Celebrity Millennium Alaska Cruise Part One: Traveling 5,000 Miles on Two Weeks’ Notice

Lisa Fritscher September 27, 2010 4 Comments

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Skagway, Alaska

Skagway, Alaska offers multiple forms of transport

My parents always meant to visit Alaska. They gathered tour books, visited websites, and even planned out a driving itinerary. Unfortunately, health issues and real-life concerns prevented them from living out their dream. After my mom passed away unexpectedly in 2004, at the age of 50, I moved in with my dad, who has some chronic health concerns. We travel full-time in an RV and I write about our experiences while he takes the photographs. I was determined that Dad would make it to Alaska, but the timing never seemed to be right. 

The Deal of a Lifetime 

Icy Strait Point Celebrity Millennium Cruise

The Celebrity Millennium was our ship of choice

That all changed at the end of May 2009. Dad and I were at a crossroads trying to plan out our summer. Nothing quite seemed to be working out. Then I got an email from Travel Zoo, an online service that compiles the best travel deals around the world. Celebrity Cruises was having a massive sale on their Alaska itineraries but for the best prices, we would need to leave in June. It took all of five minutes of discussion to realize that this was the opportunity of a lifetime. 

Dad was in the Navy years ago, and we knew that many cruise lines offered military rates for veterans. He called Celebrity directly and was offered a rate of $299 per person, plus taxes and port charges, for a 7-night Northbound Alaska cruise from Vancouver, BC to Seward, Alaska. The cruise would depart June 12, 2009. Dad’s disabled and uses a travel ECV for long distances, so we needed a handicapped cabin. We got the last one on the ship!

Planning and Packing in Two Weeks Flat
 

RV traveling

Living in an RV makes traveling simple

Living in an RV has a number of advantages. One of the biggest is that it’s significantly easier to shut down an RV than a house. We are members of the Thousand Trails RV camping system, and happened to be staying in a membership park near Orlando, FL. We also have a climate-controlled storage facility nearby. After making arrangements to store the RV in the storage lot at the campground, we started moving things that could be damaged by heat (CDs, DVDs, etc) into our storage unit. 

Since we would be traveling all that way, we couldn’t see hopping directly on a plane after the cruise. We decided to expand the trip by staying in youth hostels for an undetermined period of time following the cruise. We had airline credits from a cancelled trip the previous summer, so we booked Southwest one-way from Orlando to Seattle, with plans to use a combination of credits on Alaska Airlines and US Airways whenever we were ready to come back. 

We’re big fans of Rick Steves, the guru of independent travel in Europe, and we love exploring new places on a budget. So we ordered official Rick Steves luggage (a rolling suitcase for him and a backpack for me, both carryon sized, along with two smaller daypacks), with priority shipping. We wanted to be able to easily handle our own luggage on and off the ship and while traveling independently throughout Alaska. It took me several tries to pare down my clothing options, but we managed to make everything fit. One entire backpack was dedicated to Dad’s medications–since we didn’t know how long we would be gone, he took plenty of extra meds!

Time to Go Already?
 

ECV at Airport

The ECV makes a pretty good pack mule

Before we knew it, departure day was upon us. On June 11, 2009, we stored the RV and drove to the Hawthorne Suites near the Orlando Airport. We booked through parksleepfly.com, which gave us one night in the hotel and 30 days of free parking. If we needed more than 30 days, it would be $5 per night. 

Our flight departed at 9:35 a.m., so we took the free 7:30 a.m. airport shuttle from the hotel. I’m not a morning person at all, so I actually woke up sometime during the flight. We had an hour and a half layover in Chicago, and landed in Seattle at 3:15 p.m. local time. It was 6:15 Orlando time, and we were starving. But as it turns out, food would have to wait. 

Stairs Plus Scooter–Now What? 

ECV

It doesn't go up stairs too easily

We were booked at the Green Tortoise Hostel near Pioneer Square. Never having been to Seattle, this seemed like a perfect location for getting the feel of the city. Being a hostel, the price was right too, at $29 each for two beds in a mixed-gender dorm room. We caught the city bus from the airport and soon arrived at our destination. 

We opened the front door and found ourselves staring at a very steep stairway! There was no room to maneuver Dad’s ECV into the building, so parking downstairs was out of the question. Carrying the 80 pound scooter up those stairs was not happening either. I’m not sure why the hostel didn’t mention the stairs when we called to find out if they could accommodate the scooter, but there we were. Dad left the scooter and our luggage with me and went up to ask about a second entrance, but there was none. 

We walked–well, I walked, he rolled, to a nearby Starbucks and got online. Thankfully we carry our laptops everywhere. We finally found a Holiday Inn downtown for $150. Not quite as good a deal, but the hotel was beautiful and we were grateful to have somewhere to sleep! 

Seattle in an Evening 

Seattle Cruise Port Washington

The Seattle cruise port is pretty spectacular

We got settled and had some dinner, and then headed out to explore. While picking up a few items at the gas station behind the hotel, we realized that the Space Needle was just a couple of blocks away. We were exhausted by this point, having spent hours solving the lodging problem, but we were determined to see SOMETHING in the city. So we headed for the Space Needle. 

All I can say is wow! The view was absolutely spectacular! A museum at the top explained the history of the Needle as well as some Seattle history. It’s the kind of thing that I usually really enjoy, but I was honestly too exhausted to take much in. It was around 11 p.m. local time, 2 a.m. Orlando time, and we had been up since 5 a.m. We decided to call it a night, since we needed to be up early the next day to catch a train to Vancouver. 

What We Learned and Tips for Parents 

Celebrity Alaska Cruise Ship

An Alaska cruise is always worthwhile

We’re very fortunate to be able to travel on a whim, and I realize that most families have too many obligations to simply up and leave on two weeks’ notice. If you do happen to have that flexibility, there are many deals to be had. If not, then book as far in advance as possible. Cruise lines generally offer early booking discounts that are nearly as good as last minute deals. Your cruise fare is guaranteed not to go up, but if prices drop before your final payment date, you may be able to ask the cruise line to match the lower fare. 

Our struggles in Seattle made me realize the importance of backup plans, particularly when traveling with children. As two adults, we were able to drag ourselves and our luggage all over Seattle, but I would not want to put small children through that. When experimenting with independent lodging of any sort, whether a hostel, guest house or even small motel, I would recommend booking a chain hotel as a backup. Most chains allow you to cancel your reservation until 6 p.m. on the day of arrival at no charge, allowing you to check out your intended destination before making a final decision.

Read on in Part two of our Alaskan Cruise, Was the Deal too Good to Be True?

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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4 Comments to “Celebrity Millennium Alaska Cruise Part One: Traveling 5,000 Miles on Two Weeks’ Notice”
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