Trip Report: Hyatt Olive 8, Altura, Eden Hill, and more in Seattle

Ed. Note: This is the final post in our six-part series of “Trip Reports” from our recent trip to Seattle, British Columbia and Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. You may also enjoy parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5.

Once we’d disembarked and said goodbye to the Celebrity Solstice, it was a quick cab over to the Hyatt at Olive 8 hotel in downtown Seattle to check in for our post-cruise stay. We had booked the trip with the two free nights available through the Chase Hyatt Visa card, meaning our room (which ordinarily would have run for around $350 or higher) was totally free.

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Our King room at the Hyatt at Olive 8
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The bathrooms at the Hyatt at Olive 8. I’m so not a fan of all the hotels replacing their soaker tubs with standing showers. 

Even better, because I’m a Hyatt Diamond member, we also received a free breakfast credit each morning that covered our coffees and scones at the onsite coffee bar. So all, told, between our flights, pre-cruise hotel, post-cruise hotel, and onboard MLife benefits, we saved roughly $2,200 on the total cost of this vacation through travel hacking.

After dropping off our luggage, we decided to take advantage of the sunny day and headed over to the Washington Park Arboretum.  The arboretum was pretty, but many parts were actually under construction, so we tired out after about an hour or so.

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The duck pond at the Arboretum was full of lilypads.
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The Japanese Maples set among the pines at the Arboretum.

The next stop on our agenda was famed food-trailer-turned-greasy-spoon, Skillet. I think I first heard of Skillet years ago on the tv show Eat Street, and with mention of their homemade “bacon jam”, I knew it was my destiny to visit this restaurant.  And we were not disappointed.  I ordered the “Ultimate Grilled Cheese” with bacon jam, which was tasty, though a little overly-sweet for my tastebuds. The hubby ordered the fried chicken sammy with added bacon, and poutine in place of fries.

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The cheese overflowed from the grilled cheese sandwich.
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It may look like dogfood but this stuff was fantastic.

The winner of the meal? The poutine. It was totally delicious. Some of the best I’ve ever had.

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The guitar chandelier at the EMP.

After lunch, we headed over to the Experience Music Project (EMP) to take a look at some music history. After exploring the history of the guitar, Nirvana, and Jimi Hendrix exhibits, we headed up to the special traveling exhibit on Star Trek.  And man, was the hubby in nerd heaven!

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The stairs leading to the Star Trek Exhibit.
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The hubby as Borg.
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The hubby with scale models of all four starships.

Once we’d finished at the EMP, we headed down to waterfront for happy hour — oyster happy hour, that is. At Elliot’s Oysters, we sampled a dozen local oysters from their impressive selection for only $1.50 an oyster. Not wanting to spoil our dinner, we managed somehow to stop after the first dozen.

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More than 20 different local oyster varieties at Elliot’s.

And it was good that we did. That night, we dined at Eden Hill Restaurant, and this would immediately become BY FAR the best meal we had this trip.  We did a sampling of small plates that were all fantastic.

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Crab cake appetizer at Eden Hill.
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Lamb tartare at Eden Hill.
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The crispy pig head “candy bar” at Eden Hill.

My favorite was the “crispy pig head candy bar” which was succulent, unctious shredded pig meat stuffed inside some sort of sweet-ish fried dough.

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Salmon with seabean chimichurri at Eden Hill.  This one wasn’t my favorite.
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Lick the Bowl at Eden Hill.

The hubby’s favorite was dessert, a dish called “Lick the Bowl,” came with a sweet and buttery pound cake with a foie gras/cake batter “frosting” that you could spread onto the pound cake. It was then topped with a strawberry syrup and rainbow sprinkles.  It was so good, he can’t stop talking about it ever since we got back.

Finally, we ended Friday night with a trip to the Can Can Cabaret in the Pike Place Market.  it was a great show, but sadly, pictures weren’t allowed 🙂

The next morning, we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed for a trip down to Everett, Washington for a tour of the Boeing factory. My aviation-loving hubby thought it was really cool to see where all the big jets were made, and we were able to see 747, 777, and 787 production areas.

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The hubby in the cockpit of one of the original Boeing 707 aircrafts.

After the tour, we headed to the Pike Place market to try to find some lunch, but what we found was a zoo instead.  Whether because it was a weekend, or because the sun was out, the market was totally packed and we eventually retreated to a lackluster tourist trap for lunch, before heading back to the hotel to rest a bit.

