Celebrity Millennium Alaska Cruise Part Four: Gold Rush and GlaciersSeptember 27, 2010 1 Comment
On Day Five of our Celebrity Millennium cruise to Alaska (continued from Part 3: Alaskan Ports Galore), we finally got to visit Skagway. For some reason, this recreated Gold Rush town had been at the top of Dad’s must-see Alaska list for years. I had actually been hired by phone for a summer job in Skagway a few years ago, but for a variety of reasons I wasn’t able to take the job. So we were both really excited to finally visit.
Klondike Gold Rush
We purposely decided against booking a tour in Skagway, opting to explore the easily walkable town on our own. Skagway lived and died by the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Located at the foot of the punishing White Pass, it served as a rest stop for gold prospectors on their way north to the Yukon gold fields. The rough and rugged town was run by con men and goodtime girls. Today Skagway’s primary industry is tourism, with most Alaska cruises stopping by. Most of the historic buildings have been restored.
Our first stop was the visitor center at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. We were just in time for a free walking tour led by a park ranger, so we skipped the free movie and got in line. The tour lasted about an hour and took us to some of Skagway’s most important historical points of interest. We learned a great deal about the Gold Rush and Skagway’s role in it.
After the tour, we stopped by the Eagles Hall to purchase tickets to the “Days of ’98 Show Starring Soapy Smith.” We still had a couple of hours before the show, so we headed for the Red Onion Saloon, where I would have been employed had I taken the job. Built in 1897, the Red Onion originally housed a pub downstairs with a brothel above. Today the pub serves up local specialties, while girls in period garb give tours of the recreated brothel.
Kids are welcome on the brothel tour, which has a strongly historic focus. But parents should be aware that the subject matter, prostitution in Gold Rush days, is handled honestly and matter-of-factly. The tour guides wear 1890s-style dresses, but a few nude photos of actual madams are scattered throughout.
Soon it was time for the “Days of ’98 Show.” The musical, which has been presented continuously since 1930, depicts the life of con man Jeff “Soapy” Smith. An underworld boss from Denver who followed the Gold Rush to Skagway, Soapy ran a theater as a front for his cons. The show depicts Soapy as an ultimately sympathetic character. Very conservative parents may not want to expose their children to the mildly bawdy performance, but there were kids of all ages in the audience, most of whom seemed to love the show.
Back on board, this was the second of two formal nights. Everyone donned their finest for dinner, although a significant portion changed clothes after the meal. We decided to stay dressed up while closing out the night at Cosmos. The further north we traveled, the more we got to experience the midnight sun. We couldn’t resist slipping out on deck late that night to sit and enjoy the views.
Icy Strait Point
Designed for cruise ships, Icy Strait Point was our port stop on Day Six. Located near the Tlingit village of Hoonah, Icy Strait Pont delivers “the Alaskan experience” in an easy-to-swallow chunk. The fishing museum, zip line tours and bonfire are all within easy walking distance. This is a tender port, meaning that we had to line up for small boats that transported us from the ship to the dock. Those with disabilities may have trouble tendering, as you and your party must be able to get you and your wheelchair down the stairs and onto the tender on your own. ECVs are not permitted on tenders at all.
Since the distance was short, Dad elected to walk using his cane. We wandered through the fishing museum and visitor center before discovering a short but visually stunning hiking trail. Just a few feet out onto the trail, we were in the middle of the wilderness! The easy, relatively flat path led to the beach.
Growing up in Florida, I’m used to hot, white sand beaches. The rocky terrain and freezing water was quite a shock! We each dipped a hand into the water to say we had done it, but I don’t see us becoming members of the Polar Bear Club anytime soon!
We stayed only a few hours in Icy Strait Point, and then headed back to the ship. After several days in a row of touring, it was nice to simply relax. We went to a wildlife talk by the ship’s naturalist and then spent the rest of the afternoon lounging on the Resort deck.
