First Cruise

23 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type



Date of travel

May, 2023

Product name

Cruise Ship

Product country

Alaska USA

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Reasons for trip


Finally, after a virtually 24 months of staying at home, we are off on holiday, this time an ocean cruise, our first cruise. Not your normal ‘soft’ warm weather one around the Med, or Caribbean, but a hardy ‘adventure’ one to Alaska starting out of Seattle, though not too adventurous as we are getting on a bit and are partial to a little comfort now and again. Now I’m sure that some of our observations will be old hat and passé to seasoned Cruisers (if that’s the correct term) but as this is our first outing, if you exclude a channel crossing and an over-night jaunt on Milford Sound, but I think that they still are perfectly valid.
It seems to be an unwritten law of flying that you are in for a bit of a trek from when you arrive at an airport till you pick up your bags and encounter the queue that is passport control, but Seattle has changed a bit since we were first here in 2019. There is an underground people mover system for outgoing passengers, but for those arriving there is a foot slog, including a 900 ft. long, 85 ft. high glass clad pedestrian walkway (considerately escalators are provided for the up and down bits) connecting the new International Arrivals Facility (IAF) with the main terminal, which was built to facilitate access for planes to their maintenance facilities.

On arrival in the baggage reclaim hall an announcement informs us that our cases will be delayed by a technical fault at the plane a portent perhaps. When the bags finally arrive we join the enormous queue to get to passport control, which is a surprise as there does not seem to be that many international flights arriving. Eventually we exit the hall into the public arrivals area where we are expecting our driver to be standing nearby holding a board with our name on it, but is nowhere to be seen. So after a brisk exploration just in case we have the wrong location, but there is no sign. So an examination of the transfer documentation small print saying that the driver will only wait for 60 minutes past the arrival time, which given our experience so far would be a fanciful dream. So reading further down the page I find the contact number which I optimistically call, but am soon disappointed as the call routes to an announcement which proudly states that “This number is no longer working”!

Expletive deleted!

Calming down I find the 24 hour emergency number, well this is what I would call an emergency, and call it. Eventually a decidedly harassed sounding young man answers and took our details promising that a car would come but it could be up to an hour, which although a disappointment at least dangled a juicy carrot our way, so we wait. After approx. 45 mins a car arrives that accepts our transport voucher, hurray! It turns out that we will be sharing a car but at this point, who cares? A red-hot email will be winging its way to our travel agent on our return. Our taxi companions are a charming elderly couple from Arkansas who will be joining a cruise to Alaska a few days later than we will. Finally we arrive at The Hyatt Olive 8 for a recuperative night that is thankfully restful. A quick pizza snack and coke and then back to the room to grab a local early night, especially as our body clocks scream that it is the early hours in the following morning and 26 hours, or so, since we woke. Not the most encouraging start to our maiden cruise experience.

Next morning the transfer car is at hotel a few minutes before the allotted time and we head off for the main event at Terminal 91 of the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal, where we join a slow moving queue of cars, vans and taxies eager to disgorge their expectant contents and I am now very pleased that we chose an early boarding slot. A glance to the left during the ingoing crawl and I notice two sky scrapers towering over the port buildings, which I soon realise are cruise ships and ours, the Celebrity Solace, is the most seaward of the two. Slowly we reach our terminus point, bay 4, and are informed that this will also be our pick up point on our return. We alight into what looks like absolute chaos, but what after a few moments turns into what should be called clockwork chaos, I’m sure I hear in my head the velvet tones of David Attenborough describing the day to day life of an ants nest. There are cars, people, bags and trolleys going everywhere, porters calling instructions and trying to attract the attention of wayward would-be passengers and inattentive drivers. A scene is not that far removed from those old black and white movies of the 30’s and 40’s, except that no one appears to be wearing a white suit, or Panama hat, which is a little disappointing. Searching the scene for clues I spot a sign indicating where to leave the luggage, so with the special cruise baggage tags attached we deposit our bags and head for the terminal building under the ‘command’ of the staff, avoiding passengers who are attempting to take their own bags on board, but being turned back to follow the proper procedure.

