Pre-cruise tour to Denali
Our vacation began with a pre-cruise tour of the Alaskan interior. We used Alaska Airlines which has a monopoly on Alaskan flights. We enjoyed extra legroom in comparison with other airlines, and the flights ... Read More
Pre-cruise tour to Denali
Our vacation began with a pre-cruise tour of the Alaskan interior. We used Alaska Airlines which has a monopoly on Alaskan flights. We enjoyed extra legroom in comparison with other airlines, and the flights left on time or early. We were met in baggage claim by Karen and quickly whisked off to Pike’s Lodge ( a rustic motor inn with stuffed animals in the lobby who looked better alive) and dropped off at 11. We waited in the lobby until our room was done at 1:30. Passengers picked up from the airport between 10 am and noon would be better served if pickup would start at noon. As Amanda at the front desk pointed out, the rooms are not guaranteed until 3. Since you have been assigned a specific room, you will not be able to check in until that room has been cleaned. There is a room for you to leave your luggage and a shuttle ($5) which will take you to downtown or the grocery store if you want to get going right away and have some lunch.
We were about to finally stick our luggage in the storage room and go for a walk when it was announced that our room was ready. After dropping off our luggage, we walked down the road (no sidewalks most of the way) for 1.1 miles and had lunch at Taco Bell and shopped at the grocery store (which also sells clothes in case you forgot to pack something). There is an excellent ice cream stand across the street from the grocery store as well.
At 3 pm, we met our tour guide, John, in the lobby and got an overview of our three day adventure in the interior of Alaska. As both Karen and John pointed out, if you haven't been to the interior of Alaska, you haven’t been to Alaska. The next day, we went on an excellent tour- Gold Dredge 8 Gold Rush History. We learned about the Alaska pipeline and panned for gold. Everyone manages to find some, and you can have the pieces made into a necklace if you wish. Our driver, Tom, took us to downtown Fairbanks where we stopped for lunch. We had crepe at a crepe shop, which was very good. After another night at Pike’s Lodge, Tom drove us to the rail station and we boarded the Wilderness Express to Denali. We loved the train ride. Not any wildlife to see per se, however, the views from the train were great and the service was excellent. We were not hungry, so we did not partake of the breakfast served in the bottom car, however, we did indulge in a few cocktails. Everyone seemed to enjoy everything- the food, the drinks, and the breathtaking scenery.
Too soon we arrived in Denali where we left the train and joined the Natural History Tour. We saw moose and caribou from our bus. Very nice tour. We learned that few people actually see Mt. Denali- too far away and usually too many clouds. After the tour, our tour guide dropped us off at Denali Park Village. Regarding this hotel, where to start? John walked us over to building 800 where we were staying since our original building had its water heater go out. Building 800 is a nice, new building, but unfortunately, it appears that is so new that it is not ready for guests. You can turn on any channel you want on the TV as long as it is the History Channel. The signal is so weak that the picture doesn’t come in clearly although you can hear everything ok. So no TV. Then- wait for it- there was only lukewarm water in the shower and sink. The hotel staff tried to fix it to no avail. After waiting for 45 minutes, DH and I took showers anyway. Meanwhile, there are lovely fire pits outside burning gas which no one could use because it was too cold (flurries).
We checked out the next morning and Tom drove us to Seward. We stopped on the way at an historic cafe and took pictures of where Mt. Denali was, hiding behind the clouds. We then drove to Anchorage where we stopped for lunch. We had pizza at the mall located only a block from where Tom dropped us off. We then completed our journey to Seward, seeing more moose along the way.
Radiance of the Seas
Finally, I start my review of Radiance and the cruise itself. Radiance is a lovely ship. I loved his sister ship, Jewel, which DH and I sailed on in Europe in 2008. Some reviewers have stated that the ship needs new carpet and that there is rust. Well, there is rust here and there- but give her a break, she’s exposed to the sea 24/7. The carpets looked new to me and everything seemed nicely furnished. Albert did a great job taking care of our cabin and he always had helpful advice on ports.
