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Radiance of the Seas docked in Icy Strait Point, Alaska (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas in Icy Strait Point, Alaska (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Just Back From Radiance of the Seas on Royal Caribbean's First Alaska Sailing of the Season

Radiance of the Seas docked in Icy Strait Point, Alaska (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas in Icy Strait Point, Alaska (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Editor
Jorge Oliver

Last updated
May 13, 2024

The start of the Alaska season is always a thrilling occasion for cruise lines, as ships gear up to spend five to six months sailing in one of the world’s most popular cruise destinations. In Royal Caribbean’s case, the season began on May 3, when Radiance of the Seas embarked on a 7-day voyage from Vancouver to Seward.

Built in 2001, Radiance of the Seas has been a constant fixture in Royal Caribbean’s offerings in the Last Frontier. While the 2,500-passenger vessel had to scrap its original maiden Alaska sailing of 2024 due to a problem with the propulsion system, the issue was resolved on time for the May 3rd voyage. Radiance of the Seas will follow through with its intended plan to offer continuous one-way itineraries between Vancouver and Seward from May to September.

And the ship will soon be joined by fleetmates Quantum of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas to complete Royal Caribbean’s Alaska-faring fleet this year.

Cruise Critic joined Radiance of the Seas’ May 3rd voyage in Vancouver. Here’s what we learned about Royal Caribbean’s first Alaska sailing of the season.

Itinerary and Shore Excursions Offer Plentiful Options to Unlock Alaska’s Charms

View of the port of Haines in Alaska (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Haines was a last minute addition to Radiance of the Seas' Alaska itinerary (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Any trip to Alaska is as good as its itinerary, and Radiance of the Seas didn’t disappoint. Our seven-day voyage featured four ports of call, plus a visit to Hubbard Glacier, on the one-way trek from Vancouver to Seward.

The destinations offered a balanced mix. Juneau and Sitka, the two largest towns in Southeastern Alaska, were complemented by stops in the smaller ports of Hoonah’s Icy Strait Point and Haines, whose combined populations barely reach 5,000 residents. The inclusion of Haines turned out to be a happy accident, as Skagway was originally featured in our itinerary but had to be swapped out due to repairs on one of the town’s docks.

Shore excursions were plentiful in every port and provided a comprehensive array of emblematic Alaska activities. In Juneau alone – a port where Radiance of the Seas spent less than eight hours -- passengers were able to choose from 25 different tour options. The excursions ranged from whale watching, sportsfishing and dogsledding to kayaking, hiking, biking and a culinary tour of the Alaskan capital.

In Icy Strait Point – a port owned an operated by the native Alaskan Huna Totem Corporation – passengers also had the opportunity to witness an authentic tribal performance, showcasing the traditions of the Huna Tlingit culture. Similar opportunities were on offer in Sitka, with guided tours of Sitka National Historical Park’s Totem Trail, and a live song and dance performance in a traditional Tlingit Clan House.

The weather throughout our sailing, on the other hand, was less than ideal. Rain isn’t uncommon in southeastern Alaska, an area that’s classified as a temperate rainforest. Temperatures rarely climbed higher than the mid-40s and easily dipped into the 30s throughout our trek.

Alaska Could be Better Represented On Board Radiance of the Seas

Colony Club bar aboard Radiance of the Seas (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
The tropical Blue Wave was one of the featured cocktails of the day aboard Radiance of the Seas in Alaska (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

While Radiance of the Seas’ itinerary provides a comprehensive tour of Alaska’s most iconic destinations, the region isn’t quite as thoroughly reflected on board. At times, one might even be excused for thinking the ship was sailing in tropical waters, as if emphasizing the ‘Caribbean’ in Royal Caribbean.

For instance, the Trinidadian duo Island Vibz provided a good chunk of the onboard entertainment in the ship’s Centrum area, belting out soca, calypso and reggae beats amidst the chilly Alaskan landscapes. The musical pair often branched out to styles beyond their Caribbean roots, but there was always a hint of tropical flair in their delivery.

