This was our third cruise and the first on RCI. We selected this line because we heard they have the highest rated childrens program. We travelled with our two kids, ages 2 and 5. Everyone told us to wait a year until the toddler was eligible for the childrens program but we threw caution to the wind and went anyways. I figured I could chase him in California or chase him in Alaska and I was ready for a change of scenery. I think I made the right choice. You be the judge.
We flew to Vancouver one day prior to the cruise and stayed at the Hyatt Regency downtown. Centrally located and only a $8 cab ride to Ballyntine Pier. Although located in a very desirable area I was aghast at the number of homeless people milling around the entrances hustling us for money. I kept my children close. At $200 a night I was hoping for a better experience. On the positive side my children had an interesting sociological experience and saw their first pregnant drug addict.
We bought some supplies in Vancouver that we did not want to haul with us on the plane. Everything is a good 30% higher and with the 17% sales tax there were no bargains. Liquor is very expensive. We brought a bottle of good wine with us from home. A wise decision.
Embarkation was a breeze. you get assigned a group number and wait in an area for you rgroup to be called. We played cards and other games while waiting. The lines moved quickly and we were even brought to the head of the line since we were traveling with small children. Everyone was pleasant.
We booked two inside cabins upon the advice of this site. When your children tend to rise with the sun and the sun gets up at 4am each day its better to be inside where they are clueless to the light changes.Our cabins were spacious.Shampoo is dispensed in the shower but it was questionable.I always recommend two cabins when you are traveling with a family of four.
Our attendant Derrickson Charles was the best we've ever had. Never seemed to be bothered by our questions and my 2 yr old son fell in love with him. OK we did too. We tipped him in advance the first day and received superior treatment.We ended up tipping him $40 per person, including the children. It's silly to tip only half for children. We all know they make more of a mess than an adult.
We signed up for main seating at dinner but were assigned late. Don't believe those that tell you this can be changed on board. There were 300 other people trying to change and the Maitre d did not even blink at the $50 in my hand. We ended up eating in The Windjammer cafe which served the same food as the dining room. The manager, Kumar, was great.We missed out on that wonderful bonding that can occur with your seatmates but did enjoy the food in the cafe and the nightly piano playing with Gabriel. Yes, with Gabriel. My son played many a night with this wonderful Austrian.We sometimes ate in the dining room during lunch and breakfast but found the service very slow.
As for the maitre d. My toddler and husband are lactose and soy intolerant and need special milk which was ordered through RCI weeks and weeks before we set sail. I even called three times prior to the cruise to make sure it would be on board. Was it on board. No. The maitre d suggested we try the soy anyways and I told him it would give my toddler severe diarrhea and stomach cramping. He merely told us that it would be ordered in Juneau - 4 days away- and walked away. To say that I was upset was an understatement. This could have ruined our entire cruise had I not ruminated about this issue in Vancouver and decided to bring a quart of our milk on board. We had a refrigerator in the room and watered that poor boys milk down for days. He cried and cried. It was awful... More about this later.
The shipshape program is good. Many free activities such as aquafitness, walk a mile, scavenger hunt etc. The more you participate the more points you earn . At the end of the cruise you can turn in your points for prizes.
The childrens program ran on the same principal. My daughter loved it so much she never set foot off the ship. She spent the majority of her time in flip flops and her bathing suit complaining that alaska was too cold even though the daytime temps hovered around 70. She bonded with her new friends and never wanted to leave that kids room. We thought we might as well of left her home at grandma's and saved ourselves the cost of bringing her. She could care less about glaciers or eagles or misty fjords. All she wanted to do was play with her friends, swim and eat off the cheese cart. Just like home.
The manager of the progam was sweet enough to include my potty trained 2 yr old in several activities as long as I supervised him. Even gave him their signature stuffer animal which he still sleeps with.
The shipboard entertainment was typical cruise fare. John Davidson was the headliner and he is still good after all these years. My children loved most shows they attended.
I have yet to be on a ship where the advertised pool temperature is acurate. The pools were not even heated for the first couple of days driving out all but the brave or foolish, i.e. the under 12 set. The pools were finally heated to an acceptably cool temperature on day 4. We were kicked out of the indoor pool twice at 6pm because children aren't allowed in after that time. Ridiculous. There were no adults around or even willing to get into this cool pool. Some kids did not leave but I wanted to set a good moral example for the kids and followed there rules even though they were not posted. Did they really expect us to take kids outside to a cool pool when the evening temperature was about 55 degrees?
