Pros: beautiful & eco-friendly ship, great food, great service, lots of activities, lots of different excursions
Cons: earlier arrivals needed in Juneau and Ketchikan, pay restaurants should be free, more shuffleboard boards
Cruise Description: 7 Day round-trip Alaskan cruise leaving from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Day 1 - Vancouver, British Columbia
Day 2 - Cruise Inside Passage, Alaska
Day 3 - Juneau, Alaska
Day 4 - Skagway, Alaska
Day 5 - Cruise Hubbard Glacier
Day 6 - Ketchikan, Alaska
Day 7 - Cruise Inside Passage, Alaska
Day 8 - Vancouver, British Columbia
This was the second cruise I have ever been on. The other was also through Royal Caribbean on the Grandeur of the Seas about a year ago. I'm going to split this review into two categories. One reviewing the ship, ship activities, ship service, etc. and the other reviewing the ports and excursions.
1) Radiance of the Seas:
Our cruise documents said that boarding would begin at 1:00 pm, so we took a taxi from the Hyatt Regency (http://www.epinions.com/content_105461354116) in downtown Vancouver and arrived at Ballantyne Pier around 10:30 am. We were the second group of people that were there to board, and there were a bunch of people waiting in line to grab taxis after leaving the ship. Around 11:00 am, we were allowed to wait in line to get through security. On a side note, there was a package of coupon books for great deals in Alaska at the pier, so be sure to pick up one or two of these. Anyways, after getting through security, we waited in a short line to check in (having done the online embarkation forms and filling out the SeaPass card form quickened this process). We received our SeaPass cards, and now were told to wait to go through immigration. The immigration people arrived around 12:00 pm, and depending on when you went through security you would be issued a group number. We were part of the first group and got through immigration quickly using our passports. From there they (of course) take a picture of your party with the ship in the background, take a picture of you to identify you with the SeaPass card, and you're onboard to finally relax and enjoy! :)
Once on board, we went straight for the Shore Excursions Desk to book a helicopter tour we wanted (tried booking online but was already filled). The desk did not open till 3:00 pm, but they told us we should be able to book it through our TV in our cabin. The time we wanted for our excursion was sold out, so we decided to head back to the Shore Excursions Desk at 3:00 pm to talk with somebody about our options. We then went straight for the spa and booked a couple of massages for the next day with no problem. Finally, we just explored the ship and got some great pictures of the ship with nobody but one of us in them. :)
We had an interior stateroom on Deck 3 (three cabins away from the elevators). The room actually was a little bigger than expected. It included two twin beds, two small dressers, a small desk (w/ vanity mirrors, a slide out TV, and a hairdryer in one of the drawers), a small sofa, a closet (w/ about ten hangers and five shelves), one light on each side of the bed, one light near the sofa, and a telephone (w/ a digital display for the date and time).
The TV actually had some pretty good channels on it. Some of the channels included ESPN, Travel Channel, CNN, TNT, a music video channel, three channels which just played music with no video, a few channels which constantly played the two movies of the day (ex. Ocean's Eleven and About a Boy were playing), a channel guide channel, and a channel that switched between a live view of the front of the ship and a map of where we were and where we were headed with all the statistics (distance away, current speed, etc.). The TV was also interactive, so you could review your bill, book excursions, make dinner reservations, buy some pay movies, and even track your stocks.
The bathroom had a small stand up shower (w/ movable shower head, shampoo dispenser, and pullout clothes line), small toilet, and a small sink.
Many people say that if you are going to book a balcony room for any one cruise do it on the Alaskan cruise. Having known that before booking this cruise, I still booked the interior room and was still completely satisfied with it. The views in Alaska (especially the Hubbard Glacier) were spectacular, but I couldn't imagine just enjoying it from the room when you could be on deck or in a lounge getting a panoramic view of all the sites.
The ship contained three main places to eat (Windjammer Cafe, Seaview Cafe, and Cascades Dining Room), plus two restaurants (Chops and Portofino) where you needed to pay a cover charge for ($20 per person for dinner, $10 per person for lunch).
The Windjammer Cafe was the place to get your buffet style meals. Breakfast had your normal selection of eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits & gravy, pancakes, assorted pastries, fruit, cereal, oatmeal, and an omelet station. Lunch changed from day to day, except they would always have a variety of premade sandwiches, pizza, and burgers. We never came here for dinner because we knew that we would prefer the dining room food instead.