That afternoon, we decided to check out the Capitol Hill neighborhood and take in the lovely weather at a bar called the Lookout, which indeed offered a great view of downtown Seattle below.

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The view of the Space Needle and downtown from the Lookout Bar.

For our final meal of the trip, we met up with some friends at Altura, a small Italian restaurant with a focus on local ingredients.  It was also very good, though no particularly standout dishes like at Eden Hill.

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The beef crudo with bone marrow chip and poached egg at Altura.
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The duck liver pate with biscotti and whipped Campari at Altura.
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The duck breast with pickled cherries at Altura.

Finally, to close out the evening and our trip as a whole, we headed over to the Pacific Science Theater where they were doing a special edition Prince Laser Light Show.  It was a fun way to end what had been an incredible trip, and we were very sad to climb on a plane the next morning to head home.

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A great view of the Space Needle from the Pacific Science Theater.

So, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed my series of trip reports from our 2016 Alaska trip, and I look forward to sharing about some of our other upcoming trips soon!

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Trip Report: A trip to the bridge and Victoria, British Columbia

Ed. Note: This is part five in our six-part series of “Trip Reports” from our recent trip to Seattle, British Columbia and Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. You may also enjoy parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 6.

After recovering somewhat from our death-march in Skagway the day before, we headed down to our favorite on-ship bar, Cellar Masters, to participate in a Riedel Wine Tasting Workshop. This was actually pretty cool.

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Our Riedel tasting mats.

The sommelier poured us each four wines – a chardonnay, a sauvignon blanc, a bordeaux, and a cabernet sauvignon.  We had the chance to taste each using a standard bar wine glass  (the “Joker” glass) and the correct corresponding Riedel glass for the varietal, which are supposedly shaped to enhance the taste of each type of wine. And we were pretty surprised – there definitely was a difference! Even better, the workshop came with a certificate for 4 free Riedel glasses, so we can continue our wine experiments at home as well.

Once we returned to our stateroom, we noticed that we had received an invitation.  For being members of the Cruise Critic message board (which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post), we were offered an exclusive tour of the Bridge — the main command center of our cruise ship.

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The first mate (left) had to keep driving while the rest of us got the tour.

We passed through a security screening before being allowed in, but eventually, behind a series of programmed and locked doors, we got up to the very front of the ship.  The second mate explained to us the many gadgets using one of the side command stations — our ship had three command stations, one in the center where they handled most of the “driving” and one on each side where they handle “parking”.

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The hubby was really into it.

Hearing about all the onboard whatzits and doodads was neat, BUT the tour happened to occur during the roughest seas of the whole cruise, and between those seas and being at the very front of the ship and out on one of the side bridge “wings,” soon the sea wasn’t the only thing tossing and turning.  We spent most of the rest of the day in our cabin, where I tried my very best not to hurl.

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Land, ho!

So, when I saw the above strip of land appear out our balcony window the next day I was ecstatic — that meant we were entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca and calmer seas would soon be at hand.

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O, Canada.

By the time we reached Victoria, my seasickness was all but past, and we disembarked to see what our brief Canadian port stop had to offer. We found the city itself to be very walkable, and just a short jaunt from the cruise ship port we found the beautiful Parliament building (the featured image for this post). A few more blocks over, and we reached the historic Christ Church Cathedral, though unfortunately we were too late to take a tour and see the famous stained glass windows inside.

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The Christ Church Cathedral. It stood in brutal contrast with the tent city across the street.

After our stroll through town, we headed over to North 48, a gastropub whose name is a reference to the latitude on which Victoria is located. There we were thrilled to get a respite from the cruise food and indulged with delicious homemade Cheese Whiz and  “General Tso’s” duck wings, followed by a burger for me, and a fancy hot dog for the hubby. The duck wings were the true highlight of the meal, though, and would fall off the bone almost the minute you picked them up – absolutely delicious.

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The duck wings (right) were a-buck-a-duck and were amazing.

With that, we headed back to the ship via the Beacon Hill Park where we ran into some of the loudest Canadians we’d ever encountered…peacocks!

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Strut your stuff, pretty bird.
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And also some Canadian geese.

Eventually, we bid our feathered friends adieu and reboarded the ship for our final night at sea. Check back tomorrow for updates on our final two vacation days, exploring more of Seattle! But first: one final gorgeous sunset.

