I’d never been on a cruise before. I had no idea what to expect; would I be bored? Would I be seasick? Would the food be any good? Sure, I’d done plenty of research beforehand. I’d joined Cruise Critic, I’d been listening to cruise related podcasts and found cruising channels on YouTube. But I still had no idea what the cruise would actually be like. So, from a first time cruiser, here’s what happened.
Some things to know: we booked as part of a package, and in that we got a free unlimited beverage package and 4 meals at any of their restaurants that you normally have to pay for. There are 5 of these restaurants on board so we got to try almost all of them. We booked an Oceanview Stateroom with an obstructed view, which was cabin 8554. And this post is a long one, so grab a drink and a snack – you’re going to need it.
Embarkation day! Seeing as we were tourists in Seattle, we wanted to maximise our time in the city rather than rushing to get on the boat. So we had a great morning in Seattle, and left it until a leisurely 2pm to get to the cruise ship terminal. We saw no queues out at the front and before the bag scanning stage, so we thought we were home and dry. Ha, nope. Past security, we were faced with this.
Now as first time cruisers we had no loyalty, status or insider knowledge to get through this. So we just stood in it and waited it out. It took about an hour to get to the front and all checked in, and then once we’d received our Freestyle Cards (this card would be as as essential as oxygen for the next 7 days) it was time for a jaunty embarkation photo. We’d already decided before we boarded that we weren’t going to buy any extra photos no matter what, so we really hammed it up for the official photo. Of course, when we saw it on board we wanted to buy it because of how hilarious we looked up – but a pact is a pact. So you’ll just have to make do with this one.
With one final glimpse of the Space Needle as we boarded the ship (oh hi, you beauty) we were all aboard.
There were signs out welcoming us aboard, balloons, music, and all kinds of friendly smiling staff. It was all quite overwhelming.
First things first, we found our room and dumped our hand luggage while we waited for our big bags to come. We also got in touch with our steward to say hi and ask for our beds to be a double bed please.
So, cabin tour anyone? Seeing as my roomette tour was such a hit! Anyway. After that we had the muster drill and went up on deck for the sailaway party. That basically involved a bbq (yesssss) and enjoying the sun and beautiful views of Seattle as we gently chugged away.
The rest of the day was basically an early dinner in one of the restaurants in our dining package, Moderno Churrascaria, where I ate too much meat and fell head over heels in love with some gluten free Brazilian cheese breads. I’m going to write allll about the food (with lots of expertly done food photos, as usual), so keep an eye out for that. [Edit: that post is now here]
Our second day on board marked our first full day at sea, and also our 6th wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary to us!
In the morning we attended a Cruise Critic meet and greet, which was kind of fun and kind of awkward. Mostly because of us – we were at our introverted and British worst. The other people at the meet and greet were kind though, and we gladly picked up cruising tips from the experts. We also got the chance to collar the Hotel Director and talk to him about the gluten free arrangements which had been a bit of shambles to begin with. He was genuinely interested in how they could improve, and when we got back to our room we found a fruit bowl and bottle of wine to say sorry/thanks. I really appreciated the gesture.
Anyway, for the rest of the day we tried to familiarise ourselves with the layout of the ship (I failed), I checked out the spa which I’d bought a pass for, and we went to a few of the ‘seminars’ on board. These were all pointless sales pitches and I wished we hadn’t gone, but you live and learn.
Breakfast and lunch was in the Tsar’s Palace, the fancier of the two main dining rooms, because that’s where we ate all our breakfasts and lunches in general as that’s where they could best serve my gluten free needs.
In the evening we went for our anniversary dinner at Cagney’s Steakhouse. I’d heard it was the best restaurant on board so I was keen to check it out – it was indeed delicious. Here’s a picture of us which I bullied the official photographer into taking with my phone even though he wasn’t supposed to.
We were given a card in all the piles of paperwork when we arrived that noted it was our anniversary, and to present this card in the restaurant we dined at on the day in question. We duly did this; it being our second day on board we had no idea what this would actually do.