In the drinks department, the near absence of Alaskan beers on board felt like a missed opportunity, with the one sole exception being Alaska Brewing Co.’s Icy Bay IPA. On the other hand, beers hailing from tropical latitudes – like Red Stripe, Carib, Corona and Dos Equis – were readily available. The sailing also offered two tastings: the first was devoted to wines while the second one focused on tropical rum-based cocktails such dark 'n stormy, the painkiller, rum punch or Papa Jac.

In the first few days of our sailing, the drink special -- sold at a discounted price throughout the day -- also featured tropical concoctions like the Bahamian goombay smash or Curaçao's blue wave. As the voyage wore on, however, more weather-appropriate drinks were on offer, such as Irish Coffee or a Spiked Hot Chocolate.

But these decisions were not arbitrary. A chat with Radiance of the Seas' bar manager revealed that in previous years, more local beers had been offered on Royal Caribbean's ships sailing Alaskan waters. But the passenger reception was frosty, as most travelers preferred to stick to their familiar beers aboard the ship and try Alaskan brews while ashore. As for cocktails, drinks like the goombay smash routinely rank as the most requested on board, even in Alaska's cool temperatures.

The shopping lectures onboard swayed heavily towards hunting for deals in diamonds and other high-end jewelry, and not so much on finding unique Alaskan treasures. Jewelry shopping in certain Alaskan destinations like Juneau isn’t unusual, but the showmanship onboard had a distinct warm-weather feel to it, like we were about to disembark in St. Thomas’ or St. Maarten’s seemingly endless rows of duty-free shops.

Having said that, both the tropical-flavored drinks and the shopping experiences drew heavy interest from Radiance of the Seas’ passengers. Moreover, some of the daily activities did include enrichment opportunities more closely aligned with the region.

For instance, during our day at sea spent crossing the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Juneau, a Canadian Mountie delivered a presentation about Canada’s iconic national police and what it’s like to be a Mountie in British Columbia. And on Day 7, while our ship entered Disenchantment Bay to explore Hubbard Glacier, guest lecturer Suzan Hazlett provided a play-by-play narration of the extended tour of the glacier and its surroundings.

An Early Alaska Cruise Can Offer Enticing Value

View of Juneau from the Goldbelt Tram (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Juneau, Alaska from Mount Roberts (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Our voyage also offered unique value opportunities for passengers looking to embark on an Alaska adventure. By virtue of being an early sailing in the Last Frontier’s cruise season, cabin prices were on average lower than what you’d find deeper into the season, especially during the summer months.

Another eye-catching deal that was specific to our sailing consisted of a ‘Buy One, Get One at 50% Off’ promotion for Royal Caribbean’s top-of-the-line deluxe beverage package. The offer meant a second passenger could get this package, which includes any alcoholic beverage item with a value of up to $14, for $47.50 per day, instead of the standard $95 that the first passenger pays.

This offer, however, was limited only to embarkation day, but still proved a big hit among the ship’s passengers.

There was also intrinsic value in being one of the first ships to visit Alaska in the year. In Juneau and Haines, we were the only vessel in port. And even when we shared port facilities, as was the case in Icy Strait Point and Sitka, there was only one more ship in town. In the case of Sitka, the second ship arrived several hours after we docked, so we remained the only ship in town for a good chunk of the day.

Another small victory is that, on embarkation day, we got to board the ship as early as 10am in Vancouver, as opposed to noon. This perk, however, had more to do with the week-long interruption of Radiance of the Seas’ operations due to the propulsion system issue that forced the cancelation of the original first sailing that was scheduled for April 26.

Radiance of the Seas' First Alaska Voyage Attracted a Diverse Crowd

Radiance of the Seas passengers revel in the ship's Centrum lobby(Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Passengers enjoyed the onboard entertainment on Radiance of the Seas (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Radiance of the Seas' first Alaska voyage of the season sailed at almost full capacity, with 2,116 passengers boarding the ship in Vancouver.

According to data from Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the median age of Alaska cruise passengers is 54, while the general median age is 47. CLIA also found that 82% of Alaska cruise travelers hail from the US.

While our Radiance of the Seas sailing didn't stray too far from these statistics, the voyage was also noteworthy for the diversity age range, nationalities and ethnic background of its passengers. Travelers aged 31-40 represented the third largest age range on board. And although the majority of travelers held US passports, the itinerary had a total of 33 different nationalities.

