Alaska cruise Vancouver to Sitka
May 27 - June 7 2022
American Queen Voyages - Ocean Victory
American Queen Voyages includes a pre-cruise hotel night at the starting city with all of their cruises. I think this is wonderful since I always recommend getting in at least a day prior to the cruise. Besides relieving some travel stress having the day before gives you time to explore the city where your trip starts. Our cruise started in Vancouver however when looking at flights I found much better options for flying into Seattle. I had always wanted to take the train from Seattle to Vancouver so I thought this was perfect. However I was disappointed when arriving at the train station to find that due to staffing shortages the train wasn't running so they were taking us by bus. Let me just say it was a not pleasant surprise. The bus took twice as long and requires everyone to get off the bus and get their bags to go over the border. I do not recommend the bus.
We made our way to the pre cruise hotel which was the Hyatt Regency Vancouver. It was a great hotel conveniently located not too far from the port with plenty of things in walking distance. Transfers to the ship were included but they were in the afternoon so we had the morning to explore. I realized the nice part about the later transfer was the port was pretty empty even though there were quite a few big ships also leaving the same day. We boarded our ship and explored a bit before it was time for the safety drill and and sail away.
Day 1 and 2 - Inside Passage and scenic cruising
Our first 2 days were sea days where we learned what was to come on our cruise. We got to see the mud room and request boots and raingear if needed. We also learned about the zodiacs and what wildlife we might see along the way. There was a leader from the Tlingit tribe onboard that gave a few talks about life in Alaska.
Day 3 - Ketchikan, AK
We made our fist stop which was Ketchikan. I have been there a couple times on bigger ships and was a little disappointed that our small ship that can go places the big ones can't was stopping here. We were also docked at the port that is a bit of a ways out of town so we had to rely on shuttles to get into town and back to the ship. There were a few big ships docked right in town so it was a bit crowded, but not as crowded as I have seen in before covid. The cruise did include an excursion which was a city highlights tour but since I have been there before I chose to skip that. There were also some premium excursions available for book for a fee but none of those appealed to me. It was just nice to wander around town, grab some lunch, and do some shopping.
Day 4 - Misty Fjords
This is what I have been waiting for - an expedition day! We started out with a zodiac ride and got really lucky to have an Orca go past us rather close to our boat. After lunch it was time to kayak! They were keeping us travel agents together so our kayaking group was a big larger than the other groups so it took quite a bit of time to get everyone out on the water but it was a nice paddle. Misty Fjords is almost 2.2 million acres of National Monument Wilderness so it is a wonderful protected area for spotting wildlife. I had been to Misty Fjords on my first Alaska cruise but it was via floatplane from Ketchikan so it was nice to go back and spend time on the water.
Day 5 - Wrangell Island, AK
We are on land again but this time in a cute small town that the big ships cannot stop at. It is the 3rd oldest town in Alaska. There was an included heritage tour along with some premium excursions for purchase. We opted to explore town on our own. We found a little pizza shop for lunch that has the most delicious crust I think I have had. Everyone in town was super friendly and genuinely seemed happy to have us. One local even said that the residents of Wrangell are the friendliest of all Alaska. There was a Petroglyph Beach that was an easy walking distance so we headed there to check out some of the carved rocks.
Day 6 - Bay of Pillars
Another expedition day. We started with kayak in the morning and this time they split our group up so the more experienced paddlers got to do a bit more. We came across a bunch of otters and I loved watching them watching us. After lunch we did a zodiac ride but didn't really see much of anything new. It was still fun just to be out on the water. Alaska's cruise season is rather short from May - September but there are big differences in what you will see based on when you visit. In May and early June you will see a lot of snow topped mountains and floating ice but you also have a lot of melting snow creating lots of amazing waterfalls. We got to see a lot of them on this cruise some of which looked like they started miles above of us as we looked up from the zodiacs. Mid June - July is salmon running season so that the time go if you want to see them and the bears grabbing them out of the water. June and July also tend to be the rainiest and most crowded though. August tends to offer nice weather and usually clearer skies so if you are looking for those photos filled with flowers and mountain tops instead of clouds August can be better. You can spot wildlife anytime you visit though.
