Overall, it was a good cruise. Alaska is very beautiful, and I'm glad we had this experience (I'm a Caribbean girl, so it was nice to come back home to the heat after a week of chill and rain, but Alaska is very striking). I ... Read More
Overall, it was a good cruise. Alaska is very beautiful, and I'm glad we had this experience (I'm a Caribbean girl, so it was nice to come back home to the heat after a week of chill and rain, but Alaska is very striking). I love cruising, and I love RCI; I honestly think it is the only way to go if you want to stay in a beautiful hotel that takes you from one wonderful place to another.
I had no idea that Alaska would be so mountainous and green. It rained most of the week while we were there, but apparently, that is typical, since the areas that we were visiting were in the middle of a rain forest (I had no idea!). Seeing the Hubbard glacier was pretty awesome, but it was over and done with rather quickly - I would estimate we were actually going around in the bay for only about an hour. If you happened to oversleep, you would have missed it. Our temperatures were mostly in the low to mid 60's (though in the previous weeks it was mostly rain-free and warmer). We didn't need our gloves, but you really should bring waterPROOF clothing; water resistant clothing is insufficient because the rain will eventually soak through, and you will be miserable. Be prepared for wet hair if you go on any of the tours.
I usually take notes while we are on the cruise of things we like and things we don't so that I can remember them. Here goes:
We stayed at the Fairbanks Hotel at the Vancouver airport the night before. The room was expensive, but nice. The food prices at the hotel restaurant were astronomical (a family of three could easily spend $100 on breakfast). And, if you touched anything in the courtesy bar, you were charged for it (literally, if you picked it up, a sensor automatically added it to your bill). Fortunately, we had a discount off the prices because of the exchange rate, Canadian to U.S. dollars, and we weren't charged for the courtesy bar items (since we hadn't actually consumed them; we just looked at them). They also didn't charge us for a steak that my husband ordered that came out cooked less thoroughly than he would have liked, even after he'd sent it back.
We had no instructions regarding where to meet the RCI staff for the transport in the morning, and it took several tries before we found someone at the hotel who could direct us. This was surprising, considering that this was the only airport hotel and it's hard to believe no one else ever stayed there before a cruise. I do think that was RCI's responsibility, not the hotel's, and it was fortunate that we found the one bellman who knew the answer to the question in the morning.
There were no scheduled boarding times for this cruise (as there are for the Caribbean cruises). This resulted in a longer wait time for boarding than on our last cruise, but it was more annoying than awful. We probably waited about 15 minutes to before we were able to get to an agent.
At some point in our boarding process, someone handed me a coupon book (not a cruise-sponsored coupon book). I'm glad I accepted it, because there were some great deals inside, and we used it a lot!
We couldn't hear the announcements over the speaker at our muster station. If you can't hear the emergency instructions, I'm not sure what the point of the drill is.
We loved having one quick round of Bingo on the first night, and we always love the opportunity to win a free cruise on the last day. I'm not sure why they only offer paper cards. On every other cruise, we had the option to use the machines for Bingo.
We loved that our room was ready for us at the time we boarded. I think this was the fastest that our suitcases arrived - ever.
We are grateful to the maintenance person who helped my husband get a TSA lock off of his suitcase so that we didn't have to do something that would have ruined the suitcase (it was malfunctioning for some reason - perhaps damaged during transit), and we were also grateful to the maintenance person who helped me get back into our safe when I put the wrong number in too many times. On both occasions, they were there within five minutes and very nice.
We absolutely loved our cabin attendant (Darwin) and our waitstaff (Rodlee and Karen). I gave them all 10s on the survey - and they earned it.
There seemed to be less flexibility for My Time dining than on a larger ship, and it was hard to get through sometimes. We received a message that we could request automatic call back during busy times - however, it's not optional as the message suggests. If you don't select automatic callback, the phone will disconnect and you have to call again.
All of the waiters use rolling carts to bring out entrees at dinner. For some reason, our usual table seemed to be near where they tended to pile up. I had to move one to exit my seat one night, and to enter it on another, because I sat on the half-booth side with my daughter; my husband also found them irritating. We mentioned it to our server and it did get better (even though he wasn't the one who was leaving the carts around). I also noticed that this came to the attention of a supervisor who on her own (not from our complaint) directed that they be moved.