The naturalist had warned us that we would approach the Hubbard Glacier very early on Day Seven, so despite my distaste for early mornings I was out of bed by 6 a.m. Yawning and bleary-eyed, I bundled up before waking Dad. We were warned that the air temperature, which had been hovering in the upper 50s, would be about 20 degrees colder as we approached the glacier. Climate-controlled viewing was available in Cosmos, and the naturalist’s narration would be broadcast throughout the ship. But being Southerners determined to have an Alaskan adventure, we headed for the Resort deck.
Grabbing breakfast from the buffet restaurant, we headed outside to the large seating area at the ship’s stern, where a handful of people were gathering. What an experience, eating breakfast on the open deck just feet from one of Alaska’s most spectacular glaciers! As the narration began, the naturalist noted over the loudspeaker that while most cruisers sought warmth indoors, a few hardy souls could actually be found on the open deck. It was a pleasure to feel like part of the elite few!
The biggest shock for us was the water. Filled with not only chunks of ice, but silt and dirt, the “clear glacier water” was anything but. The naturalist drew our attention to sections of the glacier that were calving, or producing large chunks, and we sat open-mouthed as we marveled at the sights and sounds.
That night was the last night of the cruise, so we went to the obligatory debarkation talk. Most cruise lines now allow what is known as “self debarkation.” If you are able to handle all of your own luggage, then you can debark the ship at any time after the All Clear is sounded. Unfortunately, Celebrity didn’t offer this option on this particular cruise. Instead, everyone was assigned colored luggage tags according to cabin placement on the ship, and called for debarkation according to tag color. Those with early flights could arrange early debarkation at the purser’s desk.
Since Dad is disabled, we were placed in a separate debarkation group with strict instructions to meet at 10 a.m. Our bags had to be packed and left in the hallway by 11 p.m. Packing is my most hated part of any cruise, but we managed to get it done before dinner. The last dinner is always bittersweet, but it’s a great chance to say goodbye. Tipping is automatically added to your shipboard account, but some cruisers like to give a little extra to those who made their vacation magical. With that in mind, we tracked down our cabin stewardess, the waiter from the casual bistro, and the bartenders from the aft Resort deck bar and Cosmos. We said our goodbyes and discreetly handed over a few dollars each.
We had a little hiccup at debarkation. Somehow Dad had completely lost the key to his ECV, and we didn’t have a spare. We checked with Lost and Found and with our cabin stewardess, but it had not been turned in. Our quick-thinking stewardess suggested we call maintenance. The mechanic was able to bypass the ignition system and wire a simple on-off switch for the scooter. This was less secure than using a key, but enabled us to get the scooter off the ship. We tried to pay the mechanic, or at least tip him for his trouble, but he refused. We did write a nice note to Celebrity thanking him for his efforts.
Otherwise, debarkation was a breeze. We had just enough time to grab a quick breakfast from the buffet restaurant before meeting our group. The disabled group was debarked just after those with early flights, so there was virtually no line. The cruise port in Seward is extremely visitor-friendly, with representatives of the city’s tourist bureau on hand. We picked up a free map and got verbal directions to our hostel, and then retrieved our luggage. The hostel was just a few blocks away, so we decided to walk/roll rather than getting a taxi.
What We Learned and Tips for Parents
The second half of our cruise was just as exciting as the first. While we did not experience the highly personalized service and utter relaxation of a luxury cruise, our ship was packed full of high-energy activities and entertainment. We had to be more proactive in seeking out friendships and developing relationships than we would on a ship that held fewer people. However, the larger crowd gave us more potential friends to choose from.
The Celebrity cruise fit our lifestyle, and at no time did we ever feel like we missed out on anything by choosing an inexpensive inside cabin. But that’s because our focus was on meeting new people, seeing the sights and having adventures. If our goal had been relaxation, private time and peace, we probably wouldn’t have been happy with our choices. Your selection will ultimately be based on your budget and your goals for the cruise.
We saw dozens of kids around the ship and in port. They always seemed happily engaged in an activity, rather than simply roaming the ship in packs. Alaska’s low crime rate, status as a US state and mix of activities make it an excellent destination for kids of all ages. Most cruise lines offer kids’ programs, allowing families to renew bonds without spending every waking moment together. I would go back in a heartbeat with kids of any age.