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I always equated the word "cruise" with boredom. Yet when the idea to take my parents on a surprise trip to Alaska arose, this seemed to be the perfect option. The main reason is that many Alaskan towns are accessible only via small plane or boat and, more importantly, most glaciers can't be seen from a car or highway. So, I did some research and settled on the cruise ship "Solstice," which is operated by the luxury cruise line Celebrity. Everything I imagined about a big cruise ship was true - endless amounts of delicious food, a lot of alcohol, a mostly older clientele and excellent service. The ship on which we traveled holds over 2,000 passengers, but much to my delight it never felt crowded. No long lines, no people shoving each other in walk ways. Just general peace, calm and amazing scenery and towns for seven days. Let's take a look!

1.  Cruise season to Alaska is very short, running only from the end of May - September. In the U.S., cruises mostly depart from Seattle, which makes a cross country plane ride necessary for East Coasters like me. The Solstice's maiden voyage was in 2008. The ship is impressive, holding about 2,800 passengers and over 1,500 crew members. Price tag for construction was close to a billion dollars!

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2. Upon arrival, a welcome basket filled with Celebrity branded champagne and fresh fruit. Given to all VIP's on the ship. This was my first cruise, but Celebrity was aware I would write about this trip. so they threw in some extra features and bonuses once onboard. The trip was entirely paid for out of my own pocket, but maybe they will send me somewhere else in the future. My wish - to Norway please, where I imagine the landscapes are very similar to Alaska.

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3. A few years ago, I took a Danube river cruise with a big group of family through Eastern Europe. The boat and rooms were much smaller. On this ship, a very large living space, complete with cozy bed, couch, TV and balcony. For a scenic location like Alaska, it's definitely worth the extra cost to have a private balcony. Of course, you can go to the big decks and view the natural landscapes just as easily, but it's much more comfortable to do it in privacy.

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4. The couch folds out into two twin beds, to accommodate more people in the room. So, it was very comfortable for my parents and me each night. Up to four adults could sleep in a room like this, and there are larger family rooms that accommodate many more passengers. My bed for seven days. Turned down each night by our friendly attendants!

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5. I can't say enough good things about the staff on this ship. Each passenger is treated like royalty from the moment they arrive, very personalized attention, called by your first name, and everything done with a pleasant attitude and smile. I especially loved our room attendants! So sweet - natives of Montenegro and the Philippines. Everyone working on the ship is from a foreign country, mostly the Philippines, India, or Eastern European countries. I didn't meet any Russians, but a few Ukrainians.

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6. Big bathroom, stocked with shelves, shampoos, soaps, lotions and plenty of room to move around. If you're traveling with kids, you will appreciate the wide-variety of free movies available in the evening, and each night when you return to your room from the port city a copy of "Celebrity Today" awaits you. The newspaper lists all activities for the following day, points of interest, possible excursions, etc. Easy to stay organized and not forget where you are, or where you're cruising to each day.

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7. The best part about this ship is that you spend very little time on it! Cruise time is mostly in the evenings, en route to the next port city. Two full days at sea - the first day sailing from Seattle to Ketchikan, Alaska and one fully day on the return back. On most days, you arrive at the Alaskan town around 7 a.m. and depart about 4 p.m., so you have a full day for exploration and activities like the float plane adventure I already showed you. Or, if you wish to be a vegetable, you can relax on the ship all day, read, gamble, eat, swim, so many onboard activities that there is no chance of boredom.

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8. Grand entrance to the ship's main hall, something straight out of Titanic, but not as fancy. :)

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9. Fellow passenger, a whole family wearing "Drunk" t-shirts. Classy! I don't understand why you would pay so much money to sit on a cruise ship and get drunk each day, but I guess for some people this is an exotic vacation. Basic drinks like coffee, tea and juices are included in the price of the cruise ticket. However, sodas and alcohol are completely separate and I believe one of the main sources of income for the ship. For those who drink a lot, alcohol packages are available, starting from $60 USD/per night. Over the week, for a couple or family, this adds up quickly.

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10. I didn't venture all the way to Alaska to get drunk, but too look at the beautiful scenery! From the cruise ship, there is a never ending display of majestic sights, particularly on the day you cruise through the "Inside Passage." Just sit on the balcony and stare in amazement. A constant stream of waterfalls, mountains and crystal clear waters.

