We sailed Northbound out of Vancouver, BC on Radiance on June 2nd with stops in Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, and a sea day that included the Hubbard Glacier. We also took a cruisetour (1A) post cruise, which I'll ... Read More
We sailed Northbound out of Vancouver, BC on Radiance on June 2nd with stops in Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, and a sea day that included the Hubbard Glacier. We also took a cruisetour (1A) post cruise, which I'll review a bit later.
Pre-cruise in Vancover:
We chose to fly into Seattle from Boston, rent a car and drive to Vancouver. It was a lovely drive. We spent a day and a half there visiting the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (gorgeous, make time to see it if you can) and Stanley Park. We also checked out Canada Place and saw Fly Over Canada (if you've been to Disney, it's Soarin' with a Canadian theme and quite good). There we also watched sail away for the ships leaving the day before ours and grabbed a bite to eat at the "mall" across the way.
Canada place is an interesting place. Part convention center, part cruise port, part entertainment venue. I've only previously sailed from Florida ports and this seemed a bit less organized.
We returned our rental car in the parking structure (very convenient) and took an elevator to the cruise terminal. We arrived around 9:45. We were directed to drop our bags, which was quick and easy. We were then directed through a door and down a long corridor to check in and get our Sea Pass card. There was no wait. From there we were directed back down the corridor and back to where we started to go through security.
There was a short wait here. If you were from the U.S. you were given a big green card that allowed you to use a kiosk for customs verification. It read your passport and printed a voucher. We then had to wait in a longer line (maybe 15 min) to show that voucher to a customs agent along with our passport. We showed our passports at least 5 different times before we walked onto the ship, which seemed a bit ridiculous.
Once through customs we were sent to a large holding pen. It really felt like that. Lots of chairs and no organization or communication from staff. No special lounge or waiting area for Crown and Anchor members who had Diamond or higher or suite status, no explanation or order to this process. So we sat and waited and chatted with our neighbors. Eventually, agents began moving people to the next holding pen, where there were more seats and we sat there. Again, no explanation. Turns out there is no PA system in the building, so they just did their thing. This wait was shorter and then rows were called in no particular order to line up to board the ship. This process took longer than I've previously experienced. We were in line close to a half hour before we stepped onto the ship. New cruisers did not seem to know they had to show their Sea Pass cards and ID to be scanned and double checked to get on the ship.
Around the Ship:
Radiance of the seas is truly a radiant ship. She is small, but beautiful. Many of the venues have ample glass to take in the amazing Alaskan scenery, including glass elevators that look out over the ocean! You can sit at any bar and see out the windows. The Champagne Bar and the Schooner Bar offering the best views I think. The Colony Club and the Viking Crown Lounge also offer spectacular views, with the Colony club offering a nice aft view.
Sure, she shows her age a bit in spots, with some worn carpet in stateroom hallways, and dirty balcony railings/glass and spots in need of paint touch up on her exterior. The inside of the stateroom was beautiful (junior suite) and we were quite impressed.
I was thrilled that on 3 separate occasions, we saw whales at sea while cruising along! A pod of orcas on the first sea day, and two different groups of humpacks two consecutive nights at dinner time!
Entertainment and Activities:
The musical entertainment was top notch. We love to dance and there were really only two venues for dancing. The central Centrum, which is beautiful and open all the way to the 11th deck, is where most of the themed events and parties took place. They had a small central dance floor. The Real Time Band and Just Us Duo were fantastic to listen or dance to. They alternated between the Centrum and the Colony Club. The dance floor there was oval and larger and wood, so we preferred it. The band did live rock band karaoke one night and it was awesome. There was a DJ late night at the disco but the one night we went, no one was there.
The Cruise Director, Steve Davis, is absolutely top notch. He loves his job and brings and energy and passion I've not seen in a cruise director before and his staff are equally as fun and engaging. There was always something to do with the usual trivia, dance classes, port talks, captain's corner, and the interviews he did on the cruise channel were both informative and entertaining. I've never had as much fun at the 70's party as I did on this ship! He also did a rock and roll party that was fantastic.
We only saw one production show and were underwhelmed. The cast was talented, but the show River of Dreams was just poorly written and there was no flow or chemistry, which was not the fault of the performers so much as it was the fault of whoever came up with the concept and music for the show. Others seemed to like the other production shows and headliner shows, but we did not attend them. In fact most of the shows it seemed were only attended by maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of those cruising. Probably in part because Alaska is a port heavy itinerary with early mornings and busy days.
