Alaska Cruise on the Celebrity Solstice &
Post Cruise Visit to Alberta, Canada

6/16/17 to 6/28/17

Due to the length of the review, it is in 4 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.

Page 1 – Embarkation, Ship, Dining
Page 2 -  Entertainment; Activities; Ports of Call: Ketchikan, AK; Tracy Arm Fjord; Juneau, AK
Page 3 - Ports of Call: Skagway, AK; Victoria, Canada; Post Cruise Land Tour:  Banff, Canada
Page 4 - Post Cruise Land Tour:  Banff to Jasper; Jasper; Jasper to Calgary, Canada
   

 

Entertainment

We enjoy the evening entertainment while on a cruise; and try to go to all the shows, if possible.  We were surprised that there wasn’t a show the first evening; which is a first for us.  The first night’s show is normally an introduction to the staff and a taste of the entertainment that would available during the cruise. They did however, have a presentation by naturalist Brent Nixon, who I will discuss more about in the Activities section of the review.

Our Cruise Director was Damien De Lorenzis, who we thoroughly enjoyed on our 2016 Iceland/Ireland cruise.  He has a very pleasant personality and provided important information about what would be going on in the evening and the following day.  Unlike some CD’s we have had, he didn’t throw in silly jokes that the passengers have heard many times over or make the shows about himself.  He was always around the ship visiting with guests and just a quality person.  We really liked Damien.

Performers –  With it being just a 7-day cruise, with three production shows and no performers the first or last evenings, there were only two guest performers.  With our arrival into Victoria at 5:30 PM and excursions happening in the evening, there were minimal ship activities occurring; and of course, no show.  A movie was shown in the theater instead.

A. J. Jamal – He is described as the “King of Clean” in the Celebrity Today’s description.  He has been on many TV shows and has been in the business for a long time.  I went to his first show and thoroughly enjoyed him.  Some friends that went to the second show didn’t care for him; so, either he wasn’t as good in the second show, or his humor wasn’t their cup of tea.  I thought he had some great material and presented it perfectly.  I appreciate a comedian that has material I haven’t previously heard and keeps me laughing for the whole show.  A. J. did that and the audience loved him.

   

Hard Day’s Night – This was a Beatles tribute band.  I have seen many tribute bands for performers on different cruises.  Most of them have not been that great; and some just terrible.  This group was fantastic.  They sounded a lot like the Beatles and had their motions down.  They played a nice selection of the Beatles’ songs from each of their periods.  Between each group, they would change into the type outfits the Beatles wore during those periods.  It was such an enjoyable show.  They also did a performance the next night in the Grand Foyer.  People were watching from all the floors.  Their group was a winner!  I normally wouldn't put this many photos of individual performers; but I wanted to show them in each of their periods.

   

   

   

   

       

   

       

   

Production Shows – When Celebrity began creating their own production shows a couple of years ago, we were not thrilled with what they came up with, for the most part.  With our being on several Celebrity cruises a year, I was almost dreading going to some of them; but I do feel compelled to take photos of the shows for those that read the reviews.  Plus, I do like to remember what performers I have seen.  I must say that I was much happier with the shows on the Solstice.  I don’t know if they are new shows or if they are only on the Solstice; but I do wish they would replace the Chandelier and Topper shows on other ships with Broken Strings and Euphoria.  I would go to them again happily.

Broken Strings – This show is described as “a heartwarming story that celebrates the power of friendship, laughter and music.”  This show was new to us.  It had a minimal story to it, that I never did understand; but I really enjoyed the music.  It had a lot more of the recent top 40 type music in it that I was very familiar with.   The singers and dancers, for the most part did a very good job.  One of the male singers was off; but the others made up for it.

   

   

       

   

   

   

Euphoria – The show was described in the daily as “join our acrobats as they take you on a journey to a world of pleasure and bliss through the art of strength, beauty and flight.”  This show was also new to us and was quite different from any other we have seen.  It was mainly an acrobatic show.  The acrobats always amaze me with their skills; but after seeing so many of this type show on the 46 previous cruises we have been on, they aren’t as enjoyable to us, as they once were.  I am sure the new cruisers loved seeing their amazing talent.  One thing that this show had was several large inflatable costumes portraying different creatures.  It did keep the show interesting and the lighting made it a nice visual display.

