This was our first cruise so we did not know what to expect. We had read a lot online and the reviews were mostly positive for the Radiance of the Seas Alaskan cruises with the exception of the first two cruises out of the recent dry dock for renovation. So we were a little nervous going in. We were a group of five ranging in age from 15 to 75 years old with the elder being in a wheel chair.
We spent a day in Seattle and a day in Vancouver prior to the cruise. In Seattle we took the ARGOS harbor tour and it was wonderful. Views of the city and of Mt. Ranier in the distance were spectacular as there was not a cloud in the sky most of the day. We stayed at the Spring Hill Suites in Renton and it was clean and relatively low cost. Vancouver was rainy but we toured some gardens near the city and can recommend the Marriott Renaissance Harbour based on our experience. It was located only a couple of blocks from Canada Place and the cab ride to the pier was under $10.
On July 8th we arrived at the pier around 11:45 am (scheduled time was noon) and we were on the ship by 12:15. The lines moved quickly and once aboard we were directed to the Windjammer for lunch while we waited for the staterooms to be prepared. Several folks in previous reviews had commented on the overcrowding in the Windjammer and having to wait for a table -- we never saw that. We always found a table for 5, no problem.
By 2pm we were allowed in our rooms and they were as advertised. We had 2 interior staterooms (1503,1505) on deck 10 and as expected, they were pretty small. However, there was a LOT of storage space (including under the beds) and so we were never climbing over luggage. The bathrooms are remarkably small, but functional. The shower was very confining (reminded me of getting an MRI!) but got the job done.
We met our cabin steward, Roxanne, and she was very attentive during the entire cruise. She also proved to be very talented at making towel animals! During our stay we received a dog, a bat, an owl, a duck, and most impressive, a lobster. Cruise Director Keith was very entertaining and kept everyone well organized. The staff was very friendly and would greet us with a smile all the time.
On a negative/positive we had multiple toilet issues (would not flush) during the cruise in cabin 1503 (deck 10), but each time the problem was resolved in just a few minutes. I was very impressed with the responsiveness of the maintenance staff.
The ship layout was very convenient as there never was really too far to walk for where you wanted to go. It only took about a day to learn the lay of the land. If I had one complaint it would be the elevator system on the outside of the ship. The glass elevators are beautiful and provide wonderful views outside -- however, they are spaced far enough apart in the lobby that we felt like we were playing "Whack-a-Mole" with the elevators. We would hear the ding, and by the time we realized which doors were opening, it would be too late and we would have to try again. In all fairness, we did have someone in a wheelchair so our reaction time was slightly slower than that of a typical couple. That said, when I made the "Whack-a-Mole" joke on board (many times), laughs of agreement came often. No issues with the interior elevators at all. The ship is really beautiful.
Food on the ship was very good and we spent the majority of the time in the Windjammer buffet (versus the main dining room) due to having a late dining room time (8:30) and traveling with someone who was ill and would be asleep by then. I'm not a food connoisseur, but most of the food in Windjammer was comparable to what I would get in a nice restaurant at home and the variety was excellent. Breakfast was the strongest meal of the day followed by dinner and finally lunch. I was surprised to find lox available every morning and it was of high quality. The main dining room was beautiful and the service was excellent during our limited number of visits. Food in the main dining room was a little better than in the buffet (not a surprise).
When the Windjammer was not open, the Park Cafe provided light fare that was excellent in quality. We never used room service.
We only had one meal in a specialty restaurant (additional fee required) and that was at Samba Grill -- the Brazilian steak house. This meal was the highlight of the trip for me and my son and I recommend it to anyone who boards. We sampled every one of the 9 different meats and all of the desserts offered. Everything was delicious! One suggestion, however, is that RCI build a sheltered path to the restaurant that avoids the open deck -- the wind blowing basically messes everyone's hair prior to entering the restaurant. Of course, if you are in port, this is less of an issue.