Food and Service:
We had the second seating for dinner in the dining room. The second floor of the Cascades dining room was for the formal seatings, the first floor for my time dining. We found the service to be average, but a bit slow. We were seated at a table for 10, but there were only 6 couples. We are not sure if the others were not assigned or just never came. We did notice the dining room was maybe 75% full on any given night with many folks we talked to opting for my time dining or actually just ate in the Windjammer every night!
The main dining menus are the same as they are on any other ship, which if you sail RC often, you might tire of. We did not eat at any of the specialty restaurants, but our table mates did and said it was good. They do try to up-sell you to the specialty restaurants, but I found it was very low pressure and honestly, the crew who was supposed to be "pushing" these venues seemed at times uncomfortable with their position. Most people were polite about either declining or asking for more information, but some were unnecessarily rude.
We found both breakfast and lunch in the dining room to be enjoyable, relaxing, and quite good, although it's a sit down dining experience and you'll be seated with folks who arrive the same time you do. It's a nice alternative to the chaos of the Windjammer. The salad bar at lunch is fantastic. Be sure to check it out!
The Windjammer was average, which in all fairness is what it is supposed to be. It's a buffet, not a gourmet meal. I don't understand people who complain about the food there. What would you expect at any other large buffet? I would not expect the same quality or complexity of food as one would get in the main dining room or specialty restaurants, but it seems some people do.
The Park Cafe is in the Solarium and is a great place for early birds to get their coffee or tea, a light breakfast or brunch, and sit in a warm and relatively quiet venue at a window and gaze at the spectacular scenery going by.
Ports of Call:
We did the Eagles, Lighthouse and Totem excursion and our captain was great! It was cold (45 degrees) and pouring with rain, but we saw so many eagles! We also saw some seals and had delicious hot chocolate and a snack. It's a longer walk to Creek Street than I imagined (about 15 min), and by the time we went in the afternoon, no one was there, likely because of the weather. It must be a really cool place when the salmon are running. Shopping was great here for general Alaska souvenirs, many told us it was the cheapest place to buy them.
Icy Strait Point:
Do a whale watch here! We did one here booked thru RC and one in Juneau, and this one was so much better! It was about a 2 hour catamaran trip, booked thru the cruise line, and we spent the bulk of that time observing a number of humpbacks play, dive (tail flukes!), bubble net feed (amazing), and fully breach! We had a naturalist on board who talked to us about the whales and their behaviors and research being done to better understand them.
We also did the Brown Bear and wildlife search. It was a 45 min bus ride each way and a walk through the forest with guides on a boardwalk with a few overlooks. We learned the history of Icy Strait and some of the Tinglit culture along the way. We did not see any bears, only a squirrel, and some very pretty scenery, but the tour after ours saw several bears. You are not guaranteed wildlife sightings, because, well, it's their natural habitat, not a zoo.
It was cool and rainy, but it seems the wildlife likes that!
There is a lot you could do here. We booked direct with Juneau tours online before we sailed for a combo Whale watch, Mendenhall Glacier, and Mt. Robert's Tram package. They were organized and efficient at transporting us. We did the whale watch first at 9:30 am (saw two humpbacks playing, a partial breach, and lots of tail), then were dropped off at the glacier for as long as we wanted. They offered a shuttle back to town every half hour. Most tours only give you an hour at the glacier which really is not enough time if you want to take your time to walk the trails and truly take in the natural beauty of the glacier, nugget falls, and the trails. We were there about 2.5 hours and had a leisurely time. It was a lovely day, the first we had seen the sun in 4 days, and it was a great day to be outdoors. We then took the tram up to the top of Mt. Roberts. The view is great, and we saw a bald eagle very close by just sitting in a tree. There are trails to hike up there as well, and a restaurant. We ate a late lunch there because we were starving. I had the coconut wild Alaskan salmon. OMG, it was the best meal of the entire trip! We had over 12 hours in port here, and 5 other ships the same day! Plenty of shopping here, too.
This is the port almost everyone chooses to take the White Pass Railroad Train or a bus tour. I had done some research and instead we rented a car a few months before we sailed (do this ahead of time, as it's only Avis and limited number of cars) and drove the Klondike highway. It was spectacular. We drove at our own pace, stopped where we wanted and for as long as we wanted, and were not beholden to a bus, a schedule (other than making it back before all aboard), or the constant movement of the train. We had our passports as we crossed into Canada and back to the US. We drove to Emerald Lake (about 73 miles) which was gorgeous and well worth the drive. The scenery is breathtaking the entire drive. Mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, scenic vistas, and wildlife. We also saw what we think was a lynx (running), a moose, and a black bear snacking on dandelions at the side of the road.
