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950 Royal Caribbean Alaska Cruise Reviews

SEPT 2009 -- Greetings from Calgary Canada... we booked 2 cabins, 2 couples travelling from Seattle to inside Passage, Juneau, Skagway, Victoria and then return; our departure date was Aug 28-2009, returning Sept 4-2009. This was a holiday ... Read More
SEPT 2009 -- Greetings from Calgary Canada... we booked 2 cabins, 2 couples travelling from Seattle to inside Passage, Juneau, Skagway, Victoria and then return; our departure date was Aug 28-2009, returning Sept 4-2009. This was a holiday cruise. The Rhapsody is 20 YEARS OLD ! It is used and abused in its looks and we were disappointed in the out-dated decor, crumbling plaster columns at the Solarium Pool, worn carpets and rusty embellishments throughout the ship. Service was just o.k. nothing special, cabin and dining attendants were just doing their job but nothing astounding! As a matter of fact ... several dining attendants from Turkey were glad to be getting off and going home and NOT renewing their contract with RC as they expressed poor employee treatment ! BUT THE VIBRATION at the dining table was HORRIFIC--we sat at Table #103, early dining at 6:00 pm, table of 8 passengers. We all complained up the line to Melvin & Alvaro, our Head Waiters and to "Carly B", the Cruise Director as our spoons and forks shook violently in our hands as we sat at the table; our napkins fluttered vigourously in our wine glasses and our seats rumbled. 3 of us felt nauseated throughout our entire dining experiences--FOR A WHOLE WEEK ! It was the whole row of us and the entire PORT side (right side of ship of the Edelweiss Dining Room)...We dreaded going to dinner ... it just wasn't fair that we consider the casual Windjammer as an alternative -- we paid the price to cruise a quality ship, itinerary and cruise line and did not receive it... We requested to be moved -- however no other tables available nor available at "my time dining" nor available at the later seating -- how gross is that ! An engineer at our table suggested that the ship was not balanced properly and not caliberated and RC would have to put her in dry dock. This ship had 2 more cruises to Alaska and then going directly to South Pacific and Australia so it is not going to be fixed soon ! Just don't go on this ship and take your dollars somewhere else. We did -- so we booked the Celebrity Eclipse for next year and taking the Family at Christmas on RC Navigator. Food was just o.k.... I thought better at the Windjammer at times. All the other wonderful things such as hi-quality RC Performers were astounding and very good entertainment. Our money is now going to another cruise line. We have travelled with rC on 6 previous occasions and are in the Platinum Level-- so what if you don't like what they offer... we're going somewhere else. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
This would be the first time i had ever visited Alaska i was very excited and the cruise was excellent. We had our fair share of wild weather however i am glad to say that all the problems were resolved. Our itinerary was supposed to be ... Read More
This would be the first time i had ever visited Alaska i was very excited and the cruise was excellent. We had our fair share of wild weather however i am glad to say that all the problems were resolved. Our itinerary was supposed to be Juneau, Skagway, Tracy arm fjord and Victoria. Instead due to wild weather our itinerary was Juneau, Endicott arm, Ketchikan and Victoria. When we arrived at Juneau the conditions were horrible and we had to dock 2 hours late. We were fortunate enough because we were allowed to have 2 extra hour in Juneau so instead of leaving at 7:30 we left at 9:30. We arrived in Skagway at 4:am when i woke up i was expecting to see the buetiful port of Skagway, however i was awoken by a message. It said that in Skagway there were gusts up to 60mph! and we wouldn't be stopping there. I was disappointed because i wanted to see the white pass railway. If you booked with RCL you were given a full refund which was nice. Needless to say i was disappointed. The captain said instead of going to Tracy arm the next day we would be going to Endicott arm the same day. I was eating lunch enjoying the beautiful Endicott arm when the captain announced that we would be going to Ketchikan the next day. everyone in the lunchroom started cheering. We then arrived at Dawes glacier and I was struck by the beauty. Ketchikan was great and was actually my favorite port . Finally we reached Victoria and I also I had a good time there. The ship- The Rhapsody is a fairly old ship. I was disappointed that there was no basketball court as there was on previous RCL cruises. This isnt a great ship for kids even thou we were in Alaska in the summer I didnt see that many teenagers. My kids had a little trouble finding friends but they finally did. The ship is nicely decorated and the Centrum is great. Entertainment. Jackpot! Our cruise got some of the best performers available. We enjoyed 2 comedy shows from the runner up of the last comic standing , and a hilarious musical comedy impressionist. There was also a nice show called piano man which performs songs from Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles etc. The food- I enjoyed the food in the buffet and the dinning room however there were no alternate resteraunts like other RCL ships. However the pizza was very good in the solarium cafe. Service: The service was excellent and we all enjoyed our dining room waiters Rhapsody is called "the friendliest ship of the seas" and I cant argue with that! Cabins. They were small but you must get the balcony. During scenic cruising it is so peaceful on your own private balcony and Balcony rooms are bigger than interior and oceanview staterooms. Even the smallest rooms feature a small sitting area The Rhapsody of the seas is aging a bit but is still a great ship. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
By now I'm sure you've already read the main review, so I won't spend a lot of time rehashing what they said overall, they're right. Instead, I'll stick to a few key highlights: THE CREW: We had ... Read More
By now I'm sure you've already read the main review, so I won't spend a lot of time rehashing what they said overall, they're right. Instead, I'll stick to a few key highlights: THE CREW: We had terribly luck with weather during the first part of our cruise. It took us two hours to dock in Juneau and our Skagway stop was scrubbed all together. Obviously, this sort of thing is beyond anyone's control. The crew deserves a lot of credit here. Rather than just sticking with the itinerary and spending another day at sea, the Captain took us to see the (stunning) Endicott Arm and the Dawes Glacier while replacing our Skagway stop with a day in Ketchikan. I didn't realize how lucky we were with this until we got off the ship in Seattle. We started talking with a couple from another ship while we waited for our ride to show up, and they'd actually spent two whole additional days at sea due to the weather the cruise line just said "Yup, weather" and left it at that. So, kudos to the Rhapsody crew and Royal Caribbean on that front. That aside, all the crew members on the ship were helpful and friendly without being fake or irritating about it. THE FOOD: Let's get this out of the way: The buffet in the Windjammer was at roughly Old Country Buffet standards. Nothing wrong with the food, really, but nothing too good either. This didn't stop it from being constantly packed, however. If you sail on the Rhapsody, do yourself a favor and eat in the dining room. The food is heads and tails better than the 'Jammer, and in most cases is quite good. The steaks were done well, the seafood was terrific and the soups and appetizers were great. The one time I wasn't happy was with a pasta dish, but frankly I just didn't read the menu carefully enough. The wine prices with dinner weren't too heinous. The markup on bottles I was familiar with (aka, California wines) was usually about 200%, cheaper than most restaurants. In addition, they had some pretty solid bottles available (Stag's Leap Cellars merlot, Cakebread chardonnay, several Liberty School selections) rather than just a few Mondovi labels. Finally, if you're starving and need a bite, the Solarium Cafe has fairly solid pizza available when the restaurants are closed. THE BARS: We drank a bit on this cruise. The Schooner Bar was a decent setup, but what really set it apart was the service friendly and fast. The waiter learned our names and our drinks the first day and remembered even though we'd go a few days between visits. The Viking Crown room is *quiet* during the day. We came up to check it out and all instinctively started talking in whispers, like we were in the library. It picked up at night, however, when the folks in our age group started showing up and the DJ started spinning. It wasn't anything special, but it was a lot of fun my friend compared it to the fun part of the dance after a wedding (in a good way), and that was accurate. I'll talk about the bars in the atrium bar area in a minute. THE SHIP: The Rhapsody is big, but not that big; we were getting around easily within a few hours of boarding. The seven-story lounge at the middle of the ship was every bit as impressive as the other reviews make it out to be and at night featured live music that was at least decent (and sometimes quite good). More than once, however, we'd be trying to enjoy a quiet drink and look at the ocean here and they'd fire up the PA for a 'fine art' auction I may not know art, but I do know it's really irritating having your recharge time interrupted like that. I've seen other people describe the ship as dated. I don't know about that, but but it was certainly comfortable. We didn't spend a lot of time in our (tiny, cheap) room. SHOPPING: No, I don't generally go on vacation to go shopping either. I managed to leave home without my watch, however, so I stopped by the duty-free the first day at sea and ended up buying a new one. I only mention it since the sales guy deserves a lot of credit for helping me find a nice one and sizing the band for my wrist great service and, incidentally, a better price on the watch than Amazon.com. THE PEOPLE: I hesitated to put this part in. Again, your mileage may vary here. As a first-time cruiser, what really blew me away was how many jerks (I'd use a stronger term in person) were on this cruise. I've been to all-inclusive resorts and the like before but never seen anything like this the way some of these people treated their waiters and attendants was just flat-out gross. Maybe this is an overall cruise thing, maybe this is a Alaskan cruise thing, maybe I just got unlucky, I don't know. I needed to mention it, however, because this sort of lousy attitude was just so common that it was one of the first things I think of about the trip. THINGS UNIQUE TO OUR CRUISE THAT YOU WON'T SEE, HA HA: We sailed past a US submarine and its Coast Guard escort that was leaving Seattle the same time as we were. That was very cool. We were diverted to Endicott Arm rather than the Tracy Arm. I have no idea how they match up, but Endicott was flat-out jaw-dropping. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
This is my 9th cruise with different cruise lines, but my first cruise to Alaska! I am not really a cold weather person, and therefore I have taken my time to sign up for this colder itinerary! However, I was pleasantly surprised with warm ... Read More
This is my 9th cruise with different cruise lines, but my first cruise to Alaska! I am not really a cold weather person, and therefore I have taken my time to sign up for this colder itinerary! However, I was pleasantly surprised with warm days in the low 70's, and crisp cool nights filled with many stars as we cruised into Alaska! The ship is around 15 years old, but in good condition and has a very experienced Captain and helpful crew. The ship size is perfect to get down the Tracy Arm Fjord, and make 360 degree turns to see the glaciers....priceless. In Juneau, go up the Mt. Roberts Tramway located in town for the amazing views, and then hike in the mountains at the top of the tramway! The view down on the cruise ships in port is amazing as well! The town is fun with some unique shops, and be sure to stop for a drink at the Red Dog Saloon! The Glacier Express (blue bus in town) will take you to the Mendenhall Glacier, that is exciting and beautiful to see up close. In Skagway, go into town and stop at the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, and take this amazing train ride through the mountains! We did the 3 hour tour, and were happy with all we saw, and we still had time to shop in town and take in all the history of the area! In Victoria, B.C., the city is very vibrant and has plenty of shops. We also visited Beacon Hill Park and The Butchart Gardens. The many gardens are large, but can become quite crowded in the middle of the day, so go early. We purchased our own tickets, so we could spend a couple of hours there and still have time for everything else before our ship pull away....... My husband and I do not like tour buses, and set schedules. All of our outings were researched before we went (especially reading CC reviews), and all the ports on this trip are easy to get around! We will come back to Alaska in a couple of years, and our next trip will be out of Vancouver to venture even further into this great state! Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
This was our first cruise up north. We came in the day before and stayed at the SpringHill Suites in Seattle. We were very pleased with the hotel and seeing the beautiful city of Seattle. We took a cab to pier 90 in the morning and ... Read More
This was our first cruise up north. We came in the day before and stayed at the SpringHill Suites in Seattle. We were very pleased with the hotel and seeing the beautiful city of Seattle. We took a cab to pier 90 in the morning and arrived about 10:30. We dropped our luggage off went inside and checked in. There was no waiting and we were told to take a seat until they started to board. In less than 15 minutes we boarded and went to the Windjammer for a good lunch. We then checked out the ship and waited till 1:00pm for our statroom to be ready. What a surprise when we opened the door and found our luggage already inside. We did have a problem with our early dinner assigned seating. We had to see the head waiter early on as there was no set table on our sea pass. We did get seated with a very nice couple. The service that night was poor but the food was very good. We asked other people and they expressed the same and we had to wonder if the my time dining had things messed up or the waiters are having more tables to serve. The service did improve on the following nights. The food was very good and the portions were adequate. Bit of advice if you have the prime rib and get the horse radish it will open your nostrils. I love it but that was sure strong. We were very fortunate with our ports of call as the weather was cool but great. The rain cleared out early each morning. We took some side trips and still had time to shop. The scenery was beautiful. The ship was very clean and the crew was friendly and helpful. I was surprised as this ship is not one of the newer big ones. The entertainment was super and cruise director Keith was good. Our cabin attendant Chen was the best we have had. Our waiter Alan and our assistant Weronika turned out to be good after the first night. We enjoyed this cruise so much that we will want to go north again someday. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
I love reading reviews because it seems funny that we were on the same cruise as other reviewers. This was a great cruise. I travelled with my family (hubby, 15 yr, 12 yr and 4 yr children), my parents and my husband's parents all ... Read More
I love reading reviews because it seems funny that we were on the same cruise as other reviewers. This was a great cruise. I travelled with my family (hubby, 15 yr, 12 yr and 4 yr children), my parents and my husband's parents all in their 70's. So we used all the facilities of this boat. What I can't believe that no one has mentioned was the vibration on this boat. It shook the whole trip except for a couple of hours on the two at sea days. My father who was in the Navy said that aircraft carriers were smoother. Some of areas of the boat seemed worse than others. We were concerned that the little sleeping on the coach bed was going to have shaken baby syndrome the first night. That is my only main complaint other than that this was my favorite cruise. SERVICE: I can't say enough about the service it was excellent. Our room steward Ingrid was awesome always available and present during her working hours. She knew all our names and greeted us. Her towel person was awesome. The dining staff was more than awesome. Traveling with a 4yr old with late dinners who is on Eastern Standard time could be an issue but the staff was showing him magic tricks and getting his meal first. One night he fell asleep and the head waiter made a bed for him out chairs and a table cloth. FOOD: I agree with previous poster eat in the dining room. Windjammer is okay but nothing great. The setup in the windjammer was nice with its different station rather than one long line of food. Don't stand in line for eggs cooked to order go to the dining room. By far the food in the dining room was better than I have had on any other cruise. ENTERTAINMENT: Was excellent we had amazing shows as posted by other reviewers. There was music playing somewhere on the ship at all times. My parents especially enjoyed sitting and listening to it. The game rooms were great and used. They had a nice supply of cards and family games. KIDS STUFF: Unlike the previous poster my kids had a blast and found plenty of kids to hang out with. They were out every night. They had scavenger hunts (my mother in law was proposed to by her grandson), project runway with bed sheets and even a mock wedding. We often had to drag them in to go to bed. The little guy had a blast. They even put on a talent show in the Shall We Dance Lounge. The after 10 pm service was great and a good deal at $5 per hour. My teenager charges more then that. ROOM: We had the week before beencamping in our campers so the room seemed big to us. This was our second time with a balcony first time on RCI. The room was the largest we had. We often had five in our room and it didn't seem cramped. The large sofa was nice. We had a deluxe balcony (2nd level of balcony ) D2 I think. The balcony was great especially with the cold, windy and rainy weather we had. FRONT END: As other posters stated the itinerary was changed but the crew handled this well. The captain and cruise director kept us informed about what was going on. When it was announced that we were going to a new port they redid the dailies and changed the formal night to another at sea night. Also, within a few hours they had new excursions set up for Ketchikan. They had all hands on deck at the excursions desk and the line moved quickly. MY TIME DINING: We did sign up for this on the ship. It was great for us since 5:30 was too early and 8:30 was too late. My only complaint is that other activities on the ship have not adjusted. This is especially true of the formal photographers. They had hours before the early seating then close until just before the late seating and then close and reopen for after the late seating. We had reservations between 7 -7:30 pm most nights and had to dress early for pictures which closed at 6:30 pm and then sit and wait for dinner. Our other option was to wait until 10 pm but by then the big kids were off on to adventures and the little one would never had cooperative for pictures at that time. This was my first cruise on Royal Caribbean but not my first cruise. I would definitely cruise again with them. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
First time cruisers looking for escape and relaxation, we found the Rhapsody of the Seas exceeded our expectations. In a Junior Suite on the forward starboard side we had wonderful, relaxing views of the awesome scenery and ocean life. ... Read More
First time cruisers looking for escape and relaxation, we found the Rhapsody of the Seas exceeded our expectations. In a Junior Suite on the forward starboard side we had wonderful, relaxing views of the awesome scenery and ocean life. Boarding early, we were able to switch to My Time dining and were accommodated with a table for two almost every evening. Our cabin attendants and wait staff were amazing and epitomized customer service and hospitality. Junior Suite (8530)had a great balcony, beds were reasonably comfortable with excellent bedding, club chairs and sofa need to be updated soon. Plenty of nooks and crannies to store all of the contents of our luggage in addition to the closet. Wish the room had a clock - pack one if knowing the time is important. Bathroom took some getting used to; for someone of short stature, getting in the tub the first few times was a challenge and grab bars are not appropriately placed! Room was very quiet - we kept the sliding door open a bit every night and the ocean lulled us to sleep. The view was magnificent - saw lots of whales and porpoises from both the sofa and balcony.The food was good and certainly plentiful no matter what the venue. Sailing weather was great (8/28 - 9/4/09) and captain remarked that it was the best weather they had encountered all season. However, the great weather also prevented the ship from navigating all the way to Endicott glacier as the fjord was heavily clogged with ice. We booked excursions for Juneau (whale watching) and Skagway (White Pass Railroad) independently on line prior to sailing. On board we booked the Butchart Gardens & Wine and Chocolate tour in Victoria, BC which was a disappointment as 1 1/2 hrs is not enough time to enjoy Butchart's beauty. Much has been written about the vibration encountered by some. It was only noticeable to us once when seated out on the Lido deck; it was not a problem in our suite or where we were seated in the dining room. Think we felt the most vibration when a medical helicopter transferred an ailing passenger from the deck above us one afternoon. The entertainment, casinos, shopping and other activities were not our primary focus of the cruise and we only went to one show. Sitting in our suite or on the balcony watching the sights of Alaska and Canada was total relaxation, our intent. Rhapsody of the Seas may not be the newest, largest or glitziest ship but it was perfect for us. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Departed Vancouver on July 31 on Radiance of the Seas. Cruised the Inside Passage (our only day of marginal weather - overcast all day). Stopped in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, then cruised the Hubbard Glacier before ... Read More
Departed Vancouver on July 31 on Radiance of the Seas. Cruised the Inside Passage (our only day of marginal weather - overcast all day). Stopped in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, then cruised the Hubbard Glacier before ending in Seward. Way too many jewelry and fur stores at all ports except Icy Strait Point. Don't waste your money on a tour of Juneau (there are three things pointed out) - The Mendenhall Glacier was very interesting. Skagway - the train ride up to the pass was a very pleasant excursion (no food provided, only bottled water) Icy Strait Point was the highlight of the cruise. The Tlingit tribe controls this port - they only allow one ship a day here, so now overcrowded. NO JEWELRY STORES OR MAJOR SHOPPING> Lots of nice excursions - We did a whale watching excursion leaving at 10 AMish and saw thirty humpback whales. Also a great spot for lunch is the Crab Shack on the pier - a huge Dungess crab - steamed - for $26. Can get a beer and enjoy right on the dock - easy to pick! Then rode the zip-line - what a rush! Over a mile long and comes down the mountain side from 1800 feet up. Really fun but over too soon. Hubbard Glacier was amazing - the ice was so blue and we saw several instances of calving. Seward to Anchorage - spend the money for the train - a very nice trip mainly through the back country. It goes directly from the ship dock in Seward to the Anchorage Airport (talk about great planning) Onboard ship the best place to eat is the specialty restaurant (I called it the Italian restaurant) - well worth the $20 (including tip) fee - the Chop House rather ordinary by comparison. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
This was a great week and a great trip for us. We are not your usual cruisers and usually prefer to be on our own in a car to explore. Husband is a photographer and does not like to be held to someone else's agenda. This was an ... Read More
