Overall a great cruise on the Radiance. Went with my mom and 14 year old twins.
Main advice- This cruise is about seeing Alaska. Think carefully about what shore excursions you will take. It was very difficult picking excursions for this trip esp. since we didn't know what the weather would be! To really experience Alaska you need to get out of the ports. Private excursions are vastly superior to ship excursions! These extra excursions will add immensely to your enjoyment, but some of the most spectacular are very expensive. You don't want to come home kicking yourself for missing a once and a life time opportunity nor do you want to come home having spent the money you really should have spent on something else. Overall I think we balanced this pretty well.
Pre cruise- easy flights from Baltimore to Vancouver. We booked the Pan Pacific
directly through the hotel's web site for $154 a night including breakfast. We arrived at the Pan Pacific late afternoon on July lst, Canada Day. We enjoyed the end of the large street festival celebration in Canada Place, and then took a long walk along the sea wall towards Stanley Park. Returned to Pan Pacific and watched glorious fireworks from the pool roof deck. The next morning we headed to the North Shore by ferry and Bus. Spent much of day on Grouse Mountain. Wonderful in good weather. Next morning took Land/Sea City tour and enjoyed it. Loved Vancouver esp. Granville Island and Stanley Park. They took us directly to the ship at Ballytine pier.
Embarkation - Easy
Our Cabin- Nice but small. The balconies to our left were extended balconies. The balconies to our right were standard size. The left half of our balcony was extended part was not. The Life boat overhang kept us from looking directly down at the water. This didn't really bother us.
The Ship- Lovely, very well maintained. Many classy touches. Great indoor solarium/pool. Glassed areas great for viewing Alaska. Elevators ridiculously slow.
Service - Very good
Food- The greatest weakness in this trip was the dining room food at dinner. All of the cruise lines have cut back to 3 courses over the past few years. While you could order both soup and salad our wonderful waiter Oliver was so busy and had so many tables that I didn't want to make any extra work for him. The soups, appetizers and deserts were tasty if nothing special. The entrees were very weak. lst night prime rib was pretty good but downhill after that. The steaks were tough. Very small portion of dried out salmon. The lobster tail wasn't bad for a frozen ship lobster, but again the portion was tiny. I am not a big eater and rarely finish meals in restaurants.
I had lunch in the dining room several days and enjoyed these more than the dinners. The salad bar at lunch was amazing- not to be missed. The waiter prepares it individually for you. There are all sorts of ingredients to select from including shrimp, asparagus etc.
The buffet food was good as was the Sea view cafe on deck 12.
Entertainment- The production shows City of Dreams and Piano Man were very good. We also enjoyed the comedians and the Welcome Aboard and Farewell Shows.
The best entertainment of all was watching the glorious scenery from the decks and our balcony!
On ship activities- We missed not having a naturalist on board. Didn't really understand why they had a Canadian Mounty as a speaker. Enjoyed the professor who spoke on totem poles and glaciers. Loved the backstage tour, esp. visiting the dressing room. The digital camera presentation was terrible. We were kept waiting about a half hour because the crew had a training in the conference room. When we finally got in the room, there weren't enough chairs for everyone to sit. They spent another 15 min trying to get the power point to project to the screen. They were never successful. The photographer had to hold up the projector to try to let people see! Most people left before it was over.
Our Weather- Wonderful! Sunny in the 80's most days. Not typical Alaska!
Ports- Our reason for being on the cruise!
Ketchikan- Took a tour with Kat of Ketchikan taxi tours. Really enjoyed it. Went to Potlatch Totem Park, Totem Bight, walked through Rainforest, tasted salmon berries, Went on a bear hunt and saw a little black bear eating the lst salmon of the season. Saw numerous eagles. I somewhat regret not also taking a float plane tour. You can book tours at the dock when you get off the ship for less cost than ship tours.
Juneau- We took the shuttle out to Mendenhall Glacier. A great bargain for $14.00 person. You can hike around to the waterfall. We took the tram up to Mount Roberts then hiked to the top. Really enjoyed this. Glorious views. We had a perfect clear day. Walked around town, checked out the Red Dog Saloon. Very touristy, but fun. If you have your heart set on a glacier helicopter/dog sled ride you can book this with Costal Helicopter or several other vendors' right at the dock for around $400 instead of paying over $500 from the ship. Don't delay; they were sold out for the day by about 9:30.
Skagway- Went up to Emerald Lake with Dyea Dave's friend Howard. Dave was full so he sent us with Howard. Howard runs ALCAN MYWAY Tours and takes only 4 people in his SUV. What a great day and a bargain at $60 per person for a 7 hour tour. Howard is a retired engineer who wants to show you Alaska/Canada "MY Way" He is definitely a rugged individualist. We met up with Dyea Dave at lunch and he was great! I am very, very, glad we didn't rent a car. The scenery would have been too distracting! After getting back to Skagway we walked around town. We headed right to the visitors center to pick up tickets for the National Park Service free walking tour. Very worthwhile!
Icy Straight Point: Went whale watching with TECCK outfitters. They take 6 but that day it was just the four of us. Went with Sean and Dirk on the Corvina. These guys are "whale behaviorists " who spend the summer in Alaska and the winter in Hawaii studying whales. They took us to a spot where they hoped to find whales bubble feeding. When we weren't successful, they took us to another spot and kept us out longer at no extra charge! Saw lots of whales, but none breeched. Saw other wildlife too including a sea otter! TECCK may be a few dollars more than their competitor but we think our money was well spent.
Hubbard Glacier - Wow! Well worth getting up at 5 AM for! Captain said we got within 375 feet. The record is 300 feet. We didn't see a lot of calving though. We watched from Deck 12, crowded but manageable. .
Dress in layers and wear a hat and gloves. Even if you think you don't need them at first it gets pretty cold after standing outside for several hours. If you don't mind viewing through glass any of the inside lounges on the top 3 floors are great viewing areas.
Kenai Fjords -
Rather than booking on our own we went with a combined excursion transfer to Anchorage Airport. The advantage was minimizing hassles with luggage and concerns about making the airplane on time.
The disadvantage- We were off the ship by 9 AM and had 3 hours to kill "shopping" before the cruise. We didn't know this ahead of time but it turned out that we were able to go to the Sea Life Center in Seward before our Cruise. This is a small aquarium that certainly doesn't have the "WOW" factor of the Baltimore or Boston Aquariums, but turned out to be very enjoyable and gave us a lot of background on the wildlife we would see.
The cruise was the 5 hour Resurrection bay cruise. We saw an abundance of wildlife including breeching Whales that looked like they were putting on a show in Sea World. Amazing! Very enjoyable. The prime rib/salmon meal was excellent!
Our ship excursion transfer was on the public Park Connection Bus. The drive to Anchorage was magnificent. I somewhat regret not spending the night in Seward and renting a car to drive to Anchorage stopping for the many sights on the way. The highway was good and this drive seemed very manageable to me.
Flight Home - easy
A sobering end to our trip- We flew into Regan National as it was cheaper than going to BWI.
This is highly unusual! We booked a shared ride home to Baltimore. We shared our van with a family whose son in law was wounded badly in Iraq and was being treated at Walter Reed Medical Center. This brave young man lost his leg while defending our country. Driving through Walter Reed Grounds was a sobering sight in deed and made us very, very grateful for all we have and the cost some people pay to keep our beautiful land free.