As for the MDR, I would have to agree with other guests that the food has gone downhill. There are smaller portions, which is a good thing as there is so much waste of food on cruise ships. Where there was formally a menu consisting of two pages (both sides), all of the dishes are now listed on one page. Likewise, there used to be four courses- app, soup or salad, entree, and dessert- now it is: starter, entree, and dessert. There are dishes available every night- “classics”. There is one vegetarian dish in the classic section and one new one each night. I often skipped the entree. In Windjammer, some selections were good- the crepes made one day as a speciality, for example; others were rather blah. At least in Windjammer you can see what you are getting unlike the MDR. On the last formal night, we had Baked Alaska, however, it was not the traditional BA. This one featured ice cream with some sort of topping (not meringue) that had been torched. Another interesting dessert which was made specially one night in Windjammer: “Banana Foster” which consisted of caramelized bananas and strawberry?! ice cream. Maybe they ran out of vanilla.
The dress code in the MDR is not enforced. There were people in jeans every night- even on formal nights. Some wore their baseball caps and t-shirts along with their jeans. Yikes. Some passengers did wear gowns, cocktail attire, suits, or at least a shirt and dress slacks. Three gentlemen wore a tux. Meanwhile, don’t try going to the Windjammer in a spa robe- even to get a glass of water. Apparently the buffet has standards even if the MDR does not.
In Juneau, seeing Mendenhall Glacier and the Glacier Gardens are recommended. You can do both on your own. There are tour buses for Mendenhall at the dock or you can take the number three or four bus (Mendenhall Valley)from the transit center for only $2, but you will have to walk aways to the National Park. We took the bus to Glacier Gardens and got a private tour of the trees and gardens from a very talkative guide. Great experience. We then took the bus back (Downtown) to the transit center and walked around to see all of the shops.
In Skagway we went to the Red Onion which used to serve drinks downstairs (still do) while providing personalized entertainment upstairs (tours of the rooms are available) during the Gold Rush Era. We walked to the cemetery and around the town.
Hubbard Glacier was beautiful. I liked my experience at Sawyer Glacier seven years ago better, however, as our ship went through a narrower passage and we got much closer to the seals resting on the floating ice.
Icy Straight Point is a great place to view Bald Eagles (as is Juneau). The town of Hoonah is about a mile walk away (there are also shuttles available). The tourist area located right at the waterfront is very nice with gift shops, restaurants, and there is a small museum describing the old cannery which you can tour.
Ketchikan was my favorite, I think. Lovely view of the mountains, lots of shops downtown, and hiking. We first did Rain Bird Trail, walking up the hill from the dock to the trail and then due to a closure of part of the trail, walked down the second stair case and visited the mall a few blocks away. We then walked back along the waterfront to the port and downtown areas.
There were comedians along with the cast of singers and dancers who performed two production shows. The first was a tribute to various superstar singers; the second is “City of Lights” featuring pop songs performed against the backdrop of cities like Venice and Bombay. The songs didn’t necessarily match the locales: Elton John’s “This Is Your Song” performed against the backdrop of a Venetian opera house- don’t get it. Maybe I just need to see more Las Vegas type shows. One performer- Edward- stood out in particular. He sang, played piano, and danced. Very talented.
Our cruise director encouraged us to say hello to the crew, so DH said “How are we doing?” to a crew member dressed in overalls we met while viewing the ocean one evening. He practically ran away from us. Most of the rest of the crew were friendly and helpful.
I bought a week's pass to the thermal room and spent most of my time in there alone. Very relaxing, except for one occasion in which a family of four sat in the heated chairs talking the whole time. I guess they don't equate spas with relaxation, as well as peace and quiet.
We had a nice CC get-together hosted by two of the ladies in charge of activities. They raffled off totes and bottles of wine. We had a Top Tier Event for Platinum and above in the Colony Club. We each got one cocktail- DH chose the punch one with rum in it, I chose a green colored one that the server said had gin in it. It appeared that if you wanted a second one, you had to flag down one of the servers. I’m used to Celebrity’s events which feature cocktails with names and snack food as well. Royal’s events are obviously shorter and simpler. The captain was very funny and charming. He was as funny as the comedians.
Royal Caribbean’s fleet provide good value type vacations for middle class passengers. If I was affluent, I would try out some of the luxury lines. Celebrity- also RCI- is a step up with better food and more extras for non-elite members. There is a feel of a class system on both Celebrity and Royal’s ships. Clubs which used to be open to all on Celebrity became exclusive to the more elite members. There is a Diamond Club on Radiance for Diamond members to enjoy, and the Top Tier Event as usual included passing out a bottle of wine to the passenger who had the most nights at sea under her belt. Still, for the money, it would be hard to beat RCI. Read Less