This was a great week and a great trip for us. We are not your usual cruisers and usually prefer to be on our own in a car to explore. Husband is a photographer and does not like to be held to someone else's agenda. This was an opportunity to see the Inside Passage and areas of Alaska that we could not see on our own in a car. We only had one week with limited funds to spend so we booked a great deal on the cruise with a balcony cabin. Our goal was to get the most out of our week without spending too much more money on all of the extras. We started our week by flying from San Francisco to Vancouver on the day of departure. I know that many others have advised to fly in the day before in case of unexpected delays (don't want to miss the ship) but we didn't have that option as we were on a limited time frame. We arrived in Vancouver at 1:00 on Friday and used the US Direct Program with transfers to the ship. The entire process got us to our cabin on the ship by 2:30. I don't think it could have gone any quicker and it was so nice not to have to collect our checked bags and lug them to the pier. They appeared in our cabin some time before 5:00 so that we could unpack and get ready for dinner. Dinner that first night in the Dining Room was nice. We were delighted to be in a private dining room on the port side at a table for 12 with huge windows for viewing. Our dining companions were all delightful people and at the end of our week, we felt that we had gained some great new friends. Our waiter, Joselito, and his assistant waiter, Vinnie, were fabulous as they got to know our desires and anticipated our every want each evening. Joselito also shared with us his beautiful voice when we discovered that he could sing. As far as our dining experiences and the food goes, we ate all of our dinners in the Dining Room. We felt that gave us the best quality without paying anything more. The meals seemed to get better and better as the week progressed and we could order as few or as many "starters" or "entrees" or "desserts" as we wanted. Some dinners we chose two starters (soup and salad or appetizer and salad) and an entree, while other nights we only chose one starter with our entree. The second formal night gave us a choice of lobster & shrimp or prime rib. We wanted both so we did just that. We got to sample both entrees after a salad starter. Others at the table ordered two of the lobster/shrimp entrees as the serving size was not that big. The desserts were great. My favorites were the sugar free coconut cake and the key lime pie. Breakfasts were split between ordering room service, the Windjammer buffet, and eating in the dining room. All had their advantages and disadvantages depending on what we were doing that day. Room service was great for coffee and breakfast in your room, but the earliest you could get it was 7:00. The Windjammer was the most convenient for quick starts, but not as good quality unless you went to the omelet station for made-to-order. The dining room was the best quality, but took more time and wasn't available as early. Lunch in the dining room was the best if you had the time. There were lots of good choices and a great salad bar. If not, you could always grab something in the Windjammer, but buffet style is not always as fresh. The best choice (if open) was the Sea View Cafe on the 12th deck in the bow. You could get grill items that are made-to-order and the onion rings are great. Our biggest challenge was what to do on the two sea days. We are not fond of sitting by the pool, playing games, gambling, or going to the spa. Nor did we want to spend any extra money. We should have been watching for whales on that first sea day. We bought a book in the gift shop on the last day (The Alaska Cruise Handbook by Joe Upton) that I wish we purchased on the first. It was a great guide for the ports and had a great map of the Inside Passage. It also told where the best wildlife viewing segments were. It turned out that we traveled through the best areas for Orca viewing on that first day and we didn't even know it. By the time we found the book, it was the end of the last sea day and we were out of the Inside Passage already. That last sea day was spent shopping (great bargains in the gift shop), seeing a movie, and napping. One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises for us was the evening entertainment. We did not go to the first Welcome Night show as it wasn't until 10:45 and we were too tired. But we went to the rest of them and were amazed at the quality. Piano Man on the second night was fabulous! We also really enjoyed the comedian Jeff Harms, the Motown review from Spectrum, and the featured singers Matt Clark and Melissa McLaughlin. Another not to miss feature for us was the destination lecture in the Aurora Theater most days. It was interesting and informative about the ports that we would be going to. The lecturer gave us information about the history of each area and what we would be seeing. It helped to give us background information for what we would see. The highlight for us was a destination, but not a port. The morning that we spent at the Hubbard Glacier was extremely memorable. Words just don't convey the experience of being that close to that big of a glacier and then hearing the cracking followed by the calving of the glacier. It was awesome and we could have spent hours there. The captain dig a great job of turning the ship around so that people in their balconies on all sides could experience it. Our one suggestion to Royal Caribbean International would be to designate a certain area of cabins for smoking on the balconies. There were specific areas on the ships for smoking, but they also allowed it on your own balcony. We had neighbors who smoked a lot on their balcony and it ruined our own balcony experience on occasion when they did. We did not pay the extra cost for a balcony to sit out there and smell cigarettes. They could easily designate a group of cabins that allowed smoking on the balcony and leave the rest of them smoke free. All in all, it was a great trip and an opportunity of a lifetime to see the great beauty of Alaska for a lot less than we thought we could. SEWARD: This is where we disembarked, but we had the day to explore before taking the 6:00 train to Anchorage. As soon as we got off the ship, we walked to the train station to check our bags in. It was a .6-mile walk and we were exhausted by the time we got there as we had all of our luggage. We could have taken a taxi, but there weren't any around in the 10 minutes we were waiting so we decided to walk. There is also a trolley (we found out later) that comes every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour that would have taken us there, but it would have been difficult with all of our bags. As soon as we checked our bags in at the station, we went across the street to schedule our spot on the shuttle to Exit Glacier. For $10 a person, you could get shuttled 15 miles to the glacier and then back again in about 2.5 hours (longer if you wanted). We were there before most people figured it out (9:00) and got a spot on the 9:30 shuttle, returning at 12:00. The shuttle leaves on the half hour and returns on the hour and there is only room for about 15. We arrived at the glacier just in time to go on a guided walk to the "Edge of the Glacier". The ranger gave a very interesting talk about the evolution of the vegetation as the glaciers receded while we progressed up to within 20 feet of the glacier edge to feel the "breath of the glacier" on our faces. When we returned, we started to walk the mile to the historic downtown Seward. We walked to the small boat harbor and didn't want to walk the rest of the way. We then discovered the trolley where you could get an All Day pass for $5 to take you around town in a half hour loop from the cruise ship pier to the Sea Life Center and every point in between. We stopped in the middle of downtown and had a great lunch at the Apollo Restaurant. After lunch we went to the local library and viewed two film clips of the 1964 earthquake for $3 each. It was very interesting and lasted about 45 minutes. We then walked around a shopped a bit before getting back on the trolley to return to the train station. At 5:00 we boarded the Alaskan Railroad Coastal Classic train. Our preassigned seats were on the right (not as good viewing) and we requested a change. We were switched to the left side in the last car. It turned out that it was almost empty and very quiet. It was perfect for us as hubby got the outside viewing area to himself for photos and I got a great view on the left. It was also empty enough that we could switch sides back and forth whenever we wanted to see something on the other side. We had a buffalo chili dinner in the dining car ($8) but several others had brought their own food on board. Some even brought pizzas. The trip took 4.5 hours and we were given alerts from the staff when wildlife appeared. "Moose on the left" was a common message. They also let us know when spectacular views were coming up and which side to look on. Unfortunately, it got dark too soon for our ride, but we were told that Beluga whales would be seen on the left if it was light enough. People we met at Exit Glacier were on the morning train and told us about their experiences and seeing the whales. If you get the opportunity to ride the Alaskan Railway - especially this Seward to Anchorage route - you should do it. It was well worth it and one of the least expensive ways to get to Anchorage from Seward. We arrived in Anchorage at 10:30 and were shuttled to the Clarion Suites. It was an excellent suite with a full free breakfast and free transportation to and from the train station and the airport. Our driver the next morning even went out of his way to show us some of the local sights in Anchorage when he learned that we hadn't had an opportunity to see any of his city. It only took about another 15 minutes and was very enjoyable. All too soon we were on our way back home after a great week. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
A little background, I am 54 and dh is 61. My ds and his gf, both 22 were with us as was my db and sil. Dh and I have been on about 10 cruises (all warm weather) and this was our 4th on RCCL, 2nd on a radiance class ship. ... Read More
A little background, I am 54 and dh is 61. My ds and his gf, both 22 were with us as was my db and sil. Dh and I have been on about 10 cruises (all warm weather) and this was our 4th on RCCL, 2nd on a radiance class ship. Vancouver/Embarkation - We took the new Canada line to the waterfront and then walked to our hotel from there. It was quite a hike, but doable if you are able. We stayed at the Renaissance Harbourside and were really pleased with the location and our room. We were fortunate to have a beautiful harbor view. We got a full size van to take us all to the port ($50-quite pricey but he was right there) and from the time we left the hotel until the time we were walking on to the ship it took 40 minutes. I have never had such an easy embarkation. We got to the port about 12:40. I first want to say that the Radiance is absolutely a wonderful ship for Alaska. With all the glass, no matter where you are you can see out and in Alaska there is almost always something to see, unlike the Caribbean. Our Captain (Trym Selvag) was great!!! He was very entertaining, very easy to understand, and has a great personality. Not usually the case with the captains. Hope you are lucky enough to get him. Cabin: We had cabin number 8102 which is port side and the first door on your left as you come up the stairs. This is one of the extended balcony cabins (as it is next to the elevator with no elevator noise at all). We absolutely LOVED this cabin for Alaska. It comes with 2 chairs, 1 table and 2 loungers. I will say that you do hear music from the centrum if you retire early, but I am a light sleeper and it didn't ever bother me. One negative of portside in general: is if you are NB you get into Seward about 3a and dock with the portside facing the dock. They immediately start banging the luggage carts around etc. Very noisy! Woke me up and I couldn't go back to sleep. Bring earplugs! MTD: We did MTD for the first time. While everything was great I am not sure whether I would do it on a Caribbean cruise when time isn't as important. (I'll explain why later) Jeffrey from India was the MTD point guy (don't know what they call them). We went to check in with him about 2:30p on boarding day to make our reservation. We requested a window, for 6 people at 7:15p. At first he said that would be very difficult as that was the most popular time. He suggested 6:15/6:30p and I told him I might just as well have had main seating then. He said he would see what he could do. We told him we would like to keep that time for the week. Well let me just say that Jeffrey delivered! We had a perfect table by the window for just the 6 of us. (we tipped him a few times during the week to show our appreciation) That was a perfect time as it stayed light the whole time and we saw whales and porpoises a couple of nights. Get a window if you can!!! THe times of the main seating were just too early (you needed some time after excursions to rest, or sometimes it was hard to get back that early) and late seating I would have been sleeping through my meal or not able to sleep because we ate so late. So 7/7:30 was the perfect time for this cruise. Now let me get to the reason that I am not sure why I would do this for a Caribbean cruise (when time isn't that crucial). We missed the Captain's Welcome Party as it was at 7:30p. We changed our dinner one night to 6:15 (I think) as the welcome back party also conflicted with that time. So as it was we ate and then went to the WBP full. We only made a couple of the shows because we would have been too rushed. Another thing was when they took the pictures. We decided to dress up for formal night (instead of going to the windjammer on formal nights) as I thought it would be a good time to get a family photo. Well they only took pictures really early (for main seating) or during our dinner time. Also the photographers were only in the dining room once (usually you can't get rid of them), which is really unusual. So if you WANT photos, keep this in mind. (we never did get one taken ? ) I really loved MTD and do think it was great for Alaska. The service was fantastic and our waiter and asst waiter couldn't have been better. We had Marlon (Brando-his joke) and Jose from India. And the head waiter was the most attentive hw that we have ever had. He really wanted to make sure everything was perfect. Our food was always prompt and hot. I do think that it is definitely a very busy time. One thing I noticed is we didn't get the little shpeal at the end of dinner about what was happening the next day.? Others that I talked to (groups of 2) just went when they wanted and never waited for more than 5 or 10 minutes. Food: Dining Room: One comment about attire: people were pretty casual for the non-formal nights, though I really didn't see jeans. People did dress up for formal night though not as many tuxes as I have seen on Caribbean cruises. I would say the majority were suits and ties for men and women were pretty much the same as other cruises. Dinner While this is only my 4th RCCL cruise since 2005, I really think that the menu needs a makeover. There were 2 nights that nothing really sounded good. The quality was decent, but I really am not that fussy. Nothing that I would say was fantastic though. Ds's gf tried the calzone though and said it was awful. We ordered anything we wanted. A couple appetizers for the table, one for us, salad, main course, 2 main courses (especially when it was lobster/prime rib night), 2 desserts.... You get the message. Anything was fine. Lunch We don't usually eat in the dining room much for lunch but always try and make it at least once. So our last day we had lunch in the dining room. I don't think we made it on our last cruise so don't know how long they have been doing this, but the salad bar in the dining room was wonderful. They actually prepare it for you, but they have a huge selection of items and you just tell them what you want. I will being headed back there for sure on my next cruise. Very nice lunch, but a little slow. Windjammer: In general the breakfast had a nice variety. If you couldn't fine what you wanted, I would be amazed. I am never fond of the scrambled eggs, so those were the same as everywhere. The omelet station is wonderful, but takes some time. For lunch I think the selections were a little lacking, but I think that was just me. I was trying to stay away from the "fast food" type things, didn't find there to be much of a selection in the hot foods that appealed to me, and their salad bar was kind of weak too. Sea View Cafe: This is my new favorite lunch spot (well-still really like the salad bar in DR too). When I was on the Brilliance a few years ago, I had tried the SVC the 1st day and forgot about it, so thought I would check it out again. Was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed lunch here a few days. Good place to get chili on a cool day. We actually had lunch on land at least 3 of the days as we were out and about and couldn't make it back to the ship to eat. Entertainment: Shows I really can't comment too much here as we only made 2 shows. As I said our dinner conflicted with them. One was a comedian/impressionist (kind of funny-not good on the impressions) and a production number (good talent, was enjoyable). We spent a lot of time in the Schooner Bar with the "piano man" - David Curtis and really enjoyed him. He is very talented and we had a lot of fun. I went to the 70's party in the Centrum one night by myself. (dh loves the cigar bar so didn't come). I was later joined by my ds and gf. I had so much fun. The cruise staff dressed up and did their version of YMCA and it was hysterical. I don't know whether it was this particular cruise director that did this or if it is always like this but don't miss it....and beware of the Indian. Which brings me to the cruise director: Dan, Dan the party man - He is the best cruise director that I have ever seen. He was so personable, funny, participated in everything, and definitely made the cruise so enjoyable. If you get him, you are in for a real treat. Debarkation: Now this was really unbelievable. I think it might be different if you are on a cruise tour, but we were doing a 4 day land tour on our own. I had a reservation for the 8a Kenai Fjords Tour so I was planning on carrying our luggage off. When I asked at the pursor's desk they said that they don't do that in Seward? Anyway, we got the 6:30a departure time as I didn't know how long it would take and we had to call the KFT office at 7a for pick up. My db and sil were doing a cruise tour so they were at a different time. Ds and gf were supposed to meet us at 6:30a. Well, they were late for the first time and they called our color. I was chomping at the bit and finally found them about 6:40a. So we headed to the deck for debarkation expecting to find this long line of people. Well there were about 20 people in front of us, so we breezed through there, got down to the end of the walkway at the port, they told us to go to a tent for our luggage. Two minutes later we had our luggage and by 6:50 we were out in front of the terminal waiting for transportation. No one ever looked at our declaration forms so I don't know why we had to fill those out. Anyways, what a breeze that was. Never has that been so easy. In closing: This was the most phenomenal cruise and will be a hard one to top. We had perfect weather-NO Rain for 12 days which I think helped. I will say I had my hesitations about taking RCCL to Alaska because some of the other cruise lines have naturalists and I would have liked that. We had a next cruise and credit card points so decided to save the $ and go RCCL. We had been on the Brilliance so we figured the Radiance was a good choice and it did not disappoint. I have to say this really didn't feel like I was on a cruise, more like a place to eat and sleep to see Alaska. This is not a complaint but an observation. I guess I say that because so many people seem to worried about what ship's activities are etc. There seemed to be many activities if you didn't want to go ashore, but why go to Alaska then? We definitely struck GOLD in Alaska! Any specific questions you can email me at campingdream at hotmail dot com Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
It has taken me a few months to find some time to write this review, but I will try to remember as much as possible. The cruisers were me, Mom, aged 40 something, ds13, dd11, ds4. I had found great deals on Alaskan cruises for summer ... Read More
It has taken me a few months to find some time to write this review, but I will try to remember as much as possible. The cruisers were me, Mom, aged 40 something, ds13, dd11, ds4. I had found great deals on Alaskan cruises for summer 2009. It was difficult to choose a line, but in the end our familiarity with RCCL, the availability of a Family Oceanview cabin and the lowest price won out. We had just moved to Toronto, but flew out of Buffalo. We stayed overnight in Buffalo and arrived in Vancouver 3 days early. We used frequent flier miles, hence the arrival so early. Halfway through our 2 hour drive to Buffalo, I received a phone call from my realtor in the U.S., where I still owned a house. An offer had been received. Great! But I'm going on vacation. So, I spent much of my vacation on the internet emailing back and forth with the realtor about the various conditions on the purchase. The buyers wanted to wrap up all the conditions by the end of my cruise because they were sailing the day my cruise ended. Oh well. In Vancouver, we stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront. We had gotten a great deal on an executive floor room. This gave us a private lounge with free snacks during the day and a lovely breakfast each day. The room also came with a fabulous view of Canada Place where we could see all the cruise ships, except for RCCL's. We had free internet which I made extensive use of as well as a free computer and printer in the executive lounge. In between paperwork, we made time to go see the Vancouver Aquarium. I had visited many years ago and had very good memories. It was packed on the day we visited. There was no room to see members of your own party, never mind the exhibits. The kids and I quickly tired of the crowds and hightailed it back to the hotel. There was a pool and gym at the hotel. The two younger kids and I tried out the outdoor pool. Even though it was mid-August, it was a little too cold for us to enjoy. Radiance left from Ballantyne pier. It was easy to get a cab at our hotel. It was about a 10 minute drive to the pier. We arrived around 12:15. There were no lines at any point in our checkin and we were onboard in about 15 minutes. We hadn't completed our Sign and Sail Pass - there was no internet back in Toronto yet - but it took no time at all to do it at checkin. Our room was ready by 1:00 and we were in there around that time. Our luggage arrived quite early, around 1:30. I think it's the first time I'd ever had my luggage delivered so that I could unpack before the first night's dinner. On to dinner - Our first night, we arrived at main dining at 6:00 and saw that we had been placed at a table for 10. Our tablemates showed up 35 minutes late. Grr. We were already eating our entrees. They did not even look at us the entire time we were at the table or acknowledge my greeting. Because I had a 4 year old, I intended to use the My Family Time dining option. When I informed my waiter of this, he got very huffy and said I've have to talk to the headwaiter about being moved. What??? As we got up after finishing dinner, the waiter told us to have "Have a nice cruise". Whatever. Between his attitude and the attitude of our tablemates, we were quite happy to go speak to the headwaiter for our section and then the Maitre d'. The two of them pretty much fell over themselves to find us another table. We ended up in another location, at a large table, but by ourselves. I was disappointed not to have tablemates, but the attention we received by our new waiter, Oleksiy, and yet another headwaiter more than made up for it. Each night at dinner, they brought ds4 his meal within seconds of us sitting down. The food was good. I was generally happy just to be served. We did do My Family Time dining, but I didn't like it. Our table was in the rear of the restaurant. I was supposed to meet the AO staff outside the dining room at precisely 6:40 or was it 6:45. In any case, this meant leaving just as my entree was arriving, walking with ds to the outside doors and waiting there and signing him in. It generally took 10 minutes, just enough time for my other 2 to finish their dinners and for my entree to get cold. After a handful of nights of this, I just ended up taking ds to AO after 7 p.m., once I'd finished my entree or dessert. On to the ports. Ketchikan was one of our more enjoyable ports, due to the shore excursion I chose. We went sea kayaking with Southeast Sea Kayaks. We were picked up at port, and driven to a location a few minutes out of town. We went on a small boat to yet another larger boat, where our sea kayaks were. DD went in a kayak with the guide. DS13 and DS4 and I were in a triple kayak. Ds14 and I have experience in canoes and had no trouble transferring that to kayaking. In fact, frequently, I had to slow us down because we were going too fast. Even though it was a 2+ hour ride, everyone did very well. We saw a sea lion -twice, a bald eagle, a bald eagle's nest, and jellyfish. After the kayaking, we had a snack of salmon. Yum. At Juneau, we went whale watching with Orca Enterprises. We saw both a orcas and humpbacks. There about 30 people on the boat, but it was quite comfortable with a large indoor seating area with huge windows. There were snacks here too. The naturalist was very knowledgeable and personable. At one point, a juvenile humpback leaped out of the water very close to our boat. Wonderful. At Skagway, I took dd on the Glass Blowing excursion. This was a lot of fun. There were about 10 people in our group. Each of us made a glass ball which was shipped home about a month later. There were also wonderful blown glass items in the gift shop that were also available for shipping home. At Icy Strait point, the kids had had enough of shore excursions. I went by myself on the bear watch. No bears unfortunately, even though it was prime season. The guide was wonderful though. We passed streams which were chockful of salmon swimming upstream. She regaled us with tales of catching salmon barehanded when she was younger. She attempted to replicate this feat on our way back to the ship to make up for the lack of bear sighting, but she wasn't able to grab hold of a salmon. DS4 and DD11 both loved Adventure Ocean. It was ds4 first time there. He had been to Camp Carnival before and previously he was too young to enjoy the kids clubs. He now says that he wants to live on a cruise ship. Ha! DS13 spent time in the arcade when he wasn't with me. We went to one evening show - a pair of comedians, which we enjoyed. I spent a lot of time on the computers on this cruise. They were as slow as usual. This is not the internet connection you want to have when viewing pdf files. But, I eventually got the job done. The house closed 2 months later. One complaint about the cruise. The itinerary listed Hubbard Glacier as 7 a.m. - 11 a.m At 7:15 a.m. we were woken by the captain announcing we were at the glacier. Our room had one large porthole. We spent a few minutes looking out the window, got dressed and then proceeded to breakfast, intending to go topside after eating. I was shocked when shortly after being seated, the captain announced that we were leaving the glacier. This was 8:15 a.m.!! I truly, even a few months later, feel shortchanged. I had been really looking forward to this and only saw the scenery for a few minutes. I loved our FOV for the most part. The layout was fabulous. It was like having two bedrooms plus a living area. There was a ton of storage. I don't know if this was shipwide or not, and I didn't bring it to anyone's attention while on board, but I was quite chilled at night. Sleeping alone, I didn't have anyone else's bodyheat to keep me warm. A couple of nights I had to wear a sweater in bed. Even then, I didn't sleep well because of the cold. On arrival in Seward, we rented a car from Budget. It took a very long time to be picked up. Their large bus had broken down and the one driver was shuttling everyone in a large van. We didn't get in the van until two other vanloads had gone. Once getting our car, we drove to the SeaLife Center. This was a much more enjoyable visit than the Vancouver Aquarium. Very few people there. There was a multitude of sea creatures there. I had had intentions of stopping at a couple of sites on our way to Anchorage for our evening flight, but the kids were just too pooped. So, we drove directly to Anchorage. It took perhaps 1 1/2 hours. We passed gorgeous scenery on the way. Our Delta flight was delayed several hours, so we spent quite a while in the Anchorage airport. Not one of my favorite airports. There was not much to do. I did notice that it stayed light in Anchorage much later than further south. Overall, everyone had a good time. In retrospect, there are other excursions that I wish we had done, but there simply wasn't time. I also wish we'd had a suite for the 4 of us. The FOV is a great value, but there was tremendous Canadian and Alaskan scenery that we passed on our way. We would have seen more of it with a balcony. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
