Here's our family's takeaways from our recent cruise stops! Enjoy.
We rode the train from the airport. It wasn't too long of a walk, but it was some distance. The cost is only about $3 per person and it took less than an hour to get to the downtown station. That station is located about 8 blocks from pikes market and 3 blocks from our hotel.
Pikes Market - I agree with the reviews online that its a bit overrated, unfortunately. The structures are run down, possibly to preserve its original look, but as a tourist I found it dirty and unkempt. Lots of homeless milling around, though not vey aggressive. We found the original starbucks, which isn't inside the long market. The line wasn't long to get into and we snagged some "first starbucks" mugs. We had a couple of different seafood plates from the various vendors and, sadly, they were only just ok. This was probably the biggest let down.
The Monorail - Our trip thru Seattle coincided with the Folklife Festival at the space needle so we took the monorail over there. That was a nice festival that didn't cost anything to enter. We passed on the space needle ride because of the cost. I didn't see any lines of people so I think others were discouraged as well.
The distance from the Grand Hyatt to the cruise terminal was way too long so we snagged an Uber, best choice of the trip to this point. He got us there in 10 minutes and dropped us off right in front. The boarding process was better at this port than in Galveston. No need to stand in line for your key cards, they're already in the mail bin at your cabin door. We breezed right onto the ship at 1:30pm.
The Cruise: gets an 8/10 and here's why:
Port 1: Tracy Arms Fjord: This is an amazing trip down a scenic pass. It takes all day, going at a slow pace. U almost miss meals because every mountain and every waterfall is amazing. We spotted Orcas, Humpbacks, and seals on the way. There is a spotter on the ship and if you keep your tv tuned to the forward facing camera channel, she comes on whenever there's something out there.
PRO-TIP: Get a balcony room.
We had a balcony room so that worked out perfectly! The ship stopped fairly close to the glacier, our ship was even surrounded by many icebergs. Its a sight you won't get anywhere else.
Port 2: Skagway: We docked and had previously booked a jeep rental on our own. The city's downtown is about 1/2 mile's walk on a sidewalk next to a road hardly used. It was very safe, scenic, and easily done by most. Follow the crowds and you really can't take any wrong turns. The jeep rental company was ok (I'd rate them an 8/10). Their site indicated cb radios but we didn't have one. They also had a preloaded cd of information to listen as you drive along but our Jeep wouldn't pause/stop/ff/rewind any of the tracks. We turned the volume all the way down. We bought their insurance for $50, instead of providing our own. That saved us from having to do a pre and post vehicle inspection and possible hassle with any damage. The jeep is perfectly sized for a group of 5. Make sure you take your passports since you cross into Canada. The drive was amazing. When you get to Carcross, go over the lone bridge and make a left where you see a sign for Hospital/Police. It would be nice if they made better markings at this point because there's an awesome tourst information area there, with some shops. If you don't turn here, the small town ends pretty much right there. We saw other Jeeps just keep going straight another mile to Emerald Lake, which is beautiful and as far north as we ventured. On the way back, we stopped at a Suspension Bridge attraction a few miles south of Carcross. I think they wanted $40 per person entrance fee, just to talk on a suspension bridge. We decided that money would be better spent elsewhere so we didn't go in. Back in downtown Skagway, there's a bakery that makes flat bread donuts, definitely stop by and have one for just $7.
PRO-TIP: Take a cup or baggie with you, there are many waterfalls you can pull over at where you can grab a handful of gravel from its base. You never know what you'll get!
Port 3: Juneau: We booked, thru the ship, a helicopter tour. I believe the company's name was Tesco. From other's advice, we booked as late in the day as possible: 11:30am. That gave us time to shop in the morning, drop stuff off at the ship, and then find our excursion guide. When we found him in the designated area, he informed us that our trip had ben cancelled due to heavy fogs and drizzle in the area. I was down but not upset. He explained, in a great way, how safety and visibility were a priority. A shadier company could have taken our money and flown us in the fog but not these guys so I give them credit.
PRO-TIP: If you have an excursion cancelled, you can go to Guest Services and get a cash refund. We waited until our gratuities were charged, then got a cash refund for the rest.
Port 4: Ketchikan: Of all the ports, this one was my favorite and I recommend you take the same excursion as we did. Some months back, we booked a 2 hour flight-seeing excursion on our own thru Flight Wings. They have great reviews most anywhere you look online and absolutely deserve it. Once your ship docks, walk over to the large Visitors Center nearby. Next to it is a parking lot of vans and one is labeled with their logo. Its a nice short drive, about 10 minutes to the plane. Look for bald eagles all over the place. We boarded the float plane and off we went. Words wouldn't do the views any justice but trust me, it was amazing. We landed on a lake far into the mountains and explored for about 30 minutes. So many pictures! My sole complaint is that Ketchikan is a short port day. For us it was 7am-12:30pm. We felt rushed after the flight. One oddity I did notice is that there's a free shuttle van with a Walmart logo that comes to the pier. People got off with walmart bags. I bet trinket prices were better at Walmart.
PRO-TIP: Bring an empty bottle and snag some genuine Alaskan lake water. We also took back some twigs that had beaver teeth marks. You can't find those just anywhere back home.
Port 5: Victoria: We arrived late in the evening and only spent about 4 hours at this port. There is very very little to see on the pier. Basically 1 store. You'll need to board a bus - $15/pp or rent a cab to take you somewhere. We got off, looked at the one store, then back to the boat.
PRO-TIP: Check your dining time because on this day, everything was started (and finished) early! Plenty of people were wandering around looking for food because the dining room was closed.
Boarding was better in Seattle than other ports, not sure if Carnival is changing things.
Laundry was a bit slow and temporarily lost 2 blue jeans for about 3 hours.
The shows were great and they allow you to film and photograph, unlike before.
Lido had the chocolate lovers feast on an afternoon that I didn't go up there, still mad about that one.
The Platinum guest party was still great and open bar.
Cruise Director Jen was one of the more lively I've seen and wish more would take her lead and energy.
Dress in layers, as the temps absolutely changed +- 20 degrees. Be ready for showers.
Skagway had slightly cheaper souvenirs. Maybe 1-2 dollar difference than the other stops.
Take a credit card with no international fees so you don't get stuck with Canadian change across the border.
A point is taken for the weirdly short stops at Ketchikan and Victoria.
A point is taken for the lack of bargains at the onboard shops.