Passing through the terminal building having our documents checked and scanned numerous times before we finally climb the ladders and cross the gang plank into the belly of the ship. Eldorado awaits us as we step onto deck 5 close to the information desk and wonder where we go and what we do now? Seeking out a person in a uniform and find out that there will be a welcome meeting tomorrow morning and we can settle into our cabin amidships on deck 9. The cabin is not unlike a holiday hotel room with a compact shower and toilet, a balcony, a small table, sofa and a large TV screen fixed to the wall. Looking through the documentation left for us on the unit below the TV we find probably the most important item of all, the Seapass Card. This credit card sized piece of plastic is your ‘everything’ on board: your security id; door key and the on board charge card. We also see that have been allocated to table 145 at 1800 in the main restaurant, The Grand Epernay on deck 3. There is also an introductory video to be watched, detailing what was expected and where everything is on the ship.

Having digested all the info we decide that it is time to explore, to create a mental map of the ship and see what goodies were in store for us. We found the shops and the Casino, various other attractions, the theatre and the buffet restaurant on deck 14 then back to our cabin to unpack our bags which had been delivered while we were on our exploration. Then at 16:00 the ship’s horn blows and slowly backs away from the dock and we wave to whoever may be looking, as you see in films. Slowly the ship backs into the harbour and then turns into Puget Sound and slowly off we go north to Alaska, as the song goes, followed at a discrete distance by our neighbour ship at the dock. After a while watching the Seattle coast line pass by it was time to get ready for dinner and head down to deck 3 and join the small queue waiting to sample the promised delights.

Booking card in hand we check in at the desk and follow directions to table 145 (AFT, port side) nicely situated by a window. There we meet our dining companions for the duration of the voyage: a husband and wife, Eric and Jeanette, who have an interesting history encompassing Holland, Canada and Denver and two retired widowed friends Doris and Pattie from the Springfield area of Illinois (and no neither of their surnames was Simpson). We then meet two more players in our little adventure, Eric our waiter and Percy our sommelier, both, according to their id badges, were Indonesian. Eric was chatty and friendly and Percy was a real charmer who could no doubt sweet talk the birds from the trees if necessary.

Our food came, Salmon for me and steak for Rosemary, and was excellent, as was the wine, generous portions of a local Washington State Merlot for me and a New Zealand Cabernet for Rosemary. Yes I know that goes against everything the ‘experts’ say but what the hell we’re on holiday and we like them, and secretly I think our sommelier agrees. As we eat we chat and gradually get to know our companions and start to share histories, and earn some brownie points by having by far the longest flight to get to here. With the meal and drinks well and truly downed and still chatting we are gently reminded that we are on the first sitting and are encouraged to vacate our tables so that they can be prepared for the later diners. So we stroll off in our respective directions to have a quick look over some of the attractions before making our way back to the cabin and prepare for our first night on board a big ship.

After being metaphorically rocked gently to sleep we awake next morning to sunshine highlighting the Vancouver Island hills in the distance, but a quick inspection of the clock shows that it is still only 05:30, body clock not reset yet, so its close the curtains and back off to sleep until a reasonable hour of 08:00 and our first experience of the buffet breakfast on deck 14. I must say that the buffet is big, a third of the ship’s length with serving islands in the centre and tables on the outside by the windows. The food options available should satisfy most appetites in both variety and quantity, however you soon notice that there are certain people trying their hardest to empty the ship’s reserves, but are ultimately defeated even after returning 3 times to the battle for refills. We calculate that the really determined could eat for 16+ hours a day somewhere on the ship if they set their minds to it.

Today is a ‘day at sea’ which gives us an ideal opportunity to check out the ship and its facilities. We notice that there is a talk in the theatre by the cruise scientist Gary Kramer, on Glaciers at 09:15 and on how Alaska is still rising following the last Ice Age at 11:15. We manage to catch the last half of the Glacier talk which turns out to be interesting and informative, with just enough humour (some gentle Titanic jokes) to keep it from being boring for those without a science bent. In between the two shows we grab a coffee at the Café Al Bacio on deck 5 before returning to the theatre.