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The sunset over the Canadian Rockies.

Trip Report: Shore Excursions in Juneau and Skagway

Ed. Note: This is part four in our six-part series of “Trip Reports” from our recent trip to Seattle, British Columbia and Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. You may also enjoy parts 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6.

After meeting the ship back in port at the end our catamaran excursion, we had plenty of time to explore Juneau. We walked around the town a bit, then found our way inside the Red Dog Saloon, a recreation of a gold-rush era watering hole with country music and memorabilia, including (allegedly) a pistol that Wyatt Earp once used to pay his bar tab.

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The Singer at the Red Dog, playing for his “Collige Fund”
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Looks like a bear got a tourist at the Red Dog too.

This place was clearly a tourist trap, but it was a lot of fun anyways. After washing down a couple of beers, we headed to meet the “Tea, Town, Tram, and Trek” shore excursion that we had booked through the ship, and operated by Gastineau Tours.  The tour took us on a short drive around town, up the Mt. Roberts tramline, on a guided 1.5 mile hike on Mt. Roberts pointing out native plants, and then to a private tearoom where we got to sample teas and jams made from the plants we saw on the trail.

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Sandy Beach on Douglas Island in Juneau, the site of an old mine.

All in all, we felt a little duped by this shore excursion, as we could have done all but the tea tasting on our own – the Mount Roberts tram is open to anyone who pays for a lift ticket, and we got a better view of town just walking around than we did on the drive – but it was hard to complain when we were greeted with such perfectly blue skies and a million dollar view, and it was cool to have a guide pointing out the different plants.

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The light through the clouds on Mt. Roberts was amazing.
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A view of Douglas Island, and on the left, the same Sandy Beach I featured earlier.

The next day, we arrived in Skagway where we were met with another beautiful view right outside our window to start the morning.

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The Port of Skagway

In Skagway, we opted to do the “Laughton Glacier Wilderness Hike and White Pass Railway” excursion, again booked through the ship, but operated by Packer Expeditions. I distinctly remember that Celebrity advertised this excursion as having a “moderate” activity level, and mentioned that we would hike about 5 miles. And in fact, it started off quite pleasant, with a ride on the White Pass Railway where we got to know our guides and made sandwiches to stow in our backpacks for later on.

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Our senior trail guide, Alan, with the White Pass Railway in the background.  In the offseason, he works as a heli-skiing guide.
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The tracks winding through some beautiful country.

Then, we got off the train, and the hiking started. The first couple miles, through the forest, was lovely, and we saw some recent indicators of wildlife like bear fur and scat. Then, the groomed trail ended, and we began picking our way for another couple miles over very rocky and unstable terrain, to the “toe” of the glacier. Finally, the last mile or so was over the glacial ice itself, avoiding cravasses and streams along the way.

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These are apparently class 6 rapids, as in, no one has ever kayaked/rafted them and lived.
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We’re about a mile in at this point and still have no clue what we’re in for.

It was absolutely gorgeous, and I can now definitively say that I’ve had lunch on top of a glacier, which is probably something not that many people can claim.  But if you’re keeping track, we’d already gone 5+ miles, and we’d only gone “up” so far – by the time the day was over, most people’s activity trackers indicated we’d gone damn near 11 miles.

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At about 2 miles in, we can see the summit.
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5.5 miles in, plus about 2k feet elevation change, and we’re on top of the world.

Getting down, it turned out, was even harder than going up.  The glorious sunny weather made the surface of the glacier wet and slick, and every rock you came across was just itching to give way beneath you. And even worse, on the way down you were up against the clock – you had to reach the train stop by 3:15 or miss the train and, consequently, the ship.

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An example of the terrain. Every step is a risk.

For these reasons, it’s probably a bit unsurprising that one woman in our group nearly fell into a cravass. Her whole leg went in, but the guides grabbed her before she went all the way down. Apparently all the guides are trained in cravass rescue, but, um…scary.

By the time we got back to the groomed trail, I was spent. By the time we got back to the train, I was so dehydrated and exhausted that I could barely keep walking. By the time we got back to the ship, my everything hurt.

In the end, I’m still glad I did this excursion, and most of our guides really were fantastic. But damn. I’ve never earned a massage more in my life.

Stay tuned tomorrow for info about our final port stop in British Columbia, and our short tour of the bridge!

