Let me start by saying that without a doubt, this was the cruise of a lifetime.
I had never cruised before and was a little anxious, as I suffer from inner ear problems, causing of course the dreaded sea sickness. Thanks to tons of great advice on this board, I bought something containing meclizine, and for the entire cruise I felt great. The one morning I felt uneasy, I ate a green apple, as suggested by some, and it settled my stomach. Not ten minutes later I was ready for breakfast. Before I start this review, I'd like to thank everyone for all the wonderful advice here on CC. This is without a doubt, the best board I've ever been a member off.
Seattle before the cruise: We came in from Seattle by train, as it was much cheaper to fly to Seattle from Belgium and take the train up to Vancouver. It is indeed a beautiful journey as you pass by the Pudget Sound. Business is a little more expensive, but well worth the extra money. You get a separate check-in kiosk in Seattle and better seats. If you can, try to sit on the left side; this is the place you have the best view of the Ocean. When you arrive in Vancouver you bags are waiting for you next to the train, just pick the right ones, and then you pass through immigration. All went very smooth. We took a taxi to our hotel (the Westin), which was a very short drive.
Vancouver: We arrived in Vancouver two nights before our cruise, so we could visit Vancouver. The weather early September was amazing on the second day, that's when we did our sightseeing using the Vancouver trolley. A great way to see a lot of things in a short time. A walk by the water was also in store, which was so beautiful under that amazing ray of sunshine. When we arrived the first day, it was raining, but it didn't bother us so much since we were so close to the shopping heart of Vancouver, and did just that: Shop. It was exciting to see the Winter Olympics countdown and all the things you see on TV. Vancouver is simply amazing. My favorite two things were seeing the Lion's Gate Bridge from above, and Nunchuk, the official winter Olympics mascot.
Embarkation: We took a taxi from the hotel to Ballantyne Pier, which was a very short cab ride. Once I say the Radiance shining in the sun like a star from a short distance, my mouth fell open in amazement; She truly is a beautiful ship. Walked up to the ship to take pictures and was followed by a security agent. He didn't say anything, but when he asked, he told me that he would be in trouble if he didn't keep an eye on me. After, I learned that you're actually not allowed to do that. Oops, sorry, I'll never do it again. But he was really nice about it, and I'm pretty sure he recognized the amazement in me as a first-time cruiser. Porter were very nice, took our bags and put our cabin number on them, since we hadn't received the cabin thing (sorry, can't remember how you call that, temporary loss of memory The lines to embark were very short. We filled out the questionnaire about our health, security lines were very short. Check-in process to a little longer, I'd say about 20 minutes, but it went smoothly. The longest wait was of course immigration. It was very short for US citizens, but longer for non-US or Canadians citizens. Drinks and cookies were provided to make the wait short. I think it must have taken a little under 90 minutes from the time we arrived until we were allowed on the ship. We had our picture taken and headed straight to the Windjammer. Great lunch upon embarkation, and we didn't have to much trouble to find everything, since they have great plans near the elevators.
The ship: What can I say about such a beautiful ship. She truly is the queen off all the ships I have encountered upon this journey. The pool and sundeck is beautiful, she is very well kept. Windjammer and the main dining room are well laid out, gorgeous and very clean. I loved the elevators in glass facing the ocean, I even saw a school of porpoises next to the next from the elevator one day. It seems they are always cleaning the handrails, each waking moment. My mouth fell open more than once in amazement.
Our cabin Steward: He came in the first night and introduced himself. He was polite, always greeted us (as did the other stewards on our gangway), our room was very clean the entire journey. I loved the towel animal, my favorite probably being the monkey hanging on our ceiling. We always were excited to go to our cabin at night, wondering what we would find. I did indeed find it very strange that the towel animals always ended up wearing my sunglasses when we arrived. That still puts a huge grin on my face today. We got fresh ice in our bucket twice a day. Beds were always made. Two thumbs up for our steward, whose name I have sadly forgotten.
Cabin: We got ourselves an interior cabin N. I read everywhere that you just had to book a room with a view when cruising to Alaska. I don't agree with that, as I didn't miss the view once. There are so much places on the ship where you can see the ocean from, the helipad being my favorite. It was nice to sleep in a totally dark cabin, and in the morning turning on the TV to watch the ship cam. We had booked cabin 3563, which is a sideways cabin, midship and great for my motion sickness. The size was perfect, lots of cabin space and great beds. Since I knew about the dreaded shower curtains before we left, we bought table cloth hangers to hang at the bottom of the dreaded curtain. Not once was I attacked by the curtain, and I'm not a small person. Bathroom is not big, but perfect. There still was a but about this cabin. It was right next to a crew door, and we found out that it often happened that the door slammed shut, starting around 7. Not easy to sleep in, but it didn't bother us more than that.
