Well...today is a day at sea before we dock in San Francisco early tomorrow. This has been a very nice cruise.
We have found that Celebrity has clearly passed HAL in onboard service. Our cabin steward and his asst, our waiter and asst waiter and our butler have offered us better service than we have had for years on many HAL cruises. Notable was the afternoon tea that was delivered daily directly to our cabin by our butler. Celebrity also seemed to have lots more onboard activities to our taste.
In terms of cabin, HAL's concierge level cabins are bigger with a dressing area, double sink and both a whirlpool tub and shower. HAL verandahs are also bigger. The Sky Suite on Celebrity has a cramped bathroom, smaller verandah, single sink, combo tub/shower. The HAL Neptune Lounge is also missing on Celebrity.
In general, it is apples vs oranges when comparing - but, I must say that the higher level of service is very nice. We are already booked on the Celebrity Constellation for Sept and I am sure we will look seriously at Celebrity for the future.
On this cruise, the highlight was clearly Butchart Gardens in Victoria. This is surely a place to which we can return.
In Juneau, we again had good luck on the whale watching excursion - exact same operator as we have done every other time in Juneau. Astoria was an interesting new port for us; but, it is small and probably would handle multiple visits well. Seattle was a nice new stop and we visited Pike Place Market.
Vancouver was "odd". It was an interesting stop; but, they really seemed lacking when handling the crowd. Don't want to think about when they have the Olympics soon. Had we decided to get off the hop-on-hop-off bus at one of the sites, it would clearly have been a long time before we would have been able to get on another bus. Lucky for us we just stayed on the bus for the entire circuit.
The other Alaskan ports were pretty much as expected. The scenery and wildlife are always outstanding in Alaska.
There will probably not be time for an update tomorrow. We simply spend the day disembarking, shuttling and flying home - hopefully, without problems. We aren't scheduled to arrive home until very late.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Well...today is a day at sea before we dock in San Francisco early tomorrow. This has been a very nice cruise.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
We docked today at Vancouver Island and visited the city of Victoria. Very historic, very beautiful. After an early breakfast we took a bus excursion to see Butchart Gardens. Along the way, the driver gave us a city tour and pointed out various important and/or historic buildings.
Many of the most interesting buildings date back to the mid-1800's. Fort Victoria was established in 1843 and was a large whaling and sealing port. After the brief city tour, we made the short drive to Butchart Gardens.
Without question, Butchart Gardens are some of the best gardens we have ever visited. At this time of year, the gardens are filled with tulips of every imaginable variety and color. I'm sure that Jill could go on about all the other flowers that we saw - but I will simply say that it was glorious.
The variety of flowers and colors were fantastic and the landscaping was beautiful. Only problem is that it is too early for the roses. So...guess what? Yep, we'll have to come back during rose season.
After about a 2-hour walk of the gardens, we sat down for an English tea. The tea was every bit as good as tea in London. Half a dozens types of sandwiches, pastries, scones, quiche, chocolates, sausages in pastry, cakes, etc. - all served quite properly on a 3-tiered dessert tray. Certainly much more than we could eat.
The driver took a different route returning to the ship. So...he pointed out other sites. In Jill's words, "The entire trip was worth the experience today.". Obviously, she loves visiting gardens and this was one of the best.
As we are leaving port, we are a Princess ship waiting to go into port. We were in port with the HAL Volendam and our bus driver told us there are 3 ships coming into port this afternoon. Very busy port.
Tomorrow is a day at sea - our last day onboard the Millenium. Doesn't seem like the trip is almost over. But...gotta finish this one so we can get ready for the next.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Sun...we finally have sun. We arrived in Vancouver, BC today and were greeted by a brightly shining sun.
Our first task of the day was breakfast. I haven't mentioned that we've had breakfast in our cabin each day - personally delivered by our wonderful butler, Ram, who is from India. We see Ram each day at breakfast, at afternoon tea - also delivered to our cabin, and when he delivers afternoon appetizers. Ram told us on the first day that if we didn't get enough food, it would be his fault! He and our cabin steward, John, are both a delight. I must say that the service we have received onboard this ship is far, far better than the service on our last few HAL cruises. We also have a great dining room waiter, from Istanbul, and an attentive asst waiter. The level of service has really stood out from past cruises and we look forward to seeing if Celebrity continues that service on the Constellation in Sept.
In addition, it seems to us that food quality has been superior on the Millenium.
Anyway, back to today. After breakfast, we left the ship and stumbled around for just a short but until we figured out what to do since we hadn't booked an excursion. We located a trolley/bus service that offered 2-hour tours of the city. Our driver/guide was excellent and entertaining. The trolley was one of the hop on & hop off buses - but we just stayed on. The biggest highlight of the tour was Stanley Park. This is the 2nd largest municipal park in N America - SF Golden Gate Park is largest and NY Central Park is #3. About half of the tour was through the park.
After the tour, we headed back to the ship for...yes, you guessed it...lunch and a nap.
We don't sail until 11PM tonight; but, I don't think we'll get off the ship again. We'll just hang around, relax and enjoy dinner and the ship's entertainment.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Well...it's probably not fair to Sitka; but, we really had crummy weather today. Would have been much better for a day at sea.