 

Trip Report: Lumberjacks in Ketchikan and Tracy Arm Strait

Ed. Note: This is part three in our six-part series of “Trip Reports” from our recent trip to Seattle, British Columbia and Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. You may also enjoy parts 1, 2, 4, 5, & 6.

After departing Seattle, and getting to know our ship better on our first sea day, it was time for our first port.

We started the day off with room service breakfast, which we ate while peering out our balcony window at scenic Ketchikan. This is where we spotted our first wildlife of the trip, a bald eagle, with a nest just across from the port (right abovee that maroon building…)

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Scenic, but small, Ketchikan.
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A bit blurry, but he’s there.  We named him Jerry.

By 8:30am, we were ready to head off the ship, and decided to take a stroll around the town. We saw several totems, as well as some charming local historical signs, before heading over to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. The show, featuring champion timbersport athletes from the U.S. and Canada performing events such as speed sawing, log rolling and pole climbing, was actually really fun, and we enjoyed cheering for our favorites.

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The hubby tries totem modeling, three ways.
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Log rolling.  Photo courtesy the Alaskan Lumberjack Show.
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The sign on the local brothel.  They offer tours now.

After the show, we enjoyed a quick seafood lunch onshore at Annabelle’s Chowder House, before heading back to the ship. We had taken it pretty easy, as our real adventure was to begin the next day.

We set our alarm clock for 5:00 a.m., when we were scheduled to enter the Tracy Arm Strait.  Around 5:30, naturalist Brent Nixon came on the ship’s PA system, and we wrapped in blankets and gathered on our balcony to watch the show. Unfortunately, there was too much ice in the Tracy Arm, and so we ended up going up the Endicott Arm instead.

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As we approached the glacier, the sea turned an iridescent teal. It was awesome.
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The Dawes Glacier.

Because Endicott Arm is wider than Tracy Arm, we didn’t see any wildlife, but we did get close enough to get a view of the Dawes Glacier – and that’s also where we disembarked, in the middle of the sea, to climb onboard a much smaller catamaran for the Tracy Arm Fjord & Glacier Explorer excursion.

Once onboard the catamaran, our ship left to head back out the strait, leaving us able to go closer to the glacier. We spied several seals lying on the floating iceberg, but then, the real show started.

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Watching our ship sail away through the iceberg field.
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Seals just chillaxin’ on the ice. Our guide said they were likely pregnant.
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Glacier Selfie!

Slowly at first, piece by piece, and then suddenly all at once an absolutely HUGE shelf of ice calved from the glacier. It created a huge wave, and was thrilling to watch – but also scary for what it means for our planet that the glaciers are disintegrating that quickly.

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You can see the splash on the left side – it went even higher than the glacier itself. The photos just don’t even capture the magnitude; it was like watching a 4-story condo building crash into the water.

After the group had their fill of glacier photos, we set out for Juneau along the narrow straits.  Along the way, though, we encountered a pod of orcas including a mother with a new calf. The males in the group were feeling particularly playful, and kept doing big backflops for us.  It was really amazing!

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Bellyflop!
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Mama and Baby Orca
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You’ll note that everyone able to stay out on the deck was wearing manmade materials – things that would keep out the wind.
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Another glacier, up in the mountains, as we headed back to Juneau.  This one was receding too.

A bit after that, we headed North again and around 1:30 met the ship in Juneau.  Stay tuned for the next installment for more info on what we did in Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria!

 

Trip Report: Our Review of the Celebrity Solstice, 7-Day Cruise to Alaska

Ed. Note: This is part two in our six-part series of “Trip Reports” from our recent trip to Seattle, British Columbia and Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. You may also enjoy parts 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

After a great day exploring Seattle, it was time to get cruising! We had booked a Concierge Class cabin on the Celebrity Solstice, cabin number 1040 on the Port side, for a 7-day Tracy Arm/Inside Passage Alaska cruise, sailing round trip out of Seattle.

