We had an awesome vacation! It was so much fun. Weather was a delight. I had read a lot on line about the weather in Alaska, and it said to be prepared for it to rain at any time. I don't think we saw a drop of rain the entire time. Just gorgeous!! As background, our group included 2 couples in our late 40's, early 50's. My DH and I had been on 5 Carnival cruises previously, but this was our first Royal Caribbean. Our friends had done a Carnival cruise with us and 3 Royal Caribbean cruises in the past. PRE-CRUISE: We were sailing from San Diego and went out a couple days early on Saturday. We stayed at the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina. It was a beautiful hotel. We had balcony rooms that overlooked the Harbor. The Red Bull airplane races were there that weekend and we could watch from our balcony as the planes flew up and down the harbor. Unbelievable! The hotel was crowded, but very nice - worth the wait at the elevators. There really is a train that goes through town in the middle of the night. Luckily, we were in the North Tower, bay side, and the noise never bothered us. The breakfast buffet was very good, but expensive. If it did not come with our room, we would not have gotten it. We saw a lot of San Diego while we were there - Gaslamp District, Midway Battleship, Petco Park, etc. I recommend the battleship tour. It was very interesting. Go early before it is crowded and hot! There are so many restaurants in the Gaslamp District that I don't know how anyone would choose where to eat. We stuck with the hotel pub and a Hard Rock Cafe as we did not feel like being too adventurous and the food was very good at both. We got sundaes at Ghirdelli's chocolate and ice cream shop. My friend said it was not as good as the one she went to in Chicago, but it was excellent. EMBARKATION: Our ship had docked a day early as it skipped a few of its Mexican ports due to the swine flu threat. It was great to be able to see our home for the next 11 days parked there as we strolled by. We saw many people from the ship around town that day. We took a cab to the dock around 10:30 am, only a few minutes away but too far to walk. We were a few minutes too early and our cab driver would not drive around until he could get into dock area. We had too many bags to walk the rest of the way as it was still a little too far. We took a pedicab the rest of the way. I had refused to ride one the entire stay in San Diego (and they are all over the place) because I thought it would feel weird or uncomfortable or elitist. But, it actually was fun. The port personnel were rather confused because the Radiance did not normally dock there, and we had some trouble getting to the right place, but we got it worked out. Once in the building, we ran into more chaos. We had thought that embarkation would go very easily due to the fact that customs would have been already cleared; however, there was an unexpected Coast Guard drill Monday morning. Things were a little frazzled getting on the ship, but went pretty well considering. (The Captain later said that the ship and crew received a very high score.) We were on the ship and in the Windjammer by 12:30 pm. The lunch buffet was great. CABIN: We had a grand suite, #1030. Our friends had a grand suite on the other side of the ship, #1530. We had perfect views of all scenery at any given time. The suite was just gorgeous and very roomy. The bathroom was very nice with marble sinks and a tub with shower. The tub is high and could be difficult for anyone with mobility issues. The bed had a curtain that went all the way around so that you could shut it off from the rest of the room if one person wanted to go to bed earlier than the other. One problem with that was that there were speakers above the bed so that watching TV would be annoying to the person trying to sleep! Our steward said there was no way to fix that problem. The balcony was huge and had 3 chairs and a table. There were floor to ceiling sliding glass doors and windows the entire length of the wall. You could see outside to the ocean from anywhere in the room, even lying in bed. There were a lot of drawers, cabinets, and storage space. With the grand suite, we also received concierge lounge privileges, of which my husband made good use. Our steward, Eduardo, was just wonderful. He was so nice and very helpful. FOOD: Food was very tasty on the ship. I did find a lot of the buffet food to be lukewarm or even cold. But it always tasted very good anyway. There was a wide variety and never a problem finding something I liked and I am rather picky. The main dining room food was very good at dinner. Our waiter, Eric, was so funny. He was really nice to our friends and went out of his way to do special things for them, such as desserts to go or even had desserts waiting at their rooms