Everyone wants to know how a cruise was with a 2 yr old. It was great. Sure we were restricted in some areas but it never felt like it. There was so much to so and see. He liked being in the pools and listening to the various bands play throughout the day. He liked to snack and play cards and shop and watch movies and explore the ship and talk to people. Just like his mom.When I wanted to participate in an adults only activity my husband watched him. We decided up front that this would not be a romantic getaway but a family vacation and we were both very satisified.It did help that our boy has excellent behavior and has not yet reached his terrible twos. He joyfully came on each of our trips ashore.
Port one Skagway: 75 degrees.We did not prebook any tours through RCI as we did not know waht the temperment of the children or weather would be. Good thing since the 5 yr old refused to leave ship. First we had to search out special milk to bring on board. Not fun. But attainable at the Rainbow market in town.Having done that we toured the museum and booked an independent 3 hour motorcoach tour through Whites Passon with Klondike tours on main street. Reasonable at $25 per adult with kids free. My toddler loved it and there were plenty of stops along the way.Did the requisite souvenir shoppping ,watched the trains come in and played in the public park.
Port Two Juneau: 68 degrees. We liked this area the least. A blighted urban environment with much poverty and obvious alcoholism. Sorry that's the sociologist talking. Enjoyed the $10 roundtrip tour to Mendenhall Glacier,the small local museum, the Trolley Car tour through town, and the Mt. Roberts tram and subsequent 2 hours hike, yes even with the stroller. My toddler saw Marmots and Eagles in the wild and was fascinated. Sat trough the short documentary on the Tiglits and bought a few polished stones. Polished stones were a big hit on this trip. Walked around for an hour looking for milk.
Port three Ketchikan: 56 degrees. Finally some Alaskan weather. The kind we anticipated when we went out and bought a whole new cruise wardobe. We gleefully hiked through town in the cold drizzling rain, again with the stroller, to the Totem Museum and Salmon Hatchery/Eagle Preserve. I spoke with a fourth generation Tiglit descendant docent and was fascinated.The Salmon were a big hit with the toddler. Note: The Salmon do not run until mid July through August. Had we known this we might have delayed our trip, maybe. We were advised that the best weather in these parts occurs the last two weeks of May and the first two weeks of June. I couldn't agree more.Looked for milk again and could not find any. Not good.Kumar ended up finding a quart in the recesses of the ship and although it was about to expire we were thankful for small miracles.
We enjoyed the cruising by and through the Hubbard Glacier and Misty Fjords. Both were breathtaking in their beauty. My 5 yr old diva even vocalized these thoughts from the comfort of her club chair in the Schooner Bar observation area.
We were very careful to avoid salads during the trip , hearing that this is the most likely way to get a food or bacteria borne illness. The last night of the cruise I ordered my one and only room service plate: fresh fruit. My son and I ate it and quickly became sick. Thankfully this only lasted 24 hours and we had scheduled four more days in Vancouver so could be miserable in the comfort of our hotel room. And to think I tipped that gal $5 for this plate of death. Rule of thumb:always carry immodium with you.
Disembarkation was awful. And I would say that even if I hadn't been ill. Long lines, luggage strewn all over. Most unpleasant.
As previously noted we stayed another four days in Vancouver which really is a lovely city if you can look past all of the homeless, runaways,and drug addicts that are all over the downtown area. I live in a beach community with its share of the publically down and out but even I was shocked. Looking past this however was a city full of interactive museums, public gardens and conservatories and clean public transportation. Very expensive so bring lots of money.
Would I travel on RCI again? Maybe. If the price was right. The milk situation was unforgiveable. I filled out my commentary slip at the end of the cruise but I don't expect to hear from them. The food poisoning could have happened on any line. All it takes is one person with dirty hands.The food was very good. The ship was nice. The service very good. And Alaska was beautiful. We were never impeded by the presence of our toddler. He was a great traveller. The five year old diva was another matter. She did not benefit from having been on this cruise. We plan to go next year but leave the kids behind to get a different taste of Alaska.