   

       

   

   

   

   

Rock City – This show is described as “an epic stadium style concert featuring iconic rock anthems.”  We have seen Rock City a couple of times before.  I really enjoy classic rock, and this show had a lot of it.  The acrobats also did their thing during some of the songs.

   

       

   

   

       

   

   

 

Activities

Cruise Critic Meet and Greet (www.cruisecritic.com) - We have been on the website www.cruisecritic.com for 16 years.  It has provided us with so much valuable information that has helped us so much.  By joining what is called a roll call on Cruise Critic, we can meet other people that will be cruising on the same cruise as us.  This is very helpful in setting up private tours with other people; plus, it allows us to meet people before the cruise that we will become friends with during and after the cruise.  Celebrity sets up what is called a Connections Party, where those that have signed up for the party are able to meet others from the roll call.

   

   

We had almost 50 people registered on the roll call, but only 17 showed up for the party.  Only one other member showed up other than the 16 Martini Mates!  It was disappointing, since we would have liked to have met the other folks and have new friendships made.   Since it was a small group, it was held in Cellar Masters.  With Cruise Director Damien as the host, along with some of his officers and staff, it made it a most enjoyable and more intimate gathering.  We really appreciated what they did for just 17 people.

 

Beyond the Podium Speakers -

Brent Nixon – We had seen naturalist Brent Nixon on our first Alaska cruise in 2007.  During that cruise, he was very animated in describing what he was trying to communicate.  To me, it took away from the excellent information and personal experiences he was telling us.  After ten years, his presentation has become much more enjoyable to me.  He still raises his voice to a high pitch to describe things too often; but his actions aren’t distracting anymore.  I will say that he has mellowed with age.  I tried to attend all of his presentations and only missed one.  He talked about Alaska, bald eagles, humpback whales and orcas. They were all most enjoyable and reinforced our need to protect the environment.  Celebrity is fortunate to have a man of his talents on board.

       

Miss Amanda – Her real name is Mary Amanda Fairchild.  We found out at Brent Nixon’s last talk, that she is his wife.  They make quite a pair.  Miss Amanda is just a great speaker, while she takes on the persona of a madam from the Alaska past.  Whatever she talked about was just fascinating and so enjoyable.  The only problem I had was with the scheduling of her talks.   One was at 12:15 PM and another at 11:45 AM during lunch time.  I couldn’t understand why they didn’t have her presentation in the afternoon, when there wasn’t anything else going on.  I still went to those.  Another was at 1:00 PM, when our farewell Martini Mate lunch was scheduled, so I missed that one.   If you are on a cruise with Miss Amanda, don’t miss her talks.  She is a gem!

   

Oceans Ahead – Solstice Ship Building – Captain Tasos Kafetzis had a presentation describing the construction of the Solstice with lots of photos.  Since we were on one of the first Solstice sailings, we had watched the ships construction progress on the manufacturer’s webcam.  With Captain Tasos, being involved with the construction, he was able to provide personal photos that were taken.  Captain Tasos is just a very friendly and funny Captain.  He provided humor during this presentation; as well as on his daily announcements and other activities he participated in.

Celebrity Today Daily Programs - I did not take photos of the Celebrity Today Dailies for this cruise; but my buddy Jim Bellomo did.  He offered to let me use them in this review; and I thought it was a great idea.  So here is the link to his dailies, which show all the ship's activities during the cruise:  LINK TO CELEBRITY TODAY DAILIES.

 

Ports of Call

Since we had been in Ketchikan and Juneau twice before and Skagway once, we hadn’t planned to do much in each port.  I had originally thought we would just walk around the towns and then go back to the ship; but we ended up doing a bit more in each port than expected.   We were concerned a lot about the weather, since the forecast for each of the ports was showing high chances of rain.  I know that forecasts are regularly off, so we crossed our fingers in hope that they were.   If you are reading this review to find excursion recommendations, you should look at our 2014 Island Princess review (which also includes a land tour) LINK and/or our 2007 Celebrity Infinity review LINK.

