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Cruise Ship Review
Tim Josephson

Galaxy Alaska Inside Passage Cruise May 23, 1997


Bienvenue a Canada! Whether cloudy and cool or sunny and warm, British Columbia is always beautiful, refreshing, cosmopolitan and exciting. At the busy Canada Place pier with two large ships in port, you might think embarkation would not be pretty, but there's hardly time to look for a seat. We were given numbers to be called for check-in and they came quickly. There were no lines, we were able to do the credit card impression at check in, and guess what? The cruise/ID/charge card is also your room key! What a great welcome to the high tech world awaiting.

The Galaxy makes a stunning pierside impression, not merely because of her great size, but also because of her elegant lines. What might have been just blocky bulk is slightly curved here and streamlined there to give a crisp, restrained presence. You hope you are in for a refined, upscale experience -- and you are. I came with high expectations, having had a very good experience on the Meridian over Thanksgiving, 1995. I couldn't wait to see what they might be up to with this grand new class of ships created entirely for them.

My first impression of the lobby area was that it was just a little tight. The Grand Foyer is a slender, polished 4-story shaft with a staircase and the tall TV screen wall you may have heard so much about. Its best use is yet to be realized. There is an elegant fountain; lots of marble -- everything very cool and light, neo-classical/neo-deco/modern neo-neo. Some of what the Grand Foyer may lack is made up elsewhere with another pretty, narrow 3-story shaft with staircase just forward of the Restaurant that vertically connects the Champagne Bar, the Orion Foyer and the Casino. It has a large, colorful, delightful mural.

My cabin, a Category 7 outside, really grew on me, with the angles making for an organic effect, especially with the extensive use of wood. There is a long hallway with excellent storage alongside. Good lighting, nice warm colors, and an interesting original lithograph greet you each time you enter. Ten drawers are in the cabin, but they won't hold anything taller than four inches. A versatile TV/refrigerator cabinet has shelves, with the fridge full of handy onboard revenue potential, and with just an inch to spare for a chocolate eclair. A clever mirror/desk/chair configuration has more storage shelves (and a safe behind). The "moving-around" area has a small glass table and armchair; the Lilliputian Award goes for The Smallest Ice Bucket In the World. The superb bathroom has a great shower (be careful about the temperature variance) and the fastest, quietest vacuum toilet on the planet.. The cabin as a whole has excellent soundproofing and good storage. My cabin steward could have been friendlier, and still owes me a Diet Coke, but that's a "who's on first" story!

The Galaxy has a gentle, soft ride; there is a little vibration everywhere, but it's mostly only noticeable aft and lower. She can back quickly away from a dock, and has superb maneuverability.

She carried a sophisticated, wonderfully diverse crowd of passengers. Even though she's almost 78,000 tons, with about 1900 passengers, that gives a rather lean passenger/space ratio of just 40. There is a little crowding, but it is infrequent. Flow throughout is very good, though there is some walking involved, like from the dining room to the showroom. There's much to enjoy along the way! I found the graphic location and direction signs around the ship very clear and easy to follow.


Public rooms are contemporary, outstanding, consistently beautiful, lovely during the day and truly gorgeous at night. The variation in the style of the interiors is delightful, from the harlequin feeling of the showroom to the rich, neo-deco comfort of the Savoy Night Club, to the pull-out-all-the-stops grandeur of the spacious and splendid Dining Room. Perhaps no other panoramic lounge at sea can match the utter serenity and elegant good taste of the forward Stratosphere Lounge, and yet cleverly positioned just nearby is the smashing Disco area. What you will find everywhere are deluxe furnishings, extravagant custom details, and exquisite textures and finishes. Cleanliness and maintenance were very good to excellent throughout the ship. There is and will be much discussion about the artwork, and I think that's good. Art is such a personal experience, yet from exposure and upon reflection it can be so satisfying. Certainly every style and medium are here, and each piece shown to its best advantage. Some of it is such great fun to be around! And I learned a lot.

In the Dining Room, the food is mostly quite good at dinner, though I didn't find it entirely consistent. I'd often have something like an excellent appetizer, good soup, very good salad, good entree, divine dessert. The luncheon menus didn't quite appeal. Variety and selections were plentiful, preparation fine, presentation good. Service was excellent, very warm and entirely correct. The busboy was perfection, the sommelier attentive. The more casual Oasis Cafe is an attractive, very spacious area, and food is good and presented quite nicely. There is a good selection, which changes from day to day. Service is good. The noise level is low and the views are great! The Room Service menu was a little disappointing, but service was prompt and usually correct. Drinks service throughout the ship was extensive, constant, and very friendly.