The Seaview Cafe was a very small cafe where you could order lunch type of items and have them prepared fresh for you. We much preferred eating lunch here over the Windjammer Cafe, but the hours were more limited and the seating was pretty tight the two times we ate here. Upon entering the cafe, the host/hostess takes your order as you would at any fast food restaurant (meaning order your entrees, sides, and desserts all at once). You are then given a number (like at Carl's Jr) to be placed on your table, so the waiter/waitress can bring you your order. There is a small bar here to get your drinks. Some of the entrees here included fish & chips, reuben sandwiches, tuna melts, three different kinds of salads, hot dogs, and burgers. Some of the sides/appetizers you could order included onion rings and chips & salsa. Desserts included a special dessert of the day and brownies. We tried everything I mentioned above except for two of the salads (we had a crab salad), the hot dogs, and the burgers, and they were all very tasty and satisfying.
The Cascades Dining Room was open for certain hours for breakfast and lunch, and dinner consisted of two seating times (6:00 pm and 8:30 pm and we had the 6:00 pm dining time). The earlier dining time is definitely the more popular of the two, so you need to book your cruise early to get it. Our ship was full, and we actually tried to change our dinner seating to the later time (because we thought we'd be in port late on three of the days, but actually only missed one dining room dinner), but we could not. Anyways, we never ate here for breakfast. We did check out the menu for one of the mornings and it did not sound that much better than what we got in the Windjammer. We came here for lunch on one of the days. Tables and times are not assigned for lunch, so they seat you in a way to try to fill tables up. I felt that the service was too slow a pace for lunch, the food was a little better than the Seaview Cafe, but was another nice way to meet more people. For dinner, our assigned table was on the second floor of the dining room consisting of six people total. Our whole table would get there pretty early so we always seemed to be the first ones served. :) For this cruise there were two formal nights, one smart casual night, and four casual nights. Each dinner menu consisted of a choice of around two breads, five appetizers, one salad (three choices of dressings), five entrees, and five desserts. The entrees seemed to always include a beef dish, chicken dish, seafood dish, and a vegetarian dish. Having been on a Royal Caribbean cruise before I recognized some of the dishes offered, so it did not look like the menu changed that much. This being an Alaskan cruise though, there were some Alaskan specific items like salmon offered. Also, we happened to be on the cruise on the Fourth of July and we got a special menu printed on the Declaration of Independence that night. Most everything served in the dining room for dinner was excellent including the lobster tails, salmon filets, shrimp scampi, chicken dishes, etc. Remember that you're paying for the food so order as many appetizers, entrees, and desserts as you want! :)
Chops was a steak house. We ate here for dinner the night we were in Juneau because we were in port so late. We made reservations for 9:00 pm, but there were about five other tables open so reservations probably weren't necessary for such a late dinner time. The full menu is as follows:
Appetizers - Shrimp Cocktail, Portobello Caps, Maryland Crab Cakes
Soups - Cheese n' Onion Soup, New England Clam Chowder
Salads - "Chops" Salad, Beefsteak Tomato, Caesar Salad
Entrees - Prime Rib of Beef, Filet Mignon, Chops Signature New York Steak, Wisconsin Veal Chop, Colorado Lamb Chops, Royal Pork Shank, Rotisserie Chicken, Mesquite Grilled Salmon
Sides & Vegetables - Baked Idaho Potato, Home Fried Potatoes with Sauteed Onions, Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Asparagus, Sauteed Mushrooms, Fried Onion Rings, Rice Pilaf
Desserts - Chocolate Mud Pie, Apple Pie a la Mode, Chops Raspberry Cheesecake, Warm Brioche Bread Pudding
The service at Chops was excellent as expected (probably one notch higher than at the dining room). Here my wife and I shared the Portobello Caps and Maryland Crab Cakes for our appetizer. Both were very good. We tried both of the soups and the Clam Chowder was very tasty. We had a salad but I forget which one. For our entrees we tried the Prime Rib of Beef, Filet Mignon, and the Mesquite Grilled Salmon. The prime rib was the best of the three by far. The salmon was too dry for my liking. Finally, we tried all four desserts, and all were excellent except for the bread pudding. The Chocolate Mud Pie was my favorite, but it was more like a chocolate cake than a mud pie, but was very rich and tasty. Having tried this restaurant once now, I probably would not try it again. It was really good, but I do not know if it was worth the extra cash.
