This was our tenth Alaska cruise. We have also taken several Pacific coastal cruises. This was a repositioning cruise from Vancouver to Alaska, then down the coast finishing in San Diego. The ports included Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Hubbard Glacier (cruising), Sitka, Victoria, San Francisco (two full days) and San Diego.
We flew to Vancouver a day early and were glad we did. It has been a few years since we flew into Vancouver and we did not realize how long it took to get through Canadian Customs. Several planes had landed around the same time as ours and hundreds of people were lined up waiting in the Customs line. It took us about 2 hours to get through and on our way to the hotel. Had we been heading for the ship, we may not have made it by the appointed time.
We spent the night at the Sutton Place Hotel in downtown Vancouver. This is a 4 star hotel that we reserved through Priceline at $130 per night including all taxes and fees. Several people on our cruise who contribute to online message boards had recommended this hotel and we were very pleased with the room, service, and price. The hotel in located a half block from Robson Street, the main shopping street in downtown Vancouver. We asked at the front desk if there was a Thai restaurant nearby and were told that there is one right across the street from the hotel. We had a very pleasant dinner at this place. The next day, we took a cab to the Ballantyne Pier. The cost was about $15.00 American including tip.
Embarkation Embarkation was smooth and quick. Because we were platinum members of the Crown & Anchor Society, we were escorted to the special check-in line. Since we arrived at 11:30 AM, our cabin was not yet ready. We went up to the Windjammer and had lunch. At 1:00 PM we were able to go to our cabin.
Cabin We were on the Jewel of the Seas last year and learned that the outside cabins, which adjoined the next cabin, had a different configuration than all the other outside cabins on the ship. These cabins have the head of the bed against a side wall, which we prefer. This enables you to look out the window without having to climb up on the bed. Since the Radiance is a sister ship to the Jewel, the cabin configurations are the same as the Jewel. We chose one of these cabins and were very happy with it. Our only complaint is that these cabins have inadequate drawer space. Our steward did an excellent job for the entire cruise except he was unable to provide ice tongs, but we managed to live without them.
Every night of the cruise we had a different “towel animal” on the bed. We saw several that we had not seen on previous cruises. We also noticed that the quality of the bath towels and bed sheets exceeded what we have had on previous cruises and other cruise lines. The location of the cabin was excellent being about half way between the Cascades Dining Room and the Aurora Theatre.
Food Unfortunately, the food in the dining room and Windjammer were not up to par. We had My Time Dining for dinner and the waiters did an excellent job. Most of our meals were taken at 6 PM when the dining room opened for the evening, but on several occasions, we attended an early show and had dinner at a later time. There did not seem to be any difference in the service when we went later and we were seated immediately whenever we arrived. The My Time Dining system seems to be working out very well. I suspect more people will select this option as they learn it is available. We found out about it on the last day of our Jewel of the Seas cruise in New England last year when another guest mentioned it at lunch. Up until then, we had no idea that it was available. Strange as it seems, our Royal Caribbean in-house agent never mentioned it to us as an option.
We noticed that the menus have been changed to discourage guests from having several courses at dinner. Instead of listing soup, salad, appetizers, and entrees under individual headings, they list the soup, salad and appetizers under the heading Starters and the entrees under another heading. Therefore, most people ordered just one item from the Starters group and one from the entrée group. It seemed to speed up the service and everyone appeared to be happy with the system. I never felt hungry upon leaving the dining room. I suppose Royal Caribbean saves a little on food costs by using this new system.
Entertainment Because this was a repositioning cruise, I had assumed that the entertainment might not be as good as it would be on a regular cruise. Was I wrong about that! They had a couple of production shows and the rest were individuals or groups that came onboard for just one performance. Every night was a different show. Some of the best were:
- The Diamonds- This foursome sang oldies form the 50s and 60s and brought down the house. They were nothing short of fantastic. The place rocked.
- Marie Neglia- She is a violinist and she stated that she had been on the Ed Sullivan show 24 times in her youth. She is a mature lady now, but she still has full control over the violin and played some amazing pieces that would have made my arm fall off.
- Lenny Welch-Mr. Welch is another entertainer from the 60s. I frankly had not heard of him before, but he is an excellent showman and did a great job putting on a very professional show.
- Tim Walkoe- This comedian had the jokes coming so fast, I was always two jokes behind him. And he had a clean show.
- Mathew & Gunnar Nelson- The twin sons of Ricky Nelson did a tribute show to their father. I was not familiar with these two and did not expect much from them, but I sure was wrong again. They are very professional and did an excellent job.
We have taken 8 Royal Caribbean cruises and I have yet to see a performer that I have seen on a previous cruise, so these folks may never appear on another RCL ship. But, if they do appear on one of your cruises, don’t fail to see their shows.