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Our itinerary

We had specifically picked this cruise for a few reasons:

  1. Because we have the Southwest Companion Pass, we were able to fly for free into Seattle, as discussed in my last post.
  2. We had heard that Celebrity was a slight upgrade experience-wise over Norwegian, with whom we had previously cruised.
  3. The itinerary, a 7-day departing on the Friday before Memorial day, let us maximize actual days on vacation while minimizing the number of vacation days we had to claim from work. Including travel days, this was an 11-day trip, but we only had to take 6 days off.
  4. Booking through CruCon (which I’ll talk about more in a future post), we got a pretty good rate, with gratuities included (a $188 value), a “Classic” beverage package for both of us (a $770 value), and $600 in onboard credit ($300 from Celebrity and an additional $300 from CruCon).
  5. Because Celebrity has a relationship with MLife, and I have platinum status with MLife, I was able to get a few additional free perks, including a free speciality dinner (a $100 value), 30 minutes free internet (an $24 value), and no-fee cash advances in the casino (a 5% value on however much cash you withdraw – for us, a $10 value).
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Concierge Class comes with free sparkling wine, daily fruit, and afternoon h’ors douvres.

So, booked and ready to get our trip started, we headed to the port via Uber around 10:30a on the Friday of our embarkation.  This turned out to be a slight mistake on our parts – cabs get preferential lines at the Cruise Terminal 91, while Ubers/Lyfts go through the regular “passenger drop-off” line.  We could have shaved about 15 minutes off our cruise terminal traffic time if we’d been in a cab instead.

However, once we finally arrived at the terminal, we handed off our luggage to a porter and went straight in.  There was no line/wait at security, and once through security, we went straight to the Concierge Class check-in area, which also had no line. The whole process from Uber drop off to Seapass card in hand took maybe 10 minutes. By then, it was about 10:55am, and we waited just a few minutes until they began boarding passengers, right around 11am.

We were the second group to board the ship and proceeded to take care of our few ship “errands” as soon as we got onboard – we booked a massage for our second sea day, booked specialty dinners for each of our sea days, and upgraded our drink packages from “Classic” to “Premium”.  By doing this first thing, we were able to get the days/times we wanted for each activity, and didn’t have to worry about it the rest of the trip.

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The Solstice Theater, where they performed standard cheesy cruise-ship fare nightly

A quick note about the drink packages, though.  It cost us $11 per person, per day, to upgrade to the Premium package, which meant we could order any beverage up to $13 a glass, compared to an $8 a glass limit for Classic drinks. That came out to a $165 upcharge for the two of us, which was fine, as we had plenty of OBC to spend. We tended to drink mainly the premium wines and scotch, at least probably 2-3 glasses a day, plus premium coffees, so for us the “upgrade” was worth it as it would have paid for itself as long as we drank at least 2 beverages per day at the $13 limit (as opposed to the $8 limit on the Classic package.)

BUT – if we had not already received the Classic package as part of our booking, we would have had to pay a whopping $910 total for the Ultimate package.  That breaks down to needing to drink 5 – 11 drinks everyday (even when in port), per person, to be a value.  So if you’re considering whether to go with the package or not, consider how much you’re actually likely to imbibe.

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The chandelier and upper level of Grand Eparnay, the main dining room on the Solstice.

With our cruise chores out of the way, we settled into Cafe Al Bacio (an upcharge restaurant, with a $10 cover charge per person) for lunch, in order to avoid the craziness undoubtedly taking place in the buffet. The food here pretty much set the tone for what we’d experience on the ship throughout the trip: muted flavors, not-quite-ripe veggies, and overcooked meats. Cruise food is almost never very good, and while there were a few bright spots of exception, Celebrity continued the industry trend of “meh” meals onboard.

Around 1:00p, we were just wrapping up lunch when we heard the announcement that cabins were ready. We headed off to our cabin to see what was what and unpack for the week.

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Our cabin on the Solstice, #1040.

The Concierge class cabins are balcony cabins, and the size of the room seemed pretty standard to us, having previously sailed in balconies on Norwegian. We found we had plenty of storage, and the bathroom was a good size as well.  We liked the circular configuration of the shower, with sliding doors instead of a curtain. And we definitely enjoyed our favorite “Concierge Class” perk: the pillow menu, which allowed the hubby to order a foam pillow and me to order a body pillow.

Once unpacked, we explored the ship a little and went up above for sail away.  The features on the Solstice include one outdoor pool area and one indoor pool area (the “Solarium”), which was great for the colder temperatures on an Alaska itinerary. They also have the Solstice-class trademark “great lawn”, where you could theoretically have a picnic, I guess, but as it was chilly and windy most of our trip, the lawn was nearly almost deserted.