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11.  Sorry, somehow I deleted the photos I took from the balcony while cruising through the Inside Passage, so iPhone pics will have to suffice. This is an incredibly scenic part of the cruise route, just drop dead gorgeous for nature lovers. Pictures will never do it justice. The Inside Passage starts in Puget Sound in Washington State, then extends north along the British Columbia Coast and then the Alaskan Panhandle. The Alaska portion consists of over 1,000 islands, 24,000 km of shoreline and thousands of coves and bays.
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12. Lonely chunk of clear, blue ice, separated from the iceberg to which it was previously attached. Sad to travel this route and see so many of the icebergs are melting away, out of sight from the eyes of future generations.

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13. When you're not viewing the scenery outside, you can relax in numerous parts of the ship, including a library stocked with hundreds of books.

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14. Or, sit in freezing temperatures and expose your over extended belly. :)

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15. Of course, food is a major part of any cruise. Almost any type of cuisine is available at your fingertips, and a variety of dining options exist. You can eat at a large buffet at any time - breakfast, lunch, dinner or midnight snack - and choose from eclectic, well-prepared foods. Everything from Asian, Indian, African to basic burger and fries. I met this woman from Zimbabwe there, making my pasta with such enthusiasm. Hello to you Faith! She is now sailing in warmer waters, as the Solstice departed for the hot climate of the South Pacific after the Alaska cruise season ended. It's now carrying passengers through Australia - another beautiful and massive country!

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16. On most days, I ate breakfast at the buffet, skipped lunch because we were busy exploring a city or nature while docked, and then boarded the ship again in the evening and had a very nice dinner in the formal dining area each night. We always sat in the top section, away from the crowds, at a corner table with a window.

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17. Huge selection of wines, by the end of the cruise all of these slots were empty! A lot of people enjoyed bottles of wine each night with their main meal.

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18. Every night, you have 8 - 10 choices for your main meal! Amazing the amounts of food this cruise ship puts out each day. Left side of the menu consists of "Celebrity Favorites," available each night for dinner. The right side selection changes every night, with different appetizers, desserts and main courses.

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19. Some examples of the meals. So tasty, of course I was indulgent for the entire week. Why not? If you're paying for all this luxury, you should enjoy it for the seven days you're on board. Then suffer afterward, with a return to the diet. :)

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20. Our energetic server from the Philippines! Amazing guy, full of energy, and remembering almost everything about us after only one day. For instance, no dressing on my salad, I always ordered French onion soup, and one night when I couldn't pick which dessert I wanted, he brought both. Excellent service from everyone on this ship, from the room attendants, pursers, waiters and busboys.

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21. On most days, the weather was rainy and freezing, but there's a nice outdoor cafe you can sit at, drink tea or beer, and watch the landscapes go by.

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22. During a private tour of the galley and kitchen, we learned astounding facts! The cooks prepare over 15,000 meals per day, helpers wash over 20,000 pieces of china per hour, and the crew works 10 hour days/7 days a week while sailing. The colored scarves worn by the cooks designate their skill level (sous chef to main chef, salad or vegetable chopper, etc.). All of this staff is managed by one man - a tough New Yorker and master chef who guided us through the kitchen.

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23. All products, from produce to meat, are sourced locally depending on the route on which the cruise is traveling. For Alaska, all fish comes from Alaska, all vegetables and fruits come from within a 150 mile radius of Seattle, the city of embarkation. The beef on this ship is sourced from the ranches of Nebraska and Wyoming. When the ship sets sail for Australia and the South Pacific, all food will be sourced from this vicinity.

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24. Artists have many muses and canvases, including fruit! The staff all share living quaters, mostly in the bottom of the ship, with their own cafes and dining hall. Dormitory style, with three to four people per room. Working and living with the same people during all hours of the day seems exhausting, but I think it takes a special personality to work on one of these ships. You have to really love people to survive in this line of work. The cruise ship coordinates with local recruitment offices in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America to locate personnel. Stringent interview process occurs, background checks, and then employees (mostly from lower income countries) board the ship and begin earning salaries that are considered very high for their country of origin. A prestigious profession for many.