Turns out, they bring out a little cake for you (which I couldn’t eat because it was normal cake) and then a random assortment of waiters and waitresses cluster around your table where they do their best to sing “Let me call you sweetheart” (two whole verses! Sung at approximately half speed!) whilst insisting we held hands across the table. Mortifying.
If I’d known, I definitely wouldn’t have handed over the card. I mean, I didn’t even get cake after all that embarrassment.
Our first port of call was Ketchikan. We splashed out on tours and ticked off a bucket list item – going on a seaplane! [More on that here, basically one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life].
After our seaplane tour, we headed into town to see what was what. If I’m being honest, we weren’t blown away. We went to the famous Creek Street, which has some mildly interesting wooden buildings and not too much else.
What we did enjoy was an excellent bookshop we found nearby, Parnassus Books, and walking up out of town along Park Avenue where we saw the river absolutely STUFFED with salmon.
I’ve never seen so many fish in my life!
The main part of town was mostly expensive jewellery shops, part of a collusion racket with the cruise ships. Basically, the ships all have ‘shopping consultants’ on board who tell you all about why you should buy some diamonds, or Tanzanite, and the best shops to buy it from. Of course, these shops have all paid a commission to be listed so if you buy something, your ship gets a kickback. The shopping consultant gives out vouchers for freebies (free necklaces, charm bracelets, etc) to get you to a) attend her talks and b) go into the shops, whereby you’re ensnared by the tenacious grip of the Sales Assistant. I’m pretty good at not falling for stuff in general and I told myself I would just get the freebies and get out, but even I found myself actually considering buying a sparkly diamond ring. Don’t do it! The freebies aren’t anything to write home about so if I were you, I’d skip the whole thing.
Back on the ship and not having spent a fortune, we went for our fanciest dinner at the poshest restaurant on board, Le Bistro. In case you hadn’t guessed, it’s French. We ate mussels and lobster and creme brulee and it was marvellous (but a bit snooty for us).
Day four dawned earlier than I might have liked with 7am announcements that we were now entering the scenic glacier portion of the cruise. We rushed to breakfast and sat for an agonisingly long time waiting to eat. That was the downside of having to eat in Tsar’s Palace for breakfast and lunch – meals were amazing but they took for.ever. Not the fault of the staff at all; just the nature of a fairly posh restaurant serving breakfast to hundreds of people.
So we bolted up on deck just as the glacier slid into view.
What a view!
The captain made sure to hang around at the head of the glacier for a while, then turn the boat around slowly so we all got a good look. Then as we made our way back out of the isthmus we’d carefully navigated, I could see what a treacherous passage it had been. There were icebergs everywhere.
We even went up to the bridge to see how they were coping. They seemed very chilled out about it, the only activity being when another boat turned into the inlet to start up to the glacier.
The views were incredible and I just wandered around taking photos until my hands froze.
It was pretty cold out on deck, despite how tropical the water looks.
Before long it was time to head back indoors for lunch before arriving at our port for the day, Juneau.
As soon as we got off the boat we were loaded onto coaches, each going on our relevant tour. This was the only excursion we booked via the cruise ship, and it was quite a palaver. First we all had to assemble in the theatre so we could be called in groups – but that didn’t seem to ease the congestion getting off the boat at all. There was general confusion as to where to go when we got off the ship, general confusion on which coach to get on, tickets, who was going where, which queue was for what, etc. Basically it was a bun fight.
However once we got on the coach things improved. We had a hilarious coach driver who filled us in on all the things you really need to know about Alaska; shopping, eagles, Sarah Palin… and we arrived at the jetty ready for our whale watching tour. [More on that, and blogging fails, here]
Can you spot the whale breath?!
Again, there wasn’t much in Juneau that floated our boat so we walked around the town, didn’t buy any gemstones, and found free wifi in the library.
There were some cool buildings and stuff, but it was an odd time of day to be out and about and a lot of shops were closed. I felt bad for those that had obviously stayed open just for us cruise ship passengers.
The night was drawing in so we headed back to the boat where we decided to eat in O’Sheehans, one of the free restaurants which was Irish pub themed. It was pretty good, there was some confusion about what I could and couldn’t eat but we got there in the end.
