A family trip to Alaska has been on my bucket list for a long time. When it finally happened this past June, we cruised the Inside Passage on a Celebrity Cruise on an eight-day journey from Vancouver to Seward. Although I can assure you that our voyage was enjoyable and comfortable, I must also tell you the drawbacks we experienced. That said, I’m listing today the Alaska Celebrity Cruise’s pros and cons we faced.
Full transparency: it was my first cruise. My opinions are from a one-time journey with my extended family, including one teenager and two eleven-year-old girls. Unquestionably, each cruise experience may vary depending on destination, kids’ ages, budget, and on which cruise line you choose to venture. All things considered, I hope this list will help you to decide not only if cruising is the right thing for you, but also what to look out for if sailing on an Alaska cruise.
Pros of a Celebrity Cruise:
Cruising is the best way to sample the destinations.
The trip gave us a taste of Alaska and each port as we may not have visited all of them otherwise. In a state with few roads, you can only reach several of the attractions by boat or seaplane. Additionally, it was a nice way to find out if a short stop at a specific port gave us enough time to explore, or if we would like to go back to see the area differently. I am now confident I would go back to Alaska in a heartbeat. However, I’d stay at a couple of locations and deeply explore each one.
Convenience is the best ally.
There was no constant packing and unpacking, nor check-ins and check-outs at each destination. While moving between exotic places, there was no driving, nor airport security lines. Further, all charges in the ship were linked to the room key, so there was no need to carry cash or credit cards while in the vessel. We sat back, relaxed, and let the crew take us away along with our mobile hotel room.
Entertainment is just steps away from our room.
Every night, we received a newsletter in the stateroom with all daily activities for the next day. The list included, but it was not limited to karaoke, live music and dance, dance classes, lectures, casino, bars, galley tour, contests and games, shows, teen lounge, spa, and so on.
The pool was a big hit for our younger travelers. Aware that the two eleven-year-old girls could not swim without an adult’s supervision, we hung out on the lounge chairs while they had the time of their lives. Meanwhile, we chatted and enjoyed refreshing drinks from the poolside bar. According to my daughter, nothing beat the time she spent in the pool with her two cousins.
Beauty is everywhere.
The majestic views and sprawling beauty – including the jaw-dropping glaciers – we saw while sailing the Inside Passage, or adventuring on land defined the memorable moments of our trip. At every turn, there was an extravagant number of natural wonders like nothing else I have seen before in this country.
There are several dining options.
While cruising, we never went hungry. The complimentary meals were served mainly in two venues. While the Oceanview Cafe served abundant, diverse buffet-style breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Main Restaurant offered more sophisticated seating, with an array of plated dishes. Smaller, but well located, the pool bar served comfort food like burgers, hot dogs, and chips all day long.
Upgraded dining options were also available. Our first experience was at Qsine where we had a world-flavor tasting menu. All courses, with impeccable presentation and delightful flavors, were meant to be shared. At the Tuscan Grille, we had another fabulous experience with choices from a fresh, rich, Italian menu.
Go for shore excursions.
Although we had opportunities for viewing Alaska’s stunning scenery from the ship, the land excursions played an important role. Doing so, we enjoyed the extended sense of nature, wildlife, and Alaska’s immeasurable beauty beyond the shorelines.
For all excursions, we had the comfort of being picked up and dropped off at the dock by a courtesy bus. The timing was suitable for our cruise schedule. Each trip was a vehicle for awareness, understanding, and knowledge of local history, wildlife, and nature.
Enjoy grown-up time.
Cruising was an exceptional, multi-generation experience. The wide variety of onboard activities gave us the opportunity to gather as a family or pursue different interests. Because our kids were old enough to hang out by themselves, it was a bonding experience for the young cousins, as well as for parents and grandparents.
Quiet moments were very enjoyable, as were getting massages at the spa or sipping martinis while staring at the magical Alaskan horizon. Other times, we joined the rest of the family at the cheerful happy-hour martini bar, where waiters entertained us all with tricks and well-performed serving skills.
Cons of a Celebrity Cruise:
Time is tight.
The biggest disadvantage to a cruise, in my opinion, is the short amount of time available in each port of call. Required to be back on the ship at a certain time, we had eight hours or less at each destination. If the weather was bad or wildlife didn’t appear, our single opportunity to see an attraction was gone. Likewise, we felt disappointed when fascinated by a place, but there was no time to explore it further.
Be aware of extra costs.
Taking a cruise costs more than the upfront amount paid. Although, for the most part, we enjoyed the luxury offered as part of the all-inclusive package, the deal excluded the unlimited beverage packages, shore excursions, gelato or cappuccino from a small bistro, upscale dinners, and tips. As an additional note, a gratuity is automatically charged daily on the credit card.
Not all shore excursions are worthwhile.
First of all, excursions are expensive. Carefully analyze each one you pick. In fact, you may easily spend more with tours than the cruise price itself. There was no way we could possibly know before the trip, that not all guides were well-informed. Many of them were college students pursuing summer jobs, and some tours lacked essential information about Alaska’s history, fauna, and flora.
The common areas are crowded.
Despite the mammoth size of the boat, the common areas often felt crowded when thousands of people gathered. It was worse at the dining facilities. At the main restaurant, we had to wait in line even if we had made a reservation. At the buffet, it was a hassle to find a table, and even worse if the eleven of us wanted to sit together.
The most interesting daily activities offered by the cruise line were jam-packed. My husband and I wanted to attend the galley tour but immediately dismissed the possibility as we saw an immense crowd standing in the waiting area.
The pool area was no different. If we wished to find a lounge chair by the pool, we had to wait patiently until someone left. Alternatively, we could get up early to be among the first ones to arrive.
Seasickness is inevitable for some people.
Cruising may not be for everyone. No matter how smooth the ride, someone always gets seasick. Despite experiencing some motion occasionally, it was as easy as it could be for me. However, not everyone in our family had the same experience. As a matter of fact, we noticed that several travelers wore a patch to prevent nausea.
On the fence:
Staterooms are small.
Our room was quite small, and the storage space was limited. The only place to store our empty luggage was under the beds. There were a few drawers and cabinets, but not enough for everyone to have enough space for everything. Yet, this was not a big deal.
WI-FI was limited and expensive.
Considering the desire to be in touch with family members back home, wi-fi was a constant concern. Did we want to spend the money to use the expensive, on-board wi-fi or wait for an opportunity ashore? At the same time, it was a fabulous opportunity to switch off from the virtual social world.
What has been your experience taking a cruise? What pros and cons would you add to this list?