The first days (Aug. 3-7) are with the cruisetour. It is optional but I highly recommend it if time permits in your schedule and your budget allows. It was about as amazing as the cruise time itself. Our cruisetour guide, Matt was great. ... Read More
The first days (Aug. 3-7) are with the cruisetour. It is optional but I highly recommend it if time permits in your schedule and your budget allows. It was about as amazing as the cruise time itself. Our cruisetour guide, Matt was great. As was Bill, our bus driver. They both were very knowledgeable about Alaska. My husband and I are both in a wheelchair and were toting a service dog as well. All the employees in the cruisetour, our fellow passengers on the tour as well as the ship, and the ship employees were all very good at accommodating us as well as the service dog. I was a bit apprehensive about this portion of the trip since little information is provided to us by the cruiseline as to how it all works. But it went very smoothly. Once you get to the lodge where everyone meets, your cruisetour director will greet you and give you papers with an itinerary for each leg of the trip. He/She will answer questions and from that point on, we were a part of a group that will travel together for the next four days. Aug 3 Arrived in Fairbanks and our cruisetour bunch stayed at Sophie Station. Aug 4 Fairbanks City Tour, Cruise on the Riverboat Discovery and to El Dorado Gold mine. We missed the first half of day one due to airline issues causing us to miss our flights. But they were booked through the cruiseline, so the transfer still picked us up at the airport. Our motorcoach first made a stop to view a portion of the Alaska pipeline. We were able to get off, take pictures and back onto the road. The El Dorado gold mine was kind of interesting. They show you how to pan for gold and then everyone gets to pan for gold. They try to make it where everyone finds some gold. If not, they will give u another bag of dirt to pan through. We missed the first part of the morning due to airline issues caused us to miss our flights. The lodge is typical lodge type place. It was nice but meals were pricey. The bed was a major issue for me. It was a high pillow top mattress. Being in a wheelchair, I was unable to get in bed by myself. Aug 5 Traveled thru Denali on a glass domed train. HIGHLY recommend if possible. We stayed overnight at Denali Lodge. We saw a moose within just a few minutes of being on the road. We also saw a grizzly bear, tons of caribou, sheep, and Golden Eagles. This one trip made the whole cruisetour worthwhile. Kept having to remind myself we still had a whole week of the cruise to look forward to after this. The drivers are good about stopping when people spot wildlife. The train is very comfortable. The windows are awesome for seeing out. They started out the ride by everyone going into the dining area to eat breakfast. It was about $8-$12 from what I remember to eat there. Not much on the menu but the food was ok. There was a restroom on the train and it is wheelchair accessible. The crew was all very pleasant and helpful. Aug 6. The bus left for Talkeetna. We planned a flightseeing tour with Talkeetna Air Taxi, but had to cancel due to weather. They were very nice about giving us a refund and I would go with them again if I ever get the chance. I saw several signs talking about the "30% club" Only 30% of visitors ever get to see Mt. McKinley due to the weather. I guess we can count ourselves in the ""70% club" Talkeetna was a small town and unfortunately was pretty much shutting down for the evening by the time we got there. We ate at a little pizza place (Painted bright purple) recommended by our tour guide. It was ok, not great but the cheapest place we could find to eat there. The next morning we had cinnamon rolls from the bakery across the street from the pizza place. They were VERY good. Aug 7 Left early morning. We headed to Anchorage for a few hours to check out the town. Then it was on to Seward to get on the Radiance. Our motorcoach arrived at Seward mid afternoon and we all proceeded to check in. It all went fairly smooth. The Radiance is a beautiful ship, although it is showing its age to some degree. It does have tons of glass windows and hardly anywhere on the ship are you unable to see outside. The staff was very helpful and pleasant during our entire stay. Our cabin steward surprised us each evening with a different towel animal. He attended to everything we needed throughout the week. We ate at the Windjammer most of the week because my husband does not like to take the time to go change clothes to go into the dining room. I am not a big fan of the Windjammer but could always find something to eat. Loved the fries. The Seaside Grill had great Nathans Hot Dogs. We went to the dining room on the formal nights. The food was good as usual. The staff was all very accommodating. We even caught a glimpse of whales from the windows in sight from our table. The first full day was spent at Hubbard Glacier. Capt. Claus did an awesome job of getting us just a few hundred feet from the glacier. Everyone was congratulating him on such an awesome job. The glacier is absolutely amazing! Words cannot describe how beautiful it is. That was about the only day it was actually cold. We wore coats and gloves while milling about the outside at the ship that day. They do serve hot chocolate and specialty drinks out on the decks while at the glacier. The next day we arrived in Juneau early morning. We did the Whale Quest and Orca Point Lodge excursion. I expected to be bored. It was nothing of the like. We had tons of whales greeting us from the minute we got onto the the water. We were taken to Orca Lodge where a huge salmon feast was waiting for us. It was grilled salmon, cole slaw, corn on the cob. Very good. In fact, that is where I learned I did like salmon after all. They even offer to give you the marinade recipe. It has a small gift shop. During the whale watch time, we were in a very comfortable catamaran with huge windows. We were able to move about in our wheelchairs with ease. It also has an accessible bathroom. The next morning we arrived in Skagway. There we did the White Pass Scenic Railway tour. Another highlight and must do on this cruise. We boarded the train and were placed next to huge windows which are great for viewing. We did the roundtrip and at the turn around point, everyone switches seats to give everyone a fair chance for good viewing. Everyone is right when they tell you to sit on the left side of the train. The scenery is amazing. There is nothing you CAN'T take a picture of. I took probably a 100 pictures on this excursion alone. They take you up to the Canadian border and back. The next day was spent at Icy Strait Point. This is my one regret we had spent more time in this town. It was a tender port but there was a wheelchair lift on the tender boat. It took literally minutes to get on and get whisked across to the port. We did not get into the town but just toured the little museum there and watched whales from the area. I have heard it's a great place for whale watching as well as eagles. I will keep that in mind for next time. The next day we arrived in Ketchikan. We spent the morning fishing with Tony at Aurora Sportfishing. I would highly recommend him. We caught our limit of Salmon within a couple hours and after some cruising around, we were taken back to the port. We did see a beautiful bald eagle. It was the first I had seen on the cruise so I was happy about that. I got some great pictures of it. We spent the rest of the day milling about the town. It is a small town with lots of shops. Much the same shops are in each port. My favorite meal in the entire cruise probably was eaten here. It was called the "Crab Cracker Seafood Bar. I had a "Appetizer" of Crab Cocktail. It was a huge plate of 1 lb. crab meat. It was already prepared and ready to eat. No cracking or mess to eat. It was only $14.99. It was all I could do to finish the plate of meat. SOOO delicious. The next morning we arrived at Vancouver to conclude our cruise. The weather was typical to the area for the week we were there. One day at Talkeetna it was drizzly and yucky. For the most part, it was just foggy a portion of each of the remaining days. Weather does change quickly. The only time we were actually cold was at Hubbard Glacier. The rest of the time we just wore hoodies over our clothes. Much of the time we ended up taking the hoodies off and keeping them in our backpacks. We did not spend as much time doing activities on the ship as we normally do. We went to one show in the Aurora Theater. It was a comedian who was mediocre at best. Then we returned to the theater for the Farewell show. It was nice and as usual had a parade of all the crew ranging from Capt. Claus to the waitstaff to the room stewards. We went into the casino one night but did not stay long. We went into the Schooner bar once for one man's very cheesey tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel. Shopping in most all ports is about the same from what we experienced. Much of the same merchandise appears in every town. I was surprised to find scrapbooking sections in almost every store we went to. As a scrapbooker, I loved being able to purchase stuff specific to this trip and each town. Hoodies, fleece vests and gloves are everywhere and at very reasonable prices. I would recommend not packing one if you think you might buy one as a souvenir for yourself. Being first timers to Alaska, we definitely see things we would do next time we did not know to do this time. Such as spending more time in Icy Strait Point. Also, trying to do more activities in the towns. Being disabled, it is hard to figure out just what is accessible and working with the cruiseline can be frustrating. However, once we were there and could see just how it operated, I think we could have done more on our own picking out land excursions. My advice would be to: Talk to the locals about places to eat, things to do and see. Take lots of memory cards and batteries for your digital camera (or film). Don't miss the train ride through Denali if possible. Don't miss the White Pass Summit Excursion. Go Whale Watching even if it sounds boring, you won't regret it. Go fishing. Take a flightseeing tour around Mt. McKinley. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Your Camera Isn't Good Enough First, an introduction, this was my wife, Joni and my sixth cruise and our fifth with Royal Caribbean. Our very first cruise was on the Radiance, so we were looking forward to returning to her, as we ... Read More
Your Camera Isn't Good Enough First, an introduction, this was my wife, Joni and my sixth cruise and our fifth with Royal Caribbean. Our very first cruise was on the Radiance, so we were looking forward to returning to her, as we have been on her sister ships, The Serenade and The Jewel. We are in our 50's and reasonably active. I am all about fishing and food; I have wanted to go to Alaska salmon fishing for much longer than I have been cruising and have done much research on such a trip over the years. Fortunately, my lovely bride of 15 years shared my interest. We met our friends, Allie and Kim on a Hawaiian cruise a couple of years ago, and told them that were thinking about an Alaskan trip, and they told us about how much they loved the cruise-tour they had done previously with Royal Caribbean, and that they would love to go back. The seed was planted. After much continued planning and re-planning, our group grew to 14, including our neighbors, Jim and Shelly, and numerous friends of Allie and Kim. We booked the first day the cruise was available to book. In all my previous research on fishing, I decided that Silver Salmon was the species that I wanted to target, and they were best in August. I also had decided that I wanted to spend time in Alaska before the cruise then do the southbound cruise, which all that led us to the August 21 sailing date. Booking the first day allowed us to get 4 cabins across the center aft of deck 9 and 3 more cabins were booked later on the hump. I warn you now, as you can tell by the length of my introduction, this will be a very long review. I will divide it into the week before the cruise and the cruise itself. Pre-cruise in Alaska: We are lucky living in the Dallas area to have a direct flight from DFW to Anchorage, while it is direct; it is a long one at 7 hours. Joni and I did try to use mileage to upgrade to first class, the flight was sold out, almost (this is important). We did however; try to beat the system, by booking the window seat for me and the aisle seat for Joni, hoping the middle seat would remain empty. Much to my dismay, when I printed out the boarding passes the morning of our trip of a lifetime, they had bumped me to the middle seat. Fortunately, my lovely bride, seeing my distress, told me she would switch and sit in the middle. Well it wasn't the window, but ok. So we get on the plane, and the horrid perpetrator who had so blatantly stolen my precious window seat was unwilling to switch to the aisle, being the magnanimous and benevolent person I am, I shrugged it off and took my aisle seat. OH NO! Things just got real ugly! My seat cushion, and I use the term very loosely, had long previously given up its life and any remnants of padding to some mammoth of a person who had sat there sometime in the past. I felt as if I was sitting on two steel bars in the most uncomfortable of places. I knew my back and other assets would be in agony after a 7 hour flight of this torture device. Once again, my lovely bride came to my rescue and talked to my new best friend the flight attendant shortly after take off. There was 1 empty seat on the plane a couple of rows back, and the saintly flight attendant switched my assault weapon of a seat "cushion" for the real cushion, all was right with the world and we were going to Alaska. Two movies later, time had passed and we landed without further incident in Anchorage. I could not resist paying Allie and Kim back for similar infractions that they had done to me, by pulling out my cell phone and calling them back in Chicago and simply saying, "I'm in Alaska, and you're not", feeling contented as they still had a few days of real world drudgery ahead before joining us. We booked our hotel that night and the following Wednesday night (when we returned from fishing) at the Captain Cook Hotel in downtown Anchorage. The hotel was very nice and comfortable. We had our first Alaskan fare at dinner in one of the hotel's restaurants, I had halibut and Joni had salmon, both good, and then went to bed to start getting use to the 3 hour time change. The next morning we saw it was still overcast as we looked out our window overlooking Cook Inlet. We had breakfast in the concierge lounge and went out to explore as our shuttle to the fishing lodge wasn't picking us up until 2:30. Downtown Anchorage is a very pedestrian friendly and attractive city. We went to an open air market that the bell captain recommended, many shops, the visitor's information center and finally Phyllis's Cafe for lunch. We both had the halibut fish and chips and the seafood chowder. I couldn't help eyeballing the bucket of huge king crab legs at the table next to us, knowing that was in my future...mmmmmmmm. We then headed back to our hotel to await our shuttle to the fishing lodge. In all the fishing research I had done, I narrowed it down to 4 possibilities, and then time and money help me to finally pick what I did. We were heading to the Kenai River Sportsfishing Lodge which was headquarters and one of four lodges owned by Alaska Wildland Adventures. We would be enjoying 3 nights there with 2 full days of fishing. Our shuttle arrives, which turns out to be a small, very new and comfortable bus, reminiscent of the nicer ones at ski resorts. We hop on and settle back for the 2 hour ride to Cooper Landing. The ride is very scenic, and the driver, who is very fun, pointed out the sights and, bless her, made a courtesy stop for beer, wine and a restroom break where we spotted our first bald eagle. A little later while later, the drive ventured further into the forest, someone behind me yelled "moose!" I turned quickly only to see a blur of brown not to be distinguished. We arrived at the lodge and were met by some of the staff. As our luggage was being delivered to our cabin, we were given a tour around the property. The property was beautiful and consisted of the main lodge building and several cabins right on the upper Kenai. We were given all the usual information, you know, like what to do if you go out on your porch and there is a bear there, do not try to pet the moose, the usual stuff. Afterwards Joni and I go to our cabin, open a bottle of wine and enjoy the sun that had just come out on our porch. Our cabin was a small, very attractive, log cabin with a queen and a single bed, a nice bathroom and our porch overlooked a small foot bridge to the nature trail. Oh, we were told to sing or make noise on the nature trail to let the bear and moose know you are coming. After our happy hour, we wandered over to the main lodge for dinner. At this point we began meeting some of the other guests, some who had rode in on the bus with us and others who had been there a while and were more than willing to share their adventures. Dinner was served family style at large tables, very conducive to chatting with new friends. The food? Oh my gosh, was it good, we had a crab appetizer and a duck entrEe that night, as well as wonderful sides and dessert. They had breakfast at 3 seating times and dinner at 2 seating times depending on your activity. We were booked for drift fishing for Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden on the Upper Kenai the next morning. The staff found us and informed us that our guide would be Brian and we could sleep in as we were at the second seating of breakfast...at 5:30am, don't be late. The next morning, we got up bright eyed and bushy tailed and walked over to the lodge (keeping an eye out for bear) for breakfast. We met Brian, who was great, very knowledgeable, patient and generally an interesting person, and prepared for our first day of fishing on the Upper Kenai. It was a beautiful wilderness experience in a drift boat. It felt like we had the river to ourselves. We saw 2 bears on the shore in the first 10 minutes. We got to experience some moderate white water. We were fly-fishing which I had never done. I caught a nice rainbow trout within the first 5 minutes of fishing. I have no idea how many Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden we caught but we rarely went more than a few minutes before catching the next, most were over 20 inches. Towards the end of the river portion Joni hooked a HUGE Rainbow that took out all her fly-line well into her backing and as I was trying to bring my line in I got a huge Dolly Varden, also taking the line into the backing and running all around the boat. Joni got hers pretty close to the boat and it jumped a couple of times completely out of the water, so we got a good look at it, the guide thought it was pushing 28-30 inches, but then it got off, I did get the Dolly in, it was in the 23-24 inch range. Shortly after that, Joni hooked another one that after a long fight, she landed a beautiful 24 inch Rainbow. It was starting to slow down a little for me and Joni was on a roll and we were just about to the lake. Then I hook a monster, the last fish of the day. After a long fight, I land a 26 1/2 inch 10 pound Rainbow as the sun comes out. After pictures we let it go and Brian the guide puts the little outboard down and we do about an hour long trip across a beautiful mountain lake in the sunshine to take the boat out. This trip turns out to be one of the top three highlights of the vacation. We headed back to the lodge for happy hour on the deck overlooking the Kenai, followed by some ping-pong on the same deck. At our beef tenderloin dinner, we were told that our guide the next day would be George for our Resurrection Bay Silver Salmon trip, and breakfast would be first seating at 4:30am...don't be late. We finished off the evening in the lodge's riverside wood burning sauna before heading to bed. The next morning was a little drearier and we were decked out in full cold weather rain gear. We met George and Howard, who would be joining us for the days fishing. After a quick breakfast, we hopped in the truck for the hour long drive to Seward and the weather was not promising. We got to Seward and made use of the facilities as George launched the boat. The boat was a 22 foot open boat with no cabin, cover or head. The weather was drizzly and Joni was concerned. George did say there was one beach we could get to and go into the woods if need be. It was needed later on. The rain stopped for some time, fortunately, and on the ride out to the first fishing spot, we saw sea lions and eagles. Fishing was slow, we moved to another spot where we saw mountain goats on the cliffs above us, fishing was slow. We moved to another spot, the one with the beach, which Joni and I made use of, I think to George's chagrin. Feeling relieved we began fishing again, and what's this, a bite, yes, I had a fish! It was a small rock fish, but a fish, things were looking up...but fishing was slow. So we returned to our first stop, and so did the rain. At this point, it would be a good time to sing the praises of the L.L. Bean 3 in 1 Weather Channel coat, Joni and I stay dry and reasonably warm. But fish start biting, I get another rock fish, and another, and then Joni gets a real bite! After dancing around the boat, and lets just say, not the best communication between Joni and George creating some "unique" angling skills, Joni lands a beautiful 11 pound Silver Salmon. Not too much later, I too hook one, not to be outdone, and using more "traditional" angling skills, I land an equally beautiful 12 pound Silver. Whew, we now will have some fillets to send home. Alas those were the last fish of the day and we make the cold wet ride back to the harbor in Seward. Although we did have one last highlight of the trip as we encountered one of the resident sea otters just outside the harbor, lounging on his back as otters do. Back at the lodge, it is pouring rain; George hangs our fish for a couple of photos, which we scramble in the rain to take, before George artfully fillets them for a tasty treat after we get home. We hurry back to our cabin to change, and by the time we have done so, the rain has quit and there are signs of sunshine. We walk the nature trail for the second time; I stay quiet in hopes of seeing a bear or a moose this time, but no luck. We did see an eagle, but that was getting fairly common by now. Then we headed to the lodge for happy hour and chatting with folks we met before and some of the newcomers of the day. Dinner that night was potato crusted halibut; did I mention how good the food was? The next morning breakfast wasn't till 8:30...oh the luxury! We walked around the property some more taking pictures and glad we still had lots of vacation to go, or it would be hard to leave this place. The next morning, it was a nice sunny day, one of a few to come, and after a leisurely breakfast, we were picked up by our van to take us back to Anchorage. Since Joni and I were the only ones going back that day, we were able to have a nice conversation with the driver on the very scenic drive. Anchorage, part II: We arrived back, at about noon, at the Captain Cook Hotel and dropped off our luggage. At this point, all 14 of our party were somewhere in Alaska, all merging on Anchorage for dinner that night. We caught up with Allie and Kim, along with a couple of their friends at the Ulu Knife factory. After doing a little shopping, we wandered down to Ship Creek to watch the salmon run and folks fishing, it is amazing how many fish there were in the creek. The group hops on a trolley and we make it back to Phyllis's Cafe for lunch. We had the king crab legs like the ones I saw on our previous visit and they lived up to the expectation. After lunch, we go back to the hotel and get our room, finding our luggage already there. Then we get out for a little more walking around town, a beer at Humpy's, finally to meet up with almost all of the rest of the gang at the Crow's Nest on top of Captain Cook's for a pre-dinner drink. For dinner, the whole gang of 14 plus a couple of Jim and Shelly's friends that live in Anchorage all converge on the Glacier Brewhouse for dinner. Fortunately, I had reserved the conference room and we were all able to squeeze in. I finally had some salmon that was very good. As we had to get up early to catch the train the next morning, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. On to Seward: We