Portofino was an Italian style restaurant. We did not eat here, but the menu sounded outstanding. Here's the full menu when we were on board:
Appetizers - Prawn Rissotto, Beef Carpaccio, Buffalo Mozzarella, Antipasta Assortiti, Tartara Di Salmone
Soups - Seafood Broth, Soup of the Day
Salads - Caesar Salad, Insalata Mista
Pasta - Lobster Stuffed Pasta and Asparagus, Penne with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Spaghetti with Baby Clams, Fettuccine and Portabello Mushrooms
Entrees - Baked Lobster Tail, Sauteed Tiger Shrimp, Grilled Filet Mignon, Veal Medallion and Prosciutto, Chicken Parmigiana
Desserts - White Chocolate Mousse Cake, Tiramisu, Gelati and Sorbeti, Fruitti Bosco (marinated berries), Assorted Italian Cheeses, Italian Coffees
On the day we were cruising the Hubbard Glacier, there was an outdoor barbecue (weather permitting) that afternoon. They had burgers, hot dogs, chicken, salmon, and other items you would normally find at a barbecue. It was pretty neat having an outdoor barbecue while being a half a mile away from a glacier. :)
According to the suggested tipping for our cruise, tipping should cost around $70 a person for the whole trip. That includes the head waiter, waiter, assistant waiter, and your stateroom attendant. Our head waiter was very friendly and very talkative. Our waiter provided us with excellent professional service, but I guess I would prefer a waiter who is more friendly and entertaining. Our assistant waiter was the same. A few days into the cruise, our waiter and assistant waiter pretty much knew what each person at our table wanted. Our stateroom attendant was also very professional. He would make up our room twice a day, and either put our pillows in interesting configurations or fold our towels into animals.
There were seven main shows that corresponded to the two dining times for the Cascades Dining Room. With the earlier dining time, the show would always be at 9:00 pm. The later dining time had some of their shows before dinner and some after dinner. Our shows consisted of two production shows and five headliner shows. The production shows are shows put on by the Royal Caribbean singers, dancers, and bands. We missed one of these shows, and the one we caught was entertaining, but there was nothing great about it. Our headliners included a saxophone player, a piano player, a comedian, a singing group (one guy used his mouth to make all the drum sounds), and a singer (Whitney Houston type music). They were all pretty entertaining, and we particularly enjoyed the comedian and the singing group.
There were many other types of entertainment throughout the week. They ran game show type things like "Name that Tune" and "The Liars Club" and they had a week long game called "Survive the Challenge" (like Survivor the TV show where the audience at the main shows votes off people). There would be themed dancing every night, like there was a fifties sock hop one night. Finally, there was always bingo. :)
Hitting the casino was a daily ritual for us. They had a variety of slots, video poker, blackjack tables, Caribbean stud, a Let it Ride table, a roulette table, and a craps table. The blackjack and Let it Ride tables were pretty full every night.
There were three pools including one in the solarium, one main outdoor pool, and one kids pool. The kids pool was not open, but there was a water slide next to that pool that I saw some kids going down. I never saw anyone swimming in the outdoor pool, but people were using the two jacuzzis out there (even when we were cruising the Hubbard Glacier). Inside the solarium it felt like it was around eighty degrees, so many people were here swimming and in the jacuzzi.
The workout room had a wide variety of machines, but we didn't workout at all so I cannot give much detail about it. We went to the spa facility early to book a massage for us. We got a full body massage each, and it cost $109 for fifty minutes. We heard the hot stone massage was very good, and that was around $169 for around an hour I believe.