Spanish and, to a lesser degree, Portuguese were commonly heard on board. In fact, passengers from Mexico represented the second largest nationality onboard, surpassing the numbers of travelers from Canada, the U.K. and Australia. The ship also hosted smaller numbers of Colombian, Costa Rican, Spanish and Panamanian passengers, and it’s also likely that some of the travelers holding U.S. passports also contributed to the Spanish-speaking numbers.

Alaska also doesn't usually come to mind as a destination for cruisers who are fond of partying. But on Radiance of the Seas, staying up close to midnight in venues like Casino Royale, Schooner Bar, Starquest Nightclub, Quill and Compass pub and the Centrum lobby was the norm.

Ship Design Stands Test of Time, Especially in Alaska

Schooner Bar on Radiance of the Seas (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Radiance of the Seas' Schooner Bar is a popular gathering spot (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Built in 2001, Radiance of the Seas is one of the oldest members of Royal Caribbean’s fleet. And while its age certainly shows, especially when compared to Oasis-class ships or the brand-new Icon of the Seas, the vessel flaunts tried-and-true elements that have made it a fan-favorite for Alaska itineraries.

In honor of its name, Radiance of the Seas’ brightest quality is its abundance of light, made possible by the fact that half of the ship’s exterior is glass. This quality is best appreciated in the midships elevators on the starboard side, especially when going from the Centrum in Deck 4 all the way up to Deck 12. The open decks are also great vantage points to admire the scenery, but in Alaska’s unpredictable weather, this option is less reliable.

In contrast with newer vessels and classes, all five of Radiance of the Seas’ specialty restaurants boast floor-to-ceiling windows with outside views. Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table and the intimate Chef’s Table do so from Deck 6, but the best views are found in Izumi on Deck 11 and especially Samba Grill on Deck 12. During dinner at the Brazilian churrascaria-style eatery, we spotted dozens of humpback whales spouting while our ship was en route to Seward from Hubbard Glacier, providing a real ‘dinner and show’ atmosphere to the specialty restaurant.

The same can be said for many of Radiance of the Seas’ popular bars and venues. Schooner Bar is a particularly popular hangout. This Royal Caribbean classic has lost some of its prominence on the newer ships. But on Radiance of the Seas and its sister ships, it’s the place to be. The bar’s nautical theme is instantly memorable, while ongoing events -- ranging from trivia to piano musical numbers -- ensure there's always something going on.

What's more, Schooner Bar is also the gateway to Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Table, making it the ideal spot for an apres- or post-dinner libation.

Solarium on Radiance of the Seas (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Radiance of the Seas' Solarium (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Elsewhere on the ship, the African-themed Solarium on Deck 11 works like a charm in Alaska's cold weather. The glass-framed retractable roof and surrounding windows provided excellent views, while the climate-controlled area gave passengers an opportunity to enjoy pool activities It functioned as a multipurpose space, giving passengers an area where they could go for a swim in a climate-controlled environment, enjoy snacks at odd hours where no other options were available on board, and yet another vantage point from where to take in Alaska’s beauty.

Other amenities, however, went underused during our sailing due to Alaska’s typical rainy weather and temperatures hovering in the 40s. The most obvious examples are located in the top decks, including the ship’s rock climbing wall, the Fairways of Radiance, the Adventure Beach kids pool, and the main pool and its accompanying pool bar.

Still, the outdoor pool and adjacent jacuzzis are heated, and more than a few hardy passengers braved the frigid temperatures and icy rain to go for an open-air dip.

Does Radiance of the Seas Deliver a Strong Alaska Adventure?

View of downtown Juneau from Radiance of the Seas (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Approaching Juneau on Radiance of the Seas (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Radiance of the Seas is no stranger to Alaska. Since it was launched in 2001, the ship has spent every summer exploring the landscapes of the Last Frontier. And while the ship offers some amenities that are more appropriate for warmer weather destinations, it thrives in Alaska as well.

We wish we could have seen more of Alaska represented aboard the ship. But we found that the ship hardware and, especially, Royal Caribbean's variety and volume of shore excursion options make Radiance of the Seas a good choice for a mainstream cruise vacation in the Last Frontier, particularly for first time visitors to Alaska.

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