After the show its lunch time join the exodus to deck 14 where we attempt to join the multitude traveling the world on a single plate: Italian, Indian, ‘healthy’, American, East Asian and others I’ve forgotten now. We make our selections, reasonably modest as it’s our first day, and find a space where we can see through a window. A quick glance around the assembled multitude finds a similar faction in attendance to those seen at breakfast trying to break the record for competitive eating, the best attempt seen is 4 plates, but the last one was not finished so a failure was recorded.

After lunch we continue our exploration of the ship and its facilities starting with the upper decks as we’re there. Deck 16 is the sun deck, only the exceedingly hardy will take that option today, deck 15 houses the lawn club, with real grass where you can try your hand at bowling, or Bocce, and the Hot Glass Class where glass blowing demonstrations take place daily, a welcome retreat on a day like today where the wind could cut you in half. But discretion being the better part of valour we decide that the best idea would be to head for some warmth and check out the shops and other attractions on desks 4 & 5. The shops range from high end watches (tempted , but $1800 puts the breaks on my interest), jewellery, perfume, spirits at more than duty free prices, an art gallery and the usual tourist stuff and souvenirs. We throw caution to the wind and buy some Christmas decorations to join our holiday collection, as you do. Pleased with ourselves we head towards the theatre and walk through the casino where I’m sure I spot some of the same people feeding the slots who were there this morning, and some cardholders still at the Blackjack tables, each to their own. Tempus Fugit and the pangs of hunger are starting to rear their head so we head back to the cabin to get ready for dinner as it is time to dress up in our best ‘evening chic’ and my piscatorial promise to myself to see if I can eat a different fish course every night, tonight it will be Cobia also known as Black Kingfish, or Ling. After dinner we retire ready for our first shore excursion at Ketchikan tomorrow morning, when we have to get up an hour earlier than normal because the ship changes time zones as we move into USA time, very confusing as we do not seem to have travelled far from the north/south meridian.

Dawn and wouldn’t you know it’s raining, welcome to Alaska, well Ketchikan does claim to be the “Rain capital of Alaska”. Getting off the ship we have our Seapass cards checked and registered that we are going ashore and we venture into the famous Alaskan weather. Returning by 15:30 onto the ship was an eye opening experience, almost like going through airport security with metal detectors, x-ray machines and if necessary body scans. Most disappointed that there is no duty free shop to go through after the checks, so we have to make do with a couple of coffees, then its dinner as normal, this time with Herb Crusted Haddock for me.

One thing you soon notice is that each day seem the same as any other and unless you really try you can lose track of which day it is, or you start using the age old tourist adage “If its Juneau it must be Monday”, or in this case an early morning (05.30) entry into Eddicott Arm and the Dawes Glacier. The temperature has noticeably dropped since the start of the cruise and I am glad I packed a jumper as I lean on the balcony rail watching the ice change from small blocks into larger flows as we get nearer to the glacier itself. Although it is the end of May there are still patchy accumulations of snow and ice along the steep fiord sides where rivulets of melt water fall trying to imitate waterfalls. As we near the end I notice one patch of ice that looks like a giant ice bear on duty to protect the glacier with its arms spread wide bellowing a warning to the interlopers. The ship slows to a halt some way from the glacier front to allow us to have a take the obligatory photographs, especially of some dark ‘tracks’ running up the slope which looks just like some giant monster truck had been having some fun. I also notice a launch pulling alongside the stern of the ship and some passengers disembark for an excursion to take a close-up look at the glacier. After a while the ship turns round and we head back out on our way to our afternoon appointment with the state capital Juneau to meet some aquatic wildlife, but first it’s time for breakfast.

It is now Day 5 so it must be Skagway and the northern most port of our journey. Surprisingly it’s not raining but is a little chilly so off we go in search of gold. After pocketing our stash we return and leave Skagway on way ‘down’ to Victoria on Vancouver Island, but this involves a day and a half at sea and another time zone change back to Canadian time. Maintaining the theme it is Tilapia for dinner tonight.