This day marked the day we were kind of done with organised fun and needed to take matters into our own hands. We decided to drive from our port of Skagway to the Yukon.
The drive was absolutely spectacular and you can read about what we got up to here.
The scenery changed so much it was like you teleported every time you blinked. Oh, a desert. Now an emerald lake. A tundra? Sure.
Skagway once again didn’t thrill us, although I think it was my favourite of the three ports. It had a kind of seaside village feel and I loved how the mountains loomed behind the houses.
There was also a driftwood house which was kinda cool.
This is Skagway from above – look how tiny it is!
We made it back to the ship in time to head on board for dinner – we thought we were cutting it a bit fine but we sat in the buffet and watched people running to get back on board the boat. Good entertainment, that. That was also when I discovered just how awful the buffet was for gluten free (and human behaviour in general) and was glad I hadn’t relied on it for staple dining up to that point.
Anyway, that evening we ate at Tsar’s Palace which was just as good as it had been for every breakfast and lunch we’d had there previously.
A sea day! We were absolutely exhausted by this point after a series of really full-on days. So we definitely enjoyed being at sea all day – I went to the gym, read, ate, napped, watched CNN coverage of the lead up to the election. It was all just very relaxing and civilised (apart from the election stuff, that is).
Once again we repeated our winning combo of Tsar’s Palace for breakfast and lunch, and for our last included freebie meal we went back to Moderno because we loved it so much the first time. Also because I kept asking my amazing dedicated gluten free waiter if he could get hold of the cheese bread at any available opportunity so I thought we should just go straight to the source. It didn’t disappoint, and this time I tried one of the cocktails, too. Delicious, from start to finish.
We spent a small amount of time wandering around the main part of town in a whistlestop self guided walking tour. This is Fisherman’s Wharf, a potentially touristy (but very cool looking) part of town.
Overall, we were surprised at just how different it felt from the US. Perhaps a bit more like the UK…but I think that’s too simplistic an explanation.
We bought some chocolates for my great uncle and aunt and hailing a taxi (easier said than done) to their house, which was about half an hour out of town.
We spent time catching up, making friends with their cat who is adorable,
and admiring the view from their patio, which I remember well from previous visits.
Pretty nice, eh?
I also spent some time admiring my great uncle’s pottery. He’s one of those people who is excellent at basically anything they try, so of course he produces the most incredible pieces. He also collects them; here’s a selection of finds hung on the wall:
I love how different they all are.
He even gave me one of my very own to take home, which is now one of my most prized possessions. It’s got an abstract squiggle in the middle of the plate, which as he handed it to me he noted means ‘Death To Fascism’. I love my family.
Here we are, me clutching my plate proudly.
I love that this cruise gave me the chance to catch up with family I rarely get to see. That made me very happy.
Time to leave the boat. After our last excellent breakfast, we packed up and shipped out. Of course, we made time for a ship selfie.
Luckily, our flight didn’t leave until the evening so we had a good amount of time to spend in Seattle. We left our luggage at the terminal and went to see our favourite bits of town again.
Every evening we had a towel animal made for us. They became more and more spectacular as time went on, and I couldn’t write this without including them. You guys, we named some of these critters. That’s how attached we became to them!
Basically I thought our cruise was excellent. I loved waking up in a new place every day, with lots of interesting things to do at each port. The food was outstanding, I loved the freestyle concept, the service was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and our cabin was great. I also think cruising is a great idea for mixed families or groups who might have different needs like childcare, mobility assistance, dietary requirements or preferences, etc.
I was a bit disappointed in the range of entertainment available on board – I’m going to sound so uncool here but I would much rather have heard a talk about the ports we were about to visit, natural history, geography… anything, rather than endless rounds of bingo. I didn’t appreciate the shopping consultant nonsense, and by and large the entertainment wasn’t my cup of tea. Whilst I was never bored as such, because I always had a good book at least, that would have lifted the cruise above and beyond for me. I also wish I’d have made more use of the spa, because I paid for it especially and didn’t end up having time to go more than once (oops).
Have you ever been on a cruise before? What did you think?