Day 7 - Petersburg, AK
On land again, and our first really rainy day (we got really lucky with the weather since SE Alaska is part of a temperate rainforest you usually have rain every day). This is another town the big ships cannot get to so it was nice to enjoy the small town vibe again. This town was founded back in 1910 by a Norwegian and it turned out a lot of people from Norway ended up joining him here so you almost felt like you were in Norway when walking around. I have always thought Alaska and Norway were very similar. There was the usual included excursion and a couple premium options. One of the premium was a sport fishing experience. I did not try it but it did sound like a fun an adventure. The Sons of Norway Hall is where you can experience a bit of the culture from Alaska's Little Norway. Here we were treated to a private dance from the local kids and tried a few local pastries. It was a cute experience.
Shortly after leaving Petersburg our expedition leader, Jess, announced that there were some Orca off the front of the ship. What I love about expedition cruises is the Captain can decide to stop or change course if we spot some wildlife. While keeping a safe distance away our ship pretty much sopped and allowed us to watch these playful Orcas for over an hour! It really was the highlight of the trip for me. We later found out it was 3 pods of resident Orcas that were pretty much just playing around and showing off for us. They were rolling around, tail flapping and spy-hopping (term for when they pop their head out of the water like the photo below). Then just as the ship decided to turn around and get back on our way one Orca decide to breach! I of course had walked right to the back of the ship as soon as we started sailing away so I could watch these guys as long as possible so I had a perfect view of it. One thing I have learned from 4 visits to Alaska is that trying to capture the perfect photo means you really do miss out on just enjoying yourself so I did not have a camera out at all and totally loved just watching!
Day 8 - Tracy Arm
This was our last expedition day (if you ask me they need to add more expedition time if they really want to call this cruise an expedition) Today we were going to be getting close to a glacier. Unfortunately not by kayak though. Today was zodiac only. Our group got really lucky and we saw a lot of calving with some humongous pieces falling off the glacier while watched. Our guide said the one piece was probably as big as a 2 story building. It sounds like thunder when it happens and then you will feel the waves is creates as it crashes into the water. You cannot get too close to the glacier due to this but our zodiac drivers were always within safe distance. We also saw some momma and baby seals but not as many as I saw last year in this area.
Day 9 - Kake, AK
Well this was supposed to be our last stop but unfortunately we were not able to go on shore. They did bring some locals onboard to talk and perform for us though. Kake is a tribal village and 70% of the residents are of Tlingit heritage. This is the location of the tallest totem ever carved from a single tree. We could see if from the ship but it was a bummer not to get to stand in front of it.
Day 10 - Sitka
Sitka is where our cruise ended. You could choose from a couple premium excursions here all of which pretty much got you to the airport. There are a couple of hotels in town so if you wanted to enjoy Sitka a little more you could stay over. The airport is very small so not a lot of flight options so that could be another reason to stay over a night. I however opted for a long day of traveling to get home. We flew out of Sitka to Seattle and then had a few hours before our red-eye flight back home which connected in Philly before getting us back to FL. It was pretty much 24 hours of traveling. This is why it can be easier to get to Europe from the East Coast instead of Alaska. It was a wonderful cruise though so well worth the time to get there.
Overall Cruise rating
Ship - 5 Stars. Beautiful small luxury ship with all the extras needed for expedition.
Food - 3 Stars. This was a tough one for me because for a luxury cruise I just do not feel like the food was up to that standard and if you know me you know I am not a foodie person. The only reason I even give it 3 stars was because there was an option to order steak and lobster for dinner every night. I am hoping part of the food issues were from supply chain problems. I really hope they will start including local foods and more variety.
Excursions - 2 Stars. I think this is an area they really need to work on if they want to be an expedition cruise. There just was not enough expedition time. They need to add some hikes, bushwhacking, and beachcombing. The culture excursions are nice for an expedition there has to be as much adventure as culture.