Dress codes are not followed slavishly. On formal nights, over half of the passengers were in true formal wear; most of the rest were more informally attired. I think you'll want to look really good -- the Restaurant certainly appreciates it -- but you'll never get any attitude if you aren't quite up to the whole enchilada.

The entertainment got off to a great start with the comedy and juggling of On The Edge with Howie and Bert, who have been bringing great fun to cruise passengers on several lines for many years. In this ship's regular cast are some very specialized talents, like Chinese acrobats and adagio dancers, along with regular singers and dancers. In showcasing these varied talents, the productions can have disparate elements and seem to lack continuity. The high tech wall of TV screens which often serves as a central backdrop can be somewhat distracting, but the overall technology and use of the stage and lighting (lasers!) is truly astounding! In particular, the production show "Cirque du Galaxy" was very special, absolutely beautiful. Pamela Blake, the Broadway star of Evita, was a little intense for me, but others loved her. The final production show, Celebrity Nights, was perhaps the best -- very high energy and well put together. In the nightclub, the Savoy Melody Makers are by far the best act I've ever seen for that kind of setting -- really good singers, musicians, performers, and versatile! "Honeystreet" in RendezVous Square is entirely forgettable. A couple of times at night, the disco was really jumping, something you don't always see. Officers were out, bars were crowded, the music was great classic disco.

The Cruise Staff and Ships Activities were outstanding, as on any upscale line. The daily program is particularly informative and useful, with overviews of ports of call, descriptions of activities and presentations, handy schedules, even navigation notes -- a personal favorite. Public address announcements are kept to a minimum; you're an adult here.

The spa is better than almost anything I've ever seen, heaven on earth, and deserves an article on its own. The gymnasium is arguably the best outfitted afloat. The main pool area has a rather austere feeling, perhaps because there were no plants. The Oasis Pool aft is quite lovely.

About the ship's technological entertainment, I think it's a little over-hyped. The TV screens everywhere, especially in groups or banks, seem gimmicky. I bet even the kids are blase' about them after a day or so. The in-cabin television programming was good, if unremarkable. Ordering shore excursions over the interactive TV was a snap and a godsend. I did not order wine or room service over the TV, and I didn't gamble, but I can see the convenience and appeal.

Our itinerary was outstanding from beginning to end: one can never go wrong with a cruise to The Great Land, Alaska! The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful and completely reviving to the spirit. When it's sunny, it's glorious; when it's grey out, it is beautiful in an elusive, mysterious, serene way. Perhaps the greatest single factor in the enjoyment of my cruise experience was the knowledgeable and graceful narration of our onboard naturalist, Jan Ross. All through the Inside Passage, the Lynn Canal, and into and out of each of the ports, she was there to help us understand and appreciate. Although on my early-in-the-season sailing we had the privilege of Glacier Bay, most departures this summer will cruise Hubbard Glacier. If you could only see one glacier in the whole world, this is it! Four miles long, rising 300 feet above the water and falling away 500 feet below, it is advancing, and it calves icebergs actively, with great cracks and booms as the ice breaks away and falls in seeming slow motion. Alaska at its' dramatic best!

Skagway, Haines, Juneau and Ketchikan are cozy ports that offer vast opportunities for sightseeing, shopping and all kinds of adventures. For the most part, organized shore excursions are the best way, indeed the only way, to take advantage of most of these activities. Everything is taken care of for you in advance. There is so much information available before your cruise and on board, I can only offer a few of my personal shoreside favorites:

In Skagway, the White Pass and Yukon rail trip is a great experience. In Juneau, the flight-seeing trip to Taku Lodge which includes a lovely lunch is a must. The double-landing helicopter trip out to the vast icefields and glaciers behind Juneau is an experience that will change your perspective forever. Mendenhall river rafting is great fun and easy. In Ketchikan, Misty Fjords flight-seeing is wonderful. The salmon bakes offered in each port can be delicious and fun.

For some reason, Celebrity charges more than other lines for the same shore excursions.

There may still be a few things to shake out on the Galaxy, but the overall experience is sophisticated, polished, and upscale. Celebrity is clearly a superior quality product with broad appeal, and delivers a very good value. This is a great cruise on a great ship! Highly recommended.

Tim Josephson is a longtime San Francisco resident devoted to blue water travel and a seasoned cruiser. He can be reached at: TimJosephson@juno.com.

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