My wife and I left Austin, Texas on August 28 and flew to Seattle. We had free tickets on Southwest. We stayed at the Red Cloud by the ballpark. Very nice and close to the Amtrak station which was our departure point on Friday morning.
We arrived at the Amtrak station just in time to check our bags and immediately boarded the train. The train was cheaper than a flight from Seattle to Vancouver and the seats were much nicer and roomier. There were a few stops on the way and the train was a little more than an hour late getting to Vancouver but still arrived in plenty of time before departure.
We took a cab from the train station to the dock which was only a few miles away. The boarding process took less than thirty minutes from when our luggage was unloaded from our cab to when we were standing on the decks of the ship.
The ship was amazing. The ship was very large compared to other ships that we docked next to in ports. It was well taken care of and you could not tell it was several years old.
The cabins weren't ready until 1:00 pm so we visited the Windjammer for lunch. The food was good and there was a wide selection. We ate in the Windjammer every time except for one evening when we ate in the main dining room. Most of the food that was offered in the main dining room was offered in the Windjammer also. We enjoyed the food and never had a bad experience.
The cabin was ready as promised and was nice. We opted for an inside cabin on deck 8 towards the front of the ship. The cabin was a little small but there was plenty of storage to unload our four suitcases and then store them out of the way. The cabin steward was very nice and our cabin was always clean and ready for us. It is amazing how he so quickly learned our schedule and made up our room when we were not around.
Our first day at sea was cruising the inside passage. A big deal was made of the Port and Shopping Show but it was a complete was of time as the staff giving the presentation told you which stores to shop at and if you didn't you were an idiot. Of course the stores are "owned" by Royal Caribbean. We lasted only 20 minutes of the three hour "show".
The scenery was nice. Rolling hills, lots of trees and water everywhere. The weather for the entire trip was much cooler than we expected, especially on the water. It also rained everyday but one. Take plenty of heavier clothing that can be layered and that will stay dry.
We chose to book our shore excursions on board that first day versus early on the internet. I guess I was expecting there to different offerings on board from the internet but it was exactly the same. I will go into more detail about the excursions in each port. Be prepared to spend lots of $$ on board for all the extras. Many activities cost extra and of course the shore excursions. Our credit card bill was $1500 heavier at the end of the cruise.
It was a small, tourist town. The day we arrived it was sunny and warm which we were told only happens a few days out of the year. In Ketchikan was elected to do the Duck Tour which was approximately 1.5 hours long. The tour took you around the city and through the harbor and was well worth it. We saw plenty of bald eagles when touring the city. The tour guide was a local who lived there her entire life. We were the only ship in port that day which was also unusual.
Juneau was the next stop. Not as clean as Ketchikan but still a nice place. The capital of Alaska looks like a normal office building. We chose to do a combination tour to the Mendenhall Glacier and whale watching. The visit to the glacier was neat but hurried. There was only an hour to visit the glacier. We saw a brown bear at the glacier from the bus and we were lucky enough the driver was able to stop for a couple minutes. The whale watching tour was excellent. The whales sighting were numerous including a baby with its mother. The operators of both tours were very professional and knowledgeable about the area. The tour guide on the whale watching trip was a local.
We took the train up to the White Pass. The ride was neat and a little scary at times due to the exposed ledges the train climbed up. Skagway was very similar to Ketchikan in look and feel.
ICY STRAIT (HOONAH)
Very small town. The Radiance had to anchor in the harbor and tender the passengers ashore. We chose to do the Spasski Valley wildlife tour which ended up being really neat. We saw seven coastal (grizzly) bears and lots of bald eagles. It was a little scary in that the guide was carrying a bow in case any bears were met on the trail.
This was probably one of the best parts of the cruise. The captain was able to get the ship within a 1000 feet of the face of the glacier. The glacier was very active that day with lots of calving taking place. It was very cold and I wished I had more clothes.
Overall the cruise was everything we expected. There was only one time when the seas where rough enough to keep us in the room that evening.
Disembarking was also very easy. Our bags were easy to find. We rented a car from Seward on Friday morning and drove north to Talkeetna to try and catch a glimpse of McKinley but it was covered in clouds. Don't wait to rent a car til you get there because there will be none left. Our flight back home left Anchorage at 1230 am on Saturday morning and we arrived back in Austin at 330 pm.