Ports - 4 Stars. I loved the 2 small towns we stopped in. I also understand that things happen so while is was a bummer to miss one port that can happen on any cruise. I would avoid the big port like Ketchikan and instead build in some time to get to on land on uninhabited islands.
Crew - 4 Stars. I would love to give them 5 stars however there was still a bit of learning to do. Plus I also know there are shortages thanks to covid so that definitely played a part in the service. The dining staff were always eager to please but without enough of them things were a little slow. The guides onboard were friendly and knowledgeable.
I would definitely recommend this cruise. As a brand new ship and new destination for American Queen Voyages I do think they have some things to work on but it was a true luxury small ship experience in Alaska which is hard to find. I also believe they will improve on the things that were lacking.
Ocean Victory is a new and very unique looking ship that was built for sailing in cold waters. Ocean Victory started her first year down in Antarctica sailing for Albatros Expeditions. Then American Queen Voyages took over when she headed north to Alaska. American Queen Voyages is known for its iconic looking paddlewheel boats that sail the rivers of the US but they are branching out into more adventurous waters with Alaska on Ocean Victory. For the half the year that American Queen Voyages is running the ship they are offering one way sailings from Vancouver to Sitka and reverse. I will talk more about the cruise portion in my trip report. Today let's just talk about the ship.
Ocean Victory is a brand new build and really is one of the most modern small ship vessels in the market. I am going to break this report into 3 sections - Technical Details, Staterooms, and Public Spaces.
The vessel is part of a brand new generation of low-energy vessels, with 4 diesel engines and 2 electro engines, all controlled electronically to optimize speed and fuel consumption.
The stateroom was definitely the most luxurious room I have had on an expedition ship. Of course being a brand new build helps with that since the other expedition ships I have been on have been older ships. The bathroom was a nice size with walk in shower but the best feature was the heated floor! The ship has no single-use plastics onboard so do not expect to find any take home toiletries. They do have the shampoo and body wash caddies in the shower that most cruise ships and hotels are using now. I am used to expedition ships not offering fancy toiletries so I knew to bring my own stuff but some guests did not.
The room could be set up as 2 twins or the bed put together just like most ships. I found the bed to be comfy but I will say 2 of the 4 pillows were the hardest pillows I have ever felt. There is a large TV that even offered a nice selection of movies and tv shows to watch. Most expedition ships do not have TVs in the room or if they do the TVs only play things like video from the underwater camera on the ship. Honestly on my other expeditions there just wasn't really time for tv watching but this one was a bit different (more on that in my trip report to come next).
There is also a couch and desk area with plenty of space and then the door out to the balcony. My room was one of the ones that could sleep 3 so the couch could turn into a bed (more child size I would think). Rooms also include things like binoculars, hair dryer, and a mini fridge. The sockets might seem like they won't work for your plugs but pretty much most things were fine without a converter. The things we heard that were not compatible with the room sockets were hair styling things.
I did get to tour a few other stateroom categories and to be honest they are all very similar. The suites of course are larger but that was about the only difference.
For a small ship Ocean Victory actually has a lot of public spaces. There are 6 decks of guest area and there is an elevator to get to most floors. I am going to start from the top down.
Ocean Victory really offers a premium experience for an expedition cruise. If you want to get out into nature on your vacation but don't want to rough it this is the ship for you. I would call it the glamping of the seas. If you are ready to explore Alaska or Antarctica on this beautiful ship just let me know.
If you are like I was the first time I was going on an Alaska cruise you might only be used to packing for tropical weather on a cruise. I really wasn't sure where to start but now I have been so many times I feel sort of like a pro so here are my tips. Of course sticking to your normal packing list will work - yes even your bathing suit since the ship will most likely have a pool and/or hot tub. Some cruises even offer the chance to do a polar plunge if you are crazy enough.