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25. If you wish to escape the crowds of the main dining area, you can book a table at a more intimate restaurant on the ship, but it will cost extra. There are four specialty restaurants and we were invited to dine at the Tuscan Grille for free. The restaurant offers a lot of steak dishes, fish, and more individualized service. Cost is $30 USD per person. I don't see the need to eat at these places honestly, when there is such a diverse choice of high quality meals you can eat for free.
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26. Romantic view! But on this journey, I was with my parents, so romance was not on my mind. :) I guess it's the main benefit of paying extra for the specialty restaurants, the ability to have more privacy with your loved one while dining.

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27. A few more photos of the ship. Nice walking path to exercise off all the pounds gained from the food. However, the weather on this cruise is very cold, rainy and windy, so few people ever used the path. There's also a fully stocked gym on board, where you can work-out in more comfort and warmer temperatures.

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28. The Solstice has many viewing decks. The higher you go, the more you will feel like you're in a hurricane while sailing. Fierce winds, but the best views from the top if you can tolerate the cold, which I can! I know many people are scared of cruise ships because they're germophobes, but everything is immaculately clean. When you enter any dining hall, even the main and formal area, someone is standing there with anti-bacterial sanitizers, pumping it on your hands. A requirement for entry and to be fed.

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29. From one of the high decks, we viewed the Sawyer Glacier! The first time I ever laid eyes on one of these frozen beauties! It sits in the Tracy Arm fjord, close to Alaska's capital city of Juneau. The cruise ship navigates very close to the glacier, requiring immense skill from the captain to finesse a huge vessel in such narrow waters. But all passengers appreciated the effort!

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30. One of my favorite photos from the trip! We were completely numb from the winds and rain, but an experience I'll never forget. I can't believe that some people actually sat in their rooms and missed this scenery for fear of getting chills for a brief period of time.

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31. After this, it was necessary to warm up! So, we went and watched one of the extravagant shows in the cruise ship theatre. Each night, an elaborate production of dance numbers, singers, and high tech performances. Near the end of the cruise, we were treated to a Cirque du Soleil type show, complete with Eastern European acrobats and jugglers! My favorite entertainment on board had nothing to do with the fancy productions, but instead the basic lectures given by renowned National Geographic lecturer Brent Nixon, who is a resident guest on the Solstice. He told us all about the ecosystems of Alaska, glacial ice, whale migrations, any type of nature you can imagine. Remarkable man, and a big highlight of the time I actually spent on the ship.

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32. Another novelty on this ship is a daily performance by some of the top glassblowers in the world. The show is sponsored and hosted by the Corning Museum of Glass, and you watch the whole creation from the very beginning, narrated by the artisan performing the blowjob. :) After the glass creations cool, they are offered for sale at auction on the cruise ship.

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33. Part of the ship functions as a shopping mall, selling t-shirts, sweatshirts, perfumes, expensive jewelry, etc. I don't like to shop, even on land, so I spent time in this area only in passing.

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34. For all of the engineering and mechanical nerds, you can view the operations of the cruise ship and speak with the captain and other people who make the ship work and reach each port. Almost all of the engineering and mechanical staff, including the captain, are Greek. I think there's some specialty training school in the county for maritime operators, and I remember almost nothing about the specifics of the engine, horsepower, fuel, etc. Sorry. I only know that a special type of fuel is required when sailing in Alaska, due to strict environmental protection concerns. Here, my dad was in heaven! Listening to every detail about how the ship operates, and playing with all the buttons and controls as a child. Boys will be boys, no matter the age! :) Almost all of the engineers started on cargo vessels, or previously were Naval Officers in their home country.

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35. The main goal of this trip was to do something nice for my parents, who have always loved me unconditionally and provided so much support and guidance in life. Overall, remarkable, good and kind human beings. Mission accomplished! It was a family journey I'll never forget.

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Now quickly about cost, per person:

Airfare from Washington, DC to Seattle: $550 USD
Cruise: Including all taxes, port fees, etc. it equaled about $1,500 per person for the entire week

So, you can see it's not so expensive, considering you have accommodations each night, endless entertainment, all meals covered, etc. There's some comfort in not having to pack or carry your suitcase from city to city, of resting in the same bed for a week, and not having to pay or search for hotels in a place like Alaska, where lodging is very expensive and sparse. The main cost of the cruise is the exciting excursions once you reach the port cities. None of these - the floatplane, helicopter rides, dog sledding, glacier walking, etc. is included in the price. In the next post, I'll tell you about the very scenic train journey we took from Skagway, Alaska to the Yukon Territory of Canada. Worth every penny!