had booked Goldstar Service on the Alaskan Railroad from Anchorage to Seward. The train departed at 6:45am, requiring us to be there at 5:45. After checking in and arranging for our luggage to go to the Holiday Inn Express in Seward, we waited in the station to board the train. While waiting, we were found (thanks to my most colorful hat) by some of our fellow Cruise Critic passengers. After a short wait, we boarded the double-decker Goldstar dome car. All I can say, if you can spare the extra price of the ticket, do so, it is beautiful. We had a fun server in our car that brought us coffee and drinks. As we were going to be doing the Kenai Fiords tour as soon as we got off the train, I passed on the Bloody Mary. For some reason, something I had been really looking forward to on this trip was having breakfast in the dining car. The experience was all that I hoped for. The eggs and reindeer sausage were very good and the scenery was fabulous! In fact, the scenery for the entire trip was spectacular and we did see 3 moose running in a field next to the train. Also what was great, in the back of the car on the top deck was a covered out side platform that was great for taking pictures. All in all, the train ride was a great experience. We arrived in Seward at about 11:00am, just in time to jump on the shuttle to Renown Kenai Fiords National Park Tour. We quickly check in at the office get our tickets, hop on the large catamaran and we are off. They serve a snack of smoked salmon, cheese, a bagel, a cookie and an apple on our way out Resurrection Bay. While making our way to the glacier, we had a Park Ranger narrate, pointing out the wildlife. We had the good luck of seeing seal, sea lions, porpoise, eagles, puffins and then we stopped when we came upon a humpback whale. We didn't get real close, but close enough for some good tail shots. But then he surprised us and came up on the other side and breached twice! It was a beautiful sunny day and it kept getting better. After riding a little while longer we got up close and personal with a glacier, probably as close as a hundred yards. While we weren't lucky enough to see any real big pieces falling off, the small bits of calving that we did see were impressive by the sound they made. They sounded like gunshots. It was getting pretty chilly by the glacier and we had a long ride back, so we headed inside the comfortable cabins and started back to Seward. Everyone was relaxing, some were napping and we had made the turn back into Resurrection Bay when the Ranger came on the speaker saying it was our lucky day as a pod of Orcas had been spotted just up ahead. They stopped the boat as the pod approached us and we were able to see 3 to 5 of them slowly swimming right by us, incredible. It was a great way to end the tour. Upon returning to the docks in Seward, it was a very short walk from the docks to the Holiday Inn Express that overlooked the Harbor, only a couple of buildings in between. One of those buildings turned out to be JDock Fishing Charters, where one of the boats had just unloaded their catch of numerous Silver Salmon and Halibut. I had to walk over and look, saying out loud, "I wouldn't mind going fishing again". One of Allie's friends heard me and said she was interested. I decided to see if it was even a possibility after we got checked into the hotel. We checked into the Holiday Inn Express, which was nice. Our room had a nice view of the harbor; we got settled, shed a couple of layers of clothes and still had a little time before dinner. So we wandered back to the office at JDock and inquired about the charter, and sure enough they had a half day available in the morning that 4 of our group decided to do. We were informed that there would be another couple with us on the charter making it 6. The day was supposed to be sunny, the boat was about a 38 footer with a heated cabin and head (bathroom) things were looking good. We had reservations for 10 of us at Ray's Waterfront, which was a couple of doors down. At Ray's, we did have to wait for a little but we ended up with a table right by the window overlooking the harbor. The food was very good; I had the platter with halibut, shrimp and scallops...mmmmmmmm Cruise Day 1, Seward: Our original plans was to get up when we woke up, have breakfast, and drop off our luggage at the ship then go to the Sea Life Center. That plan was thrown out the window when we booked the half day fishing trip the previous night. So, again we were waking to an alarm and rushing to get checked out and our luggage into storage, gulp down some breakfast and go fishing. We did take time to look out our window to see the Radiance was there looking fantastic. On our first trip down the elevator, we met a couple who I noticed the Goldstar Train luggage tags on their luggage and asked how they enjoyed the train. They said they loved it and today they were going fishing, I said so are we, and maybe we are going together. The door opened and we went our separate ways. Shortly after, our group went next door to the docks, and sure enough, there was that couple and indeed they were the other couple fishing with us. As we headed out, we established that they also would be on the cruise with us, small world. So we are heading out on The Rogue with Captain Randy, who tells us that fishing in the bay hasn't been that good lately and he knew some good spots outside the bay; a point we had proven earlier in the week. On the way out we see lots of seals, and it is a great ride compared to our previous experience in the bay. So we get to the first spot and my line is barely down when I get a bite, it's a rock fish, but hey it's a fish. By the time I get mine up everyone has one on. Randy doesn't want to catch rock fish so he moves us a little. I drop my line and get a much bigger bite, again a rock fish, but a much larger one, one worth keeping. We move to a couple more spots, including one where we see a whole bunch of baby seals on the beach and finally get to a spot where we begin catching Silver. We got 5, including a 10.5 pounder caught by Joni, unfortunately, none for me. At the very end, I did get one on that took out quite a bit of line which we hadn't seen any of the previous ones do, but alas it got off and it was time to head back. Once we got in, they filleted Joni's fish and weighed the fillets to ship back home. The fillets weighed 8 pounds leaving room for a couple more pounds of goodies. Joni asked if we could add some king crab legs, and with a positive reply that is what we opted to do. We went next door to Chinooks for lunch, which also was very good (I think I did like Ray's better) picked up our luggage and a taxi at the Holiday Inn and headed for The Radiance. It was probably 3:00pm when we boarded and there was no line at all. We checked in and walked right on board. We went straight to our rooms and dropped off our carry-ons, shedding some layers of clothes and then went out on the balcony to enjoy the sunshine, the view of Resurrection Bay and Seward. We had a little time to show Jim and Shelly around the ship before meeting up with our new friends from Cruise Critic in the Schooner Bar. A fun time was had by all! At this point, I am going to change up the format a little so folks can find what they are interested in, and skip over my blabberings that they don't find entertaining and/or informative. Radiance of the Seas, Overview: As I said in the introduction, our first cruise was on the Radiance 6 years ago. My general observation is that she has improved with age. Everything looked great. We did know what to expect this time, but she looked just as grand as the first time we sailed. A question that I asked and now can answer, we did NOT have to wear or even bring life jackets to the Muster Drill. The drill lasted about 20 minutes at the most. Stateroom: We were in 9260, a D-1 category on the aft. The cabin had an oversized, very deep balcony that could easily accommodate 2 lounge chairs as well as the 2 regular balcony chairs and table. We had a sail away party from Icy Strait Point later in the week where we had 8 of the regular chairs out there and it wasn't crowded at all. We were able to have 18 of us at the party and the room was manageable. Marcia was our stateroom attendant, and she was great! She went above and beyond in helping us with the party. We also were able to visit one of the Grand Suites on deck 10 just in front of the hump, needless to say, it was wonderful. Service: All who we dealt with were wonderful. I have already mentioned Marcia, our stateroom attendant; I also would like to acknowledge Eduardo, our waiter who also was excellent, making sure I had escargot on nights it wasn't on the menu and that extra lobster tail, which we will get into later. Food: Food was perhaps our biggest surprise. We have all read in the boards about the decline in food quality in the dining room. Joni and I have experienced this decline on the Serenade and the Jewel. But I have to say the quality of the food was the best that we have had since our first cruise. Not only was the quality very good, but there was no problem ordering a soup and an appetizer, or on lobster night, having the prime rib and lobster. Then there was the Big Lobster Smack Down! Kim and I were talking about who could eat the most lobster, Eduardo also got into the spirit of it and made sure our plates did not go empty. I will not get into details, but I will say we had more than 2 each. Entertainment: Joni and I normally go to most of the shows, so many of the shows we have seen before. This cruise we only saw a couple, one was the production show, Piano Man, which we have seen before and the other was the Farewell Show, which they had a really funny comedian. I thought the talent level was better than what we had seen; Joni didn't think it was as strong. Dan the Party Man was filling in as Cruise Director for a few weeks due to an illness or injury of the regular cruise director. He did a good job, and I liked him more as the week progressed. I was lucky enough to rake in the loot as I won a RCCL memory stick at the Meet & Mingle, a RCCL hat and valued key chain at music trivia and our team won RCCL travel cups as we won out of 26 teams at Quest. The ship bands were good as was the pianist in the Schooner Bar. The Starquest Disco on deck 13 was pretty slow most nights with a couple of exceptions. Ports, Cruising and Weather: The weather was a major character in this extravaganza, often times seeing a wide variety in the same day. Many of our planned activities were very much threatened by the weather only to have it change at the last minute to be fine. Sailing overall was very smooth with one notable exception; our last sea day for the first half of the day, we had 15-20 foot "rollers" from a storm out at sea that definitely got the boat rocking. The ports were all wonderful, and now more details, yay: Hubbard Glacier: Our first full day on the ship, and it was a sea day! After all the early mornings, it was nice to be able to sleep in. I walked out on the balcony before breakfast to enjoy a beautiful day, smooth seas and the promise of a great week to come! I noticed that one of our new Cruise Critic friends, who had the balcony diagonally above me, was also out enjoying the view. He mentioned he had just seen quite a bit of activity of birds diving and salmon jumping. I started watching closely and before too long saw a fin. I looked through the binoculars and established that it was a shark. After seeing a video in Seward the day before on Salmon Sharks, I deducted that is what it must have been. I saw it a few more times before heading with my lovely wife to our first breakfast at the Windjammer. The Salmon Shark was an unexpected treat that was not on my "hope to see wildlife list". At noon was the Meet and Mingle in the Hollywood Odyssey. We had maybe 25 or so there with some nice canapEs to munch on. This also was our first opportunity to talk with Dan, the Cruise Director. After attending Meet & Mingles on four previous sailings and never winning anything, I was thrilled when my name was called, winning a RCI Memory Stick ...oooooooo. By the time the Meet and Mingle was over, the weather had turned cooler, it was overcast and there was a heavy fog bank off to the port side. We were picking up our pilot to aid in navigation through the bay to Hubbard Glacier; at this point we were ahead of schedule. As we entered the bay towards the glacier, we also entered the fog bank and our progress was slowed down to a crawl. Even though we had a nice balcony, I opted to stake out a place on the rail on the helipad for the ride in, this proved to be a chilly decision. So we were creeping along through the fog wondering if we would even be able to see the glacier. The Captain would give up progress reports between the deafening blasts of the foghorn. Then all of a sudden we were through the fog bank and there was Hubbard Glacier about a mile in front of us! We picked up a little speed, as now we could see, still not too fast so we could avoid the many icebergs. The increased speed did create enough of a breeze to send Joni back to our cabin to get our winter hats and gloves. The Captain slowly guided The Radiance closer and closer until we got within 200 yards of Hubbard Glacier! We sat there for quite some time seeing the occasional small bits of calving, then all of a sudden people started yelling and I turned just in time to see this huge ice pinnacle that stood probably 70 to 80 feet high fall over! I held up my camera blindly over my head to try to get a shot, but just got the ocean in front of it. After we watched the action a little while longer, the Captain rotated the ship 180 degrees for the other side to get their view. At this point we returned to our balcony in the aft which being out of the wind proved to be a warmer viewing platform. We were fortunate enough to see another large ice slide before finally departing. On the way out we spotted numerous seals on the even more numerous icebergs giving us a pleasant farewell. That night was our first formal night and the Captain's reception. When we met the Captain, I commented on how kind the weather had been to us. He replied that he could have done without the fog, and I said that it added to the experience, that it was like the grand curtain being raised to reveal the spectacle of the glacier. I was flattered that he used that analogy when he talked to the passengers at the reception. Juneau: The main thing I like about having a balcony cabin is, well, the balcony. I pretty much make it a point to go out on the balcony anytime I go to the cabin, it's the first thing I do when I get up in the morning and the last thing I do before going to bed at night. So after our wonderful day at Hubbard Glacier, our night of dressing up, chatting with the Captain and dancing with my lovely bride, I wander out to the balcony railing to stare out into the black abyss only to quickly discover its raining. The next morning we are scheduled for one of the two excursions that we booked through Royal Caribbean, kayaking within sight of the Mendenhall Glacier. Of all our planned excursions, I felt as if this was my boldest choice. Lets just say I don't bend the way I did when I was younger, I anticipated getting in the kayak would be challenging, and getting out even far more so. I also anticipated it being chilly even in good conditions so with the threat of rain, I was a little concerned. To add to my anxiety, since the cruise was the second week of our adventure, we had boarded with laundry in hand, and my winter underwear had not returned with the clean laundry. As it was about midnight, there was nothing to be done and the voice on the other end of the phone assured me that they would be able to find it first thing in the morning. I did go to sleep that night a little less easy with visions of my frozen assets the next day. The next morning I woke and, as always, went out on the balcony, it was cold, windy and rainy. Another phone call or two prompted a return call, "What does it look like?", "Well, it's long and its underwear", "We will call you back". Since our cold weather rain gear had served us well the previous week, I wasn't as worried and I figured out a "plan B" ensemble. Just as I got all the layers on, there was a knock on the door. Joni answered to find Allie from next door holding up several coat hangers of clothes, "This was in our closet, I think they delivered it to our room by mistake, is it yours?" A good laugh was had by all. I quickly shed my many layers replacing them with the "plan A" layers. We meet up with Jim and Shelly and head out to catch the bus. Our bus is an old style white school bus with one of the native locals as our driver. He was quite entertaining and set a tone that we later discovered to be a prerequisite of all tour guides in Alaska; you have to have a limitless arsenal of really, really bad jokes to bombard your captive audience. After about a 20 minute drive we arrive at the cove where we will be kayaking. We all huddle off the bus to discover it isn't raining here, and the wind isn't blowing and it seems at least 5 degrees warmer. Now don't get me wrong, it's still grey and overcast, and there is a fogbank out in the bay, but overall, much more pleasant than in Juneau. I begin to wonder if I may have too many layers. We are led to the back of a truck to get our briefing and equipment. The equipment consists of colorful rain suits, life jackets, paddles and skirts, yes, skirts. One of the guides looked over Joni's and my rain gear and decided that it was sufficient to deprive us of the extra layer of their lovely yellow rain suits. After adding the life jacket and the skirt to my layers and parading down the beach to the kayaks, I was confident I had too many layers. The kayaks were two person models with two small holes that theoretically Joni and I were both suppose to slip right inside; after all, the guide had just demonstrated how easy it was. Joni was in the front and without too much difficulty slides into her seat, securing her skirt. Now it was my turn, and somehow with some needed help from the guide, I manage to wiggle in and get my skirt secured. They adjust the foot pedals for the rudder and push us out into the wild waters of Alaska. Now the person in back was responsible for steering, the person in front was responsible for propulsion, at least which is what I attempted to convince Joni. Steering the craft was mentally challenging, to turn left, you matched your partner's paddling on the right while pushing the left peddle, the chewing gum and walking at the same time syndrome. Actually, Joni and I did pretty well, and our group of five kayaks and our guide were off, paddling towards a beach across the cove. What really struck me was how quiet it all was, with the exception of the occasional float plane passing overhead, you couldn't help but to get lost in the tranquility of nature. A short paddle later we were over at the beach and began to notice the eagles there. Since we were in kayaks, we could very close in just inches of water. Then one of the eagles took off and flew off just a few feet in front of us, providing a spectacular display. At that point we started paddling towards the fog bank out in the bay. We soon noticed the head of a harbor seal popping up out of the water silhouetted by the fog bank. We paddled a little closer and he disappeared only to appear again a little closer to one of the other kayaks. Our guide told us that they were curious and if you talked to them, they would sometimes stay up longer. Well this seal was wanting a long term friendship, as we sat in somewhat of a circle, he would take turns visiting with each kayak, coming as close as 10 - 15 feet. But then he saw Shelly in the next kayak over and fell in love, sticking his head and neck completely out of the water and coming within 2 to 3 feet of her. As my life jacket did not have a pocket for my camera, I was unable to get pictures; fortunately Jim was able to bring his camera and got some nice ones. We hung out with our new friend for maybe 45 minutes before heading back in, gliding over the glass like water. At first the seal started to come with us but then turned back. We didn't see Mendenhall Glacier due to the fog, but Mr. Seal more than made up for it. It was only on the paddle back that I realized how far we had come, that beach seemed a long way a ways. We did finally make it back, and with the help of a few hands and a lot of wiggling, I was able to extract myself from the snug fitting vessel. We enjoyed a snack of cheese, salmon pate, reindeer sausage and crackers before loading back onto the school bus where our driver had replenished his stockpile of bad jokes. When we returned to Juneau, the weather had not changed since our earlier departure; it was still cold, rainy and windy. We later discovered that the helicopter tours had been cancelled that day. I had two more things on my agenda for Juneau; eat lunch at Tracy's Crab Shack and ride the Mt. Roberts Tramway, the weather was not cooperating. We returned to the ship to shed a layer or two of clothing before striking out again. Both the tramway and Tracy's were in easy walking distance of the ship, as we walked I watched the tramway cars disappear into the low clouds. We got to Tracy's and the outside seating, while covered, didn't look like a sufficient escape from the weather. We noticed The Hanger Restaurant on the drive back, so we opted to walk down to it. I was glad that we did, we got a nice table right by the window overlooking the harbor and they had something on the menu that I had given up on finding in Alaska, razor clams. Being the appreciator of food (pig) that I am, I got the razor clam basket and Joni and I split a bucket of king crab legs. The basket had two fried razor clam "steaks", each were about the size of a small fried egg. Now I love my seafood, especially shellfish, so I was very excited to get to try the clams. I would say, unless you are a hard core shellfish lover like me, don't get the razor clams. The flavor is very strong, which I liked, and the clams were extremely tough and chewy, even by my standards. The king crab was wonderful. After lunch, we walked around town and shopped our way back to the ship. I kept a hopeful eye on the Roberts Tramway and the weather, and while the low clouds did break enough to see up to the top, the rain kept up, so we called it a day and went back to enjoy the ship. Tomorrow was hopefully a helicopter to dogsleds in Skagway. Skagway: We found out about the Juneau helicopter tours being cancelled after returning to the ship in Juneau. So we had a back up plan, that if the tour cancelled we would do spa treatments. Well, we pull into port and as our tour isn't till noon, we are slow to get out of bed. Then I hear the thump, thump, thump of helicopter blades. I go out on our balcony, and there is Temsco Helicopters right across a small parking lot from us with helicopters taking off and landing every few minutes. We do have patches of drizzle followed by breaking clouds. After a leisurely breakfast in the Windjammer where we continue to watch the helicopters come and go, we take the short walk across the parking lot to Temsco. The organization is amazing, they had 6 helicopters running to cover their various tours, they would land, unload their passengers, refuel, load their new passengers and take off all in less than 5 minutes. So we check in and are directed to a waiting area. When our group is all there, we watch a safety/information video on the helicopter and are fitted with inflatable life-vest and snow boots that go over our shoes. Then we are broken into 2 groups of 5 for the 2 helicopters that are flying to the dog-sled camp. We are given numbers for our loading order that determines where we sit. We then file out to the landing area and watch the copters fly in, almost in formation, towards us, up the fiord. We are instructed as to how to approach and get on when the signal us. I lead the line to the helicopter and with helping hands from both sides, the crew gets us loaded, buckled in, our headsets on and we take off. Neither Joni nor I have ever been in a helicopter before, and we were amazed at how smooth and comfortable the ride was. I was right behind the pilot and had a great view. The pilot gave narration through the headset as he flew us up valleys, over waterfalls, by cliffs and glacier faces before arriving at the dog camp on a glacier maybe 30 minutes later. Unloading at the dog camp was as efficient as at the base, even though walking in the snow was a little more challenging. Our 5 passengers from our helicopter were then divided into Joni and I, and the mother and 2 children that rode with us. Joni and I were then introduced to our musher, Kim, who was very friendly and you could tell she loved the dogs. She talked to us about the dogs in general and the camp of 249 dogs and far less number of staff that lived up there for the 4 month season. Then she asked if we wanted to meet our team, which of course we did. We spent time petting each dog as she introduced us and told us about their history and personality. It was team of 8 dogs towing a sled which had a second matching sled towed maybe 10 feet behind the first. Kim, then showed us how to drive/ride on the sleds, both sleds could have 1 driver and one rider. We started out with Kim driving the first sled with Joni riding and me driving the second. The dogs were more than anxious to get going, you can tell how much they love running, and with a word from Kim we were off with quite a jerk onto what I would say was a 2 mile trail. We stopped a few times to take pictures and change positions. It was unbelievably gorgeous up there and really not that cold. When we got back to camp, Kim took us over to meet and play with some of the, not so little, puppies. Of course they were still cute and lovable. Then we heard the sound of the 2 choppers bringing the next group up the valley and it was time for our flight back. While the flight back was equally spectacular, it was a more direct route lasting maybe 20 minutes. I didn't think we would be able to top that. This excursion was the next to go in our top 3 of the vacation, but there would be one more to come later in the week to top even this one. Our second excursion that was booked through Royal Caribbean was the 4:15pm White Pass Railroad "Summit Club". Again we returned to the ship after trekking through the snow to shed a few layers and grab a late lunch