We watched just about every show offered each night in the Aurora Theatre as well as most of the small acts around the ship. The production shows were generally very good (the performers are really very talented!) but the Piano Man show and the Tony Pace show were the best overall. We were very impressed with the overall production quality of the shows. In other areas of the ship we liked the Zig Zag band (oldies), Lauren Evans and the Radiance of the Seas orchestra, and in particular, Kelly Goodrich on piano every night in the Colony Club who puts on an excellent show and takes requests. The bottom line on entertainment is that after 5 pm there is ALWAYS a show going on somewhere and usually several at once. There was always something to do including putt putt golf, rock climbing, shooting pool on tables that auto level (a very bizarre sensation when the ship is rocking), ice carving demonstrations, and many seminars on different topics ranging from Alaskan culture, to reducing memory loss, to other topics which I forget ;-). Bottom line is that we loved the entertainment and there was lots to keep anyone busy.
The ship has a well-equipped fitness center that was never too busy and provided nice exterior views as well as TV on many machines.
STOPS AND EXCURSIONS
Ketchikan -- took the Misty Fjords boat cruise. Was not overly impressed and felt it took too long (5 hours). Would suggest the aerial tour instead so you have more time to walk around the city (if the fjords are your thing).
Ice Straits -- took the whale and mammal explorer excursion and saw no less that 30 whale breaches. Absolutely fantastic tour -- one of the highlights during the week.
Juneau -- Took the helicopter ride to the Mendenhall Glacier and walked on the glacier for a while. This was run by Temsco and was great! We were fortunate to have a sunny day and the views were spectacular. Warning -- be sure to dress for the glacier! It was cold and very windy on the surface! Also took the Mt Roberts tram and had lunch at the top of the mountain -- great views and some good hiking opportunities.
Skagway -- Took the White Pass train to the summit -- very enjoyable with incredible views.
Hubbard Glacier - this was the only day at sea that wasn't sunny with blue skies. Nonetheless, the glacier views were great and we were close enough to see the terminus clearly and hear the calving (4 times for me). While the schedule says 7 am to 11 am for the glacier, we departed around 10 am -- make sure you wake up early enough to see it!
Debarkation from the ship was as painless as embarkation -- no issues -- everything moved smoothly and in a timely manner.
All in all the 7 days on the ship were the most fun we have ever had on vacation. The boat is beautiful, there is lots to do, and the staff is very friendly and helpful!
After the cruise, we also took the three additional land days option which took us to Talkeetna, Denali, and Anchorage. In hindsight, we felt that if we had rented a car in Seward, we might have been able to cover the tour in half the time we spent. Next time, we will do just that. That said, Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is very nice and provides an excellent view of McKinley off the back porch when the weather permits. I was less impressed with the McKinley Village Lodge near Denali, but then back in Anchorage, the Marriott was very nice. On the second day there was a Denali Natural History Tour which seemed focused on the flora of the area versus the fauna. We really wanted to see animals in the wild, and this is not the tour for that. We did see a moose near the road (neat!) and someone spotted a Caribou in the distance for which the next 20 minutes were spent by the Park Service driver trying to convince 90% of the bus that the tiny brown spec in the distance was wildlife. While it was true there was a caribou (binocs confirmed) -- I think we spent way too much time looking at something that only one in 10 could see. As a side note, these 1 in 10 also claim to be able to see the Andromeda galaxy with their naked eye! :-)
The RCI driver and tour guide for the three day land portion were very friendly and competent. They explained procedures very well so there was never any confusion at any time regarding luggage or where the best places to eat were located.
The highlights of the land tour for us were rafting the Nenana river (a ton of fun -- $95 per head) and visiting the Alaskan Natural Wildlife Conservation Center past Girdwood (outside of Anchorage). The Center helps injured animals to recover and includes several bears, moose, oxen, elk, caribou, etc up close and personal. We had a taxi driver take us out to the Center (all rental cars were sold out) and he actually drive us around within the center as well -- a nice perk!
During this land portion, the luggage handling was exceptional -- we never had to lift a finger and the luggage was always in our rooms. RCI also provided transfer to the airport -- again handling all the luggage along the way.
All in all, this was an outstanding cruise vacation that I would highly recommend. Thanks Royal Caribbean for a great time!