There were also many indoor activities other then the ones described above. There were two "Gyro" billiard tables (we were told they were worth $90,000 each) to play on. We waited about twenty minutes to play on an "at sea" day, and it seemed like the bartender let people play from thirty minutes to an hour depending on the line. Anyways, it is free to play, and you have to at least try it once because it's so cool just watching how the table works! The tables basically move to counteract the movement of the ship so the balls stay perfectly still. So, you can see the tables move like waves when we were in rough waters. Near the pool tables in the next room was a lounge with a few tables to play chess, checkers, and backgammon. There was also a card room near here with plenty of cards and some board games (like Scrabble). Other places to do things included the library, internet access room (fifty cents a minute), video arcade, area for kids, main theater (for shows), and also a cinema theater. The cinema showed one or two movies a day ranging from E.T. to Lord of the Rings to About Schmidt. There was also a small shopping area selling perfume, alcohol, and souvenirs. On a few days when we walked through, they would sell a bunch of Alaskan souvenirs which I thought was really convenient. They had a fifty percent off sale for Royal Caribbean merchandise near the end of the cruise. The pictures they take of you and try to sell to you never got discounted.
There were many outdoor activities on the ship, but unfortunately on the day we were planning on doing them it was sprinkling/raining. The rock climbing wall was closed during this time and has very limited hours, so we missed out on that. :( The basketball court was half-court and there always seemed to be someone playing (even when it was sprinkling). The Daily Compass said that volleyball would be available on request during certain times, but we never saw anybody playing. There were two ping-pong tables placed in outdoor areas to try to be covered from the wind, but it was still windy around there. There was only one shuffleboard, and it was made out of wood pieces. Unfortunately, all the pieces weren't level with each other so the pucks would bounce around instead of smoothly sliding. We played a round of the nine hole miniature golf course. There were no drawbridges or windmills or stuff like that, but it was pretty fun. You can only get golf balls to play when the activities desk is open. From the activities desk you could also gain access to the golf simulator (I believe it was $25 to use it) and the indoor dart room as well.
About halfway through the cruise, you will be required to fill out a form containing information on your plans after the cruise. You can indicate on the form that you wish to purchase a shuttle transfer through Royal Caribbean, going on the Vancouver tour, or arranging your own transportation. Once this is filled out you will receive color/number coded tags to put on your luggage which basically indicates the priority for disembarkation. Disembarkation started at 7:30 am, and depending on your color/number tag you are supposed to wait in a designated area for your tag to be called. Once called, you just make your way off the ship, find your luggage in the color coded areas, and proceed through customs. After customs, we needed to catch a taxi to the airport. There was a line of about twenty groups of people in front of us and we got through it in about half an hour.
The Vancouver Airport had a few things of note. Each passenger is required to pay a $10 Canadian Airport Improvement Fee. There were tax rebate forms available at the airport, so you could receive a rebate on the Canadian taxes you payed for if you spent a certain amount on goods and hotels. When checking in for your flight, they do not take your luggage that you plan to check in there, so grab a cart if necessary. Finally, a difference I personally liked, you go through US customs here, so when you arrive back in the US you don't have to deal with the long customs lines there.
The Radiance of the Seas is really a beautiful ship. There is a lot of glass to enjoy the scenery without getting cold outside. The elevators are glass so you can even enjoy the outdoor scenery while riding in the elevator. With the amount of older people on the ship, the elevators were very slow, so we took the stairs most of the time. On one of the nights, the captain pointed out how the Radiance of the Seas was a very eco-friendly ship. While in port, you can see the other cruise ships with their big smoke stacks while the Radiance doesn't even have one! Another plus about the ship in general was that even though the ship was fully booked, it hardly ever felt like any area that I was in was overly crowded.
The Inside Passage is not really a port, but was one of the places we visited on the cruise so I thought I'd explain a little about what we saw. While cruising through the Inside Passage, you are pretty much surrounded by mountains filled with lush greenery. It was sunny, but a little cool outside, so we ended up finding a great spot in the Starquest Lounge (deck 13) to enjoy the scenery. We spent two to three hours there with our binoculars and cameras in hand. We saw a few small waterfalls and a few bald eagles in this area. The captain actually announced over the loud speaker when he spotted a bald eagle. Without binoculars, the bald eagles looked like little white dots on the trees so they were really hard to spot. Even with our 10x binoculars (http://www.epinions.com/content_105337032324), they still seemed pretty far away.
Cruising the Inside Passage on the way back to Vancouver, it was really foggy. The fog hugging the mountains made for some really cool pictures.
