An Alaskan Cruise was on my "bucket list" and I had a certain price in mind with a sail date being in May/June when the majority of schools (K-12) would still be in session -- very intentional to avoid parents who decide to let the ship's crew watch their children rather than be responsible parents. RCI had the right price (outside cabin) with the right timeframe, and the right amount of days (7 nights), with roundtrip to/from Seattle. I booked directly through RCCL.
There were 3 in our party -- I had a cabin to myself and additional family (2) had an adjoining cabin.
Like other reviewers, I will do my best to give a good overview. Some caveats: this is my 2nd cruise, 1st with RCI. I had high expectations for (a) voyage to Alaska, scenery, etc.; (b) excursions; and, (c) food. Entertainment? Not so much. I've lived outside of NYC for many years and have been to plenty Broadway shows, concerts at Lincoln Center, etc. If I wanted high quality entertainment, I would have spent money on a vacation in NYC. Cabin accommodations? If you're going to spend a lot of time in your cabin on a cruise, why even go? Get a DVD of Alaska, put it in your DVD player hooked up to your big screen TV and you'll see the same thing as would from the view from your cabin window. You go on a cruise to be out and about and the cabin is for sleeping.
Getting to Seattle: I flew in from Nebraska via connection in Denver to Seattle, and family was coming from Connecticut (out of JFK -- direct to Seattle). We all flew out to Seattle a day early in case of weather and flight delays. I had been to Seattle twice before for conferences, but was at the Convention Center and wanted to be closer to the Market. We checked into the Mayflower Park Hotel. Best location! 3 blocks away from Pikes Market, there is an adjoining mall with monorail service to the Space Needle, and bottom floor of mall has connections to light rail and metro. Absolutely perfect! We went up the Space Needle the day we arrived, had dinner at a restaurant behind the original Starbucks and had amazing fried oysters. The following morning we headed back to Pike's for breakfast at Lowell's (rated best breakfast in Seattle -- and we agree, plus the view of the harbor was outstanding!). I also booked the same hotel for our return so we could enjoy a bit more of Seattle after the cruise and head out the next day.
Embarkation: The hotel concierge arranged for van transport to the Pier (another couple who also stayed at the hotel and on our same cruise shared the van ride with us, $8 per person), and we arranged to have the same car service pick us up the morning upon our return to Port. This cruise was the first time out of Seattle for the recently rehabbed Rhapsody -- I'm not quite sure why the lines were long, but they moved along relatively well. We didn't have a suite or special designation, e.g. frequent cruisers, etc. so we didn't have any special lines to use. However, the cruise I did go on 10+ years go to Bermuda left out of NYC and I can honestly say the embarkation process in Seattle was a dream compared to the NYC experience.
Cabin: I had it to myself, and that's what I prefer. Regardless, if you are +1 in your accommodations and chosen to go on a cruise, do not expect to have a roomy hotel room. It's a cruise ship and your residence hall room in college was twice the size of your cabin. You just need to wrap your head around it and move on. For people that may be weight-challenged, I would think the bathroom shower will be quite uncomfortable as there is very little room to move for an average size person. Overall, the cabin was clean, our cabin steward was fantastic! (note to future first time cruisers -- get to know all the staff on the ship. If you make an effort to get to know them, where they're from (from all around the world), chat with them, you'll be treated more incredibly than you already are. Because I got to know our cabin steward, he greeted me by name every time I passed by him. Quite nice. We were on Deck 3, starboard, all the way in the rear. Perfect location -- no one across from us in an inside cabin, away from stairs, etc. Very quiet. When I travel (a lot) I use earplugs for noisy guests in hotels as I'm a light sleeper -- so, I never hear a thing. I would note that, although the multi-million dollar makeover hit the majority of areas of the ship, the most tired looking were the hallsways for the staterooms. But again, you're not there that much so -- you see the hallways probably a total of 30 minutes your entire time on the cruise going back and forth to your cabin.
Note on cabin location: Starboard or Port? I had read in previous reviews for Alaska Inside Passage cruises to get the Starboard side because of the views in the morning when you awake are breathe-taking. And yes -- I wholeheartedly agree! If you can, try to get Starboard side!
Dining: We chose to do the "My Time Dining" option rather than having the standard seating with the same people every single night. We ate breakfast each morning in the Windjammer, which had a great variety. I had freshly made omelets every morning. We had dinners in the Main Dining Room -- Edelweiss (Deck 5; Deck 4 is for standard seating and Deck 5 is for My Time Dining). The food was wonderful and you can eat as much or as little as you want, e.g. I truly enjoy lobster so instead of just 1 lobster tail -- I went for 2! One evening we opted for the Italian-themed restaurant Giovanni's, had a great waiter and great food. I've been to Italy four times and the food in Giovanni's was comparable. The tiramisu was actually one of the best I've had since visiting Italy.
