Alaska or Bust…Third Time’s a Charm!
We just returned from an amazing adventure onboard Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas Alaska cruise sailing northbound from Vancouver to Seward. This trip was almost 4 years in the making, having been cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid. We sailed with a group of 70 friends, including some first-time cruisers. For many in the group, this chance to explore Alaska was the trip of a lifetime.
Here’s an overview of our itinerary and suggestions for things to see and do at each port of call. For the most part, I will let the pictures tell the story of our Alaskan Adventure better than I ever could with words:
We arrived late in the evening the night before our cruise set sail. We overnighted at the Vancouver Airport Marriott. Hotels in Vancouver are outrageously expensive. If money is no object, I recommend the Pan Pacific which is located right at the pier in downtown Vancouver. You can take the elevator to the bottom floor and walk right onto your ship!
Most of our group did a private morning bus tour of Vancouver that we booked with Maple Fun Tours Ltd. It included stops at Stanley Park to learn about the totem poles, QE Park and at the steam clock. We had some free time to enjoy an adult beverage at the Steamworks Brew Pub (where I had the best coconut mojito EVER). We also purchased wine at BC Liquor Harbour Center, which was right across the street from the pub. Pro tip: Royal Caribbean allows you to bring 2 bottles of wine per cabin onboard, so we took full advantage of that option. At the end of the 3 hour tour, they dropped us and our luggage off at the pier to check in for our cruise. It was a great way to get a taste of all that Vancouver has to offer.
Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas
We originally planned this Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas Alaska Cruise in 2019 for 2020 and included 2 extra days in Anchorage to visit Brooks Falls at Katmai National Park and view the salmon spawning and the bears feeding. If you don’t know what I am talking about, check out the live camera here. By the time we finally got around to taking this cruise in 2022, we couldn’t book that part of the trip as a group. If you aren’t planning to extend your cruise with a land package in Northern Alaska to visit Denali or Talkeetna, I would recommend sailing round trip from Seattle. Your airfare will be a fraction of the cost and your flights will be much more convenient. Royal also offers much newer ships featuring more onboard amenities (like the Quantum or Ovation of the Seas) out of Seattle.
Having said that, Radiance of the Seas is still a beautiful ship. She is older and smaller than many ships sailing in Alaska, but features lots of glass for viewing. We enjoyed many of the traditional Royal touches, like the Champagne bar, Schooner lounge, Viking Crown Lounge, formal dining room and covered solarium pool. It was a nice size for this type of cruise and easy to get around. We sailed from Rome to Greece on her sister ship, the Jewel of the Seas, so we were very familiar with the layout.
The food was good and we ate all of our dinners as a group in the main dining room. Pro tip: Order a couple of the featured pasta dish for the table to try each evening in addition to your entrees. The Windjammer served a decent variety of options for breakfast and lunch. Note that in the Windjammer the crew no longer serves you (as they did during the pandemic). It has returned to a self-serve buffet, so “Wash your hands, it’s the right thing to do. It’s easy ’cause you only have two”.
After a day at sea, we arrived in Juneau at 1 pm. Our group enjoyed a private whale watching excursion followed by a brief visit to Mendenhall glacier booked with Juneau Tours and Whale Watch. After the tour, our bus dropped us off at the Red Dog Saloon for a round of “Duck Fart Shots” and shopping. We walked back to the ship which was docked at the AJ Pier, which was a very long walk. Royal Caribbean said it was a 10 minute walk. Royal Caribbean lied. Lol! We all loved Juneau, but the short time in port and inconvenient docking location limited our touring options. When booking an Alaskan cruise, look for an itinerary that gives you a full day (8 am – 8 pm) in Juneau so that you have time to really see more of what this area has to offer.
Icy Strait Point
The husbands chartered several fishing boats (through Hooked Adventures) and set out in search of some Halibut. They did catch quite a few and had them processed, frozen and shipped back home. The wives did not have a tour planned, so we wandered around Icy Straight Point and did some shopping. We took the $5 shuttle over to Hoonah, but it was a tiny little town with really nothing to see or do. We walked back (about a mile and a half) because it was a beautiful day and we needed to close our Apple watch exercise circles anyway. Lol! We really lucked out with our weather and enjoyed sunshine and record temps in the 80’s several days of our cruise.
