This was our first cruise to speak of. A 3 night cruise to Mexico many years ago has long since been forgotten. We were novices but went with a couple that has experience and relied on them for some things.
Radiance left out of Vancouver late day on 7/4/08. We flew in the morning before and were able to enjoy our hotel (Fairmont Waterfront) which was beautiful and walking distance to many restaurants and sights. The following morning we took a cab to Stanley Park where we went on a horse drawn carriage tour. Our guide was great and funny and the horses (Ace and Pepper) were real gentleman. Sorry I don't remember our guide's name but she was informative and did a great job. We embarked late in the day on the 4th. By doing that we avoided all the lines and crowds both getting on board and in the Windjammer when we arrived. I'd suggest that, no reason to rush to the port just to wait on line.
The cruise line is fabulous. The service was fantastic. The food was outstanding in the dining room. The head waiter always managed to be accommodating, wonderful waiters. We did the "My Time Dining" option. You pay gratuities in advance and you can go to the dining room anytime between 6 and 9:30? Pretty sure that is the hours. However if this is your choice you should decide each day when you would like to dine and make a reservation. The one day that we delayed that decision it was difficult for the head waiter to get us in at the time we wanted to dine. However they called the stateroom and had a compromise that worked out just fine. Every night we (4 of us) were able to eat at our own table and always at a window view. We did not eat often at the Windjammer (buffet style) but it was decent for a buffet. I am not extremely picky. The Seaview Cafe was a nice place for lunch. Good soup in a breadbowl. All the bars were well tended and not stingy with the alcohol. Wine selection is much better on board than you will see listed on the site for pre-purchase.
All the ports had more excursions than you could possibly need, some repeats but in different ports. Research your ports well so you can decide which has the best. Zip Line (Skagway-several lines and an expansion bridge). I did not do this but our travel companions did and loved it. Scary at first but well managed and exhilarating. They loved it. Looked better than the "seat" type zipline on Icy Strait Point which was long but only one line.
I booked 3 tours thru outside companies and loved all my choices. First in Ketchikan my husband and I booked a Tongass Rainforest hike with Shoretrips.Com. Carol our guide was waiting for us right on time and we were the ONLY people on our trip. She was wonderfully friendly and so knowledgeable. Funny but I think I learned a lot because I found myself spouting facts about the flora and fauna as we continued our trip thru Alaska. We got the see the early running of the salmon making their way north up river. And I found the banana slug so interesting.
In Juneau I read on Cruise Critic of Harv and Marv's Whale watching tour. It was everything that I read about. We had Harv for our tour guide and I can't even count how many whales we saw. He kind of guided the trip according to what we wanted to do or explore. He did not disappoint and even showed us the home on an island where Marv and his wife Eileen raise their family. Nice people-fabulous tour.. even the bus driver was friendly and prompt. He even took us to Mendenhall Glacier on the way back to port for a short visit to that sight. What an unexpected pleasure. When we were out watching whales spout and show their tail flukes I saw the other very large and impersonal boats with crowds of people all on one side or the other of the boat trying to push forward for a look. There were 7 people on our boat and that includes Harv. A MUST DO!
Every port was fun while we cruised.. then on to 4 nights of land tour. Prompt and courteous was our tour guide J.R. and bus driver Shane. At every stop our comfortable bus was ready and waiting and Shane had our bags waiting in our hotel rooms as we arrived. Sophie Station was a nice first hotel after the cruise, loved my big bathroom! The Grand Denali is gorgeous and sits on the side of a mountain. Talkeetna Lodge looks new and the grounds have hiking trails. This place is green and beautiful. Along the way Shane and J.R. must have rehearsed because they were a comedy team. J.R. is a young college student from Anchorage that loves his state of Alaska and is proud to show you around. Shane always had a smile and some facts to share. During the land tour we went to a Natural History Museum, Riverboat sternwheeler excursion into an Athabascan Indian Village and toured Denali National Park. Our glass domed train "The Wilderness Express" was SO comfortable and beautiful. Again the service and food in the dining car was great except for one evening our bartender was not quite fast enough. He must have been new but Kim was a funny and efficient attendant that worked hard and fast. She was terrific. We did a whitewater rafting trip that was booked thru RCI. The trip was fabulous and the guide "Rob" was a hoot. Loved Rob and he made the ride seem smooth. Hard to believe that when you look at the photos taken by the same co. on shore as we cascaded by them. I decided it was because Rob knows what he is doing. This was a fun trip but more lines, waiting and crowds. They worked very fast but it was just the volume of people that they work with. After many days of travel the lines get tiring.
The final excursion that I booked privately was Talkeetna Air Taxi Flightseeing. This was our last day and I chose Talkeetna as the place to do flightseeing because of the proximity to Mt. McKinley. Many people go to Alaska and never see the peak on the ground OR the air. THe people did their best to give us that view. The flight that went up before us did not get the peak view or a glacier landing. They are very careful that everyone gets all they can give you but not at the expense of being stuck up there. The clouds come in quickly. Our pilot Bill is a professional. Always on the lookout for the weather and warning other pilots of what he is seeing. Well we got lucky and McKinley showed itself. The pictures we took are beautiful but it is the type of thing you have to see to believe. Then we landed on the glacier. Ours were the only footprints at the time! Bill warned that if we needed to get back in the plane we would need to be quick about it. And we were, but we had a good 15 or 20 minutes up there and it takes your breath away. We all had a wonderful trip and I don't think that there was a thing that we missed.
I would have only one negative and that was the stateroom bath. We got a room with balcony on the 8th level. There was a strong smell in the hall from day one. It was present in our bathroom and came from the toilets. The couple with us was in a Jr. Suite on 10 which was FABULOUS and roomy.. they are cruisers and say they never experienced that before, nor has anyone else that I spoke too. The smell was a little more than I could have taken for another day and I feel like I took it home in my luggage with me. But it would not stop me from trying another Royal Caribbean ship.