at the Windjammer. Almost our entire group had booked this excursion, so it was bound to be a party. By the time we were to meet in the parking lot for the excursion, the rains had come yet again. This wasn't a problem as we would be inside the railroad cars and there would be champagne. Even though it was raining, the scenery was spectacular, and we had an onboard guide doing the narration with her mandatory supply of really, really bad jokes. What was particularly surprising was even in the smallest creek running next to the tracks just outside of town, you could see the multitudes of Pink Salmon (Humpys) making their migration upstream. I found that I spent a significant portion of the ride outside on the platform taking pictures. The views were breathtaking. When we reached the summit, we stopped next to a picturesque lake while the engines disconnected and moved to the back of the train making it the front. We did a nifty flipping of the seats then our car attendant popped the champagne and did a toast before heading back down to Skagway. She kept the champagne flowing almost the entire trip back, so a fun time was had by all. That night, we had reservations in Chops with Allie and Kim. Shortly after being seated, a table by the window opened up and the waiter moved us to that one. Breaking tradition of previous visits to Chops, I had the rack of lamb instead of the large fillet, Joni did have the fillet, and both were excellent. Again the wine flowed, the company was excellent and a fun time was had by all. Icy Strait Point: The very first excursion I booked for this trip, more than a year in advance, was whale watching with Captain Floyd of F.I.S.H.E.S. out of Icy Strait Point. This was also the earliest excursion we had during the course of the week, requiring us to catch the first available tender after the ship anchored at 7:00am. It was another grey day of overcast and drizzle. Our group of six met in the Centrum at 7:00 and surprisingly, there was no line for the tenders, so we climbed aboard the first one. We got to the meeting place on shore at 7:20; Captain Floyd was supposed to pick us up at 8:00. One of the other guides in the parking lot asked who we were looking for, and as we told her, she said, "Oh here he comes now". He was glad to be getting an early start and the next thing we knew we were on his nice clean boat heading out of the harbor and seeing a whale on our way out. We rode for close to an hour to get to Floyd's chosen location, stopping a couple of times to watch a couple of groups of sea lions. When we got to the destination, it didn't take long to spot some tell tale spouts in the distance. While the whales were all around us, they were shy about getting very close; occasionally giving us a tail shot a hundred yards away or so. All of a sudden one came up right next to us, and activity started to pick up. Before we were done, we saw a couple of different whales breaching, one of which breached 3 times fairly close to the boat, providing one of my best pictures of the trip. Then the two that had been breaching wave goodbye with their fins, indicating it was time to head back. The other priority in Icy Strait Point was to have some Dungeness crab at the legendary Office Bar in Hoonah. Captain Floyd was good enough to drop us off right on the dock behind the restaurant. We went in finding that we were the only customers. We sat at a table right next to the window, ordered our seafood chowder, crab and cold draught beer before realizing it was only 10:30am, mmmmmmmm breakfast of champions. Our crab came, and we all enjoyed wrestling with the shell to get to the tasty treat inside. The waitress offered to hose me down as I was finishing. By that time, the place was packed, good thing we got there early. After lunch we opted to walk back to the port along the scenic shoreline road. While watching one of the kayak tours, we were surprised to see a whale surfacing right out there by them. I am certain they were even more surprised and thrilled. By the time we got back to Icy Strait Point, it began raining fairly heavily. We spent a little time shopping in the large facility that was right there at the tender dock, and then jumped on a tender back to the ship. As we had a 4:00pm departure, and we would be cruising the inside passage, I had thought this would be a good day for a sail away party with our group. With the help of our steward, Marcia, and the folks in room service, as well as contributions by some of the others in our group, we had a huge spread of goodies and several bottles of champagne. Since we had four cabins in a row across the aft, Marcia pilfered all the balcony chairs giving us 8 chairs on our balcony that were still under the overhang and protected from the rain. As it turned out, I think we had a total of 18 in our cab and on the balcony, and it never felt excessively crowded. As the party progressed, the rain stopped, the sun came out producing a sensational rainbow off the port side. It was a great way to finish the day and get ready for the second formal night. Ketchikan: Many had told me, you just have to do the floatplane trip with Michelle at Island Wings, so we booked it probably a year in advanced. Again, the trip was not till 11:00, so we were being leisurely about getting up, until I heard a plane right outside the ship. I go out on our balcony to a beautiful sunny day and floatplanes taking off right next to the ship. The 6 of us from our group, taking this trip, met in the dining room for breakfast then headed out to explore a little before the trip. We met our van that took us to the office/dock of Island Wings. After settling up, we watched as Michelle brought her plane in with the previous tour. She then introduced herself, then asked who wanted the best seat for pictures, and we all agreed on Allie, who got the back seat. Then Michelle asked who wanted to be co-pilot and I was lucky enough to get that seat. Then the other 4 ladies could sit in the other 4 seats. While she ran in and did paperwork, Our shuttle driver poked his head in the plane and went over seatbelt, headsets, etc with us. Then, he and Michelle pushed the plane out and we were off. Michelle explained that right there in port was controlled airspace, and that she would turn our mics on after we cleared it. We were able to listen to all the communications for take off etc. as we taxied out into the harbor then took off. I have since been informed that I was the only one hearing the take-off instructions, probably because I was in the co-pilot's seat After we were in the air for a bit, Michelle put on some nice background music in the headsets and started chatting with us. She was very friendly and knowledgeable, even giving helpful info on camera settings and offering to do the setting if we didn't know how. She gave ongoing narration and encouraged questions and comments. The scenery on this clear sunny day was unbelievable, the cliffs, the glaciers, the waterfalls, the mountain goats, everything. Words can't do it justice. After maybe 45 minutes of this beauty, Michelle flew us into this canyon over a gorgeous lake, banked sharply at the end of the canyon then landed on the lake, taking us to a tiny island in the middle. We all got out and were just in awe, every direction you looked was a spectacular picture! We spent 20-30 minutes there stretching our legs and taking pictures. Joni described it as a religious experience. Then we were all back in the plane for the flight back which was equaling amazing. By that time we were all more comfortable with Michelle and the plane, so there was more conversation. I can't say enough about Michelle, we learned that she pretty much personalizes every tour so she doesn't get in a rut and she is the only one that lands during the tour as it cost a fee to land, and another fee for the passengers to get off the plane, but it more than worth it! We landed right by the ship, then we tried to convince the next group that the tour was really lousy, but so it wouldn't go to waste, we would "suffer" through it again. The helicopter and Island Wings were both spectacular, it would be hard to choose one over the other. If I absolutely had to, it would be Michelle and Island Wings. The fishing trip on the upper Kenai River was in a different class, but these three excursions were our top three of the vacation. Once we were back in town, we took the short walk to the recommended Annabelle's Restaurant for lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed the steamed clams and the beer battered Halibut fish and chips. We then walked around town doing some shopping and walking the boardwalk along Fish Creek. It was amazing to see all the Pink Salmon fresh from the ocean, many being acrobatic with all of their jumping. Ketchikan was probably our favorite town of the ports. After hitting a few more shops we boarded, sadly knowing it was our last stop in Alaska. Inside Passage Cruising: Due to the time change, we set our clocks forward an hour the previous night, losing an hour. I was awoken that morning at 6:30am (new time, 5:30am old time) by some serious rocking of the ship. I recalled the Captain saying something the night before about a storm out at sea that we would be feeling the effects. I get up and go out on the balcony and see while it isn't raining, it is overcast and there are some significant "rollers" moving from the starboard bow to the port stern. Needing to get some clarification on disembarkation, I head down to guest relations on deck 4. Looking out the large windows behind guest relations, I get a better perspective on the waves and estimate them to be in the 15-20 foot range. The Captain comes on and assures us that conditions and the weather would be improving shortly after noon. Joni and I take advantage of onboard activities with a leisurely breakfast in the Windjammer, some shopping followed by a couple of trivia games in the Schooner Bar. True to the Captain's word, the seas did calm down by 2:00 and the sun came out. After trivia, we headed back to the cabin for the dreaded packing routine, but this vacation held one last surprise for us. As is my habit, I go out on the balcony to enjoy the sunshine and the scenery on both sides of the ship when I spot a fin, then another and another. I yelled, "Joni, there are whales out here." I think all the balcony doors were opened as all the balconies around me were occupied in seconds of all our friends enjoying the large pod of Orcas that we had come across. We were able to watch them for 20 minutes or so before they faded into the distance. That and the beautiful sunset we had that night were a fine way to wrap up our fabulous vacation. Disembarkation: We had hoped that this cruise offered the luggage valet service which they handle your luggage being checked in at the airport, so once you leave it out the last night, the next time you see it is at your home destination. At $20 a person, we thought it was well worth it. It was indeed offered and we took advantage. The night before we received new luggage tags and our boarding passes for our flight. Since we had just turned Platinum on our last cruise, we were also able to take advantage of the priority disembarkation, which was on the second level of the Cascade Dinning Room. We arrived at the dinning room at 7:30am and were munching on some pastries when our color was called at about 7:40am. While there were lines forming to pick up luggage etc., we were able to bypass those. We quickly pass through customs, and proceeded directly to the taxi stand. We were able to share a taxi with another couple who did the same thing. We arrived at the airport by 8:30am for our 2:00pm flight, and the taxi ride cost each couple $20 after tip. The process at the airport went equally smoothly as did our flight home. Final Thoughts: I have been dreaming of Alaska for as long as I could remember, it indeed was a dream vacation. With that sort of anticipation, it would have been easy for the expectation to exceed the reality, it did not. Alaska's natural beauty and magnitude is overwhelming not paralleled in any of my experiences. In the 2 weeks that we were there, to say we just scratched the surface would be an overstatement. You probably could spend 2 weeks at the fishing lodge alone and do different activities every day. As far as the cruise portion of the vacation, you got even more of a sense that it was just a petite sampler of the unbelievable buffet of Alaskan wonder. The weather could have been kinder to us, but it certainly could have been much, much worse. You could say that it even enhanced the experience with its threats of forcing cancellations only to clear up as needed. When we stood on that tiny island in the middle of some obscure mountain lake in the middle of mountain wilderness and every possible direction you looked was the most scenic picture you could imagine, you realized your camera just isn't good enough. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Serenade of the Seas is a great ship for going to Alaska. There are windows everywhere to take in the magnificent view. It was a fairly easy process getting on the ship. Once onboard we noticed how clean the ship was. The service ... Read More
Serenade of the Seas is a great ship for going to Alaska. There are windows everywhere to take in the magnificent view. It was a fairly easy process getting on the ship. Once onboard we noticed how clean the ship was. The service there was extraordinary. Our cabin was just the right size with a balcony. We had a cabin by the elevators which was great for easy access to all parts of the ship. The bars, and lounges were nice. The pit stop hardly had anyone there so it was a good place for me to just relax. The entertainment was decent except they could have done a better job with the decor. We didn't use the outside pool and mainly used the pool in the solarium. We did not understand why the outside pool was heated and the pool in the solarium was not. It was a nice place to relax. The spa was very good. We used the thermal suite a few days. Everytime we went there it was empty and you can just relax and enjoy the scenery. We had a couples massage and it was very good. Our food experience: In the main dining room,the food and service was excellent. the windjammer was just ok. It was served buffet style. The seaview cafe is a good alternative. The food there was good. The other problem we had with the windjammer was finding a place to sit and eat. Most of the days we got breakfeast and brought it to our cabin to eat on our balcony. We ate a Portofinos one night and the food there was excellent. Overall we had a great experience with this ship. Plenty of time to relax and take in the sights. We will definetly plan another trip to Alaska but we never go back on the same ship twice. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Serenade of the Seas - Aug. 29 thru Sept. 5th - Vancouver Started the trip from Houston to Seattle via SW airlines on a Thursday, giving us a few days in Seattle for sightseeing (no good air prices to Vancouver from Houston so we ... Read More
Serenade of the Seas - Aug. 29 thru Sept. 5th - Vancouver Started the trip from Houston to Seattle via SW airlines on a Thursday, giving us a few days in Seattle for sightseeing (no good air prices to Vancouver from Houston so we flew to Seattle ). Always love SW, no charge for bags and employee's are always friendly. A flight attendant that lives in Seattle gave us a list of restaurants for us to try. On our first evening we ate close to the hotel at Adobe (similar to Chipotle's). Good nights sleep at the Sheraton downtown, Priceline $90. On Friday we headed for Top Pot doughnuts near 3rd/Bell for the best doughnuts in town, we were not disappointed. Next Pikes Market, what wonderful produce and floral arrangements....cheap $5-$10 for a beautiful bunch of flowers. Ate lunch at the market in the square at the end of the market, lots of street performers and colorful singers to keep you entertained. We took the monorail to the space needle and a trip to the top to enjoy a 360 view of Seattle , $16ea. but a beautiful view. We took in a Seattle Mariners game Friday evening, beautiful stadium and the smell of garlic fries is still with me. On Saturday morning we took a cab $7 to the Amtrak station for an early train to Vancouver BC. If you've never taken a train it's definitely the way to go, lots of time to think and get your thoughts together while enjoying the beautiful trip from Seattle to Vancouver ($35pp one way). The train ride was a little late getting into Vancouver due to a couple in Bellingham Wa . Trying to run for the train, NOTE never run for a train arrive early this attempt delayed us 20min. No worries though we were not due to be on board ship till noon at the earliest. Vancouver....customs was a breeze off the train, a $25US taxi ride to the pier most of which was in line at the Balentyne cruise ship terminal, remember Vancouver has two piers Canada Place (new) and Balentyne (old)...NOTE, get the taxi driver to pull to the side and let you off if you have no trouble walking, only 100 yards and it'll save you $10 off the fare at the peak time. Vancouver drop off at the pier is one of the strangest I've ever seen, they make the taxis and buses back in slowing the process immensely. The process of boarding ran smoothly and very quickly compared to other ports we'd sailed from. Naturally we headed for the windjammer dining room since it had been hours since we'd eaten and we needed to get in shape for the week ahead. I'm sorry if you're looking for a long evaluation of the food on Serenade of the Seas, we ate all our meals at the windjammer neglecting the main dining room (Reflections). We've had a couple of bad experiences on the last several cruises with dining mates and waiters, so we've chosen to avoid the main dining rooms, besides they take too long and you spend too much of your vacation waiting on waiters. The food in the windjammer is of good quality and varies every day, lots of good salads and fruit, they can keep the sushi. The staff there is always happy to see someone and you can get lots of good conversations and information from this staff with a little friendly effort on your part. Serenade of the Seas ratings; Cruise director.....A Cruise Staff.........A Cabin Att............A+ Dining...............B Entertainment......B Tendering...........A Only one small problem kept arising and RCI is not at fault. There were just too many unsupervised children running the ship at all times. One even wandered into the casino into the area even adults are not allowed...behind the dealers. At dinner and breakfast we were always trying to find a quiet place to eat and it would never fail here's mom dad and little Johnny noise maker choosing to sit next to us. It would be ok if the parents instilled a little discipline in the kids teaching them how to act in public. Better get off this! First Day - At sea Tons of whales to watch for, the little ones are really fast and exciting to see for the first time. Second Day - Tracy Arm Fiord We got lucky today, sunshine weather and we got to see both sides of the Sawyer glacier thanks to our great captain. The second side which very few ships get to go to we actually saw the glacier cave in causing a charter boat to scurry away at the site, don't blame them. Third day - Icy Strait Point I have to admit, I was not sure going in what to expect from ISP, but we enjoyed a good hike to the town and another later in the day around the beach/zip liner area. NOTE...tours were not considered great and overpriced, the area's just getting started as a tourist destination, the people are very friendly though. Fourth Day - Skagway We took the train ride up to the mountain pass and back, for those that have never been before or never been to like Colorado or Utah train rides it is a good tour. For those that have been on tours like Salida Colorado , you can use the time for other things. We ate lunch back on the ship and went on an excursion booked a hike/float trip outside the ship through southwest tours a local agency in Skagway for $85pp, considerably less than the ship's price and we got a private float/hike. On the hike portion is where we got the thrill of a lifetime, not my wife's version. While hiking and observing nature we stumbled onto a brown bear eating salmon, we surprised him and he definitely surprised us. Our guide handled it coolly but did as she said pull her bear spray and pin out for the first time ever. This was her first real encounter for the year and the years almost over. We waited and made noise thinking that the bear had moved on we proceeded only to find he hadn't, we just kept making noise and got the heck out of there. We took the float portion back to near Skagway and a trip back to the ship with a story of a lifetime. Fifth Day - Juneau We took a float plane rid on Wings Air that was just great, you got to see plenty of the glaciers and wildlife areas around Juneau and the employees were great. I'd like to thank the 3 helicopter agencies in Juneau that charge 1.5 times the normal rate for a ride on their copters for turning me down. For those that don't know the chopper agencies all charge 1.5 times the price for someone over 250lbs or more, I'm a weightlifter in great shape for my age but 5lbs over their max allotment and not willing to diet on a cruise. I wrote e-mails to all 3 agency's and got a response from only one. They stand hard; even though my wife only weighs 100lbs they wouldn't budge on me or combine our weights like agencies did in Hawaii earlier this year. Anyway thanks, I had a great time on the floatplane and saved $$$. The Sixth Day - at sea Nice relaxing day to do all the things we wanted but didn't have the time to do, I love sea days. Packed late in the afternoon and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Seventh Day - Debarkation We left the ship at 7:30am for an early departure just as scheduled. Took Quickshuttle $35pp (bus service) back to Seattle for an early flight out the next morning. QS was a good experience, the driver makes stops so sitting for 3-4 hrs was not a hassle. The trip through customs went a little slower because we had New Zelanders on the bus entering the USA for the first time. Stayed ay Hilton Airport for the final night, eat out before you settle in for the evening. Delivery fees to the hotel and prices in general in Seattle are murder as far as eating goes. Great ship, great crew, great trip.... Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
My husband and I were extremely excited to take our first ever cruise. I had heard many good comments from friends etc about RCL, and comments here on CC were also pretty favorable. We arrived in Vancouver the evening of July 31 and ... Read More
My husband and I were extremely excited to take our first ever cruise. I had heard many good comments from friends etc about RCL, and comments here on CC were also pretty favorable. We arrived in Vancouver the evening of July 31 and stayed the night at a downtown hotel. Took a cab the next morning to the Ballentyne Pier and we were there shortly after 12 noon. The lineups to go through security, then US Customs all moved very smoothly, as well as the registration lineup. I think I counted 13 or 14 cruise line reps doing the passenger registrations. We weren't even on the ship when we encountered our first photo session. Arrival on the ship itself also proceeded smoothly. We had arrived before 1pm and the cabin hallways weren't open yet to passengers, so we headed up to the Windjammer for lunch. Wasn't terribly impressed with the food - it seemed rather ordinary and a little bland. We learned that day to avoid the iced tea - canadian iced tea is very different from US iced tea! We were very pleased with our stateroom and all the storage available - lots of cupboards and drawers. I had read on CC to take a power bar and I'm glad that I did. We had to get an extension cord from Guest Services for my husband's breathing machine and they were most accomodating. Our luggage arrived before 4 pm, then we attended the muster drill, then headed up to Deck 12 to watch the departure. It was very thrilling for me to be finally sailing away! Eventually the ship's horn was blasted as we left the Vancouver harbor and that was also exciting for me too - having seen it all in the movies! Day 2 was the open sea and it was a bit rough that day, but not enough to cause any ill feelings. We just "rolled" with it ! We kept ourselves busy exploring the ship, eating, drinking and just enjoying the experience. Dinner at Reflections was a great experience every evening - our waiter and assistant waiter and the bar waiter were all excellent! Day 3 - Monday saw us in Icy Strait Point. Weather was very smoky and hazy from the BC forest fires. We enjoyed the walk around town - didn't book an excursion as the port is very tiny - you can walk it all in 15 min. Nearly lost my camera's memory card when it fell out of the camera bag, through the slats in the dock, down into the brush below on the shore! We eventually found our way down to the spot and fortunately found the card... phew! Day 4 was Tracy Fjord Glacier and the Sawyer Glacier. The weather was fantastic and Captain Stig managed to get us in to see the Sawyer Glacier. We found out later that we were the FIRST SHIP ever to get in to see the glacier - usually the fjord is totally blocked by ice. But because of the warm weather , the Captain was able to make it. Something about the ship's thrusters being able to spin the ship 360 degrees also made it possible. Day 5 was Skagway and shopping. If you plan to buy diamonds, be sure you attend the ship's seminat about port shopping. If you go to Diamonds International, don't be afraid to haggle for the best price and ask to deal directly with a manager. We finally got a good price on a loose diamond. It's a cute town - lots of history there. We did an excursion to the Klondike Summit, Yukon Suspension bridge, then panning for gold - our driver was Audrey and she was fantastic! Weather was still very pleasant - still the smokey haze though. Day 6 was Juneau. We did the Glacier Gardens ( a great experience and beautiful to see), Mendenhall Glacier and McCauley Salmon hatchery - all very interesting. Weather was cloudier and still hazy but no rain! We weren't in Juneau as long as the ship only has a small window of time to leave the port due to the tides. Leaving even 2 minutes late can make for a tricky departure. Day 7 was at sea and we managed to keep ourselves occupied with bingo, various bits of entertainment etc. Tips - be sure you do your checkout Friday evening as Sat morning is a gong show! Watch your room account carefully on the TV channel and make sure there are no duplicate charges as I had heard of that happening more than once. Take a power bar as there is a big lack of outlets in the room. The ship's cruise directors were a great, fun bunch! Dennis Charles is the director and he's very talented! Overall we had a great experience for our first time cruise. So much, that we booked a second cruise for March 2011, on the new Oasis of the Seas to the western caribbean. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Let me just say that we loved everything about this cruise except for the cuisine. My wife and I are in our thirty's, from the south and were traveling as part of a manufacturers incentive program with aprox. 80 people from all ... Read More