As for bars, there were 5 (the Ensemble Lounge, Passport Bar, Oceanview Cafe Bar, Casino Bar, and Sky Observation Lounge) that were indoor and just standard, run-of-the-mill bars. There were also two outdoor bars (the Pool Bar and the Sunset Bar) which were also standard bars, but were largely empty, again because of the colder temps on this itinerary.  Finally, there was the martini bar (serving about 20 types of fruity martinis, with an ice-bartop), the molecular bar (serving about 10 specialty drinks, using things like liquid nitrogen), and our favorite, Cellar Masters, which had the ship’s widest selection of wines, beers, and ports. These last three got the bulk of the traffic.

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One of the many bars on the Solstice; most of them carry all the same liquor.

Unfortunately, except for the bars, which were ok, there wasn’t a whole lot else to do onboard. The big “highlight” of the programming for the Solstice is naturalist Brent Nixon’s lectures on orcas, moose, etc., and his wife, cultural historian “Miss Amanda”, who talks about the history of the ports we’d be visiting (and also, we thought somewhat morbidly given the setting, a lecture on the Titanic…) We caught a few of these lectures, and while they were entertaining, we found them a little overly dramatic; they were the types of presentation you’d give to an elementary school class so as not to lose little ones’ short attention spans.

There was very little in the way of dance parties, pub crawls, interest-group based meet and greets; even cruise-favorite karaoke was only offered one night. As such, we ended up spending a fair bit of time in the casino.  The casino had about 7 tables, featuring all the classic games like Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Poker, etc. The rest of the casino was filled with slot and video poker machines, primarily penny slots of the mid-80s variety. There were a few fun, more current games (for example, the Bridesmaids and Sex and the City themed machines) but most were fairly generic. (Not that that stopped us from making a sizable “donation”.)

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The hubby was pumped up for the slot tournament, but ultimately he came in 12th place.

In between ports, lectures, and casino time, we also visited most of the ship’s restaurants.  By far the best was the Tuscan Grill, which charges a supplementary $45 per person.  We found Murano, the most expensive specialty restaurant at $50 per person, kind of lackluster, focusing more on show (tableside preparations) than actual food quality. We’d give the main dining room a solid B- in terms of food quality, and the buffet a step down from that, probably a C-. You don’t go on this cruise for the food or the entertainment.

So, what do you go on this cruise for? The ports and the scenery. The views were simply amazing, and we spent much of the cruise simply admiring the landscapes around us. I’ll talk more about each of our ports in future posts, but they were great as well.  And we were so lucky to get really fabulous weather – it only rained on us during our first sea day, and we even got clear skies and warm temperatures in most of our ports.

We also had the chance to stop by the spa, which is towards the front of the ship and is a surprisingly large facility.  Our couples massage, the Canyon Ranch massage, was nice and relaxing. Only downside was that unlike most spas, booking a treatment did not give you access to the general spa facilities like the steam room, locker rooms, heated loungers, etc. These features were reserved for “Aqua Class” passengers and those who purchased a day pass for $25. Still, it was nice to unwind with a massage after some very physical shore excursions, and I’d generally recommend the spa.

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Another great shot of the Ship, from our tender boat in Juneau.

When we returned to Seattle after a week on the ship, we both felt that the time had simply flown by. Overall, we’d definitely recommend this itinerary, though it probably would have been equally as good on just about any line – we didn’t feel that being on Celebrity really affected things one way or another. We saw lots of other ships in our ports – NCL, RC, Princess, and Holland all sail to Alaska as well, so if you’re planning a trip you have a lot to choose from.

So, that was the ship! In my next installment, I’ll detail what we saw, did, and ate in each of our ports of call. Stay tuned….

Trip Report: Seattle’s Hotel 1000, Mamnoon, and Canon Whiskey Emporium

After counting down the days and waiting a whole extra month after our anniversary, last month, we finally took our yearly anniversary trip!

This year, we decided to go on a cruise to Alaska and try to see the glaciers and Nordic animals before global warming wipes them all out. I’ll be telling the story of our cruise trip over the course of six individual trip reports, so stay tuned for the others as well!

In the meantime, I’ll cover our pre-cruise day, where we did a little exploring in the city of Seattle, our embarkation city for this particular cruise. We flew to Seattle directly from Austin on Southwest, and our flights were free as the hubby booked with points, and then I got my free ticket via our companion pass.  If you’re keeping track, we’ve done 10 free roundtrip getaways on Southwest for the two of us since we re-qualified for Companion pass status last year.  That comes out to 18 completely free tickets over a year and half time period (the hubby’s works paid for his flights for one trip). 