I can't imagine taking a cruise ship to a place like the Caribbean, where you are mostly in open seas the whole time, with very boring views of only the ocean. My impression is that those cruises are mostly for party animals, whereas the Alaska cruises are targeted to nature enthusiasts and families, who wish to be inspired by the natural beauty of one of America's most mysterious and remote States. In this environment, there is no chance of boredom, and the port cities are all interesting and unique. I'll tell you more about them in future posts. And I should mention that if you can't survive without Internet or constantly checking your mobile device, this cruise is not for you because the connection is almost never available (even in port cities), and Wifi on the ship is very expensive.

Have you been on a big cruise ship like this? Have questions about life on the ship? Just ask, I'll try to answer. :)

Other Stories from Alaska

Float Plane Adventure in the Alaskan Wilderness

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Comments

( 113 comments — Leave a comment )
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agathpher
Feb. 19th, 2015 03:35 pm (UTC)
$1500 per person seems extremely cheap - what time of year was it?
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:56 pm (UTC)
We went at the end of August, but this is the standard price. You can get even cheaper if you want to go in May, or stay in a basic room with no window or balcony. Those are under $1,000 USD for a week. If you're coming from the East Coast, you also get a small discount because you have to pay for expensive flights to Seattle. The main thing is to do research, and book as late as possible because prices decrease closer to the departure date if there are still a lot of vacancies. I think it's unusual, as the ships to Alaska almost always sell out. For instance, it was cheaper for us to travel on this luxury cruise line than the more modest sister company, Royal Caribbean. You should explore all options, because it could be possible to be on a much nicer ship, for a cheaper price depending on cruise dates.
pin_gwin
Feb. 19th, 2015 03:37 pm (UTC)
Impressive luxury and great pictures!
I did not take cruises, however I know from my friends and my personal observations in Mexico how it goes in Caribbean. Most of the moves are done at nights, at daytime they stay at ports, giving passengers an opportunity to travel around. So, it's like a hotel, changing ports daily. And they also not that long.
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 05:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Impressive luxury and great pictures!
Usually when I'm traveling, I'm on the road and in a different hotel each night, packing and unpacking things constantly. So, this was one nice thing about the ship. You are moving from place to place, but never tugging your suitcase everywhere. I'm not happy with my pictures, I lost some really good ones of the scenery when I accidentally deleted them. :(( But, I'm glad you found them impressive! :)
Re: Impressive luxury and great pictures! - pin_gwin - Feb. 19th, 2015 07:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
livejournal
Feb. 19th, 2015 03:40 pm (UTC)
Cruising through Alaska - All Aboard the Celebrity Solstice!
User hi_again referenced to your post from Cruising through Alaska - All Aboard the Celebrity Solstice! saying: [...] Originally posted by at Cruising through Alaska - All Aboard the Celebrity Solstice! [...]
roman_dochkin
Feb. 19th, 2015 03:45 pm (UTC)
Very, very, very interesting post!
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
(no subject) - roman_dochkin - Feb. 19th, 2015 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
livejournal
Feb. 19th, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC)
Cruising through Alaska - All Aboard the Celebrity Solstice!
User roman_dochkin referenced to your post from Cruising through Alaska - All Aboard the Celebrity Solstice! saying: [...] Оригинал взят у в Cruising through Alaska - All Aboard the Celebrity Solstice! [...]
juan_gandhi
Feb. 19th, 2015 03:52 pm (UTC)
Looks pretty impressive, and inexpensive. So, you did not even have to get to a smaller boat to approach the glaciers? Interesting. I saw in Whittier, people are debarking to go on a glacier trip in a small boat.
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:57 pm (UTC)
No, I did not book that excursion. :( It was a big regret because it would have been cool to get even closer. We were supposed to do a helicopter ride, landing on a different glacier, but unfortunately it was canceled due to bad weather.
imur
Feb. 19th, 2015 03:54 pm (UTC)
Wow! Very interesting post! Thank you! Now I want to do Alaskan cruise too:)))
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:58 pm (UTC)
It's worth it! So beautiful there. Next time I visit, I want to explore more remote places, and the native people living near the Arctic. So, this was merely an introduction to the State, more adventures await me there. :)
barabaan
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:12 pm (UTC)

