We chose the Ovation for our 30th wedding anniversary cruise to Alaska, partly due to our past experience with RCCI and also because the ship seemed like a good fit for the unpredictable Alaska weather (which is often rainy, we understand), given features like the Solarium. Overall, we really enjoyed this ship and most of the activities on board. We took advantage of the bumper cars, NorthStar, Ripcord by IFly, attended several trivia "contests", enjoyed music in the Music Hall and various lounges, including an outstanding Led Zeppelin tribute band.
Our stateroom attendant was lovely. She knew us by name almost immediately and greeted us by name throughout the cruise. We were treated to a bottle of champagne courtesy of RCCI for our anniversary as well as a very nice chocolate cake. Nice touches.
Ovation is large ship (Quantum Class, over 168k gross tons with probably about 4,500 passengers). Ours was the first cruise for Ovation from the Port of Seattle to Alaska. For the most part, the ship didn't seem excessively crowded for us, especially toward the end of the 2nd day. For the first day or so, some of the more commonly traveled spaces seemed a bit congested, but that seemed to subside a little once most passengers found their favorite places on the ship.
We signed up for the Royal Caribbean Key Program, which was definitely worth it for us. For not much more than the cost of the internet package, we were able to have an embarkation lunch at a specialty restaurant (Jamie's Italian, in our case), had priority debarkation on port days (which came in handy at least once), and were able to get appointments for both the North Star and IFly skydiving simulator--both of which likely would not have been available to us, since the originally scheduled appointment(s) were cancelled due to high winds on the first sea day and remaining slots booked quickly. Priority embarkation was also nice, but it took a bit to appreciate, given the crowds at Seattle’s Smith Cove Cruise Terminal (Pier 91) when we arrived (see below).
We took Lyft from our Hotel (Grand Hyatt downtown--nice hotel) at about 10:30am to the terminal in order to arrive around 11am. Once we arrived at Smith Cove Cruise Terminal (Pier 91), embarkation seemed a bit of a mad house. The porters appeared a little overwhelmed when we arrived, as the traffic at the terminal was heavy. Both Ovation and Celebrity Solstice were in the process of debarkation while passengers for both ships were arriving.
We arrived about 30 minutes prior to our scheduled check in time, and apparently the rest of the passengers did also. The passport check for the Key Program members seemed to go slower than did the non Key Program passengers. Once we got past the first check, we went upstairs and waited until the ship was allowed to board (probably around 11:30 or so). At that point, the terminal seemed to be wall to wall people, with little seating area. Once the Key Program participants were called, we were able to move, but practically had to push our way through the mob of people to get to the gangway. Once on board, we met up with crew that identified us with the Key Program. We were directed to the main theater where we dropped off our carry-ons, which they then delivered to our stateroom, so we didn't have to lug them around while we waited. We then went to Jamie's Italian and had a nice lunch and began to relax a bit. Don't get me wrong--the Key Program really sped up the process for us, but the initial arrival at the terminal was a bit overwhelming for us (and I suspect somewhat for those working there on that day).
The ship was supposed to have departed at 4pm, but apparently did not have all of the luggage on board until much later. Consequently, we did not leave Seattle until nearly 6pm, if memory serves. Our luggage also did not arrive at our stateroom until well after that, which wasn't a major issue for us, but I know there were many at the guest services desk late the first evening inquiring about their luggage and complaining about the wait.
We attended some of the enrichment seminars, such as a discussion on the Alaska gold rush, which was interesting. We enjoyed music in Bolero's lounge as well as in the Music Hall. For the featured entertainment, the ventriloquist was fantastic and hilarious, and the stand up comedian was good too. The Led Zeppelin tribute band (ZOSO) was also very good.
The 270 lounge wound up being one of our favorite places on the ship. Some of the enrichment seminars were there, as was "Pixels", a nice production that included a combination of multimedia, special effects, dazzling costumes, singing and dancing. It was quite different from what we'd seen before. I really enjoyed that. The performers on the ship are very talented. The only drawback to 270 is that some of the seats close to the floor have low backs and are rather uncomfortable. Other than those seats, the rest of the venue was really nice. 270 is also a nice location to relax during the day to enjoy a drink and look over the wake behind the ship.