when we went to the specialty restaurants! I don't know why but he didn't seem to like my DH much. He even forgot to take his order one night, although he came running back to the table when he realized. However, he did an overall excellent job and we found him to be very humorous and likable. Our assistant waiter was borderline awful. We could not get a soda from her and had to beg for 2nd rolls. She meant well, though, just a little overwhelmed with the wine orders. Our table mates were very nice and we all got along well. I found the portions to be perfect - not so much that you were stuffed but you did not leave hungry. Lamb, duck, steak, prime rib - all were excellent. Chocolate Sensation for dessert was my favorite! Sourdough rolls are to die for! We had breakfast in the main dining room on several days, hoping to get some breakfast that was warmer, especially as it was very difficult to find a table in the Windjammer buffet area. My friend's french toast was delicious and hot she said, but my pancakes were ice cold every time. At the buffet, even when they brought the pan out right in front of me, the pancakes were cold. Oh well - there were many other things to eat and the danish were excellent. The beverage service in the main dining room was poor. Unless you were drinking wine or expensive brandy, you didn't have a chance of getting served a beer or drink. Our bar server seemed new and a little clueless, yet sweet, so we weren't upset. It was fine - we made do with the water. The Seaview Cafe had excellent burgers, hot dogs, chili, etc. It was a little hard to find, which was good because it could get crowded. We went twice at off hours and really liked it. The specialty restaurants were incredible. Food and service were perfect. At Chops, the steak was excellent. My DH got a pork dish that literally melted in your mouth. Our friend ordered (or thought he did) the t-bone. He got a sirloin. He was confused and just casually mentioned that he thought he ordered a T-bone. He ate the sirloin and then they brought him out the T-bone!! He put a good dent in that too. :) The Head Waiter was distressed at the error and anytime we saw him after that in the Windjammer buffet, he would rush to find us a table or have drinks brought to us. Wow! We also went to the Mystery Dinner at Portofino's. At first, we were afraid that it would be rather lame, but once we got into Portofino's, it was a blast. It was fun and funny. The food was just awesome. My absolute favorite of the trip. I got the Chicken Parm and it was the best I have ever had. My DH got the Filet Mignon and Shrimp, and he said it was perfect. The service there was incredible. The wine was included in the price of the Mystery Dinner and no one's glass ever got below 2/3's empty. The Head Waiter saw that my DH was drinking beer (he had gone out to get his own) and the Head Waiter came right over and asked what he was drinking. After that, my DH's beer glass never got below 2/3's empty. They even had beer chilling for him in the wine buckets. It was a great experience and one worth doing. ENTERTAINMENT: We felt the entertainment was rather lacking. They only had one comedian (who was very funny - can't remember his name) even though it was a repositioning cruise 11 days long, and we felt that they could have brought other entertainers on board. The other singers were vocally excellent, but the choice of songs had us leaving early every time. We could have been on the younger side of what the age of the general audience, though, as many people said they enjoyed it. The most fun that we had was watching the disco party in the Centrum. It was truly hysterical watching the crowd. Members of our cruise critic group went up and down in the glass elevator dancing with the Indian from the Macho Men. I never laughed so hard. The CD was Kirk Deitweiler. I heard mixed opinions about him. Some people loved him and some people didn't like him. I thought he was okay. He came to our Meet and Mingle, held in the Skyview Bar, and was very nice. We had a very big turnout for it. I had never gone to one before and thought it was very nice of RCCL to do this. CASINO: My husband won a little in the casino, which made him happy in the first few days. When he stopped winning, he (luckily) stopped playing. We had a Slot Pull with our Cruise Critic group (Pipeline Partiers). We put $15 in each and came away with $11 each, so we were happy. It was a lot of fun. We also went on the Cabin Crawl with the Pipeline Partiers. It was very interesting to see all the different types of cabins. Our group hosted other activities, but those were the only ones we attended. It was great meeting all the people I had been "talking" to online. I got a lot of great tips from them in the months leading up to the cruise. SEA DAYS: We had several sea days