Ports Since we have been on 10 Alaska cruise, we have seen most of what is available on the ship’s tours. Therefore, we did only one of them on this cruise. At other ports, we just walked to some of the local places that we missed on past cruises. We had excellent weather in all ports except Icy Strait Point, but even here we were able to run between the drops.
In Ketchikan, we walked up to the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center. I was disappointed and felt that the entrance price was inflated for what they offered. They had two Bald Eagles in an enclosure. They both looked sickly. A guide, who provided a quick 15-minute description of the place, led us through and then escorted us out the back door. After leaving the hatchery, we walked down the Married Man Trail to Creek Street. Along the way, we were amazed at the number of fish that were trying to get up to the hatchery. The creek was choked with them and I doubt that there was any more room available at the hatchery. Most of them probably died in the stream before they spawned. Thousands more were stacked up at the mouth of the creek just below the highway bridge in the heart of Ketchikan. We finished off our day at the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. It is a little pricey, but they put on a good show.
In Juneau, we took the local bus to the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure. It is a few miles up the highway from Juneau and took about 1/4 hour to get there by bus. They provide a tour through the forest and up to the top of a hill where you have a view of the entire Juneau area. Unfortunately, there were not that many flowers in bloom, but our guide provided a interesting commentary as we proceeded through the forest. The upside-down trees were a novelty.
At Icy Strait Point, we took a tram tour through the local forest and along the shoreline. There was not much to see in the forest, but we were entertained by a group of whales off the coast. The highpoint of the tram ride was some very colorful mushrooms that grow in a certain place along the trail. The local tribe has done an excellent job of converting an abandoned fish cannery into various shops selling locally made items. A shuttle was available to take visitors into the local town for a fee of $8.00 per person round trip. Heavy rain prevented us from going, but people that did said it was not worth the cost of the trip. They have a mile-long zip line ride at this port and people that tried it said they had a ball. As we returned from our tram ride, six people zoomed over our head on the zip lines. It was raining buckets just as they passed and I surmise that some or all of them were soaked by the time they finished their ride.
In Sitka, we walked to the Alaska Raptor Center. This was the highlight of the day. They have a number of birds in various enclosures and they all appear healthy and happy. Once they recover from their injuries, they are released back into the wild. This place is quite attractive and well kept. It is worth the entrance fee and the money goes to a good cause.
Victoria was its usual beautiful self with lots of hanging baskets full of flowers. There was lots of activity around the downtown port and people watching was the order of the day. We walked a couple of miles looking for antique stores, but discovered that they were all closed because it was Sunday. It was such a nice day, we did not mind and finally went back to Government Street where they had tourist oriented stores open and ready for business.
Two more beautiful days were spent walking around San Francisco in the sunshine. Unfortunately, it was so foggy in the morning that the Golden Gate Bridge was barely visible as we passed under it at 6 AM. We also could not see any city lights because of the fog. However, as soon as we docked, the fog lifted and the city stood out in all its glory. The GG Bridge spent most of the two days in a bank of fog. All the people that wanted to see the bridge were up on the top deck as we left San Francisco. The wind coming trough the Golden Gate was almost strong enough to blow you off the deck, but hundreds of people braved it just to get a good look at the bridge as we passed underneath. There were many oohs and aahs as it happened.
As we approached San Diego, the fog was just as thick as it was in San Francisco. The captain announced that the ship had to be docked with the use of instruments because the fog was too thick to see. Fortunately, it lifted so those who had never been here before could take pictures. This city, like San Francisco, is very impressive to view from the deck of a visiting cruise ship.
Captain We have noticed that the Norwegian captains always seem to do a better job than any of their competitors. They usually make excellent announcements each day and always keep the passengers up to date on any concerns they might have about the weather or other problems that might arise concerning life onboard. Our captain did an equally good job, except that he was more of a ham than any of the others with whom we have sailed. His question and answer period on Day 11 kept the audience in stitches for nearly 1 1/2 hours.
Cruise Quality Overall, this was a good cruise. The food quality could have been better. We did notice that Royal Caribbean is cutting back on some of the "small things" to which we had become accustomed. They no longer put candy on your pillow each night and the commemorative gift has disappeared. They are also cutting back on the benefits for Crown & Anchor Society members. We just qualified as Diamond members and were looking forward to the increased benefits on our next cruise, but now find that we must become Diamond Plus members before receiving those benefits which were heretofore available to Diamond members. That is a shame.
Disembarkation Many cruise ships are starting to release passengers around 6 AM so they can make early flights. On this cruise, they did not start to disembark until around 8:30 AM. We were supposed to be called by the color of our luggage tags, but many people felt that they were going to miss their early flights, so they started to line up at the gangway as soon as it looked like it would be opened. This created a crush anxious of folks coming from all directions and was not a good situation. I could have been avoided if the ship had started to disembark passengers earlier.