We just got off a fabulous southbound cruise in Alaska -- but there were a few changes to the ship that I would have like to have known in advance...especially since I spent hundreds of hours researching the details beforehand only to find out they were wrong. Read on for full review of the ship experience and excursions as well.
#1. Rita's Cantina is not available on the Alaskan cruises of Radiance of the Seas. They have changed it to Rita's Crabshack! While the offerings were similar to Tracy's Crabshack in Juneau, Rita's prices are lower, probably because legs are considerably smaller at Rita's. Example: one leg at Tracy's is $36. At Rita's it is $13.50. Tracy's offers a 3-4 leg bucket (3 lbs.) for $110. Rita offers a 3 leg bucket (1.5 lbs) for $33. Rita's is still a better deal if you are considering price alone. Also, we went to Tracy's in mid-afternoon and they were sold out of all sandwiches (e.g. crab roll) and crab claws. That left few options for us. (Tracy's bisque was tasty, but not OMG tasty. I wouldn't go back for it. I've had better for less expensive elsewhere--including at Whole Foods' seafood soup bar.) At Rita's I got the bisque/crab cake/crab leg combo for $19. It was just ok. The bisque was enjoyable, the cake was unmemorable, and crab wasn't especially sweet. The best thing about it was that it was cheaper than Tracy's. Neither bisque was better tasting than the other.
A balcony room with drop-down bed placed perpendicularly to the bed (over the pillow area). This arrangement was better than in NCL where the drop-down is parallel to the bed on the side, cause you to have to duck and stoop to access the lower bed on that side. The loveseat also expands as a sleeper (either 2/3 or full length), but its comfort level would be suitable for a small child at best. We had to use doorstoppers to prevent the two halves from separating and causing a gap below your tush while sleeping.We brought a surge protector power strip and used it without issues. There is even a ledge at the desk to store it on. Extra storage was abundant and well-concealed. We didn't even realize that the side mirrors over the desk were storage cabinets until the last morning! The desk includes 7 drawers and a pull-out writing slab. The closet is wide enough to store at least 25 garments, with additional drop down bars for optional lower hanging space, and a full-width shelf above for storing luggage,etc. The bed can also store your luggage below if not fully expanded. 9 shelves in the closet provide ample space, plus an additional cabinet over the cooler has three shelves included one where the mini-safe is located. One of the bathroom mirrors hides a storage cabinet. Other mirrors are well placed, including a full-length mirror, allowing you to view yourself from all angles. There are 4 knobs in the bathroom door, and two hooks by the cabin door. Bring extra hanging hooks to hang coats, wet clothes, etc--perhaps the kind that can go over the door? The balcony felt spacious enough for two people and sheltered the winds. Even at night, you didn't feel the cold breeze off the water when it was 50 outside. You could sit out there in pjs and not get too cold. Balcony was perfect for viewing Hubbard Glacier. The captain entered the bay to view the glacier, spun the ship around 360 degrees, then spun an additional 180 degrees to exit the bay so our side of the ship (port) got an extra chance to view it. We heard many and saw a few calvings. TIP: For viewing Hubbard Glacier if you don't have a balcony, go to the Helicopter Pad. Access it from Deck 5 and go forward. Climb two levels of stairs to reach the helipad. It is not advertised anywhere on the ship, but this is a publicly accessible spot at the front tip of the boat (like in Titanic).
Our first sighting was within two minutes of leaving the pier on Day 1 in Seward: a sea otter. As we left Kenai Fjords, we could see puffins and other sea birds in the rocks and water. Use good binoculars or a 300mm+ lens. Lots of sea jellies too.(On a separate pre-cruise 5-hour excursion of the same Kenai Fjords with Major Marine Tours, we saw sea lions and plenty of seabirds including puffins. We saw a few Humpback Whales but not many, and it was towards the end of the excursion so we had to leave and head back to shore after just a few sightings. Their salmon and prime rib buffet got mixed reviews with our group--kids dismissed it, adults enjoyed it--but well worth the $19 since dining in Alaska is so expensive! If you have kids, the Junior Ranger program on-board is excellent and the highlight for our son; you get a badge and certificate upon completion.)We stayed at Sourdough Lodging before the cruise, and enjoyed the mix of historic and modern chic decor. You get a full apartment with full kitchen. Breakfast at the Sea Bean internet cafe downstairs was tasty. There is no elevator but the lodging and cafe owner helped bring our bags upstairs. We lugged them down ourselves. The owner also let us use the private laundry facility for free. He also stored our luggage for us after we checked out so we wouldn't have to drag it through the SeaLife Center, which is two blocks away. The kids loved the public playground behind the cafe and found other visitor kids to play with them. The SeaLife Center is well-designed and can be explored in an hour or three, depending on how in-depth you want to go and how long you like to linger and watch sea life. Don't forget your 2-for-1 coupon in the TourSaver book. Also don't miss the touch tank exhibits and the giant floor-to-ceiling windows to see the rehabilitated sea mammals playing in their enclosures. A free city shuttle comes every 30 minutes and will take you to all the major stops in town, including the train station and ports, and they'll even help you with your luggage. Get a schedule here: http://www.cityofseward.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/1436.
On Day 5, in Icy Straight Point (Hoonah), we saw a humpback whale bubble feeding just off the dock. It came up twice before disappearing. We saw others in the far distance, blowing water from blowholes. The water was so clear you could see sea stars and sunstars through the water from the pier. There were also a variety of sea jellies and bull kelp floating on the surface. Thimbleberries grew wild everywhere and were fun to scavenge. The town history tour was somewhat superficial and lacked depth in the current lifestyle. We visited the school but couldn't go inside. Visit the main gift shop when you get off the pier. It has an excellent museum of the historic salmon cannery using original equipment and historic film footage, plus the exhibits do an excellent job of explaining the life cycles of salmon. Overall, it would have been nicer to spend more time in Icy Straight Point but the last tender to the ship was at 3:30 pm.