Let me just say that we loved everything about this cruise except for the cuisine. My wife and I are in our thirty's, from the south and were traveling as part of a manufacturers incentive program with aprox. 80 people from all around the U.S.A. most of which we have never meet. Our travel day started at 2:30am EST Saturday the 8th of August leaving our home for the two hour drive to the airport for a 6:00am departure. Two flights and 2400 miles later we arrived in Vancouver at 12:15pm PST, the Vancouver airport was easy to navigate using the "USDirect" signs and the added convenience of Royal Caribbean's transfer program made going through customs and the 45 minute drive to the pier painless. We had a very short 35 minute layover in Detroit and I was worried about our luggage making the boat and since we were letting R.C. transfer our luggage the added worry of not being able to see our bags (which is clearly marked in all of your cruise documents) until they were delivered to our stateroom was a bit nerve racking but it worked like clockwork. Our bags showed up one by one and the last of four arrived about 6:00. What to wear seemed to be the biggest concern for my wife and I leading up to our cruise. Two people for this cruise should be able to pack every thing they need in two medium size suitcases and a garment bag. 1 suit with two dress shirts and two ties is the extent of the formal wear for any man. 3 pairs shorts, 3 pairs pants (khakis or blue jeans) half a dozen polo shirts, a few t-shirts, a swimsuit and enough under garments for the week is all you need. Really. As far as what a women should bring? You'll have to ask my wife. Our room was great, very clean with just the slightest beginnings of wear showing, Our stateroom attendant Marcelino was FANTASTIC!! He made our stay better and we made sure to show him our appreciation. On the first day we noticed that our refrigerator was not working, we called our stateroom attendant and he was there before I had stood up all the way, he, with my permission, removed the faulty unit and brought us different one as soon as they had one ready for us. The showers are very small but have great pressure and will get as hot as you need it too. The bed is better than a cot with nice linens and decent pillows. The love seat is just big enough for two people to sit but not really large enough to eat at. I will never cruise in a room without a balcony again, it really does make for a much more relaxed experience and would be well worth the money to me. I am the worst kind of smoker, an ex-smoker, I have not had a cigarette in two years and was worried that I would be inundated with smoke. This was not the case at all, the only place where it was an issue for me was in the casino which I spent very little time. One thing that R.C. does which really is nice, on Formal nights the casino is non-smoking, it seems that they have really thought this whole smoking thing through and are changing with the demand for more smoke free areas. The boat is great, we have only been on one prior cruise (the Carnival Holiday in'05) and know that that old tug is a far cry from the Serenade and I'm sure there are even nicer boats out there. After the Holiday experience we swore of cruising all together and figured a boat is a boat is a boat. Wrong! It really does make a huge difference, my wife who is prone to motion sickness was only ill for about 5 hours on the first morning because of 12'seas after that it was smooth sailing so to speak. The boat seemed very well kept, there was some maintenance going on but it was my no means an inconvenience to us. After a day or two the boat seemed easy enough to navigate and getting from one place to another was easy as long as you avoided the elevators during peak times. The company we were traveling with threw two cocktail receptions, both we very nice with hot hour d'oeuvres and a bar service with beer, wine, champagne and some cocktails. The R.C. staff was very professional at both events and made for very nice affairs. Speaking of cocktails, we were surprised at the very fair price of cocktails aboard the ship, Crown and ginger - Absolute and tonics both ran about $5.75ea and were pours like I do at home or better. I managed to keep my tilt on for most of the cruise for less then I had budgeted. We toured the spa and it was very attractive with what looked like clean and modern facilities, my wife did go for a polish change one afternoon which she had no problems scheduling at the last minute but that was the extent of our experience with the spa. The food. If you are familiar with Ryan's or The Golden Corral then you will know what to expect in the Windjammer, the dinning room was not much better but at least the service was nice. We went to Portofino's for dinner one night, my wife enjoyed her Halibut but my veal was, for lack of a better word, blah. I understand what a feat it is to pull off 19,000 meals a day on a boat but I really think it could have been better. Just my opinion but I thought the Carnival boat was leaps and bounds better as far as food goes then the R.C. ship. Tracy Arm Fjord. WOW!! I can not tell you how beautiful this was, the best way I can describe it is imagine if emerald green water flowed through the Rocky Mountains... with icebergs. For part of the day we sat all alone (which was nice) in the Safari Room which is on the very back of the boat watching as the icebergs hit us then rolled in to the wake of the ship. Very Cool. We saw two of the shows, the first was an English comedian that was brilliant and had everybody talking the next day, I am so glad I went to see him. The second was a musical number that my wife really enjoyed, I am not a big fan of musicals (hate is not to strong of a word in this case) so I will keep my opinions to myself. If you get a chance and are interested in the workings of the ship I suggest the Captians talk on the last morning of the cruise in the theater, it was fun and informative. Capt. Stig is quite witty and is not afraid to tell you about his family's profession as he was growing up. All in all we had a fantastic time and saw things we would never had seen if not on the boat, if you ever thought about an Alaskan cruise and you are okay with mediocre food then this is the cruise for you. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Serenade's Alaskan cruise was spectacular. This was the first cruise my husband and I have taken without kids (both are grown now). We were originally planning a northbound cruise, but opted instead for the round trip out of ... Read More
Serenade's Alaskan cruise was spectacular. This was the first cruise my husband and I have taken without kids (both are grown now). We were originally planning a northbound cruise, but opted instead for the round trip out of Vancouver, BC. This turned out to be a great choice, as it gave us plenty of opportunities to see the beautiful landscapes of Alaskan shorelines. Embarkation was a breeze. We actually arrived in Vancouver early on the day of sailing, so we checked all of our luggage in with RCCL's airport transfer point, then jumped on the newly-opened Skytrain into downtown Vancouver for a bit of sight-seeing before boarding the ship. RCCL's port was a short taxi ride from downtown Vancouver, and once arriving there, it took only a few minutes to get through registration and onboard. We had booked our excursions online prior to the sailing date, so we had the afternoon free to explore the ship, get a workout in, and get to meet fellow passengers. We did manage to change from late to early dining, as "My Time" dining slots were all full. The ship is magnificent. There were a few places that were under repair, but other than that, everything was in great shape! This was our second cruise with RCCL, the first being on the Navigator of the Seas, so we found the ship a bit smaller, but still plenty to do and easy to find your way around. The staff was terrific. The Cruise Director, Dennis, was so full of energy and vivacious, we really enjoyed him. The dining room staff was always on top of things (our waiter & asst. were Melroy & Melissa). Our cabin steward, Rommel, was the best! Unfortunately, his contract is up and he & his wife are heading home to the Philippines, but you may see them again next year! We had heard that the prior sailings had been plagued by rain, but had beautiful weather all week. In fact, on the day we sailed Tracy Arm Fjord, the weather was so great that we were able to sail up a usually-closed arm and see both sides of Sawyer Glacier...an opportunity which the Captain said he had only been able to do only 3 times on the Serenade. It was magnificent! To see a ship this size navigate through that narrow fjord makes you marvel at the technology of cruise ships and the expertise of the crew! The glacier was an amazing site, as well as Icy Falls. Our ports were Icy Strait Point, Skagway and Juneau. We hired a private charter in ISP to go whale watching (Dream Fish Alaska). This was a great adventure, being on a small fishing boat rather than a big, crowded tour boat. Frank, our captain, was able to get us up close and personal to several humpback whales, despite a thick fog. This was Frank's last season in ISP, however. If interested in a similar excursion, check out F.I.S.H.E.S. Whatever you do, definitely try some halibut pizza while in Hoonah...it's the best! (And sidenote...Frank may be leaving ISP, but is moving to eastern Washington, so if you have a trip planned there and want a hunting/fishing guide, try to find Frank Byrd!) Didn't do any excursions in Skagway, although everyone said the White Pass Railway was well worth it. We shopped around and hiked up to Lower Dewey Lake. It's an easy uphill hike to the lake, with 3 other trails available even farther up the mountain. If you are an avid hiker, make sure to do the trek around the lakes, as they provide more technical terrain. Juneau was our best excursion choice. We booked a helicopter glacier trek through the cruiseline. This was a 30 minute helicopter ride up onto the flow line of Mendenhall Glacier, followed by a 2 hour trek on the glacier itself. You cannot imagine how amazing this was...words cannot describe it! To be on a glacier, see how blue the ice is, and experience it first hand, is something everyone needs to put on their bucket list of things to do. The company was North Star Trekking, our guide was Amanda, and all were first rate! The only negative we would have from the entire cruise would be a lack of variety in the food. They offered the same choices for room service daily (we ate breakfast via room service),and had the same selections available in Windjammer for lunch each day. It would have been nice to see some other options available. All in all, it was a great cruise, a fantastic choice for a vacation, and worth every penny. Note: The Serenade will not be returning to Alaska, but I'm sure any other RCCL cruise would be just as great! Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Let me start by saying, I like Royal Carribean. This was my third cruise with them, Likely, I will cruise with them again. However, on this cruise I discovered that sometimes a cruise does not live up to expectations. Such was the case on ... Read More
Let me start by saying, I like Royal Carribean. This was my third cruise with them, Likely, I will cruise with them again. However, on this cruise I discovered that sometimes a cruise does not live up to expectations. Such was the case on my Alaska cruise. There was one major issue with this cruise. And that issue was exteme vibration in some of the Junior suites onboard Rhapsody.The problem does not effect all Junior Suites on Deck 8 apparently. Only some of them. I did some onboard research and here are some data points:The Junior suites having this issue are on the starboard side (right side of the ship) towards the back of the ship. Didn't really investigate the Port side for this problem.Cabins in the ranges 8550 - 8580 plus or minus a few cabins have the issue.The vibration is extreme. Although I have not been on a freighter or cargo ship, this level of vibration in the slepping quarters may be acceptable for those types ships. But for a luxury cruise ship and upper category cabin is is definately unacceptable. Unless you can sleep through anything or intend to be well sedated when you go to bed, these are not the cabins for you! The vibration is in the range of several inches up and down. It is in no way suttle vibration that is felt in other parts of the ship.The extereme vibration ony manifests at lower ship crusing speeds. At faster cruising speeds, the vibration is insignificant. Unfortunately, on the Alaska cruise, the ship mostly cruises at the lower speeds.We complained and were somewhat begrudgingly given another lower category (cramped) stateroom. But it was far better than enduring the bumpy ride in a Jnr Suite.Otherwise, the cruise was satisfactory. Alaska is beautiful and helped make up for the disappointing cabin experience.      Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
First let me say I'm a fan of Royal Caribbean. Four cruises since December 2008. We were very disappointed to learn that there was no ice rink, no Royal Promenade and no specialty dining like there is on the voyager class ships. ... Read More
First let me say I'm a fan of Royal Caribbean. Four cruises since December 2008. We were very disappointed to learn that there was no ice rink, no Royal Promenade and no specialty dining like there is on the voyager class ships. We made reservations in May for the end of July cruise and requested early dining. The twins are 6 and the baby is 2 years old. We even called the special number for Crown and Anchor members to request early seating. When we got to the pier in Seattle there was an incredible line for security (where they took away 4 nice wines I had brought from home in Houston to enjoy on the cruise.) Oh well. Then we checked in and were given room keys saying late dining. The guy checking us in said we needed to change it on board. We knew that since this has happened several times over the last year with 6 other cruises on RCI. So we went immediately to the Maitre D' and he said that with 6 people he could do nothing and that the 'you time dining' option was full too. There was nothing he could do but put our names on his long list. I looked and we were about 20th on the list. Well, with the kids being on Houston time that would have meant dinner at 10:30 pm for two six year olds and a 2 year toddler. Unacceptable. So we decided to go down to the dining room at 6 pm and again plead our case. After 30 mins they found us a table right at the entrance because someone else no-showed dinner that night. We were told they would find us a table by tomorrow night but it would not be that table we had at the first night. No problem I thought as long as we were early dining. When we showed up the next night Rocky had us taken to table 105 on the 5th deck section of the dining room. As soon as we sat down with our drinks in hand we knew there was a problem. The table was shaking so bad that the water was bouncing around in the glasses. All of us were shaking like we had palsy. Of course we asked the waiter and the Head Waiter what the deal was. Oh, this section is known to shake like this but it wont be so bad tomorrow when we are in Juneau. But it was bad the next night too and we were tied up at the dock when we had dinner. The following day in Skagway we went to dinner and the ship's engines were off and that was the only time we had a comfortable meal. The food was mediocre and the service very slow. They advertised tenderloin form chops grille for an additional $15 but there was no chops grille on board? Of the seven dinners on the ship there were two OK and another acceptable. The rest were low quality. I will be revisiting Celebrity for the better food quality in the future. The cabins were OK but seemed to be a little smaller than on Mariner and Voyager. Before the cruise I had told the kids about the neat sliding shower doors on the Mariner. They are not on the Rhapsody. Also missed was the ease that a Royal Promenade gives to movement around a ship. Missed Johnny Rocket's too. The fitness center was a joke with all the elliptical machines facing a mirrored wall versus what you get on Voyager. There are only two high points for this cruise:- The friendliness of the crew and the incredible talent of the singers and dancers for the production shows. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
With temps in the upper 80s and low 90s, entertainment that rivaled Broadway, and impeccable service, who could ask for anything more? Not us.  Background: My husband and I are in our 50s; our son is 15 1/2.  We've taken one other ... Read More
With temps in the upper 80s and low 90s, entertainment that rivaled Broadway, and impeccable service, who could ask for anything more? Not us.  Background: My husband and I are in our 50s; our son is 15 1/2.  We've taken one other cruise... on RCI's Mariner of the Seas during spring break 2009. We reside in Oregon.Getting there: This trip was a breeze from the get-go. We hopped in our car Thursday night, July 2, and arrived in Seattle three hours later. After a comfortable stay at the reasonably-priced Comfort Inn just outside of Seattle (which offers AAA and senior discounts), we made our way to the pier at approximately 12:30 p.m. on July 3. The entire boarding process took one hour, and was extremely efficient and organized. Everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful. The horror stories we read about on this forum did not materialize in any way, shape, or form. We paid for parking in advance ($20/night) and it was safe and hassle-free.The ship: Rhapsody of the Seas is aesthetically pleasing, with the use of beige, turquoise, blue, and peach tones, and lots of rich wood. It's beautifully maintained. We constantly saw crew cleaning and polishing the public areas, and that even includes the slot machines in the casino (which, by the way, is smoke-free THANK YOU RCI!!!). Rhapsody of the Seas is an older ship that lacks alternative restaurants and an ice-skating rink, but honestly, it was irrelevant to us. Attentiveness by the crew and decent entertainment is so much more important to us, and this cruise delivered.Entertainment: All I can say is WOW. The Royal Caribbean singers and dancers on this particular ship were outstanding. The voices were as good as any I've heard on Broadway, and the dancing was tremendous. The guest acts were absolutely delightful. Bowzer of Grease fame kept us in stitches one night, and Glenn Smith, a multi-talented musician, was also excellent. On the final night we were entertained by a trio from Argentina that, well, you have to see to believe.  Cabin: Our stay was in an outside cabin on the third floor. Nice and quiet, with very little detectable boat movement (but then again, the waters were calm). The cabin was as clean as a whistle, thanks to Michael, our statement attendant. The hallways on the third floor have very old rock star pictures, including young Michael Jackson. I think the halls could probably do without these dated pictures. Dining, Main Restaurant: Early seating was unavailable, so we opted for Anytime Dining. The jury's out on whether we would do it again. I greatly enjoyed our regular tablemates on our March cruise. On this cruise, we were mostly seated by ourselves in the evening. This is not RCI's fault; we could have opted for the later seating but decided against it. Anytime Dining generally requires reservations, but if we showed up at 7:30 p.m. or later without reservations we were seated almost instantly. Kudos to maitre d' AJ, an extremely gracious host, for adeptly managing this trendy new shipboard featureone that has just GOT to be a horrible headache for restaurant staff on all ships that offer it. That having been said, I'm glad it's available. Dining, The Windjammer Cafe (the casual buffet): I, for one, happen to love the comfort food this venue provides. There is something for everyone; it's warm, fast, and we never had problems finding a seat.  And the views are breathtaking from this restaurant.Dining, Solarium Cafe: Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, French Fries, iced tea, lemonade, cookies and other desserts. This tiny, tucked-away venue way upstairs was open until the wee hours of the morning (generally 5 a.m.). It served a need.We didn't use room service.Children:  We traveled with our 15-year-old. We never saw him. It is very, very important that you encourage your teen to spend the first day (or evening) in the teen center. Cliques form almost instantly. We learned this tip from another poster on this forum, and I'm paying it forward. Our son had a terrific time. He likes to dance, so he really enjoyed the dance parties at the small teen disco. Curfew onboard this ship for his age is midnight, unless the teen is involved in a  program organized by the ship. I think that's fair. This ship doesn't have the amenities of the new megaships. It does have rock climbing and swimming, but in terms of ziplining or ice skating or bowling ... don't expect it here. That having been said, my son is already communicating with his new pals via facebook. That didn't happen after our March cruise. Ports: Juneau (cute little Alaskan town), Skagway (fun place!), Tracy Arm Fjord (magnificent), and Victoria (a jolt back into big city life). The port stops were carefully balanced and all were fun.  A tip: If you get up at 5 a.m. at Tracy Arm Fjord, expect to stand on deck for several hours before arriving at the glacier, itself. Props to the captain for navigating those icy, narrow straits.My husband did the helicopter ride in Juneau to Mendenhall Glacier, and he said it was fun. My son and I walked the streets and just enjoyed the sunshine. In Skagway we had a wonderful lunch at the Red Onion Saloon, complete with live ragtime music and singing (we were there at noon), and costumed waitresses dressed like hussies. My husband did the "$5 for 15 minutes" tour and said it was a riot (lots of double entendres).  At 3 p.m. that day we did the ship excursion called "To the Summit," and it was wonderful. I highly recommend this excursion. Try to take the last excursion of the day. You might get a little extra time, like we did. Tour guide Peter Lucchetti was superb.  In Victoria we simply walked around town, then took one of the tiny boats around the harbor. No advance reservations were necessary. Disembarking: Took one hour from when we arrived at the wait lounge in the ship until we found our car in the parking lot. Organized, efficient, no problems. We could have walked off the ship with our luggage at around 7:15 a.m., but it wasn't necessary. I think this is a WONDERFUL new feature for those with early flights.Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Guest Services Officers Itsuka Yamamura and Emily Mercer. These two ladies were a delight.  Itsuka helped me track down my son when I couldn't find him one evening. She exhibited the utmost professionalism and calm at a time when I needed it the most.  (Where was he? Hanging with his new pals.)In summary, this was a beautiful cruise.  We don't have a single complaint.  We will definitely cruise with Royal Caribbean again.  In fact, we're heading to Rhapsody's sister ship (Splendour of the Seas) next month, for a cruise from Venice to Croatia, Turkey, and Greece. I think we definitely have the cruising bug! Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
Background Information: My wife and I cruised on the Rhapsody of the Seas from July 24th to July 31st. We were a part of a group of people who were brought aboard by an art gallery. We have cruised before, but always in the Caribbean. We ... Read More