Ketchikan, Alaska –

After a relaxing day at sea, the weather forecast had changed to a sunny day in Ketchikan.  It was quite a relief.  The port area looks much nicer with sunshine.

   

Docked across from the Solstice was the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour boat.  I had originally thought about doing that tour; but decided against it.  They did have an interesting setup for customer seating, where everyone can see what’s going on.  If I am ever back again, I will try to go on it.

   

The tides are quite severe in this part of Alaska, with up to 20-30 foot changes in a day.  The harbor structure is built to raise and lower as needed.  Fortunately, there wasn’t much of an incline for us in the morning.  It was almost level.

We didn’t have any tours planned for the day.  Carol wanted to roam around later in the day, so I got out early to explore as much as I could.  I was pleased to see the sun shining on the Solstice.  It was the only opportunity that I would have to get a decent shot for the first page of the review.  I was also able to get a different view of the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour boat.

It was a very long dock.  I was so glad that Carol had her TravelScoot mobility scooter.  She would need it there and at the other ports.  Since all the ports were in the USA or Canada, all the towns were very handicap accessible for her.

Walking toward the center of town, I passed by the large eagle statue.  It is obviously a very popular photo stop.

I could tell that I had arrived in the heart of Ketchikan when I saw the “Welcome to Alaska’s First City” sign.  The sign with the snowcapped mountains behind it is confirmation that we were in Alaska. 

Across the street from the sign is “The Rock”.  The bronze statue features 7 life-size figures from Ketchikan's past: Chief Johnson, a logger, a fisherman, a miner, an aviator, a Native woman drumming, and an elegant lady in her 1890s finery.   It was unveiled there on July 4, 2010.  It is quite a lovely statue and tribute to Ketchikan’s history.

   

Walking through town, I came to Whale Park with a large totem pole in the center of it.  It was the Chief Kayan Totem Pole, with a large crane at the top of it.

 

I was also impressed with the beautiful flowers and shrubbery in the park.  Ketchikan does a great job of decorating the city.

   

   

   

Close to Whale Park and just in front of the entrance to Creek Street is the 55-foot-tall Chief Johnson Totem Pole.  It is a major photo opp for most of the tourists passing by.

       

I always enjoy visiting the famous Creek Street, which is a boardwalk built on stilts along the Ketchikan Creek.  It was the red-light district between 1903 to 1954.  It is now probably the most popular tourist attraction and shopping area in town.  Unlike many port tourist shopping areas that focus on jewelry and cheap souvenirs, this one does have many shops providing unique items locally produced in Alaska.

   

I wanted to see something in Ketchikan that I had missed in our previous visits.  One of the attractions I had read about was the Totem Heritage Center.   During Brent Nixon’s discussion about Ketchikan, he mentioned that there were very few authentic unrestored 19th century totem poles still in existence.  Most of them were at the Center.  Apparently, missionaries encouraged the destruction of the totems because they thought they were religious artifacts, which they weren’t.  Since the weather was gorgeous, it seemed like a good time to take the long walk to the Center.  On the way there, I passed by a couple of newer totems along the street.

   

What I thought was a simple path to the center, was a bit more complicated with several turns in the road.  Fortunately, there were street signs directing me to my destination.  As would be expected, the building was decorated with some newer totems around it. 

   

The collection has 33 authentic totems.  Some of them are displayed in a standing position and other are laying on their sides.  Apparently, the original totems only had about a 75-year life, since the wood only lasted so long exposed to the elements.  Newer totems are made with treated wood and exterior paints that can last much longer if properly cared for.  The totems on display were quite different from those I had previously seen.  Since any paint would have worn off long ago, they were just aged wood carvings; but they were quite lovely in their own way. 

