more reasonable compared to Juneau.  The town is a 10-15 minute walk from the ship but there are shuttle buses with an inexpensive day pass that will take you back and forth.

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They have old train equipment on display at the edge of town.

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I get the impression it snows a lot in those mountain passes.  That's a snow thrower to clear the tracks!

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I walked between town and the ship a few times.   The walk is quite nice and they invested into the area to make it quite enjoyable.  It's nice to have long port times to explore, do an excursion, get some food and shop.

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My excursion at this port would be the White Pass and Yukon Train ride. 

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The railway owns the pier and they extended the rails right onto it.  As excursions go it’s pretty easy access right from the ship.

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The Explorer of the Seas was tied up behind us today.  I have pictures of her I'll add once I'm back home.  Apparently I didn't bring them with me on Indy where I am posting this blog from.  

Passengers from both ships would be taking the train today.  There is no wrong side to sit on.  On the ride up the pass the seats on the left have better views but at the top the seat backs reverse and you swap sides with your neighbors so the other side then has the better views.  For some reason they kept Celebrity guests separated and in the forward cars while the RC guests were towards the rear of the train.  We needed to bring passports but RC folks did not but we never used our passports at any time.

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We wouldn't need the kerosene heaters but there is a restroom in each car.  They had a case of bottled water available (complimentary).

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Heading out of town we passed the train garage and the working steam locomotive 'Number 73' that used to do this route in days gone by.  They still bring it out for some special runs each year.

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Once out of town there are viewing platforms that you can visit at each end of the cars.

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In the bottom right corner of this photo you can see the snow covered trail that the gold rushers and their pack horses used to climb in mountain pass long before there was a train here.  It was a grueling trail and many pack horses died in the process.

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There is a luxury car with its own food and beverage service for additional cost. You may see this as an option when booking it in advance.  The trestle bridge shown here is no longer in service.  

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The train winds through the mountains.

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At the top of the pass you reach the Canadian border and the Yukon.

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The shack where Canadian customs officials would inspect the gold rusher’s load remains (or was rebuilt).  In the beginning of the rush too many folks ended up in the Klondike unable to support themselves with no provisions so Canadian customs created a list that every person entering Canada from Skagway must possess.  It was quite a long list and required many trips up and down into Skagway by pack horse to assemble the provisions required to enter Canada.

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Here the tracks split into sidings so that locomotives can be moved to the other end and take each train back down into Skagway.  There are several trains that follow each other spaced out along the tracks but we all meet up at the top and each goes through the process to reverse.  You don’t get off the train and I’m not sure why we were ‘required’ to have our passports with us.  I guess just in case Canadian officials decided to inspect us as technically we briefly crossed the border although we never got off the train.  Perhaps this is why we were at the front of the train and the RC guests at the rear technically never entered Canada.  

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Part of the area is a US National Park and they offer a caboose that can be booked for hikers and folks staying in the area who wish to camp overnight. I missed this on the way up but having switched sides saw it on the way back down.

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The train was amazing and deserves the popularity it has accumulated over the years.  Highly recommended.  It’s available in different versions such as motor coach one way, or ride a bicycle back down into Skagway after taking the train up and so on.

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Day 5 - Icy Straight Point (Hoonah)

This port is NOT on the Alaska Group Cruise

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This is a relatively new port of call and it is run by the local native population.  They restrict access to a single ship at a time and they have restricted shops and stores so you won’t find the same old Jewelry and souvenir shops like in other ports.  Many cruisers feel this creates a more authentic Alaskan experience while others state its boring because there is limited shopping with only some local native items available.  

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This was the home of a fish packaging plant which contributed to the local economy.  The village of Hoonah is a 30 minute walk away or there are shuttle buses that operate.  The zip line here claims to be the longest in the world (Labadee claims to be the longest over water).  This is one of the more popular ports for whale watching and some boats guarantee seeing whales.  

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My excursion at this port was Whale Watching.  We saw many but if I had to do it again I would seek a smaller boat that can get closer to the action.  We tended to stay back a bit due to being on a larger less maneuverable boat.

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Some people complain they don’t see the whole whale.  A full breach where a whale jumps into the air is rare.  Most of the time you can see them go through several breathing cycles evidenced by the spout of misty air being exhaled before they dive deep and then swallow large volumes of water with fish in their massive mouths as they swim towards the surface.  Our guides reported that the bubble feeding we saw was also rare this time of year.  This is where several whales work together to contain a school of fish and drive them into a tight group so that all the whales can feed.

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Throughout this cruise we frequently were able to spot eagles in the trees.  The onboard naturalist had told us to watch for “golf balls in the trees”.  That remark stayed with me and sure enough the first thing you would spot is the little white head standing out against the trees.

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We also saw other sea life at this port.

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After the whale watching excursion I wandered around the port area before re-boarding the ship.

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Walking back to the ship from the packaging plant where the whale excursion boats depart from:

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This was our shortest port of call.  We had six hours in this port.  Since only a single ship can be in port at any time we split the day with a sister ship the Celebrity Infinity doing a round trip out of Vancouver.  As we slid out of port the Infinity slid in behind us.  

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Day 6 - Ketchikan 

This port is NOT on the Alaska Group Cruise

Ketchikan would be our last Alaskan port on this cruise.  

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It’s a pretty port with good shopping.  Close to the ships are the same sort of shops found in Juneau but walking past the port area there are some local native art shops and the Creek Street shopping district.

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My excursion at this port was a boat ride into Misty Fiords National Park. 

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We saw lots of eagles along the way.

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There is a volcanic ‘plug’ on the way.

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Float planes are also used to visit the area and we saw many of them along the way.

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Misty Fiords National Park is beautiful and we had great weather.  The water is incredibly deep, over 800 feet in places in close proximity to the shore.