It took us a leisurely 3.5 hours to drive to Emerald lake but only 2 hours to drive back. We returned the car about 3 and were back on the ship by 3:45 (all aboard at 4). It was about a 12-15 min walk from Avis to our ship as we were at the furthest dock.
The captain got us within a half mile of the glacier, which seemed much closer to us than it was, and it was absolutely gorgeous. It was cold and overcast, but nearly everyone was on deck watching as we sailed toward it. A naturalist was on the PA system the entire time, explaining the history, the features of the glacier, and pointing out calving and other bits of glacial and iceberg trivia. It's hard to describe the experience other than to say it's visually stunning. We were fortunate enough to see quite a lot of calving and the sound it makes was like thunder! An amazing experience.
We booked a 3 day cruisetour (1A) from Seward to Denali and then to Anchorage, where we flew home from. We received very little information about this part of our trip pre-cruise other than your adventure specialist will meet you in Seward and a very brief outline of the 3 days. No detail whatsoever before we met our guide.
Our luggage tags had the number that corresponded to our motor coach, so it was already on the coach when we disembarked and we walked off the ship and onto the motor coach. 10 minutes later, we were rolling toward Anchorage (a 4 hour drive).
We stopped at the Wildlife Conservation Center on the way, which was a nice chance to use real bathrooms and stretch our legs while seeing some rehabilitating wildlife. Our tour guide, Brady, was awesome, and gave us history, information, and humorous stories our entire time together. He told us about optional excursions we could do as part of the land tour, we filled out a form and got it back to him. Once in Anchorage, around noon, we had about 90 min for lunch. When we all got back on the motor coach, he had our reservations made for the evening excursions!
From Anchorage we drove to Talkeetna (about another 4 hours). We arrived at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge around 4:45 and we had a 5:30 departure for our flightseeing tour and glacier landing, which was awesome. We returned from that around 9, and had dinner at the lodge, which was really the only option, but it was good and had a gorgeous view of the Alaskan Range. We did not see the summit of Mt. Denali, as it was too cloudy.
We were rolling on our Motor Coach by 8 am on our way to Denali National Park. We arrived around 11:45 and our Tundra Wilderness Tour left at 1:00. We had lunch, as the tour was 8 hours and they did provide a snack box and water, but not enough to hold us for that long! I strongly recommend doing this tour as it goes deep into the park and is your best chance for seeing wildlife. It's on a school bus with captain's chairs and overhead storage. They stop if wildlife is spotted but you are only allowed off the bus every 90 min or so at designated rest stops to use the bathroom and take a few photos. The bus has a camera system so you can see the more distant wildlife close up if you don't have binoculars. We saw moose, several grizzly bears including moms with cubs, wolves, caribou, Dall sheep, fox, marmots, grouse and ptarmigan. It was amazing!
After the tour (it was 9 pm), we were dropped off at our hotel, the Denali Village Lodge, given our room keys, had dinner at the lodge (it was meh), and crashed.
We had booked a whitewater rafting excursion that left at 7 am, so another early morning. It was 45 degrees and raining. We rafted on the Nenana river, a glacially fed river that was 35 degrees. We were given dry suits that did the job, but dressed in several warm layers to wear under it. Only our face and hands were exposed to the elements. We rafted for about 90 minutes on class 3 and 4 rapids with our guide, who was great. It was really fun.
We had about a half hour to take a quick shower and change once back at the lodge, and grab a bite to eat before getting back on the motor coach at 11:45 to head back to Talkeetna. After about an hour there to explore the tiny town, we boarded the Wilderness Express - a fancy domed train with panoramic views and a dining car on the lower level. Dinner was very good, bar service was good, and we saw a bunch of moose along the way. It was a very nice end to our very long and busy few days.
We were dropped off at the Anchorage Marriott and our airport transfers had all been arranged for the next morning. Great guides, great service, gorgeous scenery, but a lot of sitting on a bus! Totally worth it for the places we were able to see and to have the experiences we did.
Alaska is beautiful and Radiance is a beautiful way to see her. I couldn't stop looking out our balcony or the many windows on the ship at the spectacular scenery going by. The midnight sun was also quite an experience! It was a fantastic cruise that I thought would be once in a lifetime, but I would totally go back! Read Less