       

The totems that were lying down and protected behind glass showed how the wood had been deteriorating on them.  It is fortunate that the Center was established in 1976 to protect this historical art form.

   

In one of the rooms there was an assortment of masks, along with other Indian items.

   

One of the pictures on the wall showed a village where many of the totems were found.

After leaving the Center, I walked back to the ship.  Later on, Carol and I came back into town to check out shops and just look around.  Later that night at dinner, some of our friends told us that they went to the lumberjack show.  It was one of the things that I wanted to take Carol to; but I totally forgot about it.  I couldn’t believe I did that.  Oh well, if we make it to Alaska for a fourth time, we now have something to do in Ketchikan.

Later on, while waiting for sailaway, I enjoyed watching the float planes taking off and landing.  Since we had done float plane trips from Ketchikan on both previous Alaska cruises, watching them brought back fond memories.

   

I was surprised to see so many people laying out by the pool and swimming.  The temperature was in the 60’s; but the sun was pretty warm.  Being from south Florida, swimming and snow in the mountains just don’t go together.  But it sure did that day.

   

I was glad that we had gotten back on the ship early.  With an onboard time of 3:30 PM, there were lots of people waiting in line to board.  The below photo was taken at 3:20 PM.  You can see the line extending all the way back to the building in the background.

 

Tracy Arm Fjord

On previous Alaska cruises, we have been to Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay and College Fjord to see glaciers.  This cruise was scheduled to go to Tracy Arm Fjord for glaciers.  Most cruises that are scheduled to go to Tracy Arm, don’t make it due to too much ice in the water.  We also didn’t get to see Tracy Arm, but cruised through Endicott Arm instead.  I don’t know that there is much difference between the two fjords; but any fjord and glacier is a treat.

Since we would cruise the fjord first and then spend the rest of the day in Juneau, we would have a very early start of the day.  We had received an invitation from the Captain’s Club, due to our status with Celebrity, to view the fjord from the helipad in the front of the ship.  That viewing started at 6:30 AM.  We were to enter the fjord around 6:00 AM, so I woke up very early to be out before 6:00 AM.  My favorite viewing location on the Solstice Class ships is on deck 12, just in front of the fitness center.  Very few people go there and it has an unobstructed view of where the ship is heading.  When I walked outside, it was very cold.  The breeze from the ship’s movement made it even colder.  We had already entered the fjord and I was excited to be able to see its beauty.  It was disappointing that it was a cloudy day; but at least it wasn’t raining.

I am always amazed by the blue color of the glacier ice chunks floating in the water.  One of them had a cut out that appeared to be heart shaped.

I went down to deck 6 to join the group going to the helipad viewing.  As we walked outside, we were offered delicious hot cocoa and blankets if needed.  They probably should have had the cocoa offered on the helipad, since it was a challenge to climb the steps and hold the cocoa steady.

The helipad is a great place for viewing in a fjord.  Everything is so close, because you are closer to the water than the upper deck viewing areas.  I looked back to see many people out on deck 15 and just a few on deck 12 where I had previously been. 

   

Deck 12 also filled up later, as people realized that there was a viewing area there.

There was so much to take in while traversing the winding path through the fjords, with the beautiful mountains, waterfalls, green water and seals resting on the floating ice.  It is just such an enjoyable experience, even after cruising through fjords many times.

   

   

   

We could see the highlight of the trip, the Dawes Glacier, in the distance.   Since the ship has to cruise at a very slow speed to avoid ice damage to the hull, it takes a while to get close to the glacier.

   

Once we got as close as we could, the Captain turned the ship around, so that the glacier could be viewed from all sides of the ship.

   

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any calving happening.  We really enjoyed that when we visited the Hubbard Glacier; but that was in August, when it was warmer and calving is more active.  It is still a treat to see a glacier close up.

   

While there, one of the staff set up a drone to take video of the glacier.  Apparently, they put the video on the cruise video they sold at the end of the cruise.  Those that saw it, said it was most impressive.