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A great view of Mt. Rainier from above the clouds on our flight

As for hotel options, we were planning on arriving in Seattle the day before we boarded the cruise ship (which we always like to do, if for no other reason than to cut down on the stress of possibly not making all aboard time) and staying through the weekend after we disembarked as well.  That meant we’d have two opportunities for hotel stays.  In researching our options, I was particularly impressed with the reviews I’d seen about an independent boutique hotel called the Hotel 1000. It was billed as one of the most high-tech hotels around, and was located right in the heart of downtown Seattle, where I wanted to stay.

Unfortunately, being independent, the Hotel 1000 didn’t partner with any of the mainstream hotel loyalty programs. However, as we had a number of Chase Ultimate Rewards points available, I took a look at the rates via the Chase travel portal and was able to find a great price for a room at this hotel – and best of all, I could pay in points. So, I traded in 23,599 points for a night at the Hotel 1000, which normally runs about $600 a night.  That means I got a redemption value of 2.5 cents per point, which was a pretty good deal.

The hotel was also helpful in getting us set up with a private car from the airport, as Uber and Lyft still aren’t allowed to pickup passengers at the SeaTac airport. In fact, everyone we dealt with on the hotel staff was very helpful and friendly.

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Our King Luxe Room at the Hotel 1000

That being said, our stay wasn’t without a couple problems. Our room, which we were told was an upgrade from the one we’d booked, was sufficient but the tv didn’t work and there was a large water stain under the air conditioning vent. These weren’t huge problems for us, as we were only staying in the hotel for a single night, and when we pointed them out to the hotel staff at checkout, they were very apologetic and actually comped our private car from the airport.

It’s also worth noting that Loews recently purchased the Hotel 1000, and in talking to a few of the staff members, they mentioned that so far it had been a good experience. If you happen to be part of the Loews YouFirst Loyalty program, even though it’s not a particularly beneficial loyalty program, I’d say it’d definitely worth considering this hotel.  The location was fantastic, and at least for a short stay, sometimes that’s all that matters.

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An impressive indoor sculpture at the Chihuly Gardens made to look like a lilypad garden — it’s hard to tell but this thing was probably 20 yards long.

Once we were checked in to the hotel, and seeing how it magically wasn’t raining (a theme we’d see a lot of over the course of our trip!), we headed over to the Chihuly Gardens to explore the collection by the famous glass artist. While the museum is rather small and carries a hefty admission fee ($27 for an adult for an exhibit that only takes about 30 minutes to fully experience), the sculptures were magnificent, and it was interesting to learn a bit more about the artist’s life.

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I loved how they matched the flowers to the glass in the outdoor section of the Chihuly Garedens

After the gardens, it was nearing dinner time, so we hopped in an Uber to Mamnoon, a middle Eastern restaurant specializing in Lebanese and Syrian style cuisine.  Truth be told, we were hoping to recreate the magical culinary experience we’d had last year at Zahav in Philadelphia. While Mamnoon was tasty, it wasn’t quite at the Zahav level, even though it had several similar dishes.

Our favorite was the hummus bil awarma, followed by the shamndar bi tahini. All were served with a light and crispy pita bread.  By the time our main course (greek yogurt and garlic marinated chicken) arrived, we were already quite full – one could easily make a meal of just their metzes.

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Our many, many metzes at Mamnoon

Stuffed to the brim, we left Mamnoon and waddled down the Belltown streets towards Canon Whiskey & Bitters Emporium, a tiny, 24-seat bar housing one of the largest whiskey and bourbon collections in the world. Getting in to Canon can be a bit tricky as it’s so small – your best bet is to spring for one of the $25/pp reserved seats (which of course give you a $25 food and drink credit).  However, we did see a few people who arrived early – before 8pm – that managed to earn a couple coveted seats at the bar.

At Canon, the hubby opted to let our waitress pick his bourbons after naming a few of his regular favorites for her.  She brought him a couple rare varietals that were in the $30-40 per pour range, including a Willet 8-year that he particularly enjoyed.  I stuck to the cocktail list and sampled the Khaleesi Cocktail, a mix of rye, bitters, and strawberry liquer served in a (Mother Of) dragon skull shaped glass.

With that, our first night in Seattle came to a close, and we headed back to our hotel. Check back soon for the next installment, my review of our cruise on the Celebrity Solstice!