We waited many years before booking an Alaska cruise. After all, the whole idea is to enjoy the water, the tropical climate, and the exotic islands. Well...been there and done that enough times that it was time for a new adventure. We were thrilled with the change in climate after 5 months of the Florida summer and we did not miss the pool during the day.
The cruise started in Vancouver and we flew in a day early so we could see a little of the city and allow a buffer against delayed flights and the possibility of misdirected luggage. Everything went off without a hitch with travel and we were very lucky to make our way through the airport and immigration/customs without a hitch. We were through in about 30 minutes but once aboard heard the horror story from the day before when it took 2 hours. We stayed at Sutton Place in the heart of downtown and walked everywhere. The area was "alive" with both visitors and downtown workers. It was a pleasure to walk around with great restaurants and shops. We walked about 15 minutes to Stanley Park and rented bikes near the park entrance and rode the seawall around the park. It's a great park with great views and the weather was ideal.Vancouver has a large Chinese population and the largest Chinatown in North America so we found a great restaurant on Robson and met a few of our CC buddies for dinner. Then we people watched our way back up Robson to have ice cream and go back to the hotel. The next morning we spent a couple more hours walking around downtown before the 10 minute taxi ride to the pier. Princess and Celebrity sailed out of the downtown pier while RCCL is a bit removed but not a big deal. Check in was quick and efficient at about 11:30 and we were off to the Windjammer for lunch. We arranged a pre meet and mingle in the Schooner Bar at 3 PM, prior to muster, and got a head start meeting the people that were on the thread for the past 15 months. No life jackets for the muster drill were needed and as fate would have it our muster station was the Schooner bar. Sail away was beautiful and we passed under the Lions Gate Bridge and out to sea right behind the Ruby Princess.
The first day was at sea and everyone settled into their routine for meals and activity. Lots of readers, plenty of ship activity with trivia games, card playing, bingo, casino, etc. This was also the first formal night. We were out in the open ocean so the ship had some movement but not too extreme. The highlight of day 3 was Tracy Arm Fjord. The crew navigated us up the fjord and we saw our first glimpse of glacial ice. We wound our way to the end of the fjord and were awed by the massive glacier. It stands hundreds of feet high and wide just dwarfing the ship. We put a boat in the water to scout out the larger chunks and kudos to the captain and crew for being able to manuever us in close. Hundreds of people were out on the forward decks taking pictures and taking in the natural beauty of the cascading waterfalls and sheer granite walls. The fjord was created by glaciation so the walls were high and the water was very deep. We spent a good part of the day sailing in and out before moving on toward our first port stop.
Our next 5 days were port days and we zigzagged around the inside passage to stop at each one. The month of September starts the rainy season and we didn't see the sun for the whole time we were in Alaska. There were layers of clouds everywhere and some places it rained most of the time but we had done enough research to forsee this and had our rain gear ready. Believe me, it didn't slow anything down. There is very little variation in the temperature from day to night. Mostly in the low 50's during the day and high 40's at night. We slept with the sliding door to the balcony open several nights. The second week sailing down the west coast we had mostly excellent weather. Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego are just great cities and we had perfect weather in all three. The day sailing the inside route from Ketchican to Seattle was perfect sunny and cool weather. Astoria was a mix of clouds and sun with a great maritime museum. We went to a fort where the Lewis and Clark expedition ended. The biggest surprise was learning about the size and scope of the Columbia River. Growing up on the east coast we had no idea how important a river it is. We travelled with friends about half an hour down the coast to Seaside and had a great lunch along the beach promenade. The waves just pound the shoreline and sailing out of the Columbia River into the ocean is one of the trickiest navigations in the world of cruising. It was very impressive as the ship navigated the bar with the surf and waves crashing to either side. The open ocean was a bit rough between Astoria and San Francisco but the sun was out and the temperatures warmed up and we had a nice sea day.
San Fran started with a pre dawn sail in under the Golden Gate bridge. Many of us were up and on deck for the 5:30 am sail in. We were very fortunate that it was crystal clear for arrival, all day, and for sail away at 11 PM. There was a major crowd on deck for sailaway and everyone was watching as we went back under the Golden Gate and out to sea to San Diego. San Diego disembarcation was just as smooth as check in. We waited in the dining room waiting area for C&A Diamond/Platinum until they announced our turn and off we went. Our luggage was quickly found and we breezed through customs and hopped a cab to our hotel. We stayed at the Sheraton on Harbor Island and were right next to the airport for our next day departure. We had a perfect weather day and went to Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo for the day. We joined our Cruise Critic friends for dinner on the water and watched Serenade sail back out on her next voyage.
We are veteran RCCL cruisers and we can not say too much for how excellent everything was. The ship was great with tons of glass for viewing, excellent public rooms, and super well maintained all around. The ship was spotless and well maintained and the staff was "the best"! The food was great in Chops, Portofino, and the Seaview Cafe. We ate at Portofino, Chops three times,and Seaview for lunch three or four times. One of our Chops visits was a Champagne brunch and I highly recommend it. It got us an invitation for a galley tour later in the cruise. The Windjammer food was the best we have experienced and the same for the dining room. We had several occasions to see our headwaiter in the Windjammer in the morning as well as the Chops manager. There is never an idle moment for these hard working people. Our dining room assistant waiter was also on duty in the Windjammer and he doted on our every need while we were there. They were so good that I wrote a letter to RCCL customer service for special recognition. Dennis Charles, our CD, was great as well. I looked forward to seeing him around the ship and his staff did a great job. The RCCL singers and dancers put on great shows and the guest entertainers were good as well. I would not hesitate to book another cruise on this ship.