   

While at the glacier, the clouds opened up and we got to see some sunshine.  It brightened up the fjord; but I was especially pleased, since some of our group were going on helicopter flights later in the day from Juneau to land on a glacier.  I had hoped that the weather would be good for that most unique of experiences.

   

As we were heading away from the glacier, the captain said that he would try to stay close to the shoreline, so that we could possibly see some bears.  We did see lots of seals resting on the ice. Most of them would jump off the ice as the Solstice approached them; but this mother and cub hung in while we passed by.

Everyone watched for bears; but without success.  As we were nearing the end of the fjord, the Captain announced a bear sighting.  He said that there was a bear on the bridge.  Sure enough, there was one; but of course, it wasn’t the kind we were looking for.  It was kind of cute though.   I had hoped that we would see a bear, since that was one of the things that our friends from England, Paul and Gail, had hoped to see on this trip.

 

Juneau, Alaska

It was still very cloudy as we pulled into Juneau.  Hopefully, it would clear up.  The Solstice was at the furthest docking location, about a mile from the city. The two HAL ships were the closest and the Ruby Princess was in front of us.  I was pleased to see the HAL Nieuw Amsterdam in port, since we have booked a cruise on her for October.

   

We could also see the Mt. Roberts Tram from the ship.  We went up on it the last cruise.  It is an excursion you don’t want to book, unless you can see that it is a clear day.  So far, this day did not look like a good one for the tram.

With the ship arriving at 1:30 PM, it didn’t leave much time for excursions.  The one thing we always enjoy doing is whale watching from Juneau.  There is just something about seeing a whale in the open waters that is so exciting.  We booked a tour with Juneau Whale Watch, www.juneauwhalewatch.com .  The company had good reviews, so we decided to try them.  We had previously toured with Harv and Marv, which was the best whale watching trip ever; and Captain Larry, with Orca Enterprises, who is no longer in business.  We couldn’t do Harv and Marv again, so I picked Juneau Whale Watch.  They were reasonably priced and they used boats that only carried up to 27 people.  We had no desire to whale watch on one of the large boats the cruise lines use that carry well over 100 people.

We took the $5.00 per person round trip shuttle to the Mt. Roberts Tram station area to meet the van to take us to the boat.  After about a 20-minute ride, we arrived at the pier, where two of their boats were docked.  The boats were a nice size for comfort and they had exterior viewing areas in the front and back of the boat.

   

Our captain was Jordan and the naturalist was Emily.  They both did a very good job during the tour.

   

As we had seen on every previous whale watching trip, we passed by the buoy with the seals fighting to get room on it.

We were pleased to see that the skies were clearing up quite a bit.  It made the scenery even lovelier.

We finally saw the spray of a humpback whale in the distance.  Not long after, it came up again and showed its tail. 

We saw several whales from different angles; but they never came close to us as we have experienced on previous trips.  It was quite frustrating.

As we moved to a different area, I saw a glacier in the distance with the sun shining brightly on it.  It was the Herbert Glacier.  I found out later that it was the one that our friends Paul, Gail, Danny and Carole landed on during their helicopter tour.  We were so glad that they had a great helicopter experience.

Jordan was able to get us to a couple of other areas with whales. But they weren't as close, nor as many as we were hoping.  I did recognize one of the whales as the same one we had seen earlier by its tail markings.  

   

The below photos follow the whale's full dive.  This was the best one of the day.

   

   

We returned to the dock while admiring the scenery from the boat.   The van driver took those from the Solstice, the extra mile to the boat, rather than making us have to get off and then wait for the shuttle.  We certainly appreciated that.

The tour itself was enjoyable with excellent information and a very comfortable boat; but that day the whales weren’t as active as previous times for us.  Perhaps it was because we were doing it in the afternoon, rather than in the morning like our previous experiences.

When we got back on the boat, it was a sunny day in Juneau.  Much nicer than when we arrived.   Since we got back to the ship around 5:00 PM, we didn’t have time to visit the city itself. 

With the onboard time at 9:30 PM, there was no line to get on board like there was in Ketchikan.

 

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