The service at all the locations is outstanding. Another note regarding the "wine package" option: We're not heavy drinkers, and I'm the only one who drinks wine in our group. I purchased a bottle of wine on Day 2 and -- what I was told -- what I had left over (more than half of the bottle) it would "follow" me throughout the cruise wherever I chose to dine in the Dining Rooms -- all I needed to do was tell the wine steward I had a bottle on reserve, give him my cabin #, and 5 minutes later he was pouring me a glass of wine from the bottle I had the night before. For me -- one large bottle of wine was perfect and lasted for the entire cruise.
Dress for Dining: Technically, there are two (2) formal nights on the cruise (The evening of Day 2, and the evening of Day 6). The rest are "casual" nights. Because of the variety of dining option, e.g. Windjammer (buffet) and Edelweiss/Specialty Dining, you can go casual the whole time if you stick with the Windjammer, or dressy/business casual in Edelweiss. However, we wanted to go the formal route. It was definitely a mix (who was wearing what), and I think I could have easily have worn just a blazer on formal night without any headturns whatsoever.
While On Board: As other reviews have stated, in main gathering areas on each deck there are large-scale "iPads"/touchscreens that give you the option of searching for things to do. My goal was to relax and read a good book while cruising when not at Port -- best kept secret? The Viking Lounge on Deck 11. Quiet like a library, gorgeous views all day long, and comfortable chairs.
Throughout the day there is something for everyone depending on your perspective. You can be simply bored to death or take advantage of a variety of lectures, games, demonstrations, line dancing lessons, etc.
Again, as I stated above about entertainment, I wasn't holding my breath. However, the musicians in the Centrum throughout the day were quite good and I enjoyed listening to them. The shows (we were able to see about half due to either our excursions getting back late, or our dinner time overlapped) were actually fine and enjoyable. I wasn't rolling my eyes as I thought I might. They all did a good job. I was impressed with the technical side of the theatre and what set changes they were able to pull off on this size of ship. That was impressive. If you make it to anything, make sure you go to the "finale" on the last night of the cruise in the Centrum. Here, I was quite impressed with the aerialists, dancers, singers, et. al. Definitely quite a "grand ending" to a great cruise.
Regarding the shops on board: They have "sales" each day -- even Â½ price sails on Deck 9 selling sweatshirts, etc. Sort of like the "roll out the umbrellas sale at the Amusement Park when it's raining" type approach.
Ports & Excursions: Juneau- I wanted to get the most bang for the buck on the excursions and did the Whale-watching/Orca Point Lodge Salmon Bake/Mendenhall Glacier tour (6.5 hours). Best decision! The weather was absolutely perfect (heavy ski jacket helped with the morning briskness). The lodge is located on an Island, and the cooks were grilling up freshly caught salmon as we entered the lodge. We were at the lodge for an hour (took about 45 minutes to get there from Port). The whale watch was amazing! Only 10% of the time are Orcas sighted, and we were blessed with seeing approximately 5 (family) plus a few humpback whales, sea lions, bald eagles, and otters. They did have high quality binoculars already available for us on our seats, so I didn't use the ones I brought with me. (NOTE: make sure you do bring a pair of binoculars for the cruise -- you can capture some great wild life throughout the entire trip). After the whale-watching was over, a bus picked us up and brought us to Mendenhall Glacier. Just breath-taking (but, then again...everything was!). We were there for about an hour as well. There is a nice visitors center (it's a National Park) with some good information offered. With this being a long excursion, all aboard was at 7:30pm -- so I barely got to see the touristy shoppes of Juneau around the Port area -- but I was fine with that. My goal was to see whales, Orcas specifically, Bald eagles, and be on the water -- check, check, and check!
My family, on the other hand, signed up for the kayaking excursion. That excursion ended up being cancelled as a result of the water being rough. They lost a lot of time as they were slated for the early afternoon trip, rather than the morning trip, and they were told once the van picked them up from the Pier and brought them to the put-in, that it was cancelled. So -- I say "safety first" rather than having some other tragedy happen. They were able to pick up a short whale-watching trip via the kiosks in town and ended up seeing some festive humpback whales in a feeding frenzy!