during the course of the cruise. We did a lot of stuff and it was fun without being too much to do. We went to the Captain's talk and it was interesting. He is a very funny man. We also were invited to a behind the scenes tour. However, we left early because we hadn't realized that it was just for the theater and at the exact time that we were pulling up to Hubbard Glacier, so we felt that we would much prefer to be outside. My DH and friends ditched me without a word, just walking out. I waited until the person giving the tour went to check the dressing rooms to make my getaway more politely, but I couldn't stop laughing, so I'm not sure how polite it actually was. We ate a lot. Our friends would knock and ask if I wanted to go to the Windjammer with them. Every time, I would say I'm not hungry, but I'll walk with you. I ended up carrying a huge plate of food back to the table every time. We saw some whales on the way up to Alaska. We were thrilled! INTERNET: Internet connection was fairly slow and kind of hit or miss, but they warned us that it might happen due to the mountains. I also found the interactive TV system they have to be far inferior to Carnival's. It was so slow and sometimes didn't work at all. I had some trouble getting our onboard credits worked out with the Purser's Office, but they eventually figured it out correctly. They were nice and friendly at every encounter. COMPARISON: A comparison of Carnival and RCCL might in order. I have been on mostly Spirit class ships for Carnival and this was a Radiance class ship for RCCL. I felt the ships were comparable in size, how they were laid out, and things to do. There were a few more bars and specialty restaurants on the RCCL. The Radiance is a beautiful ship and very classy and elegant. The Carnival ships were just as beautiful to me but in a gaudy and fun way. I felt Carnival was just slightly better in food because the food was warmer. Taste, they were fairly equal with a slight edge to Carnival. Entertainment goes to Carnival hands down. Suite amenities to RCCL, which were just awesome. Service to Carnival in food and just slightly to RCCL in room, though we paid extra tips for that due to the higher suite gratuity.
PORTS: We didn't do any of the ship sponsored tours, just ones we had found ourselves on line or through the Pipeline Partiers. San Francisco - We did the early bird Alcatraz tour, buying it online from the Alcatraz website prior to the trip. It was very good. It was smart to go early so there were no long lines to wait in. We were the first tour over there. After that, we took a trolley tour through San Francisco and walked around some of the piers. At Boudins', the clam chowder bowl was delicious. One shop on one of the piers had tiny donuts that were out of this world. We went back for more.
Icy Straight Point - A lot of people went on the zip line. It never occurred to me, but after seeing the videos, I think it would have been fun. It is the highest one there is they said. We didn't do a tour here and I'm glad we didn't. There didn't seem to be too much to offer in town. We walked into town instead of taking the shuttle. It was a pretty walk, but was (or at least seemed!) a lot longer than the 1 mile they claimed it to be. We saw several bald eagles and the view of the ship tendered in the harbor was spectacular. In town, there was nothing to do. Maybe they will build the town up more as it is a fairly recent port stop. We did do some shopping at the port area and got some of the better deals of the trip.
Skagway - We did a tour through the Classic Car Tour company. A driver in a 1963 Cadillac picked us up at the ship pier and took us to the White Rail and Yukon Train Station and got us on the train. We took the train up to Canada. The views were incredible. Sit on the left side of the train, so you can see the view much better. Once in Canada, the classic car picked us up and drove us back down to Skagway and around town. Our driver was a sweet young lady who was very friendly and knowledgeable. She stopped at several vantage points so we could get out and take pictures. It was a terrific experience. We had requested the 1946 car, but it was in the shop. No one notified us of the change in cars until we were picked up, but the excursion was so awesome that we didn't mind. Someone else had gotten the 1939 car and it was really beautiful. Our party was a little too big for that one - the 1939 fit 3 comfortably. The 1963 was perfect - very roomy and the only car to have all its original parts. The tour costs about $5 more a person than the train and bus back trip through RCCL but was well worth the cost. We went shopping in Skagway but didn't eat there as the prices seemed very steep when we could eat for free on the ship. We were starving by the time we got back on the ship, though.