After breakfast, we decided to go into town. The ship is anchored - so, we took tenders over to the dock. It wasn't too bad going over - about a 10 to 15 minute tender ride and it was nice and smooth. It started to rain shortly after we got to town - which is only a few blocks with only a dozen or so shops.
With 3 ships at anchor, rain and only a few shops, it was way too crowded for me. Everyone crowding into the few shops. Didn't take us long to give up and head back to the pier and that's when the real fun started. With most people having the same idea as us, the line-up at the pier for tenders got very long - longer than the protective canopy set up by Celebrity.
It took several tenders to load up the crowd and we were in the rain for quite a while. Luckily, we were in the middle of an Asian group and one of the guys held his umbrella over Jill for the entire time - nice guy. We were wet and shivering by the time we got back to the ship. As it turned out, we should have just stayed on board.
Trivia - we finally won at entertainment trivia. It hasn't been quite the same since they are only allowing teams of four and hardly any teams are staying together. There are two teams that remain intact and they win most every game. It was fun to finally win in Jill's specialty.
One of our dinner couples is hilarious - they are from Australia. Yesterday, she went on and on about how she was "snowed on" since they have apparently never really experienced snow. She talked about the big flakes and the wind making it snow up. "How cool is that?!?" was a frequent phrase. It is fun listening to someone who is so thoroughly enjoying something that we take for granted.
Anyway, we've warmed up and will have tea and cookies shortly. Then dinner and a show. Take care.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
We docked at Skagway early this AM. This is the original site of the Alaskan gold rush. In the past we have always taken the train ride on the White Pass RR. Since Jill thinks she could narrate the train ride, we decided to skip it this time.
When we went down the ship's gangway, oh my, it was chilly. The wind was biting thru our clothes. Luckily, they offered a shuttle bus to downtown. What a lifesaver! - without the bus, I think we would have just skipped it and gone back to the ship.
Happily, it was much more pleasant in town. With buildings to block the wind and, eventually, some sun, it was comfortable shopping. Jill found some jewelry and I got a sweater. We couldn't believe the number of jewelry stores - almost as bad as some Caribbean islands.
After shopping, we headed back on the shuttle, ate a little lunch and, of course, took a nap. After a little sitting around doing nothing, we are preparing for tonight's dinner.
Oh, last night's trip to the casino ended up so-so for Jill. She lost her allotted $20 - but, as she says, "I got to play for quite a while".
Today was our day to visit and view Hubbard Glacier. I was a little surprised that we weren't scheduled to arrive at the glacier until mid-day. We have always arrived in the early AM in the past. But, noon to 1PM is our arrival today.
Unfortunately, the weather isn't cooperating too well. Obviously, it is cold - low 40s for a high temp. It is foggy, misty and pretty crummy outside. But, having seen many glaciers, we planned on just viewing from our cabin. No freezing buns in our plans!
We didn't even bother with a normal lunch where we would have to deal with loads of people just sitting in the dining areas viewing the glacier. We went to the buffet and brought lunch back to our cabin.
Of course, the glacier is huge and we saw some calving. Lots of ice flow in the water. With so much ice in the water, our ship moved into the bay incredibly slowly. We were surprised that the ship didn't seem to stay in the glacier area for viewing very long - in fact, we thought it was pretty quick. Didn't really matter that much to us. But, it seems like we stayed much longer in the past.
Tonight, the seas really let loose. 45 to 50 knot winds and 25 to 30 foot swells. Heavy rocking at dinner. Two of our dinner table couples are first-time cruisers - so lots of talk about the rocking & rolling of the ship. We had a show cancellation for the first time ever for us - tonight was to be the ship's singers and dancers. They made the decision that it would simply not be safe - and I think they made a good decision. Apparently, they will reschedule the show for later in the cruise.
With the show cancellation, Jill headed to the casino. Believe it or not, this will be her first time in the casino. We'll see how she does!
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Docked early this morning at Juneau. We had a whale watching & wildlife excursion at 830AM. Happily, the boat used today was much more enclosed and warmer than yesterday. And...they served snacks and hot chocolate!
We had great luck today. I would guess that we saw around 6 to 8 humpback whales - some kinda close. I got some good pics. We also saw seals and bald eagles.
Toward the end of the excursion, the sun came out and we had excellent views of the the surrounding landscape and mountains. This is a very beautiful part of the world.
Upon returning to the ship, we had lunch and relaxed. Jill talked to both Brett and Julie who had both left messages for Mother's Day. She left a message for hoe mom who was not at home.
We plan to relax for the remainder of the day. There is a trivia and a name-that-tune.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Well...it was pretty chilly in Ketchikan today - high around 42, cloudy, rainy and biting through whatever clothes you are wearing. First thing today, we went into the small town and did a little shopping. I didn't bring any sweatshirts because I planned on buying a few in Alaska. Got 3 today. Jill also got a sweatshirt. She also got some sweatpants to sleep in - the ship has been a bit chilly.
