We just completed our fourth (and best) cruise ever, aboard the Radiance. It was our first cruise with RCI and it will be hard to sail with any other line in the future. Simply, the entire crew was top shelf, professional and smart, as was the RCI service. The ship was impeccable and in fine condition at the end of the Alaska season.
We left September 3, 2005, from Vancouver. Of course, I don't understand why the cruise lines fly passengers to Seattle and then bus them up to BC. Our trip started off shaky as our first flight was canceled causing us to arrive in Seattle just before the last coach. I called the RCI Seattle representative (phone number is in the ticket book) from the plane while we were delayed waiting for a gate and was told they were aware of our situation and we were the last group arriving, but ground reps would be waiting for us.
I was really impressed. They got us on the bus and we arrived at the ship just in time to miss the lifeboat drill. No loss there. One of our bus passenger's luggage didn't make it and they chose to stay at the airport, so the driver was forced to leave without them. However, RCI flew them from Seattle to Vancouver, so they actually arrived before us.
Having underutilized windows and balconies on previous cruises, we opted for a lower deck, inside cabin. The cabins were laid out much wider than on previous ships and gave a better impression of spaciousness. The perpetual darkness did cause us to sleep a little later than normal, but I would not hesitate choosing an inside cabin again on this class of ship. It was very quiet and stable.
Sailing from Vancouver all the way to Juneau was smooth, as it was mostly inside passage cruising. On the first afternoon, it warmed up nicely enough so folks could actually sunbathe on deck. This did not happen again until our way back at about the same latitude. We were warned about the weather in Juneau, but it was fun to visit the Mendenhall Glacier and fish hatchery, despite the steady rain. Of course, souvenir shopping is plentiful and cheap.
On to Skagway where we took the White Pass train trip up the local mountains to the Canadian border. This was very interesting and highly recommended. The shopping was good (according to my wife) and late season bargains were in full bloom.
Next we sailed for the Hubbard Glacier and the seas got a little chunky on the way - just enough to be a conversation topic. At the glacier, the captain was able to get within 900 feet (300 m) of the front wall. It was spectacular. A few small boats deployed with ships crew for what seemed like an initiation rite, in which they climbed on to a glacial calf and them jumped in the icy water in their survival suits. They shot video of this and played it on the CCTV. The glacier was fairly active and the weather was not nearly as cold as we had expected.
We sailed for Ketchikan and again hit some chunky seas, but even less so than on the way up. Contrary to the prevailing pattern, Ketchikan was sunny and nearly 70F (21C) degrees. We hit the lumberjack show and watched thousands of salmon running up river. Shopping was not nearly as cheap as in the other ports, but Ketchikan is a beautiful city and much more of a real town than the tourist-only atmosphere of the previous two ports.
As this was our first Alaskan cruise, we went light on the shore excursions. But the prevailing impression of this cruise was the quality of the ship and crew. The entertainment was much better than on Carnival cruises and on par with previous Celebrity cruises. The food in the Windjammer was excellent and even the coffee served there 24 hours a day was pretty good, cruise coffee being notoriously noxious. Our cabin steward provided an introductory session, which was helpful for the first-timers we were cruising with, and always seemed to be on deck, but never cleaning our cabin at an inopportune time. Like the rest of the crew, he was professional and friendly.
Our evening dining staff, likewise, was on-the-spot, made excellent recommendations and deserved tips higher than the recommended rate. We discovered the Seaview Cafe in the middle of the cruise and wish we had found it sooner. Light fare, bar and a friendly group far from the madding crowd.
Since it was after Labor Day, there were very few children aboard and all the school aged ones were being home-schooled. The crowd was mostly middle aged and older, but a young couple did get married aboard in a formal ceremony.
One not so surprising trend noticeable since our last cruise was the high ratio of suits to tuxedos on formal night. Time to pack the penguin away for good. It's somewhat sad, but unless the suit option is reversed, folks will tend that way for convenience, including me.
Although we prefer warmer climates, when we cruise Alaska again, it will be on RCI. It was a fantastic week!