By the time we got back to Icy Strait Point, the boys had returned from their fishing trip, so we all enjoyed some Alaskan king and snow crab legs with cocktails at the Crab House for lunch. After lunch, we snacked on mini donuts from a stand near the pier and then rode the tram to the top of the mountain to check out the views ($50 per person). Several people in our group did the zipline from the top earlier in the day and really enjoyed it. Others in the group booked a bear watching trip and didn’t actually see any bear. There is not much to see and do in Icy Strait Point if you don’t book a shore excursion, so consider booking a tour in advance or just plan on it being a quiet relaxing day. Find out more about Icy Strait Point here
Remember the movie the Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds? That takes place in Sitka.
We were feeling adventurous and booked a morning kayaking tour through the cruise line. All the kayaks were doubles. I have been kayaking a few times here in Michigan, but this was a very different experience. First, the water was COLD! Second, I am used to kayaking in a river where the current pushes you along. This was in an open bay, so we were paddling against the wind half the time and not making much progress. Third, I thought we would see wildlife, like sea otters and seals and whales and bears and eagles. We saw none. Then it started to rain. So, my fun day of kayaking wasn’t quite as fun as I imagined it would be. Am I glad we did it? Sure. Would I do it again? Nope.
We came back to the ship wet and cold and hungry. Our original plan was to change, eat and head back out exploring, but since it was still raining we napped instead. 😊
Skagway is a fun old gold mining town and the don’t miss thing to do here is to ride the historic Whitepass Railroad, which takes you up into the mountains and away from the touristy part of town.
During non-covid times, you can take the train one way up into the Yukon, cross over to Canada, and explore even further. On our last visit to Skagway we rented a car for the day and followed the same Klondike Highway route as the railway, but did it at our own pace. We visited a wonderful place in the Yukon called “Caribou Crossing” that has a museum, barbecue lunch, panning for gold and dog cart rides with a husky puppy petting area. We also visited Emerald Lake which was beautiful.
If you are reading this after Covid restrictions have been lifted, consider doing the train one way and exploring the Yukon with a van ride back. It will be a day you won’t forget. Just google Skagway Yukon Tours for a listing of companies that offer something similar. The only option now is the round trip train because Canada is not allowing Yukon border crossings yet.
Pictures don’t do the scenery justice. After the train ride, we explored around town and did a little shopping. Don’t miss indulging in a “Klondike Doughboy”, which is like an elephant ear (fried dough with cinnamon sugar). The line was out the door for the Red Onion Saloon, so we missed visiting there, but “the ladies” offer tours of the brothel for $10 and they serve food and drinks in the dining area.
My maiden name is Hubbard, so I was excited to finally visit “my glacier”! The weather was wonderful, but I was surprised and disappointed that the captain stayed so far back from the glacier.
When we visited Glacier Bay on another cruise line, we sailed slowly right through the blocks of ice floating in the bay. The captain did a 360 degree turn so close to the glacier that we could see and hear it calving. They had a naturalist onboard pointing out all of the wildlife and explaining global warmings impact on the glaciers. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
This experience was nothing like that. If you didn’t know we were sailing by Hubbard glacier you could have missed it completely. We floated around for about 2 hours and the rest of the day was just a sea day. I think the captain was nervous because NCL recently hit an iceberg and damaged their ship. For planning purposes, I would book an Alaskan itinerary that offers Glacier Bay over Hubbard Glacier.
Seward to Anchorage
At the end of our Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas Alaska cruise, we planned an all day private sightseeing tour and transfer for our group with a company called Alaska Cruise Transportation. It was a wonderful way to spend the day before our red eye flights home. We stopped at Exit glacier, the Wildlife Conservation Center, the Alyeska Tram and Earthquake Park and ended with a private group dinner in Anchorage. They offer a similar itinerary on an individual basis.
It really was an amazing Alaskan adventure years in the making, but the memories were worth the wait! I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have or connect you with one of our cruise specialists for assistance in planning your own Alaskan adventure. It should be on everyone’s bucket list!