We were a group of 9 from Wisconsin & Illinois who have cruised before but never to Alaska. We arrived in Seattle the day before departure and stayed at The Mayflower Park Hotel which is downtown and about 3-4 blocks from the Pikes Place Market. The hotel has a cruise package that is $47 total for two people. This includes a huge breakfast the next morning and transportation to the pier.
I highly recommend this hotel not only because of location but also because of the service, food, and comfort. From the airport we took advantage of the train that costs $2.75 a person and if you go to the last stop (Westlake Station), the hotel is only a block away. This certainly beats paying $35-45 for a taxi.
Rhapsody of the Seas is newly refurbished since it is one of the older ships in RC's fleet. It is somewhat smaller than other ships I have been on, but I did not find this a problem. In fact, it allows passengers to get more quickly acclimated to the ship's layout.
We all had Junior Suites which I love. Not only do you get to check in more quickly at the pier (priority boarding), but it is great to have the privacy of the balcony when traveling through the Inside Passage.
We were very fortunate because the ocean was fairly calm and the weather in the ports was great (a little drizzle in Victoria but no big deal). Who knew I would be wearing shorts in Alaska. I only had a sweatshirt on which often I removed.
I highly recommend seeing the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. For $16 per person round trip you can take the MGT (Big Blue Bus). The bus runs every hour -- just remember where they stop and pick up because there are about 5 other bus companies also transporting to the glacier.
In Skagway, half our group took the White Pass Railroad trip which is 3 hours for $120. The time really flew by and the scenery is magnificent. The history of how the railroad was built is fantastic and adds to the enjoyment of the trip. The train doesn't stop so you can't get off, but you can easily take pictures through the window and then you are also allowed to stand outside on the platform. There is a bathroom in every car and they do provide everyone with a free bottle of water.
Others in our group took advantage of the raft trip to where eagles nest, and one hearty couple took a 6 mile hike into the wilderness. They said the scenery was breathtaking, but they were exhausted when they returned and were in bed by 8:30 that night.
Because they were no giant ice floes in the way, the captain was able to get into the narrow passage by the Dawes Glacier. This occurred around 6:30 am and so in the comfort of our balcony we were able to view up close the glacier and the surroundings. There were even baby seals with their mothers on various small chucks of ice. We drank coffee and enjoyed the experience immensely.
When we arrived in Victoria, BC, there was a light drizzle but the temps were about 68 degrees. We decided to go to Butchart Gardens. I booked all of us through Cruise Victoria (CVS). The cost was about $52 a person and included pickup at the pier and then the admission fee for the gardens. I am not a gardener, but I have to say the gardens there are fantastic. There are 55 acres of flowers and individual gardens I never knew existed. They provide free umbrellas in case of rain and they are clear plastic so your view is not obstructed. There are three places to eat -- a somewhat pricey restaurant, a cafeteria (which we chose) and a snack bar which is more or less a hot dog stand. The bus to get back runs about every hour. We opted to be dropped off in town so we could walk around -- there was no problem when we wanted to go back to the ship since they had shuttles running every 30 minutes.
So Alaska is worth visiting, no question. I like Royal Caribbean (3 trips now), but would like to try another line for my next trip. The service on the Rhapsody is excellent. The crew really knocks themselves out to make sure your every wish is accommodated. The food for the most part is fine -- there are some dishes that are better than others, but if you really don't like something they will gladly get you something else. We also dined in the specialty restaurant the last night. We selected Giovanni's and it was great since we were the only people in the place. The food in these restaurants is definitely a notch higher. There is a cost of $20 per person, but I find this more than reasonable based on the food quality, food amount, and table service. We there for over 2 hours.
As far as the other amenities/activities on board, we really liked the karaoke show in the Schooner Bar with Derek Lewis (it is not for children). We also enjoyed the music trivia contests as well. The larger entertainment venue we visited once -- it was okay, but I am sure others enjoyed the musical tribute to Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, and Stevie Wonder -- just not our musical taste.
There are two days when you are out to sea. Some of our group thought this was very boring because the weather while at sea was blustery so being on deck was not possible. However, half our group are avid readers and there are lots of spots on the boat (besides your balcony)where you can relax and read. My sister and I even went to the spa since they had a great deal on services. Of course, there are lots of activities going on all day long: salsa dancing lessons, napkin folding, nutrition classes, and even a Q&A with the captain (I actually found this very interesting).
When we got back to Seattle at 7:00 am, getting off the ship was easy. We did the option where you carry your own bags. I liked that quite a bit. We were off the boat and getting our shuttle ride by 7:50 am.
Visit the Mendenhall Glacier, but be ready to do some walking. If the weather is nice it is quite enjoyable. The park rangers are very friendly and quite happy to explain what you are looking at as well as directing your attention to areas you might have missed.