Meeting the folks of CC: It was fantastic to meet everyone you talked to for months on the roll call. We had organized to exchange calendars from our hometown, which was a great idea. Meet and mingle is great
Doing a cabin crawl: Now that was quite an experience. I loved seeing all sorts for cabins, from our own little inside, to an ocean view, a junior suite, a grand suite and of course the royal family suite. We occasionally got strange looks for fellow passengers who wondered what that group of 40 something people were doing walking down the hallways. But my favorite part was the cabin steward from the royal family suite who asked: "do you need more towels?" ?
Our waiters and table mates: I think that table mates can make or break a cruise and we truly and honestly had amazing table mates. We had lots of fun together, and had the best conversations ever. I have very fond memory about a particular couple, where the husband just loved to tease me. Of course, I love being teased and loved to tease back, so had great laughs. I still miss being teased by him today. So I guess it's no wonder that we are still in contact. We had the best waiter and assistant waiter you can wish: Our waiter was Alexi and the assistant-waiter was Dushan. Both of them are extremely nice, polite and helpful. Second night they already knew we drank diet coke. Didn't have to ask for refills or anything. They knew our name by the third night. We were at a table for ten, but only seven of us showed up for the two weeks. And each and everyone was nice and polite.
Captain: Our captain for the cruise was Trym Selvag and he was great. Loved his good morning, good morning, good mornings". Always very informative over the speakers, entertained everyone with his jokes on formal night and found out during the entire cruise that he has a great sense of humor. I can understand why he has been transferred to Oasis, but I'm sure he will be missed on the Radiance.
Entertainment: It was simply great. Never was bored during a show. I'm not gonna bore you with everything we saw. Simply because I'm just really really bad at remembering. We saw the sons of famous Ricky (insert name) and they were great. They moved me with the song they wrote for dad. Best entertainment was cake decorating with the captain, the staff captain and the pastry chef. The cruise compass advised you had to wear rain gear for that activity. Afterward, I understood why. Pastry cream was flying around, landing on shoes, clothes, etc... Of course, the captain and staff captain were no strangers to that, as they catapulted it to each other and poor Kirk Detweiler, who received a shower of cream. Even his ears. Put some alcohol in the cake? Right, more like 3 quarter of a bottle for the captain and staff capt. Other than that, their cakes didn't look that bad, but a seat close to the cake making, was dangerous. I filmed to cake decoration and I still fall off my chair watching it now. Hilarious.
Food:We had dinner in the MDR each night, breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer, and where ever we ate, the food was excellent. Not once did I have to complain, the waiters disappointed when I didn't want dessert one night. On see days, the MDR has salads to die for. Basically, you pick what you want in your salad, and they make it for you. Not once was I sick or felt under the weather because of the food. Ice yoghurt is delicious, but my favorite where the double chocolate chip cookies they served in Seattle's best. From what I could tell, they only had them on see day. Or maybe I was just too late the other days.
Hygiene:There were sanitizers at the entries of all restaurants, they were constantly cleaning everything. I didn't hear about any NORO or other health issue while I was on board.
Ketchikan: We had booked a shore excursion through RCI, and took a 4 hour boat ride to the Misty Fjords. The Misty Fjords are gorgeous. We saw orkas near the boat and it was very exciting to see puffs of air before you saw them appearing. We saw bald eagles and its nest, young bald eagles, a colony of sea lions on a small island and we had binoculars to search the shore line for bears. It was very cold on the boat, let me tell you that, but they provided hot cocoa and coffee so we were okay. We had a small lunch and then went back into town. We walked up to Creek Street, saw Dolly's House and were excited about the seeing the salmon swimming upstream. This is truly an amazing experience!
Skagway: Again, we had booked a shore excursion through RCI and in all honesty, it was great. We drove up to Carcross by bus, and we had a wonderful female driver, and she was very informative. The sights on our way to Carcross were amazing. Deep blue lakes, snow top mountain, etc. We stopped at Caribou Crossing for a lunch, which was not bad at all. We went to pet, hug and kiss the sled dogs, and we were welcomed by a truly sweet Golden Retriever. I fell in love with him immediately. Then we went on to pet the sled dogs and their puppies, they were so cute. Then we went on and the bus driver asked us to close our eyes, since she had a surprise. What we saw there took our breathe away. Although it wasn't included in the trip, she had driven us to Emerald. Truly worth a detour, it is so beautiful. The trip back to the port was by railroad, over the historical white pass. Amazing what a great railroad the built over a hundred years ago. What wonderful views you get from the train. The only negative I could say is that the smoke literally gets in your eyes when you are in the first compartments; and you get to chose were you sit. You have to remember to take your passport with you. First when crossing into Canada and when you return to the US. But all in all, that went very smoothly.
