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Advice on First Cruise to Alaska - Sapphire Princess or Celebrity Millenium?

Advice on First Cruise to Alaska - Sapphire Princess or Celebrity Millenium?

Old Oct 31st, 2008, 12:17 PM
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Advice on First Cruise to Alaska - Sapphire Princess or Celebrity Millenium?

We haven't been on a cruise since 1974! But our kids are mostly grown now and some of our friends have retired and are beckoning to us to come play. So here is where things stand followed by some questions. We appreciate any advice you can give us and have already benefited by all the information found here!

We plan to go on a 7 day cruise from Vancouver north to Whittier or Seward (depending on the ship we take). Because we want to go one way in early to mid-July 2009 and are traveling with a small group 4-6 couples) who all want rooms with balconies, our options are somewhat limited.

The two options we are looking at now are the Celebrity Millenium or Sapphire Princess. The main differences in itinerary are that the Sapphire includes Glacier Bay and College Fjord, ending in Whittier and the Millenium's itinerary substitutes Icy Strait Point and Hubbard Glacier, then stops at Seward.

Which itinerary would you recommend? Are there any other factors (quality of food, cabin comfort, etc.) which would recommend one ship over the other?

This is our first cruise to Alaska and we are going with some friends who care more about enjoying the beauty of Alaska than partying. Do both ships have a naturalist onboard? Is the quality of the food comparable?

We'd appreciate any help you can give us. I have read lots of posts on Alaska and the cruise lines and have also done research on www.cruisecritic.com.

Thanks!

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Old Oct 31st, 2008, 12:48 PM
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We did not cruise on Sapphire Princess but another Princess Alaska cruise this past mid-June. Ours was one-way Whittier-Vancouver.

Since I doubt you are going to find anyone who has been on 2 Alaska cruises - one on each ship, I think you will have to rely on comments rather than comparisons. And while we were on different Princess ship, I think I can give some info.

We have been on 3 other warmwater cruises and the atmosphere on the Alaska cruise was totally different. Definitely not a partying group - in fact, one night at around 11:30 we were looking for someplace to have a drink with our 21 year old son and found only one bar open - and it was close to last call. Also, dress was far more casual at all times of day - no nice cruise-wear outfits during the day, but more practical fleeces and jeans or khakis. Even at dinner, "formal night" meant some kind of dress for women and a jacket and tie for men - rather than cocktail dresses and suits.

We enjoyed the food. As with any setting where they are cooking for thousands of people, it had its very good and just OK moments. Selection on menu in main dining room was good and our waitstaff was very good at letting us know quietly which items were excellent and which we might best avoid as far as quality was concerned. They were more than welcome to accomodate special orders - our carnivore son, after the first night, was automatically given double protein on his plate without asking.

We had a balcony mini-suite (2 actually - one for us and one for our almost-adult kids). In many adjacent cabins, the divider between balconys can be removed to make one larger one - but not in ours, however. That was actually fine. Our cabin was large; the balcony was a nice non-essential - it was cool enough that we used it little - a window would have been enough.

Plan to spend quite a bit on excursions. At most ports (Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway for us) there is not much within walking distance except jewelry and t-shirt shops. Either book privately or thru cruiseline - but many of the more memorable ones are quite pricey. Figure that into your budget and if stretched, skip the balcony.

If you can anyway arrange to spend sometime on land, try to do so. We spent a week on land prior to cruise - a few days in Denali, few more in Seward with Anchorage inbetween.

Our cruise had a naturalist aboard. She was only adequate - sounded like she was reading a script in her sleep. However, we also had 2 Park Rangers for a day and a half and they were better.

On sea days, glacier viewing was great. Also saw some sea creatures/mammals in the distance. Also nice to just sit on deck chair and watch scenery pass by, nap, drink coffee. We did not find much in way of ship activities that appealed to us, but did not feel need for much more than the scenery.

