Let me begin by stating that this is only our second cruise, so I don't have a lot of experience to pull from. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this cruise on Royal Caribbean! I picked this specific cruise because of the itinerary: I wanted to spend the day in Victoria BC. What I gave up was another port in Alaska (Ketchikan) which is why I probably left the cruise wishing I had seen more of AK.
Flew in to Seattle the day before and stayed at the Inn at the Market. A little pricey, but met my requirement for proximity to Pikes Place Market, as we had my senior-aged aunt with us and didn't want too much walking. What made it worth it: the rooftop patio overlooking the Market and Elliott Bay - Marvelous at sunset!
Side note on transportation: I checked Yelp ahead of time for a car service from the airport to the hotel (as there was NO shuttle service). A-ABC Transportation Seattle. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!! Cheaper than most others, and exceptionally friendly driver named Bobby. I might just keep them in my cell phone in case I am ever in Seattle again!
JUNEAU: Mendenhall Glacier. Took one of the $16 RT shuttles you see offered at the dock. Once there, did an easy hike to Nugget Falls which gets you fairly close to the glacier (relatively speaking, of course). Spent some time just admiring the natural beauty, then hiked back to visitor center. $3 Entrance fee to Ctr, watched the short but informative film. Then waited on shuttle to come back. Others said they had seen mama bear and cubs on another hiking trail. Would like to have done that, but didn't want to miss the last shuttle. Walked around the "town" (read "tourist zone" here) before heading back to the ship.
SKAGWAY: Took the White Mtn Pass Railway. Beautiful scenery and entertaining narration throughout trip. Folks on the LEFT of the train get the good views first, but everyone flips the seatbacks and swaps sides for the ride down. The morning train gets you back around lunchtime, so we re-boarded and ate at Windjammer. Then went out to scope out the "town" (again "tourist zone"). Nothing truly special as far as shopping, but we knew this would be our last shopping opportunity in Alaska.
TRACY ARM FJORD: Our ship's captain, Rob, took the better route to Dawes Glacier, and we got "as close as the ship had been all season" according to him. That closeness is still about 1/3 of a mile away. Beautiful colors. Unfortunately we missed a small calving, as the ship had turned and we were on the wrong side. Despite getting up at 5a.m. we were late securing a "front row" seating on the top deck (apparently many others knew to get up earlier than that and drag chairs from the Solarium to the top/front of the ship). However, we had great views and the captain spent a good bit of time there to let us soak it in. Note: the ship also dropped a net from a boom to collect a chunk of ice for sculpting later that morning!
VICTORIA BC: Was to be the highlight of our trip for me. To begin with, the weather was overcast and ended up drizzling rain. I booked a combo tour through CVS (Cruise Victoria). It was for a City/Castle/Butchart tour. The young lady at the kiosk (in front of the Empress Hotel - you have to book that shuttle too, I found out) advised us to do the Castle first, City second, and Gardens third. Now, Butchart Gardens was my MAIN reason for picking this itinerary...keep that in mind. We finished the Castle in 45 minutes. Came back to the shuttle pick up point,and......NO SHUTTLE BUS. NOT FOR OVER AN HOUR! I called the main office, and was told "well, the 11:20 shuttle may have looked different, but the 12:20 will be the ORANGE shuttle." I honestly don't think the 11:20 shuttle came. So, we lost an hour waiting, then took the City Tour (you have no option)and got back to the Empress for a different bus to get you out to Butchart Gardens. The schedule we were on now put us at the gardens at 3:05, and the last shuttle back to the pier was to run at 4:00. REALLY!?! Less than an hour to tour 55 acres of gardens??? BAD ADVICE FROM CVS, BAD CHOICE ON MY PART FOR CHOOSING CVS. Be advised - you really only have time to do the gardens and the city tour (in that order) if you enjoy strolling through gardens rather than sprinting!
THE SHIP: I LOVED Rhapsody of the Seas! It was clean, nicely decorated, well-staffed, and just all-around pleasant. Now, I've only had one other cruise to compare, but this far surpassed my first cruise. We ate in Edelweiss every night at the first seating. Malvin was our waiter and Joy our assistant waiter. BOTH WERE FABULOUS! And, I thought the food was excellent! Breakfast each day was at the Park Diner in the Solarium; Lunch in the Windjammer. No complaints other than typical horde mentality that occurs at open buffets.
Entertainment on the ship was pretty good. We saw two shows in the theater (Motown tribute show which was great, and a salute to country which was acceptable). The best we saw were the Rosario Duo (flute and piano) and the band Metrotone (the singer was quite good). These were either in the Shall We Dance Lounge or the Centrum (note to bartending staff in Centrum: please don't overtalk the artists. This is rude). A couple of aerial acts in the Centrum were fun to watch, assuming you could find a spot with a view.
I recommend the Captain's Talk. This was very informative and entertaining. Of course, we had Captain Rob and his sense of humor just can't be beat. I would almost search for a cruise based on whether or not he was at the helm!
One suggestion I have is more varied activities for the sailing days. I don't need to know how to fold napkins or towels into animal shapes. I would have liked some more information from Naturalists (there might have been one, but wasn't at a convenient time).
Overall: Like I said at the start - I loved this cruise and the scenery was beautiful. I just feel like I got a tiny sliver of Alaska. We can't afford many of those excursions that take you out in a smaller boat or up in the air by a chopper or seaplane. I guess I'll just have to go back to Alaska - just maybe not by a cruise.