Skagway -- if you've been to a "Frontier Town" type setting on vacation, then you've already been to Skagway. I wish we had as much time in Juneau as we had in Skagway as there's more to do in Juneau. However, again, I wanted the most "bang for the buck" for the excursion and opted for the river-rafting Eagle Preserve in Haines (about 6 hours long). We took a boat from Skagway to Haines (gorgeous weather and amazing views; about 45 mins long). Once we got to Haines a bus picked us up (about 42 of us on the excursion) and had about a 20 minute bus ride to the put-in. "CP" is the field guide for the trip and an absolute blast! Make sure you bring an extra pair of socks as you take off your shoes (they store them for you in tubs) and you put on muck-boots, life-preservers. And, for those who did not wear appropriate/not heavy enough jackets, they even give you some fleeces to wear (and when they tell you need it -- saying "no, that's okay" is not an option). The rafts are comparable to those I've been in (hold up to 8 people) when I've done light white water rafting. There is no white water on this trip -- it's basically a float trip -- which is perfect -- because we saw plenty of bald eagles, plus a moose. There were about 5 rafts, and each had a guide. You just sat in/on the raft and looked for bald eagles (hence the need for binoculars). A fantastic trip and a must for everyone!
When we eventually got back to Skagway (had to take bus from take-out to boat from Haines back to Skagway), we had about 3 more hours left in Port to do any additional shopping. Again, Skagway isn't that big -- so, you have plenty of time.
Tracy Arm Fjord -- as the other review stated, there was a lot of ice as we were making our way through Tracy Arm to make it to the Glacier. We were blessed with a great captain (make sure you go to the Captain Q&A show that is in the Theatre on Day 6 -- it's great!) and he did not disappoint and went around the bend to Endicott Arm and brought us to Dawes Glacier -- best pictures of the trip! And, with those binoculars you have purchased ahead of time (although they do sell them in the shops on board) we were able to locate some mountain goats that others could not see because of not having binoculars. Going through the Arm(s) was absolutely spectacular and consider yourself blessed for having the opportunity to seeing these God-made vistas.
Victoria- I've been there previously; prior visit did "High Tea" at the Empress Hotel. If that's your thing -- then go ahead and do it. Again for me -- I wanted to be one again with nature, so I opted for the whale-watching trip. One of my family members did the Zip-Line adventure (she's going to be a Senior in College in the Fall) and apparently had a blast. My other family member did the scenic tour of Victoria, and it sounded as though they had a great bus driver who would periodically stop and let them get out at different parts of the city. My whale-watching trip was absolutely gorgeous, although sans whales. Yet, we saw a lot of bald eagles, plus harbor seals, and elephant seals -- extremely up close. So, because of the success in Juneau of seeing Orcas, I wasn't that upset with not seeing any on this trip. The weather -- again -- was picture perfect (approximately 65 degrees and sunny in Victoria). I did ask the crew the best place for lunch and they suggested going to the Fisherman's Wharf (about 15 minute walk from the Pier) and head to "The Fish Shoppe". I met my family members back at the ship and we did exactly that. Needless to say -- the crew was on-point! I had freshly caught fried haddock (HUGE portions) and friend oysters. I grew up in Connecticut and love seafood -- especially raw and fried clams and oysters. The Fish Shoppe has the absolute best fried oysters I have ever had! If you can -- get there when in Port!
Disembarkation: I was very impressed with the logistics for our disembarkation. You'll receive tags the night before to put on your luggage which needs to be in the hallway by 11pm. You go to your respective location in the morning according to you tag number and your tag number will be called at the time they tell you, e.g. for us we were to report to the Theatre prior to 9am as they will call our number at 9am. And, sure enough -- at 9am they did. We walked off the ship, headed to the numbered row (of our tag) with the luggage, and it was there waiting. We got a porter, I called the car service we had reserved previously -- and we were off the ship with our luggage loading it into the van within 25 minutes. Perfect!
Post-cruise in Seattle: The Mayflower Park Hotel allowed us to check in early, and our room was already ready. The King Tut exhibit is at the Science Museum (part of the museum complex at the base of the Space Needle -- take the monorail form the mall adjacent to hotel), and the Hotel has VIP tickets you can purchase to avoid the "timed entrance." Also, I wanted to go to the newly opened (just 4 days prior) Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. If you can -- go! It's absolutely amazing: http://www.chihulygardenandglass.com/Chiholy . We arranged the same car service to pick us up at 5am to get to SeaTac airport for our 7am-ish respective flights. He was right on time: $60 including tip.
Overall -- a fantastic, enjoyable, and relaxing trip where I did and saw what I wanted and ate seafood every single day (since I can get the best steaks in the world everyday by living in Nebraska; and, you're on a cruise ...why eat steak! Go to a dude ranch if you want steak...yeesh...). I certainly hope there are more positive reviews as opposed to cruise-snobs giving poor reviews. After reading through a lot of reviews and deciding on this trip -- I knew what to expect. I can honestly say you get what you pay for. If you pay for a Marriott and expect a boutique hotel experience -- it ain't gonna happen. Definitely will go on another RCI cruise in the future - Two thumbs up for the Rhapsody and the Alaskan experience!