When I board a cruise ship the first place I like to head is the Spa. Well sometimes I grab lunch first but I always get to the spa early on embarkation day. This is the time when you can tour the spa and check out everything they have to offer. Sometimes they even have a spa raffle you can enter when you do the tour. The thing I want to see most in the spa is the Thermal Suite! If you haven't been to this amazing area on a ship before you are missing out.
Almost all cruise ship spas will have some type of thermal suite. They might call it something else, such as Disney calls theirs the Rainforest Room or Princess calls it the Enclave. Whatever they call it, the thermal suite is an area of the spa where guests can relax and do a little self care on their own. In the past few months I have been lucky enough to sail on a few different ships and try out each of their thermal suites.
What will you find in a Thermal Suite?
First off I will say they are co-ed so you will find everyone wearing bathing suits.
While it varies from ship to ship most thermal suites will usually have at least a steam room, sauna, and aromatherapy showers. Many now have a salt room too.
Some offer hot tubs and/or cool tubs (yep cool water actually feels nice after the steam room or sauna). If you are lucky they will have a thalassotherapy pool - these are a bit different than a hot tub as they are larger, use saltwater, the jets are stronger, and they usually have a full body size reclining seat in the water. I really enjoyed the one in The Enclave on Princess Sky. Disney Dream and Fantasy have 2 hot tubs on an open air deck portion of the Rainforest room which I also really enjoy.
Some of the more unique things I have found in thermal suites are the mud room on Virgin and the snow room on MSC and NCL. I can't say that I am normally a fan of mud or snow but it was fun to try them out in the spa. I also really liked the crystal room on Celebrity Apex.
After you've experienced some of the features you will want to just relax and enjoy the zen feeling so most will have some type of heated lounger that you can just melt into. These are usually my favorite. I say usually because I was not a fan of the heated seating in Virgin's spa. Some ships place their thermal suite in really nice locations like Celebrity Apex which was at the very front of an upper deck so your view from the heated loungers was amazing, especially around sunset! The thermal suite on Apex also had nice big window views from the sauna and hanging chairs so there are lots of places to relax and enjoy the view. Not all thermal suites will be in a location with a view which isn't bad either. I kind of liked the darker quiet feeling of the Enclave on Sky Princess which is in interior area of a lower deck.
How do you access the Thermal Suite?
Some spas will give you time in the Thermal Suite before or after a booked treatment.
If you are not planning to book any spa treatments you can usually book a day pass or length of cruise pass to visit the thermal suite whenever you want.
Some ships even offer a special stateroom category you book that includes access to the thermal suite during your cruise. Be sure to check pricing since sometimes those spa staterooms are a great deal if you are planning to spend time in the thermal suite anyway.
Viking Ocean Cruises even goes a step further and includes thermal suite access to everyone.
During covid rules you had to make an appointment for your thermal suite visit so they could control the number of guests in there at a given time. Disney went as far to make it a private appointment which I really loved even if I didn't love the price tag for that hour and 45 minutes. Now covid rules are easing so most spas are running pretty close to normal again.
Going to the thermal suite can also come with a bonus. You will be able to use the changing room area before and after so you will get a robe and can store anything you don't want to bring into the thermal suite. That area usually also has showers you can use which tend to have some upgraded bath products and lotions.
Another bonus - no kids allowed in the spa!
If you are like me and love to find nice quiet spots to relax when you cruise I highly recommend checking out the Thermal Suite in the ship's spa.
The Ship Overall
Apex is a mid-sized ship holding around 2900 guests which is typical of Premium Cruise Lines. It has a beautiful modern and whimsical feel about it. When you first see Apex the thing you probably notice most is the bright orange rectangle shaped piece attached to one side of the ship. This is the Magic Carpet which Celebrity introduced on the Edge Class ships. It is a moving bar/dining area that will go up and down to be on different decks during your cruise. Don't worry it doesn't move up and down while guests are on it. It has all the typical things you would expect to find on a Premium Cruise ship - a couple pools (one outdoor and one indoor), hot tubs, multiple dining locations and bars, a theater, casino, and spa and fitness center. Some other cool features onboard are Eden, The Rooftop Garden, and the jogging track that spans 2 decks so you get to walk uphill and downhill. Apex also has the Retreat which is Celebrity's version of the ship within a ship for guests booking suites.