We liked that you could go to the bow of the ship to observe, but it was really hard to figure out how to get there.
There was minor wear on the ship. It was only little things, e.g., one of the decorative stars in our bathroom (the Radiance emblem) was broken, some gold paint was missing from the dining room central light, etc. It was just enough to make me feel as though the attention has been diverted from the smaller ships to the newer, larger ones.
They seemed to run out of things in the Cascade dining room for breakfast, e.g., bananas, whole grain toast, etc. if you arrived later but still sufficiently within the the scheduled hours (i.e., not five minutes before closing). We prefer not to sit with people we don't know, but individual tables are only available in the worst section of the dining room (near the kitchen and the serving stations). The toast was always rock hard and cold no matter what time we came in.
The internet access was very frustrating. My husband uses one of the two devices on the two-device plan; he's always hooked up and has no problems. I have to switch between an iPhone and an iPad, and it's hard to get on and off. Signing off didn't necessarily mean I was signed off, and sometimes it took 5-10 minutes to switch devices. The internet was down part of the time on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. We paid for unlimited use and use this access to keep in touch with work, and that was not acceptable. Each time, we were told that the technology people were working on it, but restoring access both times took more than an hour. Even when the access was available, it was sometimes very slow (even though land was visible for most of the cruise).
I'm not sure why there were no chilled shrimp at lunch in the Windjammer. They were there on our last RCI cruise. I like them because they are all protein and low calorie (helps to keep me from gaining weight on the cruise). I still miss chocolates on my pillow and the midnight buffet on one evening.
Guest services is located near the music in the Centrum area, so you can hardly have a conversation with them if music is playing (and they can hardly hear you) - it's very frustrating. My husband had a difficult time getting a map of one of the ports from guest services - he asked for one, the employee went off to copy it but then forgot about him, so he had to stand in line again to get the map.
I wish that RCI would develop a cruise app that could be used for each ship (rather than something generic). I know that it has been done for the newer ships. It makes life much more convenient on board.
My daughter and I liked the towel demonstration, but we would have preferred to have had a class. On our last RCI cruise on a larger ship, we were able to do that. It's nice to watch, but you learn more by doing.
Our cabin was of ample size for the three of us, though we weren't crazy about the small balcony (which had more to do with the overall ship size than our room category). The balcony size would have been more of an issue on a Caribbean cruise where we would be out on it more. It was sufficient to watch the glacier or the mountains.
There was a very slight sewage-like smell on our floor and in our room for the first day or so. Our cabin attendant was very concerned and involved the head of housekeeping who said that they would also involve the plumbers. My husband and daughter didn't notice it at all (I'm the one with the super sense of smell), but I heard others talking about it when walking down the hallway. Whatever it was, they fixed it right away, and I appreciate the genuine concern from everyone and the ability to get it resolved quickly. I don't want to give the wrong impression - the smell was very slight and not really all that bothersome; it was just something I noticed.
There was only one entrance open to get back onto the ship at Ketchikan - we literally waited about 25 minutes in line. Surely they could have opened two entrances. That was the worst return to the ship experience - ever.
The disembarkation video was completely wrong. We were told that we would have to go through U.S. customs, even though we'd gone through U.S. customs to get onto the ship in Vancouver and hadn't gone to any non-U.S. port during the cruise. I called guest services to verify that we actually had to go through U.S. customs again, and I was told that we did but it wouldn't be difficult. We actually did NOT to through customs, so we ended up throwing out open containers of food that we didn't have to. It's incredible that no one knew that we didn't have to go through U.S. customs.