As much as I enjoyed "Pixels", I did not enjoy "Live Love Legs", the other big production on our cruise (which was in the main theater). Although the performers were talented, it was a bit tacky for our tastes. I'm sure there were others that enjoyed it, though.
We dined in three of the specialty dining restaurants while on board. Wonderland, Chops Grill and Jamie's Italian. All three were really good and worth the additional cost (we booked a 3 night specialty package). Wonderland was our favorite--a unique and incredibly tasty dining experience. On other nights, we dined in one of the main dining room options. The service and food overall were good each night.
Solarium Bistro was good for lunch, as was the 270 Café. We also enjoyed 270 Café for Breakfast. We dined for breakfast in one of the main dining rooms a couple of times also. The quality of food was good at all of our meals.
The cruise itinerary was round-trip from Seattle, visiting Juneau, Skagway, Endicott Arm/Dawes Glacier (sea day) and Victoria, BC.
Juneau - Due to the late embarkation, we had to cruise at top speed the first couple of days to get to Juneau on time (which we didn't). We arrived about 1.5 hours later than normal, so the port schedule was modified to allow sufficient time in Juneau. When we got off the ship, we had time to walk around Juneau near the dock and visit the Red Dog Saloon to purchase a souvenir. We ate lunch at Twisted Fish Company Alaskan Grill. We really enjoyed their halibut and crab cakes. Very good food.
We booked the Mendenhall Glacier with Wildlife and evening Whale Watching excursion, which didn’t begin until later in the day. We enjoyed that excursion. However, the time at the glacier was way too short and not really long enough to visit Nugget Falls for any amount of time, so we decided to skip that. I would have preferred more time at the Glacier and less time with the whale watching (which was fun, but a little disappointing--not much to see on our trip). The food on the whale watching portion (during dinner) was good, though. Overall, a fun stop in Juneau.
Skagway - Here we did a dogsled and musher’s camp excursion which was really fun. The guides did a great job, told us a bit about the town on our way to the camp and informed us about the dogs and the Iditarod. We enjoyed the experience, getting to ride a sled pulled by a team of enthusiastic dogs, pet the team of dogs (which were friendly) as well as the pups (ranging from weeks to months old). After the excursion, we had a meal at the Red Onion Saloon. Great food and friendly waitresses dressed as if they were still the 19th century.
Victoria, BC – In Victoria, we took a bus tour to the Butchart Gardens which we booked through RCCI. The bus driver was nice and had plenty to say on the tour. Unfortunately, the speaker system on our double-decker bus wasn’t working properly, so hardly anyone could understand what he was saying the entire trip to the Gardens. To make matters worse, what was supposed to have been already a relatively short visit to the gardens (about 1:45 hours) was cut short by an additional 15 minutes. We enjoyed it and would like to return, but booking this through RCCI wasn’t worth it, especially due to the abbreviated schedule and technical difficulties encountered.
On the way back from the excursion, we asked the driver to drop us off by the Parliament House, which was a beautiful site. We walked back to the terminal from there, stopping to eat, visiting a boardwalk and floating homes at Fisherman’s Wharf, and enjoying the nice weather and beautiful town. It’s a little over a mile from the Parliament House to the terminal.
I’d love to visit Victoria again, and Butchart Gardens again as well. This visit was too short.
Very nice, comfortable room on deck 8, with a good-sized balcony which was nice to have on the Alaska cruise, especially at Endicott Arm (Dawes Glacier). There were adequate outlets and USB ports for charging electronics. Blackout curtains were nice also, and necessary since the nighttime darkness is brief in Alaska. The couch in this room was situated between the bed and the entrance, so the bed was very close to the balcony. We would have preferred it the other way around, but it was fine.
My wife and I probably would prefer a smaller ship next time, especially if we try an Alaska cruise again. Although it’s our understanding the size of the ship limits where the ship can maneuver within an inside passage cruise, I would have no problem sailing on Ovation again. It’s a very nice ship with lots to do, plenty of good dining and entertainment options, and the crew do a very nice job.
Very nice, comfortable room, with a good sized balcony which was nice to have on the Alaska cruise, especially at Endicott Arm (Dawes Glacier). There were adequate outlets and USB ports for charging electronics. Blackout curtains were nice also, and necessary since the nighttime darkness is brief in Alaska. The couch in this room was situated between the bed and the entrance, so the bed was very close to the balcony. We would have preferred it the other way around, but it was fine.