Then, we went on a coastal wildlife boat ride. Froze our butts off - even though we had layered and they have is raingear. We did see seals, sea lions, loons, and lots of eagles. No luck seeing bears.
Immediately upon returning, Jill jumped into a hot bath and I ordered some clam chowder from room service. It isn't like we didn't expect the cold - but, it's still different when you're in it rather than thinking that it'll be cold. Temp wasn't so bad - just the combo of temp, rain, wind, etc.
But...we'll survive and we did get some great eagle viewing.
Friday, May 9, 2008
Well...today was just a lazy day at sea. Up kinda early for us to "wildlife view" with the onboard wildlife expert. Really meant "search the open ocean". We did see quite a few porpoises. And saw a couple albatrosses. Other than that, we spent the day playing trivia, reading, napping and, of course, eating.
It is chilly - in the 40's, cloudy, gray, misty and the swells are moderate - maybe 10 to 12 feet. Good weather to do basically nothing - and that's what we're doing.
Tomorrow, we dock at Ketchikan and do a wildlife excursion.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Docked today in Seattle. It is very cloudy and quite chilly. Wind bites through our clothes. We walked to Pike Place Market since it wasn't too long to walk. Was interesting and very busy. Didn't buy anything - but it was fun looking around. Jill wishes we had such a market at home. Walked back to the ship to warm up and will have lunch soon.
Well...read and napped after lunch. Tonight is casual dress, so we don't have to get into fancy duds.
Nothing exciting planned for the rest of today. And...tomorrow is a day at sea.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Today, we visited Astoria, OR at the mouth of the Columbia River. Nice small town. Short shuttle bus ride from the dock to downtown. We managed a little shopping. Jill and I both got knit caps made from old sweaters. Very unique. Jill also got a pendant made of emerald and one made of sea glass.
Didn't take long to get through the couple-block downtown. For those interested in history, there was a maritime museum and quite a bit of info re Lewis & Clark.
Spent the afternoon eating, napping and reading. We are very quickly getting used to our butler delivering tea in the afternoon.
So...dinner and show tonight.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Well...we have boarded the Millenium. We have what they refer to as a Sky Suite. Seems perhaps 50% larger than a regular cabin. Nice wood paneling. Smallish verandah compared to Concierge Suites on Holland - but should be fine.
A few minutes ago, our "butler" stopped to introduce himself. We haven't had a butler before. Jill will be really happy that he will bring afternoon tea around 3ish and appetizers before dinner. And I think he will serve our breakfast in the cabin.
Our dinner table is excellent - upper level at the rear windows. So far, we seem to have a nice group. One couple missing tonight - should have table for eight.
Other than that, typical first night stuff. Now unpacked. Breakfast ordered for tomorrow. Day at sea tomorrow - so we can somewhat relax.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Well...yesterday was a travel day - and it was rough on me. Jill was a real trooper and handled it better.
First, the day started with getting up much too early for a 545AM pickup. I only got maybe two hours sleep - which was not a good thing for me. Jill slept a little better. Anyway, we were ready for our pickup and headed to the airport. Luckily, checkin was smooth and we were settled at the gate in a brief time. After boarding, flight actually left on time.
I had counted on sleeping on the plane during the 4 1/2 hour flight. Didn't work out. Couldn't get comfortable. Got a couple short catnaps - but I was pretty wasted by the time we landed in Phoenix. Boarded and pulled away from the gate close to on time. Happily, these seats were much more comfortable and I fell asleep. Apparently, we sat for around 40 min before takeoff. After sleeping for at least 90 minutes, I woke up feeling closer to normal.
When we landed in San Francisco, we had a very wild taxi ride to the hotel. Jill was like "Oh My Gosh!" but he got us to the Hyatt Fishermans Wharf in quick time. Nice hotel. Very contemporary decor, king bed, plenty of room.
After settling in, we headed out to find a meal. We got breakfast on the first flight this morning. But, had tight connection in Phoenix and they only served nuts and cookies on the second flight. Hotel is only about 2 blocks from Fishermans Wharf. Lots of tourist shopping and different food options. We ended up at Castagnola's - great choice. Nice sit down dining room on the water overlooking the docks. They offer lots - including seafood, steaks, soups, salads, pasta. I had a bowl of clam chowder - excellent. White chowder with lots of clams, potatoes, celery, etc. Jill picked the tuna sandwich which we split. Sourdough bread with the chowder and a softer onion roll with the sandwich. Always expect to get great bread in San Francisco.
When we got back to the room after a little wandering, we just vegged out. Jill took a couple multi-hour naps. I finally slept at about 9 and got a good full night sleep.
So...thank goodness, we are ready to go after a rough travel day. Lazy AM, breakfast in the hotel restaurant - rolls, breads, croissants and beverages. We'll probably just sit around now until close to noon. We can board at 1230 and our hotel is just a very short cab ride to the dock. So...next stop will be boarding later today.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Also, I took the first Ambien that Dr Einhorn prescribed for me to help with my trouble sleeping. It was nice to basically sleep through the night. I will need to see how I can use the Ambien and control the frequency so that I only take it when necessary.