Now it is this part that I find to be the most challenging period of the cruise, because I have seen what the ship has to offer and there is a great possibility of boredom descending to put a dampener on the whole holiday. Luckily a new event appears on the daily schedule, a tour of the Galley and a chance to meet the various department chiefs. We all meet in the main restaurant at 10:30 and are allocated a colour tag so that some order can be maintained. After a brief chat by the Captain and an introduction to the various department heads, each colour section leads off for their tour. After a few minutes it’s our turn and like obedient school children we follow into the nerve centre of the cruise, the Galley. It turns out to be enormous with sparkling stainless steel worktops everywhere, with lines of: ovens, grills, fridges, freezers and storage racks. The stats quoted about the amount of produce used here for a 7 day cruise are mind boggling: 14542 lb of Beef; 12450 lb of potatoes; 48659lb of fresh vegetables and (most importantly) 12450 bottles of wine. Walking around I get the feeling that Gordon Ramsey would spin himself into the floor acting the way he does on the TV if he had to run this kitchen. Returning to the dining room I get a chance to get a closer look at something I had noticed during dinner, the huge glass and stainless steel wine store, reaching from the floor to the ceiling two decks above, but now looking a little sparse. However, we are assured that there is enough wine left to complete the trip, well they’ve done this before so they should know. The rest of the day and the most of the next is spent at sea, so it really is a question of eat (the competitive eaters are still in training), reading on the balcony, TV, shopping, sleep, repeat and not to forget last minute shopping and finally a chance to venture out onto the sun deck to ‘soak up some rays’.

We say our good byes at dinner tonight because when we dock at Victoria tomorrow evening we will be revisiting a restaurant we enjoyed on a previous holiday, the Il Terrazzo, discretely tucked away behind the Salvation Army Hostel and not somewhere you would accidently come across by just wandering around the city. Returning to the ship to do the last minute packing ready for our arrival back at Seattle next morning, we find some info for our disembarkation has been left: some suitcase tags with the number 45 printed and some instructions on the procedures to follow and a timetable of when we can expect to be called to disembark. It turns out that the number 45 (out of 46) entitled us to a sit for nearly two hours in the theatre waiting to be called, so we weren’t going to be in any great hurry. Labels attached the cases were dutifully placed outside the door ready for collection

Following breakfast next morning we make our way to our seat, passing through the casino which was empty save for a maintenance engineer, and a long wait which, if we had been seasoned cruisers would have prompted us into some pre-emptive action. We arrived in the Theatre soon after 9 and waited, then finally the gangplank and ashore to join the remnants of the passengers to wait for our transport at bay 4 as instructed on arrival.

So we wait, with me showing our transport voucher to every passing cab hoping for a nod, but none is forthcoming. After about half an hour waiting a sense of unease starts to set in and we decide it’s time to try the contact numbers on the voucher. The first number tried in the innocent belief that the previous experience had been a temporary blip, but the recording is still there saying it was not working, so the emergency number was tried. Ring-ring, ring-ring, ring-ring and then a recording switches in saying that “This number is no longer working”!


What do we do now! We ask around, but the best offer comes from the Uber organiser who says that he may have something available in a couple of hours, when finally we find a cab that has dropped off a group and is willing to take us to our hotel for $25 cash which we gladly accept, after being previously quoted $80 by another driver, who was obviously not that interested. We finally arrive at our hotel a few hours later than expected, but glad to be back where we should be and already planning on what we will speak to our travel agent about when we get home.

Overall we enjoyed out first cruise (putting the traumatic episodes with transportation to one side for now) both on-board ship, where the entertainment, food, facilities were more than satisfactory and the excursions fed our explorer hunger. However, I did start to get itchy feet during the last day and a half down to Victoria, my need for constant new stimulus may be? Whereas my wife was quite happy to sit on the balcony reading her latest murder mystery book (is she storing up tips I wonder?) and chilled out completely, expressing the opinion that she wouldn’t mind another one. So our next one is likely to be something similar, a European river cruise is the favourite option, possibly down the Rhine, wish us luck.


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