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The ride back was cool but refreshing sitting outside.  There is indoor seating but it was so nice in the sun many folks stayed outside despite the cold breeze coming off the water.

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On the way back the Captain took us past some islands with seals sunning themselves.

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And of course more eagles.

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Back in Ketchikan I wandered around and did some shopping.

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It was too early in the season to see the Salmon run but Ketchikan is known for it.

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Ketchikan is home to a totem pole park.  While I didn’t make it there on this trip, there are many totem poles around the town.

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Day 7 - Inside Passage

This is basically a sea day in a channel between an island and the main land of British Columbia.  On our way South before we entered the inside passage we experienced some heavy seas while out in the open Pacific Ocean.  Being in an aft cabin on a small ship there was a lot of motion.  I quite enjoyed the ride, better than a roller coaster but not nearly that dramatic.  I didn’t see anyone get sick and it didn't last long enough :).  

We had a lot of rain once in the inside passage so the day was spent in the solarium and around the ship.  As day turned into night you could see an increasing number of lights along the shores as we moved further South into more populated areas. 

I kept an eye out for sea life but through the rain soaked windows there wasn’t much to photograph this time.

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Day 8 - Disembarking in Vancouver

I woke up early to see our approach into Vancouver.

It was very pretty outside and I saw some geese welcoming us fly beside the ship.

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We arrived on time into the Vancouver cruise port

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There is a train service that connects downtown to the airport.  I left the port, turned left and made my way towards the train station 500 yards up the road.  One last look at Millie as I made my way to the train.

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With the exchange rate the train was around $4 USD for the fare.  When you arrive in Vancouver the train has an additional fee if riding it into the city from the airport but in this direction (city to the airport) there is no fee.  25 minutes later I was at the airport check in counter. Pretty easy and the least expensive airport transfer I’ve encountered.
 

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Summary

Alaska is something everyone should experience and it's part of the United States!  Cell phones work, they take US dollars and it's all duty free.   If you buy things locally you can often ask them to ship it home for you.  It's the US !!!     :)

It's a very big state.  A cruise is a great way to see Alaska because other than flying between towns there aren't roads all over Alaska.  

Millie isn't a brand new ship and it isn't a large ship by today's standards.  The Aqua class cabins on deck 12 were added in the most recent dry dock so they are the newest.  Like on any ship, research the ship to make sure you know what you are booking.  I'd sail her again in a heart beat but if you are looking for a new or big ship experience wait for Ovation to come to Alaska in 2019.   

Luminae the suite restaurant has it's own sommelier.  I put my taste buds in his hands and he was very good at pairing wine to the food I planned to order.

I was fortunate to book a fare during one of Celebrity's promos that included internet, premium drinks, gratuity and an OBC.  

Internet service on my Alaska cruise was hit and miss.  Satellite coverage is fringe in Alaska - just ask any resident who wants satellite TV service at home.  It's doable but usually involves larger dishes given the location.   At times internet was okay, at times it was slow or didn't work.  I don't blame the ship, that's just Alaska. 

I am super excited about the RoyalCaribbeanBlog Alaska Group Cruise!  I'm planning excursions now so I can pay for them all and secure reservations way ahead of time.  The popular ones will sell out fast.

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1 minute ago, Sabrinaklai said:

Beautiful pics once again @twangster!  Thanks for sharing!  Quick question...how cold was it there in June?  

Thanks.  Cold is a relative term.  Matt being from FL will likely have all the family in thermal underwear and Parkas.  I have Canadian blood so I was very comfortable, at least in the sun.  

What I learned was to dress in layers.  Long sleeve lycra shirt as a base layer, lightweight zippered hoodie, fleece with a rain coat over it that helped break the wind.  When I was standing in the sun I could unzip the coat, fleece and hoodie to cool down.  When I was on a small excursion boat with a cold wind blowing off cold water in the shade, they were all done up and hoodie was on.  I had some lightweight gloves I used from time to time, particularly when outside for hours near water like around the glacier.  

I have proper ski gear for skiing in the Rockies and I didn't bring any of it to Alaska.  It would be way overkill for me.  Temps were in the 50s and 60s F but the ocean is very cold (there were large chucks of glacier not melting in it) so any time there was a breeze over water it was a cool breeze.  In some of the photos in Seward you can see people lounging out right after boarding.  Lying in the sun was quite pleasant protected by the ship.  Walking around town was quite pleasant.  Some times on deck I was in a t-shirt.  Look at the people in my photos.  Around the ship I never felt cold.  It was mainly doing excursions that I added layers so I could regulate heat.  

After 8pm on deck in the sun many folks just had sweatshirts on, not heavy coats.  Watching outdoor movies in the evening almost everyone had some of those fleece ship blankets over them but it wasn't cold to the point you would shiver.

Rain can happen in Alaska so the rain coat also acting to block wind at times worked really well.  

For a Seattle departure I'll bring a pair of shorts and t-shirts for the start of the trip.  Once more Northerly I suspect long pants will be in fashion with few people in shorts.

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I forgot to ask in my last comment -- You commented how there were open air observation areas at the front and back of each train car, but still, just how far were you leaning out to get those clear shots of the whole train stretching ahead or behind you, with no sign of window opening or other parts of your own car and only the amazing landscape?!? :63_astonished:

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1 minute ago, JLMoran said:

I forgot to ask in my last comment -- You commented how there were open air observation areas at the front and back of each train car, but still, just how far were you leaning out to get those clear shots of the whole train stretching ahead or behind you, with no sign of window opening or other parts of your own car and only the amazing landscape?!? :63_astonished:

You'll notice we were going around a bend in those shots.  Much easier to see the train when going around a curve :3_grin:

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