When we got off the ship in Seward, it was raining, cold, and miserable outside. We were at the end of the last group and were told we could go to any bus. There were long lines for four of the five buses, but not the last bus. We went to the last bus, and the driver told us there wasn't any reason we couldn't board. Then she told us that they wanted us to get off the bus because RCI wanted to make sure that all the buses were filled (clearly, they were almost there, given all of the long lines). We didn't get off, because doing so would have put us at the end of the line that was forming and we couldn't see any reason to wait in line to get on a bus that we were already on. And, as it turned out, our last bus was eventually filled as well (and RCI should have known that it would be filled given the total number of guests getting off). I think that the reason that we were all so inconvenienced was because an RCI employee wanted to check everyone's name off as they got on the bus. That was a task she could have done by walking down the aisle of a filled bus - we shouldn't have had to stand in the rain to make it more convenient for her.
The temperature inside our bus from Seward was cold (and it was a long ride).
There were no clear instructions about what would happen after we got off the cruise. We knew that there would be a transfer, but we didn't know what would happen next. We didn't know we would be dropped off at the Mariott in Anchorage and what we were supposed to do next. We didn't know that we were supposed to pick up a transfer card to go to the airport, and that if you didn't pick up a transfer card right away, you would either be way too early or too late for your flight and might have to take a cab (despite having paid for the transfer). The 4:00 and 5:00 transfer cards were gone almost immediately, and I overheard two of the employees saying that was always the case (the other employee said that it was just too bad and people might have to take a cab if they weren't happy with the transfer times) - I just smiled when they looked up at me (since they were too busy with each other to notice me at first) and said I looked forward to adding this on my review. My husband said that the 3:00 transfers were all gone when he went to the table (which would have meant that we had no way to get to the airport before we needed to be there) - when he asked if they were going to pay for our cab, they found more transfers. Surely RCI is aware of the most frequently needed transfer times and should be able to plan accordingly?
I will comment separately about the tours in the tour section, but I wanted to include them here as well.
I think that the whale and marine mammal cruise was one of my two all-time favorite excursions (the other was swimming with the dolphins in the Caribbean). My husband and daughter loved it too. The rain forest hike was nice, and we also enjoyed the salmon and gold panning excursion (but would not have enjoyed it at all if it were raining and cold, as is frequently the case in Alaska, since everything is outside and it would have been miserable).
The "guide's choice" Mendenhall glacier hike in Juneau through Gastineau Guiding Company was the absolute WORST excursion I have ever been on (and I've been on many). The phrase "guide's choice" is ambiguous - it could mean that it is award winning, or it could mean that the guide chooses the trails. We learned that it literally meant that the guide could choose our trail, and our guide (Katie) chose the most difficult hiking trail for our group even though most of us were inexperienced, not equipped for it (there was one person who actually sold hiking gear, so she was the only one who was actually prepared), and even though there were kids in our group. The RCI description of the tour was highly inaccurate; had it been accurate, we would not have gone on the hike (and I wouldn't have risked having my daughter participate). The description indicated that it was strenuous - fair enough - but this hike took us through steep running water beds, and steep, slippery inclines climbing up large rocks (at 1.5-2 feet in diameter) where a misstep would send you tumbling down the mountain. (I slipped and fell once in the other direction and fortunately didn't go careening down the side.) There was a second tour from the same company just behind us, and we were told that someone in that group wanted to propose to his fiance. We were apparently expected to participate, because our guide passed out horns. We had to wait for the second group to arrive at the top, in the cold and rain (again, whether we wanted to or not, because it was not our choice), only to learn that the man who was planning to propose wanted more privacy and didn't want our group there at all (no surprise there, and they apparently didn't bother to ask him if he wanted us to participate either). On the way down, our guide said that she wanted to take a short cut that would get us down more quickly. We had to hike down a steep incline consisting of more large rocks (1.5-2' in diameter again) that had running water flowing down them. I rarely cry out of frustration, but I almost did just that twice on the way down. Our group did not stay together because some did better than others; my daughter was out of my sight for long periods of time, and I didn't like that at all. I had significantly sore muscles which made other excursions and activities very uncomfortable for the remaining days of the cruise (fortunately, I always pack a lot of ibuprofen, and I really needed it to function). When we returned to the ship, we reviewed the description of the tour, and confirmed that it was inaccurately stated. I also checked the reviews on line, and there are apparently easier ways to travel up the mountain but our guide deliberately chose to subject us to the more difficult and dangerous trails without the proper equipment or experience. Read Less