Icy Strait Point (Hoonah): Small village, not much to see there, but I had the best day of my life there. Over the roll call message board I had met people who were doing a bear search with Keith from TREKK. I managed to get on the same excursion, since I couldn't get in contact with Keith from Belgium. It was great to travel with people I had met on the meet and mingle. Keith and his lovely dog Trigger, who was still a pup at the time, are wonderful. He drove us deep into the woods with his van, told a scary bear stories and kept us entertained all the way. We saw a bear down by the river and he parked the van a little further and we walked up to the river. No luck, by then the bear had gone. But Keith know were he was and tried to get Winnie out, but I guess he wasn't in the mood. The forest was beautiful, it really looked like a lush tropical forest, with flowers, trees and leaves I had never seen in my life. A little later we saw a bear up the road, but it managed to get away. We didn't have more luck, but I call myself lucky that we saw two bears. We drove back to Hoonah, with Trigger sleeping sweetly on my lap. By then I was driving shotgun, since the road in the forest was bumpy and got carsick. It was raining the entire day and the ship was tendered, but that didn't ruin the experience of a lifetime.
Juneau: I love the capital of Alaska. It's a small and nice little town, but we found out in the afternoon it gets packed with tourists when 4 or 5 cruise ships are in at the same time. We hadn't booked a shore excursion, but like in every port-of-call, there was plenty of choice right there on the pier. We opted for Mendenhall Glacier, and took the blue van to the Glacier. When we got there, it was cold (remember that it was still early morning) and very misty. Some paths around the creek were closed due to bear activity. A ranger told us there had been a lot of bear activity the past days. We saw bear droppings and eaten fish, but that's as close as we came to a bear that day. We walked up to Mendenhall, but we couldn't see our hand in front of our face. It was so misty. But an half an hour later the sun came through and was we saw took our breath away. Mendenhall Glacier is beautiful and is sure worth a trip. When we came back we had lunch on the ship and took a walk around town, but it wasn't easy with the crowds.
Sitka: Small little port-of-call, the best place to see the influence of the Russians. When we tendered and disembarked from the ship, the town was still quiet. It was very early and we took a walk around town, enjoying the peace and silence. We hadn't booked an excursions, but lots were offered on the pier. We settled for a city tour combined with the Bear sanctuary and it was great. We got lots of insides of the early days in the Seattle, the way of live, saw the University, a bald eagle perched on a tree, visited the chocolate factory, drove to Silver Bay, etc. It was a very enlightening tour. The best part was the bear sanctuary of course, with two big bears playing around. They were rescued when their mom dies, she was a garbage bear. Garbage bears eat everything and when they get used to humans, they get dangerous, and sometimes have to be put down. That's were the bear sanctuary comes in. They take on cubs whose mom is dead, put them in quarantine and then in their sanctuary. Afterward, they can be shipped to zoos, but they try to keep brothers and sisters together. Sitka is a nice little town you just have to see.
Cruising Hubbard Glacier: The highlight of the cruise. It's amazing to sail up to the glacier and the closer you come, the bigger it gets. With Hoonah, it was our second and last day of rain, and it was very cold up on the helipad. I was there at the crack of dawn, but had to give up that last part of the sail, since my fingers were frozen and I was frozen. Went in to put on another layer of clothes, warm myself and when I came back out, the view took my breathe away. We were very close to Hubbard and the ship basically did a 360 so everyone got a great view. We saw lots of calving, the funny part is that you hear the calving, before you actually see it. When we were ready to depart, we heard that loud cracking noise and a huge piece of ice calved off. What a great spectacle. With pain in our heart, we had to leave Hubbard and sail towards Victoria. If you take a cruise to Alaska, take one that visits Hubbard, since it's more than worth it.
Victoria: The beautiful capital of British Columbia. It's more a town than a city. When you get off the ship, buses are waiting to drive you to the city center for a fee. We walked around town, and if you like museums, there the museum of national history, which seems very nice. We walked to all the sights and had lunch on the ship. In the afternoon, we spent some nice time on deck, enjoying the sun.
San Francisco: Everyone had to go through immigration before anyone could debark. So when some people are inconsiderate, everyone is punished and has to wait until everyone has been to immigration. It took some time before we could debark. No shore excursions booked in SF, we did the city on our own. We were in SF a couple of years ago and had seen the main sights, so we mainly focused on shopping, pier 39 and the famous sea lions and relaxing. Of course, we rode the cable car and walked around the city. I love SF, it's the most European City of them all. We sailing into SF I got up at the crack of dawn to see the sailing under the Golden Gate, but it was so misty; the only thing we saw of the bridge were the lights underneath it. For our sail out of SF I watched from the helipad and it was really cold and windy. Sailing under the Golden Gate is amazing. And that night at dinner I saw the pilot boat for the first time next to the MDR.
The last night: It was a very very sad sight the last night, when we saw all the suitcases in the hallways. I guess that's when we realized the dream was over :-(
Disembarkation: We were in the last group to disembark and spend some more time on deck. When the time for disembarkation came closer, we went to our designated area, which was the theater area. We disembarked around 30 minutes later than normal and took a taxi up to the Alamo rental counter. We spend a night at the Sheraton Marina and drove up to an outlet mall for the last round of shopping. I felt very sad that I had to leave such a beautiful ship, but on the other hand, I have some wonderful memories that will last forever. Read Less