We were in Juneau from 12:00 pm - 9:00 pm. The weather was cloudy, with the highs in the high 60s. We had two excursions booked for this port through Royal Caribbean including the Whale Watching Tour and the Helicopter Glacier Walkabout. In Juneau, we were not docked at the pier, so we needed the use of tender boats to get ashore. Our whale watching tour started at 12:30 pm, so we had priority to board the tender boats first. Once ashore, our whale watching group boarded a bus and headed out toward another dock. Our bus driver tried to keep us entertained on the way, but I didn't think he was very funny. We finally got to the pier and boarded our covered, motorized whale watching boat. The boat held about twenty people, our onboard naturalist, and our driver. There were a pair of 8x25 binoculars provided per person, but we used our own, so I am not sure about the quality of these. It wasn't too long before a group of humpback whales were spotted. Our driver slowed down significantly, allowing us to step out to the back or the front of the boat for better viewing. We witnessed the humpbacks swimming and also bubble net feeding. We continued on after a while and found another group of humpbacks swimming. At some point, the captain got a call saying that a group of orcas were spotted, so headed over to that area. We were fed bagels with a salmon spread around this point. We saw a few orcas swimming and followed them around a while. Finally, we headed back to shore and to our bus that drove us back to our pier. We were told bubble net feeding was rare and seeing orcas was even rarer, so these sights made the tour very well worth it. We arrived back at the pier at around 3:30 pm.
Our helicopter tour started at 4:30 pm, so we shopped at some of the stores close to the pier for an hour. The Mount Robert's Tram is right next to the pier for anyone interested in going on that, and seemed to run pretty continuously. Anyways, we hurriedly went through a few shops. They really had a big selection of souvenir stuff to get, but we only bought a few things here, thinking that we would be doing most of our shopping in Ketchikan (I wish we had a little more time here to shop).
Anyways, it was time for our Helicopter Glacier Walkabout Tour. We met at the pier at 4:30 pm. There was a total of six of us (which completely filled the helicopter). We took a van ride to the airport and started our safety orientation. The company provided us with a lot more gear than I expected including waterproof pants, waterproof jacket, snow shoes, gloves, and a fanny pack (with energy bar and bottle of water). The seating on the helicopter fit two people in the front and four in the back, which meant that the two in the middle in the back would not get window seats. Unfortunately, this is where my wife and I got sat. On the way back though, we switched with two other people so we both got the window seats then. On the way to the Mendenhall Glacier, our pilot flew around giving us a view of another glacier and the Juneau ice fields. He was very knowledgeable and answered all our questions about the glacier and the helicopter. After our short tour (about twenty minutes), we spotted our tour guide sitting in the middle of the Mendenhall glacier, and our pilot set the helicopter down right near him. Once everyone disembarked, the helicopter took off, and it was just the seven of us and the glacier! :) Our tour guide outfitted us with some crampons (spikes to fit the bottom of the shoe) and a pole to test if things are solid to step on. Once all set, we set out in a direction the tour guide thought would have interesting stuff to look at it. The deep blues of the glacier were awesome to admire. We saw many deep crevasses that went deeper than we could see. There were many streams of melted glacier flowing around. I suggest drinking up the water in the water bottle provided (or dump the water), and fill the bottle with some of the glacier water. Talk about getting water straight from the source! :) The hour on the glacier just flew by, and we had to circle back to our original starting point. The helicopter took the most direct route back to the airport, and it was back on the van and back to the pier for us. We arrived at the pier around 8:30 pm, so we just grabbed a tender boat to head back to the ship.