Background Information: My wife and I cruised on the Rhapsody of the Seas from July 24th to July 31st. We were a part of a group of people who were brought aboard by an art gallery. We have cruised before, but always in the Caribbean. We were on this same ship a few years ago when we cruised out of Galveston. Hotel Info: We flew into Seattle the day before the ship sailed and stayed in the Hyatt in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. From the name, I expected Bellevue to be a quiet community, but it was very urban, modern, and hip. There were condominiums, high-rise office buildings, and good restaurants. In the lobby, a piano and bass player who had been playing together for years gave us some great melodies to start our trip. For $200 a night, this was a great hotel! Travel to Port of Embarkation: We took a bus to the Pier 91 and had a smooth embarkation. The process was fast and organized. Signs were clearly posted to direct us. Stateroom: We were in cabin 7048, a balcony room on the port side near mid-ship. The room had a king size bed, adequate closet, desk, couch, coffee table, and end tables. The bathroom was a little bit small, and I wonder how large people can effectively shower. We brought 4 large suitcases plus 2 carry ons and were able to stash all but one under the bed! Ship Info: As others have stated, the Rhapsody is beginning to look dated. I heard that they refurbished the ship a couple of years ago, but it is showing signs of wear. They do seem to constantly be cleaning and maintaining it, though. While we were in port one day, they re-varnished all the wooden banisters on the balconies of our deck. The ship is easy to navigate. Although the ship was full, the ship didn't seem overrun with people. The only time we had to wait in line was to get off the boat at the ports. Otherwise, traffic flowed smoothly. Others have mentioned the vibration on this ship, and I did notice it. For us it was most noticeable in the dining room - to the point that the glasses vibrate. The people in some of the cabins at the back of the boat said that the vibration made it hard to sleep. We were on this ship a few years ago, and I seem to remember some vibrating then too. But I agree that this should not be a normal thing. I should also note that on the first few days at sea (between Seattle and Juneau) the seas were a little rough. We kept ourselves drugged with antinausea medication and were okay. The ride back to Seattle along the Inside Passage was much smoother. Dining: Food is a very individual thing, and it is definitely hard to make everyone happy. Overall, there was plenty of food that ranged from edible to very good, and a few dishes that I would rate as outstanding. We were never hungry, but the food was a little disappointing. In the dining room, 90% of the time the food was hot and tasted good. Occasionally there was a dish that was overcooked. I was very impressed that every time we ordered a steak or prime rib it was delivered as requested, and there was a notable difference in medium rare to medium cooking. I'm not sure how they manage to do that with so many different dishes being plated all at once. Although the steaks were cooked as ordered, the texture of the meat was sometimes tough and chewy (the steaks were medium rare to medium, not well done). The desserts at dinner sounded good but didn't live up to their descriptions. Our table's favorites were the ice cream and the fruit desserts. The Windjammer, which is the buffet area, was stocked with an impressive array of food. Most of this food was better than I expected, considering the massive amount of food variety they have out at any given time. The standout dishes for me were the Indian dishes (they had a different curry dish most days that were fabulous), the salad bar, the crisp hashbrowns in the morning (never got an old-tasting hash brown!) and the omelets. The desserts continued to disappoint, though - again, looking good but being quite tasteless. Overall, the buffet was a pleasant experience. Finally, we ate at the pizza bar in the Solarium. I love the ship pizza, as it is my comfort food before going to sleep (you can only do that for a week, though!). The pizza was hot, fresh, and tasty. In the past I think they had calzones too, but I didn't see any on this trip. Activities: Since the art gallery brought us aboard, we did spend many hours in art auctions, which we enjoyed. The ship did seem to have a lot of activities scheduled, and it was not a ship that shut down at 9pm. My wife enjoyed the scrapbooking sessions, and we spent several hours in the card room playing board games with our friends (the ship does provide some games, but if you want to be sure your favorites are available then bring them from home). It always seemed like there was something to do. One thing that I had hoped to find, but didn't, was a naturalist. We were in a part of the world that was very different from our home, and I would have liked to learn about the wildlife, the terrain, the glaciers, and so on. There was a guest lecturer on board but her topics were more historical. I'm not sure how popular these types of lectures are, and maybe other cruise lines offer more in this department. We spent a few hours in the casino playing blackjack. The dealers were friendly. We would have played craps, but the table wasn't open during the day. The casino is smoke free, which was a great thing! Kudos to Royal Caribbean for making that change! Service: The service ranged from average to very good. Our stateroom attendant, who had only been on a ship for 2 months, made us feel at home. He was very attentive and learned our names within the first few hours of the cruise. That impressed me! The service in the dining room was average, and it is the little things that were overlooked that made a difference. Sometimes salads were served and it would take a while before the dressing bowl would come to the table. The waiters often could not answer questions about the menu, and would simply read us back the description printed on the menu. Water was not regularly refilled. I think that they were trying but seemed stretched thin. I wonder if waiters have to handle more tables than before. The Rhapsody bills herself as the "friendliest ship on the seas," and I do believe that the staff lived up to this motto. Every time I was in eye contact with a staff member, they said hello or asked how I was doing - even the maintenance men and baggage handlers, who are usually "behind the scenes" staff. I continue to be impressed with the sacrifices these people make for their families and how hard they work. Although they do the same thing week after week, they made me feel like the experience was new and exciting for everyone. Entertainment: We went to a few of the shows, and the singing and production numbers were enjoyable. There is a ballroom dancing theme show, a country tribute show, and a tribute to piano players (Elton John, Billy Joel, etc.). We only saw one individual entertainer who did impressions. He was okay - some of his impressions were "right on," and others were so far off that if he had not told us who he was impersonating I would not have known. I left thinking, "not bad for a free show, but I would have been irritated if I'd paid for it." The lounge music was also enjoyable, and the classical music (piano and strings) were quite good. Ports: Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria discussed separately. Tracy Arm Fjord was a "port" as well, although not a port in the traditional sense of the word. A fjord is a body of water between 2 mountains, and we entered the fjord at 5AM (not to worry - it is light at 4:30AM so you can see where you are going!). At first it was just mountains on either side of us, and then these incredible waterfalls - probably hundreds of feet long - appeared. As we got further in, we began to see chunks of ice floating, and at this point the boat slows to a crawl. There are crew at the front of the boat to help monitor the ice, and there was quite a bit of turning to get around ice. Eventually we ended up at Sawyer Glacier. It was a 4 hour trip to get there, but unlike anything I've seen. I definitely recommend getting up to see it. Then the boat turns around and leaves the fjord. The sun reflecting off the ice in the water turned the ice the deepest shades of baby blue I've ever seen. Very cool! Apparently it is entirely dependent upon the ice field as to how far the ship can get in. I think we got lucky because we seemed pretty close. Disembarkation: A very smooth and orderly process. Baggage was waiting for us and was even grouped together by cabin! Summary: We had been looking forward to this trip for many months and were not disappointed! Although there were some areas that could have been improved (some food, some service, and some entertainment), we found plenty to do and were able to do as much as we wanted. I have never talked to anyone who regretted an Alaskan cruise, and would highly recommend the experience. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
A bit about us:  I am in my mid 40's and have sailed on a majority of the other cruise lines over the last 10 years.  I was traveling with my son who is 22 who has sailed a few times as well.   We make the most of our vacations ... Read More
A bit about us:  I am in my mid 40's and have sailed on a majority of the other cruise lines over the last 10 years.  I was traveling with my son who is 22 who has sailed a few times as well.   We make the most of our vacations and don't mind paying more to make the cruise fabulous - after all it is a vacation.   Arrival - VANCOUVER: We flew in the day of departure (around 11:00 am) - Immigration was very smooth and quick.   We decided to catch a cab to the cruise pier.  We went outside the airport after picking up our luggage and there were CABS - TOWN CARS - LIMOS and VANS all waiting passengers (EXTREMELY ORGANIZED) - we took a limo and asked the driver if he could give us a quick tour of Vancouver and take us to a few shops so that we could purchase some souvenirs before boarding the ship.   He gladly took us around town and to some shops downtown for some quick shopping.   I was amazed that he only charged us $55 for all of this.  I would recommend taking a limo or town car to the pier as it was only $15 dollars more than a cab but the limo had some added perks (we did not have to wait in the extremely long line to enter the pier with all of the cabs) we bypassed this long line and were dropped right off at the front.   Our driver was amazing and so willing to take us where we wanted that we tipped him $25 - so for a total of $80 we had our own private limo - some sightseeing and some shopping and still plenty of time left to board the ship prior to departure.   Let me also say that we had TONS of luggage (4 bags) and 2 carryon's.  Again, I highly recommend if you are flying in the day of departure to use the town car or limo service as they really expedited everything.  SHIP: The Radiance was a beautiful ship.   Very well maintained.  There were a couple of drawbacks - elevators are hard to come by.  They are in the centrum and there are 6 located in the centrum on each floor.   You had to really cram in them to get where you wanted to go because they were few are far between.  We learned to walk the stairs as much as possible.   That made for a lot of walking considering we were in an AFT cabin.   The dining room was amazing - as well as the Solarium - Windjammer - etc..... Really this ship is absolutely beautiful. CABIN: We were in an AFT cabin on deck 8.  I am a bit torn about this cabin.   It was an AFT which is usually wonderful because you can have loungers on your patio and spend a good amount of time on your own private balcony.   On this cruise we were told we are not allowed to have loungers on our balcony so - the balcony was really oversized for 2 people.   The stateroom was much smaller than I am used to.  We have sailed on 5 other cruise lines and this was by far the smallest actual cabin portion - balcony was great but actual stateroom was small.  I will add that it was smaller than anything we have stayed in but had far more cabinet-drawer space.  Royal Caribbean does a very nice job of using every square inch of space for storage - that was SUPER!!!!  FOOD: Main Dining Room:  The food was okay.  Nothing fabulous - nothing horrible.   The one thing that I noticed more than anything was the lack of variety.   If you wanted chicken you only had 1 choice of chicken and the same with steak - there was really only 1 choice, sometimes 2 - they always had the same side items.   Again, not complaining because it was far better than anything I can cook but I wish they had more of a variety. Pasta - chicken - steak.  If you like fish - you will love the menu as they had TONS of fish items everyday.  Windjammer:  Excellent variety - Hamburgers - hot dogs - pasta - Indian food - salads - pizza.  With this said, I wish they changed what items were in each area everyday as it did get old with the same items on each station daily.  DAILY ACTIVITIES ONBOARD: This area could use the most improvement - there was not much to do onboard ever.   I wish they offered some daily activities for someone in their mid 40's SERVICE: Service on this ship was good.   Not the best I have had but not the worst either.   I was really expecting exceptional service - food - entertainment while onboard since we paid more to sail on Royal Caribbean than other cruise lines in Alaska.  This cruise just seemed to lack the WOW factor that I am accustomed to on a cruise.    PORTS: WEATHER WAS HOT - 85 degrees the entire time except for Hubbard Glacier Ketchikan - we did a float plane - AMAZING!!!!!!! Juneau - Zipline - Fun Skagway - Just walked around town and shopped and had some wonderful food Icy Staight Pointe - again - just walked around and shopped and watched for whales all day (never saw any) Hubbard Glacier - we were able to get 300 yards from glacier - it was AMAZING Seward - Kenai Fjords tour - lunch - airport transfer - this was a great tour and a great way to travel to Anchorage to catch our flight home. If anyone has questions please feel free to ask and I will answer what I can.    Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
Overall a great cruise on the Radiance.  Went  with my mom and 14 year old twins. Main advice- This cruise is about seeing Alaska.  Think carefully about what shore excursions you will take.  It was very difficult picking excursions ... Read More
Overall a great cruise on the Radiance.  Went  with my mom and 14 year old twins. Main advice- This cruise is about seeing Alaska.  Think carefully about what shore excursions you will take.  It was very difficult picking excursions for this trip esp. since we didn't know what the weather would be! To really experience Alaska you need to get out of the ports.   Private excursions are vastly superior to ship excursions!  These extra excursions will add immensely to your enjoyment, but some of the most spectacular are very expensive.  You don't want to come home kicking yourself for missing a once and a life time opportunity nor do you want to come home having spent the money you really should have spent on something else. Overall I think we balanced this pretty well. Pre cruise- easy flights from Baltimore to Vancouver.   We booked the Pan Pacificdirectly through the hotel's web site for $154 a night including breakfast. We   arrived   at the Pan Pacific late afternoon on July lst, Canada Day.  We enjoyed the end of the large street festival celebration in Canada Place, and then took a long walk along the sea wall towards Stanley Park.  Returned to Pan Pacific and watched glorious fireworks from the pool roof deck. The next morning we headed to the North Shore by ferry and Bus. Spent   much of day on Grouse Mountain.  Wonderful    in good weather.  Next morning took Land/Sea City tour and enjoyed it.  Loved Vancouver esp. Granville Island and Stanley Park.  They took us directly to the ship at Ballytine pier. Embarkation - Easy Our Cabin- Nice but small. The balconies to our left were extended balconies.  The balconies to our right were standard size.  The left   half of our balcony was extended part was not. The Life boat overhang kept us from looking directly down at the water. This didn't really bother us.   The Ship- Lovely, very well maintained.  Many      classy   touches.  Great indoor solarium/pool. Glassed areas great for viewing Alaska. Elevators ridiculously slow.  Service - Very good Food- The greatest weakness in this trip was the dining room food at dinner. All of the cruise lines have cut back to 3 courses over the past few years. While you could order both soup and salad our wonderful waiter Oliver was so busy and had so many tables that I didn't want to make any extra work for him.  The soups, appetizers and deserts were tasty if nothing special. The entrees were very weak. lst night prime rib was pretty good but downhill after that.   The steaks were tough.  Very small portion of dried out salmon. The lobster tail wasn't bad for a frozen ship lobster, but again the portion was tiny.  I am not a big eater and rarely finish meals in restaurants. I had lunch in the dining room several days and enjoyed these more than the dinners.  The salad bar   at lunch was amazing- not to be missed.  The waiter prepares it individually for you.  There are all sorts of ingredients to select from including shrimp, asparagus etc.    The buffet food was good as was the Sea view cafe on deck 12. Entertainment- The production shows City of Dreams and Piano Man were very good. We also enjoyed the comedians and the Welcome Aboard and Farewell Shows. The best entertainment of all was watching the glorious scenery from the decks and our balcony! On ship activities-   We missed not having a naturalist on board.  Didn't really understand why they had a Canadian Mounty as a speaker.  Enjoyed      the professor who spoke on totem poles and glaciers.  Loved the backstage tour, esp. visiting the dressing room.  The digital camera presentation was terrible. We were kept waiting about a   half hour   because the crew had a training in the conference   room.  When we finally got in the room, there weren't enough chairs   for everyone to sit.  They spent another 15 min trying to get the power point to   project to the screen.  They were never successful.  The photographer had to hold up the projector to try to let people see!  Most people left before it was over.  Our Weather-  Wonderful! Sunny in the 80's most days. Not typical Alaska! Ports- Our reason for being on the cruise! Ketchikan- Took a tour with Kat of Ketchikan taxi tours.  Really enjoyed it. Went to Potlatch Totem Park, Totem Bight, walked through Rainforest, tasted salmon berries, Went on a bear hunt and saw a little black bear eating the lst salmon of the season. Saw numerous eagles.  I somewhat regret not also taking a float plane tour.  You can book tours at the dock when you get off the ship for less cost than ship tours.   Juneau- We took the shuttle out to Mendenhall Glacier. A great bargain for $14.00 person. You can hike around to the waterfall.   We took the tram up to Mount Roberts then hiked to the top. Really enjoyed this.  Glorious views.  We had a perfect clear day.  Walked around town, checked out the Red Dog Saloon. Very touristy, but fun. If you have your heart set on a glacier helicopter/dog sled ride you can book this with Costal Helicopter or several other vendors' right at the dock for around   $400 instead of paying over $500 from the ship.  Don't delay; they were   sold out for the day by about 9:30.  Skagway- Went up to Emerald   Lake with Dyea Dave's friend Howard. Dave was full so he sent us with Howard.   Howard runs ALCAN MYWAY Tours and takes only 4 people in his SUV. What a great day and a bargain at $60 per person for a 7 hour tour. Howard is a retired engineer who wants to show you Alaska/Canada "MY Way"   He is definitely a rugged individualist.  We met   up with Dyea Dave at lunch and he was great!   I am very, very, glad we didn't rent a car. The scenery would have been too distracting!  After getting back to Skagway we walked around town.   We headed right   to the visitors center to pick up tickets for the National Park Service free walking tour. Very worthwhile! Icy Straight Point:  Went whale watching with TECCK outfitters. They take 6 but that day it was just the four of us. Went  with Sean and Dirk on the Corvina.  These guys are "whale behaviorists " who spend the summer in Alaska and the winter in Hawaii studying whales. They took us to a spot where they hoped to find whales bubble  feeding. When we weren't successful, they took us to another spot and kept us out longer at no extra charge! Saw lots of whales, but none breeched. Saw other wildlife too including a sea otter!  TECCK may be a few dollars more than their competitor but we think our money was well spent.    Hubbard Glacier - Wow!  Well worth getting up at 5 AM for! Captain said we got within 375 feet.   The record is 300 feet.  We didn't see a lot   of calving though.  We watched from Deck 12, crowded but manageable. . Dress in layers and wear a hat and gloves. Even if you think you don't need them at first it gets pretty cold after standing outside for several hours.   If you don't mind viewing through glass any of the inside lounges on the top 3 floors are great viewing areas.  Kenai Fjords -  Rather than booking on our own we went with a combined excursion transfer to Anchorage Airport. The advantage was minimizing hassles with luggage and concerns about making the airplane on time. The disadvantage-  We were off the ship by 9 AM and had 3 hours to kill  "shopping" before the cruise.   We didn't know this ahead of time but it turned out that we were able to go to the Sea Life Center in Seward before our Cruise. This is a small aquarium that certainly doesn't have the "WOW" factor of the Baltimore or Boston Aquariums, but turned out to be very enjoyable and gave us a lot of background on the wildlife we would see.  The cruise was the 5 hour Resurrection bay cruise.  We saw an abundance of wildlife including breeching Whales that looked like they were putting on a show in Sea World. Amazing!  Very enjoyable.  The prime rib/salmon meal   was excellent! Our ship excursion transfer was on the public Park Connection Bus.  The drive to Anchorage was magnificent.  I somewhat regret not spending the night in Seward and renting a car to drive to Anchorage stopping for the many sights on the way.    The highway was good and this drive seemed very manageable   to me. Flight Home - easy A sobering end to our trip- We   flew into Regan National as it was cheaper than going to BWI.This is highly unusual! We booked a shared ride home to Baltimore.  We shared our van with a family whose son in law was wounded badly in Iraq and was being treated at Walter Reed Medical Center.  This brave young man lost his leg while defending our country.  Driving through Walter Reed Grounds was a sobering sight in deed and made us very, very grateful for all we have and the cost some people pay to keep our beautiful land free. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
FLIGHT TO PORT OF EMBARKATION AND EMBARKATION All was well at the start of our adventure except that to avoid any potential problems, after departing Redlands, CA at 2:15 a.m. and dropping off our car at Wally Park and taking its tram ... Read More
FLIGHT TO PORT OF EMBARKATION AND EMBARKATION All was well at the start of our adventure except that to avoid any potential problems, after departing Redlands, CA at 2:15 a.m. and dropping off our car at Wally Park and taking its tram to Terminal 2, we arrived at LAX at 3:30 a.m., and the flight was not scheduled to leave until 8:40 a.m. Better early than late! But the wait was compounded by a broken water main at the terminal that caused all water to be shut off the entire morning. No potable water was available except at Starbucks, and no restroom facilities were open at two terminals except for 2 portable toilets that had been placed on the street outside Terminal 2. That was fine prior to going through security screening, but once at the boarding gate it was a five-hour wait to board the plane, and 2 more after that before any further relief could be obtained. Until then, we focused on other things. The direct flight from Los Angeles to Vancouver on Alaska Airlines, arranged by Royal Caribbean departed on time, was smooth throughout, and arrived in Vancouver a few minutes early. At the airport, our checked baggage went one way, and we another. We were told that cruise line representatives would pick up our luggage and put our checked bags on the ship. But there was no way of verifying that they had arrived with us. "But what if they never got on the airplane at all?" I asked a young Canadian customs agent, who quickly replied, "Oh, the cruise line is very good at tracking bags!" We were led to a large elevator that deposited us in a large room where cruise line representatives were present to herd us on waiting buses. But first we had to fill out a surprise public health sheet vouching that we had not coughed or vomited within the past 7 days. This was not an impediment for us, but I shudder to think about those passengers who have been recently ill, get to this point, admit to a recent poor physical condition, are sent for an examination by a cruise doctor, and can then be blocked from entry to the ship. It would seem a better and more economical time to deal with this issue would be prior to boarding a plane for passage to another country! It seems that swine flu currently looms large in the eyes of cruise line and public health administrators. Embarkation was ultra smooth and efficient. we were dropped off by the ship and quickly channeled onto winding ramps, at the top of which we went through a metal detector, handed in our public health form, were photographed, and were handed a plastic seapass, which would be our room key and boarding pass for the duration of the cruise. The only difficulty was ascending with two stuffed carry-ons apiece up three ascending ramps to the ship. But, exiting the cruise line bus to boarding the ship took only a matter of about 15 minutes. Very impressive! We dropped off our carry-ons in our assigned stateroom (where we had been upgraded from a deluxe outside cabin to a balcony stateroom to our great pleasure) without incident, and moved to the Windjammer Cafe for an eagerly anticipated lunch. I had only been mildly reassured by the customs agent about our luggage, and was even less assured 6 hours later aboard ship when only 1 of our 3 checked bags had reached our stateroom. But our room steward Xavier saved the day after he introduced himself and I reported this problem to him. He said that he knew some undelivered bags were still in the hold below, and he would check on this right away. Thirty minutes later, I heard a knock on the door, opened it, and Xavier was standing there, smiling, with our two missing bags in tow. He said that something about one of the bags raised concern (probably a chain-metal suitbag hanger), and the two suitcases had not been opened aboard ship but had been x-rayed by ship's security before being released. At this point I felt like Xavier had already earned the cruise line's recommended gratuity even if he did nothing further for us the rest of the cruise! DAY 1 CRUISING OUT OF VANCOUVER Dining at Windjammer Cafe presented us with a fine array of dishes, including spaghetti Bolognese, pepperoni pizza, potato leek soup, chicken and golden syrup soup, components for a complex salad, and excellent french fries. Passed by this day were penne pasta and Arrabatta sauce, grilled Nathan's hot dogs and cooked sauerkraut on buns, cheeseburgers on buns cooked medium well with a slice of not very well melted American cheese, tasty-looking deli sandwiches, a vegetarian and Indian cuisine section, and carved beef and pork. A strawberry-topped moist brownie topped off the excellent repast. A fine rock band outside by the main pool near the ship's bow provided a fitting sendoff as Radiance of the Seas left Vancouver Harbour and narrowly slid under Harbour Bridge. The ship left just a few minutes later than scheduled (about 5:00 p.m.), which was about 3 hours after