Things to think about - airfare was quite expensive (we were able to use FF miles) since you are flying into and out of different cities. Fly into Vancouver a day ahead - it is a great city. Pick later dinner seating - it is so light so late in the summer in Alaska that if you eat early it feels like you are dining in mid-afternoon. The pizzas made on pool deck were truly excellent.
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Old Oct 31st, 2008, 08:42 PM
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My father has been on Holland America, Princess, and Celebrity to Alaska and he likes Celebrity by far. (though he went on Celebrity first so that may skew his opinion)

I've been on the Millenium(not to Alaska) and it was my favorite of any cruise ship I've been on. I think they were the first to have the glass elevators and glass back of the dining room
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Old Oct 31st, 2008, 08:48 PM
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You have shared some very helpful information - much of which I hadn't read before. (I have been collating the various comments to help us compare the 2 ships.)

Did you have any trouble with mosquitoes? If so, was this primarily in Denali?

Your input on the food, more casual attire, the naturalist, and the quality of the service (such as extra meat for your son) were very helpful. We do plan to spend some time in Denali and perhaps arrive in Vancouver early.

One of our sons drove to Alaska this summer and spent a lot of time camping and hiking there. He had a great time, but said that next time he will go on a cruise because there is so much that you miss if you don't get out on the water.

Thank you!

P.S. DId your kids enjoy the trip?
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Old Nov 1st, 2008, 12:35 AM
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My "kids (age 18 and 21) enjoyed the trip, but there was not one person their age we even saw on the ship. Also, at that age a 2 1/2 week trip with parents gets old fast. High points for them was helicopter glacier landing and zipline over rain forest - both excursions from ship.

An interesting note about Alaska is that the state capital (Juneau) is only reachable by air or sea - there is no road to Juneau.

We brought bug repellant but only used it during rain forest hike - bugs were not an issue at Denali.

Another thought about Denali. We took the 13-hour trip into Denali. 2 of the 4 of us thought it was great. My son and I are height phobic, and the ride is on an ancient school bus along a road that is about 2 cm wider than the bus with a terrifying cliff over the edge for about 1/3 of the trip. (or so it seemed to us). And don't even talk to me about what happens when bus going inbound meets up with one going outbound and they have to pass each other. This is something to think about if any in your party are similarly infected with a height thing. We did see quite a few animals (others saw more because their eyes were open for more of the trip).

We also took a wildlife cruise on a smaller ship from Seward - that was very nice.

If you drive or train up to Denali, no matter what the outcome of Tuesday's election, you get to see Wasilla Alaska, home of political start of Sarah Palin. It is a wide place in the road with 2 supermarkets, a couple dozen liquor stores, coffee shops and various places to buy supplies. Historically it is the last outpost of civilization before heading into Alaskan wilderness.
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Old Nov 4th, 2008, 12:37 AM
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Last year we did a Celebrity in Alaska, with what was probably the same itinerary - LOVED it..... I had never been on Celebrity, and it was an excellent experience, and the ship I was on was supposed to be not as nice as the Millenium. Loved it, loved it, loved it. I've only been on Princess once, and it was not a great experience (not awful - just certainly not as nice as our Celebrity experience). Frankly, I think either would be great, but I would lean towards the Celebrity.
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Old Nov 4th, 2008, 09:27 AM
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Princess always have naturalists on board, Celebrity, sometimes.

Are you also touring interior Alaska?? Overall Seward is my preference over Whittier. You can get to Seward from there, BUT it does require the planning and time.

Both itinearies offer pluses. Determine WHAT your touring priority is?? If Glaciers, then consider Princess and an add on Prince William Sound boat tour. IF ports, then Celebrity offers you 4??

Do your homework and find out, what is of the most interest to you, and what the areas can offer you.

As for interior Alaska, the bugs will be a big problem, in Denali Park, IF you are going past Eielson via shuttle bus. BE WELL PREPARED. There is little concern elsewhere that most tourists go.
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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 12:45 PM
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Thank you all for your input! We finally settled on taking the Princess cruise, primarily because seeing the glaciers is our priority this time. After the cruise, we will take several days to explore the Denali area and make our way up to Fairbanks.

Over the past few days, I have skimmed 2 books, Alaska by Cruise Ship and Alaska Cruises and Ports of Call. The information in these books - along with what was shared here on this forum - highlight the relative advantages of each choice along with the comforting thought that neither is a bad choice!

I am now starting to explore the options at various ports of call as well as Denali and Fairbanks. I like the idea of taking a cruise of Prince William Sound and see that there are several options. I post new messages as questions arise.