very interesting, thanks for sharing. Author, write more☺

peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:59 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it! Oh, I wish I could write more, but time is very limited with my lawyer job. :(
qi_tronic
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:26 pm (UTC)
This post should be called Americans exploiting poor guys from around the world...
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:40 pm (UTC)
Well, there were a lot of different passengers on this ship, not only Americans. :) I met Canadians, Australians, Japanese...and there is no exploitation. They earn a good living. This is their job - to serve passengers. I used to be a waitress, and did the same work earning much less in income.
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Feb. 19th, 2015 04:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Feb. 19th, 2015 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
notabler
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:29 pm (UTC)
It's just amazing post, the poshest one in your blog, I think. :) I am very impressed. Particularly by price. I believe, a similar cruise in UK costs at least twice more. It was a perfect journey with your family. I hope this company will award you with a free trip next time for this post. I would )))
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 05:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words, Nadia! :) It's very economical to cruise to Alaska, I think because the excursions are so expensive, so they give people a break on the cost of the cruise. The helicopter rides to glaciers and float plane adventures are around $300 - $400 per person, so this adds up quickly, esp. for families traveling with children.
anna_sollanna
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:33 pm (UTC)
I've been a couple of times on Silja Line's cruise ships, they are much smaller than your "Celebrity Solstice" and they look like this:
Btw it looks like the "Celebrity Solstice" is bigger than Titanic, isn't it?
The wine bar is very impressive, sanitizers and local food are IMHO a very good idea.
As for a National Geographic lecturer I definitely would have preferred him, not circus shows. (Btw did he tell you why those beautiful blue glacier are so unreal blue?) And I'd be delighted to look at the ship's insides.
> the connection is almost never available (even in port cities), and Wifi on the ship is very expensive
Why? Because it is routed through satellites?
genka8
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:47 pm (UTC)
As far as the modern cruise whips go, Titanic is fairly small.
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Feb. 19th, 2015 05:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Feb. 19th, 2015 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anna_sollanna - Feb. 20th, 2015 01:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Feb. 20th, 2015 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anna_sollanna - Feb. 23rd, 2015 09:09 am (UTC) - Expand
genka8
Feb. 19th, 2015 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks, your post gives a good impression about Alaskan cruises. Your parents certainly look happy! I disagree about the Caribbean cruises. They are good for escaping a cold weather like we have now. I went on an 8 night cruise a month ago, we only had 3 days at see, and they were not boring at all. In tropics you could stay outside all day, enjoying all the features the ship had to offer.
I also don't understand these expensive alcohol packages offered on the ships. One needs to have at least 5 drinks every day to come ahead. If the goal is to get drunk daily, why bother going anywhere at all?

Edited at 2015-02-19 04:51 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 05:11 pm (UTC)
I hate hot climates, that's why I have no desire to cruise to the Caribbean, but I understand it's an attractive destination for a lot of people. I once did a day cruise to the Bahamas from Florida, and hated it. think the cruise reps sometimes try to scare people about the cost of alcohol, bottled water, etc., so they buy those packages as a result. I agree it's not worth the cost, unless you are an extreme drunk, wishing to drink 10 - 20 drinks a day. We had only one bottle of wine the entire cruise, and paid nothing for other drinks, as coffee, tea and water were sufficient for us.
dubovich
Feb. 19th, 2015 05:03 pm (UTC)
Very interesting article, Shannon, thank you! I never was a huge fan of cruises for the reason that it seemed boring to be on the ship for the entire day. Now, however, I think that we should give it a try.
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 05:12 pm (UTC)
I think it depends on the destination, and the ship. :) For most of the Alaskan cruises, you aren't sailing far out at sea except the first day departing from Seattle, and on the last night back. So, you're very close to mountains, waterfalls and wonderful views for most of the time.
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Feb. 19th, 2015 05:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dubovich - Feb. 19th, 2015 05:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Feb. 19th, 2015 05:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
a_nimaida
Feb. 19th, 2015 05:44 pm (UTC)
very good!

  few photos of nature, they liked best!
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 05:45 pm (UTC)
I will have a lot of pictures of Alaskan nature in the next post. More to come...! :)
(no subject) - a_nimaida - Feb. 20th, 2015 04:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
wlamer_1969
Feb. 19th, 2015 06:04 pm (UTC)
Красиво. Ты заходи, если што.
peacetraveler22
Feb. 19th, 2015 06:24 pm (UTC)
Большое спасибо!
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