We were in Skagway from 6:30 am - 7:30 pm. The weather was nice and clear, with the highs in the low 70s. We had one excursion for this port that we booked through Royal Caribbean which was the Eagle Preserve Float & Lynn Fjord Cruise Tour. This tour took a total of six hours and started at 8:30 am. We were docked in this port, so we just walked out to the dock and found the person picking up people for our tour. We loaded onto a bus and were just basically driven around to the other side of the dock where we would pick up our boat to Haines. During our boat ride, our guide pointed out some interesting facts about Alaska while we just sat and enjoyed the scenery. Coffee and tea was provided on the boat. Once we arrived in Haines, we boarded a bus to take us to our raft launch point in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. The bus ride was probably about an hour, but our tour guide kept us entertained with a bunch of stories, and he was constantly on the lookout for wildlife, but we ended up not seeing any. Once at the launch point, we got outfitted with life jackets and waterproof boots. Each raft held up to eight people and one guide. The guide did all the rowing, but we would need to occasionally jump up and down to loosen the raft in the shallow parts of the river. The ride was pretty smooth and we probably saw a total of thirty or so bald eagles. Many of them were sitting perched on logs in the sand or high atop trees. We saw many immature eagles (without the white head yet) as well as adult ones. Unfortunately, we did not get to witness any feeding or anything like that. I guess the eagles are built for colder weather, so they try to conserve their energy in the heat. Anyways, we could really see some of the eagles up close with our binoculars and we also got some decent shots with our 3x zoom cameras. After about an hour on the river we reached our exit point and were provided with a lunch consisting of sandwiches, chips, cookies, water, and lemonade. After lunch, it was back on the bus to the dock in Haines, back on the boat to Skagway, and back on the bus to the ship (the bus also made stops in downtown Skagway so we got off there). We felt this trip was pretty good overall. At some point we overheard some people talking about the other tour going to the eagle preserve (Eagle Preserve Wildlife Quest By Jet Boat & Cruise, also offered by Royal Caribbean for $2 less), and they only saw one eagle! That sure made us feel good. :) Many people raved about the White Pass Scenic Railway tour here in Skagway as well.
Skagway is a really small town. It probably took us about twenty minutes to walk across town. The Skagway Outlet Store was at the far end of town and had a good selection of souvenir type things. There were also a few other good shops to peruse through. It was definitely shorts and t-shirt weather in town. The one ice cream store in town had a line going out the door! :) The Red Onion Saloon seemed like a pretty popular place, so we peeked in and it was pretty packed. After we were done shopping, we headed back to the ship and were easily ready for our dinner at 6:00 pm.
Cruising the Hubbard Glacier was definitely not a port, but it was one of the main highlights of the cruise. When we started our approach to the glacier, chunks of ice could be seen floating about. At first only a few pieces, but the number kept increasing as we got closer. We got a decent spot on the helipad (the front most part of the ship) while the ship was still approaching the glacier. I was personally dressed in a pair of thermals, jeans, t-shirt, sweater, jacket, gloves, and a ski hat and I was freezing out there. The ship crew were selling souvenir travel mugs with coffee or hot chocolate at different locations on different decks. After about an hour of standing out there and taking a bunch of pictures and using our binoculars to look closer at the glacier and a seal or two, we went down to the outdoor barbecue. Finally, the ship got as close to the glacier as possible (half a mile away) and started rotating so all sides could see the glacier. We were so close at that point that we felt like all those pictures we took earlier were kind of a waste because the shots would be so much better now. We ended up on the deck above the pool deck, and we would constantly switch sides as the ship turned to enjoy watching the glacier. At this point, it was a lot warmer on deck because of the lack of wind. We saw the glacier calfing (ice chunks breaking off from the glacier) many times and got to enjoy it through our binoculars and got some great shots of it through our cameras as well. As close as we were, we were still far enough away that if you heard the calfing and looked in the direction of the sound, you would only catch the tail end of it. The glacier was an amazing sight, and everyone we talked to said that it was one of the best parts of the cruise. Also, instead of the one or two seals we saw earlier, there were probably thirty or more scattered about. So from my experience, if I were to do it all over again, I'd grab a nice seat in a lounge to watch the approach to the glacier, maybe go outside for a picture or two, grab some food at the barbecue, and then wait till the ship starts moving a lot slower to go outside and enjoy the spectacular views!
We were in Ketchikan from 1:00 pm - 8:00 pm. The weather here was cold, foggy, and a little rainy. We had no excursions booked here, and the one we were thinking of booking (Misty Fjords Flight Plane) was canceled due to the fog anyways. We were docked in this port, and I think because it was an afternoon arrival to Ketchikan, it took us around thirty minutes to just get off the ship. For souvenir shopping, there were really only two main streets (and they were right in front of the pier). We picked up our ulu knives, magnets, t-shirts, etc. at this port. Although we did not shop too much in Juneau, I thought Juneau had a much better selection of t-shirts than Ketchikan.