Not often do I write reviews. In most instances, I believe there is little that I can add that hasn't already been said many times. In this case I feel there are some nuances to Alaska on the Radiance that some might find helpful.
We have sailed numerous times on the Radiance and others in its class. The refurb is remarkable. It feels quite literally like a new ship. We had an absolute blast!
FOOD: If the Chef's Table package is available for under $150, do it! It starts off a bit awkward and stiff because you will likely be dining with strangers. The staff infuses quite a few ice breakers, and by the third course (and third glass of wine), our table was in fully engaged in polite but sparkling conversation. The food was well prepared, the wine pairings adequate to good, except for trying to convince us that Frangelico is an exceptional, high-end liqueur. Still a wonderful evening that if affordable, is worth doing a second time on-board.
Here's where the value comes in. With the package came four other specialty dining experiences. We paid $110 for the package and did one night in the dining room, and another night in Giovanni's for a total of $130/per person. The food and service upgrade, in my opinion, was truly worthwhile.
Royal Caribbean is hitting its stride with the specialty dining. For cruisers who prefer quiet dinners and personal service versus the bustle of the dining room, this is a great option.
Giovanni's- a hit with service, food, ambience and price. Chops steep price but the dining experience is stellar. Samba is fun but not particularly memorable food; far better on the Allure. Izumi- confusing price structure, but food and service was excellent; even for non-sushi fans.
Diamond lounge: Now upstairs around the corner from the Viking Crown Lounge and the Concierge. Superb service from Gazetty. Plenty of space in the Diamond louonge and as nice, if not nicer ambience than the Concierge lounge. She truly goes above and beyond for ALL persons on board, and unlike her Concierge counterpart, doesn't pick and choose who may be "worthy".
PORTS: The 7 day northbound left from Vancouver, visiting Juneau, Ketchikan,
Icy Strait, Skagway, and disembarking at Seward. Since it was late in the season, wildlife was abundant.
Vancouver- stayed at the St. Regis- a moderately priced gem convenient to shopping, Gastown. Do eat in the hotel's pub-style restaurant; a pleasant surprise for hotel dining. For foodies, the porchetta sandwich at Meat and Bread is worth the walk.
Juneau- we've done a variety of excursions on previous visits but opted this time to keep it simple. The Blue Bus was a perfect $12 per person way to see Mendenhall Glacier. If you have not been to Juneau, this is a must. If you haven't been there in awhile, this is a must. Mendenhall is receding fast. At the drop-off to the park we saw a mother bear and cub. On the trail there were porcupine in the trees. The waterfall is absolutely beautiful. The only other U.S. place I know of to get so close to so much water is at Yosemite or Niagara. The bus drops you off in town for shopping if you care to make the 10 minute walk back to the ship.
Ketchikan - Online booking of the "Deadliest Catch" tour cost $25 less than booking it through the ship. There's absolutely no difference in access/accommodations. The tour boat literally sits on the other side of the dock; depending on your cabin location you can snap a photo of it from your balcony. This was a nice, informative tour. They pull up all sorts of creatures from the water. However, the king crab they retrieve are planted once a week. While it's not true "crabbing", it does guarantee that you will see king crab. You will also see plenty of bald eagles. The tour is worth the $150.00.
Icy Strait- This is the spot for whale watching. I've done plenty of whale watching in the past but this was the absolute best! Be forewarned, you will likely be cold, and you will likely get wet, and you will likely encounter rough patches of water. The absolute best way to see the whales is by hiring a private boat. The big vessels are like trying to get lunch in the windjammer when it's taco day. The price is steep- $175/per person on average. We hired Shawn and Theresa, owner/operator of Glacial Wind Charters. Their service and equipment was exceptional. Theresa includes a brief tour of Hoonah, the local town, and when we there directed us to a totem pole carving- the real thing, in fact the totem was going on display for a historical festival. You don't see one or two whales on this trip, it's more like one or two dozen. Breaches, double breaches, rolls, lobtailing; you name it, they did it, and close up. On the way back (30 minutes each way to the whales), Shawn trolled along the coast to spot bears, and we did.
Skagway- We've hired a private van before and will probably do it again. The Trail of '98 Tour company provides extraordinary service. The owners, Tom and Michelle Strand use new vans, changing out every couple of years. Their 6 hour Emerald Lake tour takes you up the Klondike Highway that parallels the train. I would only do the train if you're a train fan. Otherwise you will see far more on the road. Tom keeps a high powered scope handy to spot dall sheep camouflaged on the mountainsides. He also is astute at spotting bear at a far enough distance to be able to react. In two instances he was able to position us right along-side the bear and slowly kept paced with the animal as it grazed along the roadside. Watch the video I shot on YouTube http://youtu.be/RlHZtqOUVPI. Tom's van holds 8 people comfortably, with everyone having a their own picture window. TNT 98 also customized our tour, accommodating our non-interest in visiting the sled-dog summer camp (no snow, dirt trail) and instead providing more scenic viewing. Cost is $85/per person and worth every penny.
Seward- disembarked here for the train transfer. If you have the time and don't mind the extra expense, it's an interesting ride, especially for those who don't live near mountain scenery. We were especially lucky in having multiple moose sightings along the way. Food onboard is marginal, pricey. The views, however, are quite nice.
Anchorage- if you're flying out of Anchorage, and need a place to crash overnight, I recommend the Springhill Suites Anchorage. The hotel is affordable, part of the Marriott chain, close to the airport, and is centrally located. Downtown Anchorage can be a somewhat of a pill for parking. If you have no vehicle, you will need to take the bus downtown for touring. It's easy to do. There's plenty of affordable dining right around the hotel. The most popular by far is Moose's Tooth- well prepared finger food (pizza, calzones, sandwiches, etc.) Locals adore this place so be prepared for long lines anytime after five. Despite what staff may tell you, it's a ten minute walk, less if you slip out the back door of the hotel and cut through the parking lot and behind the movie theater. There's an Outback across the street- never a wait.
End of review; safe and memorable travels!