Thank you again for your help!

P.S. I will look forward to sailing on a Celebrity ship sometime....
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Old Nov 8th, 2008, 07:00 AM
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Do a search here on Fairbanks. Everyone here talked me out of venturing that far north.
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Old Nov 8th, 2008, 08:24 AM
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My opinion, I enjoy touring Fairbanks, but it does require time. I assume they are considering a one way and flying home from Fairbanks?? Car rentals are very costly with this, and limited. Look into availablity for this now. Doing a PWS boat tour, when you get off the ship is a great use of time, then take the train to Anchorage.

From Anchorage, continue on either north or south. Determine, if you want a day in Anchorage for their actitives, very worthwhile city.

You need more reference than your cruise information books. Get Fodor's Alaska, Frommer's Alaska and The MILEPOST out of your library as well.
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Old Nov 8th, 2008, 04:24 PM
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Thank you for the additional suggestions. I appreciate the advice to skip Fairbanks and to focus on one area after taking a cruise in PWS boat tour.

I had a chance to talk with my 28 year old son who drove to Alaska (from Philly) and back again during his summer break (from teaching physics and biology). He strongly recommended spending time exploring the Kenai peninsula and didn't feel Fairbanks was worth seeing unless it was on our way to somewhere else. He did go to Denali but wasn't there long and was discouraged from taking the bus trip by other travelers. (And this kind son is going to bring me the guide books he used, including Frommer's.)

I think the people in our group will probably want to go to Denali NP for sure, but I am exploring the possibility of renting a car to see a bit of the Kenai peninsula and then going up to Denali - perhaps taking the train for that portion. I have looked at Frommers online and websites showing driving tours - paying close attention to the drive times and amount of time recommended for enjoying each place. It looks like we could do Seward, Anchorage, and Denali without too much difficulty in 4-5 days but that if we wanted to go to Homer or Kenai would probably need to add a day or two, so we'll see.

If we have to choose between the Kenai peninsula (my son's favorite place in Alaska after several weeks of driving, hiking and camping) and Denali, which would you choose? I think beautiful scenery, land mammals and birds, and the opportunity to spend a bit more time enjoying life in Alaska would be a top priority. I know that a preference for spending time in the Kenai area or Denali will vary from person to person, but your advice would be helpful. (I am sharing your input with the others in our group who are less likely to use this forum themselves....)

Several of us enjoy being able to stop and take photos so I thought it might be nice to have a rental car for part of the time rather than traveling from place to place by train. Any thoughts?

Budget Queen, you absolutely right about needing to check for availability of rental cars now, even though it seems so early to me.

Thanks again for your help!
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Old Nov 9th, 2008, 08:00 AM
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You son definately got wrong information, if he was discouraged from Denali Park??? It is an absolute highlight, interior Alaska and a top touring area. Also, the best bargain in Alaska for wildlife. Necessary is at least 2 nights there and the SHUTTLE bus, booked in advance to at least Eielson. You need a good pair of binoculars, at least 10 power, get wide angle, if interested in marine wildlife.

Seward also needs 2 days. Determine, how much time you actually have, it is a mistake to not plan out time and distance accurately. Although costly, it may make far better use of tight time to rent a one way car via Avis from Whittier with an Anchorage return. You would then have the ability to go direct to Seward. If after a PWS boat tour, then you can start your Seward day at 8am for a full day of tour options.

So my advice, get your timeframe FIRST and THEN get your plans in order. Make reservations when the entire routing and timeframe are complete.
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Old Nov 9th, 2008, 10:55 AM
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Sounds like good advice. And just to clarify, my son wasn't discouraged from going to Denali but heard lots of negatives about the bus that takes you into the park. And during the time he was in Denali, the weather made it impossible to see anything.

Interestingly, when I asked him about the mosquitoes, he said they were as bad or worse in Yellowstone. (His grand tour included the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and the Canadian Rockies as well as Denali and other national parks in Alaska so he had been seeing a lot of gorgeous scenery....)

We are definitely planning to go to Denali and spend 2 full days there. Friends of ours named their daughter Denali because they love the beauty of this part of Alaska.

Thanks!

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