Whales, impeccable service, totem poles, hot tubs — here on Celebrity’s Millennium Southbound cruise.
No, you can’t see Russia from your window but you can see a lot more — and you won’t want to miss it. A trip on Celebrity Cruises’ Millennium is a treat one should take — for themselves, for their family, to renew their lust for life and marvel at the wonder of nature. It’s all there.
This was our fourth trip to the Last Frontier and our first on Celebrity. In both cases, it won’t be our last. While the Millennium is awesome (more on that later) the true star is Alaska. From our balcony we simply sat in awe as snow-capped mountains passed by. We wanted the Northern Lights to show up (nope) but the sun and its shadows presented a visual display especially at sunset, which was well past 9 p.m. The air was fresh, the scenery pristine and nature was all around and glorious.
The Mendenhall Glacier
The first day was blustery so we weren’t sure we could get close to the Mendenhall Glacier, which is almost 14 miles long and unfortunately receding. The captain made a valiant attempt to navigate the icy waters and then turned around. Suddenly, there was an opening and he reversed course to give us as close a view of this blue-tinged wonder as possible. Bravo to the captain and crew!
Alaska’s capital was our first stop as our group dispersed to explore. Some went up the Tram for a bird’s eye view of the port and a quick hike. Others went whale watching, visited a dog sled summer camp or panned for gold. We chose to get our land legs back and walked around the colorful town, checking out the many jewelry and souvenir shops and the infamous Red Dog Saloon, which has welcomed miners and their lady friends for food, drinks, honky-tonk piano playing and overall adult frivolity, for decades. Located on a prominent waterfront spot is King Crab Shack with giant crab legs cooking outside. We were tempted but the price of $70 for a pound of crab leg led us scurrying back to the ship’s restaurants.
Icy Strait Point
The Huna Tlingits have called Icy Strait Point home since the Little Ice Age and in the 1880’s it was populated by fur traders followed by schools, churches and shops. Around 1912 it was the home of the largest salmon packhouse in the territory producing a mind-boggling 152,505 cases year.
Icy Strait Point is the only privately owned cruise port in Alaska and is owned by about 1,350 Alaskan natives, many of whose ancestors were the original Tlingit settlers. It’s a beautiful little area where packhouses and canneries are now shops, restaurants and event rooms. The shops are less touristy, more authentic and you can get great selections of spices, art, jewelry and clothing not found elsewhere.
Instead of careening down the world’s largest zip rider (at a 1130-degree vertical feet, that’s taller than the Empire State Building), or kayaking on the mirror-calm waters, we opted for a local culinary experience with an elderly Tlingit woman delightfully reminiscing about her childhood, showing us pictures of an upright bear she saw that morning and fixing Halibut Italian sausage, salmon burgers and smoked salmon dip. A young man demonstrated the art of filleting a halibut and then we took a slice of halibut and salmon outside to grill. Delicious!
Skagway is cool. From the White Pass railroad to a “brothel” where the madams stick a leg outside the second-floor window, this center of the Klondike Gold Rush takes its somewhat shady past with a grain of salt and a bit of a giggle. The oncelawless town was the home of thieves, madams, shoot-outs and prospectors who only really found out how difficult it was to reach their goal when it was too far to turn back. More than 35,000 prospectors died (mostly from disease) and Gold Rush cemeteries can still be seen. The historic district is impressive with more than 100 buildings, including the 1899 Arctic Brotherhood Hall whose facade is covered with more than 8,800 bits of wood. Like we said, quirky!
We opted for a trip on the White Pass Scenic Railroad, a long scenic railroad with climate-controlled, old-fashioned rail cars (to flush the toilet, you have to use a pump). Oh what majestic beauty! The train took us through tunnels, over sky-high trestles going all the way up to the 2,865-foot summit of the White Pass. Trail highlights include Bridal Veil Valls, Inspiration Point, Dead Horse Gulch and a black cross memorializing two workers who were crushed by a falling boulder, which is still there. As the train slowly climbs its way up the mountain, you hear about the heroic efforts of railroad workers and miners as well as view waterfalls and take pictures at almost every turn. Travelgirl tip: Sit on the left side of the train; it’s more scenic.
Our final stop was the salmon capital of the world, Ketchikan. We chose the Best of Ketchikan by Land and Sea tour where we spied bald eagles on the boat ride, learned about how salmon was caught and processed (the workers were treated horribly) and, after a brief walk through the nation’s largest national forest, the Tongass National Forest (and the world’s largest temperate rainforest), on to the Saxman Native Village to view magnificent totem poles.
Our group of eight all chose different excursions with some coming back thrilled at seeing orca and humpback whales while others cuddled up to husky puppies or watched a lumberjack show. Many went kayaking while some simply explored on their own. Whether you are adventurous or more on the subdued side, there is an activity waiting for you at each port — even if it’s a restaurant with fresh salmon and a local beer.
Meet the Millennium
We boarded the Millennium in Seward for the seven-day Southbound Glacier cruise that ended in Vancouver. Other Alaska Celebrity cruise ships with different itineraries include the Solstice, Edge and Summit. All offer the amazing amenities found on any Celebrity ship.
The Millennium, which is being assigned to Asia after the season, has an occupancy of 2,218 and is one of the first cruise ships to receive a Four-Star rating by Forbes Travel Guide. We stayed in the AquaClass, which featured a private balcony, complimentary dining at the health-focused Blu and unlimited access to the Persian Garden, a private spa that featured a hammam, infrared and steam room. The cabin was roomy, but we would have preferred losing a few feet of stateroom for a few more in the shower, which was unbelievably small.
Nevertheless, there was a well-balanced list of activities to keep one busy, including gambling, yoga, wine tastings, sports, movies and contests such as Deal or No Deal. There were also plenty of quiet spots to read and have a morning coffee.
Two of the best parts of cruising are the food and entertainment. The Millennium had several restaurants including the Metropolitan, the main dining room, and Oceanview, the cafeteria-style eatery. Both, as well as the others, had a varied selection including glutenfree and vegetarian. The specialty restaurants lived up to their names with the Tuscan Grille offering Italian food and steaks.
Travelgirl tip: Order a quarter-size portion of pasta and then a terrific steak.
Sushi on Five offered traditional sushi and rolls as well as delectable dishes such as excellent miso soup, homemade lobster & shrimp wontons and lobster ramen. The real surprise, dare we say mind-bending, was Le Petit Chef. Sit down at the custom 3D table and meet Le Petite Chef, an animated character who pops up on your plate and table and explains the menu and its inspirations. It’s delightful and the food matches the inventiveness of the character.
The Martini Bar is another favorite. The master bartenders literally pour six flavors of martinis into 12 glasses at the same time. They do the same feat with three martini glasses situated on the bartender’s head and shoulders. By the way, the martinis are sublime.
We loved the intimate entertainment with a few musicians, or even a solo guitarist, playing but you could also enjoy loud and caffeinated Broadway-type shows as well as a very funny musician and Cirque de Soleil-type aerial team. In any event, there is plenty to do at night, including dancing, silent disco and karaoke with a live band.
Yes, on this trip you’ll see it all. You’ll witness breathtaking scenery, admire the heritage of the native populations as well as the colorful settlers who (semi) tamed Alaska. It’s about watching the sun set from a hot tub or the delighted faces of cruisers having the time of their lives. It’s quite a view — and it’s waiting for you.