There are so many options to consider when you plan an Alaska cruise on Royal Caribbean, from when to go to which itinerary will satisfy all your Alaska adventure longings.
Often the decision process begins with which Royal Caribbean ship works best for your travel group. Are you traveling with youngsters who are constantly in motion? Does your group crave dining variety as much as it does whale sightings as you cruise through the chilly waters of the Pacific?
Royal Caribbean offers two quite different classes of ships sailing a variety of itineraries in Alaska. One class of ships is big -- very big, meaning lots of passengers. The other class, not so much. There are also slight differences between the individual ships themselves, even within the same class.
Can the mega ships give you the same Alaska experience you are looking for? Do they go where you want them to go? Cruise Critic has done the research for you. Here are the answers to your Royal Caribbean Alaska cruise questions.
Radiance of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas are currently sailing Alaska itineraries, each carrying between 2,000 and 2,400 passengers, depending on how many extra berths are occupied (as in, how many children are onboard).
Radiance sails 7-night, one-way cruises between Vancouver and Seward, while Serenade is sailing 7-night, round-trip cruises from Vancouver. The perceived advantage of these ships is that they are smaller, allowing them to go where Royal Caribbean's bigger ships cannot.
The itineraries of both Radiance-class ships go a bit farther north than the larger ships, allowing both ships time at Hubbard Glacier on at least some of the sailings. On its one-way route, Radiance has two sea days -- the least sea days of all the itineraries. Serenade's route usually has either three or four sea days. The real differences are in what these smaller ships offer -- and don’t offer -- for those who choose to cruise on them. Here are our pros and cons for the Radiance Class ships in Alaska.
The Radiance ships have ample scenery-watching space, plenty of it protected from the elements. Options include the adults-only Solarium, featuring windows along the sides of the ship, the Windjammer Café, Viking Crown Lounge, Diamond Club, for Crown & Anchor members at the Diamond level and above, plus covered areas on Deck 11 near the outdoor pool.
Both ships have miniature golf, which might come in handy for entertaining the kiddos on those long summer evenings.
Both ships have outdoor movie nights at the pool, as well as actual cinemas for afternoon matinees. Plus, there are climbing walls, sports courts, and kids' pools for use when weather allows.
Though they have fewer specialty restaurants than their larger cousins, they both offer a Chef's Table, Chops Grille steakhouse, Izumi sushi, and Giovanni's Table for Italian food. Radiance also has a Brazilian steakhouse called Samba.
The Radiance class ships have fewer overall choices of staterooms, they have some coveted options: Rear facing balconies, and something called an "Ultra Spacious Ocean View" that sleeps up to six guests in 256 square feet.
It may seem like a minor detail, but it's easier to get around on a smaller ship. The distance between venues and activities is shorter, which might make these ships a better fit for anyone who cannot walk long distances.
Though there are suites, neither Radiance-class ship offers the Suite Class perks available on larger ships. That means no Genies, no Concierge Lounge, and no Coastal Kitchen for suite lovers.
There are no Studio staterooms for solo travelers to Alaska.
There's only one large show venue on these smaller ships. That limits the entertainment options a bit on any given night.
There are spaces that can feel crowded on smaller ships, even though they carry fewer passengers. The Solarium is one such place on chilly days in Alaska.
Neither ship is very new. Radiance launched in 2001; Serenade launched in 2002.
Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas both sail 7-night round-trip cruises from Seattle. Though not Royal Caribbean's largest class of ships, both carry between 4,100 and 4,900 passengers, depending on how many berths are filled.
Both ships' itineraries include Skagway, Sitka, Juneau, and the glaciers of the Endicott Arm Fjord. Some of Quantum's schedules include Icy Strait Point. Both ships aim to get you near the glaciers; both ships are technically cruising the Inside Passage, which includes all the port towns and waterways of Southeast Alaska.
Both ships make their required Canadian port of call at Victoria, sometimes mid-day, but often in the evening. Ovation's itineraries include as many as four sea days when you count the scenic cruising days. Quantum's schedule typically includes three sea days.
Where the bigger ships shine is in their onboard choices. Whether you are talking about dining, activities, or stateroom categories, the options to choose from can be mind boggling. How do they really stack up against the smaller ship experience in Alaska? Here are our pros and cons:
Space. These ships have space. Even when at max capacity, there are plenty of places passengers can spread themselves out, leaving room to roam in between.
There's an indoor swimming pool open to all ages. That's in addition to the shallow pools and hot tubs in the adults-only, forward-facing Solarium with its incredible ocean views.
The Seaplex is an incredible innovation for busy families on cruises to Alaska. When the ship is in motion, the kids can be too. The massive indoor space is home to everything from bumper cars to soccer games. Yup, it's that big.
More dining options. Both Quantum and Ovation have a dozen places to get food -- not counting Windjammer Café or the Main Dining rooms. Plus, suite guests have a fabulous thirteenth option: Coastal Kitchen. It's like a luxurious private dining room.
More entertainment options. Each night passengers can choose between the show in the Royal Theater, the incredible robotic shows in Two70 or a wide range of musical acts in venues like The Music Hall or Schooner Bar.
Forward-facing Spacious Ocean View staterooms. These have big round windows looking out over the bow of the ship and the ocean beyond. Hard to top that in an affordable cabin measuring 214 square feet.
Sea, Sky, and Star Suite classes and all the perks that go with them. There are an incredible number of suites tempting you on these ships. You're splurging on Alaska -- why not really splurge?
As expected, the casinos on these ships are huge. That means less waiting for your favorite slot machine or a seat at a table game.
There's no miniature golf. It's a small thing, but Alaska in the summer with its late sunsets almost begs for a round of golf on the upper decks.
There aren't any aft balconies. Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothing back there to placate the masses longing for an affordable balcony overlooking the wake of the ship.
There's no promenade. Unlike most of Royal Caribbean's smaller ships, there's no deck with a wide outdoor walkway tucked under the lifeboats allowing passengers to circle the ship outdoors. There are a couple of doors on Deck 5 that let you step outside onto a narrow walkway behind the lifeboats, but that's not a true promenade.
There will be crowds. For the most part, the crowd flow on these behemoths is well designed. Expect reservations for shows, lines to disembark in ports, and long wait times for omelets in Windjammer. Also expect to get lost -- maybe more than once.
The casino is not open during the hours these ships sail into and out of Puget Sound, including often on the entire last night of the cruise. When Victoria is the final port, the ship never escapes to international waters to allow gambling. It’s not a big deal for most, but for those who cruise to play, it might be.
In 2023, Serenade of the Seas is replaced by Enchantment of the Seas -- a Vision-class ship that is older and a bit smaller than the Radiance-class ships, but which has been retrofitted to have many of the same offerings.
It has far fewer dining options, relying on Chops Grille to satisfy the need for specialty dining. For its size, it has a large number of Junior Suites, which might present an opportunity for those who typically cruise in balcony staterooms to level up to a suite, gaining both space and the bonus of Crown & Anchor double points per night.
Choose your ship wisely for your Alaska cruise. Sure, you'll spend a large part of your time adventuring in port, but you'll spend far more time cruising. You want that time onboard to be comfortable and enjoyable for everyone in your travel party.