My wife celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with our first Alaskan cruise. This was the final Alaskan cruise of the year for the Rhapsody of the Seas as it is now on its way to Hawaii and then to Australia and the South Pacific.
As such, this cruise stopped in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan and ended in Vancouver. (On our Roll Call chat, some people were not originally aware of the unique itinerary and changed to a cruise that went Seattle-Seattle. Those don't go to Ketchikan however, and Ketchikan is not to be missed.
We splurged on a suite for this cruise and it was well worth it. We had almost no line at check-in, which was around noon for us. We were able to board right away after all the details were taken care of, and we had lunch in the Windjammer. The Windjammer is always extra full for lunch on boarding day but we were able to find a seat. Service was excellent as usual, and as I have come to expect on RCCL as this is our 5th cruise with them.
The scenery on this cruise was outstanding. Going through the Inside Passage and the Tracy Arm Fjord were amazing. And even though the cruise director said they did not any way to "schedule" the whales, they still showed up many times. No big splashing breaches as I was hoping, but still more than enough to satisfy DW and I.
We had 2 sets of great table companions this time. We saw them around the ship on occasion and we did things with them too. We even ran into a pair of them at lunch in Ketchikan and they shared their table with us, which cut our wait to Zilch. This was at the Fish Pirate's restaurant.
Each port of call had 3 or 4 ships in port, which I don't think I've even had in the Caribbean yet, but all worked smoothly.
In Juneau we took an excursion out to Mendenhall Glacier and the Salmon Hatchery. The Glacier was stunning, even though it rained on and off, and the salmon hatchery was informative. We even saw some seals there.
In Skagway, we rode the White Pass railway and hiked to Laughton Glacier. The guides (Dylan, Kellen, and Shane) were personable, knowledgeable and always put our needs above theirs. Standing on a glacier was on my bucket list and it was not disappointing. We took over 200 photos on the hike. And we were certainly tired (and hungry) at the end of it. We had sandwiches on the glacier, and they gave us a fanny pack with 2 waters, 2 candy bars and 2 pkgs of nuts as well. But by the end, I was ready for dinner. Too bad I was almost too tired to eat! But I got through it (veal T-bone was excellent)
In Ketchikan, we rented a car and did our own thing. We had seen a TV show, "Motion" there and we went and hiked the same places they did. We went to Ward Lake. Easy level hike around the lake. The salmon were spawning which was excellent to see. After that we drove to Settler's Creek and walked the 1/4 mile to the waterfall. Again, we watched salmon attempt to swim upstream at the step waterfall. It was amazing to see this age old natural stage in their lives, even if it did stink a little from the dead salmon around. After that we stopped at Totem Bight State Park and looked at the totem poles. Some great carving went into those. I found Settler's Creek and Totem Bight as a tour for $89pp. We rented a car for $59.95 total and did our own thing.
I know some people on the Forums have strong feelings one way or the other for ship sponsored excursions. I've done both and had good and bad times on both. It's all what you make of it, I say.
The entertainment we saw was great. The Rhapsody has been through its remodel and there were a couple of aerial shows in the Centrum. Too bad we slept through one of them. But that was our fault. The main comedians were funny; I liked Gary Mule Deer better than the first one but both were fine. We missed one of the Broadway dance reviews but the singing and dancing of the staff was great. Of course not Broadway level, otherwise the dancers and singers would be there and not here, right? The Staff's "Rock Britannia" show was great. Graham Seymour is an amazing Cruise Director. He did things (his own TV show and own comedy routine) that I haven't seen other Cruise Directors do.
And in that vein, Captain Rick, was the most personable Captain ever. We saw him more often that any of the other 5 captains put together. He competed in a Cake decorating contest, sang to us at the Crown and Anchor society get together, and had a Q&A with passengers for about an hour in the theater. Not to mention his being out for the Walk for Wishes and his most informative daily noon updates. He even made sure to alert us to a pod of whales doing bubble fishing. Seeing the blowholes of 5-6-7 whales at one time was really neat.
I've always enjoyed the food onboard and this was no exception. We dined for the first time in the extra fee Chops Grille. The food was more than we could eat and the steak was as tender as ever. I'm still ambivalent about those fee restaurants, but since it was our Anniversary, and all the other table mates were going out to specialty restaurants too, we figured we might as well too.
The Rhapsody has a new cafe, the Park Cafe, in the Solarium. It took us a few days to discover it but it is a jewel. Not crowded for breakfast/lunch like the Windjammer. They have a nice selection of food, and you don't overeat as easy there. Plus, it's in the Solarium so you can eat, swim, sleep, in whatever order you want. My father in law is handicapped and the Windjammer and MDR both had some tight corners, but the Park Cafe would be no problem for him in his wheelchair.
The Meet and Mingle was great, this was truly a special group. DW and I were missing my nephew's wedding, so the M&M group all helped us wish them "Congratulation" and they appreciated the video I posted online for them! Saw several of them around the ship too and we shared many cruise experiences.
We are going to have to make Alaska a regular cruise itinerary for years to come. Hopefully next time we can add in a cruise tour and go to Denali as well
The bus driver was very informative about the Juneau area and kept us informed as to what we could do, should do, and shouldn't do at each stop. The glacier was wonderful and we saw many bald eagles. How cool was that?
The salmon hatchery was informative, and we got to see some seals. It isn't anything super special though. The tour took about 3-3:30 hours, as we left at 11:30 and didn't get done until after 3pm. Then we had lunch, and a late dinner onboard the ship
We rented a car from First City Car Rental. He met us under the "Welcome to Ketchikan" sign and after signing some papers, we were on our way! We drove up the one and only highway to Ward Lake Campground and hiked around said lake. The salmon were spawning. We didn't see any bear, but we did encounter some fresh scat though! One pile was VERY fresh, and aromatic.
We also visited Settler's Creek and Totem Bight. Settler's Creek has an easy 1/4 mile hike to a beautiful step waterfall. Lots of salmon trying to get upstream there too.
This was an amazing adventure. The guides informed us of many of the plant species we encountered, showing us the good ones from the bad ones. I even ate a leaf from something. We took a detour to see one of the Cabin's you can rent in the Tongass Nat Forest as we met the prior occupants on the walk down.
Standing on the glacier was awesome. Looks can be deceiving up there. When we came to a 100 ft deep moulin, I didn't even realize we were that far above the ground level. Simply amazing.
The scenery along the White Pass Railway was breathtaking (and not in a Seinfeld way). Be sure to look out for Mickey Mouse on the way up the tracks. Between miles 7-10, I would say.
The guides were from Packer Expeditions and I would contract with them in a heartbeat.