There are so many wonderful dining and drink options onboard with 29 distinct restaurants, bars, and lounges to choose from. There are 7 specialty restaurants but don't worry if you want to stick with the food that is included in your cruise cost there are 8 options. There are 4 main dining rooms each with their own theme along with a wonderful buffet that in my opinion serves the best pizza at sea. The buffet of course serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and I did try all 3 meal options at least once in there. There are a lot of made to order food in the buffet which is great. There was also a different theme in the buffet each day which even the pizza would offer something that went with the theme such as French Pizza on the French day.
The 4 Main dining rooms have an interesting menu set up. Each dining room has its own theme - Greek, French, Italian, and Contemporary American. Each dining room has what is called their Exclusive menu items and those will be offered every night of your cruise in that dining room only. Then there are the classic menu items which are also served every night but in all 4 dining rooms. Lastly there are the Celebrity Signature items and these changed nightly but were offered in all 4 rooms. So that means if you want French Onion Soup every night you could get that no matter which dining room you chose because that was a classic item. I always looked at the Celebrity Signature items first since I knew those were only offered that night. If I didn't like those I would then look at the ones that were exclusive to each dining room to see if that would help me decide which room to choose. Besides the 4 Main Dining rooms and the buffet there are also 2 cafes and a burger spot that were available for free eats. I really enjoyed all of the food I ate onboard and that says a lot since I am a pretty picky eater.
There was a lot of great entertainment onboard and not just in the main theater. The shows in the theater were good but I enjoyed the shows in Eden more even if I didn't really care for the seating arrangements in there. Eden is in the very back of the ship and spans a couple decks in a sort of sphere shaped room with a seating walkway that wraps around and up the outside of the room. Since it was just random tables and chairs all around there was no easy way to get good seating for a show without arriving early. When there isn't a show going on Eden is a bar/lounge/cafe area that is great for relaxing. There is also a room called The Club which hosted a show and some other other activities when it wasn't a dance club. The problem with seeing a show at the club is that it is a 2 story room and the seating is tucked into a lot of corners so you really couldn't watch a show unless you snagged one of the front of the room seating areas. Some of the other entertainment onboard were the fun activities to choose from each day. I really enjoyed the artist onboard that did a couple sessions where he walked you through step by step doing a sketch.
No ship review would be complete with a stateroom overview. Since this was a regular guest cruise I did only get to experience my own stateroom firsthand. I had a Concierge Class infinite verandah room. The room was a good size with lots of great storage options. The sheets and amenities were all premium and very nice. I especially enjoyed the Lavender Mint soap, lotion, and bath products. Concierge rooms come with some nice extra perks too like a pillow menu and other items in the room to use like an umbrella and binoculars. Our room did have a slightly obstructed view as it was next to the room that the Magic Carpet went by which also bumps out from the ship so we really couldn't look towards the back of the ship at all. I have heard some people do not like the infinite balcony rooms and I can see why after having one but to me it made the room feel bigger. The way they are set up is that you do not have a sliding door to open to go out to your balcony but instead it is more like a french balcony like you find on a lot of river cruise ships. So you have a floor to ceiling window that you can push a button and the top half of the window will go down so that you will feel like you now have a balcony. There are folding doors you can close to section off the balcony from the rest of the room but we really never used those. It can mean your room could get a bit breezy and the AC will shut off when the balcony window is down but we were OK with that. There was a nice shade that you push a button for and it would go down over the window so your room would get plenty dark for sleeping. The shade will not go down if the window is open though. Also if it starts raining or window cleaning is happening or something else where your window should be closed it will automatically close so you don't have to worry if you left it down when not in the room.
I really enjoyed a lot about Apex and I do feel the Edge Class ships on Celebrity would make a nice romantic vacation for couples.
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