Hubbard Glacier - It was such a beautiful day. We didn't even need coats as we viewed the glacier. Because of the great weather, the captain was able to get very close. He said it was one of the closest he has ever been able to get. I don't know if they say that to everyone, but we were like a football field away. We got great pictures and video of the calving. It was like a huge clap of thunder or a sonic boom. Because we had balconies on both sides, we had tremendous private views the entire time. Juneau - Pipeline Partiers had a lot of people going on a whale watching tour with Orca tours set up on our own and it was cheaper than through RCCL. We also did the Mendenhall Glacier tour with Orca. The waterfall at the Glacier was gorgeous and well worth walking over to see up close. The whale watch was one of the highlights of the entire trip. Captain Larry found pods of orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, and bald eagles. The sun was shining even though the guide said it rains 99% of the time there. Orcas surrounded us at one point. Just amazing!! The pictures and video we were able to get are stunning. It was a fascinating and exhilarating experience.
Ketchikan - The captain left Juneau a little earlier than scheduled so that we could spend some extra time in Ketchikan, where we had been scheduled to arrive at 2 pm. That was very nice of him to arrange that even though it didn't really matter to us. We didn't have a tour planned there and just walked around town and looked at some totem poles and purchased souvenirs.
Inside Passage - The scenery was gorgeous. Usually, when you cruise all you can see is water, but here there is great beauty surrounding you at all times. If I close my eyes, I can just picture standing on that helipad deck at the front of the ship surrounded by the most amazing images. We passed small villages and lighthouses. At one point, a small motorboat sailed up next to us and a rider played his trumpet. Three times he pulled up and played a song - the Canadian national anthem, "Oh say can you see", and "the Saints came marching in". Vancouver - The debarkation was a little rough. It took a lot longer than most of our previous debarkations. Due to our concierge privileges, we were able to wait in Portofino's, which was nice, as they were about an hour or two behind schedule debarking. We put our bags out the night before to be picked up, and I was glad. My fingers were blue just holding miscellaneous carry-ons from waiting in the long lines. Once finally off the ship, we hijacked a car service van whose passengers seemed to have left. The driver was very nice and took us to the National car rental office about 2 miles away so we didn't have to wait for their shuttle, which actually we never saw arrive even when we got to their office. There were several ships in port that morning, which made for quite a mad house. We rented a car and drove to Seattle, so we didn't stay in Vancouver long. It was pretty crowded so we were anxious to get out and on our way. The drive to Seattle was pretty good. There was about a 90 minute wait at the border. I was excited - it was my first real border crossing (except for the drive from Canada into Alaska after the train ride). Since it was Memorial Weekend, I didn't think the wait was too excessive. The Border Agent was very nice and friendly. It helped that he saw my DH's police badge. Seattle - We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Seattle for 2 nights. What an absolutely gorgeous hotel - one of the nicest at which we have ever stayed. The rooms were tremendous, especially as they were not all that expensive for a hotel right downtown. The bathroom was beautiful with marble sinks, a separate shower stall and tub, and even a phone. The tub's faucet was like a mini waterfall. The employees were so friendly and gracious, each and every one from the bell hop to the front desk to the customer service reps we dealt with before and after the trip. Be forewarned - there were a lot of hidden taxes in the room service. We just got a $10 pot of coffee that ended up being close to $20 once they added all the fees and taxes and gratuity (which my DH didn't realize and also gave the server a tip!). We would definitely stay there again if we ever go to Seattle again. We went to a baseball game at Safeco Field and to the Space Needle. There was a free festival around the Space Needle that weekend, and it became a rather harrowing experience with the number of people and trying to find our way out.
All in all, it was a perfect vacation - a trip of a lifetime. I don't think we will ever be able to top it - but I'm sure we will keep trying!
1030 - beautiful, spacious, very good location, near the elevators but not too near.