we had boarded it. The weather was fair and the clouds clear. Much promise was in the air. Our initial dinner in Cascades Dining Room was very good, beginning with an interesting hot and sour soup, salad with choice of dressings, and a moist and tasty salmon filet resting on a bed of high-quality Chinese peapods, and served with a perfectly baked potato. Initially, special requests like chives met with some resistance from our server Norbert. But he said he would try, and always came through in the end. The only food items I didn't get that I would have liked were lobster tail with drawn butter and King crab legs with the same. Occasionally, a lack of knowledge of use of some food ingredients was revealed, as when our assistant server Leticia asked whether I wanted the chives ladled onto my salmon. After declining this offer, I opened my baked potato with a knife and asked her to spoon the chives there instead. I then added butter and declined sour cream. The food was very hot, and portions were generous. An unusual blueberry and peach cobbler completed a nice evening repast. I began this cruise hoping for a fine dining experience but having some trepidation based on the amount of cost-cutting complaints on food I had read about in recent Cruise Critic reviews regarding almost all ships. In retrospect, I have to say that there was nothing I ate aboard ship that I didn't like. Of the many items I sampled, the cuisine was uniformly excellent and tasty. And, a few unique items were extremely memorable (more on this later). The Welcome Aboard Show was very good, with a superb performance by Los Diablos Gauchos, who sometimes perform in Las Vegas. Here again, I hoped for excellent entertainment but feared the worst, based on other reviews I had read about the level of entertainment on Royal Caribbean cruises. Perhaps Royal Caribbean has raised the bar since reading complaints about the quality of entertainment aboard ship. All I can say is that the entertainment was first-rate at every level; the singers had great voices; dancers were impressive; musicians were great; David Curtis was the best pianist and singer I have heard at a piano bar; and the entertainment was the best overall that I have experienced in six cruising experiences. I live in Las Vegas, and the sets for some of the shows like "Piano Man" equaled sets found in major Vegas showrooms. Entertainment was 5+, and the word got out. For, later shows were standing room only in the Aurora Theatre. DAY 2 AT SEA Today featured a Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle with good company and good appetizers sponsored by RCCL. The event had to be held in the Schooner Bar because the Odyssey Room and Centrum staircase had been flooded by a broken pipe that burst just a few hours before the ship sailed out of Vancouver. Because of this and a closed staircase, it was difficult to navigate around the ship by foot. Exacerbating this problem were elevators that seemed to have a mind of their own. They would miss floors calling for them, go to unsought destinations, or let passengers inside and then refuse to move. Lunch today at the Seaview Cafe consisted of good New England clam chowder soup, a fairly good cabbage soup (I often opted to eat multiple offerings that showed promise), and very good chunks of fish and chips. The portions were ample, and the food very hot. And, here, cheeseburgers had really melted American cheese. Tartar sauce was excellent but the only vinegar on hand was balsamic vinegar. A request for malt vinegar was met with an expression of puzzlement and a proffered bottle of balsamic vinegar. Drizzled over the chunks of cod it tasted better than no vinegar at all. But it does not seem unreasonable to expect malt vinegar to be available with fish and chips. The solarium and its Thermal Suiteobtained on a special couple's plan offering for unlimited use for the duration of the cruise for $159were great, and well worth the extra expense. Included were a robe, locker key, and unlimited use of sea-view thermal lounges, a sea-view steam room, dry sauna, sea-view aromatic room, nearby spas, refreshing warm tropical showers, and icy drench showers that ejected thin crystals of ice and were fun to experience. Only the aromatic room was not very aromatic at the time of my visits, which turned out to be every day but one of the cruise. Ceramic benches in the coed steam room were even more palliative to sore muscles than the thermal lounges just outside. The solarium spa was rejuvenating although often overcrowded. The saltwater pool was refreshing, and warm showers nearby were a nice touch. The solarium's retractable roof kept the light rain of the day at bay. Dinner this evening in the Cascades Dining Room was delightful, a half notch above the previous day's tasty offerings. A bed of escargot with 6 snails covered by a tasty coating in sunken recesses of a plate began the repast. Lobster bisque was very good but pureed so that no chunks of lobster were present. Caesar salad was good. And, filet of beef with peppercorn sauce was medium rare as ordered, and well sauced with just a hint of pepper. Garlic mashed potatoes were very pleasing to the palate. Accompanying asparagus and mushrooms enhanced the dining experience. A little resistance at first a day before to providing Bearnaise sauce for my wife Diane's slices of beef this time gave way to production of the classic enhancer of meat's flavoring upon request, without protest. And, the sauce was very good indeed. After initially seeking classical sauces myself, I decided to instead take a new tack and try the offerings of the day without alteration, and was not disappointed with the tasty peppercorn sauce. I learned that it is good to sometimes take a chance and savor new, less traditional offerings of a ship's cuisine. Where better to experiment with food than on a cruise? It soon also became clear that if a food item was not liked, the head waiter stood ready to replace it with another selection. Delicious hot chocolate was secured from the other end of the ship in a glass for my wife, and additional desserts were offered for the second straight day. Decaf was strong and good, and Grand Marnier souffle and Cherries Jubilee with vanilla ice cream were both very tasty. A note on our table-mates: It was the most harmonious table I have experienced at sea thus far. Retired police detective Ron and teacher Linda were from Illinois, and dental school administrator Steve and accountant Sheila hailed from California. Steve and Sheila had requested a new table after being initially placed with a large family that spoke no English at the table. Steve and Sheila did not know what language was being spokenjust that it was not English. So, they wound up with us only because we were an English-speaking foursome. I have preferred tables of 6 to tables of 4, because by the law of averages there is a greater chance of getting along well with at least one couple, and I imagine that just 2 couples at a table of 4 who find they have nothing in common could make for an unpleasant experience. This day ended with a superb show in the Aurora Theatre called "Piano Man" that was presented with three fine piano players, four excellent lead singers, good dancers, luxurious and colorful costumes, and eye-popping sets with very innovative lighting effects. DAY 3 Ketchikan In Ketchikan, we left the ship early to go on the Duck Tour, followed by The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. On our return, we tried lunch in the Cascades Dining Room, and were not disappointed. I probably ate more than I should have. A salad with a choice of about 20 ingredients, including shrimp and grilled eggplant, and about six dressings, made by a dining room food service worker, could easily have been an entree. But I pressed on. Vegetable broth was tasty, followed by ziti tossed in a tomato-based sauce with tomatoes, ham, and peppers, and B-29, a muffin-like confection with a chocolate center. Banter at our table with four members of the Widows Club of Augusta, Georgia and a few other fellow passengers was very convivial and enjoyable. More steam rooming, spaing, and reclining on a thermal lounge inside the ship's Thermal Suite ensued to knock off water weight before dinner. This time neither the aromatherapy room or the dry sauna was "on". A dinner at the ship's specialty restaurant Portofino was memorable and worthy of praise. Service by lead waiter Oscar Perez of Peru was impeccable, and most dishes sampled, like starter Risotto al Gamberetti, large tiger shrimps sauteed with fresh herbs, on a bed of creamy and satiny saffron risotto, were delectable. Zuppa Gran Farro, traditional Tuscan bean soup with barley pearls and garlic, was very good and a different take on traditional pasta fagioli. Insalata Alla Cesare, romaine lettuce with herb croutons, shaved Parmesan, and traditional dressing, prepared a la minute, was also very good. Pappardelle Mante Cate con Crema al Mascarpone, Funghi Arrosto E Timo, ribbon pasta with roasted mushrooms and fresh thyme lightly tossed in a mascarpone cream sauce, was heavenly. Saltimbocca Alla Romana, thinly sliced veal wrapped with fresh sage and proscuitto, pan fried with porcini mushroom risotto and Marsala jus was excellent, with the mushroom flavoring clearly evident but subtle. Slices of veal were tender and devoid of fat. Marsala jus was a bit thin but tasty. We ordered and received more. The only downside was a crotini that was a bit burned. Dinner at Portofino in every way supported its admiring reviewsand was worth every penny of the $20 per-person surcharge. Risotto al Gamberetti and Pappardelle Mante Cate con Crema al Mascarpone, Funghi Arrosto E Timo were two of the finest dishes I have had the pleasure of eating. Dinner was advertised as a 2-hour affair but it took 2-1/2 hours for us. So, we missed half of the excellent live tribute to the Beatles by Revolution. But, the half we saw, too, was well worth our time. The only discordant note regarding the evening entertainment was Casino Royale's electronic money counter short-changing me 75 cents. I had just stacked into dollar amounts and hand-counted the coins in my tray prior to leaving for the cashier, and they were 24 quarters. Then, after handing my small bucket of coins to the casino cashier, and watching her toss the money into a bin for counting, the machine registered only 21 quarters. I was too shocked to point out the discrepancy, and couldn't figure out how to prove it anyway, since all evidence had gone down a metal drain into a bag to mix with other coins. So, I accepted the $5.25 without comment. The amount of difference was small, but I lost confidence in the ship's casino and did not play slots there again. DAY 4 JUNEAU Breakfast today was a fine repast of scrambled eggs with ham, hash browns, fried potatoes, sausage, bacon, and OJ at Windjammer Cafe. Much of the day was spent in pouring rain on the float trip excursion in Juneau. Upon our return, the solarium's Thermal Suite was running both steam room and sauna today, and in addition to reclining on a thermal lounge and soaking in a spa outside, this was a good way to relax and ease sore muscles after a rugged excursion (or sustained shopping). Dinner tonight at the Cascades Dining Room consisted of a robust tomato and beef ragu soup, a tasty Asian salad, moist planked salmon with baked potato, butter, and chives, and a delicious rhubarb pie ala mode. The Variety Show in the Aurora Theatre this evening starring singer Matt Clark and comedian Steve Smith was excellent as usual, and entertaining. Afterwards, pianist David Curtis's Billy Joel and Elton John tribute at the piano bar inside the Schooner Bar was first-rate and standing room only. The only discordant note was ordering a Coca-Cola from a waiter who set down a napkin but never returned with the ordered drink. DAY 5 SKAGWAY Today I gobbled down a lunch of a grilled Nathan's hot dog and sauerkraut on a bun, french fries, spaghetti Bolognese, and a slice of cheesy pepperoni pizza in Windjammer Cafe. For, we had a train ride to catch. Dinner this evening was a tomato-based minestrone soup, Caesar salad, vegetarian chili, chicken Marsala with asparagus spears, and chocolate cake ala mode. The chicken Marsala and the chili were very good, although I decided after this filling meal that from now on just one entree would suffice; all else was excellent. Judy Kolba put on a funny and entertaining show in the Aurora Theatre, which is large and comfortable with good sight lines except for those who are seated behind pillars. Someone unknown ripped off my Cruise Critic magnet on my stateroom door, which had held. With good foresight, I had ordered two identical magnets and left one at home, so the loss was minimal although a bit aggravating at the time. On future cruises I no longer plan to so mark my room. DAY 6 ICY STRAIT POINT This was a memorable day. We left the ship by tender to Icy Strait Point and had very good halibut fish and chips at Cook House Restaurant on the dock before we left by bus on a wildlife and bear search excursion. Coming back by tender at least four whales breached, waved their tails, and frolicked around us, and I took some memorable photos with my telephoto lens. The antics of the whales went on for over an hour, and became the focus of most aboard. Dinner this evening was at Radiance of the Seas' other signature restaurant, Chops Grille. I dined on a great Beef Tenderloin and Eggplant Tower, crab cake, shrimp cocktail, great Onion Soup Gratinee w/ Gruyere cheese, Chops' Signature Cobb salad, a 10-oz. filet with excellent Bearnaise sauce and both a good baked potato with drawn butter and chives, outstanding rosti potatoes, and excellent crimini mushrooms and asparagus. In this dinner shared with two friends we met on the Cruise Critic message boards before the cruise, Craig (Sinbad) and Denise, we pulled no punches, and savored as much food as we could handle. We ended with a large slice of a great chocolate mud pie and a very good apple pie with caramel sauce. Renato was a fine waiter. We each enjoyed this meal enormously. I only regret that we could not get surf and turf at such a fine steakhouse. Renato opined that Chops' shrimp was better than the lobster tail served one time in Cascades Dining Room (which we missed), and, from what we later heard by our main table mates, I dare say he was probably correct. Once all cruise food was of the greatest quality and size, but now it is clear that the best and biggest cuts are reserved for the specialty restaurants where a premium is paid to savor them. As with our experience at Portofino, dining at Chops was also well worth the $25 per-person premium. But the food of Radiance of the Seas was still excellent everywhere else I sampled it, too. Because our expansive dinner at Chops also took 2-1/2 hours to complete, we only saw one-half of this night's "City of Dreams" production. What we saw was very lavish and entertaining. We would have liked to have seen the remainder of the show. This became a constant refrain. We would have liked to do many things offered aboard that we never got around to try. For, there was only so much time. We heard a shopping presentation that seemed more aimed at getting people to frequent certain shops ashore who had paid a promotional fee to the cruise line for the endorsement, but missed several interesting sounding lectures and culinary demonstrations. We visited various musical venues late at night but three musical events commonly occurred simultaneously. So, one could not be everywhere. We never played pool or miniature golf aboard ship, and my wife never tried to climb the rock wall she had planned to ascend prior to our departure. But, I'd rather have too much of a good thing available than not enough. So, this is not a complaintjust an observation. DAY 7 CRUISING BY HUBBARD GLACIER This day began very earlyin front of the eerily beautiful Hubbard Glacier. Our captain, Claus Andersen, outdid himself, bringing the ship within 35 yards of the glacier. This is where our balcony really paid off. We jumped out of bed, quickly clothed ourselves, donned sweaters, and with long camera lenses and binoculars enjoyed and memorialized our views of the majestic, icy blue, calving glacier. We ate lunch in the Seaview Cafe again today, this time for me a bowl of clam chowder, a generous-sized tuna melt, fries, a moist brownie, and Coca-Cola. This was followed by a lengthy stay in the Thermal Suite and the Solarium spa. Heavier seas than usual caused water to come flying out of the swimming pool. Aiming spouts of water at my shoulders, I turned the saltwater pool into a makeshift hydrotherapy aquaspa. Dinner in the Cascades Dining Room included shrimp cocktail with good Royal cocktail sauce, Caesar salad served family style, turkey and mashed potatoes with fine brown gravy, tender brussels sprouts, cranberries, and key lime pie. The Farewell Variety Show in the Aurora Theatre starring comedian Steve Smith and singer Melissa McLaughlin was again excellent. Nostalgia gripped the audience, for we would all soon be leaving our comfortable sea lodgings. The officers walking on stage and the captain personally wishing each of us safe passage back as we left the theatre were nice touches. We hung on to the night as long as possible, going to the Colony Club to enjoy a Jazz Cabaret and further song stylings by Melissa McLaughlin and Matt Clark backed by the Radiance of the Seas Orchestra. It was a nice ending to a great cruise. DEBARKATION DAY 8 We arose very early, had no time for breakfast, and met at the Aurora Theatre as directed before 6:15 a.m. Less than 15 minutes later we were ushered with our carry-ons off the ship, down ramps, and into a waiting coach for our 3-day Cruisetour #5 to Denali and Fairbanks. No customs formalities to surmount, and no hassles. The efficiency of the operations of this cruisetour was just as impressive as that of embarkation and debarkation. Porters moved luggage in the night, and it was in our rooms when we arrived by coach. Our lodge room keys were handed to us by the cruise tour operator as we dismounted the bus at a new lodge. We were let off in Anchorage for 1-1/2 hours to explore the city a bit and have lunch on our own. We ate in Rumrunners Olde Towne Bar & Grill, where we enjoyed excellent potato skins, and a good french dip sandwith with excellent au jus and french fries. This $70 meal was gobbled down in less than 30 minutes so we could meet our bus at the appointed time. Then we passed through Wasilla, where Sarah Palin was once mayor, and moved on to Miller's ice cream emporium. From here we continued on to Denali, and by early evening reached McKinley Village Lodge. Here we dined at the lodge's Gold Dust Room, where I ate an excellent Caesar salad with a very good Gold Nugget Meatloaf and mashed potatoes and gravy. Following this, we were picked up at the lodge at 9:00 p.m. for an optional excursion, the best of our trip, hosted by Denali ATV. From 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., in complete daylight in Alaska's midnight sun, my wife and I, led only by our private excursion guide, rode up and down rock-strewn ravines, washes, and hills, and ran into a towering female moose and her two calves leaving a forested area to enter a clearing. I was a little recklessly wearing my camera with standard lens around my neck as I drove. But, it paid off. We dismounted our ATVs, and I took some memorable photographs of wildlife in their natural habitat. A few times it felt like my 4-wheeled ATV might overturn, but it never happened. And, the close calls just made the experience more thrilling. It was my first time on an ATV, but it will not be my last! At the conclusion of our excursion we were driven home by van, and then quickly packed our bags and went to bed to be ready for the next day to be primarily spent inside Denali National Park and Preserve. DAY 9 DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE/FAIRBANKS The Denali National History Tour was excellent. We had a Ph.D. biologist as our guide, and I am pleased to report that the cramped school buses have been replaced by slightly larger buses that have comfortable seats and whose upper windows can be lowered to take photographs without having to shoot through glass. Although we were told that a bear has only been sighted during this abbreviated tour about every 65 days and the clouds surrounding Mt. McKinley (Denali) only part about every 30 days, my tour group had the luck of having both events occur at the same time. On one side of the bus a 400-pound grizzly bear suddenly appeared and stayed for about 5 minutes foraging for berries, and at the same time the sky cleared on the other side of our bus, and Mr. McKinley was revealed in all of its over 20,000-foot white-peaked majesty. Camera shutters briskly captured both phenomena. And, later we stopped at a clearing and were able to see and photograph Mt. McKinley from outside the bus. We also saw a snowshoe hare, a squirrel, seagulls, ptarmigans, and other creatures. The historic movie presentation about Denali at the visitor's center was excellent, guides' narrations were interesting, and the ham and cheese sandwich and chips box lunch supplied by the McKinley Village Lodge for the bus tour was a very welcome carry-on as serious hunger quickly arrived. We eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Wilderness Express. When it arrived at Denali Station, we were escorted onto the train by our Royal Celebrity tour director without needing a ticket, climbed a few spiraling stairs, and sank into our leather seats in our impressive double-decker dome car. From here we had a great panorama below us as the train departed the station northbound for Fairbanks. Soon we were invited to descend to the dining car, where we enjoyed an excellent meal. The advertising literature praised the dining aboard the Wilderness Express, and I can report that these accounts were not exaggerated. Besides being seated in a fine dining car reminiscent of train parlor cars of old in the United States, behind a white-linen tablecloth and china-filled table, the cuisine was of gourmet quality. We enjoyed an ample shrimp cocktail, tasty crab bisque soup, fine chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese, rice pilaf and green beans, and a fancy and delicious strawberry treat with vanilla ice cream for dessert. The dinner for two cost $75 but was worth the price. We were probably in the dining room for 1-1/2 hours, and then went back upstairs. The train moved along at a moderate rate of speed. The only blight on the skies was smoke from two nearby wildland fires that had erupted a day before and together had already charred thousands of acres. We arrived in Fairbanks in the early evening, were met at the train station by our coach, and entered it for a short ride for our new accommodations at Pike's Waterfront Lodge. The name was not a misnomer. We were generously assigned a deluxe room with a king bed and a balcony overlooking the Chena River where the sun still shined until at least 2:00 a.m. Diane and I enjoyed just standing on the balcony for a few minutes and viewing waterfowl on the reflecting water below. DAY 10 FAIRBANKS The last full day of our cruisetour was jam-packed with activities. We were first bused to the El Dorado Gold Mine where we boarded the El Dorado Express and were serenaded by a Johnny Cash impressionist as the train moved deeper into the mine property. While I was not really looking forward to panning for gold, and did a lousy job at it, the activity was much more interesting and enjoyable than I anticipated. With help Diane retrieved $12 worth of gold, while on my own I recovered a whopping 30 cents worthprobably a record low! We then reboarded the bus and were dropped off in downtown Fairbanks for lunch. We had good potstickers and an undistinguished individual pepperoni pizza and root beer at a hotel restaurant but were able to view a Duct Tape Boat Parade wending its way down the river as part of Gold Rush Days Festival activities. It was fun to watch and photograph the colorfully decorated watercraft and their occupants engage with each other. The bus arrived and took our group to a segment of the Alaska Pipeline, where we were allowed to get off for a much closer view. I considered this diversion a welcome bonus, because it was not listed as part of our scheduled cruisetour activities. Then we continued on to a pier, where we soon boarded the sternwheeler steamboat Riverboat Discovery III. Here again, we were treated to a variety of experiences. Besides enjoying the sights ashorechiefly interesting custom homesa bush plane took off and flew right next to the boat; we saw a team of sled dogs quickly haul an ATV with driver aboard on dry land; and we disembarked at the Chena Indian Village where we were able to view wood and sod-covered cabins and hear historic information about the Athabascan Indian culture, before boarding again for more sightseeing and free samples of salmon. Bused back to the lodge, we freshened up and returned to the lobby for our planned excursion to the Alaska Salmon Bake in Fairbanks. The salmon, halibut, and other edibles were all moist and excellent, and it was "all you care to eat." So, we had a veritable feast at the Salmon Bake. Bees hovered near us but did no damage, yet after seeing some large pieces of ash from the still raging wildfires fall from the sky, and considering our impending 3:00 a.m. departure from the lodge, we decided to go back to the lodge at about 8:00 p.m. Here we packed, weighed bags on the lodge's scale (a helpful touch), threw out a few items like aloe vera, and repacked until we made the airline's weight limit for checked luggage. I put the luggage out at 12:30 a.m., and we retrieved it at the airport after our bus transfer there less than 3 hours later. DAY 11 HOMEWARD BOUND TO LAX Our plane left for Seattle at 6:00 a.m. as scheduled and arrived about 15 minutes early. So, we had sufficient time to make our connection, and our second flight also departed on time for Los Angeles, and we were happy to see that all three of our checked bags were there to greet us at baggage claim. We lugged (mostly kicked) them and our carry-ons to the curb just outside, and soon hailed a Wally Park van. By 4:00 p.m. we were outside the environs of LA, headed for home after the conclusion of a great and seamless cruise and cruisetour. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
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